Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The end

With four weeks to my dissertation defense, I figured it was time to professionalize my online profile. I never could have predicted the ways I would grow and change in these past six years in Denton, the friends I would make or the community I would become a part of. It's strange that it all comes to an end soon, but in a week and a half I will be submitting my dissertation, and only two weeks later, I will have earned my doctorate. With the end fast approaching, my friends and I booked Dallas headshot photographer Brad Taylor to help us commemorate our years here in Denton. We spent an enjoyable Sunday with Brad taking headshots around the Denton square, resulting not only in professional and natural shots perfect for marketing ourselves professionally but also a great day of reminiscing and camaraderie. As sad as I am to leave this home here in Denton, I'm so excited to see what's next!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Chicago Week 5: The nanny interview

(Warning: This post contains snark. And plenty of self-righteous boasting. Sorry.)

I'm part-time nannying for as many families as I can this summer, which means I'm going to as many interviews as I can.

I like interviews usually. They're fun little games that test your ability to read people and react accordingly in a split second. But these nanny interviews are getting old. This week I went to one that left me fuming. So I thought I'd rescript it, and the nanny interview in general, the way I wish it could have gone.

First, I walk into a gorgeous suburban mansion with a view of a private pond draped in weeping willows. Three people live here, and one of them is only six months old. I remember my family's house when I was growing up, how even closets and bathrooms became bedrooms or music practice rooms. I count three pack n' plays here, with a full changing station in each one.

Then the interview begins:

The Mom: Describe your qualifications.
What I Want To Say: How about you describe /your/ qualifications. Because I've been caring for children for 15 years, and you look like you just started six months ago.

Of course I really say something about being a certified teacher and studying early childhood development in college and participating in foster care for 10 years.

Which leads to some confusion in these parts:

TM: Foster care? What's that?
WIWTS: Seriously?

TM (after I /actually/ explain): That's really interesting! It sounds kind of like a foreign exchange program.
WIWTS: It's /exactly/ like a foreign exchange program. That is, if your foreign exchange student was born only a few miles from you and is now an underfed three-month-old who has 15 fractures in her body because her teenage father slammed her legs into a table when she wouldn't stop crying and now she's being returned to her birth family way too soon because the system is overloaded with too many children. Then it'd be just the same.

TM: My child can get fussy sometime.
WIWTS: Trust me, I can handle it. Your child is easy. No broken bones. No fetal alcohol syndrome. No drug withdrawal. Not premature. No attachment disorder. No sensory processing disorder. Easy peasy.

TM: If you took my toddler twins to the park I would want to come with you because sometimes they run in opposite directions
WIWTS: In high school I routinely fed a baby and watched a toddler while I taught myself a math lesson. In college I worked at a daycare where I cared for 10 two-year-olds. After college I watched 25 eight-year-olds all day every day for two years. I'm pretty sure I can handle two children at a playground.

TM: What other services do you offer?
WIWTS: I can tell by looking at your child exactly where he is developmentally. I can burp a baby without hurting his broken ribs. I know when and how to introduce solids, which ones to introduce first and how to make sure no allergies exist. I can teach your child to read in both English and Spanish. I can potty train. I know where in Piaget's four stages your child is and can introduce activities that are higher in Bloom's Taxonomy. I can talk intelligently with your child's therapist. I can change lots of diapers really fast too.

Of course I don't say any of that stuff, because I want as many jobs as I can get and I need the money. But someday when I'm rich and famous and can afford to be insufferably know-it-all, I may just go on a nanny interview and say exactly what I want to say.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Chicago Week 4: Never such devoted sisters

I've got some good friends. In high school it was these two. We were ridiculously studious, but we still found time (usually at 6 a.m.) to watch Jane Austin movies and talk and read books together.

In college there was a whole crew. We ate every meal together and studied for finals together and went on kayaking trips and hiked West Texas mountains. Some of them still know me better than I know myself.

Then a few years later, when I thought good friends couldn't exist after college, I moved to Mexico and met this group of women. Even though we only spent one year together we grew close and I still miss them.

And now here I am in grad school, and every semester I meet more lovely people who help me become a better person and provide plenty of opportunities for parties and mud races and all sorts of great times.

I couldn't be more grateful for all the friends I've accumulated, and I try to hold onto them as best as I can, but the thing I'm realizing more and more is that my three sisters are the people who will be there, no matter what, all the time, forever. They make me who I am. Without any one of them, I would be a different person. They're the best part of my life, the part that makes me absolutely certain that life is worth living.

This week I got to see two of them. #s 2 and 4 were just north of Chicago with the camp they work for, so I visited them as often as I could.

We went to coffee shops and caught up on each other's lives.

We toured my mother's hometown and ate macaroons.

We ate pizza in downtown Chicago.

We talked about August, when we'll all four be together for a whole month. Sometimes I forget how lucky I am. I have three people who grew up with me. They know where I come from and they share so many of my experiences even though we're all four so different. We're spread across the country now, and maybe we will be forever, but when I need someone who instantly understands, I have three numbers I can call. That's pretty incredible.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Chicago Week 3: Saving the world at Trader Joe's

First of all: I get to shop at Trader Joe's this summer! This is dangerous. I like their gingersnaps and peanut butter cups and maple cookies far too much.

I go to Trader Joe's once a week, and I've been reusing my brown paper bag from my first visit. It makes me feel hip and responsible and conscientious. Sometimes before a trip to the store I get this proud feeling. "I'm saving the world," I think. "Not one more tree is being cut down because of my bagging needs."

But last night as I was falling asleep to these self-congratulatory thoughts, a bit of honest realism slipped in. Really, how much good am I doing? One paper bag? Yeah, world saved.

Don't get me wrong, I love this earth. I've traveled across four continents. I've climbed volcanoes and backpacked over mountains. I've swum in remote coastal towns and rafted down rivers. I want many, many generations to be able to do those things. But I'm afraid that this push towards organic living and environmentalism soothes us into thinking we've done enough.

I saved one paper bag at the store today. That's good and all, but it doesn't help that kid who has lived in so many homes that the word "forever" means "until I'm tired of you." It doesn't help the three-month-old with the broken legs, and it doesn't help her teenage father who can't get clean enough to stop hurting her. It doesn't help the high schooler who commits suicide because of bullying, and it doesn't help the pregnant kid who's getting an abortion because she's afraid of the judgement she'll receive. We like things to be pretty these days. We call children "wards of the state" because "orphan" is too ugly a word. We convince ourselves that if we eat organic food and use colorful cloth bags we've done our part. But I guess what I'm saying is I want my part to be more than that.

I'll keep reusing my old Trader Joe's bag, and I'll buy grass-fed beef and eggs from cage-free chickens while I'm at it. But I hope it doesn't lull me into forgetting all those people who so desperately need someone to do more than drink organic milk.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Chicago Week 2b: Sunday afternoon hitchhiking

The morning after my terribly unlucky Saturday I had only one mission: retrieve my car from the tow company. The woman at the company had given me directions the night before, and I still had her number in my phone, so I laced on my running shoes (the feet were too blistered from the day before to wear flip flops again) and hit the door. She'd said it was just a mile or two, and while I was pretty sore from the previous day's 15ish miles, I figured I could handle a little walk.

It was another warm day, and I was walking on a highway without a sidewalk. After a mile or so, I began to doubt my directions, so I called the tow company to verify. "You've got a ways to go on Gary," they said. I asked how far. "Quite a while." I started to run through my options:
a) I could keep walking. Except that I was hot and didn't know how far I still had to go.
b) I could get a friend to drive me. Except that I don't know anyone in this town well enough to ask for a favor.
c) I could call a cab. Except that cabs don't just roam the streets in the suburbs and I don't have internet on my phone.
d) I could stick my thumb out and see what happened.

I went with option d. Time to see how friendly these Illinoisians are, I thought. (Note to any concerned readers: I'm not usually a hitch-hiker, but this was in a quiet suburban town right as church was getting out on Sunday afternoon. Pretty safe.) I waited through a few cycles of lights, and I felt pretty silly standing on the corner with my thumb out. Finally, though, a window rolled down and an sweet-looking elderly couple asked where I was going.

I climbed in the back seat. The old man driving the car told me to move his oxygen tank so that I'd have enough leg room. His wife offered me cotton candy and said she'd gotten it at church. They'd just gotten out of the Presbyterian service and we talked about that for a few minutes. I asked them if they could just take me as far as they were going, but they said they were in no rush and they'd take me as far as I needed to go. I said I thought it was just a few miles down Gary Ave.

We drove a few miles but we couldn't find the street. "We need to call for directions," said the woman, and her husband said just wait a little longer. Eventually he gave in and we called; they said we still had a ways to go. "You couldn't have walked all this way!" said the lady. And we kept driving.

We talked about how awful it is to have your car towed and where they were from and what a hot day it was. After six or seven miles we finally found our turn. I told them to drop me off there and they wouldn't hear of it. "There are dangerous people out," said the woman. A few more miles and we finally made it to the tow lot. The drive was nine miles in all, NOT one or two like the lady on the phone had said the night before. They wouldn't let me pay them for gas, so I just thanked them and said I didn't know how I would have made it walking on my own, and they said they were glad they'd seen me.

I'd called for directions so many times that they knew me at the tow lot. "Are you the Gary lady?" they asked when I walked in. I paid my bill and we joked around a little bit and told each other to have a good day. Because after you've accepted a nine-mile ride from kindhearted strangers it's pretty easy to be nice to even tow-company employees.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Chicago Week 2a: Sore feet, drunk trains, and towed cars

I've got pretty good luck when it comes to traveling. I'm laid back and I don't worry about leaving on time, and I pretty much just try to have fun and things mostly work out. Every now and then I've gotta pay the ferryman, though.

I started my Saturday with an eight-mile run in the mid-morning sun, which left me sore and headachy. But I wasn't going to let that ruin the weekend, because I had good plans downtown: Printers Row Lit Fest and Chicago Blues Fest. It was gonna be a bang-up time.

I live in a suburb, and the trains into the city come and go every two hours. I was running late for the two pm train, so I decided to drive to the station, even though it's just a mile away. Then I was still running late, so I had to find a place to park fast. The website said there was free parking, so I found a place and ran to the station and got there right as the train was pulling up.

My day in the city was fantastic. Lit Fest was an outdoor book fair with stand after stand of used books in a street lined with old bookshops and wine stores.

And Blues Fest was probably the biggest free festival I've ever seen, with several stages and crowds of people dancing and enjoying Chicago blues.

I walked around the city a bunch too. This is my first time in Chicago in the summer, and I kind of love it.

It was a tiring day, though. The temperatures were in the 90s, and I was walking a lot, so I planned on making the 8:40 train and being in bed by 10. It was a long walk, and I got a bit turned around. I ran some of it and got distracted for some of it. I thought I'd make it just in time, like I usually do, but I got to the station just as my train was pulling out. The next train wasn't till 10:40. My feet were sore and blistery and I was ready to be done for the day, so I stayed near the station and read.

The station was empty when I got there, but by the time the train left, it was full of drunk people. I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep. My head was hurting, my feet were sore. But country music was blaring from someone's rinky-dink little stereo, a crowd of college-age boys was parading through the cars cheering, and someone in the car over was playing a kazoo. The ride was long; we kept stopping so that security could kick people off. A guard would run through the train chasing someone, and the man behind me would slur out to the whole car, "That's why they don't let alcohol on the train!" or "Enjoy your handcuffs!" and then at the next stop we'd do the whole thing again.

I finally got to my stop sometime after midnight. I was so tired I couldn't think, and the fun of the day was pretty much forgotten in my desire to sleep. But when I walked to my car it wasn't there, and my trip to the city suddenly became very expensive. I called the tow company and they said that the lot I'd thought was train station parking was a restaurant's private lot and I'd have to come get my car where it was being held two miles away.

Two miles isn't that far, I guess, but I was tired and limping and I'd already run/walked about 14 miles since that morning run, and I just wanted to sleep. So I told them I'd get it in the morning, and I limped the mile back to my house.

Except my night still wasn't over, because once I got there the house was all locked up, and I don't have a spare key. This happened to me once before and I just slept in my car, but this time I didn't have a car. I banged on the door for a while until someone finally answered, and then I apologized for waking her up and went to sleep, quite relieved that the day was over.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chicago Week 1: Sister #3

I had one weekend with #3. Our time together is always so short, but we fit a lot in. We drank wine and listened to music and ate out several times and had long conversations about dreams and faith and life and cheese. She wrote a couple of blog posts about our weekend:



I'm pretty fond of my sisters. Even though we see each other less and less as we grow older I'm glad we get these occasional weekends together.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

We all scream

Sister #4 and I have built our relationship almost exclusively around ice cream. Braum's ice cream, to be specific. It started my first year out of undergrad when I was miserable and she was 16. We went to Braum's every Friday afternoon, and whoever was having a better week bought a cone for the other, and we mostly sat and recovered, but sometimes we talked. And somehow that year she changed from my baby sister to my friend.

Since that year we've used Braum's dates to kick off any sort of change in our lives. The night before I moved to Mexico we went to Braum's and both cried. She was really the only thing I cared much about leaving. The night before she moved away to college she went to Braum's alone but bought me a sundae and texted me to come eat it in the car with her where we could talk.

So last night when she wanted Braum's, even though I'd already had ice cream that day, I didn't have to think of my answer. In a few weeks she'll be packing up to work at a camp all summer, and today I am moving to Chicago for a couple months. Sure, these aren't huge transitions, but life will be different until August, and any change, whether big or small, needs ice cream. So we bought sundaes, and we took them home and sat on the floor and watched American Idol and talked. We talked about the summer and what we hoped would happen, but we also talked about ice cream, about all the memories we have of eating it together. Sure, maybe we'll be diabetic one day, but I'd say it's worth it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The chip "game"

I always hated the quiet game as a kid. Such thinly veiled manipulation was an insult to my intelligence. But now I'm all grown up, and here I am insulting kids' intelligence with my own version of the quiet game.

Except my game is vastly superior to the quiet game. It started when I was student teaching back in college and my mentor teacher would put a few cheerios on her students' desks and allow them to eat one when they were quiet. Surprisingly, it worked. Turns out kids will do a lot to be allowed to eat food that's sitting right in front of them.

Last summer sisters #2 and 4 and I took the four Littles to the beach for a week. The young crew is new to road tripping, so we had a few unpleasant moments in the car. That's when I brought back the food game, except this time I didn't have cheerios, so I gave each one of them one chip, and every minute or so I'd tell a kid he or she could eat a bite. They'd take small bites to make their chips last longer, and we had a good hour of silence in that minivan. Brilliant. It shouldn't work, but it does.

So last weekend during a six-hour drive in a packed minivan, when the kids were getting way too fussy for my own good, I asked them if they wanted to play the chip game.

They were ecstatic.

I mean, when else can you take tightly regulated bites of a food item you would ordinarily be given freely?

So I handed them each a Pringle, and they were happy. And the car was quiet.

Then they realized their chips were running out, so they decided to break them up into small bites so they wouldn't accidentally eat too much.

With two minutes of silence per bite, that's an awful lot of silence right there. Brilliant.

Of course, the game does have a downside: namely, that the Chip Game Officiator has to say, "You can take a bite" every minute or two. So no sleeping, or reading, or deep conversations, or any other meaningful activity. But sometimes silence is worth the sacrifice.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Holidays' end

New Year's Eve was perfect, everything a New Year's Eve should be. There were sisters and friends and champagne and sparklers and midnight kisses all around. Then my sisters and I headed back to my apartment in Denton to sleep for a few hours before getting up to take #3 to the airport at 8 a.m.

We managed to wake up. It wasn't nearly enough sleep, and we all smelled like campfire, and some were still a bit dizzy, but we got up and loaded the car and even had about three minutes to spare. Then I asked #3 to bring up my keys so I could lock my 2nd-story apartment, and she asked if she could just toss them up, and I said OK, and so she did.

And they landed on the roof.

Neither one of us reacted. We didn't laugh or scream or cry or moan or anything. We just stared at each other. Then a choice word came out of my little sister's mouth and we went into oh-no mode. Keys stuck on the roof, spare car key at our parents' house in Dallas, no one to drive us anywhere, flight in under 2 hours.

Our options were tremendously limited. I brought out a broomstick, but it didn't come close to hooking over the edge of the roof. Number 4 stood down by the car and told us the keys were near the edge and that if we could just get onto the roof we could get them easily, but we had no ladder, and this roof wasn't exactly designed for easy accessibility.

I called the apartment office, but it was closed at 8 a.m. on New Year's. Go figure. Then I called a tow truck, which didn't make much sense, but that's who you usually call when you can't drive your car, right? "Our keys are stuck on the roof and we need a ladder to get them down. Do you offer that service?" I asked. "No ma'am, we don't," said a very cross tow-truck man.

After that I called a couple grad school friends, hoping that all of them had their phones off and wouldn't be disturbed, but also wanting to prove to my sister that I would go to any lengths to get her to her flight in time. No one picked up. A certain sister who shall remain numberless suggested we stand on each other's shoulders to try to hoist one sister onto the roof. That idea got vetoed pretty quickly. Not really a Sydney Bristow among us. Plus, changing a flight seemed much preferable to calling an ambulance. And all the while a neighbor from across the parking lot sat on his balcony watching and shaking his head.

After about 45 minutes we finally reached the acceptance stage of our morning. Those keys were just not coming down until the world woke up. Number 2 went inside to go back to sleep, and #4 and I sat in the apartment and wondered again what just happened. Number 3 went walking around the complex in what I assumed was frustration.

Then I heard scraping on my roof. Turns out she'd found one of those 20-foot pool nets by the empty apartment pool and had lugged it back to my place. It didn't quite reach the keys, but it came close. Then the neighbor who'd been annoying us by his careful observance all morning came over bearing some sort of child's toy, which he duct taped to the end of the pool net. Since he was stronger he maneuvered the contraption while we stood in the parking lot and guided him. "Yes, you're almost there! Just an inch away!" "You touched them for a second; go back!" Hopefully we didn't wake any neighbors with our cheerleading. After a few minutes the keys fell to the ground.

We drove fast, and when we pulled into the airport terminal #3 hopped out and ran to check in without any farewell hugs. She made her flight, though. And thus ended our holiday reunion.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Doctor visit number three

This morning I went out for a 15-mile run. My foot was hurting -- it has been for the past few weeks -- but I figured I could tough it out. Then on mile 5 the pain turned from throbbing to shooting, and I couldn't breath for a second. So I limped out another 4 miles, decided I was doing my body more harm than good, and went to the doctor.

Now before we go on with this story, let's just stop and look at that last sentence. Not the first part, because I've never been one of those nuts who will sacrifice her long-term health for athletic achievement. No, the "went to the doctor" part.

It's no secret that I hate doctors. I've been to the doctor twice since I graduated from college. The first was three years ago, when I had bronchitis. I was about two months into teaching then, and I was still determined not to miss a day of work. Ever. I went to an in-service day with a 103 fever, but by the end of the day I was pretty much delirious. So I went to Care Now. I couldn't sit up by then, so I lay curled up in a ball on the table while the doctor did whatever he needed to do to me. I really don't remember. I know he shot me full of steroids and gave me a prescription and I paid the $25 copay and tried to get a few hours of sleep before teaching the next morning.

The second time was almost exactly a year later, when I again had bronchitis, this time during my second year of teaching, and in Mexico. My principal made me go that time. I wrote about it right here.

That's it, though. I really don't like doctors. I don't like that they doubt you and suggest that everything's in your head, and then sometimes they can't find the answer and you start thinking it really is in your head.

But I figured a foot injury would be different. With a foot injury, they take an x-ray of it and can see exactly what's wrong. Just a simple your-foot-is-hurt-or-it's-not.

So I went to Care Now, because doc-in-the-box doctors are my favorite type (no, I don't have commitment issues). I didn't bother changing or showering or stopping by home first. Running clothes, salty skin, no grading to distract me from Madagascar or whatever movie would be playing. (I still have memories of "I Like to Move It," repeating again and again in the waiting room while I lay shivering on a chair delirious with fever.)

The office wasn't as anxious to get this done as I was, though. They told me to leave and they'd call me in 45 minutes. So I went to my parents' house, which was only a few minutes away, and told my sister she could go out for a run while I watched the kids and showered. Twenty minutes later, halfway through my shower, my phone rang. They were ready. I threw on some clothes, told the boys (who are old enough to be home alone for short periods) that their sister would be home in ten minutes, and told the four-year-old she was coming to the doctor with me.

Boys settled down with school work, shoes found for the little one, and we were ready to get in the minivan. But there were no car seats. The kid probably weighs close to what I do, but new laws require that children are in car seats until they're about 20. I searched around, and I thought of my slot that was probably being given to someone else, then I decided screw it, we were only a couple minutes away anyway, I'd drive slow.

So I did, and the kid did great, and I got x-rays of my foot that prove that it suffers from no more than a strained tendon. Usually I'm afraid of an "it's just" diagnosis, because it means that all my complaining was for naught. But this time I'm pretty glad. I got instructions to ice it and avoid running for at least a week (BUT WHAT ABOUT TRAINING?!?) and a prescription for pain meds that I won't fill. And that's that. Problem solved.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

This morning

-My apartment smells charred because I heated a tortilla directly on the stove.
-Every pair of dress pants I own is scattered around my bedroom, evidence that I really need to go shopping for some smaller clothes now that I've started running.
-I got back from tutoring last night at 10 p.m. and watched 20 minutes of a documentary on Prohibition before crashing.
-The sink is full of dishes.
-Sticking a half-drunk bottle of wine on the counter gets rid of fruit flies and is faster than actually cleaning.
-I'm writing a quiz ten minutes before class.
-I can't find my flats, and I won't wear heels until my knees stop hurting.
-I don't have the time or the food to pack a lunch or dinner for this 14-hour day

-It's currently 53 degrees, with a predicted high of 85.
-My apartment floor is clean, at least.
-No lunch or dinner means a candy bar from the vending machine.
-I can wear a scarf without suffocating.
-I feel incomprehensibly rested.
-I've got my hair/makeup/clothes routine down to 10-20 minutes.
-Eggs taste good.
-I have friends all over the world, and family only an hour away.

Life. That's what this is.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

It's (not really) a hard-knock life

I haven't gone grocery shopping in nearly two months. Eating through your pantry, they call it.

The reason behind my grocery-store boycott is simply because the summer term stopped paying me in July and this new semester doesn't start paying me until October. So I decided to cut out my grocery budget, because who needs food, right?

I thought it was going to be hard. I thought I would grow thin and bony and my ribs would poke out and my concentration would be nil and I would waste away to nothing. I imagined reading books about starving artists and finally being able to empathize. "Ah, yes," I'd tell the characters in those books. "Our lives are so very hard." Maybe I'd even be able to write my own book about my experiences or something.

Turns out, though, you can eat through your pantry pretty comfortably for quite a while. Bummer. There goes that bestseller.

Even after two months without the grocery store, my pantry's still pretty full

I've come up with quite a few go-to meals that fill me up and don't make me gag. (Those are the two requirements, of course.)

Oatmeal: The old stand-by. Oatmeal, mixed with brown sugar and raisins, or maybe peanut butter and cocoa powder if I want some protein. Filling.

Toast: I've got zillions of half-eaten loaves of bread in my freezer that I was saving for the ducks. (Sorry, ducks). If I stick them in the toaster and smother them in peanut butter, I don't notice they're freezer-burned and stale.

Smoothies: Like the bread, the fruit would always go in the freezer once it got too old to eat. So now I'm eating it. Stick it in the blender, mix it with a bit of water and some honey, and you're good to go.

Pasta: I don't know why I have so many boxes of pasta in my pantry, but there they are. Sadly, my pasta sauce is pretty old and nasty, but beggars can't be choosers, right? Plus, a bit of wine and some freshly grated parmesan help to make it bearable. Yeah, I know; I'm really roughing it.

Peanut butter and banana shake: My favorite meal of all. Frozen bananas and chocolate protein powder and peanut butter and ice. It's like a milk shake. And it fills me up for half the day.

And of course, because I can't go more than about 10 hours without something sweet, I've got a list of go-to desserts as well:

Reese's pretzels: Pretzels, dipped in melted peanut butter and chocolate chips. So delicious.

Reese's Grape-Nuts: Peanut butter and Nutella (Yes, I have Nutella. Hard life.) melted together. Grape-Nuts stirred in. Crunchy goodness.

Graham crackers with Nutella: You can probably figure that one out.

I have plenty of other food too. Tortillas and energy bars and protein shakes and goat cheese and jam and popcorn and applesauce and cereal and baking supplies that I can't use because I don't have eggs and milk. And plenty of vitamins that I'm actually remembering to take for the first time ever. This little experiment has made me realize just how much food I have and how picky I usually am.

I'm a bit tempted to find out how long it would take before I actually started starving. But I don't think I'd have the patience to wait that long.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On teaching: 3rd grade vs. 13th

I've been teaching college writing for about two weeks now. Which makes me an authority on the differences between elementary school and college, of course.

Harry Wong says that the first week of school is the most important, and I imagine that's true whether the students are eight or 18. The first few weeks are about setting up classroom procedures, going over expectations for the year, establishing a safe learning environment, and laying a good foundation. This looks a bit different in college than it did in elementary school, however.

As I reflected at the end of the first day, I realized how glad I was to be done with some of those annoying first-day procedures.

I noted that I hadn't had to march my students in a line around the school to practice hallway procedures. Instead of making our own class puzzle to illustrate how we all fit together, we just introduced ourselves. I didn't collect any paperwork from the parents telling me how their students would be getting home from class. We didn't practice taking bathroom breaks or discuss why it's important to keep the bathrooms as clean as possible. I didn't pass out name tags or assign a place for backpacks or tell students what they needed to do if they wanted to blow their noses. In fact, I didn't even set up a classroom procedure for blowing noses. Hopefully that won't come back to bite me later in the semester.

Some differences are a bit more inconvenient, though.

For example, today I needed my water bottle filled. I nearly asked the students if one of them would mind running down the hall to refill it for me when I caught myself. They probably wouldn't be as honored by that grown-up task as my eight-year-olds were.

Last week two boys started whispering during class. I started thinking of possible discipline options -- keep them in from recess, make them write me a paragraph about why talking in class is wrong, phone home to parents, take a conduct point away, lunch detention. None of those seemed like effective options, though. What did prove effective was staring at them until they were quiet. That never worked too well with my third graders.

Today I assigned a homework assignment that is worth almost nothing for the students' grades; it's merely participation points. I was trying to think of a way to motivate students to do the assignment and nearly told them that I would have stickers for everyone who brought it in completed. Then I remembered that they weren't eight and just told them that the assignment was due on Thursday. Period.

While third grade and college have plenty of differences, they have a few similarities too.

The students still ask pointless questions. I even had one ask whether to use a pencil or a pen in class. I'd thought I was done with that question for good. They still don't realize that showering before coming to class is a good idea, although now they don't have mothers around to force them to do it. They still prefer talking and playing games to listening to lectures, and they still love a good story.

So then, third grade versus thirteenth? The verdict is still out. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Four hours of wonder

In the deep darkness of the 5 a.m. morning last Saturday, I heard a strange sound. I had to dig into the far-back recesses of my memory to figure out what it was, the part of my mind where I keep those fuzzy memories of being in the church nursery as a baby or of blowing out the candles on my third birthday cake. It took a while, but I eventually pinpointed the sound: rain!

Texas has turned colorless this summer. The skies are pale, the grass is dead, and the flowers just don't exist at all. For the past two months we've had 100+ degrees of stillness, with not a drop of water falling from the sky and not a hint of a breeze rustling the leaves. Between the drought and the heat, Texas seems to be falling apart.

The earth is splitting:

The bricks are cracking:

The foundations are shifting:

We need rain.

That's why this Saturday, when that strange sound woke me at 5 a.m. I got up to watch the miracle that is water falling straight from the sky onto the cracked earth. I postponed my run to sit around my apartment and listen to the rain. At 6:30, I went to the park to run for an hour, and I don't think I stopped marveling once during those 60 minutes. The cold rain hitting my skin, the water collecting in puddles, the drops sitting on the blades of glass -- incredible. Sixty minutes of pure childlike awe.

The rain lasted till 9 a.m., and I sat on my porch watching it until it stopped. Texas had returned to normal by Sunday: 105 degrees, no breeze, no clouds, no rain. Now the earth is still split open, the bricks are still cracked, and the foundations are still shifting. The ponds still smell like rotting fish, the grass is still sharp enough to cut a bare foot, and I still have to drink 75-90 oz of water a day. But at least I have the memory of those four hours of rain. That's something, right?