Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Etsy: Fairy Princess

I meant to do more of these posts about Etsy, but never really got around to it. I thought I should do at least one more though (Since lists must be at least three items, I guess? I just felt this compulsion.) and took my inspiration from Eleanor, who was running around in her fairy princess costume, having recently turned me into a newt and refusing to turn me back into a Mommy.

So I looked for "fairy princess" on Etsy, and here's a few things I found.
  • First I sorted by most expensive and found a Fairy Tale Ball Wedding Gown for almost $10,000. It was a reminder of just how much money people are willing to spend on their "special day." I really hope Eleanor doesn't get caught up in all that, because we have a college fund but not a wedding fund.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, there were some cute Princess Magnetic Bookmarks for less than $1. This is another reason why I like Etsy. You can always find something in your price range!
  • Next I did a local search on Etsy stores based in the Cleveland area and found these beautiful "Blossoming Romance Arm Warmers Cream White Steampunk Lace Wedding" (lots of keyword search terms in there) at a much more reasonable price than the dress (a mere $25). What is steampunk, anyway? I keep seeing the label on everything from clothes to cakes to books. I'm going to have to do some investigating, because I'm getting a sense of it as an overall style, but I don't entirely understand what the word encompasses.
  • Finally, the dress pictured above is more of what I was expecting to find. A Custom Pink Rose Fairy Tutu Costume Set (complete with wings, corset, tutu and wand) that can be made to order for babies 12 months to size 12. It's $160, which is closer to the reasonable end of things .... but still more than I would pay for a dress-up outfit. As soon as I become independently wealthy, though, I'm buying one. Or two: one for Eleanor and another one for me!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Cards

Keith read an article on Slate the other day called "Did Facebook kill the Christmas Card?" The subtitle is "Our mailboxes are practically empty."

He told me about the article and its premise as we sat at the dining room table. I looked around at the numerous Christmas cards we've received, hanging on ribbons across doorways, windows, and the mantle. I think we sent out about 60 cards, and probably received nearly the same.

I'm not really convinced by the author's argument that no one sends Christmas cards anymore. First of all, the author admits to not sending out cards. I've definitely taken people off our Christmas card list if I don't get reply cards from them for a few years in a row. It's not that I'm angry or anything; I just figure that they don't really care much about the tradition, so why would I keep sending them?

Therefore, if I were friends with the author, I wouldn't be sending her Christmas cards, even though I would be sending and receiving plenty of my own.

I like the photo Christmas cards (clearly, since those are the ones I send myself). It's nice to get a tangible reminder that someone is thinking of you at the holidays, and take a moment to look at the card and think about how the little ones have grown, etc. Hanging up the cards around the house helps get me in the Christmas spirit in terms of acknowledging and appreciating all of the friends and family we are privileged to have in our lives.

I disagree with the Slate author. I don't think the Christmas card is dead, because Facebook is something different; it's all about the sender and not the receiver. There is no real receiver. Having said that, however, I don't feel like I can predict what's going to happen in the next 5-10 years. Will people stop sending real Christmas cards? Will something technological come along that actually replaces the feeling of getting envelopes in the mail and admiring the Christmas card in your hand?

If something came along that felt as personal and friendly as a Christmas card, I would probably switch. But I haven't seen it yet.

*Isn't this clip art picture creepy? I think Santa's had a stroke or something; there's just something not quite right with his eyes.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

I have a very high tolerance for Christmas music, as Keith can attest. I pretty much listen to it constantly from the day after Thanksgiving until after the New Year.

But every year, I get annoyed at the beginning of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." That spoken intro part, that goes:
You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen,
Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen.
But do you recall ...
The most famous reindeer of all?
Isn't that a stupid question? It's assuming that you know all of the lesser reindeer, but that you might forget the "most famous reindeer of all?" The illogicality of it bothers me every time.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Ornament 2008

This is what I suspect will be the first of many Eleanor ornaments. We sent off a picture of our chubby 5-month-old baby (so hard to believe it was only 2 years ago!) to a now-defunct Etsy shop that made these ornaments. We got one for ourselves and I think just for the grandparents. I'm looking forward to the ornaments that she makes, by herself, in the future.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Ornament 2006

We moved to Cleveland in April 2006 and into our house a few months later, so that year was our first Christmas in our very own home.

I offered to host Christmas, which was an adventure. I even cooked a turkey! (And haven't done it since.) Keith and I spent Christmas morning in our own bed, in our own house, which was heavenly.

Even when we weren't living in Cleveland, my Mom and I have had a long-standing tradition of a museum day around the Christmas holiday. I think it started when I was in college and home for a few weeks. We'd pick a day after Christmas to go out to lunch and visit one of the local museums. Before we left, we'd stop into the museum gift shop and buy a few Christmas ornaments at ridiculously marked-down prices.

In 2006, we went to the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. Funnily enough, I've never actually been there when it's warm outside, and have yet to see the outdoor gardens. Ever since that first trip, I've always gone in the winter to see their gingerbread house display. They have a competition and the houses range from fabulosity to monstrosities, built with love and pudgy little toddler fingers. They put me in a Christmas mood, even after the actual day has passed.

We haven't talked about it yet, but hopefully we get to a museum again this year. And that it's a tradition that Eleanor will want to continue!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Survey says ... Good job!

My final class was this afternoon, and right now I'm grading the last of the essays from this semester. Less than 10 to go!

Of course, even with the finish line in sight, I'm still dallying. Watching a bit of "Bones," grading an essay, posting a blog, grading an essay .... you would think that I'd feel this super urgency to get through the grading and be Done. Done for a month! But the lethargy of grading wins out. There's only so many essays I can read on the same topic without zoning out.

One really nice thing about the end of this semester has been the class surveys. I created a basic survey to find out whether my students thought my teaching was effective or not, and maybe give me some suggestions on what to change or keep. Overall, I've learned:
  1. No one agrees on whether they liked the readings or not. The feedback on nearly every one runs the gamut from "completely ineffective" to "best ever!"
  2. No one agrees on whether some online activities were helpful or a waste of time. This was something new this semester, and I was really hoping the surveys would clarify whether it worked or not. But clarity is not to be had.
  3. They like me, they really like me! Even the class that was the most challenging (cell phones out, staring at me when I asked questions, not wanting to do activities) gave me overwhelmingly good feedback. The answer to the question, "What should I change?" was almost always "nothing," or something very minor. What students wanted to change most often was themselves: "I should have been in class more" or "Paid more attention!"
My first reaction, of course, is to float on Cloud 9. I will always keep these surveys. It definitely ends the semester on a high note, and actually makes me look forward to the next semester (which doesn't usually happen for a few more weeks).

On the other hand, as a pseudo-scientist, I doubt their objectivity. For several reasons:
  1. I am their only ENG-1010 professor. (Not true for all, but for many.) It's hard to rate me compared to other ENG-1010 profs or compare this course when you don't have experience with anyone else. Particularly when, for many students, this is the first college-level English course they've taken.
  2. I handed out the surveys in class, stayed in the room while they filled them out, and collected them at the end. They may have tended toward positive remarks either because they didn't want to hurt my feelings, or they didn't want to hurt their grades.
  3. The students who had really bad things to say about the class most likely didn't make it to class, had given up on participation points long ago, and just emailed in their essays.
It's a good feeling. Everyone loves positive feedback! But I am taking it with a grain of salt. There were differences in all three classes, but all of them said to not change a thing. I think that students like what they know, and because this was their English class, they want to believe that it was a good one.

But I'm not completely a Debbie Downer, I swear. It was really important to me that they all felt like I was available outside of class and that my expectations (and subsequent grades) were clear, and those issues were definitely affirmed.

Anyway, that's probably all of the dissecting of the surveys I should do. I could keep going, except it would read like a 12-year-old girl's Pro/Con list for asking Sean to slow dance on Friday night. Every positive would have a negative, the list would never end ... and all of the i's would be dotted with cute hearts.

Back to grading. After I get a glass of wine ....

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Ornament 2005

This ornament represents kind of a best and worst moment in my life. It was purchased in November or December 2005, from the Ten Thousand Villages store in the O'Bryanville area of Cincinnati. This ornament might look quite familiar to some, because we bought a lot of them and tied them onto everyone's gifts that year.

We were living in Cincinnati at the time. Since February, I had been working at a job that made me completely miserable. I was so depressed, actually, that I was taking antidepressants for the first (and still only, up to this point anyway) time in my life. I cried all the time. When I tried to enter the work building, I could feel the tears building up. My boss was horrible, there was too much work to do, not enough time to do it in, and no recognition that I was given an impossible task, with an impossible manager, and doing the best I could with hardly any training or support.

I stuck it out for as long as I could—much longer than was reasonable, because I'm stubborn like that. But I finally handed in an ultimatum at the end of November to the department head: You've been promising me for months that you would remedy all of these complaints, which you have agreed are an issue. I'm tired of promises, so either fix it or consider this my two weeks' notice.

She called me in for a meeting the next day and said she accepted my resignation and it was effective immediately. She gave no acknowledgement that the situation was in any way her fault or responsibility. I was unreliable and a quitter was the undercurrent in the room. I had the rest of the day to clean out my desk and get everything in order.

I started crying because I was so shocked, even though I shouldn't have been. I was not treated well the whole time I was there—why should it start now? But I got myself together and went back to my desk. I only told one co-worker what happened and asked her to keep it quiet, and then spent the rest of the afternoon working away on my computer and pretending like nothing had happened. I hung around until after 6, when most people had already left. This wasn't unusual, since I had regularly been working 50-60 hour weeks ever since I started. I cleaned out my desk, said "good-bye" to a couple of people who were still there, and left.

I went home and told Keith and cried. I had no idea if I was relieved or upset or which way was up. This horrible job had been consuming my thoughts and emotions for months—many days it felt like it was consuming me—and suddenly it was gone. What next?

What does one do after essentially getting fired? Go shopping, of course! Keith took the following day off work and we went Christmas shopping. We had a really nice day together, because every time we are together we enjoy it, and we bought most of our presents from small shops close to our apartment. We walked, we talked, we shopped, we ate.

Slowly, the anxiety that had been squeezing my chest into a knot 24/7 started to ease. I began to think that there would be life after this horrible job. Something would work out .... and no matter what it was or how long it took, it would be worth it because I wouldn't be at that place anymore!

This ornament reminds me of just how dark that time was for me, but how far I've come since. I learned a valuable lesson that if the whole situation seems bad from the beginning, it probably is. I should trust my instincts and move on! And I should also know that I'm a good, hard worker. If I'm trying my hardest and I can't meet someone's expectations, those expectations just might be unreasonable. So instead of working myself into the ground to meet them, I should take a step back and think about what's feasible, and recognize that I need a work/life balance (emphasis on the "life" part) to be content.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Yesterday was a crazy, crazy day. I thought Monday's snow was bad, but yesterday was so much worse. It was fine overnight, but it started snowing at about 9 o'clock in the morning and still hadn't stopped by 7 o'clock that night, when I was trying to get home from work.

I really shouldn't complain about my drive, however. It usually takes me 20-30 minutes to get home from campus. Yesterday was more like 45 minutes (an hour if you could the time that I spent even cleaning off my car before I could get on the road). On the other hand, my sister drives across town to watch Eleanor for me on Wednesdays. It normally takes her about an hour to get home. Yesterday it took 4 hours. 4 HOURS! She could have made almost to Cincinnati in that amount of time.

Today, however, there's a beautiful blue sky and the sun is shining brightly—blindingly on all of the pristine white snow. I do think that all of the snow (once it's off the road) is beautiful and festive. After all of this, we'd better have a white Christmas!

Image Credit: "Photos: Feet of Snow Bury Great Lakes" article at Weather.com

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Christmas Ornament 2002

... and back to the post I originally meant to write yesterday, if I wasn't battling the snow. This is an ornament I picked up for Keith when I was in Savannah, Georgia at a work conference in 2002. And by work conference, I mean I worked for the organization that ran the conference, there was only 3 or 4 of us full-time staff, and we worked the entire time. We never saw the outside of the hotel until long after the sun went down.

What I did see of the city, I really liked though. I loved the architecture and the parks. One night we took a ghost tour (what else do you do at night in a new city? with co-workers?) which was fun. On the last day, I had a few hours to myself to wander around, shop, and be touristy before we flew back home.

So many cute shops! Since the conference was right before Thanksgiving, everyone already had their Christmas items on display. I bought this ornament for Keith as a, "Hey! I was thinking about you! Even if I hardly ever got the chance to call you."

The whole time I was walking around, I kept thinking of how much more fun I'd be having if Keith were there, too. I did like the city, but I feel like I saw and experienced very little of it. I'm still hoping to go back there one day, with Keith, and see and do a lot more. But still take the ghost tour!

Christmas Ornament 1987

It's hard to believe I haven't done this before (and I haven't—I just checked), but I thought for this week I'd feature a few of the ornaments on our Christmas tree. It took us a week, but our tree is purchased, on display, and decorated. And of course, one of the best parts is pulling all of the ornaments out of the box and memories surging forward with every one.

I figured I'd start with the oldest ornament I wanted to feature, and one of the oldest ornaments I have. My Grandma Stroh gave it to me in 1987, when I was 9 years old. I'm a little shocked it's lasted this long, knowing my klutziness (cue the Christmas tree taking-down disaster, now that I've jinxed it).

I have so many fond memories of Christmas with my grandparents on both sides. We (parents and sisters) were also home on Christmas morning. The first time I woke up somewhere other than my parents' house on Christmas morning was when I was 22 years old, and in Scotland. With both sets of grandparents living locally, we never traveled for Christmas and I was/am glad of that tradition. I think we would usually go to one grandparents' on Christmas Eve, spend Christmas morning at home, and then go to the other grandparents' on Christmas afternoon.

For Eleanor it's a little different, since Keith's parents and family live over 4 hours away. We do always go visit soon after Christmas, but not right on the day. We do, however, always spend Christmas morning at home, in our living room, gathered around our own Christmas tree.

This ornament from Grandma Stroh reminds me of the traditions of both gathering with extended family, and making time to enjoy immediate family who I may take for granted on a daily basis. Eleanor has already decided that Santa is bringing her a baby doll and doggy pajamas. I'm really looking forward to seeing her face this year when she rounds the corner and sees the presents under the tree.

*Many thanks to Keith, my wonderful photographer, for these pictures and all the rest.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Breaking the Internet with Uploads

It feels like we've been breaking the Internet lately. First, due to the oft-mentioned hard drive blow-up, we've been uploading our entire lives to Mozy for the past 3 weeks. THREE WEEKS. I had no idea we had that much data, but apparently we do, and it takes forever to back up. It should be done today or tomorrow, though, which is pretty exciting. Now, if our house burns down, I'll still have an electronic copy of my to-do lists and debt repayment plan. Yippee!

We would be done with that already, except we paused it over the weekend for a different uploading project. We've been printing our photos with Snapfish for a few years now. They do a good job, they're quick, and it's 9cents per 4x6 print. Even though the shipping ALWAYS ends up to be so much more than I expect, every time I've compared the cost to somewhere else, Snapfish ends up the winner. Especially because we usually prepay credits, which knocks the price down to 8cents/print.

At first, we opted to do the highest resolution upload to Snapfish, but at the rate we were going, it would have taken us another 3 weeks to upload all of our photos. We changed to a faster upload option, which still gave us enough resolution to print enlargements up to 8x10 (and I certainly don't need to see pictures of myself any bigger than that), and finished uploading by Sunday afternoon. THEN, I threw together a photo Christmas card and we uploaded that to Snapfish, too.

So later this week, we should be receiving about 9 pounds of pictures. Did I mention that we printed over 1,000 4x6 prints?

This rambling story does have a point, I swear. Keith and I were marvelling at how many photos we take and print, and how that wouldn't have been possible in the days of actual film. I don't even want to think about how much it would have cost to print that many photos from film—plus the cost of buying the film in the first place. And what about all of the pictures we take that we don't even end up printing? We wanted a picture of my entire family at Eleanor's birthday party, and with two toddlers in the picture I think we took at least 20 shots to make sure one was usable. Can you imagine using almost a whole roll of film at once?

And likewise with the computer files. A lot of them are photos, but not everything. We also store a significant amount of music in iTunes. At this point, most of the albums are ones of which we also own the physical CD, but lately we've done a lot more simply downloading MP3 files. At some point in the not-so-distant future, I imagine that the majority of our music will all be files instead of CDs. Flash drives these days have more memory than the computer I had 10 years ago. Can you imagine if I tried to physically store all of the electronic information that we have? There's no way it would happen. Or if I tried to do by hand all of the things that are accomplished by programs like Word and Photoshop?

Realizing how much digital information we have also makes me realize how much our lives have changed since 20 years ago. I would say that Keith and I have jumped into the digital age with both feet, yet I'm still on the fence about whether it's made our lives better or not. Am I happy about digital photography quality and price? Yes. Am I happy to have constant access to new music, news, and information? Yes.

Is my life any easier? I don't really know. But is that the goal?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Etsy: Grammar

Meg's response to "Geeky Processed Meat?" inspired me to do a few more Etsy-themed posts for the Christmas season. Of course, the first thing I thought of ... no wait. What happened first after I had this great idea was that I drew a blank. What word could I search on that would use as interesting and varied results as bacon?

So rather than wait for that one fantabulous word to come to me, I did the next best thing. What is a word that I would want? So I searched on grammar.

The results were neither as robust nor as random as with bacon. The emphasis fell heavily on grammar nerd jewelry. Although it wasn't as surprising, I did enjoy looking at it. These are pieces I would definitely wear to class!
There were a few non-wearable items:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

We've had a good, uneventful Thanksgiving. Keith and Eleanor are already in bed, but for some reason I'm just not ready to fall asleep. Here's 10 things I'm thankful for today:
  1. Eleanor
  2. Keith
  3. spending time with Keith and Eleanor, like we'll be able to with the long weekend
  4. mid-afternoon naps with Beckett and Gomez
  5. only 2 weeks of class left in the semester
  6. Christmas music
  7. laughter and good food with family and friends
  8. a new hard drive and NOT losing all of our pictures from the past 4 years
  9. having a job that is challenging (even if a bit too challenging, sometimes)
  10. my fluffy, warm bathrobe and cozy gripper socks

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Speaking of Quality Time

Let's see, first I complained about not having enough money, but then said that I'd rather have no money and more time home with Eleanor. And now I'm going to somewhat modify that statement, because I'm in a bit of a quandary: we can't decide what to do about preschool.

I can't believe the time has already come to think seriously about this. But she'll turn 3 in July, and local preschools are having their Open Houses now (we missed one last weekend) for kids who will start as 3-year-olds next fall. Registration opens in January/February. I always knew this would be a tough decision for me, but has it really arrived already?!?

Some of you more experienced parents (or aunts/uncles/etc) might think I'm making too big a deal out of this. Let me explain why I feel it's a dilemma, and then you all can tell me what to do.
  1. I didn't go to preschool. My mom argued that we had to be on a set schedule for the rest of our lives, so why not enjoy our freedom for the 4 short years we have before kindergarten? There's a lot I like about this philosophy. I feel like I can teach Eleanor a lot that she could learn in preschool, so I'm not entirely convinced that she would be behind for kindergarten.
  2. Many people argue for the "socialization" aspect of preschool. On the one hand, Eleanor plays with her cousin Gavin twice a week, every week (during the school semester). She lives on a street with at least 10 other children under the age of 4. We have many playdates; I know that she's learning how to play with other kinds. But on the other hand, she's not learning to play with them in a school environment, where she has a teacher and doesn't have a parent there with her. Is this something she needs to learn now?
  3. On the other other hand, I'm sometimes wary of what socialization she will learn. Will she learn that girls should be quiet? Will she learn about how to deal with a bully? Or that teachers don't always listen to children? These are aspects of our society I'm in no hurry for her to learn.

  4. I have no idea how much it costs. Again with the finances! But it is a consideration. What if I end up working Mon/Wed and she's scheduled for preschool on Tue/Thurs? That would mean missing even more time with her AND paying separately for childcare and preschool.

I am considering the compromise of possibly sending her to preschool at age 4. But unfortunately, we found out that our local kindergarten (maybe most, these days?) is a 5 full day program. So I don't feel like we can go from zero school days to a full week of long days, with no transition time.

Any advice?

Friday, November 19, 2010

One Right "Financial" Decision

When I was complaining about our finances earlier, I looked through old blog entries to find a good picture to use with it. That's how I came across "Weighing Future Financial Options," my post from when I was pregnant with Eleanor and debating whether to continue working full-time or not.

Wow. I am so glad I didn't do that. And even though I complain about wanting more money, Eleanor is so much more important than that. And we do have enough money that it is tight, but definitely feasible, for me to work part-time until she's in school.

It means so much to me that I am her primary caregiver. Her alphabet? I taught her that. She knows that polygons are flat shapes with all straight sides, like a triangle, because of a book she and I got from the library. And whenever she ends a sentence with "or not," like, "Are we going to the playground or not?" she sounds just like me.

She's a wonderful, amazing little girl. And if I have to give up frou-frou coffee drinks for years, I will do that to keep spending time with her. It doesn't always feel like it, but I do know the money will sort itself out with time. And by then, Eleanor and I will have spent many happy hours together.

Still Waiting for the Disposable Income

Earlier this week, we paid off a loan. It was the smallest of our many loans for house improvements, but according to schedule we would have paid it off in August 2011. Paying off a loan almost a year early should feel really good, right? You would think so, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

I'm starting to get frustrated at our lack of disposable income, which is a bad thing because the situation isn't going to change any time soon, for 2 reasons. Number one, I will keep working part-time until Eleanor is in school—or until any other kids we have are in school. So my income is not going to increase in the new few years, and we will continue to have childcare costs.

The second reason is that we owe a lot of money. Between education loans, mortgage, and all of the money we borrowed to fix up the house in the past 4 years, I feel like our debt-to-income ratio is quite unfavorable. The amount of money we put towards debt, every month, is quite substantial.

On the other hand, I know that part of the reason our disposable income is nonexistent is because of our personalities. Keith and I are both savers. We are saving a good chunk of money for retirement, a piddly chunk of money for Eleanor's college, and we are also putting extra money towards our loans, in order to get rid of them more quickly. These are all good things, but they still make me feel poor when I can't afford a coffee at Starbucks more than once a month.

Finally, I know a big part of why I'm so worried about our finances is because we are naturally at the lowest income level for our adult lives (see reasons mentioned above, mainly: young children). This predictable state of tight budgeting just happens to hit at a time when economy's around the world are, like us, somewhat strapped for cash. And I think this is the part that really freaks me out. Right now, we don't have a lot of cushion. If something terrible were to happen, we don't have much to fall back on. And something terrible, in terms of job loss, is happening to people all over the country—and they are finding it nearly impossible to find a new job. What then?!?

So here I am. We're continuing with our debt snowball repayment plan. Or I guess a modified plan, because we're not sticking with the smallest loan first strategy. We chose the order of payment based more so on interest rates (getting rid of the highest ones first) and threw in a few smaller loans along the way at certain times, just for the sense of satisfaction. The important part is that we are committed to continuing our same debt payment amount per month, whether it's going to 5 loans or one remaining loan, until everything* is paid off.

I feel good about that choice. I yearn for the days when we're not so encumbered by debt, and our choices won't be so heavily influenced by the ultimate question, "Can we afford it?" And to have everything paid off by 2013—no more car loans, education loans, or home equity loan by the time Eleanor is 5—would be pretty amazing.

Except that, today, that still feels too far off. Debt accumulates in the blink of an eye, and takes sooooo long to pay off! It feels like we're making sacrifices on a daily basis, but the debt glacier doesn't ever move. Even paying off the one loan isn't enough to convince me that this is actually feasible. That it will all be worth it, and one day we will be (nearly) debt free. I guess I'm really afraid that we'll spend all of this time watching our budget, having no disposable income, and then something else will come up and the situation will never change. I know, I know .... if we've already paid old loans off by the time something new comes up, we technically will be better off. But I can assure you, it won't feel that way.

Am I making any sense, or just sounding whiny? A part of me realizes that we're doing fine, and we are lucky that we're both employed and able to pay our debts and living expenses at all. But the majority of me seems to believe that everyone else has more money than us, lives better, and drinks Starbucks all the time.

*Except our primary home mortgage loan. Because that doesn't count, right?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Geeky processed meat?

I've started my Christmas shopping by browsing around Etsy. So many cute things! Having the wonderful family and friends that I do, I went ahead and clicked on the "Geekery" category, figuring that would be the best place to start.

All the video games, chemistry (hey Josh!;) and anime items in that category, I get. Dr. Who? Yes.

But bacon?!? How is bacon geeky? How is it anything other than bacon?

And how are there so many handmade bacon items? Lamps, scarves, magnets, earrings ... so many ways to wear and display your bacon.

One of my favorites was the magnet pictured above, which is a combo of bacon-loving and public restroom hand dryers. Don't be surprised if you find this in your stocking this year.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness

I'm sitting at a coffee shop on a bright, sunny morning. Usually I teach on Thursday mornings, but it's a holiday due to Veteran's Day. I still had the child carer come for her usual 3 hours, but instead of getting up and out the door by 7:30a, we bumped back the time to 9.30a. I walked to the local coffee shop to sit and grade papers instead of driving to campus and teaching class.

I've been very low energy lately, so I'm happy to have a day off to catch up on grading and, well, to not be "on." To not have to present ideas to a class and present them with enough energy and interest to get the class interested as well.

So of course, with less than an hour of my time left, I haven't even cracked open the grade book. I've caught up on emails and blogging, chatted with another professor who's sitting a table away, and generally just enjoyed not being on campus.

While sitting here not working, I saw a grandmother and two young girls trying to enter the coffee shop. The grandmother was pushing the baby in a stroller, and a toddler was trying to open the door for all of them. However, she kept pushing against the pull door with all of her might and wasn't getting very far.

An older black gentleman with black glasses and salt and pepper dreadlocks was sitting with his computer at a small table right by the door. As soon as he realized the situation, he got up and opened the door so the family could enter. He exchanged a brief, warm smile with the grateful grandmother.

So many times, I feel like I complain about being in public and seeing all of the stupid, insensitive things people do. Being "off" for a day is helping to recharge my batteries, but I also think that witnessing random acts of kindness goes a long way towards recharging my soul, too.

Storing in the Cloud

Right so, as a follow-up to my earlier post about our external hard drive dying: It died. We were in the process of pulling off all our files when it kicked the bucket.

The good news is that we got all of the pictures (of Eleanor's entire LIFE) from the hard drive and a lot of the music. We did lose some other random files, but not many. We're not really sure what's gone, but our consensus is that it's not anything we're really going to miss.

Moving forward, Keith bought another (different brand!) external hard drive, but with 1 terabyte of memory, which is just insane. But the big difference is that we also signed up for online back up through Mozy. I think we both feel a lot better having a separate copy of our digital lives stored somewhere physically distant from here....just in case.

Or at least, we will once it's a reality. Currently everything is being slowly uploaded from the hard drive to Mozy. Keith has assured me that it will take literally 20 days of pretty much nonstop uploading to finish. So we will feel relieved, in about 18 days.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Antithesis of NaBloPoMo

Yes, I am pretty much the opposite of the people participating in NaBloPoMo, who promised to post a blog entry every day for all of November. Nearly November 11 and my first post.

I always get nervous, the first post after a short (or long) hiatus. What do I have to say that makes it worth hanging around? Surely I've been doing something in my time of silence, right?

We're getting to the novels in my classes. I'm teaching The Things They Carried in two classes and Frankenstein in the other one. It's exciting to teach novels that I've taught before, which might sound like the antithesis of exciting, but not to me! I've already read the books multiple times, I have summaries and discussion questions and essay questions prepared.

I'm really learning to like the 2nd or 3rd time teaching a subject. I feel like the classes are so much more mine, more engaging, deeper. I can only imagine what the 4th or 5th time would be like, and I can't imagine the 10th or 20th!

Hey, maybe this relates to the start of this post, after all. Maybe it will get easier, the first post after a hiatus, with practice? Or is it more like the first day of class, that I think will always be exciting and nerve-wracking?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

from our little ballerina

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Horrors of Clothes Shopping

I really wish I could clothes shop with Eleanor. This is one thing that I've not managed to figure out how to do, with a toddler in tow, without driving myself crazy or running out of the store before the clerks notice the pile of white sweaters on the floor, etc.

Part of the problem is that I don't particularly like shopping. So when I get time to myself, that's not what I want to spend it doing. I'd much rather get it out of the way during the day, while hanging out with Eleanor, so I can spend my own time more enjoyably: reading, hanging out with friends, or even just sleeping.

I need some new work clothes, and I need a shirt to complete my Halloween costume. I've known what I wanted to be for weeks (Liz Lemon from 30 Rock—I just need a plaid shirt!), but have yet to actually purchase something. I keep putting it off.

Is is easier to try shopping with Eleanor, or to just think of a new costume that I could make from things around the house?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Lesson

My teaching lesson for today: A lesson plan is merely a teaching tool. It can become a cudgel for destruction or a hammer for building, depending on the class that wields it.

My morning class was awful. They kept just staring at me as I tried to get them to discuss the reading for today. It's always a struggle to get them involved, but today actually felt like there was an invisible wall between myself and them, and I couldn't break it down. One student was clearly texting. I told her to put her phone away and she flat out refused; she put it on her lap, so she could easily pick it up again as soon as I looked away.

After that altercation, I tried one more time to engage them in discussion and was met only with blank faces. At that point, I told them instead of discussing the reading, they had almost 40 minutes to write an essay response to the reading, which they would then hand in to me. I didn't have any revolters walk out (I held my breath for the first few minutes), but it was just a miserable, boring class with little actual teaching and learning going on.

And yet, I intentionally did not change one thing about my lesson plan for my other class that evening. I went in, taught the exact same lesson, and had a completely opposite response. The students were engaged; we laughed, we learned, and time passed quickly.

I am still the same teacher. It was still the same lesson content and presentation. But the students in the classes are totally different. I totally underestimated how much student personalities can affect the class dynamic. Just a core group of 3-4 students can effect a change on the class for good or for bad. If they are involved and class leaders, the lesson plans become the start for a mutually beneficial experience. If they're disengaged and unhappy, the lesson plans become a cudgel that rains down painful blows and clunky, boring lectures on myself and the class.

It's fascinating and frustrating. What am I supposed to do about it? Student personality is definitely something out of my control.

I think that I need to continually learn and refine techniques to minimize the damage from the cudgels, and encourage building behaviors. Maybe, over time, I can reduce the gulf between the "good" and "bad" classes—keep the good classes improving, and hopefully bringing the bad classes up from "awful" to "could be improved."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Choking Hazards

I know a lot of my readers, like me, have young kids. Unlike me, you're probably completely aware of all the recommendations for choking hazard foods to avoid. But just in case you're not, I thought it was worth posting a few links:
"Labels Urged for Foods that Can Choke" (NY Times)
"Choking and Choking Hazards" (About.com)

I hate to say it, but my first reaction to the list of foods in the About.com article was to feel overwhelmed. Item #5 is "hard foods" and item #6 is "soft foods." What else is left?!? Do I need to feed her smoothies and baby food morning, noon, and night until she turns 5 and then she'll be magically able to chew and swallow?

Anyway, it came up because we had been feeding Eleanor microwave popcorn and apparently it's a terrible, terrible thing. The NY Times story is about a father who knew the Heimlich, etc., and still couldn't save his young daughter from choking on popcorn. It was so heartbreaking.

Do you follow all of the rules? I know we used to be really good about cutting up grapes, but have gotten much more lax after months of no problems. Am I just being naive, assuming that this won't happen to us? But I also don't want to become a safety-crazed Mom who won't let her child go anywhere without a safety helmet and water wings.

Where's the line?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Still buried, but digging

I'm still completely overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do this semester.

This isn't really all that unusual. I felt the same way—much worse, actually—at this time last year. The difference is that I think I might have reached the point where my efficiency can go no further.

I have done so much since I started teaching to improve my processes. The class I'm currently teaching is one I've taught not once, but twice before. I know the book, the lesson plans, and the assignments. True, I'm tweaking because I'll always be tweaking. But it's not the deer-in-the-headlights, what am I doing tomorrow? feeling it once was.

And yet, I'm still always behind. I still have too much grading and not enough time with Eleanor. And I'm starting to think that this level of work is not sustainable for me right now.

When I started teaching, I was told that there's a cap on how many hours a part-time adjunct professor would work. I immediately assumed I would be working right at the cap, and calculated my budget accordingly. Looked good!

But this is the first time I'm actually at the cap, and I'm completely miserable. I think I need to start rethinking the budget, because it's not worth the time I'm spending away from Eleanor, or that I sit next to Keith on the couch in the evenings, ignoring him because I'm doing work again.

I actually feel a little bit better, having decided that it really is just this much work. It's not me, it's not something I need to be doing differently to be better, faster, smarter. It's just a fact, and I need to figure out how I'm going to deal with it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Time Flies


and 2010

Does time always go this fast? Parents, please tell me it slows down a little. I can't believe it's been a whole year since that first picture was taken! It seems like just yesterday. And I know I'm going to be saying the same thing about this year's photo, all too soon.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fall Fest

Luckily for me (and the state of the blog), Keith uploaded pictures directly from the camera onto my Netbook from this past weekend, so I actually have something to show!

We went to a local fruit farm this past weekend for their Family Fun Fest. It was awesome. There were the usual enjoyments of a Fall outing:
  • gorgeous blue sky with fluffy white clouds, contrasting with brilliant red, orange, and yellow leaves
  • weather cold enough for a jacket, but warm enough to be comfortable outside
  • apple cider
  • pumpkins.
Plus, they had so much more:
  • Many, many slides

  • A clubhouse in the woods (with additional slide off to the right)

  • A corn maze

  • A wagon ride
  • Tee pees
  • A sunflower field
I don't even know what else. I definitely can't describe it all. We got there and Eleanor was immediately in love. I asked her what she wanted to do first. She flapped her arms, as she tends to do when incredibly excited, and said in awe, "I don't know!!!"

It was a really good time.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Storing in the Cloud?

Right, so, my posting lately has been dismal. There's a couple reasons for this. Work (which is a different post) and our external hard drive.

A few years ago, we bought an external hard drive, which we use to store all of our pictures and music, as well as some other miscellaneous files. Okay, pretty much everything. It's hooked up to the network and we can access it from any computer, so it's very convenient.

Except, of course, when it's not. And it hasn't been for the past month. The drive has been exceedingly flaky, I can never get to any of the pictures—folders just start disappearing and reappearing. Keith has been tearing his hair out over the issue for a few days now, without a lasting solution.

It's freaking me out. At this point, I think everything is still there and we'll be able to retrieve it. But I wouldn't say I'm 100% certain. And that's every picture we've ever taken of Eleanor.

We've talked before about online storage, but have never seriously considered it, since we're always loathe to add another monthly expense into the too-tight budget. But we're starting to wonder if it's actually something we can do without.

Do any of you use online backup? How do you make sure your files and digital memories don't disappear?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Road Trip FROM Alabama

Okay, so I was very optimistic about the trip. And the trip down was good; we did enjoy the wedding and the family and showing off Eleanor. The problems came on the way back.

Where to start?

Well, did you know that Ford Escape Hybrid's apparently have an error message that says, "Pull over safely" and then shuts off power to the engine? They do! And that's exactly what happened to us just barely into Tennessee on Sunday afternoon.

The original plan had been to drive 9 hours on Sunday, staying at Keith's sister's house in Louisville Sunday night, and driving the final 6 hours back on Monday. We were going to be back in time for me to teach my evening class.

Instead, we spend Sunday night at a hotel in Tennessee. Because it was Sunday night, the car hadn't even been towed or looked at yet. By 10 o'clock Monday morning, it was clear I wouldn't be back in time for my evening class—the first time I've had to cancel a class since I started teaching.

In the end, Keith, Eleanor, and I made it home only 6 hours later than originally planned, which seems like a minor miracle to me. It involved a lot of help from my in-laws; we had actually driven separately to the Cincinnati-area from my parents, and left our car at Keith's parents' house in case of a Reds' game 4 of the play-offs. So the revised plan was: my parents rented a car and drove us 3+ hours up to Louisville, where we met Keith's parents and our brother-in-law at his house. To get there, Keith's parents had driven two cars—their own, and ours—so we could leave from there. We all ate some lunch (Thanks again, Jeremy!) and my parents quickly left to drive back down to Tennessee and see what was going on with their car.

We hung around a bit longer (but not much) and then Keith, Eleanor and I piled into our car to head up to Cleveland. At the same time, Keith's parents headed back to Northern Kentucky and Jeremy went back to work.

Fast forward a few hours and we're safely home. Our own beds! Our own bathroom! It was still very quiet, since Beckett and Gomez were staying with family, but it was good to be home.

Road Trip to Alabama

This is the blog entry I wrote last week, which I never got a chance to actually post:

As you read this, we are into day 2 of our road trip to Alabama. My cousin is getting married this weekend, and we will be in attendance.

Hopefully, by the time you read this, we're back on the road for the shorter leg of this 15-hour, one-way trip. It's times like these that remind me how ridiculously large the U.S. is. We live at the very northern end of Ohio, which means we spend over 4 hours just driving through our state. Then, when we reach the northern tip of Alabama, we still have another 5 hours to go, since my aunt lives on the Gulf Coast at the very southern edge of the state.

I'm looking forward to seeing family and having a mini-vacation. I've never been to Alabama; I've never spent much time in the South at all, so that should be interesting. And, clearly, it's a less arduous journey than the one we took to Costa Rica last Fall, for Keith's cousin's wedding.

We've managed to con my parents into taking us along for the ride, which means:
  • More legroom yet less gas, because my parents have a Ford Escape Hybrid
  • More Eleanor entertainers! Someone else to play finger puppets with!
  • More drivers! (The exclamation point is purely for Keith's sake. Since he does 99.7% of all the driving, this one doesn't really affect me as much.)
The plan is to drive about 9 hours on Thursday and 6 hours on Friday. Spend a whole entire day in Alabama, then drive 9 hours on Sunday and 6 hours on Monday to get back in time for me to teach my evening class Monday night. Send speedy thoughts our way!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Like a Swiss Watch

When Eleanor was just a tiny baby, I tried to imagine what her voice would sound like, once she actually started talking. Just what was going through that tiny, perfect head of hers, anyway?

She's been talking for awhile now. But as her command of the language grows, her personality is becoming more and more evident. I know it's early days, but I'm so happy to report that she loves words. She soaks them up like her once-crunchy Rice Krispies soak up milk all morning long, until she decides to eat them soggy and limp at snacktime. (I'd like to think the love of words comes from me. The soggy cereal tendencies, I have no idea.)

And, in a way that I would never expect from a 2-year-old, her understanding of the language is very precise. If I use a term for something, that IS what the something is, and cannot be changed. Once I read a book a certain way a few times, that IS the way it will be read. And she doesn't hesitate to correct me, although she's usually polite about it. A few examples:
  • The other week, I was trying to offer her water in her water bottle, but for some reason the word "bottle" was escaping me. I held it up and called it her water "jug." She ran across the kitchen to me. "No, mommy! Water bottle. I'm sorry Mommy, water bottle."

  • Last night, we read Corduroy and Ella Takes the Cake at bedtime. In Corduroy, I messed up the page where he comes upstairs and sees "rows and rows of beds." For some reason, I read it as "rows and rows of beads."
    "Beds!" she piped up as I turn the page, already forgetting what I had read.

    In Ella Takes the Cake, at one point Ella asks her mother a question and "'You are helping,' her mother replied."
    I read it as, "'You are helping,' her mother said."
    Even though the meaning was the same, Eleanor still corrected me. "Her mother replied!" I had to go back a page and confirm that yes, Eleanor, the word is "replied" and not "said."
When she was younger, if I missed a word or switched it out, I just kept going. I can't get away with that anymore. She's watching (listening to?) me like a hawk. Just because she likes soggy cereal doesn't mean she's stupid.

What I really need to do is post a video of her "reading" one of the many books that she's memorized. Unfortunately, the only good video I have of that right now is her in her underwear, swinging her legs around, and wearing her hot pink belt as a necklace. Once I get a video that's more appropriate for public viewing, I'll post it.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A feline excuse

So, it's naptime. My plan was to eat lunch, do some laundry, clean the basement (sneak in some TV watching while I do it ....), catch up on the blog, etc.

I fell apart at laundry. We've gotten into a bad habit of washing all the laundry, but never actually putting it away. It goes from the dirty hamper to the washer, dryer ... and onto the couch, and then back onto our persons. The drawers/closet are not really involved.

I have a load of laundry in now, but there were already two loads on the couch. After putting the laundry in the washer, I did get the lunch and pick up the basement a little bit. By the time I was ready to fold the existing laundry .... it was too late. Somehow, I've lost my motivation.

A nap is sounding really good.


I'm expecting a student to show up on my doorstep any day now.

Ever since I've started teaching, I've become paranoid about seeing students outside of class. Not that it's such a terrible thing, but I always feel like I have to stop and think before I leave the house in my yoga pants and ratty old sweatshirt. What are the chances I'll run into a student? I wonder. I'm pretty young, for a professor, and so appearing professional and, I don't know, suitably academic? concerns me.

But even worse that the fear of running into students in public is the fact that it's very likely, at some point, one of them will deliver a pizza to my house. Last semester a student told me that he delivered pizza, and that's when it first occurred to me. Every time we ordered pizza, I cowered out of sight just in case. And now this semester, a student was wearing a pizza hat and I asked him if he worked there. He said that he is, indeed, a delivery driver for this pizza chain. And he works at my local restaurant.

I might as well just accept that it's going to happen eventually. But it's very disconcerting to imagine a student seeing my house, my unweeded garden, my living room strewn with toys. Especially if it's a night that we've resorted to ordering in pizza, that means it's even more likely that the house is a complete mess. And I'm a complete mess.

The only bright side is that, I think we can all agree, Keith needs to answer the door for the pizza deliveries from now on.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Familiar Colleague

I've been running into my Mom a lot lately. Which is kind of weird, because she lives across town, 45 minutes away. Except it's perfectly normal, because she is now teaching English on my campus!

In June she retired after 30+ years of teaching K-8 students. She was in a pull-out program, where she would take a few kids who tested below average and give them extra tutoring. So, to recap, she's had a lot of experience with students up to age 13, in small groups—no grading or lesson plans.

She knew she wanted to do something else after retirement, but she hadn't decided what. Her Masters in Education makes her eligible to teach the developmental classes (below ENG-101), and she had expressed a potential interest in it. At some point. Maybe. Just the Reading course, ENG-096.

But then, suddenly, 3 days before the semester started a professor told the department head he wasn't coming back. There were 2 or 3 classes to fill .... I volunteered my Mom for ENG-099 (mostly writing and grammar), and here we are! I figured she'd curse me at first, and be incredibly nervous, but eventually (hopefully?) she'd be glad.

It's so fun to be colleagues with her. I love sharing lesson plans, tips and tricks, discussing what worked for me and what hasn't. Plus, she has so much more experience in education than I do; she knows about so many resources and technologies that I'd never heard of. I'm sure her students already love her, and I'm very confident that she's doing much better than she gives herself credit for.

And what's even better? My older sister (Masters in Library Science) is also going to tutor in the writing center. People have started to look at me funny, and ask just how many family members I have who are involved in education.

I think the campus is safe from a family take-over, though. I don't think my electrical engineering Dad is really looking for a side job. And my younger sister (with a Masters in Special Education) is BUSY watching Eleanor when I'm at work, so she's definitely not available for another job. I would do everything I could to stop it, because it's so wonderful to have her taking care of Eleanor!

I'm so excited for Amy to start working on campus, too. Is it silly to picture sitting with my Mom and Sister in the cafeteria, talking about writing, pedagogy, and educational theories? Just thinking about it puts a smile on my face. (Which is bad, because I AM sitting in the cafeteria as I type this, but sitting alone.)

Youtube Play

In class this week, I planned a new lesson that didn't go very well. It involved playing a few videos from the Youtube Play biennial competition for the class. I wanted them to write down some main points about the videos, and then we were going to talk about how we'd group them for division-classification essays.

Here's one of the videos I used:

And another one:

This lesson didn't go well for two reasons, the main one being that I really suck at explaining division-classification essays. Honestly, I really didn't entirely understand the concept myself, even though it's the second time I've taught it. I just kept thinking of it like comparison-contrast, and couldn't get that out of my head, even though that's not really right. I kept talking, and looking out at a sea of blank faces.

Also, the lesson failed in my first class because Youtube was soooo slow. I learned my lesson and got all of the videos up and buffering long before I needed them, so they were fully buffered come show time in my second class. That time, they seemed to enjoy the videos more and it generated more discussion about the content .... but in the end, I still don't think they understand division-classification. Because I didn't understand it.

This was a good lesson for me that the content (which I still think was very cool!) is only secondary to my own understanding and explanation of the material.

Friday, September 24, 2010


I've clearly been MIA from the blog for the past couple weeks. I have to say, this semester has been really challenging so far. It's my first semester of teaching 3 classes and wow. Three classes means THREE TIMES the grading. Who knew?!?

The past two weekends, I've had about 60 essays to read, grade, and respond to. Along with birthday parties, family activities, etc. My life has not been balanced.

But I am speaking in the past tense, hoping that it's better now. For the rest of the semester, I think the assignments are more spread out and manageable. I hope.

So hopefully regular posting will resume soon!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Maternal Is Political

I think I've mentioned this book to quite a few people, but I've been reading The Maternal Is Political and loving it. It's a book of essays by women such as Ann Lamott, Nancy Pelosi, Benazir Bhutto, Cindy Sheehan, and many other wonderful writers whom I hadn't heard of before, but write with great purpose and clarity.

They are expressing many of the same frustrations and surprises I've been encountering as a new mother, but much more eloquently and with greater insight than I've been able to do. I know that I get frustrated, and I know there's some deeper reason for many of my minor, daily irritations, but I have a hard time even stopping to think long enough to get to the real reason. With this book, in some sense, these writers have revealed the reasons to me.

Many of the writers also have written columns or pieces for Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined. My sister Amy told me about the site awhile ago. I thought it looked interesting, bookmarked it, and never went back. It might become one of my homepages now, though.


Thursday, September 09, 2010

I have to pee on potty!

The big change from my last post about potty training is that Eleanor is actually telling us she has to go, instead of us always asking the question.

As you can see, we decided to go with stickers as potty reward; I'm trying to avoid food rewards as much as possible. What cracks us up about her Potty Board is that she now has, I don't know, maybe 30 stickers on it? But never fear—there's still plenty of white space. She puts all of the stickers on top of the letters. She doesn't really like to put them on the blank whiteness in the middle. Maybe it's too pretty to cover up?!?

When we first started, I said, "We'll see how it goes. I'm not saying it has to happen, just that we're going to try and if it doesn't happen we'll stop and try again later."

Now that it's been a couple weeks, I think it's really happening except I still can't get my head around it. She's so old! Are you really telling me I don't have to change diapers anymore? Or wash and fold the cloth diapers? It's such a huge change and it's been accomplished so gradually that I just don't believe it.

Of course, there are a few caveats. She's still in a diaper at night. We don't "change" diapers in that the diaper comes off in the morning and the big girl underwear goes on, never straight from one diaper to the next. Naptime has been pretty hit and miss (we've been washing a LOT of sheets), so I'm not sure what to do about that. I like that she doesn't want to be in diapers anymore, so I'm hesitant to stuff her into one for the nap. But when she wakes up from a nap soaking wet, nobody's happy.

We did make it through our first potty-trained trip to Kentucky very well. On Keith's suggestion, we took a little potty in the back of the car which was VERY IMPORTANT. Between driving to my parents' to drop off the pets, doing some shopping, and then driving to Kentucky, she used that little potty 4 times in one day. Times where, if we hadn't been able to open the back of car and plop her on the portable potty, we would have been in deep .... trouble.

I've been so worried about potty training for so long, I don't even know what's the next Big Thing. Reading? Counting? Learning a foreign language? All without any diapers!

The Writer's Inner Voices

For my class today, we talked about "Shitty First Drafts" by Anne Lamott. The overall gist of the piece (in case the title didn't give it away) is accepting that your first draft will not be any good, and you just need to get ideas down on paper and take it from there.

To start, I had the students do some freewriting on the "inner voices" they hear when they're trying to write. Lamott describes the characteristics of her own inner voices, and talks about how detrimental they are to her, in both the writing process and in her life in general. While the students wrote quietly, I also opened up my notebook and took my own advice. This is what I came up with:

What voices do I hear when I write? I feel like I start to ponder existential questions, instead of getting to the task at hand.
  • Am I a writer?
  • Was I meant to write?
  • Do I really have anything to say?
  • Hasn't it all been said already, by people much more successful and eloquent than I?
Although I guess it really depends on what I'm writing. If I'm writing for my blog, I compose a lot of it in my head before I ever get a chance to sit down and write. So once I do sit at the computer and open up a new blog post, the thoughts flow relatively easily.

If I'm writing fiction, I think I take the SFD approach and try to be a taskmaster. Tell myself to just keep my fingers moving, keep the words filling up the blank pages.

I also spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how I'd spend the money, if I ever became a "successful" writer. I imagine paying off all my debt, traveling, feeling justified in furnishing and decorating a really nice, welcoming office space—no expense spared.My favorite artwork, the most ergonomic Herman Miller chair, a top-of-the-line sound system. Because, after all, this is a professional space now.

But then I remember, before all that, I need to write. And rewrite. And get it published, and get people to like it and buy it. And then I get depressed and ask myself whether it's even worth starting.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Back to school

This past week was the first week of classes.

I just kept thinking about how incredibly different this Fall feels from the same time last year. I had just been hired, I had NO IDEA what I was doing teaching, grading, lesson planning. It was all a mystery to me. I didn't even know what the process was for getting copies or how to find my classes.

This semester, I felt more excitement than nerves in the days leading up to the start of the semester. I walked into class, confident in my lesson planning and in my ability to teach my students what they needed to know. Or rather, I feel confident that I will do my best, and my best may not be the best ever, but it won't be the worst, either. And whether they actually learn it? Well, that is mostly out of my hands, and I am confident that I will not lose sleep when a student insists on failing my class by lack of effort and/or participation.

Outside of class, I ran into several former students. I got hugs and big smiles and exclamations of welcome. In the classroom, I met nearly 75 new students (I'm teaching 3 sections of ENG-101), who I am slowly getting to know. Who I can tease in class, who always has an opinion, who pays attention but will never raise a hand .... hopefully some of those will have hugs and smiles for me after the semester is over.

All week, in the back of my mind, I keep thinking, "Has it really only been a year?" It feels like a lifetime ago that everything was so new and scary and daunting. When I first started, I just kept telling myself that the first semester was the worst, and it would get better. It had to.

I'm so relieved to realize it's true. It's so much better than a year ago. And I'm looking forward to what this year will bring.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Do you have to go potty?

How about now?

And now?

We started potty training Eleanor when we got back from Vermont, and these are the words constantly on our lips. Every time I hold her on my hip, I get anxious. I start to wonder, Does my hip suddenly feel very hot and wet? Is she always this warm? Or is she peeing on me RIGHT NOW?

Despite my pee paranoia, so far, so good. She has had a few accidents, but not as many as I might have expected. She's peed at home, at her grandparents, at the Natural History museum ..... Let me clarify. She's peed in the potty at all of those places and more.

This weekend will be a real test: Our first trip down to visit Keith's family since the potty training started. I don't have any idea how long this trip will take. Just how many stops will we be making for Eleanor to sit on the potty? Or will we need to be washing out the car seat as soon as we get there?

I was going to say that we've been doing this long enough, and she's been successful enough, that I'm starting to believe this may actually stick. However, I'll reserve that statement for after we get back.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Vermont, in Conclusion

My blogging about the Vermont trip would be remiss if I didn't mention a few of the very odd coincidences that happened while we were there.

First, as I mentioned, a friend of Keith's family retired last Spring and has been hiking the Appalachian trail. What I didn't mention is that he was very, very close to our location in Vermont. The Appalachian Trail is over 2,000 miles long, only 150 of which are in Vermont, and we ended up in Vermont at the same time as Jerry. How crazy is that? We almost met up for a day with his wife, Sue, who is supporting him as he nears the finish.

Unfortunately, we missed Sue. But we did get to see one of Keith's cousins from New York City. The night before we left for Vermont, Anna posted on her Facebook that she was heading to a wedding in Vermont that weekend. Keith sent her a message and called her to say that we, too, were heading to Vermont. Where might you be?

Anna was close enough that she made it work, stopping by our campsite for a few hours on Sunday afternoon. It was so fun to be sitting in the woods in Vermont, catching up on life. The last time we saw Anna, we were on a beach in Costa Rica after her brother's wedding. It makes me wonder: Where will be meet up next? (Say "London," Fate! Please?!?)

Finally, after the trip was over, I wanted to relive some of it. I went on to our library's website to reserve some Vermont-related books. In addition to a plethora of guidebooks, I saw a book called Vintage Vermont Villainies by John Stark Bellamy II. That's weird, I thought, Isn't John Stark Bellamy II a Cleveland author?

And he was! He wrote seven true-crime books about his original home, Cleveland, before moving to Vermont. Along with the change of scenery, he changed his focus and is now telling the world about true crime in his new home.

We drove 9+ hours away from home, to come across all of these connections to home. This is one of those ways in that it seems like the world is a small place, getting smaller every day. But in a good way.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Vermont in Nature

One of the biggest surprises on the trip was how much Eleanor loves being in nature. Granted, she's always loved rocks. Playing with them, eating them, sitting in them, throwing them, putting them in her purse and carrying them around ... you get the idea.

But now I'm talking about down and dirty nature. The lake was just a short walk from our campsite. The first day we were there, Keith and Eleanor walked down to the lake and saw several boys catching salamanders and putting them in a pail. (Only to release them and do it all again.) They asked Eleanor if she wanted to hold one.

She said, "Yeah!," stuck her hand in the pail, and grabbed one by the tail. Keith stood there with his mouth open as the first salamander wriggled away and she stuck her hand back in the pail. Then yesterday, she picked up a worm. A worm! With no fear.

Not squeamish, this one! Nature's slime and gore doesn't scare her. I couldn't be more proud! I hate that I, like the rest of society, fall into stereotyping. Because Eleanor likes to wear dresses, play dress-up, carry a purse, and read, I guess I assumed she'd think slimy things were icky. I'm so glad that she's proved me wrong.

I hope that she is showing us all what individuality the next generation of women will be capable of. I know many mothers who try too hard to avoid "typical" girly things like dolls and pink and frills. But I think that it also has a place in a little girl's childhood, as long as it's not foisted upon her.

Eleanor can wear her pink dresses, have a tea party .... and then run outside to play with rocks, build a fort, and catch worms. Just like she should be able to wear a dress to work, choose her folders because they're pretty .... and be an incredibly competent, successful worker and leader.

Every morning, we went to the lake so that she could sing "Good morning, salamanders!" to wake them up. And every night, at bedtime, we went back down so that she could sing them to sleep and assure them she would be back the next morning. She is such an amazing, caring, observant little person. We had a wonderful time on vacation with her, getting to know her emerging personality. It means so much to me to have the opportunity to show her new places, and to help her realize that she has something to learn and to offer, wherever we might be.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Vermont in the Mountains

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we did get out and enjoy the natural beauty of the Green Mountains. Tuesday we drove just a couple miles to hike a part of the Appalachian Trail. A longtime friend of Keith's parents is currently hiking the entire trail, and we wanted to at least see a part of it.

The part of it we saw, however, was straight up and filled with rocks large and small. We gamely climbed, carrying Eleanor, for a little while (maybe a half-hour or so?) because heading back down. I just kept picturing myself falling or losing my grip on Eleanor, and the idea was enough to make me hyperventilate.

On Wednesday, we went to another trail that Keith had found, to the top of Bald Mountain. Even though we were hiking to the top of a mountain, it was actually a much more reasonable trail than the section of the AT we'd been on the day before. I think it was about 2 or 2.5 miles, one way. The trail was relatively broad, very well-marked, and had many switchbacks so that it was never too steep.

We weren't sure if Eleanor would last to the top, but she surprised us once again with her patience and adaptability. What was key on this hike was the we brought 1) her favorite doll, Amelia, and 2) chocolate. As long as Amelia was having fun (and we assured Eleanor that she was, quite often), then Eleanor could have fun, too. And when we stopped, she immediately asked for some trail mix and picked out all of the chocolate pieces, leaving the raisins and peanuts behind. That's my girl!

Unlike our museum trip, me carrying Eleanor the entire time was NOT an option. Keith and I took turns on the way up (although he carried her more than I did), and she did do some hiking and jumping off big rocks.

I was so shocked when the deciduous trees gave way to evergreens, and then the evergreens thinned out and we found ourselves at the top. I didn't think we would ever make it all the way!

There was white sand on the trail at the top; I assumed that this was placed there to maintain the trail, since there were few trees and enough sunlight to be worried about weeds covering over the trail. No matter how it got there, it was Eleanor's favorite part of the mountain top. I'm not sure if she ever even looked up, she was so focused on playing with the sand and throwing rocks.

The only nap she got that day was on the way down the mountain. I carried her for a short while as we started back down, but then handed her off to Keith and she fell asleep. In the picture above, she's passed out on his shoulder, and she remained that way until almost the bottom of the mountain.

I did think, on the way down, that she had the right idea. She stayed awake for the exciting hike up, but then got to miss out on the anticlimactic hike back down, past everything she'd already seen.

On the other hand, hiking down the mountain was one of my most peaceful times on the whole trip. Now that Eleanor's talking, she doesn't stop talking much. Or telling me to talk and entertain her. So I did enjoy the absence of conversation as we hiked down, hearing instead the crunch of our shoes on dried leaves, bird song, and the rustle of the wind in the trees.