Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

This year:

-I read more books than I believed imaginable. Thanks, comps prep!
-I did more traveling for research and conferences and have come to really enjoy it.
-I made friends outside my department
-I strengthened some friendships within my department
-I dealt with epic problems in some of my studies, but came out the other side
-I developed a better sense of which professors are interested in promoting my success
-I survived my first year of home ownership and my first semester of TA'ing

Next year:

-I resolve to get back in touch with old friends and acquaintances
-I will finish up classes and move on to the next step of my program
-I look forward to TA'ing and teaching a summer course
-I hope to read for fun more (now accepting suggestions!)
-I will do some more local sightseeing and enjoy the place I live while I'm here
-I will continue to stand up for the research I want to do

I hope everyone has had a good past year and is looking forward to 2011!

Do you have any academic resolutions? Hopes for the new year? Share below!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Creep

Normally, I would consider the ability to pack up a bag and do my work from nearly anyplace to be an awesome job perk. I'm rarely "stuck in the office" until the pre-dawn hours of the morn, an experience my corporate friends report with great frequency. Sure I'm often up until 3, but I'm in my bed with my cat and access to my fridge and TV breaks. Or I'm reading for comps on the beach during a summer weekend trip. Even when I'm stuck at the airport or waiting for my car to be fixed, I can do work.

This perk really comes back to bite me at the holidays.

First of all, whenever I go to visit family during Christmas I inevitably show up with 2 bags: one with clothes, toiletries, the usual, and the other with books, papers, exams, binders, and highlighters. Then I have to beg off to go set up shop, try to get my computer to recognize their internet, and disappear for hours at a time. I hate it because it's rude and I miss out on social time, but it's necessary. The flip side of being able to do work anywhere is that there is rarely a true day off.

For me work has a way of creeping in at Christmas the most. I think it's a combination of Christmas being extremely busy and all the eggnog. We go snow tubing and when we're done I throw my snowsuit off and holler, "GOTTA GO READ!" before grabbing a cup of hot chocolate and retreating to a pocket of some room now dedicated to the giant pile of books I've brought in.

I've been fortunate that about 90% of people I spend holidays with are more amused than annoyed by my academic antics. My boyfriend's mother has taken to referring to the guest room as my "office" and this year lent me her amazing bed-chair device to use to finish writing the bazillion pages I had left. Also I've discovered that eggnog is a helpful writing aid and there was a steady supply of the stuff for the duration of writing.

But I'm proud of me -- I didn't work at all on Christmas Day, save for reading a book for half an hour while waiting for a reasonable hour to wake everyone up to open presents. This is an improvement over last year's post-Christmas dinner write-a-thon.

For those who celebrate Christmas, I hope you actually got to celebrate it instead of work through it. Right now I'm working on clearing my schedule enough to enjoy New Year's Eve!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Things on the Horizon: Holiday Insanity

I FINISHED THE GRADES! Now on to bigger and better things that don't require coefficients and graphing calculators circa 1999.

It's time for Christmas. Due to divergent family and religious traditions, my partner and I celebrate two Christmases, at least. I do Christmas hymn-midnight service-lessons and carols-children dressed as wise men and shepherds Christmas first. Then we do Santa-sick from cookies and eggnog-open presents under the tree-watch Rudolph 18 times Christmas. There may also be early-January-with-friends Christmas and sometimes early-spring-Christmas with my family. There's usually also just-the-two-of-us-fighting-over-last-piece-of-pie Christmas.

Suffice to say, Christmas is big and lasts a long time. Then there's New Years. New Years is also huge. I make two tons of monkey food and a giant cheeseball and get dressed up (sometimes the only time that year) and ring in the New Year by beating on a pot with a metal spatula. Yes, you read that correctly. Then it's time for midnight kisses and resolutions and learning to write the correct year.

What else will happen before school begins again? A few exciting things:

  • Like last year, I will be live-blogging from the annual meeting. Last year all sorts of madness happened, so stay tuned in the beginning of January for that!

  • Also in late January there will be a giveaway. I am very excited about this and will require much creativity on your part, so get ready.

I'll be updating periodically between these two major projects. As always, feel free to send along great stuff to me. You might even get your own "corner".

What does the holiday break hold in store for you?

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

Dear readers, please meet me:

I'm up to my ears in Blue Books. For every Blue Book, I have an email in my inbox inquiring about the grade. On the exam given at the end of last week. Bleghajfeiohrh!

One of my challenges this semester is in convincing my students that, while I am a conscientious instructor, I am not a human grading machine. This body is not a Scantron reader. This is part of a general effort to let my students know that I am a living, breathing person. Earlier this semester I encountered a student in the dining hall. Shocked to see me, he uttered out, "What are you doing here?". As if I didn't need sustenance or was somehow not supposed to be there.

When I was an undergrad, I frequently encountered professors at the gym. This was slightly awkward because we would be forced into polite conversation while wearing spandex and rolling around on exercise balls. If I can deal with getting my English professor un-stuck from a Thighmaster, these students can handle my lunchtime routine.

So, here are 5 things I wish students would understand about me. I'm thinking about getting it printed up on a tee shirt.

5. The reason you don't get your paper back the day after you turn it in is because I spend a lot of time on grading. I read thoroughly. I write comments that are designed to help you. This is better than me slapping a C- on it and calling it a day.

4. I am a friendly and approachable person. But this does not equate to sending me Facebook friend requests with the message, "Ha ha, found you, want 2 b frenz?

3. Contrary to popular belief, I don't live in my office. Showing up there at random times and leaving notes about my "unexpected absence" is futile. Also, don't eat my candy while lingering at my desk, complaining about said absence.

2. Review sessions. They are for you. They are most definitely not for me.

1. If you see me heading for the coffee cart, it is NOT the time to ask me a question. Stand back, let me take a few sips of caffeine, and then proceed.

Are you a grading grinch this year? Have you been at the mercy of one? What do you wish students knew about you? (that's it, we're making tee shirts for sure. and tote bags.)


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Your Finals Survival Guide

Way back in the day, my best friend and I went to a school with a bizarre scheduling policy for final exams. All normal classes were canceled and each day for three days you attended a smattering of final exams between 7:15 and 3:20. Of course this left huge chunks of the day when you were just sitting around the school, being told to be quiet and getting really bored. So my friend and I made each other survival packs which usually consisted of homemade, slightly offensive word searches, hand-drawn comics, and locker scavenger hunts that involved a bit of lock-picking.

Exams are not so different now. We proctor them, we wait around, we sit still and try to be productive but, much like Alvin and the Chipmunks' being good, it won't last. I could make you a word search, but for now I've turned to to find you some links that only get funnier the more tired and depressed you become. And I've tried to make it educational. Here's a few things we can learn.

1. The Past is a Strange Animal. This includes your own childhood.
Case in Point: Kids are simultaneously strangely perceptive and totally oblivious. As a youngster I was freakishly aware of the stereotypes of Native Americans and how they were wrong and bad. I also frequently danced about the house singing a song from The Great Mouse Detective that was about prostitution. Talk about not having a clue.
Here lists the 9 Most Racist Disney Characters. I'm a little surprised the Siamese cats from Lady and the Tramp didn't make it in, but that's only because there were so many other choices.

2. Writers of Good Books are Cracked.
Case in Point: Roald Dahl, creator of such characters as the Grand High Witch of the World, Matilda, and James of Giant Peach fame, was a freaking spy -- and he didn't get a spot on this list of 5 Authors More Bad-Ass than their Characters.

3. Saving Money is Only Good Up To a Point
Case in Point: I would save a lot of money if I didn't eat, but then again, I'd be dead in about 9-14 days after making that decision. It's cheap to only provide public education up until eighth grade, until you realize you're paying with your life when there's no doctors, dentists, or police officers in your state. Which is pretty much what's happening in these situations, the 7 Most Horrifying Cost-Cutting Decisions.

4. Badgers are the Chuck Norrises of the Animal World
Case in Point: It appears that most animals just want to get drunk and destroy things. Three cheers for evolution! Here are 6 examples of Animals That Just Don't [expletivetrailoff].

5. Death in Movies Can Be Equally Pointless as Real-Life Doom
Case in Point: It has always really bothered me that Harry Potter and the gang are so dependent on magic that they seem completely unable to improvise. I keep waiting for Harry to pull an Indiana Jones and just pull out a pistol and shoot Voldemort. I mean, why not? Or when Harry and Voldemort do that wand-connecty thing, Ron could just walk up and conk him on the head or something. Turns out, lots of movie deaths don't actually make much sense. Here's a few particularly amusing ones.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Shopping 101: A Cheat Sheet

A few weeks ago I was thoroughly stumped over Christmas gifts. I was a day away from going to the Christmas Land kiosk and buying everyone penguin ornaments with their names written on them. Instead, I interrogated everyone in my group office on what they were hoping to get for Christmas and what they had bought for other people so I could steal their ideas. Now you, too, can steal their ideas. With these 5 hints, plus the ideas I mentioned last time including making 80 gajillion chocolate-covered pretzels, I am ready for the manic Christmas gift exchange.

ALERT: If you're related to me, stop reading now, unless you're like me and hate surprises.

1. I recently learned about the ridiculously amazing Groupon. Use it, live it, love it.

2. Here's a list of books some people think are good. My two notable books-as-gifts? For fiction, the well-written, twisted tale The Likeness by Tana French and for nonfiction, the profoundly sad but moving The Memory Chalet by the late Tony Judt.

3. Depending on where you live, holiday craft fairs may be in full swing. Hit them up -- you can buy gifts for everyone you know and sip on Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa in a school cafeteria, in the same afternoon. This year we stumbled across cool paper mache holiday ornaments and knocked out about a third of the Christmas list.

4. Don't count out Etsy and ArtFire!

5. Toys R Us has stepped up their game in offering variations on old favorite toys. Let's just say, someone is getting a blast from their past in the form of the Super-Deluxe Mr. Potato Head-Mrs. Potato Head Combo Pack.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Holiday Madness

So I've been AWOL since Thanksgiving. It's not a coincidence. I'm kind of a Thanksgiving grinch. Frankly, when you study early American history, the "First Thanksgiving" story is kind of depressing. Also compounding my grinch-ness is my completely irrational but nonetheless militant hatred of pumpkin products other than jack-o-lanterns. The third and fatal factor is that everything, everything, is due around Thanksgiving. So the holiday turns into a turkey-eating fest that culminates in frantic grading and writing before fighting off some uncles for the last bit of stuffing.

But after Thanksgiving, we enter a distinct stage I've identified as pre-Christmas. Christmas preparation begins on Black Friday, when radio stations play Christmas music and otherwise sane people beat each other up over a My Walkin' Pup toy. Garland and mistletoe abound, kids freak out about Santa, and I busy myself making endless sugar cookies shaped like fat snowmen when I probably should be writing about 40 pages. Somehow the Christmas season supersedes other obligations while the Thanksgiving weekend just makes me panic, drink wine and watch football.

But Christmas is difficult, too. First of all, there's the travel. Then there's the gifts that get lost in the mail. Also, there's always one person you have no idea what to get. There's usually also one person you're not dying to see during the holiday gatherings. But no amount of bad Christmas sweaters, black ice, and crazy great-aunts will hold me back! Here's some things you might find helpful.

Coming up short on gift ideas? Check out You can shop by demographic, topic, price, even general "personality".

Need super-cheap gifts and/or lots of goody bags? Try my favorite chocolate-covered pretzel recipe. You can make a whole bag in less than an hour and you don't even need a double-boiler. I put them in holiday-themed bags and they're always a huge hit.

Never leave home without a good supply of holiday jokes. I like this site, which features 'Twas the Night Before Finals.

Don't wear these: Epically Bad Christmas Sweaters

What was the worst Christmas present you ever got? Does it rival some of these?