Posted in Mama, Professor, Writer

Passing Down the Good Kind of Busy

My dear babies,

There’s a lot I don’t know (see previous blog posts for a good start), and I will continue trying to improve here and there.

But there is one thing I’m good at.

I don’t do “busy” without wonderful reasons.

I don’t say “yes” to all of the favors, invitations, and extra work. I look for ways to be more efficient instead of just more “there.”

And when I am busy, really and truly busy, it’s because I friggin’ love what I’m doing. I give my time to what I’m doing- like a present.

You will hear me grumble about grading papers. I will seem to disappear for days at a time to take care of the seemingly endless task.

It is this hard part that shows me how much I love teaching, though. Papers may crumple me, but never crush- and I usually emerge from the pile fresh, full of analysis, and ready to start swinging at new syllabus policies and future assignment sheets.

Then, there’s the writing, the planning, the collaborating. Mama will again seem to disappear for almost whole days at a time, as the projects try to swallow her up.

I will miss you. I will be tired. It will often be overwhelming.

And I wish the same for you, one day.

I dearly love my projects. I love losing myself in a subject.

I will always endeavor to make enough time for us. I will also try not to regret being really and truly passionate about something that isn’t always kid-related.  

My kind of busy means I spend my time with you, and I spend my time doing what I love. Everything else is elevator music and call waiting.

Your mama hopes you will spend your time wisely. Make yourselves not just busy but so, so happy. 

Love you always,

Mama

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Posted in Mama, Writer

Your Mission: Come and Go Without Making the 4-Year-Old Cry

How to come home for only 5 minutes when you have a 4-year-old.

She will be ecstatic to see you and so sad when you leave. It is too hard.

So, here’s what you do:

  • Park down the street. Turn your engine off and ghost to a stop.
  • Super-speed from car, to behind a tree, to crouched under the open window frame.
  • Sneak towards the front door silently cursing Spouse for leaving the glass door uncovered.
  • Take an agonizing minute to slowly and silently pick the lock, since the key literally squeaks, and you’d rather have youtubed how to conduct a criminal activity than alert the preschooler to your brief presence.
  • Press yourself flat to the floor as you hear little running feet cross in front of the entrance way.
  • Stay still for 30 seconds after the last of the footsteps fade.
  • Open the door at the exact speed that renders it quiet.
  • Tip toe through the kitchen and grab the lunch bag you forgot this morning.
  • From the other room, overhear your daughter ask for a snack.
  • Panic.
  • Stuff yourself in a cabinet.
  • In your panic, you chose the cabinet with the snacks. Dead eye and hold a finger to your lips when your spouse opens the cabinet to retrieve the granola bars.
  • Hand him/her one while he/she obligingly blocks you from view and shuns the preschooler back to cartoons.
  • Unfold yourself.
  • You don’t have time for feeling to come back to your legs, so hop/limp back to the door.
  • You hear Spouse turn the cartoon volume up.
  • You decide to get Spouse the GOOD Christmas present.
  • You quickly open the door, run tree to tree, and land back in the car.
  • Try not to let the tires squeal as you make your escape.
  • Realize you left the lunch bag back in the snack cabinet.
Posted in Professor, Writer

Grading Papers a la Star Trek’s “Trouble with Tribbles”

The teacher settles down to grade her stack of papers with as much preparation as possible.

She has played on the internet for approximately 30 minutes, made tea, decided she couldn’t have tea without cookies, so she’d better bake some, made some more tea, and, having finally given up trying to dodge the unavoidable, settled in front of her computer with a plate of cookies and more tea.

She counts the number of files awaiting grading on the learning system.

35.

She’s momentarily relieved.

That doesn’t sound so bad.

She starts the initial read through.

After a particularly difficult paper, she decides she deserves a break, any kind of break, and speedily clicks over into her email.

Where she finds 7 more paper files.

Three claim the learning system shut them out.

Two appear to have forgotten the existence of the learning system.

Two come with private messages about why these papers deserve this or that consideration when it comes to their low quality.

42 papers.

The teacher takes a deep breath, and reasons that by grading a dozen a day, she can still get them done in plenty of time.

Still, she gets up to restock the cookie plate.

When she settles back down, her laptop screen is flashing that she has new, incoming mail.

Six more files are waiting patiently in a row.

So, one third of an entire class saved their only promised 24-hour extension for this final research paper.

“Wise of them, really,” the teacher mutters as she takes a splashy sip from her shaking tea cup.

48 papers.

She goes to the kitchen for a paper towel to sop up sticky spilled tea. When she opens the cabinet, 8 more papers fall out.

The teacher swallows hard, scoops up the towels and papers, and heads out to check the mail-

Finding 12 more papers stuffed in the mailbox.

She gathers them up with her coupons and returns to the house.

As she puts her shoes away in the closet, she hears a disturbing sound, and looks up over the top shelf of baseball caps- as an avalanche of papers crashes around her head, spilling onto the floor around her feet.

The teacher frantically kneels to scoop them up, grumbling that they could have at least been stapled, when the doorbell rings.

She opens the front door to see a stack of papers from floor to the top of the doorframe.

She gapes.

It teeters.

Too late, the teacher tries to close the door, but the papers invade like a crashing wave, enveloping her as she’s swamped to the floor in layer after layer of crisp white copy covered in black type.

The teacher’s overwhelmed murmur floats up from below the mountain of essays.

“It’s not s’bad,” she slurs in a dizzy sort of voice. “A little every day. Just a little every day. That’ll get it done…”

The papers don’t answer.  

Posted in Cooking Irresponsibly, Writer

Ramen to the Rescue

Today just slipped away. I suspect black holes.

One second, it was Saturday morning, full of potential, and the next second, we were wandering around Walmart because “What do you wanna do?” “I don’t know- what do you wanna do?”

Saturdays.

We got home a little later than our usual dinnertime, which automatically nominated Husband to cook. He’s our ramen guy.

It was a little hard to wait.

 

They just had to be in the kitchen. “Is it time to eat yet?” “How about now?”

Husband got to work and whipped up Neoguri: a spicy ramen with a bright red color meant to frighten away the weak.

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It’s Husband’s and our daughter’s absolute favorite dinner.

Bonus: unlike a lot of the other foods Husband craves, this one didn’t come from the Asian market. You can buy Neoguri at most Walmarts now.

Husband started by boiling chicken broth with some water. Then, since spicy ramen is our “throw it all in” recipe, he looked through the fridge to see what we had lying around- a couple of mushrooms, some green onions, and a handful of spinach. If we’re in the mood, this is also when he would add a can of tuna, but tonight was not a tuna night. 

He added the spice and veggie packets from the ramen. After letting everything boil together for a minute, he cracked a couple of eggs into the roiling water. Another minute, then he added the noodles.

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Husband doesn’t believe in the timer dictating ramen. He watches the time, but won’t stop cooking until it tastes right.

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Progress.

The finished product.  

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Isn’t the egg pretty?

There was a surprising addition at the table; waffles. My son is too picky for spicy ramen. He was super happy with some frozen waffles instead.

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There’s one in every family.

When we first got married, I thought Husband’s ramen was SO spicy. I could hardly eat any before I had to guzzle milk.

Now, I kind of wish we had some kimchi to go with it- and Husband has started cooking an extra package, since I can finish mine without his help. 

Marriage changes a person(‘s taste buds).

Thanks, honey. 

 

Posted in Professor, Writer

The Wonderful Student- Who Did Nothing

It’s December 1st, and the semester is winding down. Wednesday will be the last day of regular classes before exams begin.

Around this time of year, we faculty members tend to huddle in little groups around our doors, in our offices, near the lounge and copier to talk for a quick minute (no one has longer to spare). We talk about our semester, finals, plans for the holidays. We occasionally share a little about a particular class.

There’s variety, mainly, but a strange phenomenon repeats itself.

Every year, from different teachers, in different subjects, I hear about yet another student who was bright, engaged, and wonderful in class- who is absolutely going to fail.

“They just never turned anything in,” the teachers say.

I’ve experienced it more than once, myself.

In the beginning:

A bright student comes to class having both read and understood the homework reading. He or she contributes actively to the class discussion, and is treated with respect by his/her classmates.

The other students want this student in their group for projects. Conversation droops during his or her rare absence.

A little later:

Me: I didn’t get your assignment. What could be the matter?

Student: (laughing) Oh, I must have forgot to turn that in. I’ll get it to you right away.

(Nothing ever comes.)

A little later:

Me: Since I’ve never received any of these assignments from you, even if your next assignments are perfect, you will be lucky to pass.

Student: Of course. So sorry about that. There will be nothing but perfection from now on.

And finally:

Me: (sends official notice that there’s no longer hope of passing the class.)

Student: (still shows up and does a wonderful job supporting his or her group members for the final presentation.)

WHAT IS UP WITH THIS?

I don’t know why it happens, but every teacher I know has experienced this student phenomenon in some form or another.

Some students linger in a teacher’s memory; They’re easy to remember, for this or that reason, but the wonderful students who did nothing have left a particular weight on my shoulders.

Maybe they were scared to show their written work.

Maybe they had something going on that deterred them.

Who knows?

They were like ghosts in the room- we perceived them, but they left no trace.

 

Posted in Mama, Writer

Confessions of a Fainter

*This is not medical advice. If you’re fainty, see a doctor. If your doctors are like mine, and shrug in confusion, let’s get tea sometime and swap stories.*

Almost five years ago-

“You can’t talk too much with this one, honey. She’s only got a good 3 minutes in her.”

Wise words from the nurse who remembered me from my first pregnancy. I had been woozy during the blood draws then, too, but that nurse saw me through.

This new one, though…

She talked about her car trouble, while she put that rubber thing on the top of my arm.

She leisurely switched to how much she liked my maternity shirt, while slowly swabbing my arm with a wet-wipe.

I don’t know what she was chatting about when the actual needle finally went in, since I had started murmuring my favorite parts of Alice in Wonderland in Latin.

(What’s she doing?

Is she alright?

Leave her alone, honey.)

We all have our coping mechanisms.

She managed to finally fill the tiny vial and bandage me up, but by the time I was allowed to stand, the big black dots of doom had already started forming at the corners of my vision.

I made it two blind steps, trying to form the words “I’m about to crash” with my immobile, uncooperative mouth, when I landed on the floor.

 Thankfully, me and my big baby belly were fine. My previous nurse took care of everything, calming me down. My husband helped lift me off the ground (did I mention the big baby belly?).

From then on, I had a special note in my file labeling me a fainter. All of the following blood draws took place with me reclining, since they knew I was going to end up that way anyway.  

I’ve always been a fainter. The most common reason I crash is a blood sugar drop, but I’ve also passed out due to being too close to loud speakers at a concert, as well as having to withstand any amount of blood drawing, blood pressure measuring, pulse-taking, or generally existing with an IV.

I had amnesia once, and I was continually asking the same questions over and over, unable to calm down. The doctors thought it was due to a shock I’d been through- but my loop finally stopped when they took out my IV.

Not a coincidence in my book.

I thought I’d share some of the needy and funny bits of being a fainter.

During a middle school chorus concert:

My family, trying to aim their cameras: Where’s Stephanie?

(Should’ve looked down.)

In biology class, back in high school:

Teacher: Then you just put the cuff here, to measure the blood pressure. You’ll be able to hear all the action… where’s Steph?

(My classmates eventually remembered to look down. There was Steph.)

At an outdoor concert with my siblings:

Me: I can’t believe we’re next to the stage!

(Saw black dots, crashed into a crowd of strangers, banged up my glasses, and ended up in the care of my little sister faaaaarrrr away from the stage.)

At the movies with a friend (It was his turn to choose, and he picked something super horrible with lots of gore):

Me: I’ll be right back.

(Passed out in the theater restroom, right in front of the sink. I’m told I was lucky I didn’t hit it on the way down. When I get woozy, I always think I either need to splash my face with water, or be where I can hold my own hair back. Instead, I pass out in bathrooms. Even though I know this, I still run to the bathroom every. single. time.)

Having a normal (for me) blood sugar crash:

Me: Honey, I need food immediately.

Husband: Alright. I’m on it… so, do you want like Italian, Mexican, a burger…?

Me: What are you talking about? I’m crashing- just calories, any calories!

Husband: Okay. Got it.

(Hands me food)

Me: …Really? That?

(Every time. A freaky side effect of a low blood sugar crash is you find the thought of food unappetizing. Poor husband.)

I’m super grateful to all of the people who have helped me when I’ve crashed. Once the process starts, and I see those dots, it really matters who I’m with. I’ve been incredibly lucky so far.

Posted in Professor, Writer

There’s Something that Dislikes an Aspiring Writer

They’ll always look at you like you’re crazy.

You know that look your family gives each other when your Uncle so-and-so is ranting about conspiracy theories? Or that subject change we do when someone starts arrogantly claiming they know everything on a topic, and they look like they’re about to lecture on it?

New writers get those all the time.

There’s something about trying to write that brings out the skeptics- or even the judges.

Mention you’re working on something:

Watch for barely suppressed eye rolls.

The population that actually wants to hear about your ideas and your progress is like this big (I’m pinching my fingers really close together). Hold those supporters, those encouragers, close to your heart because bringing up your writing labors with just anyone often results in forced smiles and a subject change.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I get to work in English academia, where we’re expected to pursue writing (there’s still a lot of judgment for genre fiction, though- insert eye roll here).

I was also lucky enough to see that other writers get the same empty, barely-listening, can’t-wait-to-change-the-subject nods from friends and family. I’ve spent some years working in Writing Centers at a few schools. Many of my clients were older, returning students who had had time to develop their ideas. This was a familiar exchange:

Student (looking around to make sure no one can hear them): You know, Ms. T., I was thinking about writing a book one day.  

Me: Really? What about? Have you started it?

Student has a surprised pause, then launches into a detailed description of the storyline. Every character is developed. They know the beginning, middle, and end. They’ve written four chapters.

I would listen, and ask about their progress. There rarely was any after that initial talk.

It’s kind of hard to write when you get no support, no encouragement. From the way they poured out their ideas, like a confessional, I’m bound to think they’ve never had anyone to talk to about their writing, let alone encourage them in it.

So, I learned. There’s something in this world that dislikes an aspiring writer.

It has nothing to do with individual talent. How could it? No one has read the writer’s work, yet.

Are aspiring writers considered arrogant, maybe? Do we hold writing on a pedestal, and only expect shining geniuses to produce anything good? “How dare regular people think they can do it”?

I’m not sure why aspiring writers are shrugged off or looked down on, but I am sure it happens.

I mean this to be a bit hopeful. Now that we know it happens to everyone, we can lighten our burden of insecurities. It’s not because we’re bad writers that we’re doubted.

We’ll be doubted until we are no longer “aspiring” writers. Just keep going, and you’ll end up proving everyone wrong by default.

They should have believed in you in the first place. They had no reason not to.

 

Posted in Professor, Writer

Conducting an Assignment Class

Sometimes you get the class where everyone is on the same page.

Sometimes you get the sensitive class that ripples with tension and grade anxiety.

Sometimes you get the zombie class that enjoys staring and only comes to consciousness for an occasional freak-out.

More often, you get a mix.

Therefore, giving an assignment, especially a major assignment, requires a lot of patience and skill from the teacher. It’s like conducting a symphony (I gather from cartoons), where each section of the teacher’s audience needs to be led in turn.

She approaches the podium.

She warms up the room by reminding everyone of today’s proceedings:

“Going Over the Final Project.”

The class stirs as they ready themselves for their parts.

The teacher brings the assignment sheet up on screen.

Cue the grade anxiety section:

“Worth HOW MUCH of our grade?!”

“FIVE pages!”

The teacher sends soothing hand motions and a reminder of the Writing Center’s existence towards the sweaty section, before poising her hand to scroll to the next part of the assignment. 

It pops on screen and is apparently the trigger which causes the zombie portion of the class to awaken and start a rare crescendo.

“Research papers? Problem-solution argument?”

“Did we go over that?”

“We never went over that!”

The portion of the class that has paid attention and maintained their blood pressure chimes in with a low, reassuring murmur-

“Yeah, we’ve been talking about it for two weeks.”

“Don’t worry- I’ve got the notes.”

“I’ll tell you about it at lunch.”

The general hubbub dies down, and the teacher moves on to the grand finale.

“Any questions?”

Grade Anxiety:

“How many pages?”

“Is that double-spaced?”

“’Will you read it, if we finish early?”

“HOW MANY PAGES?!”

Teacher responds with more soothing hand motions and a quick point back up at the screen where every answer is (and has been for several moments) already up.

Students who get it pipe up with:

“Is there any chance for extra credit?”

The teacher shakes her head, but smiles at the much-needed humor in the middle of the otherwise dark tones.  

Zombie awakening students:

“…”

“…”

“…What’s a problem-solution argument?”

The teacher simply bows and reminds everyone that she has office hours later that afternoon.

The class respectfully withholds their applause.

 

 

Posted in Mama, Writer

I Might Be Ruining Football

Obligatory first sentence: my husband is awesome, and I love him very much.

Check that off the list.

He’s a family guy, and he doesn’t leave us to go do his own thing lightly. So, when he wants to watch football, for a mere 7 hours on Sunday, he does so right there in the midst of all of us.

I think he should reconsider. I think I’m about to start putting gift cards to Buffalo Wild Wings in his wallet.

‘Cause I think I’m ruining his football experience.

I can’t stop:

  • Rolling my eyes and sighing at the absolutely idiotic pregame and half-time commentary.
  • Laughing and making snarky comments when I hear the commentary on the plays (“As you can see here, Tom, this is where he dropped the ball.” “Yeah, I see, and if they want to win, they’d better stop doing that, Rick”).
  • Chatting about which of the names I see on the jerseys would be good romantic hero names (Hightower is winning).
  • Tweeting my inane questions at the teams.
  • Rating and cheering for a team based on the uniform color. Extensively chatting about how this year’s uniforms are so much better than last year’s uniforms. (Looking good, Panthers.)
  • Giving long lists of pros and cons for cheerleaders. (They do a lot of good, have a pretty good platform for charities, etc. but also, yeah, they’re scantily-clad women jumping up and down for a bunch of grunting athletes. And sometimes it’s cold, and they don’t even get pants.)
  • Talking about how the stereotypes of aggression and chauvinism proudly displayed in so many of the commercials hurt men and women everywhere.
  • Only bringing snacks into the room if the halftime show is any good.
  • Wondering out loud why football and patriotism are supposed to be the same thing. Trying to get a political conversation going…
  • Getting excited when the two-minute warning finally comes around, then groaning for every time out and play review that happens afterwards.
  • Throwing things when there’s a tie that puts the game into overtime.

Poor husband.

Next time, I think he should go eat some wings and watch the games with people who just yell out single syllable phrases at the multiple TVs.

Our marriage will probably be better for it. 

Love you, honey. 

Posted in Cooking Irresponsibly, Mama, Writer

The Magical, Kid-Proof, Sugar Cookie Cutout Recipe

My kids have always helped me bake. They stir, operate the mixer, measure, and decorate. My daughter especially loves it.

We used to try to do the traditional, Christmas-card, sugar cookie process. The kids were still really small, though, and it was always a mess.

A lot of recipes call for softening butter, so you have to plan for your cookies 3 hours in advance, or do a complicated boil-water-put-it-in-a-glass-for-a-minute-pour-it-out-and-place-it-upside-down-over-a-stick-of-butter-for-a-while-and-hope-for-the-best dance. Neither worked well for me and my kids.

The recipes also want you to chill the dough. How does this sound:

Me: let’s make cookies!

Kids: Yes!!!

(measure and mix. Dough goes into the refrigerator)

Me: Now, we just wait for two hours.

(Sad faced children)

It never worked out anyway. Since those recipes need the dough to stay cold, me and my littles were racing the clock to get everything rolled and cut. I wanted my kids to be included in the process, and little hands need time to get things done.

Then, there’s the fact that you have to flour the board. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem. With kids, though, the stickiness factor quadruples, and, no matter what I do, we end up with cookies that taste like cardboard and look nothing like the cookie cutters.

Too little chilling. Too much rolling. Too much flour.

(If you’re in a similar boat, maybe because your kids are just really little, I suggest cheating. Make rice crispy treats (or buy a sheet of the things), cut with cookie cutters, and use store-bought tubes of icing. You can make memories, and stuff should still end up edible.)

Then, there came the magical recipe that made traditional sugar cookie baking and decorating possible with even my tiny children. I found it on Pinterest many moons ago, and it’s thanks to this recipe that my kids and I have made forest cookies, pumpkins, acorns, candy canes, Christmas trees, hearts, and Easter eggs.

The butter can be just a little softened. No chilling needed. Roll, cut, and add flour, flour, flour, and they still somehow taste like tender, buttery cookies and still look just like the cookie cutter.

I have had no contact with the writer before, and I’m not sure if she knows what a gift this recipe is; she doesn’t even mention baking with children throughout her whole description/instructions. I’m grateful, though.

Here’s to you, Katrina’s Kitchen, and your “Best Sugar Cookie Recipe Ever.” Because of you we have made wonderful baking memories, and, without you, we would have eaten a whole heck of a lot of rice crispy treats. I look forward to Christmas cookies soon.

Here’s the page (check out her shortening frosting recipe, too): http://www.inkatrinaskitchen.com/best-sugar-cookie-recipe-ever

 

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When their hands were just strong enough to start trying to use the piping bag- but they also made the cookies. And the cookies are perfect. 
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My daughter’s “sprinkle cookies”
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We substituted some flour for cocoa powder to make some Easter colors really pop.