Saturday, December 13, 2014

Week 17: DONE

Stick a fork in me, I'm done!

Last night capped off finals week at Del Mar with graduation, and I was the official faculty escort for the majors from English and Philosophy.  Graduation was definitely the most fun graduation I've ever been to or been a part of.  Del Mar really means a lot to Corpus Christi--that much is clearly evident.  Nearly half of the faculty stood up last night, when President Escamilla asked if any of them had taken classes at Del Mar.  Some of them, like President Escamilla himself, started their educations at Del Mar and have returned to teach there.  What also stuck with me about the faculty was when the veterans among our faculty were asked to stand.  At least a third of them on the stage stood.  (Del Mar is one of the 2015 Great Military Colleges.)

What will stick with me from graduation will be a few things.  One was the bagpiper (because we have so many Scottish people in South Texas?).  The second, which brought tears to many eyes, were a father and son who were graduating together.  The third was Dear Husband's boss and President Escamilla helping a student who was having trouble walking make it across the stage.  And last, the general tone of joy and celebration that was there.  (They played "Celebrate" at the end of the ceremony.  And "Happy.")

The bagpiper was not the strangest sight this week.  That came this evening when DH and I heard fire engine sirens and saw the lights coming down the street.  Worried, we went outside, to discover that there was a small parade with Santa Claus and the fire trucks going down the street.  We don't live on a main road.  We actually live back in a fairly residential area, but the fire trucks and Santa were going merrily along.  And then we were given a bag of goodies.

It was odd.

I do have one form that I have to fill out, as I accidentally put in the wrong grade for one of my students, but fortunately, I know someone who works in the registrar's office (*waves at DH*) and that will be taken care of forthwith.  But I am not the first person this semester to have put in the wrong grade, and I will not be the last, and fortunately, the student in question is a very understanding individual.

But best of all, by this time next week, we should be home.  And more than anything else, that is what has made me excited about this week.  We are just getting closer and closer to being back in Kentucky.  And I am very, very glad.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Week 16: Surviving Final Exams

I have..remarkably little news this week.  Finals started yesterday, so I gave my American Lit class their final.  My 1301 class gave presentations, and then I showed Star Wars during the rest of the period, as I'd discovered that many of them had never seen it.

I'm just continuing to contribute to their education.  Everyone should see Star Wars.  At least once.

Today...I slept until noon, which I desperately needed, as I've not slept well this week, and when I have slept, had very, very odd dreams.  I threw the cats out of the bedroom about 6:30 when Ding started chewing on the cords to the blinds, went back to sleep, and it wasn't until my neighbor leaned on the doorbell (for what reason, I have no idea, but I know it was him) that I got up.

Dear Husband had a white elephant gift exchange at work today, so we went out and bought two Nerf guns (he's calling it a dueling kit).  It's a gift that very much sums up DH, I think.

Next week, finals continue, as does the grading, but grading at the end of the semester is always easier than any other time, because I don't give a *lot* of feedback, but just go straight through them.
The kitties are lethargic today, but it's 78 degrees outside and hotter in the house, so I don't blame them a bit.  I'm sweating like a pig.

And that's really it.  Going to have to take my car to the mechanic, as the service engine light is on, but KR has recommended one to us.  But there's not much else to tell. I'll take weeks like this.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Week 15: Thanksgiving, Advent...and Bear Fighting (?)

So this is a bit late, if you don't count my Thanksgiving post.  I was going to, but then the rest of our holiday became so eventful that I just had to update again today. You see, I wrote my last post Thanksgiving Day morning.  There was still quite a bit of the day left to go.  (No, these kinds of sentences never bode well.)

You see, Dear Husband and I spent part of Thanksgiving Day afternoon in the emergency room to get stitches in his hand.  Why, you ask?  Well, that depends on who you ask.  If you ask DH, he was fighting a bear.  Two bears, actually, and because he was so busy with Mama and Papa Bear, he didn't think about Baby Bear, and Baby Bear came up and clawed his hand, causing a deep laceration in his left index finger.

If you ask me, I'll tell you that DH was trying to carefully separate a plastic model of a Ferengi Marauder from its plastic holder thingy with a utility knife and missed the plastic and got his hand instead.  (The supreme irony of this was that DH was wearing a day-glo yellow shirt that loudly proclaimed "THINK SAFETY" across the back.)

In any case, I dressed it up for him, and out we went to the Bay Area Medical Center, where we were in and out in an hour and a half!  It was the fastest I've ever been through an ER before.  Fortunately, the cut was not too deep and didn't hit any tendons, but it was deep enough that he needed stitches.  If it had been on the back of his hand, they would have just glued it up, but since it was on his finger, it needed stitches.  We took the splint off yesterday morning.  He's on antibiotics right now too, given the last time he hurt his finger and got it so horribly infected, but we should be able to take the stitches out in a week and a half, which I'll do very carefully.  (I asked him why he couldn't have held on a couple of days so we could have arranged to be back home when they needed to come out, and we could have asked my Sainted Aunt Donna to do it.  But I've taken stitches out of people before and I can do it again.)

We came home from the hospital to find Ale-8 spilled on the couch and floor....and no clue where it came from.  While we were investigating this, a piece of the kitchen counter suddenly fell off.  O-F-F off, fell off.

I have become convinced that we have a poltergeist.  They exist, right?

But we had much to be grateful for Thursday night.  His injury was not bad, we have insurance to handle it and the ER got us in and out in record time.  I think DH is also grateful because this absolves him of the responsibility to do dishes until his stitches come out as well.  I might be a little less than thankful for that, but I will live.

Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent.  I love the Advent season.  The altar is done up in purple to herald the coming of the King, and it's a season of anticipation.  Our new Sunday School class is called "Christmas is not Your Birthday," and while it's not yet as interesting as the class on the prayer book that just ended, it is driving home some of the same points: particularly that God is not Santa Claus (or a magician or a genie), and that claim and gain theology is not helpful to anyone.

The last day of class is Wednesday (thank goodness!) and finals start on Thursday.  I am so ready for things to be done!  Vacation always goes by way too fast.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

I've been a little down, since we're having Thanksgiving just the two of us.  The fam is getting together at Gran's today, but Youngest Brother has put Skype on his computer so we can visit with people.  But we are sitting and watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and waiting for Santa to appear.  We were also thrilled to hear Savannah Guthrie say "From Lexington, Kentucky" and ran from our breakfast to the TV to see the Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School band march.  I may have teared up a little bit.  (Of course, I've also teared up at a couple of commercials today, so obviously, my hormones are completely wonked right now.)  (And now I'm tearing up again because a girl from Bullitt County just won the Bob Hope scholarship.)  We had been going to go to the joint Thanksgiving service our church was doing with the synagogue in town, but I'd lost my voice by noon yesterday morning.  It's back this morning, but I'm definitely coming down with some sort of cold.

But I have much to be thankful this year.  Dear Husband and I both have full-time jobs, we are living in a beautiful home, we have three bad cats, and our families are getting together today at home and we know that we will be in their thoughts.  We have a wonderful church family.  DH has brought me an Ale-8, and we're getting ready to watch the National Dog Show.  He's being goofy and happy, and it makes me very happy.  My Papaw Doug used to count his blessings, and I know that trying to do so would be nearly impossible, but it is more than enough.

So Happy Thanksgiving to all.  May yours be as filled with love and happiness as ours.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Week 14: Busy, busy, busy!

If there is one consolation to living in Texas and not in Kentucky, it's that gas prices hit $2.57 a gallon yesterday.  I filled up my little car for $27.  I can't remember the last time gas has been this cheap.  Sometime in the mid-2000s, I would guess?

There has been a lot going on in Stewartopia this week.  I should start with the turkey.  Dear Husband put it on with a pork shoulder, and while the pork shoulder turned out lovely, the turkey was a bit...crispy.  So what was salvageable from the turkey will go into the soup pot, and DH smoked a turkey breast and two chickens (because if you're smoking one thing, you might as well go ahead and do some other stuff with it).  The turkey breast went to the registrar's office yesterday for their Thanksgiving bash.  I was invited along, which was lovely, and I got to meet DH's co-workers and help them gang up on him, which he so appreciated.

Also on Sunday night, I typed the words THE END on my novel!  It's about 53,000 words right now, so I have some things I want to add when I start revising, but I'm very happy with the results thus far.  It's not my first book--I wrote three as a teenager (all of novel-length, and all truly terrible and derivative, but that's how we learn to write as kids).  And if you count fanfiction, then I've written seven.  But this is my first, honest-to-goodness, adult novel, written for adults as an adult.  And naturally, I immediately started the next one!  I'll come back and revise Chosen at the beginning of next year, probably, as I have several people who are reading it, and I'm looking forward to their feedback.

Monday was positively nasty.  We had a gale come through early that morning, and I woke up with a migraine about three a.m.  At seven, my head hurt so badly and I was so dizzy, that I called off my classes and went back to bed.  As of right now, we're waiting on another cold front to come through in two waves and bring us some nasty weather, but so far, my head seems to be all right.

I started Little Women with my American Lit class on Tuesday.  Only two people had read it before, and they had both read it in high school! I was completely flabbergasted by this.  Mom gave me Little Women as a child, and I ate it up.  My students also seem to find it as a slog to get through, which has confused me greatly, as I chose it particularly because I thought it would be an easy, pleasurable read for them at the end of the semester.  Many of them are actually reading it along with an audio book on YouTube to help them understand it.

Thursday and Friday brought something new to me.  I'd never truly appreciated the work that goes on behind the scenes in a department before.  Even having served on the Lower Division Curriculum Committee, I don't think it prepared me for this level of work.  To comply with the new mandated assessment protocols (partly state and partly SACS accreditation), we've had to put together new program outcomes.  That necessarily means that we have to ask - well, what's our program?  We have a group of developmental classes, first-year composition, and sophomore literature courses, and first-year comp is complicated by the fact that many of our students don't have to take 1302 (and 1302 is not a pre-requisite for our sophomore lit courses, which is not our doing).

So as a department, we've had to put together new program outcomes - program being defined as what someone with an A.A. in English, transferring to another school, should have when they leave.  (As in, are we preparing them to complete a B.A. in English with the foundations we've given them.)  That's taken several weeks of discussion online.  We voted at the department meeting on Wednesday, met Thursday to distill what was voted upon into the bite-sized chunks needed for SACS and then got together again on Friday to put them into a curriculum map and decide where we would assess each program outcome.

Don't get me wrong.  I like assessment--I may be the only person in the department who does, which makes me fear that I'm going to end up being the go-to person for it.  I like looking at what we've done, identifying where we're doing well and where we're not, and then taking steps to make our program better.  I think that sort of self-reflection, both on a personal and a departmental level, is incredibly important if we want to serve our students.

At the same time, I'm also seeing a bit of friction between new and old philosophies.  Is this the state interfering in our classrooms again? (Yes, in some ways.)  Shouldn't we have the freedom to teach our subject however we see fit?  (Within reason.)  I think there's some fear that any kind of strictures put on our program, either by ourselves or by the state or by SACS, will end up depriving us of some of our academic freedom.

This has been a bit of an adjustment from MTSU, where we had a solid, laid out curriculum for first-year composition which everyone was expected to abide by, and the curriculum was put out in a manner that was heavily informed by a number of experts in the field of composition and rhetoric and which followed recommendations set out by the Writing Program Administrators conference, the Conference on College Composition and Communication, and the National Council of Teachers of English.  Our curriculum is informed by these things, but it's not standardized between all of the instructors.

Next week is Thanksgiving.  We are not going home--we don't have enough time, and the cost is prohibitive.  Instead, we will celebrate here.  We've been invited to the joint Thanksgiving celebration on Wednesday night with our church and the local synagogue.  The celebration is now in its 80th year, which is pretty awesome.  DH is looking forward to time off, as he's been working Saturdays as they try to catch up in the registrar's office, and I'm looking forward to time off just in general, though I will have a bit of grading to do over the holiday.

I also read the new Jan Karon book - Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good and was delighted by it.  I hate that I've finished it, but I know it's there for me to go back to any time I want.  Youngest Brother had a liver biopsy on Friday morning that went well, praise God, so now we wait on results and pray.

And I think that's it for the week, but that surely is enough.  Next week is blessedly short and should be relatively restful, and with any luck, I might actually get some of this house straightened up!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Week 13: Warm? In Winter? Whatever.

Everyone who told me that Corpus Christi was going to be warm in the winter lied.

Now, to be fair, it is apparently unseasonably cold for November, and really, for the middle of November, a low of 32 isn't that cold, speaking in absolute terms.  (Though parts of the coast have been experiencing gale force winds, which makes it feel a lot colder than it actually is.)

That said, I've been terribly amused by people out in their heaviest winter jackets, gloves, scarves and hats, particularly when the high gets up to around 50.  

What did not amuse me was Thursday morning when Shane and I had finally had it with this cold nonsense, (having been toughing it out as "northerners") and he turned on the heat, only to find when we got home Thursday night that there was, in fact, no heat.  Fortunately, for all the problems that we have had with this house, our landlord is very much on the ball about fixing things.  The problem was that the thermostat was not communicating with the furnace, and in about twenty minutes, the repairman fixed it up and we had heat.  That said, afternoons have been quite pleasant as they've been hoodie weather, but about two days with no heat has left me with a cold.  I've also rather enjoyed the bewildered looks I've been getting from natives when I walk in with a light jacket.  Still, the cats have even been cold, as evidenced by this picture of one of my brats who jumped into the dryer while I went to go find a laundry basket.

I also did something very daring.  

I bought a bikini.  

Don't look at me like that.  It was 70% off.  And, to be quite honest, I'm sick and tired of people assuming that body types like mine can't pull one off.  Apparently, I can, if my husband's reaction was any sign.  It does help that it's a fifties retro-looking bikini with the high-waisted bottoms, so I look a bit, I think, like a pin-up girl. You know, with a different face and bad hair and no lipstick. (No, I'm not sharing a picture.)  But if anyone doesn't like it, well--I have a few words to say to them, and they can't be repeated in polite company.

Granted, I'm not going to be able to wear it until next summer, as it has definitely gotten too cold to head out to the beach.  But honestly, I was kind of thrilled.  I've not had a bikini since I was like...four.

I also bought my husband's Christmas present this week.  He's dying for me to tell him what I got him, but I won't.  And in an effort not to repeat The Great Waffle Iron Incident (in which he came home, looked at the wrapped box and said "It's a waffle iron, isn't it?"), I've had his present shipped to my brother's house in Kentucky.  

You know.  Again.  (It worked last year!  He had no idea I'd bought him the Back to the Future trilogy on BluRay.)  

School this week has been fairly easy.  There have been a couple of things that again, I can't talk about, but fortunately, we have a very supportive faculty community.  We've also had some interesting things going around the faculty listserv this week, which has been cringe-worthy at times and hysterical at others.  The snark is strong in this college.  I sat in my office and cackled at some of the emails that were sent.  (I may have also dipped my toe into the faculty listserv, sent out an email that was...strongly-worded regarding some issues with one of the regents, and cringed afterwards, but it was received rather well, which was a bit of an ego boost and made me feel a little more solid on my footing in the college.)

Dear Husband has had to start working overtime--more than usual.  Today is Saturday, and he was gone all day to work, though at least when the college is closed, the registrar's office is able to get work done without interruption.  Then he came home and made pancakes for his poor, sick wife.  Tomorrow, he is going to smoke a turkey, which means the entire neighborhood is going to smell good.  (And our neighbors will be jealous, but it is for the Thanksgiving luncheon for Student Services on Friday, so they can't have any.  Also, I got the thing for .88 a pound a couple of weeks ago.  I was thrilled.)  DH did get paid yesterday for the first time, which made him very excited.  

There's not too much else to tell. I've played some of the new WoW expansion, when I can get into the queue, as naturally, its rollout has been plagued by technical problems, but why anyone would expect differently, I've no idea.  I've not written too much this week, in spite of starting off strong with National Novel Writing Month, but I am very, very close to the end of my novel, so I'm pleased with my progress anyway.

By the way, I took this picture of Ding earlier today.  I think she was contemplating murder.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Week 12: It's Week What?

It's been a fairly uneventful week in the Stewart household, all things considered.  The usual has gone on--grading, students excelling, students being problems, sending in drop forms, reading a ridiculous amount of email, more grading, student appointments, and trying to start writing a new article.

If there's one thing I've learned about why community college professors seem (and I qualify this statement because it's not entirely true) to publish less than others, it's because the resources for scholarship are much harder to obtain.  While Del Mar has access to EBSCO--and therefore the MLA International Bibliography--getting the articles are much more difficult.  We have no access to JSTOR or to Project Muse, which makes things problematic.  I can use the library at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, but I have to go there in person to do so, which is not terribly helpful when I'm trying to work in my office.

But my writing focus over the last week has instead been on National Novel Writing Month.  NaNoWriMo is now on its ninth day, and in those nine days, I've so far written 11,319 words.  That means in the last week, I've effectively written twenty percent of my novel.  Considering that I started working on it over two years ago, that's quite bit for just the last week.  I've also managed to outline the rest of it, so I know exactly where the rest of it is going.  If I sit down and really work at it, I think I could probably have it knocked out by the end of the week.

This may also be in part because DH is going to have to start working on Saturdays for the foreseeable future. Not the Saturday after Thanksgiving, thank goodness, but probably otherwise through the end of the year.  That's both good, because of the overtime, but bad because that's less time I get to spend with him during the week.  But if there is one excellent thing about working at the same place as your husband, it's that you get to see him during the day at times.  We get to have lunch together on Mondays and Wednesdays, which is very nice.  Next semester when I don't have a mid-day class at lunch time, we should be able to eat lunch together every day.

The landlord came this week and replaced our disposal, as it was leaking quite badly, and installed a gutter on the back of the house in hopes that it will stop the water seeping into the garage when it rains.  We'll get to see if that works later this week, I think, as we're expecting another cold front to come through the Coastal Bend on Tuesday.  But the cold front should bring highs of 50s to 60s, so it will finally start to feel, perhaps, like fall.  I don't know that we'll ever get to heavy coat weather, but I'll take hoodie weather.

All Saint's Day was a beautiful service last week at church with two baptisms at the 10:30 service.  In the meantime, our Sunday School class has been continuing our journey through the Book of Common Prayer.  Our priest has been doing a great job leading us through the BCP, and it's amazing how almost all of Episcopal theology can be found inside it.

What may be the most important thing that I've found has been about the difference between sickness and illness, and healing and cure.  When you've faced chronic illness, either yourself or with a family member, it's difficult to deal with the spiritual nature of it.  One thing that's always made me angry has been the idea that we must not have sufficient faith for my mother to be cured of her lupus (or for that matter, any of us with any other illness).  What I've understood in the last few weeks, both in Sunday School and by reading Father Westerhoff's book, is that I'm not wrong.

Whenever the Garth Brooks' song "Unanswered Prayers" came on the radio, Mom always stopped after it to remind us that there are no unanswered prayers--sometimes the answer is just no.  After twenty some years, it's become quite clear to me that our prayers for the cure of my mother has been "No."  I don't know why.  But that has been the answer.  It's not that I doubt God's power to cure my mother, but after twenty years of praying, I'm pretty sure that's His answer.

So I've stopped praying for a cure to my mother's lupus.  Instead, I've started praying for healing.  Father Westerhoff explains that illness is something in the body or mind going wrong.  Sickness is the attitude we have towards it.  A cure is the fix for the illness.  Healing is the cure for sickness.  And if there's one thing that's stuck with me from Father Westerhoff's book, it's this - "Disease is not a 'cross to bear'" (118). Furthermore, he says, "No one suffers from a disease as God's punishment for sin" (117).

It's comforting to hear and read that.  When you learn this, you get to let go of so much.  Healing is instead acceptance of God's will and learning to walk more closely with Him and in his ways, no matter what illness we have.  And that includes when you have a mental illness which can so closely connect with sickness that it's difficult to disentangle them.

So it's been an enlightening week as I've been thinking about that.  Today we talked about living a holy death, and the takeaway was that we die the way we live.  My great-grandfather Elza lived a peaceful life in God's will, and from what my mother has told me, his passing was also peaceful.

I won't say that Sunday school didn't bring up a lot of feelings this morning either.  I may have shed a few tears, and Father Philip was very kind and came and checked on me, both after Sunday school and after service this morning to make sure that I was okay.

I continue to be amazed at how wonderful Corpus Christi is being for us. "Body of Christ" indeed!  Our lives have been enriched by work and by church, and we continue to find ourselves drawn into a community of wonderful people.

It may not be Kentucky, but I think it'll do.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Week 11: *yaaaaaaaawn*

 Dear Husband and I went to the Texas State Aquarium today and had a wonderful time.  The aquarium is really neat, and being right by the gulf, had a lot of sea creatures that you can actually come across in the area.  I have some decent pictures of the dolphins, but this one of one of the sea turtles came out the very best.  I was so pleased with it!

The picture below is from the beach right outside the aquarium and is of me in front of the U.S.S. Lexington, a floating museum.  We didn't go there today, but that's on our list of things to do before much longer.

It was a nice day to go.  It's been about 72 degrees with a nice breeze off Corpus Christi Bay.  It's apparently 37 degrees in DH's hometown, and there was a nasty storm with ice and sleet last night.  It's been a bit weird for it to be November 1st and not need at least a hoodie. Instead, I was wearing my Men of Marvel dress from Her Universe.  It will actually be warmer at the beginning of next week before going back into the 70s on Wednesday.

This is, apparently, considered cold for Corpus Christi.

I've been having weird dreams the last couple of nights--dreaming about my Mamaw Hardiman.  It's been several years since she died, so I don't know why it's come up now in the last few days.  But I miss her dearly.

This week were student conferences with my 1301 and 1302 classes.  Over the last week, I've had almost 100 students in my office.  Some of them I told to keep up the good work, some I told just to keep on keeping on, and some I scolded.

That's all to be expected, naturally.  But then there were some who came into my office, and talked to me about what was going on in their lives.  I gave out bookmarks to the retention office, post-it notes with the number for the counseling office, tissues, platitudes, and hugs.  Then they left my office, and I needed the tissue for myself.  So many of my students are working so hard to overcome so much, and there's not much I can do to help but to sit there and be a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.

At the same time, I've also seen these students succeeding--and doing so fabulously, overcoming all of these things that they're dealing with.  They're so determined to make a better life, and I am so thrilled to help them do that.

We've been studying prayer in our Sunday School class, and I think one of the most powerful things I can do right now is to pray for my students.  The older I get, the more prayer becomes important to me, and the more I recognize the power of prayer.  It's not so much because I believe that God will do everything I ask of Him--I recognize that I can pray for something and sometimes the answer will be "No."  But while I can worry over my students, I have to learn to let it go, so all I can do is turn it over to God.  And that takes practice and patience and prayer.  So I'm learning.

Today starts National Novel Writing Month.  Whether I get a full 50,000 words written over the month of November, I have no idea, but to be fair, I'm kind of cheating in that I only want to finish my novel this month, and I've just finished chapter 15.  My word count on the novel can be found at the bottom of the page.  I'm starting with 35,362 words.  I'm aiming for about 60,000 words with this novel, and then it's on to the second in the series.  Several of my friends are working on novels this month.  There's also a Corpus Christi group of people doing NaNoWriMo, and they're going to have "write-ins" at the Half Price Books this month, and I'm thinking of joining them.

In other news, I've been doing a pretty good job on the academic writing front this week.  I've got a complete draft of my Tennyson paper, and I have some colleagues, current and former, who have agreed to read it before I submit it to a journal.  I'm looking forward to their feedback, and I hope that I have something publishable.  Still, I want to get some feedback before I send it off.  In the meantime, I have an idea for a new paper I want to write, so that's the next goal.  After all, as soon as you're done writing one thing, it's time to start another.

DH is taking a nap on the couch right now.  He's been working overtime in the registrar's office--which looks like it will continue for the foreseeable future.  He says he's never bored while he's working!  He seems to be enjoying it, and they seem to be happy to have him there--naturally.  And it's wonderful to have him on campus with me--we get to eat lunch together on Mondays and Wednesdays, and we get to drive in together almost every day.  I'm in my office a lot more, so I'm getting more work done, so we can both come home and leave work at work.

One thing that's been interesting is that this weekend is Dia de los Muertos.  I'm still learning about the holiday, but it goes from Halloween on Oct. 31st, through All Saint's Day on Nov. 1st, and ends on All Soul's Day on Nov. 2nd.  We'll be celebrating All Saint's Day tomorrow at church, and I'm looking forward to it, as I've never been to an All Saint's Mass at a 'high' church.

This week has me finishing Hamlet with my 1302 classes, working on advertising with my 1301 classes, and reading Poe in my American Lit class.  (We did "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Young Goodman Brown" on Thursday in anticipation of Halloween.)

In the meantime, DH and I will be missing the snow from home and the fire we know his mom and dad are building--and hope that our weather calms down a bit, if only for the sake of the garage.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Week 10: A Quandary

I despise paper mills.

To me, there is no more egregious case of plagiarism than from a paper mill in which you had to actually pay for the paper.  And I still am often boggled by those 'academics' who write for paper mills or who ghostwrite papers, theses and even dissertations.  The Chronicle of Higher Education published a story two years ago entitled "The Shadow Scholar," which gave an inside look at those who actually write for paper mills and the pervasiveness of the practice.  But there's a certain sense of desperation for money.

So I'll let you guess as to what I've been dealing with.

This means that I'm having to go back to my chair with this problem and ask for advice, and there are some other concerns as well, but I feel like my chair has had to do nothing but hold my hand this semester.  Could there possibly be another professor in the department who has had as many problems as I have this semester?  And I realize that to a certain extent, it's probably not unusual for a new faculty member--especially one starting their career--to be in close contact with the chair, but I just cringe when I send my chair an email, even with a head's up.

I suppose this is part of negotiating the territory as a new faculty member and starting your career--not wanting to be too much of a bother, but trying to still figure out the lay of the land.

That said, I've been grading some 100 papers for conferences this week (and yes, I'm stalling, shut up.)  My 1302 classes wrote their project 2 about good and evil, and they have been pretty uniformly excellent so far.  But I just finished reading one by a student who has thought that she was a bad writer.  She works so hard, takes so many notes, asks questions, but thought she was a bad writer, and when I told her that idea was bullshit, she cried, because no one had ever told her that before.  (These teachers in high school who tell their students that they are bad writers are ones that should be publicly flogged.  There's no faster way to make someone afraid of writing and to completely dislike the process.)  Her paper was completely fantastic.  Absolutely superb, to the point where I'm sitting here almost in tears because I am just so damn proud.  For all the frustrations that I've had so far this semester, you get papers and students like this one, and you know, you just know, that yes, you are making a difference.  This paper is full of confidence and clarity, and I am just so proud, I could burst.

I discovered politics on the college-wide scale with a series of emails that went around the faculty listserv this week, and holy cow.  When you get to grad school, you get introduced to department level politics, but the college-wide political mechanisms were an eye-opener.  Once again, I'm certain that my policy of keeping my ears open and my mouth shut (okay, I know I don't always do a good job of that last one, but until I get tenure, my mouth is staying shut) will serve me well.

And of course, this week Dear Husband joined the staff at Del Mar!  We carpooled on Wednesday (he had to go to the other campus on Thursday, and I don't go in on Fridays anymore), but both Wednesday and Thursday, he was able to come eat lunch with me in my office, which was incredibly pleasant.  He's glad to be there, and I think they're glad to have him, though I got a call from him yesterday morning when he was processing drop forms in which I was chided for forgetting some information on one.  I will endeavour to do better.  (At least I have someone who will just sigh and fill it in for me!)

I've not yet managed to keep to my goal of doing some academic research/writing every day during the week.  But any new habit takes some time to kick in, but I will keep you updated.  In the meantime, my novel writing is going quite well.   I have a little over 34,000 words (you can keep up with the word count with the meter at the bottom of the page), and that is one thing I've actually been able to keep going.  It's amazing how much creative writing you can get done when you're no longer working on a dissertation.  I've written more on this novel in the last two months than I did in the two years I was working on it beforehand.

Dear Husband's birthday was this week, so I made him a Guinness chocolate cake, bought a truly massive ribeye steak, and made dinner last night.  He still had to cook the steak himself, because I wasn't confident in my ability to do so, but I fixed everything else.  He was a happy boy.  And now today is St. Crispin's Day, so we spent part of this evening while I was grading watching a compendium of different actors (including a really adorable three year old) delivering the famous speech from Henry V.  We've decided that Kenneth Branagh is the best.

So it's been a busy, but very happy week here.  Tomorrow is the newcomer's luncheon at church--to which I received a personal invitation from a fellow parishioner who also works at Del Mar this week.  We're quite looking forward to it.  We haven't been to church in two weeks, unfortunately.  The week before last, there was no Sunday school, so we didn't set the alarm, figuring that the cats, per usual, would wake us up before church.  The cats, naturally, decided to sleep in.  And last week, I wasn't feeling well, but it will be good to get back tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Mid-week update!

We had such good news this morning!  Dear Husband starts work in the registrar's office tomorrow, and it is such an answer to prayer.  My classes all got to get extra credit for showing up today--I'm that happy!  (They also the Come-to-Jesus talk, but that's entirely different.)

In the meantime, Canvas was down this morning, so I've had to lengthen the deadline for their papers to be in--when I'm having conferences with them starting Thursday!  I'm getting ready to be inundated with papers to read and give feedback on.

The book buyers are driving me crazy.  If I didn't think it would be incredibly rude to put a sign on my door that says "No book buyers," I would.

I've also decided to devote 15 minutes of each work day to writing for my own research.  I've been reading a book about academic progress and writing for journals, and the one thing that I've always seen in common with really productive academics has been the ability to write every single day and to protect that writing time jealously.

I have a lot of things to do, as far as grading, lesson planning, etc., but even 15 minutes a day is something doable, and it's not taking so much time out of my day that I feel guilty about using it.  So we'll see how that goes, and I'll keep you informed.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Week 9: Is This Semester Over Yet?

I know there's always been the stereotype of the absent-minded professor, but for me, I've (generally) thought of my professors as competent, professional people who work hard to keep up with everything they're doing.

I feel less and less professorial and more and more like I'm still a grad student barely treading water.  What, the letters Ph.D. are after my name?  Yeah, I'm not so much feeling it right now.  I know that part of this has been because I've been sick over the last week.  On the other hand, though, part of it is because of my grading.  I keep asking myself--did I really do this bad a job of teaching?  Failing midterms, pervasive plagiarism problems (not intentional, just a clear lack of understanding about how to summarize), having to continually drop students from my class due to attendance, and other concerns have me wanting to pull my hair out.  More than that, they have me wanting to go to the faculty council and demand a fall break, just so I can catch up.  I'm beginning to absolutely define the phrase 'absent-minded professor' simply because I don't always know what day it is.

In the meantime, I've been snowed under with grading, and I don't anticipate that stopping between now and the end of the semester.  I have conferences coming up with my 1301 and 1302 students, which means I need to calculate midterm grades for them.  I'm giving serious consideration to revising some of my assignments so it's easier for me to grade.

And as we go along, I still have these moments of distinct hate for Texas.  My mother-in-law is wonderful and sent us several packages of country ham in the mail because country ham is not a thing down here.  (I asked in the grocery store if they had any and got "What's that?" in return.)  The highlight of my week last week was parking behind a car that had Fayette County license plates, because it meant that there was someone from Kentucky on campus with me!

I've also been sick this last week.  Stress--even though I don't really feel all that stressed--is eating my stomach alive, and ginger ale and lemon drops have been my constant companion.  (I've had several people ask me if I'm pregnant--apparently that combination of things is a dead giveaway?  I'm not, though.  I checked.)

We did have some good news this week--potentially good news.   The job Dear Husband got turned down for at Del Mar apparently didn't work out with the original person they hired, so they contacted DH this week to see if he was still interested.  His background check form was turned in on Friday, so hopefully we won't have too much longer to wait before hearing something official.  He was very glad, particularly since he found himself watching Rachael Ray this week while he was cleaning the downstairs.  Apparently, that is the point at which a man begins going stir-crazy.

But for now, I'm taking a break from grading before my head explodes, and Cat and I are going to hang out and do something fun.  Maybe read something fun or play a computer game.  I'm sure whatever we do, she'll be right there with me.  She always is.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Week 8: New Adventures...Old Problems

I had sushi for the first time this week when I went out with some new friends I've made here in Corpus, and since I knew that no one would ever believe me if I didn't have photographic evidence (Catie Storm), one of my friends very kindly took a picture of me eating a Philadelphia roll.  I also had some fresh edamame with sea salt (which was delicious) and a spring roll with spicy ahi tuna and fried avacado (which they'd substituted for crab, since I'm allergic to shellfish).  I also had a bite of a vegetarian roll, but I didn't like it as much. I really liked the spring roll with the peanut sauce, but I think that I should put more wasabi in the soy sauce for my sushi.  Yes, I said next time!  I would not be averse to going back.  (And I know that will shock people more than anything else.)

In the meantime, it's raining...again.  And that has created yet another problem: water in the garage again.  Yay.  We're pretty sure that there is a crack in the foundation that's causing this, and once again, are very grateful that we do not own this house.  Rent may be expensive, but trying to fix this would be a lot worse.

I bought a prop at Big Lots for my 1302 class.  Meet Yorick!  I knew him well, Horatio. 
I think he'll be a  nice touch, and it will help with ideas about staging and rhetoric, I think.  My students have been having problems with the language, so we've been acting the play out in class, but I think having props also helps.  I really want to get a couple of plastic swords so we can have a Hamlet/Laertes battle at the end, as I think it would be fun to take my students outside and have the whole battle out in the quad.  A big fancy goblet would be nice too, perhaps, since, "The drink, the drink! I am poisoned." 

One the other hand, I promised that they wouldn't have to make spectacles of themselves outside of the classroom, so I may just have to see how far we can move the desks out of the way.

I finished grading my 1302 classes' identity papers this week, and can't express how many times I found myself in tears.  It's a lot different from reading other papers about identity from previous students.  So many of my students have had incredibly difficult lives--having children when they were no more than children themselves, some moving out of their homes before they can legally work full-time in order to make things easier on their families, others who escaped out of gangs.  Some join the military to escape the poverty of Corpus Christi, and there are none who go to war and don't come back changed.  It's taken me longer to grade these papers, because I have to be sure that I'm grading them on the merits of the writing, not necessarily the content. 

What has unified many of them, though, is a distinct determination to make a better life for themselves and their children.  Still, though, my heart has just hurt for so many of these students.  My 1302 students, in particular, are working so very, very hard, and I could not be more proud of them.   

In many ways, it's been odd for me as well.  I've said prayers for students before, but I've never felt the need to so deeply and specifically pray for students before.  In some ways, it may seem paternalistic (maternalistic?).  I know that I have had other students that needed prayer before, but I've never felt it so collectively.  And for as much as I am still homesick, I keep being convinced that this is the place for us to be.

That's not to say that I haven't had some difficult decisions to make over the last week.  I have.  They aren't ones that I can talk about, but they've been very stressful, and at some point, you have to start channeling the Vulcan axiom that "the good of the many outweighs the good of the few--or the one."  And it sucks.  There are things that you simply have to do, but you feel terrible about them.  And you have to deal with the consequences of that decision, however unpleasant they may be.  But I have a department that is incredibly supportive, and I can't even begin to say how much I appreciate that.

So I'm hoping that this week will be better.  Midterms are here, and I've got to get things done, so it's back to the grind.  With any luck, the cold front coming through tomorrow won't make the garage flood....again.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Week Whatever.

Dear Husband took this picture from the beach today.  If there is one nice thing about living in Corpus Christi, it is the ability to decide on a beautiful Saturday afternoon to forget about everything else, throw your stuff in the car, and head out to the gulf.  We spent the afternoon reading (and in my case, getting a bit toasted), which has been a nice end to what has seemed like nigh endless weeks of rain.

Those nigh endless weeks of rain meant another adventure with water in the garage, and this week, a migraine that lasted from Monday afternoon all the way through Friday and which has only now abated.  My students are pretty good when it comes to keeping it down to a dull roar when I ask them to, though my head was so mixed up that I gave two different classes the wrong readings and had to correct for it later.

As such, I'm not entirely sure all what went on this week!  I've felt behind this week--more behind than I actually am.  Not that I still don't have plenty to do next week, but I'm not that behind.  Part of being behind was because I ended up spending two hours Tuesday writing a paper prompt for my American Lit class that I'd not only already written but handed out to my students--and had completely forgotten about.  But because it somehow didn't get checked off my to-do list, I ended up doing it again.

I've actually been trying to write this blog post most of the evening, and realized that most of the things that occurred to me this week to put in my blog didn't stay in my brain because of that week-long migraine.  So this will be a rather short entry, I think.  Maybe next week will be more interesting, but since interesting often means stressful, I'm going to hope not.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Week 6: Homesick

I've been in Corpus Christi for almost eight weeks at this point, but next week begins week 6 of the semester, and that's the funny thing about getting into the grind of the semester--in some ways, you start running on autopilot, which lets your brain finally start focusing on other things, particularly when you get home on Friday, like how you can't just jump in the car and make the quick journey home to see the fam.

Kentucky for Kentucky has a great print with a quote from Happy Chandler that says "I never met a Kentuckian who wasn't either thinking about going home or actually going home."  And while I do generally like Texas (apart from trying to drive in traffic down here), and I'm making new friends, I am desperately sick for home.

It really wasn't so bad when we were living in Tennessee, because again, a jump in the car on Friday, and in four or five hours (depending on who was driving), we were back in God's own country and with family.

This is the longest I've ever been away from home.  And it's going to be Christmas before we get back.  Dear Husband has a bit more experience with it, having spent six months surveying in New Mexico (without me, even), and I am so blessed to have him with me here.  But I still find myself wishing for hills and green grass and for Jeopardy to come on at 7:30 like it's supposed to!

I think part of the homesickness has also been a realization that some of my teaching is going to have to fundamentally change.  I'm dealing with a different level of preparation for college than I ever have before, and in some ways, I feel like I've been doing a lot of things wrong because I've been taking things for granted that I shouldn't have.  I've had to explain to all five of my classes--Composition I, II and American Lit--the difference between a summary and a response.

On top of that, I've been reminded, once again, there are some students you simply cannot help.  You can get as many resources available, but if they don't want help, you can't make them get it.  On the other hand, there are also victories when you have a student who you can help and you do.

I ordered my books for next semester, and I've got a new appreciation for trying to order books and keeping the costs down for students, and I've decided that handbooks need to go the way of the dinosaur.  There's nothing in a handbook anymore that students can't find online for free, mostly through the resources of very excellent university and college writing centers.  So for one class, I've ordered it as recommended, but I won't be assigning any readings out of it.  I'll simply be supplementing from online, and for my 1302 classes, I haven't ordered one at all.  It's not that my students don't have grammatical problems--they do--but I think there are far more effective ways to teach grammar than handbooks.  I think the Grammar Girl podcasts will be helpful too.

So the week has been up and down, but I'm hoping that things will look up.  In the meantime, I'm going to start counting down until Christmas and charging my brothers with installing Skype on my mom's computer.  Even though my laptop is currently broken, I have it on my phone, and I'd like to at least see some people's faces.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Week 5: Into the Grind

My office is starting to look like someone actually works there, versus being a vacant space where someone's been stashed for a semester.  Books are making their way a grocery bag at a time, and my gnomes are traveling to display allegiance to proper sports teams in a heathen land. (No, we are not talking about the Reds 2014 season.  We are not.)

In case you're wondering, this picture was taken during my Friday office hours.  Del Mar doesn't really hold classes on Friday, and most of campus shuts down at noon on Friday anyway, so assuming anyone comes in on Friday at all, it's pretty casual--hence the t-shirt.  It's a good time to come in and be assured that you're going to be able to work in an uninterrupted block.

But we're into the real heart of the semester now, and I'm seeing things settle into the grind.  Students are starting to come in tired, and I'm hearing moans about exams starting.  The marathon part of the semester has started, and everyone is plodding along.  In the meantime, I keep making notes about what's working and what's not, and most of it is once again related to my syllabus.  I read this article from Slate about syllabus bloat last week, and over the last week, it's become more and more evident that not only did very few of my students read it, but very few of them listened the first day of class when I went over it (if they were there the first day.  I had several transfer in afterward).

So I've been trying to figure out, what do I actually need?  Should I put all of the required policies online and simply hand out a sheet of paper with the most important things in class, so if they want to know more, they have to go online and read the full syllabus?  I hate the idea of having to give a syllabus quiz, if only because of the fact that I shouldn't have to give one.

I also made my first foray into institutional service this week with the first meeting of the department development committee.  It wasn't a big meeting, mostly choosing a chair, going over the charge of the committee, and figuring out what we're going to do first.  There are a lot of things to discuss, a lot of things to figure out, but it's going to be productive, I think.

Finally, to close this relatively short entry, I have to say, this is an incredibly supportive department.  I can't tell you how amazing everyone has been and how much everyone has had my back when I've had an issue, or how patient people have been when I've had a question or needed someone to explain something.  They've been so helpful, and I'm so incredibly grateful.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Week 4: It Never Rains...

I mean this literally, actually.  I ran out without thinking to rescue our recycling bin this morning from the flooding and managed to grab it before it completely floated it away, but when I tried to rescue our neighbor's as well, I found myself in water up to my ankles and decided that, nope, his could get stopped by a car further down the street.  Bill Meck from WLEX has told me my whole life to turn around, don't drown, and I have no intention of ignoring him now.

Most of this was from about an hour of rain this morning from a storm that rolled in over the laguna, and I was never quite so happy to have gotten our flood insurance handled yesterday morning!  We were watching the back door quite carefully to see if anything would seep in there, but it didn't.  It might actually be the coldest it's been since we came to Corpus Christi--70 degrees! 

This week has been full of ups and downs, some of which I won't talk about and some of which I can't talk about.  But the best part about teaching are those little triumphs that make you go back to your office and punch the air and go "YES!"

For example.  My 1302 classes are reading Ibsen's A Doll House right now, and after so many of them said they'd had an easier time with A Raisin in the Sun after finding video clips of it online, I thought we'd try acting parts of it out in class.  That way, students also get to inhabit the characters and get to think about the choices of the director and the actors as well, since that so often influences how an audience sees the play.  So for Act I, I had some of my students in each class act out the first confrontation between Nora and Krogstad, and it was wonderful.  I was so amazed at how well it went and how insightful these off the cuff performances were.  In the first class, Nora and Krogstad were both played by young men (this is what happens when the teacher has to randomly select people who are then volun-told that they'll be taking part in the activity).  But it was so neat to watch, because "Krogstad" was very forceful and intimidating, and afterwards, "Nora" pointed out that "Krogstad" kept backing him in the corner, even when he tried to get out of it!

But the second class had a completely different take on it.  "Krogstad" in the second class wasn't in-your-face and forceful.  Instead, he was supercilious and slimy...but still menacing, and "Nora" (played by a woman this time) was much more child-like.  The Noras were very similar, but the take on Krogstad was so different.  This Krogstad was almost like watching James Spader as Alan Shore in Boston Legal.  And the best part was that I got to see both interpretations!  I don't know that the second Krogstad would have felt free to do that on the heels of watching the first.  It was so neat to watch, though.

My 1301 classes have been talking about blogging and writing reviews.  I'm very excited about this, because many of them are talking about doing restaurant reviews, versus movie or book reviews (and they all seem excited, because I told them I was looking forward to having them recommend places for Dear Husband and I to eat as newcomers--and suddenly that really got everyone interested!).

But we've also taken a look at blogs and blog conventions, and I think my 1301 classes have decided that despite the fact that my blog has had a bit of a makeover in the last month or needs some more work!  I've gotten suggestions that I need some new graphics, some better organization, more descriptive tagging, etc.  So my blog will be under continual construction for the foreseeable future (possibly with the help of my 1301 students).

I've found an incredibly helpful tool to keep me organized while I'm working, though.  Snarky Writer introduced me to HabitRPG a while back, and I can't even begin to tell you how much it helps.  Everyone makes to-do lists (and if you're me, then loses the to-do list), but this isn't just a to-do list.  It gives you rewards for doing your to-dos, daily or not daily.  And it's put together like a game, so rather than just a boring checklist, you actually have fun goals that you're working toward.  You accumulate gold as you check off tasks, and you can set rewards for yourself.  For example, when I get 1500 gold, I am going to reward myself with Jan Karon's new Mitford book, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good. (I have 46 gold right now.  I've been getting equipment for my avatar to boost my stats so I can get some in-game rewards lately.)

When it comes to school, though, I've been using it to keep myself on track.  Under the dailies category, I keep things that I need to do every day, like take my medicine, etc., but also to enter attendance into Canvas.  I use my To-Do list to organize everything else I have to do--all the lesson planning, grading, etc., and because I can move things about, I can reorganize them and put the highest priority at the top.  I can also edit them and put due dates on certain tasks, particularly for things like bills that need to be paid, to make sure that they don't get lost in the shuffle of everyday life.  As a teacher, I could also really see how this could be helpful for students.  Just opening the app up after class and listing the homework for each class under tasks with the due date would help organize things, and it gives visual learners a clear picture of how things need to be organized in order to get them done. 

And the best part about HabitRPG?  It's totally free, both the online version and the app for your phone, so even if you're not going back to school, it's something to look into.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Pulling Together: Week 3

Dear Husband is here!  He, Youngest Brother, Buttermilk and Father-in-Law all got here on Saturday, to my great joy with all of our things, and our house is beginning to look like a home.  With DH here, it's beginning to feel like a home, too.  And I cannot even begin to express what a help our family was (and I cannot leave out Eldest Brother, either, who drove Youngest Brother and Buttermilk down to Tennessee and helped load the truck or Mother-in-Law, who helped DH finish packing the house).

So now, to quote Maureen O'Hara in The Quiet Man, my things are about me, DH is sitting back on the couch reading at the moment, taking a well deserved break, and I'm updating my blog.  And even Bergie is starting to emerge.  I think once furniture came in and DH arrived, he realized that we might be staying here a while and he wasn't going to have to go back in the car again.  That has not stopped midnight yowling (I think he's getting lost in the house again).

And today, we are getting things taken care of here at the house.  The dryer hookup is now working, smoke detectors have been installed, the window that needed replaced is being fixed right now, and we are going to go get a clothes rod for the closet later, as well as some new pegs for the bookshelves and clamps for the dryer vent.  In the meantime, we've been unloading books on to bookshelves that have pegs, and we may go out to the beach this afternoon now that the weather has cleared up.

But life is good!  Classes are going well.  I'm especially enjoying my American Literature class right now, and our day exploring Anne Bradstreet's poetry went very well this week.  My students really enjoyed Bradstreet's poem on Queen Elizabeth.  I've taught my poetry explication lesson three times in the last few weeks, though not with "Bohemian Rhapsody" the way I normally would in a typical literature survey, but it's seemed to have gone over well.  My 1301 students are finishing up their resume and cover letter assignments this week and rolling right into their review assignments; they'll even be reading some of the book reviews I've posted to this blog in the past.  I fully expect some of them to poke around the blog as a whole a bit, particularly since we're going to be talking about blogging as a genre of writing this week too.  (Hi, students!)

My 1302 classes are going to be writing about identity for their first paper, which I'm also introducing this week, and I'm excited to be working on poetry with them next week too.  We'll be reading Whitman, Gwendolen Brooks, T.S. Eliot, Adrienne Rich, and a poem that's one of my new favorites, Maya Angelou's "Phenomenal Woman."  I'd actually never read the poem until a friend linked it after Angelou died a few months ago, but it's such a wonderful poem, and when I first conceived of this assignment, I knew I had to use it, so I'm supplementing the book with the poem. 

Our department has added two new committees this semester, so I've signed up for one to begin my institutional service to the college.  The Departmental Development Committee is designed to put together department colloquia, professional development, oversee travel funds, as well as put together social events, etc.  It's an opportunity I'm really interested in.  One thing I really learned to appreciate at MTSU was the wide variety of professional development seminars that the department offered.  It was always a good way to glean new ideas for classes and a way to help keep up with new research, particularly in teaching composition, which is really important if your area of expertise is more literature-based than composition and rhetoric-based.   It's not the only committee I'm a part of--people who teach 1301 and 1302 are automatically on the 1301/1302 committee, and the same goes for the sophomore lit committee (which is almost everyone in the department for both, I think), but the development committee is one that I've signed up to take a really active role in.  I've offered my services to take an active role in the 1301/1302 committee too, though, particularly as we approach the 1302 assessment, as I'm familiar with the 1020 assessment process that MTSU goes through every year. 

I'm already going to be signing up for classes next week!  I meet with our asst. dept. chair on Wednesday to sign up for spring 2015 classes.  I do know that next fall, I'll be teaching Mexican-American literature, as I've been put on rotation for that, which I'm very excited about.  I think it will be a really awesome learning experience.  SV is teaching it this spring, and I'm going to ask her if I might sit in on her class once in a while this spring, just to get an idea of how she teaches it.

I am making some friends among my colleagues.  KR invited me and DH to church with her family, and we will likely be taking her up on that offer, as she is also Episcopalian.  I've continued to find the atmosphere in my department very collegial, and I can't tell you how very patient everyone has been helping me adjust.  I can't tell you how many times a week I pop my head into the office next door to ask a question, and after our department meeting yesterday morning, KR had to explain some Texas state laws that mean I have to have my vita online for students to check out.  And I still need to ask the developmental education coordinator, to explain to me how dev ed works in Texas! 

So there's lots left that I need to learn, and that's making things challenging here and there, but I feel like things are starting to pull together.  Having Labor Day off put me a bit behind, but I've caught up, and having DH here makes everything better.  Full-time academia is an adjustment, for sure, but I feel like I'm getting into the swing of things.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Exhausted Academic: Week 2

I feel whiny, and I shouldn't, because as tired as I am, I know that Dear Husband and dear in-laws are much, much more tired than I am as they finish up the house and get on the road to Corpus Christi today.  But as I told DH today, when they get here tomorrow, we will put the beds and the couch in the house.  Everything else can go in the garage and get dealt with later.  I am going to take Youngest Brother and Buttermilk (his wife) to the beach, either tomorrow afternoon or Sunday, depending on when they get here.  And unpacking can go as it needs to.  YB and Buttermilk leave Monday morning and Father-in-Law leaves Tuesday morning.  I'm off Monday, and we can take things at a leisurely pace.

At the moment, I'm sitting in my office.  We don't really have classes on Friday, and I think I might be the only one holding office hours on Friday morning, to be honest, but it's a good time to come in and work.  I've done a little bit of grading this morning and gotten my paper gradebook set up, as I keep both a paper and digital copy.  (Backup.  Always have a backup.)  It's been raining this morning for the first time since I got here, rain that's badly needed.

Part of being tired, I think, has been the sudden adjustment to teaching five classes.  Part of that, I'm sure, has been because I've had the last year as a dissertation fellow, and I've not been teaching, but before that, the most I'd ever had in one semester was three classes, so I begin to understand why during the interview process, there was always concern in the voices of the committee when they asked how many classes I'd ever taught at one time.  I'd been confused before, but I'm starting to understand why it's a legitimate concern, and I'm definitely starting to appreciate all of the full-time temporary faculty at MTSU who also teach 5/5 course loads a little more.  I only have 3 course preps, but it is going to be a lot of grading.  (I've managed to space it out so the only time all five classes will have something due at the same time is going to be at midterms and finals.  I have no idea how I've managed that.  Pure dumb luck, I think.)

A friend of mine posted an article on working 40 hours a week in academia, and I'm trying to keep that in mind.  As much grading and planning as I can do in my office, I will.  I want my home time to be home time and to separate work and home as much as possible.  I know that's not always going to be possible, particularly around midterms and finals, but I think it's a delineation that needs to be made and it's important.  (And for those who like to snip at academics and say "Well, you only work nine months out of the year."  One, that's not entirely true, and two, I only get paid for working those nine months.  If I teach during the summer, I get paid for working in the summer.)  At the same time, I tell my students that I will try to have all of their assignments back within a week of receiving them.  This is my first semester teaching five classes.  We'll find out if that's feasible, but Del Mar uses a program called Canvas for online learning, rather than Blackboard or Desire2Learn (and oh my gosh, guys, this program is amazing.   All the capabilities we wished Blackboard or D2L had?  Canvas has.).  Canvas has a feature called SpeedGrader, so I've been able to upload my rubric online to the assignment sheets.  I haven't tried it out yet, but I will in a couple of weeks when my 1301 class (Composition I) turns in their resumes and cover letters.  Canvas even keeps track of your attendance, lets you calculate how much of an absence a tardy is worth, etc.!

I think another part of being tired has been that I'm homesick.  Not for Tennessee, but for Kentucky.  I was never really homesick when I moved to Tennessee, but I think that's because it wasn't far to get home, and I was always able to just pop home for the weekend.  That's really no longer an option, and Christmas will be the next time we get home.  Mom got some reasonably disturbing news from the doctor this week, and I can't go home and look at her face, as my Gran would say.  But I think when DH gets here, that will get better too.

And I am enjoying Corpus Christi quite a bit.  There are always little discoveries to be made, I think, when you move someplace.  I live near the Naval Air Station, so on my way to work in the morning, I've been seeing fighter jets flying back and forth, low over the city.  It's no wonder people used to think that they were UFOs.  There's something oddly eerie about the way they fly in such a perfectly straight line across the sky.  I also saw a plane with a radar on it that I think may have come from the National Weather Service station, since it was very low over the city and seemed to come from the direction of the airport, rather than the naval station.  On my way home, I've been seeing people kite-sailing in the laguna, which is an entirely new concept to me, and really neat to watch.  I went out to the beach this weekend and watched ghost crabs dig their holes in the sand, which entertained me most of the morning.

By this time next week, DH should be here.  I will have my things about me.  The semester should be in full swing, and ML, the member of the janitorial staff assigned to our building, will hopefully not have to greet me every morning with "Today is ------, Miss Emily," because I've forgotten what day it is again!  And Bergie, I really hope, will actually stop hiding most of the time.  And by then, I'm sure I'll have some more new insights on being a full-time faculty member for the first time.  Until then.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Paging Dr. Stewart, Paging Dr. Stewart: Week 1

I'm at the end of my first week in Corpus Christi and at the end of my first week as an assistant professor of English.  This first week has primarily been orientation, professional development, and meetings--in-service type things, but it's given me an opportunity to get to know campus and my colleagues.

I love it.

I told Dear Husband several months ago that I felt like God had given us work to do in Murfreesboro, but that it was drawing to an end.  When I visited Del Mar, I came home and told him that I felt like God had work for us to do here.  The more I discover about the community here, the more I feel like that's true.  Corpus Christi has a population of approximately 300,000 people and a poverty rate of around 50%.  While I'd been offered a position at a 4-year college, with every day I spend here, I become more convinced that this was the right decision, and while there have been a few small bumps, the smoothness with which this has all come together has only served to underscore this feeling.

We have a delightful provost who is excited about the community and encouraging about new ideas.  He's trying out a new idea with those of us who were just hired--a first-year faculty experience, much like what freshmen would have, but for us to come together and bring new ideas to the table as fresh eyes who are looking at Del Mar for the first time.  There may not be a lot of money, but he's ready to try new ideas and figure out how to make them work.  That's so encouraging as a faculty member to hear.  The president of the college attended Del Mar himself, was raised a mile down the road, and his father's shop is still only a few miles from the college.  There are deep ties to the community in the administration of the college.  And there doesn't seem to be the burgeoning administrative bureaucracy that I've seen at so many other places.  Del Mar is a college with deep roots in the community, and as such is very respected by the community.

More than that, I think this place in general is going to be good for us.  We have a beautiful house that we're renting that's just been remodeled--we have a Texas red grapefruit tree in the backyard!  We're two minutes from the intracoastal waterway, so you can smell saltwater from our house, and about fifteen miles from Padre Island National Seashore, which is where I went this morning.  There's something soothing and healing about the ocean, I think.

Note: I will not, under any circumstances become an Astros or Rangers fan.


I truly am going to try to keep this blog updated more often.  I'll be quite honest, I'd been put off keeping it updated last year after some rather unhappy people read my post on The Care and Feeding of Your Depressive and said some very nasty things, including saying that DH should leave me, that I should pick my own self up and go because modern psychiatry does nothing, I shouldn't depend on depression medication, that I was fat and therefore ugly, I had no discipline, I would never finish my dissertation, etc.

So I am happy to say that I finished my dissertation, graduated with my Ph.D., secured a tenure-track job as an assistant professor, have been diagnosed correctly with the help of my nurse practitioner and am on new medication which has effectively returned me to normal, I've lost thirty pounds, and my marriage is stronger than ever.

Therefore, American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to acknowledge the Nashville music establishment and country music radio for your support. 

See you guys next week.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Twelve days to graduation and counting...

The dissertation is defended and turned in.  I have taken the entire month of April off to do basically...nothing, other than search for jobs.  I'd laughed about taking the time to read whatever I wanted once I finished my dissertation, but to be honest, I've read astonishingly little and watched a whole lot of Netflix.  I finally watched the seasons of Eureka that I missed, all of Leverage, and now I'm watching Fringe

It's storming today.  I was planning on having a lie-in this morning, since come May 1st, I intend to get back on a semblance of a regular schedule and back to some kind of actual academic work, but the thunder rumbled loudly enough that it scared Bergie into crawling under the covers, which he never does.  That scared me awake, because there was something under the covers touching my feet and it was moving, which then frightened Bergie, and after that, I was awake.  But I got up and checked the weather, and there wasn't even so much as a severe thunderstorm watch, and I shook it off and figured I'd take a nap later.

But I was amused with myself this morning as I poured my coffee, because when did I get so blase about storms?  At this point, there has to be at least a tornado watch before I even start getting worked up about things, whereas I used to start panicking at the very thought of possible tornadoes.  Now I just get pissed off because it usually means I've had a migraine until the barometric pressure dropped. 

And it finally occurred to me.  This is what living in Tennessee has done to me (for as anathema as it is for a Kentuckian to move to Tennessee.  The only thing that might have been worse would have been moving to....Indiana.)  It's been almost five years, and I'm graduating with a doctorate in English literature.  I remember having a conversation with Dear Husband at one point--would I ever feel any different, or any smarter--when would things change?  When would I feel like a different person?  And it's only when I compare myself to five years ago when I came here that I'm starting to realize that I am.  Maybe not new, but hopefully improved?

  • I don't flip out at storms quite so badly anymore.  I still watch the radar, but that's because it's fun, and I like weather. (I think I'd have been a meteorologist in another life.)  After living through the floods and spending a night in the bathtub my first year here?  I'm generally okay unless the wind gets really bad.
  • I really hope I don't have quite the chip on my shoulder that I had when I got here.
  • I'm excited about teaching again.
  • I've learned to be candid and open about having a mental illness, rather than hiding it, because I've learned that by being candid and open about it, I've been able to better help others who need it.
  • I have learned that there are some things that I stand for and that I absolutely will not back down on.
  • I have learned that I miss little churches.  We never have found a church that really fits us here, not like Our Savior did.  That said, you can always hear God in the music at St. Paul's.
  • I hope that I have become more patient.  I feel like I don't sweat the small stuff so much.  I think I've learned to control my temper more.
  • Sometimes the people who come running in late and sit down next to you in orientation end up being your best friends.
  • The dept. secretary will totally confuse you and your bestie, and that's kinda awesome. 
There's a lot I have left to learn.  Not to take criticism so personally, for one thing.  I've got a grudge or two that probably need to be released (though I've got one or two I've let go of, too).  I can always learn how to better show DH how much I love him.  I can always learn how to be a better friend and colleague. 

There are parts of this process that have completely, utterly sucked.  Graduate school has seen me at the emotionally lowest parts of my life.  It's seen me depressed, angry, bitter, self-loathing, hating myself and everyone around me, convinced that I could not do this thing I had set out to do and ready to give up in more ways than one.  And yet--through late night phone calls, hugs, promises, neck rubs, talking it out, helping reprioritize, taking me to the doctor, quitting a job far away and coming home because I needed him to, holding on and not letting go, checking noises downstairs in the dark, cooking and ironing and cleaning the litter boxes, I've been able to do it, because of this--this great tree of a man, who stands tall and solid and straight, with roots so deep he'll never be shaken and with branches that reach out and shelter and protect.  My husband is a great oak tree, full of life and vitality, steady and strong, and if there is one thing I have learned in the last five years, I hope that it has been to appreciate him the way he deserves.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

It's been a long time since I posted an entry here.  2013 was not a particularly easy year, and I won't go into details.  I haven't read as much as I would have liked either, partly because my focus has been on my dissertation. (I should graduate in May, and oh, how I am looking forward to reading whatever I want!)

Today, though, before work and school and responsibilities come back crashing down tomorrow, I decided I was going to use my Amazon gift certificate and read today. 

I've written before about how certain books take up residence in your soul and never quite leave you.  They may not be your favorite books, but they are most definitely the books that you remember--the books that remind you of just how powerfully evocative storytelling can be.  Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane is one of those books. 

I've never been much of a Gaiman fan, to be honest.  American Gods gave me nightmares.  My fannish nature for Gaiman has been for him more as a person than as a writer, but my friends assured me that The Ocean at the End of the Lane was different from his previous books, more of a fairy tale.  It seems to me that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is to American Gods as M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water is to Signs

I read somewhere that Gaiman wrote this book first, as a short story that grew out of control, and then second, as a book to explain himself to his wife, Amanda.  It's the second part that I think is so notable and that makes this book so stunning.  In the midst of a fairy tale, in a skirmish against things of darkness, it is intensely personal.  Everything is deeply real, filled with memory, either real or imagined.  This is not the story of Wendy remembering NeverNever Land, or Peter and Susan remembering Narnia.  This is the story of a man who experiences enforced amnesia, except at certain points when he revisits the ocean at the end of the lane and everything comes flooding back in a rush of overwhelming sensations and memories, only for it to disappear when he leaves, so much like the painful memories we all experience and suppress that still get dragged out periodically into daylight.

To read The Ocean at the End of the Lane is, I think, to understand Neil Gaiman, the person, on some small fundamental level.  What it tells the reader about themselves is going to be more personal.  But I think, like all of these books that I've read that have stayed with me so deeply throughout the years, each time I reread it, I'm going to learn a little bit more.

Overall grade: A