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!