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!