Saturday, December 27, 2008

Post-Christmas Doldrums

My children and Dot's boyfriend, Pete, spent Christmas night with me, which was great. And, as soon as they pulled out of the driveway in the '84 Mercedes, I realized I didn't take any pictures. I have a good digital camera, but I never think about taking pics. Dumb, but...

My parents and I exchanged money for Christmas. I gave them some to do whatever they want; I used the money they give me to buy what I haven't bought for a while--new socks, unmentionables, new cookie sheets and a muffin tin, some bird food for the wild birds--that kind of stuff. And after Christmas sales are good, so I can get some things I need cheaply.

I'm ready for at least the first month of every class--well, really, for the first month-and-a-half. I do have schedules and syllabi completed. I just need to update future modules on Moodle. But I'm ready to go.

The USA network has been my friend with marathons of "House" and "NCIS." So I have something to amuse me. And, when that gets boring, I just pop in a movie. Truly, though, I've just been coasting, working out some ideas for an online Freshman Comp class (well, a hybrid for the first semester, then online 100%).

I'm reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, billed as one of the best books of 2008. It's a retelling of Hamlet with dogs. The writing is exquisite. I've knitted four scarves, gave three to my kids and Pete, and I'm working on a pair of socks. I'm trying not to cook anymore. My freezer is full. I need to eat what I've already put aside before I try to stuff any more in there!

That's it. I've had a quiet holiday, which is what I prefer. If the wind and rain ever stop, I might build up the burn pile and have a bonfire for New Year's Day.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas, Anyone? Anyone?

I'm not in the Christmas spirit, really. It's not one of my favorite holidays, mostly because it's lost meaning for too many people. In such a bad economy, too, I just don't have the money to spend frivolously--after the dentist wiped out any extra money I made this semester--and, besides, the people in my family can buy what they want for themselves. I sent my children money, as I always do, because they know what they need/want. I refrain from cluttering up their lives with useless "things." They're not into owning "things" that don't serve a purpose. I applaud that, and I try to emulate it.

And the weather has been screwy--can you say "global warming"? One day, the rain freezes as it falls from the sky; the next day, I open the doors and windows to move the air around because it's so sultry.

Today, I've been baking (should have done that on a cold day!) Cowboy Cookies. I divided the dough in half, added cranberries and raisins to one half, then added chocolate and peanut butter chips to the other. The basic dough includes oats, and I added nuts. They're yummy, and I need to give them away fast, before I eat them all. I also made some "no-bake" cookies called "Carolina Delights." They require oats, unsweetened chocolate, butter, sugar, peanut butter. Also yummy. I'll probably bake bread tomorrow and include that in what I bring to my mom's on Christmas Day.

You can find the cookie recipes on I've been trying out a bunch of recipes I've found there. I get in such a rut with cooking that I decided I needed to venture into new territory. I've also been pulling out my cookbooks and trying some new dishes. I made a pot of Cuban Black Beans yesterday. I'm making full batches and freezing what I don't eat immediately. That way, when the new semester begins, I'll have my lunches cooked. A good way to save money. I've also been making my own vegetable and chicken stock for soups and stews. Those freeze well, too.

To help my mood, I've tuned into Turner Classic Movies. I've already seen "The Bells of St. Mary's"; TCM has "A Christmas Carol" with Reginald Owen on right now, and, after this, comes "Scrooge" with Albert Finney, my all-time-favorite version of "A Christmas Carol., next to "The Muppet Christmas Carol," of course! So, maybe that will help. I'm just waiting for them to play "Holiday Inn." That movie lets me know that Christmas is here! And, of course, no Christmas is complete without "It's a Wonderful Life," the original with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.

Anyway, no matter what holiday you celebrate, even if you don't celebrate any holiday, have a safe and happy day! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Festivus!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Welcome to Louisiana!

You know, I can't figure out why, in a state that ranks low in health care and education, the first things to be cut in a budget crisis are--you guessed it!--health care and education.

So, our university is slated for a $1.9 million budget slash beginning on January 1, 2009--in the middle of a year. What I saw on the news (so I'm not giving away any secrets here) is that the chancellor is cutting operational costs (oops! no paper for the copiers!) and some adjunct positions. But the schedule for the spring is already set, and I can't see how cutting adjuncts would help. We don't have enough personnel in our department to pick up all those extra classes, and, even if we did, the staff would mutiny at having to pick up extra classes without extra money. The college can't save money by cutting adjuncts and paying full-time professors for an overload. No savings there.

The U could just cancel some of the classes and up the enrollment in the others. And for someone who teaches mostly writing classes, adding five more people to each class would be the equivalent of teaching another full-time class. I already spend most of my "off" time grading papers. Adding more students to any of my classes, including the on line classes, just increases the amount of time I spend grading/reading papers. [And, actually, the university did increase the number of students in my on line freshman comp class from 22 to 25--the spring class has 26 students, one of which is an AEP high school enrollee]. Well, I guess I could give up a couple of hours of sleep a night, but maybe I'll just reduce the number of assignments I grade.

It's a trade off, I know. But I think the legislators should get rid of all their pork barrel spending before they ask us to lose personnel and services. I wonder how much of their last budget included bridges to nowhere or city parks named after them.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Now What?

I've posted final grades and submitted them to my respective departments.

So, what now?

When someone (me) is used to working 18 hours a day, an unstructured day can be a curse. Last night, after I averaged my grades, I picked up my knitting needles and knitted a scarf (big needles, chunky yarn), then began another. I can knit a skinny scarf in an evening and can make scarves in many colors for gifts or for myself. I'll do more knitting because I've ignored it this semester. I won't ignore my writing, but knitting can be just as therapeutic.

I need to start planning my Christmas baking. I usually bake chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies, but I may try something different this year. Still need to make the CC, though; people in my family depend on those.

But, I think, for the next few days, I will just hunker down and do as little as possible. That might be difficult for me, but I'm going to do my best to work less.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Except for posting the grades in Compass...

I just finished reading the worst set of essays I've ever read.  It's as though they universally forgot everything I told them about writing essays--no thesis statements (or lame ones), no proofreading--you name it.  And I told them that.  I believe in truth.  And I let them know why I thought that, too.

Well, at least I'm done for now.  I don't have any more papers to grade for the semester. 

After I post the grades, I'm going to write for a while, maybe take a nap, maybe bake some banana bread.  I don't know.  I think I'll just wait a while before I jump into the "getting ready for next semester" mode, though I did sneak into that yesterday in a desperate attempt to NOT grade those essays.


Yesterday, I did manage to grade an entire set of finals for my Intro to Fiction class.  That was one of the best classes this semester.  My students were funny.  I always have to overcome the "I don't think fiction is important" mentality--a challenge--before we get down to business.  By the end of this semester, though, some of my students were writing 14-page papers (and they're not English majors!); they still need help with thesis statements, but at least they're thinking and developing opinions.  And they'll disagree with me and one another, which is fine as long as they can support their ideas.

I'm just ready for a break.  Teaching five classes--four of them writing classes--is not a picnic.  I taught a freshman comp & lit course online for the first time this semester and that was a challenge, too, though I automated most of the quizzes so I didn't have to grade a ton of papers--just a couple of writing assignments each week.

In the spring, I'm going in two days a week (I hope that doesn't change), and teaching two on line classes; in the fall, if I get the freshman comp (part 1) on line, I'll be prepping four classes and teaching three on line.  I must be crazy.

I do like teaching on line, but I like face-to-face interactions, too.  On line teaching allows me the freedom to work from home, but I like seeing my students and talking with them.  If I could only get more of them to use Skype, that would be good. 

Well, time for more coffee and to tackle a novel.  Later....

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Another No-Grade Day, Kind Of...

Really, I've just been monitoring the course evaluations from my Advanced Comp students.  They get 10 points just for turning in their opinions.  I read them after I post their grades.  They can say whatever they want; even if I did read course evals before the end of the semester, I don't grade students on their opinions about my teaching or my class.  I grade the work they turn in.  They get the grades they earn.

At the beginning of every semester, I tell my students that, if they want an A, they need to start working on it from the first day.  Somehow, they don't hear that.  I always get a few emails from students at the end asking me to please, please, please, "give" them an A, even if they're four points away from it.  Or could I please, please, please let them do extra credit work to "earn" the A. Well, during finals week, I'm up to my armpits in papers, so when am I supposed to have time to grade "extra" work?  True, I've had a couple of "no grade" days, but I've earned them at this point.  It's enough that I have to go back and make sure I've graded everything I should have and given students the points they truly have earned.  I don't have time for "extra" assignments--to devise them or to grade them.

So, today, while I've been monitoring evaluations, I've baked blueberry muffins and made a pot of lentils.  I've been noodling with my writing--though I need to keep at it more diligently.  Tomorrow, I don't have any papers to grade, but I do have a set of essays coming in around midnight, and I have my last exam Thursday at 8am (yikes--I have to get up at 5am and leave by 6:30am to give myself enough time to wake up).  But, after that, all I have to do is grade, average grades, and post them.  Then I can sleep for a week or so.

And then comes Christmas, New Year's, and a new semester.  And I have to get ready for that--but not before I take some time to not work!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A No-Grade Day

I didn't have any papers to grade today. I did have some things to do for a couple of courses, but I worked on those at my leisure and will update the grade book tomorrow.

So, what did I do? I cleaned out litter boxes; I washed clothes and area rugs; I cleaned up the piles that accumulated while I was grading papers and writing a novel. I dyed my hair (long overdue, because the patch of gray on the right side was beginning to show big time). In general, I "frittered" away the day, much to my delight. I haven't had a day like this in ages.

Friday, I baked a chicken, and, I have to say, it's the best chicken I've ever cooked. Then I simmered the carcass to make a soup stock. Today, I continued cooking the leftover meat off the bones, added some onions and celery, and further rendered the stock. I froze some of it for future use, then made a pot of chicken and rice soup. Yum! I also whipped up some bread dough, and I'll bake that tomorrow. I'll enjoy my soup with some great no-fuss artisan bread. I'll chow down on that while I'm grading the two sets of papers that are coming in, even as I write this.

All together, a productive and stress-free day for me. I know it hasn't been for the students whose papers are due tonight and tomorrow, but the semester is almost over for them. It's crunch time for me, so I might as well eat well while I'm doing my work.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Grading Papers...

That's what I should be doing, but I keep finding other things to do--going to the grocery store, defrosting a chicken, making coffee, cooking lunch, washing clothes...

I have a set of papers to grade today. Saturday night, I have two sets of essays due; Sunday, I have one set of essays due; Monday, I have a final exam to give and a set of course evaluations due; Tuesday, I have a set of course evaluations due; Wednesday, I have a set of finals due; Thursday, I have a final exam to give at 8am.

I need to have all of these papers graded, grades averaged and posted by 10am on Monday, Dec. 15. Eeek! I'll have them done if I can just make myself work.

On the other hand, it's a beautiful, cold day. My house is a wreck because I've ignored it all semester. I have several novels to work on. I can find so much to distract me right now, right at the moment I can't afford to be distracted.

Time to get the blinders out. Work takes precedence.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Semester Careens to a Close...

As much as I like my students, I'm always excited when the semester ends because that means a new semester is about to begin. And, somewhere between the two, I might actually have a couple of days where I don't have to do ANY coursework, though I will be setting up my spring courses, making out schedules, etc. But I can glean several days where I'm not tied to the computer grading papers or answering endless frantic emails about why someone didn't submit an assignment, or how I just HAVE to pass someone because he/she NEEDS to pass the class to keep his/her scholarship, financial aid, job, whatever.

I think, over the holidays, I'm going to work up a Word file of standard replies. Then, when I get these kinds of emails, I can just cut and paste my responses. It will cut down on the time required to respond to emails.

Another thing I think I'm going to do is make a list of "Ms. Smith's Acronyms" so I can just use initials instead of spelling things out, kind of like text messaging abbreviations. For example, "NMM" stands for "Not My Monkey," which, translated, can mean several things, depending on the context. It could mean "Not my problem," or it could mean, "I don't know what you expect me to do about it," or it could also mean, "I don't care why you didn't submit the work; I'm not grading it." See what I mean?

And "NSS" stands for "No S**t, Sherlock," meaning that the statement (usually the thesis statement in an essay) is so obvious that it doesn't need to be written. An example of this is, "William Shakespeare is considered one of the greatest writers of all times, and that means that 'Othello' is one of the greatest plays of all times." Trust me, I get these all the time. [I have to credit my friend, Nicole--she uses this in her classes, and, when she mentioned it, I thought I'd borrow it.] A good translation, and a more polite one, would be "Duh."

Another of my favorites is "SOL." The polite translation is "So out of luck," but it really translates to "S**t out of luck," which means, of course, that the student's goose is cooked. It's one of my favorite acronyms, really, and I try to use it whenever I can.

That would be fun for me, but I hope my students have a collective sense of humor. And, even if they didn't--my class, my rules.

Now just to get all of these assignments graded, grades posted and turned in. Just a week to go. Whoo-hoo!

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Totally Satisfying Turkey Day...

Greetings from Austin, Texas, the Music Capital of America! 

Unbeknownst to me, my daughter is no longer a strict vegetarian, so my Turkey Day wasn't all veggies.  We went to a nice gathering with tons of great food--turkey included--and chowed down.  I'm still full.

After dinner, we worked off the calories by bowling on the Wii.  It was fun, but just confirmed what a lousy bowler I am!

While my NaNoWriMo novel sits for a week or two, I have two other novels employing the same characters--one is complete, the other is about 112 pages and needs to be finished.  All are in great need of editing, so I've been working on the first two, but I also began another novel in the urban vampire genre, which is probably a bit overdone right now with Twilight and True Blood, but I have a different angle I'm working on.  I have about 11,000 + words (about 45 pages or so).  So, I keep writing or revising.  I'm getting myself in the habit of writing/editing about two hours every day--some days, I write longer than others, depending on what else I need to do.  But establishing the habit is the hard part, so that's what I'm working on--to get in the habit.

As a teacher, I have to be disciplined--those papers don't grade themselves, and I hate grading papers!  It's time-consuming.  My students often tell me that I don't need to give them the work, but, if I don't, I can't give them grades.  It's a no-brainer.  I can't grade them on personalities--that just wouldn't be fair to the shy ones.

I haven't been so disciplined with my writing--as a poet, I wrote when I had something to say, and only then.  I didn't constantly write poems, either.  But, with prose, I have to write to develop the plot and the characters--that takes more time, so I have to set aside the time to get it done.

Okay, my fingers hurt, as does my back, so I'm going to stop for now.  I've finished grading a set of essays and have been writing for about four hours--and this is supposed to be a break!  But, I guess, writers never stop writing.

Hope you've had a restful and yummy holiday.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Novel Update...

I have "finished" my novel, in the sense that I've written the last first-draft word. I uploaded it to NaNoWriMo for a validation count, and the robocounters came up with 64,155 words; Word counted 64,259, but I think Word was counting the Roman Numeral headings.

Does that mean I'm "finished" with it? No. All writers should know that the real work begins after the initial draft is "done." So now what?

Well, I think, while I'm waiting for NaNoWriMo to end (Nov. 30), that I'm going to let it sit. I already know what I need to do to remedy the plot, and I've made copious notes on that. I have several other novels that are in various stages of revision, and I need to work on those. I also have an idea for another novel, and I could spend some time on that. I don't want to get too far away from the NaNo novel, though. But I've got the writing jones now, and I feel as though I need to keep the momentum of this month.

Whenever I hear myself say, "I don't have time to write," I know I'm lying. If I can write 64,000 words and teach five classes, I don't have an excuse. What I need to do is to reserve those two hours a day for writing no matter what's going on.

I've been stealing time where I can. Some days, I write before I grade papers. Other days, I try writing in half-hour bursts between grading papers. I think it requires both discipline and flexibility in equal measure--the discipline to just do it, and the flexibility to fit it around all the other stuff I need to do.

Writing is hard work. I can't deny that. Some days, after I've put in the two hours and graded two sets of papers, my mind feels like mush, and I feel as though I've run a marathon. My muscles ache, especially my arms, fingers and neck, from sitting at a keyboard with minimal breaks. I've added stretching to my routine to work out the kinks.

I don't know what I "win" for completing this--probably a few "atta-girls" and the congratulations of my writing buddies. But I feel as though I've done something, and that's the best prize of all.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

NaNoWriMo Update...again

As of 12:06AM on Nov. 16, I have 48,386 words. I'm not even close to being finished, so I'll just keep writing until I end it. NaNo doesn't end until Nov. 30, so I'll let you know how many words I have when NaNo ends--the official count.

Half a month to go!

Update: as of 2:30pm on Sunday, I have 50,093 words. I've met my goal, but the novel's not finished, so I'll just keep going until I come to the end.

I'll give you a final count when I'm "finished."

Friday, November 14, 2008

NaNoWriMo Update...Nov. 14

As of 3:00PM, I have 40, 263 words. Wow. And I'm not even close to being finished with this novel. I only need 50,000 words for NaNo, but that's not going to get me to the halfway point of the book, so I'm just going to keep typing until I find the end. If I just keep writing, I'll have plenty of stuff I can cut out when I revise. I must revise in December.

I think I'm finding a plot. It's taking longer than I planned. Maybe I need to work it out more clearly, but I think I want to wait until I get through with NaNo. I don't want to stop until I've at least reached 50,000 words or more. The plot can wait until later.

I'm hoping that I'll have 50,000 words tomorrow. I have tons of papers to grade this next week, so I may not get much of my own writing done.

I'll update when I reach my next milestone--45,000 words.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I'm a Broken Record...

Total count as of 10pm tonight, 30, 164 words.

I don't know how I'm doing it, but I am. I still don't think I have a plot, but I'll worry about that in December when NaNoEdMo starts--the month of editing. I think I know where it's going, but I'm waiting for my characters to tell me.

November 15 is the write-a-thon. Two hours, again, of writing, but it helps to do this with a group, even a small one.

I have several days without papers to grade, but, come Saturday night, I'll have stacks and stacks. But I think I can manage those and still get my 50,000 words. I have time. I do not, however, want to let myself think that I can goof off.

I need to take a shower and sleep. I'm suddenly soooooo tired!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

NaNoWriMo Update, Nov. 9

Total words as of 6:29pm: 25,418. I'm at the halfway point, but I need to read/grade two sets of papers.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

NaNoWriMo Update...Nov. 6

Total words as of 10:53pm--16,420.

I managed to put in two hours today. Alas, I didn't grade any papers. I'll do those in the morning and write for several hours when I'm through with those.

I just need to keep plugging away.

Our little get-together last night was fun. We burned an effigy for Guy Fawkes Day. We couldn't get our effigy to burn until we slit his guts opened with a knife to expose his newspaper stuffing. But, once we did that, he burned perfectly.

The food and the company were both excellent. I haven't had a night out in a couple of weeks, so I was due. Didn't get home until 10:40pm. After I unloaded the groceries, put them away and fed the cats, I had to take a shower and go straight to bed. I stayed up on election night. I've had 12 hours sleep in two days.

I think I need a nap.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

NaNoWriMo Update...Nov. 4

As of 5pm today, I have officially written 12, 458 words. That's about 3,ooo words per day for four days. I've been taking two hours a day--getting up early, or stealing two hours from grading papers. I've also spread out the assignments that are coming in so I have a day (tomorrow!) where I don't have to grade/read anything. But I am going to a party for my friend and colleage, Dr. Nicole Peeler, who just found out she has a three-book deal with a real publisher! I'm psyched for her (and a bit jealous)! But she deserves it, and I feel lucky to know a "real" author (fiction, even). Maybe I can learn something from her.

I'm just going to plug away at this novel I'm writing until the end of November, and then I'll worry about what I have.

I'll keep you posted on my progress. The goal is at least 50,000 words by Nov. 30.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

NaNoWriMo Begins...

I'm proud of myself. I've written around 3,000 words today--most of them between 11-1 at Barnes & Noble for our official kickoff for National Novel Writing Month. I've never been a participant before, but it seems like a fun way to force myself to write. Now, if I can just find two hours a day to add to this novel, I'll have my projected 50,000 words by Nov. 30.

I read a blog today that suggested the best way to get 2,000 words a day is to write 500 words four times a day. I think I can do the morning thing if I get up early enough, or if I just take two hours after I get home from school. But, if I can't find a two-hour chunk of time, thirty minutes four times a day is doable, I think. I just need to plan well. I have a feeling, though, that I'll be doing most of this in the wee hours of the morning when I should be sleeping! So, if I'm dragging myself around during the day, that's why. But I'll try not to let it interfere with grading my papers or being perky in class.
I don't anticipate that this will go anywhere, but anything that helps me write more is good. I teach writing, but seldom have time or energy to do it. I just need to make the time because its important to my creative self.

I'll keep you posted on my success or failure. Either way, just attempting it is good.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Believe it or don't...

I actually had one day when I didn't have to grade papers!  So, what did I do?  I wrote lectures and recorded podcasts.  Sounds like fun, huh?

The day was gorgeous, and I was inside.  What was I thinking?  Today, however, is also beautiful, and I have three + sets of papers.  But, you know what?  I'm going outside for a while anyway.  The papers will wait--the grass won't.  I need to mow one more time before the cold weather comes.  I think the temp is going to 37 or something on Monday night.  Winter all ready?  That was fast.  That probably means we're in for a cold one.

I slept until 10:30am on Friday, but I didn't go to bed until 2am, so I think that's not too late.  On the weekends, I get my times screwed up, and have to adjust when Monday comes.  Next semester, though, if all goes well, I'll only be teaching on campus on Mondays and Wednesdays, and my first class doesn't begin until noon.  But that means I'll probably need to be on campus by 10am, since I can't count common hour as an office hour (which I think is stupid, but I'm not "the boss").  I'll have more time for my online classes, which, sadly, I don't this semester.  I'm usually all over them, but I've had too many other tasks that needed my attention. 

Podcasting, which I've just started doing, is fun, but requires time and energy.  The good thing is that I've got the podcasts done, and I can use them next semester for my class, since they aren't dated.  I still need to record podcasts for all of the drama sections, but those will be forthcoming.

I heard the dryer buzz, so I need to fold clothes.  I'll go out for a while, then jump right on those papers.  Sigh... Thanksgiving is right around the corner--I think a trip to Austin is in order.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

End of Break--Sigh!

Of course, it wasn't much of a break for me.  I graded papers every day, sometimes three sets.  I've missed the beautiful weather, something I intend to rectify when I'm through writing this blog.

Our "surprise" dinner was a surprise.  We managed to fool my father--if we can do that, we've accomplished something!  He was more surprised than anyone.

The staff at Monjuni's (the original one on Louisiana Ave.) did an excellent job. The food was excellent, and they added a special touch by giving my parents cards signed by the entire staff and by putting flowers on the tables.  We had one waiter, Chris, who did an excellent job of taking care of us.  I hope he enjoyed the huge tip we left him--it was probably as much as the bill!

About 30 of us managed to make it; a few of my brothers and sisters couldn't--working or out-of-state--or wouldn't, but I did finally get to see my two new grand-nieces, Camille and Emma.  The newest grand-nephew, Colton, was just born last week and lives in Atlanta.

All together, a great evening.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What the Heck?

What day is this?  I have no idea.  Oh, yeah, the last day of classes this week--ah, it's fall break!

Well, if anyone cares, instead of a fall break, I'd rather have a week off for Thanksgiving.  But no one asked me.

This will, I hope, give me time to "catch up" with anything I've fallen behind on--podcasts and worksheets and new Moodle sections, oh, my!

Then, again, maybe I can catch up on some sleep (yeah, right).

So, what's happened since I last wrote? 

I "met" the racoon who has been finishing off the cat food in my laundry room.  The feral mama cat has had another litter of five.  I trapped two cats and took them to the Humane Society.  I need to trap two more, then the mom and the babies.  I need to get that mother cat out of here.  She and her babies are eating me out of any disposable income I have.

Oh, yeah, and I went to the dentist this morning to finally have a  temporary crown put on a tooth.  I ate the crown off of the tooth, and it's taken a month to get an appointment for the temporary.  So, I called the dentist this morning to make sure I still had an appointment.  Yes, I did.  So, I got dressed and went to brush my teeth and swish the mouthwash.  I brushed; I rinsed.  Clunk!  The filling in the tooth the dentist was going to work on fell out.  Damn.  But, in the greater scheme of things, that just made things easier for the dentist.  So, I now have my temporary crown, and I only owe the dentist $221 dollars for the permanent one.  Another reason I don't have any disposable income.

On the plus side, my mom and dad are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary tomorrow.  We're surprising them with dinner on Saturday.  And, no, I'm not worried about writing that here.  They don't read my blog.  I don't think they know I have a blog or what a blog is, for that matter!

I feel slightly manic, but that's probably all of the coffee I've had today.  Since I don't have to get up early in the morning, I can drink all the coffee I want.  Ha ha ha ha ha....

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Brain Farts...

Here it is, nearly 11pm on a Wednesday, and I haven't stopped working since I got home, somewhere around 4pm.  I left the college late because I spent extra time in my English class, going over thesis statements for the first paper. 

Tomorrow, after a meeting in the chair's office, I need to go to the bookstore.  They always manage to call me with a frantic request to come in when I'm swamped.  And the manager who calls me with these frantic requests always uses the sucker line, "Since you've stopped working full time, we just can't find anyone to replace you."  This time, he told me that they'd recently hired four people, but they still can't get the work done.  My response?  "You're not hiring the right people."

So, I'll spend four hours trying to "fix" what can't be fixed, come home exhausted from heavy lifting, sit down and do the same thing I've been doing for a month.  I'm reading final copies of essays I've read twice, marking what I marked in the first two drafts because my students aren't paying attention, or maybe they just don't think they need to make the changes I suggest.  The grades on these essays are lower than those from previous semesters.  I've made up my mind that this won't be a walk in the park for my students.  Employers demand good writers.  I'm not going to pass people who can't do the work.  

I want my students to succeed; but I don't do them any service by giving them high marks for work that wouldn't pass muster in any business environment.  I wonder if they realize that any boss in any company would doubt a person's competence if that person handed him/her some of the stuff I get.

I'm adamant that the reason many students can't write is because they don't read.  Watching/listening to TV can't make up for that.  If the actors in these shows would put the punctuation in their lines, maybe that would help.  Could you imagine this: "Jim comma did you locate the murder weapon question mark" "No comma June comma I haven apostrophe t yet period"  I still don't think that would help.

Another problem is that many students don't think about what they write--maybe it's unfamiliar to them in that context.  When we write, we have to pay attention.  We can't just run at the pen the way we run at the mouth.  If we say something nonsensical, people usually don't call us on it.  If we write nonsensical things, and someone is paying attention and thinking, we're not going to get away with it. 

My frustration rises, especially when I've pointed out mistakes and provided methods to correct them, and students ignore my suggestions.  I'm not being difficult; I'm trying to help them succeed and impress the people who can help them with their careers.

I talked to a colleague the other day who was practically banging her head on the bathroom wall because her students didn't understand that they had to produce a perfect resume.  They couldn't understand how a comma made a difference.  I told her to find a willing HR director at some desirable company and ask that person to read the resumes and pass judgment.  Who would he/she hire?  My colleague liked that idea.  I think that would impress upon her students the difference a comma can make.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Morning, Coming Down...

Well, no, not really.  And it's Sunday afternoon at the moment.  I'm "killing time" before my next online office hour.

I haven't been blogging much because I'VE BEEN WORKING!  Yes, working.  I'm trying to remember everything I've done since Thursday night, but I have to look at my list of "Things to Do" because my memory is shot.

I read a set of essays for my online 226 class, first drafts of their first essay; I've graded a set of writing assignments for my 115 online class and a forum that closed yesterday.  I've read two sets of blogs for my 226 classes, and I've been monitoring the online classes' critiques.  I wrote a lecture to introduce the poetry module for my online 115, and I created a podcast for said lecture.  I've been making out midterms and updating my Moodle course sites, too.

Oh, and I mowed the grass this morning after I raked up some of the fallen branches.  Managed to stall out the mower once, when I suddenly realized I hadn't picked up the water hoses and sprinklers.  Yikes!  I almost ruined my great watering system.

When I look at the list, it doesn't look like much, but then I realized that each of those tasks is labor- and/or brain-intensive.  No wonder I'm so tired right now.  I'd take a nap, but that would probably ruin my sleep tonight, and I need to get up early to go in to the college for a meeting.  I have three meetings scheduled in the next two weeks, all of them are at 11am on a Monday or Wednesday.  I usually don't need to be at school until 12:30pm, but, because of the meetings, I have to leave my house around 9:30am.  Ick.  That means I have to get up early on M/W, and I usually sleep until maybe 8 or 9am those days. Getting substantive work done in my office is nearly impossible because students and colleagues drop by to talk, the phone rings--just pick something. 

And my brother came in from Durango this weekend, so I'll need to drop in at my mom's to visit.  I don't mind this; it's just I wish I could grade papers while I'm driving.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

I Called It...

Didn't I say this was the semester from hell? 

I was eating dinner and reading assignments on the computer Saturday night.  I chewed my food and swallowed, and then realized a cap had disappeared from a back molar.  Oh, geez.  I swallowed it.  I hope I crunched it up; the idea of that porcelain crown making its way through my body is frightening. 

So, tomorrow, I need to find a dentist--fast.

Then, I called my daughter this morning to get some information to add her and her brother as beneficiaries to my insurance policies.  I asked her how the previous week went--she's two weeks into her teacher certification program at UT Austin--and she said, rather nonchalantly, "Well, funny you should ask about that.  I was hit by a car on Thursday and couldn't go to class Friday.  But I emailed my teachers to let them know."

Wait a second--back up.  You were hit by a car, and you didn't call me? 

"Well, Mom, he was only going about five miles an hour.  I was crossing Congress [It's a huge, busy street in downtown Austin] and he came around the corner and knocked me down.  I fell on my bicycle [she was pushing it through the crosswalk, trying to get to her bus].  The bus driver called 911.  The EMTs checked me out.  Nothing broken; I'm just bruised and sore."

Enough to make a mother's heart stop.  She acted as though she was talking about a walk in the park.  She was a bit disgruntled, though, because the EMTs offered to give her a $500 ride to the hospital, but no one offered her a ride home!

If she had called me, I'd have been on the way to Austin Friday before the sun rose.  But, really, what could I have done?  Make her tea, get her ice packs, take her to the doctor. I know, she's a grown person; she can take care of herself.  But that's not what worries me--what worries me are those other people, the ones who come around corners and run into my children.  I can't stop them, and I wish I could.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Slouching into Podcasting

I'll admit I'm a bit of a geek.  But I've had some trouble getting interested in podcasting.  Late last night, though, as I was trying to work out strategies for my latest online classes, I took a tour of the Internet and discovered a site called WildVoice Studio.

The software they offer is free to download, and they also offer space on their site to upload podcasts and make them available to anyone who wants to listen to them.  I've recorded two lectures for my freshman composition and literature class, and recorded them badly, but I'm learning how to use music and sound clips.  I can record my presentations for my podcasts and take that MP3 file, turn on my Dragon Naturally Speaking software, play the file, and automatically "type" a lecture I've already posted.  That way, my students can have an audio and text copy of my lecture.

I'm still a little new to this podcasting game, but I think, if I can get organized, I'll be able to learn what I need to know to do more professional podcasts.  My English 115 class online will be my guinea pigs.  I hope they don't mind.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Hello, Gustav!

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The wind is gusting, and the rain is falling, so I guess that means Gustav is here.  I'm sure this is not the worst of it.

I picked up a few small limbs this morning when the wind started, and I'm keeping an eye on all of these large trees in my yard and my neighbor's yard, too, since their limbs often fall into my yard.  I have one huge limb down in the back; it fell about a week ago after another rainstorm. I decided to wait until Gustav did its damage before I began sawing that one up. 

I just hope the electricity holds out and the water drains away.

Batten down the hatches!  Anchors Away!


I think I'm going to sleep in the hall closet tonight.  The rain doesn't scare me, but the wind does. 

I love my tall, old trees, but, when the wind gusts up to 30mph, they're frightening.  Reminds me of the trees in the Haunted Forest in "The Wizard of Oz."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Anniversary

Front view

Three years ago, the Friday before Labor Day, I signed the papers on my house.  Three years ago, the Saturday before Labor Day, I sat on my new front porch, without electricity or gas in the house, watching Hurricane Rita pound my new yard into a lake.  Today, I'm typing this, waiting for Gustav to wreak havoc, just as Katrina and Rita did three years ago.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  My family has been getting phone calls from other family in New Orleans and in Houston; they're making contingency plans in case they need to flee (again).  In Katrina, we lost a great uncle at St. Rita's Nursing Home.  We nearly lost my father's sister, her husband, and their oldest son, our cousin.  They were trapped in their attic when the levee broke down in Violet, LA.  David, my cousin, takes medicine for seizures; he had to be air lifted to Lafayette with his mother.  My uncle ended up in Texas.  It took us a while to find everyone and bring them back together.  I wouldn't be surprised to find out that many, many people still haven't been reunited with all of their family members.

I'm watching the skies and checking my hurricane tracking map regularly.  I mowed the grass today because I wasn't sure when or if I'd be able to do it next week.  Besides, it was knee-high (and I'm not kidding).  I didn't have to mow it at all in July because of the drought, but the recent rains pushed it up.  I don't mind doing it since I bought the riding mower last year.  I can mow this near-acre quickly and meditate while I'm getting it done.


I was so looking forward to a two-day workweek (Well, really, I work every day.  I mean I only had to go into the college two days a week).  I was excited, because I could save on gas.  This summer, I made maybe 10 trips to town because I taught on line.

This is what I get for being so smug.  Our department has had two professors knocked off their feet--one because of a car accident and a seizure, the other because of an operation that needs a re-do.  The department needed seven classes covered.  Of course, I was asked to take one of them.  And it's not a good idea, when you're on a year-to-year contract to say, "No."  So, I said, "Yes."  Now I will be driving into town four days a week, just as I did during the spring semester.  Sigh!  One day...

On the upside, when the college or university calls a meeting on a day I wasn't supposed to be on campus (usually on a Monday or Wednesday), I'll be going that way at some point anyway.  And I do get paid a bit extra for the overload, which is nice.  But, with five classes (two on line, four of them writing classes), I'm wondering when I'll have time to work at the bookstore (or sleep, even).  But, I've done this before; I can do it again.  And the grass doesn't need to be mowed in the winter, usually, so I can knock that chore off my list.

When I'm tempted to complain, I think about that day three years ago, when I sat on the porch of my new home and wondered if I'd ever see my New Orleans' relatives again.  I'm grateful for what I have and what I can do.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Trying out a new program

I received a new program today called Dragon Naturally Speaking.  I think it would be easier for  me to just type. This program does work well in Word and I can open programs from my desktop with voice commands, but I think I can type faster with less aggravation. For example, I sometimes have to give up talking and type what I mean because I can't get the program to type exactly what I'm saying . It can be very confusing.  I'm sure that's just the learning curve, and, once I get used to it, I'll be fine.

One other problem I have is that I had to tell the program where to insert punctuation, which is not hard when I'm typing, but I have trouble remembering that when I'm talking.  I also have to tell it when to capitalize letters within a sentence, and I have to speak very clearly and slowly for the software to catch everything I say.

For the most part, I'm starting to get used to it, and I think once I get used to dictating instead of typing, I could become quite spoiled.  This could also help me avoid carpal tunnel syndrome since I spend so much time on the computer.

I'll keep you posted on my progress with the software and let you know if it's worth the money I paid for it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

And the Madness Begins...

Also known as the beginning of the semester!  Things get frantic for about two weeks, then we all settle in.  The beginning of the semester energizes me and gets me back into a routine--well, a different routine.

The summer--where did it go?  I planned to do so much and didn't. gardens almost withered and blew away because of the heat and drought.  Now they are green again because of all the rain.  I haven't mowed the grass in a month--didn't need to because it was brown.  Now it's green and knee-high, so I'll chug out the lawn tractor and cut it all down.

I have a huge limb on the back fence--of course, it's not my fence, and the limb came from the neighbor's tree.  I'll have to get back there and cut it to pieces, but I'll need help getting it completely into my yard.  The fence will need mending--again, not my fence, not my problem.  The burn pile is huge.  As soon as the wood dries out, I'll have an immense bonfire.  Somebody bring the marshmallows!

I'm going to try to enjoy my last weekend of vacation, but I've already made contact with a few students--the early birds.  They are the ones who get a head start on the semester and help me get back into teaching mode. 

I promise to blog more.  My students will be reading and I'll need to have some fresh posts for them.  And I'll take pictures of anything remotely fascinating.  Things have been quiet here, thankfully. 

And here comes more rain...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

What I did on my summer vacation...

I started looking over my posts and realized I didn't say much about my trip to Austin--my "actual" vacation, though I have been home all summer.

Well, besides the trauma of the drive to Austin, everything else went well.  My sister, Lydia, came in.  Her birthday is the day before mine, so we celebrated together.  Her son goes to UT and is working in Austin over the summer.  We met up at Oasis, a nice restaurant on Lake Travis, the day I arrived.  Oasis is up in the mountains outside of Austin, and the drive there and back scared me--twisty turny roads, steep inclines.  But the views had me dropping my jaws.  We ate outside on one of the decks with an astounding view of the lake and the homes on top of the mountain, as well as those nearer the lake.

On my sister's birthday, she, her friend Pam, and I went lampshade shopping and then we went to see "Mama Mia" at the Alamo Draft House.  My daughter used to work there (she's worked everywhere, really).  The Alamo serves food, so you can eat and watch the movie.  It's a silly, funny movie.  I love ABBA's music, so I had a good time.

We later went to see the bats come out from under the Sixth Street Bridge.  I've seen them before from the shore, but this time we were on a boat.  Spectacular.  I took some video, but it's kind of shaky.  I kept swooping the camera when I should have kept it still.

On my birthday, my daughter cooked dinner, and we stayed up talking late into the night.  Lydia came sans her friend; she needed a break.

On the Friday after my birthday, my son took us to see "The Dark Knight" at the IMax theater in Austin.  What a rush!  I had to close my eyes a couple of times because the IMax scenes made me dizzy.  But the movie was awesome.  Daniel, my son, and I sat up for a while talking about the role of the hero in modern life--well, we just dissected the hero's place in the world.  "The Dark Knight" got it right.

I stayed a day later than I planned, but that was fine.  We needed a day when we didn't have to go anywhere or do anything unless we wanted to.  Dan and I gave in to our meat cravings--we grabbed some burgers and watched "Pirates of the Caribbean--At World's End."

The trip home, as I've already mentioned, was a snap.  I didn't take any wrong turns, and I made it home in six hours exactly--and I stopped once for gas and eats.

With gas prices so high, more than one trip would have been too expensive.  Gas cost me almost $180, which is way more than it used to cost.  I'd love to travel more, but, until prices level off, I'll just use email and the phone.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

End of Summer Semester...

But that doesn't mean I can goof off.  I have to get my fall courses up and running well before August 25th, so I'll be working steadily for the next couple of weeks.

Other than grading papers, averaging grades, and working on fall courses, I haven't been doing much.  My poor gardens are in dreadful shape because I was gone for six days, and, obviously, they didn't get much natural watering.  I'm trying to nurse them back, but I think some of the vegetable garden is unsalvageable.  I'll be ripping up a bunch of it and replanting for fall.

I've been using Windows Live Writer for my blog posts, and it works well.   It's good for writing offline for later posting and for typing a blog without getting online.  Uploading to a supported blog program is a snap.  And, if you have other blogs that this program supports, you can post to all of them (one blog at a time, but you don't have to type different posts).  It doesn't work with MySpace, though, and some other blog programs make posting pictures difficult.

Speaking of pictures, here are two pictures of my daughter's "Dollhouse."

austin 024 This is a front view.  The next view is of the interior.  Look at the paneling that Pete (her boyfriend) put around the lower half of the ground floor.

The picture is fuzzy because I took it through a closed window.

austin 025 The Dollhouse has two lofts for beds or storage and is quite roomy, really.  With the built-in shelves, Dorothy can get quite a bit in it.

Notice the Adirondack chairs on the "porch."  She rescued those from someone's trash pile (along with a matching table), refinished them, and repaired them.  They're comfortable, too.

With a space heater or a wood burning stove, she should be warm, and, with a fan and opened windows, she stays quite cool in the summer, even on the hottest days. 

We're trying to get Pete to help her build another one with air conditioning so my sister and I can extend our visits!

Oh, and let me say that the return trip went much better.  Springdale to 290 to 95 to 79 to 7/84.  Piece of cake!  And my house didn't suffer much damage at all from the four cats locked inside, so I guess they made their peace.  But, as soon as I opened the door, they all went out!

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Beautiful Things...

Pete, my daughter's boyfriend, made a cutting board and a trivet for me today. The trivet could be used as a small cutting board, also. I didn't mean for him to do that. All I asked him to do was trim a couple of pieces of scrap wood so I could make a trivet when I got home.

Pete installs floors for a living. From what I've seen of his work, he's a fine craftsman. He installed a Brazilian mahogany floor in my daughter's kitchen--all "reclaimed" wood--and he put down a floor in her "dollhouse" and paneled the lower walls. He also built her a plant table for the kitchen (she's helped with all of this).

As part of his job, he has to take up the old floors before he puts in the new ones, and he tries to reclaim as much wood as possible. As a result, he's stockpiled enough lumber to build a small village. Most of it would have been burned or ended up in a landfill--what a waste. He's also reclaimed tile--enough to tile the bathroom floor at Dot and Dan's house with a surplus.

Here's the cutting board, waxed and ready to go (with a great view of my son's leg!):

Cutting Board 001

I have a close up, but it's kind of fuzzy and doesn't do justice to the piece. And the batteries in my camera have played out, so I'll take another close up when I get home and install fresh batteries. I'll take a picture of the trivet as soon as I wax it. The cutting board combines white oak, some Spanish wood I can't pronounce, mahogany, and purple heart wood. The trivet combines walnut and purple heart wood. I almost don't want to cut or put anything on them because they are too beautiful.

Here's another view:

Cutting Board 002

You can see the purple heart wood well in this picture.

I'm hauling a stack of things home. I brought a carload with me, but I didn't think I'd have so much going back. I have some sheetrock, drywall screws, a post for the garden my sister and I are building, some large coffee sacks, and assorted scraps of wood for other projects. I also have a lampshade, some fabric, seeds and compostable trash bags that I can't seem to find anywhere else. Seems silly to drive to Austin to haul stuff back, but, when the stuff is free, and I can have a good time while I'm getting it, why not?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Stuck Inside of Conroe with the Texas Blues Again...

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Sorry, Bob!  I had to use my version of your song title.

So, what should have been a nice, six-hour drive turned into a nerve-wracking adventure in navigation.  One wrong turn in Albuquerque (as Bugs Bunny would say...) and I almost ended up in Houston.  Thanks to some nice people, I managed to correct my course and get into Austin without driving on an Interstate.

I know where I went wrong.  Nacogdoches, Texas.  The sign for Highways 7 and 59 are together.  Hwy 7 goes straight while Hwy 59 goes left.  I turned left.

If I can prevent it, I will NEVER drive in Conroe, Texas, again!  Sure, it's seven lanes of perfect highway with a speed limit of 60mph.  But every 1/2 mile is a traffic signal.  Can't use the cruise control, can't get momentum.  Just start, stop, start, stop.  And that town goes on FOREVER, straight into some little burb named Montgomery. 

But, once I got to Elgin, all was well.  Hwy 290 takes me straight to Springdale, which is the street I need to turn on to get to my kids' house.  Only took me an hour-and-a-half extra and used about the same amount of gas.  But I've never been so happy to reach my destination in my life!  And I managed to circumnavigate Hutto, Round Rock, and I-35--a plus in my book. 

And, while I plan to enjoy myself while I'm here, I can't wait to see the damage my cats do to the house while I'm gone.  I locked all of them inside--don't want any of them to disappear while I'm gone.  I figured out how to leave them enough food and water for at least five days, and I cleaned out the litter boxes before I left.  Unfortunately, my cats don't like one another much, so territory will be an issue.  I expect that they'll pull down half the curtains, at least.  I tried to move all breakable objects, but, with cats, that's an impossibility.  They'll find something to break.  And one of them may figure out how to open a door.  Yikes!  I'll have dreams about this until I get home.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Lazy Morning

I've been trying to change my "wake-up" habits this summer.  I used to get up, turn on the news, start the coffee, and feed the cats.  Then I'd watch the news and become thoroughly disgusted with the state of the world.

I've begun a new routine.  I still start the coffee and feed the cats--but these days, I take my coffee out to the back yard and sit in one of my Adirondack chairs.  I watch the birds, visit the gardens, and just "wake up" for about an hour before I try to do anything productive.  It's my meditation time.

I feel better.  I'm not as wrought up with what's going on, though I don't ignore the world.  I just delay its impact on me by spending some time observing my small corner of it.

This morning, I took some (fuzzy) pictures of the sunflowers, zinnias, bougainvillea and the one eggplant that's growing.  The sunflowers haven't developed seeds yet, but those are coming, I'm sure.  The zinnias are pretty, too.

garden july 08 011 I have a whole row of sunflowers along this fence piece, and I'll take another picture as soon as the rest of them begin to bloom.

I noticed, too, this morning that the hummingbirds chase the other birds as well as each other.  One hummingbird chased a cardinal up a tree.  That's tenacity. 

The zinnias are about the same color--a kind of pinkish-purple, very much like the bougainvillea, so they complement each other.

I've never been very good with flowers--well, to be truthful, I'm a neglectful gardener.  I like to plant things and leave them alone, so no-fuss plants are best for me. garden july 08 013 I probably shouldn't try to grow vegetables, but I can't help myself.  I just love vegetable gardens and the "fruits" of my labor.

Oh, and no peaches from my tree this year.  I went to pick the three I had, and the ants came streaming out.  I think I'll have to treat the bark in the spring to keep the ants off the tree.

garden july 08 018 And here is my lone eggplant.  I do have a few more about to open, but this one is well on its way to harvest.  And I noticed that the okra is finally producing.  It's been just standing there all summer.  I guess it just had to hit its stride.

The tomatoes are finally producing, but I'll have to wait until I come back from Austin to pick any of them.  By the end of August, I might actually have some vegetables!  I won't wait so late to plant next spring.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Trying a New Program for Writing on My Blog

I'm writing this with Windows Live Writer, which you can download free.  This program allows you to write your blog while you are offline and will upload it to your blog.

It also helps with uploading pictures, maps, video, tables and hyperlinks.  I'll experiment with it and let you know what I 005

A garden picture.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Garden Update

I went out this morning to take a look at the back yard gardens (haven't made it to the front yet). Some of the tomatoes needed staking. I hate pounding stakes in--I've done two like that, but I decided to try to make tomato cages out of some of the tree limbs I've been stacking up. I have an abundance of those. The best part is I don't have to hammer them into the ground! So, here's a picture.

I've made three of them. The one in the foreground is really for the butternut squash. They seem to be vining squash, not bush squash as the yellow squash are. But I tied a tomato plant to that tripod, too, so it's serving double duty.

I also had this great limb that I tied to the cucumber trellis to give the vines more to cling to. I wrapped some of the tendrils around it to give it a nudge. I've included a picture of that, too.

I checked on the "fence" garden. The sunflowers are about to bloom, and I'll post a picture when those are ready. I took a picture of them today, but it's hard to see the flower heads. The zinnas open striped, but turn into a beautiful light purple with a red and yellow center. The purslane is spreading all over, which I want. And I've been able to dig it up and plant it in other gardens.

I have cucumbers, eggplant, yellow squash, bell pepper and tomato fruits coming out. I probably won't be able to pick any of it until the end of July, but at least it's growing. The okra just seems to be hanging around; the watermelon, corn and cantaloupe seem to be doing something, but I only have one tiny ear of corn and a host of flowers on the melons. Probably too early, really, to expect anything.

I'm having some difficulty regulating the watering. I haven't hit on a good schedule yet, but I think I'm going to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday scheme, and maybe Saturday or Sunday if the weather stays dry. The weather psychics have predicted rain at least two days every week this summer, but we haven't seen it for a while. I think being a weather forecaster is one of the few jobs where you get paid even if you're wrong.

This is the cucumber/tomato pot in the herb garden. I'm training the vine to wrap around the ramp going up to my back door.

And I'm including a picture of my puny peach tree and two of the three peaches.

I'll keep you posted on the sunflowers and any other interesting developments. And, trust me, when I manage to harvest something, you'll see pictures of that, too!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Company's Gone...All is Silent Again

I'm constantly begging my family to come visit, and I'm usually pleased when they do. I enjoy company, but I'm equally happy being home alone.

And, I have to say that, sometimes, I'm slightly reticent about what I write on this blog. I don't really know who reads it (meaning, I don't know if my family reads it), so I mostly stick to the gardens, the cats, and the weather. Probably for the best...

I'm not fond of people who talk just to talk. I think that, when you talk, you should have something to say that's worth saying. I'm not a "small-talker." I hate "chit-chat." I like to get to the point, don't necessarily want to state the obvious; I like meaningful conversation.

I also don't like to hear other people say bad things about members of my family. And I don't want people to air their dirty laundry--arguments, trust issues, etc.--especially with regards to my family members. So, after a few days of that, I'm ready for these types of guests to go.

I don't share too much of my private life, even with members of my family. If I have money problems, or children problems, or work problems, I'm likely to spend time writing in my journal or doodling on a piece of paper to try to work those out for myself. If I need to, I'll talk to my mom or dad. When I was married, I talked to a therapist. In marriage, at least, I think it's best to talk to a "neutral" party. Spilling your guts to your spouse's family members doesn't help your case. If you're trying to win them over, that's not the way to do it. My response is, "I haven't heard his/her side of this. I think you should go to a marriage counselor." That usually shuts off the commentary, but not always. Sometimes, I just can't get people to shut up without saying, "I don't want to hear this. It's none of my business." But some people don't get the hint, even when I'm direct about it. I try to look like I'm listening--but I send my mind out for a walk so it doesn't hear what they are saying.

I love to play "If" games--"If you were stranded on a desert island..." My favorite is the "Plum Island" game. You are being sent to Plum Island for the rest of your life. You will have adequate food, water, housing. You may bring three CDs, three movies, three books, and one personal item (no animals--dogs, cats, gerbils, etc., and no people). List what you would take and explain why.

Well, my brother determined that three CDs would be about 42 songs, so now we have a new game: which 42 songs would you choose?

I've already made two "42 Songs" lists on my iPod; I'm working on categories now--"42 Dance Songs," "42 Love Songs," "42 Revenge Songs," "42 Angry Songs."

I've challenged my brother to come up with his "42 Songs" list and email it to me. Feel free to play the game!

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Fourth

I thought we already celebrated the Fourth of July with fireworks in my small town, but I heard and saw more tonight, so I don't know what that's all about. Well, I guess you can't celebrate Independence Day too many times. Maybe this is a private celebration, but I'm seeing these fireworks in the same place as the others. Anyway, they are pretty, and I love being able to watch them from my study window.

I worked my part-time part-time job today for four-and-a-half hours--that was all I could stand. The air conditioning wasn't working in the receiving room, so Hunter (the receiving manager) and I spent our time sweating--he unpacked boxes and I packed them. I was so hot my shirt and pants were damp--I mean DAMP. I planned to work longer, but I can sweat at my own house, and I can get some gardening done while I do it. So I came home.

And, hooray, I received season 3 of The Closer and Pirates of the Caribbean--At World's End. So I had an excuse to stay inside and not sweat. But that means I need to get up early tomorrow morning and mow the front yard, which I didn't do this afternoon. Oh, well. I'll do it sooner or later. And I'm waiting for a cordless string trimmer so I can tackle the front ditch and the back corner where I can't reach with the mower. I ordered it Friday and it should be here any day. I love the Internet. I can get what I need without leaving home.

I'm finding that I don't much like leaving home these days. I realize I have to leave once in a while. Otherwise, I'll become the crazy cat lady who talks to her plants. But I also realize that I can get so much done here when I'm not distracted by trips to "the big city." And I've discovered that going out involves planning. I make extensive lists, map travel routes, and calculate gas use--I plan every stop so that I don't have to double back. I've become almost obsessive about it. I think that's good, though. I only go to town when I need to, so I'm not using up as much gas as often.

If I don't have to go to town for myself, my mom will always have a reason for me to go. This weekend, we have a baby shower, and my brother is going to finish what he started last week--putting a new hard drive in my laptop. By then, I should have the rest of the memory for it. I think I'll have a brand new laptop for less than half the cost of a new one.

I sometimes think I lead a boring life. When I write it out, though, it seems more interesting--to me, anyway!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Another Post

I've posted once today, but Nissa suggested that I make a list of "recommended reading."

When and if I teach literature, I usually teach Intro to Fiction or the second freshman comp course that covers fiction, poetry, and drama. My friends will not be surprised when I say that I love poetry, but despair because so many of my students don't "get it." Poetry, for me, is about the human heart in all it's fragility and beauty. It's more feeling; I think of fiction and drama as more cerebral, which may not be entirely true, but that's how I feel about it.

If I listed all of the poets and poems I love (and I mean that), this blog site would kick me off for exceeding my alloted space. So, here are a smattering, in no particular order of preference:

Mary Oliver--she's one of my favorite modern nature poets, but she also touches on her own hard life growing up. Those poems sneak up on you and smack you upside the head. Her nature poetry takes my breath away.

Margaret Atwood--also one of my favorite fiction and nonfiction writers. My favorite poem is "This is a Picture of Me." It's been a jumping off point for many poetry exercises.

Emily Dickinson--I don't think I need to explain this choice. I've been reading her for years, and she never ceases to surprise and confound me.

As odd as this sounds, war poets--Randall Jarrell ("The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner"), Howard Nemerov ("The War in the Air") , Henry Reed ("The Naming of Parts"), Stephen Crane ("War is Kind")--because they don't glorify war. For them, war is bloody, senseless, and deadly.

Well, just begin with Sappho and work your way forward. The Imagists (William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, H.D., Archibald MacLeish ("Ars Poetica")) are some of my favorites, but I also like the Romantics and the Victorians, and Shakespeare's sonnets.

I just scanned my bookshelves and was reminded of the poets I envy--Gerard Manley Hopkins for his language ("The Windhover: To Christ Our Lord"), and Elizabeth Bishop for her specificity (read "One Art," a wonderful sestina).

These are, by no means, all. Just some to start with.

For fiction, again, too many to list.

For short stories and novels, I like the quirky and surprising. In my Intro to Fiction class, I go for the startling endings--"The Lottery," Shirley Jackson; "The Story of an Hour," Kate Chopin; and I like angel/devil stories: "The Demon Lover," Elizabeth Bowen; "Gimpel the Fool," Issac Bashevis Singer; "The Man in the Black Suit," Stephen King' ; "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," Gabriel Garcia Marquez; "Young Goodman Brown," Nathaniel Hawthorne.

For depth, I like "The Death of Ivan Illych," by Leo Tolstoy; "The Metamorphosis," Franz Kafka; and "Heart of Darkness," by Joseph Conrad.

And you can't go wrong with anything by T. C. Boyle. Some of his stories are apocalyptic and weird, while some are painfully real ("The Love of My Life").

Again, I have more, but that's a start.

With novels, again, too many to list. I've read a few in the last couple of years that are good--Atonement, by Ian McEwan; The Road, by Cormac McCarthy; Life of Pi, by Yann Martel; Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks. But I also love the African novels of Alexander McCall Smith.

Take a look at Modern Books' list (just Google it). I can't agree with Ulysses by James Joyce. I've never been able to get through it, and I don't particularly care for Ayn Rand. I like apocalyptic fiction--1984, Animal Farm, The Sparrow and Fahrenheit 451 (the last two are classified as "science fiction"). Love The Lord of the Rings trilogy, all the Harry Potter books, and The Mists of Avalon.

I had to come back in here (it's Sunday) and add the original "chick lit" (hate the modern stuff) by Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. Add Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca to that.

For drama, anything by Shakespeare. I particularly love "Othello" and "King Lear." I'm drawn more to his dramas and history plays. I like the comedies, but the tragedies seem to resonate with me.

In more modern drama, I like Susan Glaspell's "Trifles," and any of Wendy Wasserstein's plays. Also, Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" and "The Crucible." I like "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams. But, then, I like the Greeks, too--Sophocles and Euripedes .("Medea"--Wow! She's one angry woman.)

That's the short list. If I went through my bookshelves and boxes, I'd be typing here all night. And, of course, I haven't mentioned nonfiction--Amy Tan's The Opposite of Fate, Margaret Atwood's Negotiating with the Dead, Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, and Peter Godwin's When a Crocodile Eats the Sun (about Zimbabwe--a must read for these times).

Again, that's a short-short list of nonfiction, and these are all books I've read recently. Add to that Stephen King's On Writing, and so many other books about writing.

That's enough for now. I've spent about an hour typing all of this, and I promised myself I wouldn't spend the whole night on the computer. Ha!

So, if you have anything to add, leave a comment--agree, disagree, amplify! I'd love to hear what you're reading right now.

Pass-along Plants

I had a lovely visit from an "almost" former student today. I say "almost" because she wasn't in my class for long before she dropped it and withdrew from the university to pursue another direction, but she's kept up with me through this blog.

When she came out, she brought me two types of mint--a "regular" mint and a "rough" spearmint. I planted those earlier this afternoon. Thank you, Nissa, for the plants and the visit.

Armed with a trowel, we walked around my yard and dug up some plants she wanted to try in her yard--Purslane (which is an edible succulent), periwinkles (they multiply like crabgrass), and a small juniper-like tree (the birds drop the seeds all over my yard; they spring up like weeds, too). She came out to get some of those spider lily bulbs (I filled up a huge bag for her). We talked about plants and she gave me some good ideas about what to plant for ground cover. We took a look at the plum, peach and mayhaw trees.

And we talked and talked. I so enjoy good conversation and funny people, and I had both today. I don't get many visitors, so I cherish the ones I do get. With gas prices so high, it's difficult to just jump in the car and drive 45 miles (90, round-trip) to chat for an hour or two. I do appreciate it, though, when someone does that.

I love when people bring me plants from their yards. I feel that I have a bit of that person with me all of the time. I look at all of the plants my sister, my mother and my friends have given me and appreciate their contributions to the landscape. And I love to pass on what I have that others want. That's the beauty of gardening--getting to know the plants, learning how to care for them, and sharing them with others. The more plants I get, the more I learn and the more I can share.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

WiFi in the Backyard

My brother, showing off with his iPhone, located two WiFi signals in my backyard--can't get them in the house, but that's fine. One is secured, so it probably belongs to the police department; the other is not, so all I have to do is plop down in one of the Adirondack Chairs, plug in my WiFi card, and the computer connects. This morning I answered all of my email and looked up birds on the Internet while I let the sprinkler water the vegetable garden. I took care of the email before 8am and did a bit of birdwatching and identifying.

I don't know where the signal is coming from, but to whoever--Thanks!

The garden is doing well. I saw two nice-sized squash and a few baby ones; I have a bell pepper and an eggplant and a few tomato flowers. I think I have a cucumber--and the vines are blooming all over. The watermelon and the butternut squash have spread out over the garden border, so I need to make sure I don't mow them down.

The sunflowers haven't sprouted any blossoms, but they are tall. I expect they'll start busting out soon. I have a few corn plants, but I don't think those are going to produce. I could be wrong; we'll see. Overall, everything's doing well. I think the Miracle Gro has kicked in. I try to "feed" the gardens once a week. I hope the bees are working, but I haven't see too many lately. I think I'll get some Mason bees in the spring just to make sure I have bees when I need them.

George Carlin died. He is/was one of my counterculture heroes. I first heard his "7 Words You Can't Say on Television" on his album "Class Clown," which is one of the funniest comedy recordings. My brother made me a copy of it (on audio tape--that gives you an idea of how long ago that was!), and, while shocking, that routine is one that has stayed with me for the last 40 years. I could even tell you what those words are, but I'd probably get arrested! So I won't detail them here. But he did some funny riffs on going to Catholic school (I did), and his routine about "stuff" is a classic (and so true). His "Hippie Dippy Weatherman" on The Smothers' Brothers Comedy Hour is a classic character. As long as I can listen to his comedy routines and reread his books, he won't leave me. I think he falls in the comedy ranks of Bob Hope, George Burns, Lenny Bruce, the Marx Brothers, and Steve Martin! He broke new ground for comedy and he wasn't afraid to take risks; he pointed out our foibles and idiocies and made us laugh at ourselves. I will miss his presence, but his comedy will endure.

I learned yesterday that I need to keep my cell phone on when I'm driving. I left my wallet at my mom's house--it fell out of my purse--and she tried to call me to tell me it was there. She's mailing it back to me because it's "too far" to drive to my house to return it! I drive that 90 mile trip as often as necessary, but it's too far for my family! What's with that? I drove in Sunday and Monday--that's 180 miles or so in two days. I don't get it. I've started bribing them with homemade bread and a good meal to get them to visit.

Maybe the WiFi will get them out here more often. That could be a selling point, if I market it right!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

They're Odd, But They're Family

Well, this has been an interesting Father's Day weekend. I spent Saturday babysitting Skype, waiting for my youngest brother (he lives in Colorado) to install it and contact me. Then I spent the rest of the day waiting for two of my sisters to show up to drop off a load of stuff for me.

My sister Lydia has taken on my yard as a "project," I think, which I don't mind in the least. It's big (about an acre), and I can use all the help I can get. I've planted a few small gardens--I posted pictures of the herb garden she and I created--but I also have my vegetable garden, my camellia garden (flowers), the fence garden (an old piece of fence stuck in the yard for who-knows-what reason), and the front garden (the one where I dug up all of the spider lilies--and I still have those bulbs, if anyone's interested).

When her big red Suburban pulled into the driveway, I had no idea what lurked inside. Two plastic Adirondack chairs (for my birthday), two cedar poles (for the "secret garden" we're working on), several cedar planks left over from fencing her yard (for raised planters), some scrap lumber (I'll do something creative with it), a rack to hang my tools, a hose for the veg. garden (dedicated to that only), two hose hangers, a straight shovel (it's great), and a host of plants (some from the nursery, some from her housekeeper). I have ginger plants, coleus, wandering Jew, and those wonderful orange lilies--not tiger lilies--but the ones that spew out bloom after bloom on the same stalk, and three Esperanzas. I'm sure I'm leaving something out, but I think that gives you an idea. A gardener's Christmas in June! Too bad it's so hot. Working in the yard makes me sweat heavily.

Today, Sunday, I went to my parents' for Father's Day. Usually, these kinds of celebrations cause the house to bulge at the seams, but, today, my father was surrounded by women, most of us single. My brothers were fishing and celebrating with their own children. When I got to the house, my sister had more stuff she forgot to give me--hangers for whatever, and an Off mosquito lantern with refills! And my mom insisted I pull up the remaining edging from her front garden. I'd gotten about half of it when I helped her clean out one side of her front flowerbed. I'm recycling the edging for my front walkway garden. I'll take a picture when I finally get it all in place (I managed to get three more pieces in place today, but was so soaked in sweat, I couldn't finish the job--and that was at 7pm. The sun was behind the trees, but I was so hot I couldn't stand it).

When I talked to my mom on Saturday, she told me to bring the pictures of the chicken coops I was interested in building. So, today, she plotted out how I should build my chicken coop using the shed structure in my backyard. I was thinking about tearing it down, but she sketched out how I could use it to build my frame and chicken run. I had thought about that, but thought I should make a fresh start. She then regaled me with tales about the chickens her grandmother had. My mom's grandmother, Annie, had intended to keep the chickens for food--not eggs, meat. But Annie got rid of the chickens because my mom and her brother, Chris, wouldn't eat the chickens their grandmother killed. The chickens had become pets to them. I don't want to eat any chickens I get; I just want the eggs and the manure for the gardens, so no worries there. I don't mind buying chicken in the store, but I'm not about to start killing them.

When I left to come home, they were hunkered in the living room watching Tiger Woods play golf.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I Got My Answer!

I have the annoying habit of losing track of time when I'm reading. It's a terrible curse, I know! So, if I'm reading late at night (or early in the morning, depending on how you look at it), I don't realize how late/early it is until I take a break. That means I usually don't get to bed until 2am or so. One of the perks (?) of getting older is that I don't sleep as much (unless I'm exhausted), and I get up early in the morning.

Right before I went to bed at 2am this morning, the rain began. Well, we did have a brief, heavy rainstorm yesterday afternoon (right after I watered the garden), but the rain at 2am was fierce. I crawled into bed to strikes of lightning and growls of thunder. I couldn't sleep with Mother Nature's grumbling. At 3am, I was sitting in the living room, waiting for the dish TV system to locate a signal. I think I finally went to sleep at about 4 or 5am. And I got up at 8:30am, so I know one person who will take a nap this afternoon.

My garden loved the rain, in spite of the small limbs that the wind shook down on it. I found my one tomato on the ground. I'll let it ripen on the window sill. I had to stake another tomato plant, but, other than that, everything seems to have survived. I just hope all of my gardens have enough water for a few days. I guess this calls for a tour of the yard to make sure everything is okay.

To change the subject, my cats annoy me. We were down to the bottom of the food bucket where the "old" food is. It stays fresh because the lid snaps on tight, but it's a brand of cat food they don't like, so none of them would eat it. I filled the bowls up yesterday and this morning, and they just sniffed at it and walked away. And, boy, do they complain! "Meow, meow, meow. Lady, when are you going to get some decent food? We want the good stuff, and we mean NOW!"

So, off to the store I went, the dutiful servant--I mean "master." For a large bag of cat food and a four-pack of toilet tissue, I spent almost $20. What the heck is going on here? I guess I could lead the cats away with a breadcrumb trail of expensive treats. They'd just come back. I just know it. But how can you not buy toilet paper? Can anyone recommend a substitute? Gee, on second thought, I don't want to contemplate an alternative.

I guess what I'm saving on gas for the car I'll be spending at the store. Since I'm a big conspiracy buff, this is what I'm thinking. I think the oil companies are helping themselves to our money in order to persuade us (extort us?) into letting them drill for oil in the Alaska Reserve and off the coasts of our beaches. That's just what I think. Of course, I think we're contributing to our own hardships by driving huge cars, driving too fast, and driving too much. I'd love to see more people in jobs where they could telecommute. Companies would save overhead by not having to rent huge buildings (sorry, realtors!), and people wouldn't be driving so much. I realize this isn't possible in every type of business. Sometimes, you have to have an office, and you have to drive. But wouldn't it be nice if more people didn't have to? We could cut our oil dependency somewhat if we could just stay home.

It's too bad more people don't live closer to the necessities, such as grocery stores and dry cleaners. Maybe the "old days" have something to teach us about community living that we've forgotten.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Where's the Rain?

June has just barely arrived, and I can hardly stand to go outside. These 90-degree temps have me hunkering in the house. The thermostat is set to 76 to hold down the energy costs (Ha!), and I'm comfortable, but I have so much I need to do outside; I just can't face those chores right now.

On Tuesday, I planted two climbing bushes my mom and my sis gave me on the back fence. I got up yesterday and found a large tree limb straddling the fence right where I planted the bushes. What are the odds of that? So, early Wednesday, armed with my saws and loppers, I took down the limb on my side of the fence, leaving the rest for my neighbor. I think she got the heavier end of it!

I spent the hottest part of the day cleaning out the closet in my study. How can one person cram so much stuff in a closet? And it's not a big closet, either. I took out three bags of clothes--some for my daughter, some for Goodwill--and I put the computer gadget bookshelf in there to get it out of my sight. I feel as though I have a bit more space in the room; it doesn't feel so wall-to-wall. And everything is organized. I just love organization. So, today, I need to tackle the closet in my bedroom--but I haven't had enough coffee yet!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Staying at Home

I'm enjoying not driving on a daily basis. I mean, I still drive, just not as often. I did go into the big city yesterday to visit my parents and drop a check in the night deposit slot at the bank, but I don't drive four or five days a week. And, since I'm not driving 90 miles a day and staying away from home for long hours, I've been working around, on and in my house.

So, today, I tackled the garage. Since I moved in three years ago and unpacked most of my stuff, I've had a stack of empty boxes piled in there. I finally broke them down; I filled up my trash can and have another stack that won't fit in there this time. I used nails and hooks to hang up my hand tools and an old rack someone gave me for my long-handled tools. I neatly restacked the boxes of books I don't have shelves for on the wall opposite the tools. I swept out the garage. If not for the riding lawnmower, I'd have room to park my car!

Before the day got too hot, I put some edging around the front garden I dug up this week, but I don't have enough of it. My mom needs to finish her front flower bed before I'll get the rest of the edging, but, so far, the front garden looks good. And I finished mowing the front yard.

I washed all of my dirty clothes. I had company last week--my sister--and I've been ignoring that chore. And I still need to close up the back wall of the shower. I'm so tempted to start pulling up carpet, but I have to think through that project before I start it--I'd need a pry bar and sandpaper, and polyurethane, and who knows what. So I'd better put that off for a while. But it's on the list of things to do, along with the chicken coop and yard, the compost bin, raised planting beds...