Monday, November 21, 2011

Why You Should Read The Hunger Games!

So I just finished reading the first book in the series centering on heroine Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games. Katniss is the heroine of these young adult novels written by Suzanne Collins (this first book was published in 2008). The Hunger Games trilogy takes place in an unidentified future time period after the destruction of the current counties making up North America, in a "new" nation known as "Panem." Panem consists of a rich Capitol, located somewhere unknown in the Rocky Mountains, and twelve (formerly thirteen until one is destroyed) surrounding, poorer districts which cater to the Capitol's needs. As punishment for a previous rebellion against the Capitol (explaining the destruction of the thirteenth district), every year one boy and one girl from each of the remaining twelve districts, between the ages of twelve and eighteen, are selected by lottery and forced to participate in the "Hunger Games." These games are televised to the people of Panem and the winner is the last person (child) alive.

Yeah ... I know. This doesn't sound exaactly like young adult literature. Or even the type of fiction that I generally like. However, I had heard of The Hunger Games in passing the last few years when I would overhear conversations of students (or even academics) who would claim that Katniss was a much better female character than the popular Bella in the Twilight series (and films). I had actually tried reading the first Twilight book a few years back (on the suggestion of students) but I couldn't get past the first few chapters because (1) I thought the writing was so unedited and awful and (2) I just simply didn't like Bella. But when I was playing around with the Kindle app on my new ipad I downloaded a few free "first chapters" of some current bestsellers and the rest, well, is history. I fell into The Hunger Games and couldn't stop reading. Not only is this novel well-written, but Katniss is likeable and fun! (she sorta reminds me of Salander from Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series!)

I suppose one huge reason I liked the novel was the subliminal political message I saw brewing up beneath the surface of this supposedly youth novel (Occupy Wallstreet anyone?). Katniss is "playing" in the Games with Peeta, a boy from her district. It turns out that these two have known each other their whole lives (Peeta has had a long time crush on Katniss) but as you go further in the novel, the reader realizes that the death of either one of these characters would be truly awful (not that the deaths of the other gamers are actually desired either). Why do "the rules" need to be followed anyway? According to the rules of the Game, either Katniss or Peeta must die in order for the other to leave the arena (as they both end up the last two players). At one point a severly injured Peeta attempts to force Katniss to kill him. Katniss doesn't want to do this (and neither does the reader!). Because the Capitol must have a winner from the games to exhibit, Katniss suggests that they both eat poisonous Nightlock berries, and therefore die together. After placing berries in their mouth, they are hastily interrupted by the Games' host and both allowed to live.

However, since Katniss Everdeen has humiliated the Capitol and its rules (Oh no! She questioned authority!), she becomes a political target and inadvertently inspires a rebellion in the districts. She and Peeta make it back to their disctrict by the end of this first book but that is where it ends. As you can imagine, I am absolutely dying to read the next two books (which I will do once we make it to the holiday break in December! -- I have to focus the next month on work and school).

I suppose one could argue that I need to be spending the limited time I already have reading dissertation "stuff" and writing every chance that I get. I think I do sort of do this (though I could be more dedicated I agree) but this novel is the type of reading that I do when I have hit my bed and I am looking for about 30 minutes of good reading before I fall asleep. I didn't think, though, that I was going to be as excited about this novel as I got -- I love Katniss! And I am super excited to discover that there will be a film version of this novel coming out in March 2012 (featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Stanely Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, and Lenny Kravitz!). I am no book critic, but I will encourage anyone looking for a good read to pick up the tale of Katniss Everdeen. If only more of our young women had a role model like this -- a teenager who is confident and knows what she wants! And if only more of our young people (like many of the Occupy Wallstreet protestors!) had such confidence and a willing attitude to change what they don't like!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Evening

So this has been a productive weekend -- for once! Saturday I worked at the Hope Clinic (a super cool place that I volunteer at on Saturday mornings) and then Jim and I spent the day running errands and I worked on grading some papers and doing some paperwork in the late afternoon. I also went through about 40 job applicants (I am on a hiring committee).

This morning I was up super early to run the Jingle Bell 5K over at Harrah's Casino (it was a fundraiser for arthritis and all of us folks who are on the Fleet Feet Racing Team showed up! I probably don't need to tell folks in the St Louis area that it was so cold this morning! Luckily, the great folks at Fleet Feet had some hot chocolate out and that helped me stay warm until the horn went off signaling the beginning of the race! The course was fairly flat (except for one gravel hill at the start and the beginning). It took about a mile for me to feel my fingers (did I mention it was cold?) but I felt pretty strong for the first two miles. I was honestly shocked. I am getting so used to feeling winded right away that I was sure how to respond to feeling strong (and speeding up even!). After the two mile mark, I sped up even more and that is when I first started to feel that I was racing but it wasn't until about 2.80 miles that I started to "really" feel it. I struggled up that little hill and then the finish line was there! My time was 30:03, just shy of the 30 minutes that I started hoping for as soon as I realized my legs were feeling pretty good. My PR is just under 24 minutes but since my more recent 5K times have all been around 35 minutes (with lots of pain), I was feeling great about this run!

And then I did it again tonight! I am in the middle of doing a bunch of indoor triathlons at the St Peter's Rec Plex and tonight was #2 (the first was two weeks ago). My pal Melissa is doing the series with me so I am realizing how much more fun it is to do something like this with a friend (more pressure to actually show up and do it in the first place!). Last time I had a total time of 1:13-ish (300 yards in the pool, 10 miles on the bike, and then 3 miles on the treadmill). Just like this morning, I felt pretty darn good. The swim was a tad bit faster (thanks to my ongoing swimming lessons on Monday nights), the bike was much faster (I had gotten dizzy last time and had to slow down), and I just kicked ass on the treadmill (29:25, a wee bit faster than this morning's run!). My final time was exactly 1:03:00 -- yeah! Both Melissa and I beat our previous times so now we will have to work just as hard to beat our times for the next on (on December 11). I wish I knew why today was such an amazing racing day for me when so many of the other days the past few months have been crap. Dare I hope that my body is FINALLY bouncing back?

I still have about 13-14 Annotated Bibliographies to look at (I HAVE to make sure my students get these back in the morning) but ... this will be a short week! We teach on Monday and Tuesday but then we have the rest of the week off. I am not sure why, but I need a break for a few days. There are some articles that I need to get to for the dissertation and then I need to jump more fully into my coding (the next big step for my dissertation).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Decision

So a decision has been made. I spent a good week going back and forth about the job at St Martin's .... but I have decided NOT to apply for the job. It really came down to my friends and former life in Washington vs. the wonderful life that I have here in St Louis (and isn't it sort of a coincidence that both places have a "saint" in them?!). Partly the decision was about money but there was a big part of me dedicated to the community college system and even though I would have loved teaching at St Martin's (a dream I have held for most of my adult life), I think my life has been taken over by the fabulous community college students who have impacted my life in such life-changing ways. Though I never saw myself as "settling" in the mid-west, I think it might be a little too late for that. I have a great job here, along with great friends and colleagues. And I love the history of St Louis, as well as the downtown center of the city (where I live!).

So after struggling with this decision for over a week, was all this energy for nothing? Well, as many folks might say, I learned something from this minor dilemma (apply or not?). First, I know now that I want to actively seek opportunities to be more active in any department that I would ever teach in (as well as in my current position). I have tried so hard to be the best FYC teacher that I can be but I don't think until recently that I recognized a desire to go beyond that -- I know now that I want to help in building an effective first year composition program. I am not sure if this means necessarily being a "leader" in the traditional sense but I want to do something outside of the classroom. And that is really the only quality of my present job that I struggle with (being located outside the "main" campus where I have to make a huge physical effort to get more involved -- and we know that gas prices are getting crazy!). But the actual job itself -- teaching FYC and literature -- that part I love, love, love. I keep wondering now if pursuing a PhD in Educational Leadership wouldn't have been a better idea but I love my work in Rhetoric/ Composition and I know for a fact that I wouldn't be the teacher I am today without my work at SIU (and my idol Dr McClure!).

So here's a plan -- keep working 250% at my job and seek opportunities within the college to play a more active role in shaping the way writing is taught. I have no idea how that will happen. I have often said that I want to be "Howard Tinberg in a dress" so as I finish my own PhD, I need to step up to the plate. (Tinberg is "the most awesomest" composition scholar ever! Here is a link to an article about him: Somehow I need to devise new strategies to help our students graduate so we can improve the statistic that nearly 2/3 of community college students won't graduate (as discussed in the recent PBS film, Discounted Dreams -- see video below).

If I were to take a position at a four year school -- even an absolutely fabulous one like St Martin's -- I would not be working toward this goal which has ever so slowly become my, I guess you could say, my new dream.

But so I miss home? Absolutely. The seemingly never-ending humidity and the crazy St Louis weather (hot one day, freezing the next) always make me think longingly of our mild Washington weather. Food-wise, I can't seem to embrace the toasted ravioli and the Gooey Butter Cake -- two specialties of St Louis -- but I love St Louis style doughnuts and there is small chocolate shop down the block that makes homemade Hot Chocolate that a person would kill for. I love our neighborhood and the fact that I can walk to yummy restaurants and services like the post office, my doctor, the cleaners, or even Macy's. My students are some of the most wonderful souls that you would ever meet -- genuine academics who seek more knowledge and more life opportunities. And I have some kick ass friends here.

And a bunch back home too. Which is why I need to come "home" more often! I don't know if cancer has made me look at life differently (that seems like the biggest cliche ever!) but I know that I want to make a difference in whatever time I have left on this planet and I think I will be making that difference here in the St Louis area. Part of this plan also means not taking my friends for granted. I love you all and want to see everyone as much as possible. So I suspect that I will be out to Aberdeen in 2012 (Eleanor and Diane -- we have a lot of catching up to do!) and I need to get my full of Greg and Martha/ Tanya/ my second mother Mary and my little sister Amy/ Cheryl and her family/ and everyone else who I miss and admire!

Thanks to anyone reading this. I guess I truly needed this space to figure out what I was thinking ......

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Do I Even Apply?

So how in the heck does time keep flying by so fast?!?! The last time I checked it was the end of October, beginning of November and now here we are nearly at Veteran's Day. Yikes. (and it doesn't help that I am already starting to hear Christmas music!)

I desperately need to write today because I am having a bit of a dilemma. I am thinking about applying for an English position at St Martin's University in Lacey, WA. For those who don't know, I graduated from this fabulous college (back when it was St Martin's College!) in 1991. I have always said that my dream job would be teaching at St Martin's alongside my fabulous mentors and friends Les and Mary. Mary is about to retire and Les, well .... he passed away last December and I don't think I am exactly "over" that even now. Would I still want to be there teaching if these folks aren't there? Are the dreams you have at one point in your life the same dreams that you now have? I don't know if I can answer that (and by hesitating, does that mean that I don't really want this job?).

I like lists so here is a pro/con (to make it simple and didactic!):


* I would get to move home (the Pacific Northwest).
* I would get to hang out with cool friends that I never get to see
* I would be teaching students that I would get to interact with for longer than the short amount of time that I do now (since our students transfer to a four year school just when we start having fun!)
* It's a 4/4 load so that is one less class than I am teaching now per semester
* I might have the chance to play an active role in helping to shape a writing program (I didn't notice any rhet/comp folks in the faculty listings)
* Getting a job offer would mean making sure that I finish my dissertation this summer


* The deadline for the job application is coming up soon -- I would need three letters of recc. by Nov 21 (just over a week away!) Who would be willing to do this?! Do I let my Dean know?
* My dissertation is not finished. But the job opening does say needed "at time of appointment." So perhaps I would need to have it done sooner to be considered since I am guessing that the appointment would come sometime in the Spring Semester?
* Money -- I am pretty sure I would be taking a pay cut. I would also lose out on a PhD bonus at my school.
* More money -- I suspect the standard of living is going to be higher in WA than where we live now (MO)
* Jim would need to leave his family and the only area he has ever lived -- would his family hate me for "making" him move with me?
* We would have to either sell our wonderful loft or rent it (and that would mean living in a house since the Olympia, WA, area doesn't have the skyline for lofts).
* Logistically, this could be a tough move since we would probably have to do it ourselves.
* What about all my great and fabulous friends here?
* If offered an interview -- these are being done at MLA in Seattle (Late Dec) -- I would need to pay for a plane ticket and hotel costs.
* If offered a position, I don't know 100% how stable SMU is -- I am assuming my job here at SWIC is pretty stable since I am tenured.
* Which means I would have to go through the tenure process again

Questions to ask at a possible interview (and there is no guarantee that I would even get one anyway):

* What is the pay scale?
* How exactly is FYC organized at SMU?
* How active a role can I play in shaping FYC at SMU?
* Is publishing a requirement for every year of teaching?
* How does the tenure process work?
* How much does plain good teaching count?

Given the committee's responses to these questions, would I fit it? Would this be a place that I would enjoy teaching at? I want to be happy. I don't just want to jump ship at SWIC because this job position has been a "dream" for so long. Do I even still want this "dream"? Do I want to teach what I think are primarily traditionally aged students instead of the great diversity I have here in the two-year college system?

I am not the best teacher in the world but I think I am pretty darn okay. I work super hard at what I do and spend lots of time, energy, and even money preparing courses, discussions, activities, and assignments. I would love to have the opportunity to do this for a college that gave me so much when I needed it as a confused, knowledge-thirsty young adult.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How in the World is it November?

OK, I am not dead. But sometimes I feel like it! This has been a crazy semester -- and when I mean "crazy," I mean "crazy!" The last few weeks have been so hectic that I am pretty tired by about 9 PM and pretty much head to bed, read a little, and then fall asleep! (and for the record, I am reading the BEST novel right now in my "spare time" before falling sleep -- Aravind Adiga's new novel, Last Man in Tower -- he wrote the amazing White Tiger a few years back -- if you haven't read an Indian novel, this is the one to try first! Amazing!). I've been submerged in paper grading with all of my classes that I haven't even had time to focus on my post-prospectus meeting notes and work (I passed earlier this month!). Somehow I need to manage my time better. Seriously. And -- to make matters worse -- not blogging is getting me out of the habit of writing everyday and I need to change that behavior. So here it is -- November 1st and I am committing to getting back at least a little bit of my life so I can write!

Quick Athletic Note: On October 23, I ran the St Louis Rock'n'Roll Marathon and can say that I am pretty sure that I completely recovered now! It wasn't a smart idea to run a marathon with little training but, oh well, when have I ever done the smart thing?! The race was great -- lots of rolling hills (just like St Louis, of course!) but the weather was perfect and the organization of the race was fantastic. I loved the people who came out to watch the race -- and the Sports Expo was great (it's quite possible that I spent a teeny weeny too much money there!) I loved the course (way better than the St Louis Marathon held in the Spring). My time was slow (for me) -- 5:33:15. I wish I could have gone a little faster but I told myself that I would be happy with anything under 6 hours so there you go -- I am happy!

I have a bunch of indoor triathlons coming up -- I need to keep practicing, especially at the St Peter's Rec Plex (because their Olympic size pool scares the crap out of me!). I am hoping to do my first open water tri sometime next year! It will be the swimming which will get me -- water still scares me a bit!

I have another goal to take on this month as well. About 6 weeks ago, Jim and I decided to sign on with a cooperative farming sort of a thing in which we get a weekly delivery of organic fruits and veggies once a week (on Tuesdays). So far, we have used maybe 50% of what they have sent to us (they deliver it right to our front door, by the way!). I hate that we are wasting food but it's so hard to cook when I am not home a lot. But we both need to eat "better" so my new goal is to make sure that we try and use as much as the food that comes in our box as possible. So here goes Week #1. Today, here is what came in our "small" box of organic vegetables and fruits:

1 package of whole mushrooms
1 bunch of bananas
1 red pepper
1 small head of butter lettuce
1 red onion
4 yellow pears
1 package of carrots
1 red tomato
1 avocado
2 oranges
2 apples

So I guess the first thing I need to think about is what do I make with this stuff? We still have some apples and pears left from last week so I am thinking of doing some sort of apple/ pear crisp later this evening. I will probably use the lettuce and the tomato for a salad to bring to work tomorrow (long day since I also teach a night class).

We are more than halfway through this Fall semester and I am looking forward to having some time at the end (around the holidays) to work a bit harder on my dissertation. It is truly hard to work on this while I juggle teaching FT, grading a zillion papers, cleaning our place and keeping it decent, and trying to exercise a bit so I don't go crazy! I know people have done this before but geeze! How do they do it!?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Upcoming Conference = Intellectualism + Rest!

So tomorrow is an important day for me in the course of completing my dissertation -- I will be presenting my project's prospectus and making sure that all the committee members give me the green light! I actually wrote most of the prospectus more than a year ago, just before my cancer diagnosis, so completing this step is also sort of a symbolic way of saying "Life is back on track." I am a little nervous but I am also excited to get the chance to talk to folks about what I am doing and to get feedback on possible areas that I am neglecting. I was doing a pretty good job there for a few weeks in writing and working on the writing of the dissertation but then .... well, work got in the way. I have been evaluating essays and research steps non-stop for about three weeks now and it's hard to get motivated when I am done just because I am tired. However, tonight -- after my night class -- I will spending time rereading the entire prospectus one more time so I will be able to sound smart and sensible in the morning! :D

So I am off to Carbondale early tomorrow morning (about 2 hours+ from downtown St Louis). Also -- I think Jim and I will be camping this weekend so I will try and bring some articles with me to read -- but I think I might get some "real" time in this next week since I am off to a conference in Ohio -- the Teaching English in the Two-Year College Mid-West Conference in Columbus, Ohio, from October 13-15. I am doing a presentation titled "Writing a New Page as a Composition Instructor: Race in the Writing Classroom." Nothing new here since this is pretty much the research that I have been working on. I will be leaving on Thursday morning to make the trek to Columbus from here in St Louis (8-ish hours I think?) but the conference doesn't officially start until Friday morning. This means, of course, that I will have a quiet evening in the hotel to work on the dissertation -- and a bunch of time on Friday -- hopefully! There are some sessions in the program that look interesting but I will spend any free time just "being a student." It's so much easier to do that when you are away from home. The conference pretty much ends on Saturday at about noon and I will then reverse my trek and head home to St Louis (and this is how I will be spending my birthday! But -- no fears -- a friend who will be going to the same conference said that there is an IKEA on route! I sense a stop coming up! A birthday treat for myself!).

And I need a break. Conferences are so great for picking up new ideas but I am also recognizing that I am just plain tired and it's not even the middle of the semester yet! I think that teaching the extra classes -- and heading up the honors program -- is a lot for me right now, not even counting the dissertation writing and the sporting events. So a few night of doing "nothing" (though I am sure I will have some papers to grade) will do my body "good."

Monday, October 3, 2011

St Peter's Rec Plex Fall Triathlon

Here I am (with eyes closed!) hanging out with Amanda, the cool guru of triathlons at Fleet Feet Sports!

So the St Peter's Rec Plex Fall Triathlon was yesterday morning (Oct 2). And I finished! My overall time last year was 2:34:41. This year is was a wee bit faster at 2:24:24. I am excited that I shaved 10 minutes off but .... I finished in 10th place out of 11 women in my age group so it would have been nicer to have finished a little higher (OK, shoot me for being ambitious!).

Let's start with the swim! It is 500 meters in a Olympic-sized pool, a daunting task for me since I am a little afraid of the water. But, I have been working with a swim coach to help me with my Freestyle stroke and I shaved a few minutes of the swim this year (14:48 this year compared to last year's 18:02). It was a bit cold yesterday morning but the pool was nice and warm! (and since I had an early entry number -- #10 -- I got in the pool a little early and warmed up before the race started). A swimmer started every 15 seconds (it was a Serpetine swim) and once I got started, I remembered everything my coach said ... for about half the course. One, I got tired and, two, I saw the bottom of the pool and panicked a little. I got myself under control pretty quickly but it took almost the second half of the pool section of the race for me to get my rhythm back. And I was so delighted when I saw that I was on the last lap!

Out I went ... into the freezing cold outside! I decided to forgo the running tights I had brought to put on after the swim and just kept with my short tri bottoms but I did throw a long sleeved shirt on over my tri top. I then quickly changed into my bike shoes and threw on my helmet and ran through the tranistiion area with my bike. Once I crossed the line, I jumped on my bike! I got about a hundred feet or so when I realized that there was a problem -- my front tire was flat!

Damn. Jim and I had just fiddled with the tires before starting so I couldn't believe that there was a problem! I managed to jump off the bike and run back to the transition area (clicking like crazy in my bike shoes!) and, thankfully, Jim was there to reach over the fence to my stuff (yeah for thinking ahead on that one!) and grab the bike pump. Within a minute or two, Jim had me going again but both of us were not so sure that I was going to make 20 miles on that tire.

But I did! I knew I had a CO2 pump in my seat bag but I managed to make it back to the transition area after a pretty uneventful (but windy!) bike ride. After 20 miles, I couldn't feel my toes or my fingers! (it was pretty cold!). But the new bike helped me out -- even with the initial flat, my time this year was 1:22:50 compared to last year's 1:28:41. The HUGE SHOCK, though, was when I came into the transition area I saw two faces I wasn't expecting to see -- one of my best pals, Peggy, and my fabulous friend/ neighbor, Laura! And then I saw Bill (Laura's husband!) standing near Jim and Stella! (Gene, Peggy's husband, had apparently gone to the bathroom!). How cool! I had a fan group!

Jim had called everyone a few weeks ago, he told me later, so that I could have a group of people at my last triathlon of the season. I was so happy and excited -- but also nervous that these poor folks would be mad at me for having to stand out in the cold waiting for me! But how cool was it to have these fabulous people there at the finish line!

I couldn't say much, as you might guess, as I had to change to my running gear and typing shoe laces is pretty darn hard when your fingers are frozen. My "posse" was able to stand near the fence and talk to me but since no one is allowed in the transition area but the athletes, I was on my own to make the transition to running. After what seemed like too long, I started the run and the first mile was hell. There is just no other way to describe it. My feet felt like frozen blocks and I couldn't even feel my ankles.

But then after a tough 4.5 miles, I stumbled across the finish line to find even more familiar faces! (with a time of 46:46 compared to last year's 47:58) Jim and Chan brought their fantastic five year old Odessa and their puppy Winslow, and my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Mike were there, and moments later we were joined by my Uncle Ray and his grandson (my cousin) little Noah. I don't know if these folks know how much that meant to me. It was so cool to see all these folks there, telling me what a good job I had done! :D

That's me in the green shirt coming into the finish chute!

So I have goals for next year -- more practice with running after biking (that part gets me every single time!) and more serious work on swimming (my slowest component). Next year I also want to try an outdoor tri that includes an open-water swim. That scares me more than anything but I want to give it a shot!

And as a fabulous bonus, I bumped into Melissa, the great runner from the Millstadt Biathlon, who helped me finish! She is so nice -- I hope we can run together some more! It is always easier when you have someone to train with! :D

I want to make these folks at Fleet Feet proud! They have helped me so much in all my athletic endeavors!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Afternoon Musing

Damn. I was really hoping to get up early this morning and go for a run but that did not happen! But ... I did manage to get up twice this week at 5 AM so I guess that is an improvement! This has been a busy week -- but don't I say that all the time? I am doing this new little activity in my research classes (in an effort to make the research projects better and more exciting/ interesting for the students) but it requires me to do a ton more work. In a nutshell, there is always a constant flow of papers between me and the students -- so I can help them stay on track and nip any problems in the bud ASAP. Here is an example of just one of the exercises the ENG 102 students have done in the last couple of days: students always tell me that they know how to Google, how to search the internet for information (stuff outside of the academic electronic databases). But I don't think this is always true. So students had to use a search engine to find relevant information for their ongoing projects. If they couldn't find anything, they had to tell me what search terms they had used. As I am looking through their responses yesterday, I discovered exactly what I suspected. Most of them said there was nothing on the internet. And I find it's usually the search terms that are to blame!

For example, one student was looking for information on the families of drunk drivers. She is doing research on being the wife of someone arrested for a DUI and how the media/news/etc never talks about the problems that her family is now having (financial, etc) as a result of her husband's DUI (which she doesn't excuse at all). She searched all over the internet and found nothing. And of course she is going to have trouble using search terms like "DUI" and "victim" and "affect." But if she had used a search phrase like "drunk driver's family" (both with and without the quotation marks) there is a bunch of stuff related to her topic! So that is what I am trying to teach these "young" folks -- how to play with search terms and find information.

I have about 60 students in three ENG 102 classes so it took me awhile to go through their projects and then help the ones who were struggling with the search terms they were using. As you might imagine, that took awhile. But I needed to get these back to my students today (they just gave them to me on Wed) so I can continue the flow of dialog between us -- and they can work on the next piece of the puzzle (using the electronic databases via the SWIC Library to do the same thing).

No huge plans for the weekend but I do have my last outdoor triathlon of the season on Sunday (over at the St Peter's Rec Plex). We swim inside (and I will be curious to see if my swimming lessons will help me!) and then bike about 22 miles outside and then about 5 miles of running (also outside). I did this same exact course last fall so I will be curious to see if my time is faster (esp. with the new bike). The good part is that I signed up months ago so I have a great start time -- about 16 minutes after the official green light starts. I've done this this event before and been one of the last folks in the water and then, by the time I go across the finish line, everyone is gone. If I work hard during the race, I should finish with folks still milling about! And I just hope to the great spirit in the sky that it is NOT raining! The last race I did (about 2-3 weeks ago) was a soggy mess and I want to really try and push my bike (which I don't feel comfortable doing since I am terrified that I am going to slip!).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Relaxing Weekend!

Well, I didn't get everything done this weekend that I wanted to get done -- namely, reading a whole bunch of summaries and responses from my ENG 102 sections. But I did get a chance to relax a bit which is something I don't do nearly enough of! I know my students are going to want their work back tomorrow but they will just have to wait another day or two. I always make sure folks get their papers back within a week so I am still safe since these students just submitted their work on Friday (but I know they are waiting for my comments since the next part of their research is due late this next week -- so I will make sure to get them back on Wednesday).

Yesterday afternoon we took advantage of the great weather and took Stella over to Queeny Park -- we managed to get in about 3-ish miles of walking and Stella got to play in her favorite pond.

And then last night, we popped over to the "Taste of St Louis" event here in downtown St Louis and munched on some yummy food with some pals (and we even got a sneak peek inside the new Peabody Opera House which I suspect is going to give the Fox Theater a run for its money! Click here to get more information on the Peabody). Jim and I went back to the "Taste of St Louis" for lunch this afternoon after spending an entire morning in a bike repair class at Urban Shark (a spin off of the popular Urban Shark store on Delmar in the Loop). Brian, our instructor, taught us how to change a tire and I did it over and over again this morning so I am feeling pretty good right now about my ability to do this once I am on the tri course (and this has been one of my biggest fears!). By the time we left the class, I decided to get some work done on my bike which Brian said that could finish in just an hour or two -- get a new chain on my bike (since mine was a little stretched out) and get my handlebars wrapped in new tape (the original tape was white and it was pretty dirty looking). They also took off the mirror that has been bugging me when I ride so now my bicycle is all ready for the upcoming St Peter's Rex Plex Fall Triathlon next Sunday (I also went ahead and picked up the equipment I would need to fix a flat on my own, including two extra tubes).

After walking around the "Taste of St Louis" (and consuming a HUGE cupcake from "The Cup," my favorite bakery over in the Central West End), we decided to run by our place and pick up Stella and take her over to Eckert's Farm (in Belleville, IL) and pick up some freshly picked apples. Yummy! I got a ton of apples, some fresh plums, and huge container of apple cider (OK, and a bottle of wine but that is already gone!).

So I am feeling okay but I admit there is a part of me that is still a little sad. I am guessing that my co-workers on the other campuses didn't know how much I wanted this because I haven't really heard from anyone. So this was my bad -- I guess I needed to be more vocal that I had decided that being a department chair was something I wanted to do (honestly, after being sort of talked into it originally). I didn't think to "campaign" or to let my wonderful colleagues know that I wanted to do this, that I wanted to change campuses and take on a new challenge. So I suppose if I have learned anything from this adventure it is that I need to be more pro-active. I need to not just go along with the flow.

I am not sure what is going to happen in future gatherings. I am still awfully embarrassed about the whole thing (maybe I shouldn't be but someone beating me who has worked only a few years compared to my 12+ -- and program responsibilities -- hurts a bit). I am not saying that I am "all that" (and I am sure the person who won will do a fantastic job) but I just thought that this was the next step for me -- I wanted it. Perhaps I just need to get over the whole thing but it still feels like I was pushed to the side and I am not sure what I did wrong.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sunny Saturday

How can it be almost the end of September already?! But -- it is a sunny, beautiful Saturday outside (but only maybe in the low 60's) and Jim and I are going to take Stella out for a walk in just a little while at Castlewood State Park (just a little southwest of downtown St Louis). I slept really well last night -- something that hasn't always been happening recently -- and was even pretty wide awake when I worked/ volunteered at the Hope Clinic for Women here in Granite City (I am actually in my office right now finishing up some paperwork that needed to be done -- but no fears! I will be leaving soon!). We had a busy morning but I always feel like I am helping the staff more on mornings like this and that makes me feel good! I have some papers to grade for my ENG 102 students (summaries and responses) and some reading to do for my Non-Western Literature class (they are reading Dalia Sofer's The Septembers of of Shiraz) but both should be things I can do relatively quickly at some point this weekend. I need to re-read my dissertation prospectice (since the defense of that is coming up in less than two weeks) and I have some more articles to read related to my research.

So I am doing fine. I admit I spent the last few days in tears but what are you going to do? I love my job and so I will just focus on that -- and my research -- and try not to worry about anything else. I had a good group session this past Thursday night at the "Transitions" (post cancer) support group (after a horrible session the week before) and realized that, yes, I am pretty angry that cancer took away a lot of the work I had been doing on a physical level -- I can't seem to get my butt running like I used to and -- when I do -- my times are way off and that just makes me feel old and depressed. But I think I just need to "own" those feelings and go on. I need to do something -- being all sad about it isn't making me feel any better.

So I am about to enter Stella in a contest -- Stray Rescue (where we adopted her from back in 2008) is having an essay contest to find the one dog who will be the "spokesdog" for Stray Rescue and be featured on an area billboard. I am not very good at writing things this but here goes! I am not at all expecting to win but I figure some dog has to and I will always wonder "what if?" Thus, this is what I will be sending in on Monday:

Why Stella Should Be a Stray Rescue Spokesdog!

We adopted Stella in 2008, right after noticing her picture on the Stray Rescue web site. I was hoping for a running partner while my husband was looking for a new “pal,” since the dog he had raised before we had married had died of old age four years earlier. But we got more than that with Stella – in 2010, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and Stella became my “cancer buddy.” She slept with me during those long days of treatment and didn’t even seem to mind that we weren’t heading out for our usual 5-7 mile runs. Earlier this year, once my treatment was completed, we went right back to marathon training. It might be my imagination but Stella appears more “concerned” about my health – during our runs she licks my legs while we wait at traffic lights and she keeps attention to any “obstacles” along the way – squirrels, rabbits, sticks.

Stella started her life on the streets of St Louis but, thanks to Stray Rescue, she has become my friend and health advocate. Not only do we run together, but she goes on long weekly hikes with me and my husband and even keeps the cat active by chasing her around the house (in a playful way!). My husband has done agility training with her and she has learned to jump hurdles, power through tunnels, and walk the balance beam. We live in downtown St Louis – above the very streets where she once roamed – and Stella is the perfect example of a St Louis city dog and stray spokesdog advocate! She is a mix of Border Collie/ Shepherd/ Chow (as far as we can tell); because of this peculiar mix, people are always asking us what exactly she is. I always proudly respond that she is a mixed breed and that we got her from the wonderful folks at Stray Rescue. Shy when we first adopted her, Stella never meets a stranger and sends a good message to other city dwellers that adopting a stray dog is the only way to obtain a new pet.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bad News

So in just a few minutes I have to teach my night class even though I am just not in the mood to do it. I should note that wednesdays are always a long day for me -- lots of teaching (including a night class) and today I had an additional meeting to add to the chaos so I have been a bit on the busy side (this whole semester has been busy, busy, busy). The last few days have been particularily tough for a couple of reasons. I just sent back the first round of essays to all of my ENG 101 students and there have been, to put it lightly, a lot of complaints. Mostly, folks are not happy about the way that I grade (I write too much or I write too little or I point out misspellings and they already know that they spelled the word wrong). On some level, I know that what I am doing is right but sometimes it is hard to be strong about it all the time. There is, in fact, a part of me that wants to be liked by my students. Don't they know how much of my life I sacrifice for them? I buy (good) candy, I grade papers while I am out to dinner, I am always reading books and web sites to figure out more interesting lesson plans. Don't they know that I care?

And now that feeling has spilled over to my department. After a lot of thought, I decided to run for department chair and that didn't work out at all. I just got the email announcing the winner. I am positive that this person will be fabulous at the job but I guess this was a challenge that I wanted, something I was starting to look forward to. It would have meant a huge change -- switching to another campus -- but I was thinking that I had all these ideas to implement to make our department stronger and even more effective (perhaps making regular visits to the other campuses so folks don't feel disconnected like I often have; or maybe a newsletter that we can use to swap pedagogical ideas and news?). But I lost. And it hurts. I am not even sure why since the person who won will do a great job but I truly thought this was going to be the next step in my career. I work hard at being a professional in the sense of reading all the journals in the field and attending conferences and publishing articles and reviews. I am absolutely not saying that this makes someone a good department chair but I was ready for the next step (I think this is what I am trying to say). And now there is no next step. I have been working at my college for 12 years (and almost another 10 before that at other schools) and nowI feel like this is the voice of the universe saying that this is as far as I will ever be able to go. Maybe that is not true but that is how it feels. I love being a teacher but I thought I could work on my leadership skills so I could become an even better teacher.

Writing this helps (and don't we English teachers always say this anyway?!). I know that I need to go to class and do my absolute best to help 20 working adults get better at writing a research paper. Right now, the students are working on their "sand boxes" which is my (made up) word for a work space where they write their topics and research question(s) and then jot down search terms (think of a sandbox space where someone can draw and build and then tear it all down and start over if it doesn't work the first time). I ask students to open a Microsoft Word document and keep this "space" open as they start "playing with" their potential topics and questions. I use this same approach with my research and, hopefully, my students find it a helpful way to get started and stay motivated.

So there you go. That's me at 3:40 PM on a Wednesday afternoon, just before I walk into my 4 PM class. I am trying not to take this whole election thing personal but it just feels like no one likes me (isn't that a sad high school thing to say?). I need a tougher skin.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Rainy Millstadt Biathlon!

Well, this morning was the very wet (and slightly chilly) 2011 Millstadt Biathlon. So, instead of participating in swimming, biking, and running, this morning I only had to compete in two of these events: biking and running!

Millstadt is on the Illinois side of the river, near Belleville, but out in the sticks (for lack of a better description!). The race started at 8 AM but I have learned that if you don't get there early, you might not get a (good) spot for your bike, so I was up at 5:30 AM and I got there about 6:45 AM (after getting slightly lost!). Jim just bought a new bike rack to go with the new hitch that we just had installed on our new car (the European styled 2012 Ford Focus in shiny red!). So this was my first time using a bike rack and it was so much easier than shoving my bike inside a car (often taking off at least one of the tires to make it fit!).

Once I checked in and got a spot for my bike, I decided to warm up by jogging around the park where the biathlon started and eventually I fell into conversation with two other women about triathloning. One of the women, Melissa, I actually ended up talking to throughout the running portion of the race (I need to thank her for getting me through at a quick pace -- for me! -- and providing some entertainment along the way!).

When the run portion started, it wasn't raining but it didn't take too long for the rain to start pouring off-and-on during the entire 5 miles. The great news, though, is that I felt ... well, great! My body (for not having a lot of mileage under my running shoes) felt pretty okay and I didn't have to stop once during the entire 52:19 (again, partly thanks to Melissa!).

Once the biking started, the rain had stopped so I was able to get about 12-15 miles in with clear weather but wet roads. I love, love, love this new tri racing bike but I am still hesitant when it comes to steep downhills -- everyone else is getting their speed going and I am actually being a dork and hitting the breaks. Especially with the wet roads, I was just terrified of falling. I figure with the clip pedals, it is going to take me so much longer to respond as my bike tilts and slides on the ground.

But even with the breaking, I was absolutely delighted that I was actually passing person after person! Each time I would note a target ahead of us (I am including my super cool bike!), we went for it and passed that person (who was often a guy!). And we just kept on going, even when the rain started coming down in bucketfuls! And when I say it was raining, I mean it was raining raining. At one point it was getting hard to see in front of me but I just tucked my head in and slowed down a little (and said a silent prayer that no cars were coming since it was an open course). And before I knew it -- just as I was settling into some speed -- I could see the finish line ahead. The time when I went under the banner was 2:16:17 -- a time I am happy with (I figured anything under 3 hours was going to be great for today!).

The second part of my morning adventure was moving all my wet-soaked equipment back to the car and then going back and grabbing my bike since I couldn't do it all in one trip. I decided not to stick around since the rain was coming down even heavier and I knew I was going to start feeling cold before too long (and it didn't help that I didn't think to bring any dry clothes with me -- all I had were two towels). I did have some trouble finding a way out of the parking lot (lots of cars who arrived after me had parked all over the place) but soon I was on my way and headed the 25 minutes back to downtown St Louis. Which was yet another adventure. I actually got pretty lost in East St Louis but I knew I was headed north so I figured I would run into the highway at some point. And I did! But I do need to return to some of the spots I saw in East St Louis because I am fascinated with old, abandoned buildings and I saw a few on my way to the highway (I really need to dig around for a good book on the history of this whole area so I can know a little more about this adopted home of mine!).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What?! It's the Middle of September?!

(the picture above is from the recent Sunset Hills Triathlon -- easily the hardest tri I have done EVER -- the bike course was hilly beyond description!)

For some reason, I am just swamped and I have no idea when I will be able to climb out of this mess of essays, paperwork, and projects!

So here is an update on the busy life of Dianna :

1. I have 5 full classes of ENG 101 and ENG 102 students this semester -- and I am experimenting with some new ways of assessing their writing in an effort to make the courses more relevant -- and fun! But ... it appears I might be making even more work for myself.

2. In addition, I have one full class of LIT 205: Non-Western Literature -- which is my literature specialty but I am using a bunch of new novels (again, in an effort to make more connections with my students!). My students are fabulous in all of these classes (at least, so far!) but I feel like I am only a day or two ahead of them in terms of the workload and the reading. I am experimenting with letting them have my cell phone number this semester so they can call and/ or text. And they have been taking me up on it! Nothing major but I am finding myself using and checking my phone more often.

3. I am forcing myself to write 750 words a day on this fantastic web site, At the moment I am on a 10 day writing streak (you get badges for certain milestones which totally fits in to Dianna's whole competitive streak!). Anyway, on a few of the days (since Sept 1) I have written nothing of any significance but I have had some breakthroughs with writing for the dissertation and so, obviously, I hope that continues! And when I don't write early enough in the day, I get emails from the web site reminding me to write! I need this kind of pressure!

4. I just started working with a swimming coach this past week (on Monday nights). I actually signed up for a lap swimming class with this coach but I am the only person who signed up so it's sort of like having a private lesson. In just 20 minutes of lesson #1 she already had me swimming way better than I have ever swam in my entire life! Since I have never really had a swimming lesson, I think this will go a long way in getting me more prepared for kicking butt in triathlons! And it's fun -- something I never thought I would ever say about swimming! (if you don't know, I have been slightly afraid of water since I have been an adult)

5. I attended my last support group meeting for folks with cancer last week. This was a tough moment for me as I have grown close to so many of the people in this fabulous group. If there has been any silver lining to cancer, I suppose this was it -- the chance to meet wonderful, kind folks I would have never met. Thankfully, several of them I can still talk to on Facebook and I have started sending weekly cards and letters to one of the great people there who is dealing with a cancer recurrence (I know my Chemo angels were so great to me -- now it's my chance to give back a little!).

But group is not quite over for me -- I just started a "Cancer Transitions" group that will meet for the next 5 weeks (three hours on Thursday nights). This group has a specific focus each week (i.e. nutrition, exercise post-cancer) and meets, oddly enough, at the very same place I had my radiation treatments (St Louis Cancer and Breast Institute out in West County). So far, I like the group -- almost all breast cancer survivors and friendly folks. And to make me feel a teeny better -- I am one of the youngest so that makes me feel pretty good! (and these women are super sweet so it's sort of like having 15 adopted grandmothers!)

6. I still work almost every Saturday morning at the women's clinic in Granite City. It's not getting any easier for women to walk into an abortion clinic and so I find working there (helping the staff and the clients) to be something that I just feel compelled to do. I respect every one's opinion on this matter but I still think it's important to have a choice. (anyway, I have been at the clinic for about 4 years now!).

7. I am participating in a Learning Circle at work that is devoted to the topic of white privilege -- and I will be leading one myself soon (one that will be devoted to the book, What's Liberal about the Liberal Arts: Classroom Politics and 'Bias' in Higher Education .by Michael Berube). Both of these discussion opportunities are related to my dissertation and I am just simply delighted to get the opportunity to talk and expand my own thinking on these subjects. But ... there is a bunch of reading and thinking to do!

8. I am trying to get back to my "normal" 5 AM workouts in the morning. Pre-cancer, these were generally not a problem but perhaps my body is not back to 100% and/ or perhaps the medications I am taking are causing problems but ... getting up is not an easy task in the morning. However, I made it work twice this week so that's at least a step in the right direction. (and our pooch Stella enjoyed our run this morning! It was even a little chilly! Yeah! Fall is here!)

9. I am trying to clean my office -- which is just plain messy. I hate not being able to find anything and students have to push things out of the way just to sit down and talk with me. Not good.

10. I am not happy just sitting still, so it seems like my schedule quickly fills up with running and tri activities, dinner out with friends, and scholastic meetings and conferences. Sometimes I wish I were better at just being bored but I know that is not me. It's just not the way that my brain works.

Anyhoo -- I am hoping that the prospectus meeting for my dissertation is soon (early Oct) and I really, really, really, really need to use this blog more often to talk through the crazy mind of me!

PS: I just added a widget (on the right) for my Daily Mile account so I have a place to share what I am doing exercise-wise. I figure it might make me more ambitious!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bonus Pictures!

Dianna the Geisha!

As promised, here are a few more pictures from Japan! Jim and I (and our good friends Greg and Martha) stopped for about 5 days in Kyoto, Japan (the old capital) and Martha had suggested that we dress up like Maiko, apprentice geisha. What a blast! (and this is coming from someone who doesn't wear that much makeup!). So here are some pics from that (hot) day:

The interesting part of this whole experience was how "famous" I became -- at least for an hour or so. After a professional photo shoot inside a studio, Martha and I were able to walk around and take pics with our husbands. Most foreign women do not do this so we sorta stuck out -- everyone kept asking if they could take pictures of us. I guess this is how Angeline Jolie and Brad Pitt feel, eh?

Anyway -- it was fun! The wig was incredibly heavy, the makeup started to run in the heat, and the kimono was tight but ... it was still a great experience!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Where is Dissertation Girl?!

Yes, I have been a very bad blogger girl. How did work get so busy so fast?! (I mean the semester literally just started and I am already way behind!). I do want to update this blog with some more Japan pictures (and I keep thinking that this is something I want to take my time doing, you know, when I actually can sit down for longer than five minutes!). And I even have some dissertation updates to share ...

But first -- I did another triathlon this past Sunday in Sunset Hills, MO. Two weeks ago I did one in Alligator Creek -- way out in O'Fallon, MO, and I made the rookie mistake of forgetting my bike helmet. Luckily, there was a Walmart nearby that was open at 6 AM so I was able to dash in and grab one before my start time (and, again, luckily my start time was not in the first 3o minutes!). That race only got worse (it was like forgetting my helmet was a bad sign!) since the race course was extremely hilly and -- along with the humidity -- I felt pretty "wasted" early on. But it was the first race that I got to use my new racing bike (see picture below!) and that part went well! I feel much faster on this bike than my clunky ol' mountain bike and I think I came in something like 4th on the bike in my age group.

When I finished I almost stumbled and fell at the finish line -- I had to sit down for about 30 minutes before I could do anything else. My energy levels were basically depleted. But I finished in just over two hours so I was feeling pretty great.

The race this past Sunday in Sunset Hills had even more hills. I mean Hills with a capital "H" -- I had to bike the same course 5 times so I got to know those hills well. I was feeling pretty good as I waited to jump in the outdoor pool -- I even imagined the water was going to be pretty cold (which it wasn't). I got through the 400 yards (not easily like usual for me in the water) and then jumped on my super cool bike. On the second lap around the course, I started to feel a bit dizzy and sick. This was the first time ever that I thought "I can't do this. I have to stop." But ... somehow I dug deep and kept going. And then I had to throw on my running shoes and somehow finish the 5K run (which was stressing me out as I finished my last lap or two of the bike -- how in the heck was I going to finish??). By this time, it was pretty hot and humid. I had to do some serious power walking in the first mile, but somehow -- once again -- I managed to dig deep and finish. My time was bad -- I was something like 12th out of 18 women in the 40-49 age group. But I had wanted to finish before 2 hours and 30 minutes and I did do that -- the final time was 2:18:47. Again, just like at Alligator Creek, I literally could not move for about 15 minutes after finishing. I was just pretty spent of all energy.

Jim said he would come along to the next triathlon so that makes me happy -- it would be cool to have folks cheering you on like I see with other participants. I know my sport is boring for an audience (Look! There she goes!) but it does help to have someone cheering you on! When Jim is there, I think I even try harder because I want him to be proud of me.

Anyway -- the next big triathlon (the last of the season for me) is on October 2. I also have a biathlon in September (Yeah! No swimming!) but everything else for the rest of 2011 will be foot races (including the upcoming Rock'n'Roll Marathon here in October).

Friday, August 12, 2011

Race Info Updated

I just updated my racing schedule so if you click "Upcoming Races" you should see all the information there. I don't know if anyone is reading this but it keeps me organized and perhaps it will be useful when I start to compare times for next year!

Bad Blogger Girl

I have to apologize for my lack of updating. We came back after almost a month in Japan and I was pretty exhausted! BUT -- we had a fabulous time which I will try and detail in the next few blog entries! We basically spent part of the first week visiting some friends and then met our great friends Greg and Martha in Tokyo and then we all traveled together for the next two weeks.

So, like I said, we spent most of the first week of our holiday in Chiba Prefecture, which is the area I lived in during the 1990's for about three years. As you can see from the map below, Chiba City (where I taught) is pretty close to Tokyo (about an hour and a half from the heart of Tokyo):

at one point, we even drove by my old school and apartment which was odd because I thought they I would never see those places again! (but I do have to say that I spent happy, happy years teaching in Chiba!) We stayed with my fabulous (and gorgeous) friend Katsuyo and her delightful sons, Kehiro and Atsuto (her husband, Nao, was in Thailand on a business trip). During one of the days of our village we went to the new bridge connecting Chiba Prefecture and the other side of Tokyo Bay (i.e. Yokohama) -- the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line. With an overall length of 14 km, it includes a 4.4 km bridge and 9.6 km tunnel underneath the bay—the fourth-longest underwater tunnel in the world. I didn't think a bridge could be all that exciting but it was pretty cool. Once you go over the bridge -- but before you go below in the tunnel -- there is an "oasis" island that sits in the middle of the Bay. Here is a picture of Katsuyo and I chilling on the windy "island"!

We also got to meet up with Katsuyo's wonderful parents who really helped me so much when I was living in Chiba (I remember one time when I had the flu and her mother sent over lots of soup and yummy food). We went to a restuarant that serves shabu-shabu, which is sort of like fondue. You cook your meat in a hot pot and then put it in a variety of dipping sauces. Let me just say that we both ate so much that we were feeling pretty full for days!

Staying with friends the first few days was such a great idea, I think. It gave Jim a chance to acclimate himself a little to the Japanese culture and I had the chance to catch up with my friend. Katsuyo took us to lots of cool places and here are just a few images from some of the shrines and temples we visited:

Anyway, now that school is about to start and I will get into a more regular schedule, I promise to continue the story of our journey over the next couple of days!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Tokyo Bound!

Just a quick update to my poor, neglected blog!

We are leaving later today for Dallas/ Ft Worth were we will stay the night at the airport and then on to Tokyo (Narita) in the morning. We will be gone for about three weeks and I am hoping that I will have the opportunity to update with some pictures as we have adventures! (we are thinking about renting a wi-fi hotspot for our time that we are there).

I am also going to Tokyo not knowing the results of the MRI I had on Thursday. I am sure that the scan will come back with news of everything being all clear so I refuse to let this inhibit me from having a great vacation! (and I will try and call the doc's office in the morning from Dallas before we board our Tokyo flight). Unfortunately, neither of our cell phones will work in Japan so they can't call me with the update.

One other small bit of news -- we took our older cat Zora to the vet on Saturday so we could get a renewal of her medication for her thyroid problem. They ran some blood work while we were there and it looks like Zora has the beginning of Kidney disease (which explains why she has been obsessed with water). The good news, though, is that it has been caught early and she could still live a long, happy life (she's 14). I sure hope so.

And that's about it. We are off to have a grand adventure -- and Jim has never been to Japan so this will be a huge adventure for him! -- and I am hoping I remember enough Japanese from my 4 years of living there back in the 90's!


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wednesday: And the Adventures Continue ...

So this has been one of "those" weeks. The great part has been that one of my very best buddies is visiting from Washington state (my home!) -- Tanya (along with her daughter, Leanna) and I have been eating our way around St Louis and it has been a blast! The weather has even been on the cooler side so they haven't been dying from the humidity (well, maybe they have complained a little but this is totally understandable because the 80 degree+ weather we are having this week is almost unheard of in our hometown!). We spent a fabulous day at the St Louis Zoo the other day and I was reminded of how cool it is that we have this zoo in our city (and it's free!). The penguins rock!

So it's great to have an old friend around because you spend half the time reminiscing on all the great fun you had when you were younger (and we had a ton of good times back in the 80s!). It was especially great to have a friend come in to town the day after Bailey died. I still find myself looking for him around the house, sort of not believing that he is gone. Since Bailey and Zora were sort of my first pets to have totally on my own, I guess this was an experience that was going to happen at some point but I didn't feel ready for it to happen just now. But -- I know that I will never ever forget Bailey for the rest of my life. He was my boy.

I'm glad Tanya was here to distract me from Bailey's death and Monday's mammogram. I was expecting the nurse to come out after my mammogram and say, "All great! See you next year!" I think the biggest shock for me was that this is NOT what she said -- it was more like "Dianna, we need to do an ultrasound on your left breast." What! It was my right breast that had the breast cancer -- is my left just looking for a little bit of attention?!

The nurse couldn't get a good reading on the breast so she had a doctor come in and she couldn't get a good reading either so they scheduled me for an MRI on Thursday morning. I am not going to worry too much about this -- it seems like, because I have dense breast tissue, getting an MRI is a typical response. And at least the MRI will make me feel better that there is absolutely no cancer at all in either of my breasts :>

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bailey, My Boy

Yesterday was a tough day. We had to put my 12 year old Maine Coon, Bailey, to sleep. This was the first time I ever had to put a pet to sleep -- but I am guessing that it doesn't make it any easier even if you have had this experience before. Bailey was in pretty good health until about 2 years ago when we discovered that he had a herniated liver. Since he had not experienced any blunt force trauma, the vet told us that he was probably born with it. Anyway, this condition did not stop him from being the free spirit that he was -- Bailey had the gift of getting in trouble. He never acted his age! He liked to chew wires (computer wires especially!), eat flowers and plants (so I could never keep flowers around), chew boxes, lick plastic bags at 2 AM in the morning, cry loudly in the morning for "fresh" kibble (not the "old" kibble from the previous day), and push things off the top of the fridge. Once, before I met Jim and I was living alone, he somehow managed to open the freezer and pushed out everything onto the kitchen floor, ruining $20 worth of ice cream (which was a lot to me at the time!).

About a year ago, Bailey would start going to the bathroom outside his litter box every now and then. And then 6 months ago, he started doing it once or twice a week. We took him to two different vets and did every test and suggestion they encouraged us to do. Nothing worked. In the last two weeks, things got even worse with the bathroom issues happening every day (or even twice a day). At this point, the only test we had not done was a $800 biopsy. We just couldn't do it. If he did indeed have cancer -- which was what I suspected -- we couldn't have done the chemo and radiation for him (not just the expense but it's hard to justify spending that on a cat when there are so many uninsured people out there). So we brought him to the vet yesterday, me hoping that there was one last thing that the vet might be able to suggest.

No dice. So we made the decision to euthanize him and the whole time I was thinking that this action made me a "cat murderer." If he had been really, really, really sick, then I think it would have been an easier decision but the fact that he was OK most of the time made this a hard call. Yes, he was in pain when he went to the bathroom, but it was hard to tell if he were uncomfortable any other time.

The vet took him back and put an IV in his front left arm and then she came and put him in my lap. She then gave him something that was like a sedative and then she followed that up with the one that stopped his heart. Since he was on my lap, I was petting him and could only see the top of his head. I know I was crying pretty hard and trying to tell him what a good boy he was and that I was sorry that we couldn't do anything else for him. The vet was sitting on the floor so she saw him at eye level and at some point she said that he was gone. I had a hard time believing that at first because he felt so warm and usual (like he was just taking a nap on my lap). But then she checked his heart and confirmed he was gone. It was so surreal that he was gone that fast. The vet then said that we could spend some time with him but I couldn't do that. So she took him out of the room (very gently I noticed) and that was the end.

I miss Bailey. I know that he would have just gotten worse and possibly be in more pain but I still miss him tremendouly. He was my boy even before I knew Jim. And he was named after my friend Les who died in December. Somehow it just doesn't seem fair that they are both gone just like that.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Productive Day!

Whew ... I have been working all day (on and off) on my literature review for the dissertation and I can say I am now officially over 20 pages (which really doesn't sound like that much in the grand scheme of things) but it's a start. And I think the emotional issues I have been experiencing were kicked to the curb a little bit. You see, there is this huge debate that is crucial to understanding my research (the infamous Hairston/ Berlin debate). For some reason, as I have been working on this discussion the last few weeks, I have struggled to articulate what it is that I am actually trying to say -- even the simple "this is what she said/ this is what he said." Anyway, I think I may have worked out some of the mind crap going on because I managed to work with the material pretty closely today and get something down on paper. Amazing. Now hopefully I can continue this pace for another week or two!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Jane Austen Guilty Pleasure

Since I am having trouble getting started with writing today, I thought why not start with something that feels "easier" -- thus, how about a few thoughts on a Jane Austen remake? My pal Laurie sent this book to me a few months ago and I finally had the chance to read it (I devoured it, by the way, in a mere two days!). George Knightly, Esquire is a re-imagining of Austen's Emma from the viewpoint of, as you can guess, Mr.Knightly. I was prepared for the book to be a bit on the fluffy side but I was suprised to discover how much I got into it.

One interesting angle -- Most Emma adaptations I have seen focus on life in Highbury, Austen's most detailed neighborhood. This book, while also providing those comfortable glimpses of the familiar town, focuses instead on the residents of Donwell, with its own parish, attending rector (Dr. Hughes), a new curate, our old friends the Martins, William Larkins, and an array of colorful tenants. The world the author (Barbara Cornthwaite) depicts is as vivid in my mind as Highbury after reading this Knightly-centered perspective. As a budding scholar who is fascinated with race and class issues, I found this book delightful in terms of bringing all these folks together in one "read."

The only negative? Apparently, this is only the first part (and once I look at the cover after finishing there was a hint with a subtitle called "Book One"!). The book ends just before Mr. Elton brings his new bride to Donwell and Knightly struggles with the Frank Churchill/ Emma entanglement. So .... more work on my literature review for the dissertation = purchasing the second part!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Komen Race for the Cure

Well, it's over. The Komen Race for the Cure was yesterday here in downtown St Louis! Last year I was getting an MRI for the first of two lumpectomies so it was strange to think how much has happened in the 12 months since then. Since I was named one of the top 10 Fundraisers this year (thank to my fabulous friends and family members!), I was able to usher in a new year by helping to carry the banner in the survivor procession.

Because of this VIP status, Jim and I got to hang out at the VIP tent and munch on some free breakfast (provided by Bread Company) and by 7 AM I had to meet up with the other top fundraisers so we could walk together as a group over to where the other 4,000 survivors were already assembled. The only bad thing was that Karen, the women in charge of us 10, walked us over and then gave us the banner, sort of pushing back a front line of women who, I am guessing, thought that they were going to be carrying the banner. I felt bad and a short woman edged next to me, muttering under her breath how unfair it was that we got to take "their spot" -- one of the other top fundraisers said something about raising a lot of money but it didn't seem to make a difference unfortunately. So I was standing there thinking about how to make this situation better when wham! The procession started moving and I am not talking about a snail's pace! The procession was fast! We went around a corner and within a minute were standing in front of the main stage. Now, by this point, a lot of survivors around me were crying -- but I think I felt stunned more than anything. Partly, I was still feeling weird about being pushed to the front of the line and partly I was trying to put my head around the fact that I was indeed a "survivor." And it was at that moment that I realized that breast cancer was just one part of who I am now -- and not the biggest part. I am not sure if Komen will be something that I will do every year -- I just know that now I want to go on with the rest of my life and be strong, happy, and brave about taking on scary tasks (i.e. writing a dissertation that I feel like I can't do).

After the procession, I was "stuck" in front of the stage and watched all the action (i.e. Mayor Slay and some guy from American Idol) and then managed to slip through the crowd and rejoin Jim. The 5K started about 30 minutes later and me and my tutu took off as fast as I could! Thankfully, the really hot weather we have been experiencing this past week took a break and it was in the 70's with a nice breeze. But because I took off too fast, I struggled by about the second mile and came in at a time that I am not happy with: 30 minutes and 24 seconds. i was hoping for something closer to 25 minutes but oh, well. I guess I am still working hard at getting my running mojo back.

And now this morning I really do feel like a new chapter of my life has started. I had the energy to do some errands around the house and I have opened some dissertation notes and will work on that today and tomorrow (I have a Tuesday deadline in my head for a certain section I am working on). Later this afternoon, Jim and I will start a new volunteer opportunity (just a few hours a week at the most) -- walking dogs at the Stray Rescue facility near our house (this is the great organization that we adopted our dear Stella from!).

So I guess I better get to work!

PS: This video from KSDK shows the Survivor Procession -- it's hard to see me but I am at the right end of the banner (purple tights, blue hat) -- and the announcer mentions my tutu!)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Highland, IL, Memorial Day Biathlon

So what was the best part of yesterday's biathlon?! I got to participate in the event with my fabulous husband! I ran the 5 mile run and then Jim rode the 15 mile bike course. Our ending time was 2:04:09 -- and the best part is that at least three other teams finished behind us so we were not the last ones out there! Yeah!

If you were here in the St Louis area yesterday then you know that it was a beautiful blue-sky kind of day -- with a heavy dose of heat. So here is the run-down for the race: We got there at about 7:30 AM (start time was 8 AM). While Jim got his bike out of the car, I went to registration and got us set up with our numbers. The only confusing part was that I expected each of us to have our own number but, instead, I had to give him the number (with the chip, of course) when we did the transition after the run. We got the bike set up in the transition area and then I went over to wait in line for the porta potty. Yeah ... that didn't quite work out. The line was super long and going slow. But I waited until someone came over the loudspeaker and announced that the race would start in 5 minutes. I decided to skip the bathroom (though I had to go!) and ran back to Jim for my MP3 player and then got in the start area. I bumped into Irwin, this fabulous athlete who lives in our building downtown, but before I knew it -- the start gun went off!

And, of course, because I felt rushed I started too fast. The first mile was not bad but I felt the heat and my lungs by mile 2. Most of the course took place in the countryside just outside the small town of Highland -- not bad for a run but enough hills to kill you on a hot day. At the first water stop, I took one cup but then took 2-3 waters at the next two water stops since the folks behind the race were using this little mini-cups that held only a swallow or two of water.

By mile 4, I was back in the residential area of the town and then I noticed the darnest thing -- I could see the finish line about a mile ahead! Not good for one's psychology while running on a hot day. I feel like I eventually limped across the finish line and Jim was right there, waiting to take the number and timing chip from me. Except that my hands were wet and shaking and I couldn't get the darn thing off. But Jim managed to get it off and he took off! (my running time was approximately 52 minutes and 18 seconds) Unfortunately, I had to pull a Paula Radcliffe -- which means I had to take my own tiny (thank goodness) bathroom break while I was running (i.e. Paula Padcliffe, the fastest female marathoner had to do a #2 in her shorts while she was running in order to beat a world record a few years back, thus the moniker "to pull a Paula Radcliffe"!)

For the first ten minutes after he left, I just sat on the grass trying to breath. Then, I took our duffel bag and sought out the concessions/ water, a few hundred years away from the start/finish line. Holy crap! Free soda and beer for all the racers! After about 15-20 minutes, I made my way back to the start/finish line and relaxed in the sun (talking for awhile to the mighty Irwin who had already finished both parts!). I was so excited when I saw Jim! He finished strong but as soon as he hopped off his bike, he could feel all kinds of aches in his legs ... which perfectly matched the aches in mine from running! (our final time was 2 hours, 4 minutes, and 9 seconds!)

I hope we get to do this again -- I know we are not ever going to win something like this but it's fun to do ewvents like this together (since I almost always do the running and triathlon thing by myself). I want to be a better athlete -- and I would love to do this with my very best friend in the world, Jim!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Quick Komen Post!

Just a quick link to my Komen home page -- click here -- almost up to $2000! Every donor will get a picture of me in a giant tutu with seperate ribbons dedicated to fantastic folks I know who have experienced all forms of cancer! I will post a pic of the crazy tutu as soon as I get the whole thing finished! :D

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Goin' to Get Muddy!

So you see that picture at the top of this blog?! I get asked about this one a lot -- Jim took it last year at the USO Mud Run over in Mascoutah, IL, about 30 minutes east of St Louis. I was freshly diagnosed when I ran this race last year -- I don't remember exactly what I was thinking other than how did other folks get their hands on pink duct tape and I only had gray -- but I am pretty sure that I still thought of myself as experiencing a "slight case" of breast cancer. Looking back at this time last year, I am pretty sure I was in shock mode for at least the first few weeks but I was focusing on remaining strong -- which I think the picture at the top of this blog captures quite well!

Anyway -- I just signed up for the run on June 4 (next weekend), a little late since I didn't think I was going to do it. I am not sure why I was reluctant at first (OK, maybe getting muddy isn't the first thing I would do if given the choice) but ... it's for a great cause (the USO!), it's unique (go mud!), and for some reason I feel like re-visting some of the races I did last year. So bring the mud on! (and I will go to Home Depot and track down that pink and purple duct tape -- which I will need to keep my shoes on!) Just in case you are interested, here is the "official" trialer for the USO Mud Run:

I am hoping Jim will be out there taking more great pictures (I didn't get as muddy as I could have last year because ... well, it's quite possible that Dianna jumped over course obstacles if there wasn't someone there "forcing" me to do it! I have a feeling that will be different this year!).

And with the mud theme going on, I have a few pictures to share! I cleaned out my office at work and found two pictures from a mud run I did in 2005:

I like these pictures -- I was a "younger" runner then (I started running in 2002)! And these must have been just before I switched to running in skirts only(I am a huge fan of triathlete Nikki DeBoom's company "Skirt Sports" -- Is it odd that I keep searching the eyes of the pre-cancer diagnosis Dianna thinking, "Is there a clue? Is there a sign that this is going to happen?" Was it the million Diet Pepsis I drank? Was it the chemicals in the air? Was it ... ? (well, you get the point).

Anyway -- and on one more running-related note! The local Fleet Feet Sports store (I am a devoted fan!) just highlighted me in their most recent newsletter. I am deeply, deeply honored and they made me sound so strong! Click here to the link! I just can't say enough how honored I feel. Enough said.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Final Grades ... In!

So moments ago Dissertation Girl completed her final section of grades and submitted them to the higher powers that be here at SWIC. Yeah! I can't quite describe that feeling of being done-done! So, my readers might ask ... what's next? (especially given the fact that I am not teaching any summer classes this year)

1. Graduation tomorrow evening -- always a great thing to watch fabulous students celebrate this wonderful moment in their lives! This year, I have a bunch of students graduating so I am looking forward to being there for them! :D

*** note: As I menioned before, at this graduation ceremony last year I was reflecting on the biopsy I had just completed earlier in the day at St John's Hospital. I remember sitting there thinking, "Whew! That was not fun but at least it is over. And there's no reason to worry since breast cancer doesn't run in my family and the doctor at the biopsy said that I have an 80% chance of this being nothing." Well, we all know how that turned out. But at the graduation I was so sure that the worst of it was behind me. It's just a weird sensation to think of that Dianna at that graduation. What will the Dianna at this graduation be thinking?

2. Jim and I are flying out to Seattle on Friday afternoon. Jim will get the chance to connect with his best buddy Greg (which makes me happy). On Saturday Jim and I will be attending a get together of folks who loved Les at "the Lodge," one of the places I adored as an undergraduate at St Martin's (I spent many happy days there with fabulous people -- I even have a distinct memory of reading Wordsworth there on the beach during some retreat I must have been attending at the time). And my "other mother" Mary will be at this event -- and that makes me seriously happy! On Sunday Jim and Greg will probably go hiking somewhere and I will get to spend the day with Greg's very cool wife (Martha) and I am hoping we get to go shopping! (Martha is a master shopper and just a generally fun person to hang with!) The only bad part is that the trip is only a few days -- we will be back in St Louis late on Monday.

3. Dissertation writing will start in earnest next week! Since I have had unexpected pockets of reading time this past week (with finals and all), I am actually getting super exicted about some of the reading I have completed -- but not yet had the chance to write up in my "literature review."

4. Catching up with friends: OK, I can't be working on my diss 24/7 so I am delighted that I -- finally! -- get the chance to catch up on emails and notes to friends (Tanya, Laurie, Rachel, and Mary K in particular!).

5. And finally some home-cooked meals! I know I am not all that great at cooking but my schedule has just been so hectic recently that I haven't had the chance to make much of anything (other than soup). So Jim gets a part-time homemaker for the summer, an adventure I hope he survives!

6. Trip to Japan in July -- I need to review my Japanese language skills before we go. I am pretty sure that things will just fall in place but I know that I used to be a kick a** Japanese speaker after living there for four years. Now I just have to tap into my brain and figure out where that great vocabulary went to!

May 25 is next Tuesday -- I guess this is officially my first cancer anniversary. Though I don't think this is something I will be (obviously) celebrating, I think it's a date that signifies a lot at least this year. None of us really knows what is going to happen to us from day to day. But I guess May 25 is a looming symbol for me of how much I do tend to take life for granted. If I hadn't gone in to get that mammaogram when I did, what would have happened?