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.