T: Amazing Husband ST: Three-year-old Wonder Prof. G: Advisor I Prof. C: Advisor II Julie: Stylish Sister Rob: Awesome Brother Belle: Our Cat Bill: Grumbling BIL Rita: Uncomplicated SIL SMU: Smallish Midwestern University Doctoral University: where I got my Ph.D.
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Thursday, September 28, 2006
A few questions for you more experienced teachers, from one who has a ton of experience teaching short discussion sections but no experience teaching courses on her own:
1.) What do you do when you have a class that just doesn't seem to engage with the material you're teaching? My example: I have two sections of Intro to Subfield. My first section of 35 students meets at 9:00am for an hour, and I honestly dread facing them MWF mornings. They just sit there, unsmiling, some sleeping in the back, giving one-word answers to my questions, hardly laughing at my silly comments (hard to believe! I'm a stitch!). An hour after I leave them I teach the same class to 60 students, and the energy in the room is amazing. These students are so interested in what I'm presenting that I usually can't get through all the material. They are constantly asking really excellent questions, they do the reading and remember it, and they want to know more. I love that class -- I leave it energized. But what to do about the first class? Do I just accept that, since each class develops its own "personality," I got a dud?
2.) What innovative classroom activities do you use in your classes? My senior seminar (about 35 students) is going well, and I'm trying my best not to lecture at them every MWF afternoon. I don't want them to be passive learners, but I'm honestly not good at thinking of other activities they can do. I've introduced "PDD" to them -- "Primary Document Day!" -- where they look back in groups at actual historical documents that shaped what we're studying. They seem to like this, despite the fact that the documents can be tedious, and they do a great job reporting their findings/impressions back to the full class. Another thing I did this week is I had them read a very complicated article about Big Important Thing. They each had to turn in five discussion questions about the article yesterday, and so I'll compile those questions tonight and we'll use them in class tomorrow. What are some other activities I can do? I know it's difficult since I'm not revealing exactly what I'm teaching here, but I'd love some more general ideas.
When I first started this teaching schedule, Trudie, the other female faculty member in our department, said, "Watch out. With a MWF schedule, you never really have a weekend." At first I didn't really understand what she meant but it's all clear now: I am preparing for class every single day of the week except Saturday. That, my friends, kind of sucks.
Nevertheless, we have had a productive weekend thus far. (Mine officially ends after I type up this post, since I have to write two lectures for tomorrow.) Friday night we went to a fall dinner on campus, a yearly event where the parents and students have a huge supper with faculty, staff, and their families. It was a lot of fun, and ST was on his best behavior (impressing even the Chancellor). We didn't get home until around 9:30pm, after which time T and I made out our weekly meal plan and watched a stupid movie he'd checked out from the library. (The only reason I even watched it was because it had Owen Wilson in it; the way he talks just cracks me up. That and the fact that he has an ugly nose; I feel some attachment to him because I think my nose is ugly, too.)
Saturday was very, very busy -- so much so that it spilled over into today. We started out by taking in another of SMU's parent/student weekend events, and then we went to a local pizzeria for a huge lunch together. Then the shopping began: paint, brushes, cabinet hardware, towel bars, a mirror, a new tension rod for the shower curtain, new light fixtures, etc. Nearly $500 later, we were ready to tackle the master bathroom and dressing area at Pond House. I painted nearly all night, changing the bathroom from what we referred to as "Aquafresh Green" to a calm vanilla cream color (Sherwin-Williams calls it "Navajo White," and it's a shade or two lighter than "Ivoire," which is the color of our bedroom.) T was busy most of the evening disassembling our master closet (which is larger than the largest bathroom in our old house!) and reassembling it to make more sense. We worked and cleaned all night; T hopes to finish the bathroom portion tonight if he can pull himself away from his yard. The dressing room portion should be finished mid-week. I'll post pictures of everything when we're done.
This morning I roasted some fall vegetables (per the instructions in the latest edition of Everyday Food) in preparation for our dinner of Roasted Fall Vegetable Soup tonight. Then ST and I picked the apples from our apple trees so that we can make applesauce later this week. T and ST were busy most of the day mowing the yard and picking up the millions of sticks on the grass, and also setting up our new birdfeeders (complete with baffles, to keep the greedy chipmunks away!). ST had a haircut, lunch, and watched the famous Gene Kelly umbrella dance routine from Singin' in the Rain while he ate (he's been wanting to see that for ages, since I always sing that song to him when it's raining, which it did all day yesterday). Now the boys are outside goofing off and I am settled in to write my lectures.
A busy weekend, but a good one. I'm ready for the week to begin (or at least I will be once these doggone lectures are finished!), but I just can't wait for Friday to be here again.
In January 2003 my grandfather on my Mom's side, Al, died. He had been battling Alzheimer's for several years, and had repeated bouts of pneumonia that landed him in the hospital every few weeks. My relationship with him in the last few years of his life was sporadic since I lived out-of-state most of the time, so many of our interactions were limited to Christmastime. He was a sweet, ultra-Catholic, devoted family man who always had a toothpick in his mouth and seemed to wear brown pants nearly every day of the week. My mom and her sisters were devastated when he died, even though everyone knew it was "for the best," and my grandmother says that she still receives "signs" from him every now and again to show that he is looking out for her.
This afternoon, I swear I saw my grandfather.
We had several big trees taken down yesterday, and today a separate company was sent out to grind the tree stumps left behind. A red truck towing a huge stump grinder pulled up in our driveway just as ST and I were getting home. An elderly man (about 75) hopped out of the cab and I did a double-take: same long face, same twinkling eyes, same silver hair peeking out from the sides of the seed cap, which seemed a bit too large for his head, same zip up spring/fall jacket, same brown pants, same shaky gait. This man seriously was a ringer for my deceased grandfather. I am certain that if my mother or my aunts had been here, they would have rushed to embrace this stranger who looked so much like their father had looked before he got too sick to recognize them.
The man was nice, although difficult to understand because his voicebox had just been removed after a bout with throat cancer*. We had a lovely chat (and even ST chimed in once he was able to understand that the man's voice wasn't creepy, just different), he ground the stumps in our yard in about 20 minutes, and then packed up his equipment. Before he left, he pressed my hand and held it for a few seconds longer than normal, a twinkle in his blue eyes. Then he left.
As he left, I noticed the sign on the back of his truck: Al's Tree Service.
Funny how those little things can brighten an otherwise dreary day, and how suddenly, I feel very, very loved.
* Later, when recounting this story to T, ST said, "... and Dad, this man was hard to hear because he had a sickness in his throat." I asked ST what the sickness was called, but he couldn't remember. I prompted him with, "Can..." ST nodded and blurted out, "Yes, he was sick with CAN-taloupe."
If you're not interested in hearing more about preschool, how wonderful my preschooler is, and how proud of a mother I am, skip this post. Fair warning!
Yesterday morning did not begin well. ST didn't want to get out of bed, and when he did (10 minutes late) he was in a foul mood. Getting him dressed took 15 minutes because he was kicking and screaming and generally refusing to cooperate. I had to brush his teeth for him (by force) because he refused to do it, and he also refused to eat anything for breakfast, preferring to sit and sulk at the dining room table. He started to cry (very atypical for him -- ST does not cry often) and sob, "I don't want to go to preschool!" while T wrestled his shoes on. T dropped him off at preschool and then sent me an email at work: "ST was bad today. Worst ever." Apparently, he screamed the preschool down when T left, clinging to T's leg and begging him not to go.
Of course this was a huge concern to me. Previous mornings ST has always been reluctant to go to preschool (and still ended up loving it by the end of the day), but it had never been as bad as this. After I taught my first class I called the preschool to check in on him. I spoke to the Director.
"Is ST still screaming his head off?" I asked, fearing the worst.
The Director laughed. "Oh no. He's practicing with scissors now. I think we figured out why he was having such a rough time."
"Oh really?" I asked. "Is it just that he misses us, or that he's not used to being in full-time care yet?"
"No. I think ST was simply bored in the 3-year-old room. So we moved him to the 5-year old pre-Kindergarten room and he's having a ball."
I asked her what triggered that decision (which I thought was a good one). "Well," she said, giggling a little, "when he started telling us what a terrorist attack was and what happened on September 11 and knew that chlorophyll made the leaves green, we knew he was a bit too advanced for the three-year-old room!"
I breathed a sigh of relief. It was something I'd been thinking about earlier: ST is not only physically larger (he's very tall; he looks like a five-year-old) than any of the other three-year-olds in the "3s Room," but he has a much larger vocabulary than they do. He had been complaining a bit in the past week about how he didn't like the other "babies" in his preschool class, and how he didn't like playing with them. He said before that his favorite part of preschool was "doing work with Miss Deanne and Miss Nicole." Deanne and Nicole are the Director and Administrator, and they'd let him do special things like help distribute milk for lunch, butter bread for the other kids in the kitchen, or sort coins in the main office (his latest obsession). He's always been more adult-oriented, and we've always treated him like a short adult. It wasn't an intentional move on our part -- he just fit in so well to our grown-up activities that it never occurred to us that he might be "abnormal." He helps with dinner, watches the news, listens to NPR, clears the table, puts clothes in the dryer and turns it on, etc. He's a responsible little boy, and he doesn't like to be treated like a "little kid."
This morning was dramatically different. He got up, got dressed, ate huge breakfast and said that he was ready to go to the "big kid school." For the rest of ST's time in this preschool (next Friday is his last day), he'll be in the pre-Kindergarten room. When he moves to the Daniels Center, he'll be in a room with 3.5-4.5 year-olds. I pray that his time there will be rewarding and challenging, because we certainly do not want a repeat of yesterday's morning drama!
Sorry for the sporadic posting lately, but preparing these lectures, going to meetings, and trying to track down some data for a research project (in addition to my "normal" Mom, Wife, and housekeeping duties) is really taking every ounce of time I have. In any case, a few updates:
Preschool situation: turned out very well. I turned in a nice letter on Monday morning, and the Director of ST's current preschool was sad but she said that she understood. His last day there will be 9/29, and his first day at the Daniels preschool will be 10/2. I'm really excited for him to start there, and I hope that it's not too jarring of a transition for him, poor kid.
ST at preschool: yes, I'm excited for him to start at Daniels, but I'm more excited for him to get used to the routine of preschool. Preschool is really his first experience with full-time care, and he's not taking it terribly well. Mornings are pretty traumatic around here; he cries from the moment we put him in his carseat in the morning until the moment we drop him off and have to leave him. The Director and ST's teacher say that he calms down and is fine and happy about 10 minutes after we've left, but it still stinks to start each morning that way.
Work stuff: my courses are going well, for the most part. The senior seminar is by far my favorite, followed by my large (60 student) section of Intro to Subfield. My small (30 student) section of Intro to Subfield is another story, however. The section is in the morning, which is probably the reason it's such a dead, boring class. They don't talk. They don't read. They don't participate in any way. I can barely tell they're breathing. Monday I asked them to get into groups and discuss a reading I'd assigned and they didn't say a word. Honestly, not a word. Instead, they all sat there reading the article because NO ONE had read it before class. Grr. Granted, it wasn't the most scintillating stuff, but still -- it was an assignment!
House Stuff: not much new to report here. The weekend project was a dull one: cleaning the windows and screens and oiling the opening mechanisms. The adventure of the weekend, on the other hand, was an exciting one: we decided to take a canoe ride on Saturday afternoon. I got in first, then ST, and then T. T stepped in and the canoe instantaneously tipped over, flipping us all into the muck-filled pond. I am not exaggerating when I say I was up to my KNEES in pond muck. (The part of the pond where we launch our canoe is right under a huge, huge, huge cottonwood tree, and so the tree is constantly dumping nature-trash into the pond and it turns into sticky, black muck.) It was disgusting beyond belief. ST laughed the whole time as he bobbed up and down in the stinky water, suspended there by his lifejacket. Needless to say, we all had baths after that incident, and the washing machine's limits were tested by T and ST's muck-encrusted tennis shoes.
Preparing for my senior seminar class MWF afternoons has been particularly taxing. It's a course I always wanted to teach, but one that I'd never thought completely through until now: I knew what I wanted the students to get out of the course, but I wasn't sure how to get them there. When I started teaching the course for real just a few weeks ago I caught myself taking delicate steps around certain topics, worried that my seniors would be bored, worried about whether or not they'd understand what I was saying, worried that they'd roll their eyes at me or sigh or yawn during lecture. None of these things happened.
Thursday night I set to the task of preparing my lecture for Friday. I fumbled around for a few hours, trying to pack in a lot of complicated theory and make it sound exciting and new and fun. I shuffled through dozens of books looking for good passages to include in my lecture, but discovered that the only good passages were several pages long, and that I couldn't give my students a good sense of the author's meaning in just a few sentences. Preparing the lecture frustrated me to no end, and I didn't even finish it Thursday night. I left it hang until Friday morning, just hours before the lecture.
Suddenly, I had an idea. Instead of yammering about the theorists and the theories and the history of the ideas, I'd make the students get the information themselves. Frantically (and with the generous assistance of Amy, Administrative Assistant Extraordinaire), I photocopied five sets of different readings from different theorists, each reading 6-8 pages long. I went to class and split the full group into five groups of 6-7 students each, and each group got a different reading. The readings were dense -- in some cases VERY dense -- and I explained that to my students. I told them I wanted them to read the copies I'd given them, pick out key points, discuss the key points in their groups, and then relate the theories/theorists back to the material they'd been assigned to read this week. I held my breath, it seemed, until they were finished reading and the time for discussion arrived. I was afraid the room was going to collapse in silence.
To my great surprise, they discussed! And not only did they discuss, they DEBATED in their groups! They wrote things down! They highlighted! They referenced their textbooks and other documents I'd assigned! One group even asked to read MORE of the work of the theorist they'd been assigned. "I thought reading this stuff would be boring," one student said, "but it's actually really cool!"
I had planned for us to get back together as a full group and have each group tell us what they'd discovered, but the conversations in the small groups were going so well that we ran out of time. Of my 32 students, 28 were there after the class time was technically through. Two of the groups stayed even later to chat with me about what they had read. I was awestruck by them, by their amazing capacity to plough through new material in a short time and to be so engaged in it.
I learned something about them: I need to trust them. I don't have to sugarcoat the hard stuff for them, I don't have to tiptoe around difficult passages and worry about their comprehension. For the most part, they GET IT. They can handle it. I need to trust my undergrads more, especially the juniors and seniors: they know what they are doing, and I'm incredibly -- amazingly -- proud of them. I can't wait to tell them that on Monday.
In May of this year I started looking for preschools for ST in New Town. I'd looked all over online, and also talked with a woman T knew who lived in New Town and had all of the "real" information about the various schools in the area. "This one is OK, but their playground is really close to the road and noisy," she say, or "This one is probably the best in town, but the waiting list is over a year long." It was nice to have insider information. As it happened, none of the preschools she highly recommended had slots open for ST. I ended up enrolling him in a preschool I found online, one that is fairly new. I was excited about it because they had a lot of foreign langage activities, and I knew ST would enjoy that. I enrolled him here also because it was one of the few places that had an available spot. At the time, I didn't know where we'd buy a house.
Fast forward to mid-August. ST and I visited this preschool. It is on the complete opposite side of town from where we live. New Town isn't huge by any means, so it only takes us 15 minutes to get there -- but still, it's kind of a hassle because it's also far away from where T and I work (T's office is about five blocks from mine). Basically, we do a huge triangle every day: home to preschool to work to preschool to home. A commute that would normally be 10 minutes without the preschool drop-off and pick-up becomes 25 minutes. In a word, it's a hassle. Aside from that, while the facilities are nice they aren't fantastic, and the preschool itself is very close to the major highway in town. It's sort of in a little industrial park-type area. The rooms in the preschool aren't really "rooms" at all, more like areas divided by temporary walls. The place is very open (which can be nice), but when I walked in I was simply struck by the NOISE.
ST has really enjoyed preschool thus far, and the staff have been very sweet to him. They understood that this was his first time being away from his parents full days. ST adjusts to things quickly, and even though he still gets a little teary when T drops him off in the morning, he's happy as a clam when I pick him up. "Mom, I had ANOTHER great day at preschool!" he tells me every afternoon. He's drawing a lot of pictures, getting to know the other kids, and is especially fond of his teacher. T and I have no real complaints about the preschool (well, T does: he doesn't like that ST's teacher has a tattoo. He's really bothered by tattoos for some reason).
Anyway, today I received a call from the Daniels Children's Center -- this is "the best" preschool in town, the one that supposedly had a long waiting list. ST and I had visited there in August before he started at the other place, just to see what it was like. It was magnificent: a beautiful building with a park outside, hand-painted murals on the walls, a full gym where the kids could play on rainy days, an atrium full of sunlight, beautiful huge playgrounds out back divided by age, and a neat "intergenerational" program that involves residents of the nursing home across the street. I could feel right away that Daniels was where I wanted ST to be. It just felt right to me. Even better: it's only a few blocks from the University (so close I could walk to my office if I wanted to, as could T).
When ST and I visited Daniels, I asked about the waiting list. We were told that the list was long, but that something might open up for three-year olds in January. I placed our names on the list. Today, the director of Daniels called and said that they had a sudden cancellation, and that if we wanted the slot ST could start at Daniels in October. I was flabbergasted. I have until tomorrow to accept or decline the slot.
I will accept it, since that is really where T and I want ST to be. But, being the nice person that I am, I really feel horrible about giving ST's two week notice at his other preschool so soon -- he's only been there two weeks! I have to give them a written notice. What will I say? For some reason this makes me incredibly nervous and uncomfortable, dumping them when they've been nothing but sweet and patient with me and my child. Any suggestions on how to do this nicely, and so that the next two weeks aren't terribly awkward?
This preschool business is far more complicated than I thought it would be.
I am battling time these days. It's not that I don't have enough of it (couldn't everyone use a few spare hours?), but rather that I'm not sure what I should be doing with it.
Last year I had a dissertation fellowship that required I do nothing but work on my dissertation for twelve full months. It was wonderful to be able to wake up in the morning and not worry about having to be somewhere at a certain time: the boundaries of my day were 8:30am (when I would walk ST a few blocks down the road to daycare) and 4:30pm (when I would pick him up again). The rest of the day was completely unstructured. This was good in that I had a lot of hours of time to really get involved in whatever I was writing. But of course it was bad, as I've chronicled here, because the day was so easy to fritter away doing things that really could have been done later (e.g., laundry, cleaning the kitchen, baking).
Starting this new job has been (and continues to be) quite an adjustment for me, then, since I have somewhere to be at a certain time every day of the week. I am up at 6:00am to shower and get ST ready for preschool, and after T and ST leave for the day I quickly get myself ready and am in my office, ready to work, by 8:00am. I teach MWF from roughly 9:00am-2:00pm, which an hour break around 11:00am. On TTh I come into the office anyway, knowing how susceptible to distraction I will be sitting alone in the vast project time-suck that is Pond House. I am usually home by 4:00pm most days after picking ST up from preschool, and once my family is fed and happy I retreat to my office to work. I usually work in my office from about 8:30pm until midnight, sometimes a little later.
My body clock is completely messed up as as result. It's not that I'm not getting enough sleep -- 5-6 hours a night has always been sufficient for me -- but rather that I'm simply not adjusting to having to BE somewhere at a particular time. I don't like it. And I certainly don't like rushing my family out the door every morning (unfortunately, ST is a nightowl like his mother and hates getting up early in the morning, which makes our morning ritual far from fun). But I suppose that is life and, in time, I'll get used to that, too.
This time-struggle is coupled with a few others: first, I am not at all used to the length of classes here and it's completely throwing off my lectures; and second, I feel a little lost when I'm in my office for more than a few hours. On the first issue: classes at Doctoral University were 50 minutes long. That meant that I usually scheduled 40 minutes of lectures or activities, and then left 10 minutes in the period for questions or administrivia. Classes here at SMU are 60 minutes long. That's not a huge difference, but I simply cannot seem to time my lectures correctly. The first week I was always 20 minutes off, leaving way too much time to fill at the end of the lecture. This was all right in the first week, since students didn't expect to stay for the whole period anyway, but now it's annoying me. Today I was only ten minutes off in my senior seminar class, and five minutes off in my two intro courses. I want to make the best use of my students' time and I'm just not confident that I'm doing that.
As to the second issue, when I'm sitting alone in my office I feel like there's something I "should" be doing. I'm not sure why, but I don't feel like I use my time well there, despite the fact that the place is set up for productive work. How do the rest of you manage your research/prep days? Tomorrow I think I'm going to make myself a schedule (e.g., "work on seminar class lecture" or "search for new dataset for Project XYZ") so that I can at least feel like I'm accomplishing something.
Yet another issue that is driving me crazy: the timing on the syllabus for my intro course. I don't know what I was thinking when I set up the first few weeks as I did, but I know that they will be axed immediately when I teach this course next semester. I reserved two full weeks to talk about theoretical and methodological issues in my subfield, and it is really, really dry stuff. These are undergraduates, most of them non-majors, and I feel like I'm boring them to death with these matters. It probably comes from being in a graduate student mindset but being faced with only undergrads. Another issue I have with my syllabus is the fact that I've already changed an assignment due date once and am thinking of changing it again (all for good reasons), and I'm worried the students will think I'm a flake. I am also seriously considering making some other significant changes to the exam format so that I can grade the exams in a reasonable amount of time. When I designed this syllabus this summer I was told I'd have approximately 50 students total in the two sections of the intro course and so I assigned a lot of writing -- two essays during the semester totaling 15 pages, two essay exams. The reality is, however, that I have 100 students in my intro course-- double what I was expecting. When added to the 35 students in my senior seminar, that makes for a whole lot of reading/grading. I'm seriously considering, for the intro course at least, of substituting multiple choice questions for half of each of the exams (and I hate multiple choice exams). Grr. Hopefully the students won't think I'm a quack.
It's been a long day of working this "real" job. For now, the best place for me is snuggled in my bed.
We just arrived home after a very busy weekend, and we are all looking forward to a peaceful weekend at home this coming Saturday and Sunday. Here's what the weekend looked like for us:
Friday night: frantically pack for trip to Home State to attend the wedding of one of T's best friends. Attempt to pull ST inside the house after a late afternoon spent trying to catch falling leaves and collecting toads and bugs in his "adventure bucket." (A red bucket with a yellow handle that he totes through the woods and along the pond when he's "exploring.") Run to the mall to buy something for myself to wear to the wedding (ended up with this and this). Iron. Figure out which books to take with me in the car. Pack car. Pack snacks for the journey.
Saturday morning: finish folding the last load of laundry. Pry ST out of bed to get ready. Drive five hours to Home State.
Saturday afternoon: drop ST off with my sister Julie and her boyfriend for the day. Head to the hotel where the wedding and reception will be held. Get lost twice and have to backtrack. Listen to T grumble about getting lost because he never gets lost. Arrive at hotel, check in. T dashes to Crate and Barrel to pick up last part of gift. I write something sweet in the card, and then silently fume about how much we've had to spend on this stupid wedding ($350 for T to attend the bachelor party, $150 on the gift, $130 on the hotel for a night, way too much on outfit for me, etc.). T returns. Watch last bit of college football game to see how Doctoral University fared.
Saturday evening: wedding. Bride and groom looked lovely and radiantly happy. Ceremony too short and cliche, music VERY cliche (Pachelbel's Canon in D? Give me a freakin' break). String quartet too loud. Nonetheless, attend dinner and reception with a smile. Meet a lot of T's friends from high school for the first time. All of them seem to like me, and T is beaming when he says, "This is my wife, [Real Name]. She's a professor at Smallish Midwestern University." Eat cliche wedding food and wedding cake. Dance a little to cliche wedding music. Chat, chat, chat until 1:30am. Return to hotel room. Stay up later... ahem.
Sunday morning: barely open our eyes when the phone rings. ST is calling to check on us. He's having a ball and wants to know if he can have Peanut M&Ms for breakfast. Dash his hopes. Hop in the shower. Repack. Tidy hotel room (I am physically incapable of leaving a bed unmade, even when I know the housekeepers will strip it anyway). Drive to my aunt's house, where sister Julie has brought ST for the night.
Sunday afternoon: have great time with my aunt, uncle, my little seven-month old cousin I've never met, Julie, her boyfriend, ST and T. Pack up ST's things. Say goodbye to relatives until Christmas. Drive five hours home, barely keeping eyes open. Manage to write half of my lecture for tomorrow for one of my classes and partially plan out the other class while in the car.
Sunday night: arrive at Pond House. Do laundry. Make supper. Clean out the Honda. Have a mug of hot chocolate. Blog in order to avoid starting work on the second lecture after mostly completing the first. Wonder if I should post lecture notes? Wonder if I'll make sense? Mostly, wonder if I'll be able to drag myself out of bed in the morning. Not looking promising, seeing as how I'll be up until at least midnight tonight. Getting more tired just thinking about it.
I never thought I'd get excited about an office chair, but I am!
I had money leftover from my office start-up funds (most of which were used for my computer and laser printer) and I couldn't decide how to spend it. I bought a few miscellaneous office accessories from SMU's approved vendors, but I had a healthy chunk of change left and I needed to spend it before next week. I mentioned that I might want a new chair and Amy (Administrative Assistant Sent Straight From Heaven to Make Life Easier for Everyone She Encounters) called someone who called someone who called me to come and try out a few chairs in our facilities management department.
"Watch out," Amy said. "Those chairs are expensive. They'll try to make you spend all of your money on a chair."
I scoffed. "Yeah, but I have like $300 leftover. My chair won't be that much." I was imagining the rows of chairs I'd seen at OfficeMax and Staples, and I couldn't remember one over $300.
Amy smiled knowingly. "Just wait. I bet $300 won't even cover it." We have to use a vendor approved by SMU, she explained, and so we can't just get any chair. We have to get ergonomically-appropriate chairs, and those aren't cheap.
I went to the facilities department and tried out chairs that actually fit my body -- chairs that supported my lower back, that tilted forward just the right amount to match how I worked at my desk, chairs that reclined enough for a comfortable chat with students or a mug of hot chocolate in a quiet moment. I had no idea what a difference a good chair can make!
I also had no idea how expensive a good chair was. I ended up choosing this chair (in "Shadow"), and it should arrive next week. The facilities department will deliver it to my office and show me how to use it (I never needed instructions for a chair before!). I can't wait. But get this: the list price was $749! Holy cow! After all of SMU's discounts, the chair came to right around $300 -- the department picked up the slight overage I had. Amazing.
It was the first day since mid-July that we had to wake up with an alarm at some god-awful hour of the morning (I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination) and be out of the door by a certain time.
It was the first day since early August that T had to wear a suit all day long.
It was the first day since July 13 that ST was not with his parents for the majority of the day.
It was the first day since my defense in late June that I had a meeting of some importance with other scholars in my discipline. (I actually had to stop and try to remember what my hypotheses were in the dissertation!)
It was the first time both of our cars sat in parking lots for most of the day, instead of lounging around in our garage.
It was the first day any of us spent more than 4 hours away from the Pond House and its many demanding projects (excluding T's wilderness trip, that is).
It was the first day in weeks that T and I were not coated in dirt, sawdust, paint, or pond muck.
It was the first day we all realized that we've truly started over here, and the real opportunities and frustrations that go with that fresh start.
It was the first day since July that T and I exchanged stories about "work" over dinner.
It was the first day that ST was a "big preschool kid" and not a "little daycare kid."
All in all, it was a decent first day. ST loved preschool after a rocky and sob-filled start this morning, and said that it was "lots and lots of great fun!" He drew pictures, made a flag, played outside, ate more corn than any other kid in the room (!), and his teacher said that he was the most articulate and polite child she'd seen in a long time (indeed!). I had fun on campus today, although it was a day mostly filled with meetings and last minute course preparations, and I even managed to sneak in some exercise. T had a so-so first day at his new job, mostly due to the fact that he had such a fantastic previous job that anything will dull by comparison, and also due to the fact that his new employers didn't do much of orienting him to his new office and support staff. I pray that he's eventually happy in his job, that I'm happy in mine, and that ST continues to bounce off the walls with the excitement of preschool.
Tonight I submit for your enjoyment photos of the Ugliest Bathroom in History. It's been done (or as done as it is going to be until we can rip the place apart and start over, as we plan to do) for about two weeks, but I only now had the time to really clean it so we could use it. Here's a before photo, taken during our first visit to this house in May:
Unfortunately, I never took a photo of the ugly light fixture. It was one of those $14.95 deals with a woodgrain-like bar and five round bulbs lined up in a row (looked like this, but woodgrain and not brass). Some of the bulbs were purple (I'm not joking!), and they were something like 25 watts each, which meant that the lighting in the bathroom was woefully inadequate. The mirror was too small for the vanity: the vanity is 5 feet long, and the mirror was 3 feet square. Since there are double sinks in this bathroom, that meant that if two people were using the bathroom, neither of them could see their entire reflection while standing at the sinks. The towel bars, which you can see here, were wooden and completely warped. (Whoever thought that wooden towels bars were a good choice in a wet environment like a bathroom was an idiot.) The walls were light brown, which you cannot see at all in the above photo.
Here's what the bathroom looks like now:
We painted the bathroom a very pale sage green, bought and installed new towel bars and a new toilet paper holder, installed new lighting above the vanity, and bought a new mirror. I used the shower curtain, towels, rugs, and other accessories from our old house. Clearly, the vanity is still dated, as is the flooring (which we might replace to get us by until we can do a "real" remodel in a few years) and the hideous brown tub:
But at any rate, the place is clean and not a complete eyesore anymore. It took five (FIVE) rounds of Tilex to get rid of the soap scum in that bathtub -- I have not let ST bathe in it until tonight. At least I don't feel embarrassed to let people use this bathroom anymore (that shower curtain does a great job of hiding the ugly tub), and now I can move on to other projects. The master bathroom is getting a coat of paint this weekend, as a matter of fact. We can't afford (and don't have time to do) a major renovation on either of our bathrooms (which is what they need), but at least we can update them a bit to get us partway to where we're going.