Posted in Professor, Writer

Office Hour Happy Hour (Dry Campus Version)

Today was super duper crazy. I put in about 11 hours between morning student conferences, a department meeting, pre-class grading frenzy, afternoon classes, and a long evening class. Now that it’s all done, I’m impressed with myself.

While I was in it, though, I just wanted to cross my arms and glare at things.

One dream that sustained me was of tomorrow’s office hours. Today might have been crazy, but tomorrow’s office hours are completely unscheduled. Here’s a list of all the wonderful things I intend to do during my four unscheduled office hours before Thanksgiving Break starts.

(Drum roll, please) I will:

-Spin around in my chair. It’s a particularly good spinny office chair.

-Place bets with colleagues about how many students will actually come in the day before break.

-Not grade papers. I might open my browser and purposefully look at some papers, just so I can officially shake my head and close the browser.

-Compose my email’s away message. Try to restrain my use of celebratory emojis.

-Read a chintzy novel (and pray a student comes in, so I can talk about it).

-Eat snacks.

-Doodle on my stacks of old assignment sheets.

-Does solitaire still come preloaded on computers?

-Google about solitaire.

-Pinterest search for funny comics.

-Feel slightly guilty about not using this precious time for professional development.

-Eat more snacks.  

-Invent a game called “Squirrel on the Courtyard Birdfeeder BINGO.” (I don’t know what it entails, but I bet I’ll rock it.)

I just can’t wait for tomorrow.


Posted in Professor, Writer

Research Papers and an Existential Crisis: Can’t Have One Without the Other

I’m on the cusp of the research paper. This is usually where I rethink my entire pedagogy, and my life’s direction in general.

It’s important to focus on the positive. I have this problem every semester because we are coming from writing styles that are always so much better.

When my students write for a general audience, they are so good. They know how to inform, persuade, and entertain the audience. They’re lively and engaging.

Then, we whip out the academic research paper, and I watch them wilt right before my eyes.

I wish I could change this requirement. I’ve tried different methods- problem-solution arguments about local and relevant issues, ethnography of cultural niches, an informative portfolio project, and more.

The variety helps, but the real tricky part is the audience. It’s almost always a miss. Students need more time to learn about a specific, expert audience and their expectations. A couple of weeks and an annotated bibliography- never enough.

If only we could save the research papers for when students have had a chance to dive into a subject. Maybe after they’ve declared a major and taken some classes in it. Maybe after they’ve had a prerequisite of a certain number of classes in any subject, so they would already be somewhat informed and ready to write on a topic with a hint of authority.    

There are plenty of other writing strategies and methods to work on in the meantime. While we wait for the student to learn about their subject enough to write some semblance of academic research, the composition classroom could carry on just fine.

The epitome of writing prowess is not necessarily the research paper.

I think I will go reread some of my students’ op-ed assignments. I will need some good medicine to get me through research paper drafts. And snacks. I will need fattening, fattening snacks.  

Posted in Writer

I Fell off the Blogging Wagon for a Second…

I missed a blog.


I was unexpectedly busy yesterday morning, and I just kept saying later, later, later, until…


Lesson learned, though. I know my energy tends to be highest in the mornings. If I have a challenge to meet (like blogging daily), it’s best to focus my efforts in the morning. “Later” doesn’t always happen.

But, I am going to keep trying. If I miss a day here and there, it will sting, but I’ll be back the next day. It’s like dieting. If you have an off day, you don’t throw out the week’s meal prepped chicken and veggies. You just eat the Monday container on Tuesday.

I’ve learned a few things already from back to back blogs. It’s been quite a week.

First, I learned that a list of topics is a great favor I can do for myself. The first three days were easy, since I had already made a note “one day, write a blog about ___” in my notebook.

After that, though, I found myself sitting at my laptop around blogging time, dreaming about potential topics. I’m not against musing and brainstorming, but it was productive writing time, and I was still reaching for a subject.

So, for a few days, I have been texting myself topic ideas whenever they occur to me. I’ve built up a pretty good list. I’ll keep the list going, and, hopefully, all I’ll have to do is pick one when I need it.

Second, I chose this challenge because, for a lot of reasons, I tend to think my writing has to be absolutely smooth. I still think so for certain purposes, but being hung up on edited perfection was starting to make me hesitant about writing for an audience- any audience. I thought this blog-a-day challenge would help me write a little more casually, noting mistakes as human error and not a failing as a teacher and a writer.

So far, that’s not how it’s going. I read a lot of my writing through my fingers, since it IS casual writing, and I’m used to only sharing the GOOD stuff. I’ll keep trying to embrace the casual side of communication. Not giving up.  

Third, I have a newfound appreciation for images in blogs. Blogging daily allowed me to blog a little closer to real life. Snapping a few pictures of what I was writing about not only made the writing easier (pictures are part of the content, win-win) but even more engaging. I’ve always tried to include a picture here and there, but I’m not much of a photographer. It’s more fun than I’d expected.

And the finale- I have learned that I need to study WordPress. This site system has a visitor/views counter that could be invaluable when it comes to understanding audience. Unfortunately, it’s as confusing as can be. This or that article might have 7 likes and 10 facebook shares, but the counter says it’s been viewed… 5 times? That’s it? And half of those were “spam”?

I obviously have more to learn about this site system, as well as this whole blogging thing. 

I’m back on the wagon.


(adorable image of shame taken from Lifehacker Australia)

Posted in Mama, Writer

When the Grinch Decks the Halls: a Holiday Paradox

I didn’t know people like my husband existed. He’s a special one.

I mean that for all of the wonderful reasons, of course. But there’s more. He’s unusual because he has this habit of saying curmudgeony things, sometimes just to stir up trouble, even though his actions are the exact opposite of curmudgeony.

If you listened to him expound on philosophy, you’d think he was an uncaring robot who feels nothing from watching the world tear itself to pieces. If you overheard him talking about the holidays, ANY HOLIDAY, you’d probably feel a sudden welling of sympathy for his poor, “deprived” children.

Then, if you plugged your ears, you would see a man who is tirelessly, obsessively caring. His staggering powers of observation make him more empathetic than the most well-meaning people I know, and his inability to be lazy spills over into service for others.

But that mouth, though.

He will argue with me for days, literally days, about buying pumpkins to make jack-o’-lanterns.

“We don’t need them.”

“They’re messy. They go bad after a couple of days.”

“Just let the kids paint the little ones.”

“Okay, but we’ll just get one. You can do it. I don’t want to.”

And every single year, it’s Husband, with his tongue between his teeth, carefully cleaning, carving, oohing and aahing with the kids, taking pictures, and lighting the thing. Every. Year.


He likes to talk about how he wouldn’t help anyone, or even tell anyone, if he won the lottery jackpot. In his opinion, people would only be needier in the presence of that kind of windfall.

Then, when a friend or family member falls on hard times, he’ll wordlessly pass me an envelope and nod in said friend or relative’s direction.

Today, I came home to see he had already put up our Christmas tree. He was waiting for me and the kids to decorate it.

I remembered when we first got married, and I had to convince him to buy a tree.

Today, the kids and I came home to a tree. We all went to the store to pick out an ornament for this year. While shopping, Husband also took the kids to the toy aisle, letting me grab some groceries in peace.

I called when I was headed to the checkout, and, 2 minutes later, Husband and the kids come hustling, panting and heaving, so the kids could throw some new toys on the conveyor belt behind my groceries.  

I raised my eyebrow at Husband, who had recently talked about how materialistic society was ruining kids’ lives. He’d even mentioned cutting back on Christmas toys.

 All he did was shrug as we paid for the cartload.  

Playing with Their New Toys

We came home, and as I started to help the kids decorate the tree, I felt a bit tired. I didn’t have to say anything. Husband just noticed, like he does, and stepped in.

In the time it took me and the kids to trim a tree, Husband had cleared the dinner dishes, set up the kids’ stockings with new hooks over the fireplace, spread our decorations through the house, and even spent a painstaking hour stringing our Christmas lights on tiny hooks through the hallways.

Husband did everything from build the tree, arrange the skirt, dig out AND deliver the box of decorations. I hardly moved.


20171116_194611.jpg It’s one of those magical, cosmic miracles- God gave me my husband before he had a solid grasp of the English language. While we were getting to know each other, it was very much “actions over words.” I never had a chance to believe his curmudgeony stances. All I knew was how wonderful he actually was. He showed me. Telling me (and my subsequent eyerolling) came later.

I’m so grateful for the timing.

And I don’t mind that this heart-of-gold man has a hobby of picking curmudgeony fights. That suits my own super-stubborn, dig-in, inexhaustibly argumentative self to a T.

We were made for each other.


Posted in Mama, Writer

Turkey Disguise 101: a Life or Death Kindergarten Homework Assignment

                I had other plans for blogs this morning, but my son has left his class project out. One thing led to another, and, long story short, I have been mentoring a helpless, reluctant-to-be-eaten turkey in the art of disguise.

                Here’s Ed’s (the turkey’s) backstory.


                So, somebody is after the poor guy. He’s dinner otherwise. Got it.

                After wishing Ed luck, I went about my business. When I got back to the kitchen, I found this:

First Hershey

                “Are you kidding me, Ed? That’s a terrible disguise.”


second hershey

“Did you just…? Cut it out. I can still see you. And hiding in a layer of chocolates? You might as well be hiding under beef jerky and a stack of Cabela’s catalogues.”

Shaking my head, I went back to cleaning up the kitchen. When I went in the living room, I found this:


“It’s a classic, Ed, but I think you’re going to need something that covers the whole butt of protruding feathers issue. Keep trying, buddy.”

Five minutes later, I checked back in and found:


“Oh, I see- pretending you’re already dead. But, sorry to say this Ed, this kind of dead won’t keep you from getting eaten.”

Ed was horrified. After a round of therapy, I found him in the kitchen again.


“I see what you did there! Well, it did work for that other guy. I’m just not sure if you really want to risk hiding in plain sight like that. Waldo has a lot of white, human privilege that lets him blend in unharrassed. I’m not sure if that would work for a turkey in a turtleneck.  

I know, I know. This is hard. You’ve got to stop thinking like a turkey, Ed. Get with the human program, and find yourself a safe zone.”

I left Ed feeling discouraged. I made tea and went to start laundry. I found this:


I could have cried.

Ed had done it. He’d finally found a place that’s a total human turnoff. He was a safe turkey at last.

I wiped away a tear and made a note to call Bojangles and reserve my deep fried Thanksgiving dinner. For Ed’s sake, I prayed they hadn’t already sold out.


Posted in Professor

How Many Faculty Members Does it Take to Eat a Pan of Sweets? The World May Never Know…

Two days ago, I blogged about taking on a blog-a-day challenge, and I ended the little writing with “so, now I’m gonna go bake a cake to avoid all this.” Yesterday, I blogged about low energy for me and my night class students, and I ended by deciding to bring them nibbles.

It took me a while to see the connection.

Eventually, I did figure out that problem A solves problem B.

There are only a handful of students in my night class, though, and that handful wasn’t all in for cheesecake coffeecake. There was talk of dieting, avoiding cheese, and one helpful, semi-professional weightlifter who ate two pieces.

I ended up with this much left.

Leftover Night

So, I brought plastic wrap. It was time to be a food fairy in my building.

Now, I’ve tried this before. There was the mochi giveaway of 2015. The boston crème pie cupcakes of 2016. A few sprinklings of snacks since then.

Unfortunately, trying to give food away in an environment where people are heartily educated about things like transfats is difficult. I suppose I could try to give away the occasional vegan fruit tray, but…


Courage! Do not yield! And individually wrap those cakes, so dear coworkers can’t weasel out with a convenient “I just ate.”

I love y’all, by the way.


Gift wrapping goodness.


All done and easily transportable.

It’s food fairy time, but these are technically my office hours. It wouldn’t be right to just leave without a note.


 “Trying to unload cake to people who are undoubtedly on some sort of diet. Back in 10. –S.T.”

That bought me a few quick minutes to make deliveries. I’ll run around upstairs, and see if I can find some takers.


The office staff came through! They saw the cake and were like “come here to me.”

A surprising number of “yes, please!” from the upstairs offices. I’m getting my hopes up that I won’t have to eat this by myself.

One plate

I’m down to one plate! This is happening! Maybe November is like a time where we all come together to ignore our diets as one happy, jiggly, academic family.

It’s beautiful.

Okay, I’ve exhausted my building, so it’s time to hit the campus.


Sunshine and cake. Lovely.

I’ve been surprised so far. I love soft cake, so coffeecake takes a lot of dressing up for me to like it. I was thrilled to see a creamy cheesecake filling recipe. Yet, when I am trying to gift a slice, it’s the cheesecake turning people off the most. I thought lactose intolerance was a bit rare in the US, but maybe…

We just don’t like to talk about it much.

Library, writing center, and a few colleagues on the way were happy to see cake. I’ve got to get back to office hours, though, and I’m still hefting a pound of sweets.

Four left


Four slices left. After covering the building AND going for a walk.

There’s no hope for it. I’m going to have to (gulp) try to give some to students.

That is dangerous for the ego. Do you know how it feels when an actual 19 year old linebacker for the school football team says “no thanks” to your cake? I mean, these are the guys we worry about when the travel bus breaks down, ‘cause it could turn into one of those cartoons where their seat neighbor suddenly resembles a talking turkey leg. They’re supposed to be always on the lookout for food!

I don’t know if my baking heart can take another teen’s rejection of home baked goodness.

Maybe I won’t offer. Maybe I’ll just position them next to the student chair during my office hours.

Student chair

Now, we wait…

Posted in Professor

Night Class Energy Struggle Bus

If energy was money, I’d be broke by 7 p.m. I don’t know how to make ends meet until bedtime. It’s always gonna be a stretch.

My husband is NOT a morning person, so, if his energy was money, he wouldn’t even get paid until about 9:30/10:00 a.m.

For Morning-Person-Me, though- flat broke by 7, every night.

Unfortunately, I teach a night class from 5:30-8:00. Also unfortunately, I don’t get to see my kids much on night class nights, so I do the whole bedtime song and dance when I get home.

Strategy is a must. I should rest during the mornings, when I know I’ll have to go strong all evening.

But I’m a morning person! Trying to chill in the morning is counter-productive. I get butterflies in my stomach thinking about all of the work I need to do, and the very reasonable “you will have time for that later” response doesn’t calm me down.

I have the urge to work in the morning, and I have to work in the afternoon/evening. I have to be careful not to tire myself out, but…

My poor night students have it much worse than I do. Many of them get up earlier, work all day, then come to night class, often skipping dinner in the process. Their effort and persistence is remarkable.

If they can drag their exhausted selves to class, I can try to put some pep in my step.

I probably won’t have time today (the lesson plan is packed), but if I’m careful, I might have time to bring them some food for Wednesday’s night class. If I’m running on empty, they’re running on chocolate covered espresso beans.

One of my favorite sayings from when my kids were newborns is, “when you can’t sleep- eat.” We can’t nap in night class, but we can nosh. I hope it helps. Five weeks to go.


Posted in Professor, Writer

Some Work to Do and Promises to Keep

The holidays are in full swing, and that moves up a deadline or two for me.

                I had planned to be completely finished with the first draft of this book I’m working on by December. I have at least one more chapter to go (my “one more chapter” tends to turn into three or four chapters, so I’m ballparking).

                I had also planned to do a continual run of blogs. I want to know what that would feel like. There have been plenty of daily writing challenges- fiction, diaries, day books, etc. Blogs are their own genre, though, so I’m going to pay attention to those for the next several weeks. I hope to learn about fitting blogging into real life- and really and truly letting go of perfectionist fears.  

                Get ready for a whole lot of blogs. I intend to do one per day until the new year. Maybe I’ll even keep it going afterwards- like the Pioneer Woman.

                I love the Pioneer Woman.  

                And that just leaves the whole “one month left of class” thing. If I could draw, I would draw a picture of a teacher with a puny, breaking umbrella clutched in her fist as an avalanche of papers crashes around her.

                Like 10 times a day, I pause and wish that I could draw.

                Mostly cartoons.

                A book draft to finish, a blogging accountability challenge, and a paper concussion. I am literally going to go bake a cake, so I can avoid this list for another hour or so. Did you know there are coffee cakes without cinnamon? I was fascinated, too.

                I’m going to go try this one, while I don’t finish a book-   


Posted in Mama

Fighting to Believe the “Mama, I Don’t Feel Good”

You know who doesn’t seem sick?

The kid who suspects you don’t believe he’s sick.

You see, he might actually be legit sick. Sore throat and body aches- all that jazz. Yet, since he suspects you won’t believe him, he’s doubled over with some melodramatic moaning that conspicuously stops and starts when he feels someone is watching.

This morning, I felt my eyebrow incredulously raising up because my boy came out of his room appearing to desperately clutch his stomach- all to tell me that his throat hurt.

I took a deep breath.

I automatically prepared to tell him that he’d feel better when he got dressed.

Then I grabbed the thermometer.


I would like to say that Mary Poppins took over at that point, and I cuddled my boy, and I told him I knew he was sick, and that he would be well taken care of.

Eventually, I did do some of that- but, first, I ground my teeth.



For the fourth time in the first semester of school.  

Like a crime drama, the number of absences he’d already had swam before my eyes like clues in front of a detective. This many excused. This many where the nurse had called us to pick him up. The time he was late because we decided to “risk it” and send him just a little sick.

My son has a strange immune system. He seems like a healthy, active, strong little boy, but during the school year, he’s usually got some sort of virus.

With so many bugs going around, other kids might have missed three days of school, so far.

My son hit seven today.

We recently took him, with yet another set of symptoms, to the doctor. She told us he appeared to have strong allergies.

It actually gave my husband and I some hope.

Allergies! Maybe a few of these “viruses” have actually just been strong allergies!

There are medicines and strategies for dealing with allergies- unlike a cold, where all doctors told us to just keep him resting, hydrated, and away from other kids until the contagious period calmed down.

With the help of allergy medicine, he could finally stop missing so much school!

Three days later, he woke up with a high fever.

The allergy diagnosis was a swing and a miss.   

That was the previous time he was sick. After him, his sister caught his virus. Then, me.

I’m just getting over my cough today, when my son pops out of his room with yet another fever and a sore throat.

The poor kid. I feel so bad for him. The first couple of sick days after summer, we snapped to attention. We stepped up, smoothed his hair, put him in pajamas, and reminded him we would take care of him until he was all better.

After the first couple of times, though, the “I don’t feel good” announcements start to be met with a barely stifled you’ve-got-to-be-frikking-kidding-me sigh.

Due to school attendance policies, my sick kid has been scrutinized through my narrowed eyes.

I start to question how sick is too sick for school. I start to question whether or not my son is exaggerating, since he can probably tell that I’m not taking this well. My husband and I tensely try to figure out if our schedules need to be redone for yet another surprise doctor appointment.

It’s not fair to the kid with the fever in the middle of all this. They notice everything. They might even feel guilty, as if they were the cause of the tension.

It’s not fair at all.

My Mema used to tell me, “spoil them when they’re sick, fix them when they’re better.”

She’s right, and I want to carry it further.

Worried about school and absences? Fix it when he’s better.

Worried about getting behind due to hastily rearranged schedules? Fix it when he’s better.

First, I’m going to believe him when he tells me he’s sick. First, it’s pajamas and juice. First, it’s snuggles on the couch. First, it’s monitoring his symptoms with my finger on the doctor’s number.

I can’t plan ahead for a surprise virus.

I shouldn’t resist the virus when it appears. My fretting doesn’t make it leave. Not believing my son doesn’t make him well. I’d never send him to school to join his classmates with a fever (hello, contagions).

All I can do is care for him.

Everything else will just have to wait.

I’m sorry that this wasn’t my first thought this morning.