Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Catching up: 10 random bits o' something

1. I'm trying to watch my language now that Lucas seems to be morphing into a little sponge. Next up: sad attempts at childproofing an overstuffed apartment.

2. I think I've worked as a writer for too many different organizations for too long. I actually just caught myself wondering if I should have some kind of style guide for my blog. I was considering going back and changing all the post titles so that they all follow the same capitalization rules, for example.

3. I drove out to Berkeley on Monday to do some research on one of my dissertation's subjects, Annie Montague Alexander, an amateur scientist with a major philanthropic streak who founded not one but TWO museums at UC Berkeley. There's no public parking at all on campus, but fortunately the Bancroft Library is temporarily located off campus and right across the street from a public parking lot that only cost $15/day. Score!

Unfortunately, the receptionist told me that since it was spring break, the library didn't open for another two hours. Argh. I had left a stressed Mr. Trillwing home alone with Lucas. And I had driven more than an hour to get to the library, navigating streets that were foreign to me to find the prized parking lot. New research territories always stress me out.

So I had two hours to burn, but since I had already found the place and had a prime parking spot, I didn't want to get back in the car and go anywhere. I wandered around a not-so-lovely portion of downtown Berkeley, browsed a bookstore, and grabbed a kind of crappy lunch around the corner from the Bancroft. Then I wandered around the Berkeley campus until I found an unlocked public restroom. In so doing, I stumbled into one of the "museums" (they don't have public exhibits, usually) founded by Alexander, and got to see skeletons of a T. rex and a pterodactyl-type thing, plus some bits-n-pieces of dinosaurs mounted on a wall behind glass. Very cool. Dinosaurs were what got me into this whole dissertation topic.

Meanwhile, it was getting cold, and in my rush out of the apartment, I had forgotten my coat. Brrrrrr.

Anyhoo, I wandered back into the Bancroft spot on at 1 p.m. when it opened for the day, but found that one minute earlier, not one, not two, but FIFTEEN anthropologists had shown up unannounced, swooping on most of the Bancroft's 18 reading room seats. And there were three other people also in line ahead of me, including two from Oregon, so I couldn't pull my "Oh, but I just drove all the way from Daaaavis" crap.

Fortunately, the librarian sitting at the reception desk recognized me as someone who had paged archival materials via e-mail--he had gently chastised me for a last-minute request but thanked me for being more thorough in my requests than most researchers, which made me feel like a pro and endeared him to me forever--and he kindly hustled me into the room. I heart archivists and reference librarians. :) The guy who handed me the first box outlined the basic rules of the reading room (the standard one-folder-at-a-time, use-a-placeholder spiel), adding "Take good care of her for me."

I love this stuff. Maybe I was meant to be an archivist. But Mr. Trillwing might kill me if I went back for ANOTHER degree.

For once I was comfortable in a reading room without a sweater on, but I think I was an anomaly because the women next to me both wore scarves and three visible layers of clothes. I wore a cap-sleeve top with a neckline that's probably a bit too swoopy for the swollen lactating orbs. Lots of skin exposed, but no chill for trillwing. I need to lose some of this baby fat.

I got in three hours of reading before I began to get nervous about the traffic awaiting me, so I hopped in the car and it only took me two hours to get home. In the driving rain.

4. For a nagging health problem, I managed to get a referral from student health to the women's health clinic where I had my prenatal care. As I was leaving, the middle-aged and a bit too perky nurse practitioner who nonetheless has come to be one of my favorites, said, "I think you're done with us, finally, Honey." And that made me sad. So many good times there, listening to Lucas's little galloping heartbeat in utero, reading the pregnancy and parenting magazines, enjoying chats with the midwives. Back to student health. . . *sigh* Mind you, the student health center on campus offers very good care, but it's clearly targeted to the early-twentysomething population, and it's desperately in need of renovation. So it's a tad bit depressing to walk in there after my fabulous care at the nonprofit hospital's women's clinic.

But good news: I lost a little weight in the two weeks between my visits to the nice clinic, despite my family stuffing me silly on my trip to Long Beach. Yay!

5. As I type this, Lucas is slumped in my lap. We have the hardest time keeping him awake after 6:30 p.m., even if, as he did today, he naps for two hours in the afternoon. Such an early bedtime means 4 a.m. reveille.

6. Lots of dissertation anxieties. It will get done. It is getting done. But still. I'm nervous.

7. My 1890s course got off on the right foot today, I think, but I'm not pleased with my anthology selections. I kind of made them in haste, which was a bad idea. The one good thing is that we'll finish the course with The Devil in the White City, which is a terrific book about the 1893 Columbian Exposition and a serial killer who set up shop next door to it. I just hope the students aren't too burned out by that point.

8. I'm nervous about taxes. The past few years we've gotten big refunds, but I'm not so optimistic this year. I don't have any evidence to support this malaise, but I'm worried. The bad news: my medical expenses for the pregnancy weren't quite high enough to qualify us for a deduction. I was hoping they would meet that magical percentage of our income, but I guess I was conflating them with the vet bills. :P I should hear back from our enrolled agent soon.

9. Had my first flat tire ever last week. Bleah. Hope we get a tax refund so we can pay for new tires!

10. There's a job open on my campus, a non-teaching position that's really exciting. I'm finishing up my application for it tonight. I have mixed feelings about applying for an 8-to-5 job at this point, considering I already have some teaching gigs lined up for the next year and how much I'm enjoying hanging out with Lucas during the day. But this job would pay sooooo much better and would allow me to interact with faculty, assist students with research into gender, and design fun outreach programs. And the salary is decent. The job description sounds as if it was written with me in mind, and that, I assure you, is a rare bird these days. Good stuff. Wish me luck...

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Lucas update

Some photoblogging for friends and family who haven't had a Lucas fix of late:

He's sitting up! Unassisted! Woohoo.


Lucas is fascinated by the camera.


He's not only holding his own bottle, but he sometimes does so one-handed. This photo makes me want to shout "Chug! Chug! Chug!"


Mommy and Luke enjoy drinks together.


Suddenly, "tummy time" is desirable. Note the new teeth. (Yes, marvel at them. They cost us much sleep.)

Putting the "Creative" back in Creative Memories

I made this at a scrapbooking get-together at my Creative Memories consultant's home:



Go ahead--click on it to see it in all its glory. You know you want to.

The paper folded in the pocket is page 1 of the "Dump Chart" we've used since November to track Lucas's, er, regularity.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

My silence

Many apologies for my lack of posts these past few days. I'm in the Dissertation Zone. (That name that sounds deceptively productive. I assure you I'm not as prolific as I should be, in part thanks to various frustrations over revisions and in part due to those damn final exams I had to grade.)

I have a major deadline on the 24th, and I already know I'm going to blow it because I'm using two days of my teeny tiny spring break to fly down to Long Beach to visit my parents and other family. And because I wasn't already feeling enough stress, I've chosen this occasion to be Lucas's first plane trip. Please pour libations on my behalf to whatever gods keep children from shrieking on airplanes.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Blogging for Books: The Military

Over at BlogHer, I saw a reference to Blogging for Books. This month's call for entries over at Faster than Kudzu is this:
Write about the military. HOW BROAD IS THAT? SO broad. You can talk about anything from your own experiences in the military, or you own experiences as a pacifist, or how hot Jake Gillenhaal looked in Jarhead, or how Michael Kors could NOT see the military influence in Daniel V's collection for Project Runway, and how when Daniel pointed out the BIG HUGE OBVIOUS MILITARY boob-epaulette on the front of an evening dress Michael Kors said, "Oh, THAT thing. I can't tell you how bad I want to RIP IT OFF that otherwise pretty dress," or how the Trojans were SO dern dumb for buying that whole "hollow horse" ruse, and how the fact that the horse was used to SNEAK AN ARMY INSIDE THE CITY makes Trojan such a BAD name for a condom.

Heck, I'll take anything with the word SOLDIER in it.
If not enough people participate, Blogging for Books will die an untimely end. So please join in! Hell, if I'm willing to write about the military, anyone can.

Without further ado, here's my post:

Running from the JROTC

I went to Long Beach Poly High School, Snoop Dogg's alma mater (recently featured on NPR for being "one of the best schools in the nation" and for having a damn good football team). As you might imagine from its connection with Snoop, it's in the inner city, a rough neighborhood where I'd hear gunshots as I waited to be picked up from orchestra practice on Wednesday nights. I was there for an academic magnet program that drew students from all over the city, but in addition to meeting our needs, the school aimed to provide the neighborhood students with opportunities beyond graduation.

One of these opportunities was the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). JROTC students met for class every day and once a week wore dress uniforms. The most hard-core among them (all boys during my years at Poly) wore camouflage fatigues frequently. I don't know how many students participated, but the program had a relatively high profile on campus.

Even as a teenager, I was a pacifist, and so the mere presence of an Army-sanctioned activity on campus made me very uneasy. My theoretical distaste for military indoctrination, however, was at once overshadowed and reinforced by a very concrete problem: the behavior of some of the JROTC boys.

Three scenes:

1. One day in tenth-grade PE, I had just finished running a mile on the track and finished at least an 1/8 to 1/4 mile ahead of the rest of my class. When I crossed the finish line, I began walking to cool down. Over my panting, I became aware of voices yelling from the field in the middle of the track: "Hey, take another lap! What are you, lazy? Just a stupid girl! Can't HACK it, bitch? Take another lap!" I looked over my left shoulder and saw a group of JROTC boys in olive-green fatigues sitting in--I kid you not--a puddle of mud, legs splayed out before them, their close-cropped hair making their heads seem exceptionally small. These guys obviously thought I was cheating, that I hadn't actually finished ahead of the other students in my class, that there's no way I could have run a mile faster than the boys in my PE class. Though I was shaken to the core, I pretended to ignore them.

At the time, I didn't really understand the effect of swift reporting. I was a good student and worried about what would happen if I abandoned my PE class to walk into the JROTC officer's classroom to report the harrassment. As it was, it took me several months to work up the courage to wander into the classroom one day after school. The officer feigned interest and asked for the boys' names. As the offenders all looked alike to me--stocky, dim-witted white boys with close-cropped brown hair--he told me he wasn't able to help me. Um, yeah. At a school that was only 20% white, how hard could it have been to identify the five or six white boys who had sixth-period JROTC?

I wish I could say I then took my complaints to the top, to the principal's office and the school district. But I felt powerless and kept my anger, as my witty younger sister would later put it, "bottled up inside me like a good woman."

2. My junior year, I joined the marching band because my friends were already in it and seemed to be having a lot of fun. (I learned to play the French horn so I could spend more time with my friends. If you've ever tried to play the French horn, you know that subjecting your friends to novice French horn playing is no way to keep them as friends.) During the last couple weeks of summer, we had daily band practice. The first couple days of summer practice were, I seem to recall, dedicated to teaching the new band members all the field maneuvers, how to turn right and left smartly and in sync, how to take the specified number of steps between each ten-yard line on the football field.

It made sense to the band director at the time, a kind but (as we shall see) misguided man, to let the JROTC folks in the band handle these drills. On the final day of newbie practice, we had an elimination round that resembled Simon Says, with all of us starting out in one big group and a JROTC cadet barking commands at us. When individuals fumbled, they had to leave the field. As the game progressed and it came down to me and six boys, the goal of the JROTC cadets present became clear: let's get this girl out of there. They tried to distract me, directing their gazes and comments at me instead of the remaining boys. Of course, this only strengthened my resolve, and I, who had never been prone to conformity, found myself jumping to fulfill every new order. I outlasted everyone, and one of the JROTC boys said to me grudgingly, "Good work. You remind me of me when I was first in JROTC."

High praise, indeed. I wonder who really won that round.

That same year, the band director let the JROTC cadets design the half-time show. Our football team was the Jackrabbits, and the centerpiece of the half-time maneuvers was, I kid you not, the Playboy bunny logo. I was part of the eye. The other French horn players and I had to duck at one point so that the Sousaphones could dip forward and make the eye wink. I asked the band director if he really thought this was appropriate, and this kind (and very Christian, I might add) man said merely it was all harmless fun.

3. Football games, my junior and senior year. The JROTC guys still ruled the roost. At some games they were part of the color guard, and thus wore their JROTC uniforms instead of their band uniforms for at least part of the game. Their non-band-member JROTC color guard fellows (all male) sat in the band section of the stands. When they got excited and couldn't keep their berets on their tiny little heads, they asked the female band members to hold their hats for them.

They also cheered inappropriately whenever the cheer squads performed high kicks that lifted the cheerleaders' skirts. Again, the band director, who on other occasions reminded us that we were representatives of the entire school, turned a blind eye.


For me, then, the military has always been about gender. When I was in high school, girls were lobbying to get into the Citadel and the Virginia Military Institute. The Tailhook scandal made the headlines. When I was in college and grad school, I listened to a friend of mine talk about her treatment as a woman in a largely male unit of the Army Reserves. She's not as assertive as I have become, and thus suffered--and I do mean suffered--largely in silence. I have read in recent years about how the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy ends frequently in the discharge of some of the armed forces' best intellectual workers, especially translators.

I know a few individual women have achieved some kind of success in this country's military. And I understand that for the inner-city kids, the military may provide opportunities they otherwise would not have. However, I worry about what those same youth were learning when a group of sexist boys was elevated to a leadership role in JROTC, in marching band, and undoubtedly in other campus groups. What kind of roles were the many girls in JROTC being asked to adopt? And what life lessons do the young women who enlist learn?

I once heard the U.S. military (and the U.S. government in general) critiqued for seeking "to save brown women from brown men" in other countries. I wonder what the military is doing to protect its own women from those men who would take advantage of their willingness to volunteer to serve their country. My understanding? Not much.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

mp3 Magic 8-Ball game

As seen at Badgerings.

Instructions: Go to your music player of choice and put it on shuffle. Say the following questions aloud, and press play. Use the song title as the answer to the question. NO CHEATING.

How does the world see you?
"No More Auction Block for Me" (w/Odetta, Pete Seeger, et. al.)

Will I have a happy life?
"I Choose You" (Katie Kroll. A fabulous mp3 by a folksinging friend--a great listen if you can find it!)

What do my friends really think of me?
1. "Slumber My Darling" (Allison Kraus, Edgar Meyer, Mark O'Connor, and Yo-Yo Ma)
2. "Flinty Kind of Woman" (Dar Williams.)

Do people secretly lust after me?
"Once Again, One Day. . .Will You Be Mine?" (Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez)

How can I make myself happy?
"Ring of Fire" (June Carter Cash. Fall irremediably in love with an addict plagued by a ton of self-loathing? Check!)

What should I do with my life?
"All American Girl" (Melissa Etheridge)

Will I ever have children?
"Sunny Came Home" (Shawn Colvin. Uh oh.)

What is some good advice for me?
1. "City of New Orleans" (Arlo Guthrie)
2. "Africa" (Toto)
(Guessing this means I should travel?)

How will I be remembered?
"Old Man" (The Neil Young song, sung by Lizz Wright)

What is my signature dancing song?
"Condi, Condi" (Steve Earle. At least it has a boppy beat. . .)

What do I think my current theme song is?
"When My Mornin' Comes Around" (Iris Dement)

What does everyone else think my current theme song is?
"Eleanor Rigby" (as sung by Joan Baez. Great.)

What song will play at my funeral?
"Van Lear Rose" (Loretta Lynn. A kick-ass song!)

What type of men/women do you like?
1. "Here, There, and Everywhere" (as sung by Emmylou Harris)
2. "Eli the Barrow Boy" (The Decembrists)
3. "When I Was a Boy" (Dar Williams)

What is my day going to be like?
"The Man Comes Around" (Johnny Cash. Eeeeeeeeek! Armageddon is nigh!)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

First Thoughts: One Dozen Chicken Eggs

This is the second post in my "First Thoughts" series, where I brainstorm about a topic of interest to me and, I hope, to you. The first one, if you missed it, was on scrapbooking and feminism.



This installment of First Thoughts requires your help, gentle readers. I (probably foolishly) submitted a paper proposal to a food studies conference taking place on campus. (Food studies? Yeah, I know. Not my field! But a friend asked me to submit, and Fantastic Adviser is heavily involved with the conference.) Here's the abstract for the as-yet-unwritten paper, which I found out has been accepted for presentation in early May:
Why would a food industry promotion need to remind consumers that its product can indeed be ingested? With its “Incredible Edible Egg” marketing campaign, the American Egg Board, which promotes egg consumption in the U.S., is doing just that. The discourse surrounding eggs highlights more than just a nervousness about eating them; it also taps into the American cultural obsession with human ova. Americans’ lack of scientific literacy means that they tend to fall back on what they know--in this case the chicken egg--when they attempt to make sense of complicated phenomena such as human reproduction. Americans even discursively whisk together eggs from women and hens; for example, a recent report on human endometriosis bore the title “Scrambled Eggs,” and an advertisement calling for human egg donors graphically replaced women’s eggs with their avian counterpart. In an age of breezy conflations of the two types of eggs, Americans’ anxiety about the uncontrolled and uncontrollable aspects of human conception may be quelled in part by the smooth, perfectly uniform, unblemished appearance of white chicken eggs nestled by the dozen in their seemingly sterile styrofoam containers. Drawing primarily on a Prownian analysis of chicken eggs as a cultural artifact, but also employing textual interpretation, this paper seeks to demonstrate how the chicken eggs sold in the average supermarket are at once a site of reassurance and anxiety for U.S. consumers.


What are your first thoughts? Any advertisements, images, anecdotes, or academic resources come to mind when you read this? If so, please share! Trillwing is kind of up a tree with a paddle on this one.

Of course, I have lots of ideas, which I'll share with you later this week. But I'm not exactly sure in what direction to go with this.

Linkfest

Hoo boy, have I ever been saving up the links to share with you. I've stumbled across a number of thoughtful and fun posts lately, but I don't have the time to write an entire post for each one. So, without further ado:

"Persecuted" American Christians and conservative campus culture
Limon de Campo writes about conservativism on her campus:
I think it's an interesting phenomenon that our culture (meaning this part of the U.S.) is so damn culturally conservative that parents worry about their kids being ostracized for not belonging to a religious group. But it's a legitimate fear: kids who aren't culturally conservative and religious have had more difficulty fitting into the campus culture.

In one of the comments on this thread, someone asked why Christians had a persecution complex. To reprise my response: I think the persecution complex among fundamentalist (or, as they frequently call themselves, "Bible-believing") Christians comes from the desire to live as closely to Biblical word as possible. Thus, if the Christians in the Bible were persecuted, then today's American evangelicals need to find a way to be persecuted as well. And WWJD? Stand up to the persecutors. Of course, he stood up, as I understand it, on behalf of others, not himself... And that's quite different from what the fundamentalists are doing.

Thoughts?

Fringe benefits of the Ph.D.
Print Culture on cavemen and car insurance.

Sidewalk art that's not to be believed
You must check out Julian Beever's portfolio of 3D sidewalk art. Scroll down to "3D illusion." (h/t to Fumbling Towards Geekdom.)

Image medley
This image at Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted) made me laugh and cry.

This photo at Virtualpolitik made me want to vomit.

I'm coveting this. Wish I had that kind of talent. Maybe I'll learn to sew and punish Lucas one Halloween by dressing him up as kiwa hirsuta. (h/t to whip up.)

A must-see photo series: Bird feeder v. bear. (h/t to Grrlscientist.)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

It's all about me, me, me!

As seen at The Paper Chase.

What is your favorite word?
Too many to name. I heart language!

What is your least favorite word?
orientate (and other verbs with "ate" added on to them)

What turns you on?
Intelligence. A sense of humor. Tall people (yes, I can be shallow).

What turns you off?
Arrogance.

What sound do you love?
Lucas's laughter. Mr. Trillwing's giggles when he's cracking himself up and he doesn't know I can hear him

What sound do you hate?
Other people flossing. Ewwwww!

What is your favorite curse word?
Favorite? "By Grabthar's hammer!" But is it my most used? 'Fraid not. I need to work on that. . .

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Novelist, community newspaper publisher w/Mr. Trillwing, freelance writer, museum consultant.

What profession would you not like to attempt?
Junior high school P.E. teacher. No thank you!

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive?
"Your friends and family are just over there waiting to say hello, having been raptured* at the exact same moment as you were so that you didn't have to watch them die or cause them any pain with your own death. Here's your pony."

*I use this term ironically, of course.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Yes!

Fantastic Adviser and I talked yesterday about my dissertation, and it appears I need to write only ONE more chapter, not two. Woohoo! We also mapped out exactly when I need to turn in each of the chapter revisions in order to graduate on time, and the timeline is completely reasonable. Yay!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Plugging two friends

Heather Clisby, of the blog ClizBiz, now has a fabulously quirky new website supporting her newly full-time freelance career as a writer, photographer, and general Renaissance woman. I mention this because (1) Heather is a good friend of mine and (2) Mr. Trillwing designed and executed the extensive site, including the fun little audio bits and animations.

Please click on over and enjoy Heather's fabulous portfolio of feminist writing, radio plays, photography, and more at ClizBiz.com.

And yes, Mr. Trillwing is happy to assist anyone else with a website, be it eccentric or elegant. E-mail me if you or someone you know is interested.

Friday poetry blogging

A quick one, since I'm overwhelmed with work:

The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.

Ogden Nash

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Overwhelmed

1. Dissertation: 2+ chapters to write, plus a conclusion and revision. Must go to archives and conduct interviews. Final copy due to Grad Studies June 2.
2. Sixth-month-old baby to entertain. (Thank goodness I have Mr. Trillwing to help with this!)
3. Exams to grade.
4. Next quarter's course to prepare.
5. Job applications: academic and nonacademic.
6. Tax questionnaire and documents to prep for enrolled agent.
7. Exercise.

Enough already!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Six months

I completely missed a blogging opportunity on Sunday; Lucas turned 6 months old on March 5. (For those of you keeping track, that means he was born on Labor Day. He emerged with a sense of humor, that one.)

I'll try to post something more reflective about this milestone when I'm less sleep-deprived, but until then, a few semi-random thoughts:

1. Lucas had his sixth-month well baby appointment yesterday.

Bad news: That meant some shots, which knocked him out yesterday but which made him extremely fussy last night and today. So I'm needing some sleep.

Good news: We have the best baby doctor in the world. When we were brand-new parents, she scheduled us, I think, for an extra appointment or two just to check up on us because it's obvious I was falling apart. I really appreciated those opportunities because I felt totally overwhelmed and was constantly worried about the tiny little guy, and for the hour or so we were in the waiting and exam rooms, I felt so safe. At our second appointment, Dr. Best-in-the-World even had me lie down and take a much-needed nap on an exam table while she circumcised Luke in another room. I'm not lucky enough to have her be my primary care physician (damn student health insurance), but I feel she cares deeply for my whole family, me included. How blessed we are!

2. Teething sucks. I don't appreciate being gnawed upon, and the sucking motion of nursing drags Lucas's little serrated tooth back and forth over some very sensitive skin. Still, it's not as bad as thrush, thank goodness. It does upset me to see the little guy in pain, but I'm going to make this all about me.

3. Teething and vaccines aside, how the heck did we end up with such a happy baby? Mr. Trillwing and I are both predisposed to occupy that lovely territory between dysthymia, an obsessive or manic disorder or two, and mild psychosis. Yet Luke is pretty much perpetually happy. He actually laughs while he cries, which, I must admit, makes him seem more than a little maniacal.

4. If three years ago someone had told me I'd be a mommyblogger, I'd never have believed them. How swiftly our life paths veer in new directions. . .

For those family and friends needing a Luke fix, new photos are up here.

Team teaching

Today Fantastic Adviser surprised Other TA and I by letting us know we were each going to lead 1/3 of the lecture class of 100 students through a practice final exam essay question. That's fine, except that there were two classrooms for the three of us, which meant that Other TA and I ended up sharing a large classroom, teaching about 70 students between us, with both of us at the front of the room, sharing chalkboards.

That was a bit awkward, and I imagine especially so for Other TA, since my teaching voice is considerably louder than hers and since I'm more prone, it appears, to breaking my students off into small groups and having them talk through quandaries than she is. So my side of the room was quite a bit louder than hers. Oops.

What was interesting about the exercise was getting general instructions from Fantastic Adviser and then watching Other TA and I interpret those instructions as we saw fit. It's one thing to watch someone else teach and learn from it. It's another thing to watch someone else teach the same content you will be covering or have covered. It's another thing entirely to teach the same content simultaneously in the same room. Although I'm pretty confident about my teaching, I found myself wondering if I was using the best exam prep method.

Our approaches were quite a bit different, but both worked well, I think. Other TA was far more methodical and organized than I was, so I was worried that I wouldn't be able to push my students as far along as she did hers, but we ended up in much the same place, with each of our big groups workshopping a couple of thesis statements and identifying the best evidence to support those theses. I'm definitely seeing some improvement in students' critical thinking and I hope that comes out in their exams on Thursday.

(Yes, you read that correctly: finals on Thursday. While most of you academics are on your spring break, leisurely making your way through a semester, we're finishing up one term and gearing up for another. The quarter system is brutal, and we're upping the ante a bit in this course by having the students take their final exams a bit early so that we can use the long final exam period for group presentations. I'm a bit worried about how I'm going to pull together my course for next quarter and still get the diss done. It will happen, but I'm afraid the course will suffer for it.)

Monday, March 06, 2006

Mr. Trillwing's Comedy of Errors, Monday edition

Mr. Trillwing is responsible for designing this site, including the Pierce Painting ad in the right-hand column. He swears the comedy was unintentional.

Worse, as he was feverishly working on creating the ad animation in the wee hours of Friday morning, he considered adding paint droplets flying from the roller and, far worse, having the left arm move up and down the shaft.

For a full half-hour on Friday, I heard nothing but giggles coming from his office. I'm so glad the site is finally live so I can share it with you.

It's good to live with Mr. Trillwing.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Baby monitor blues

Lucas's Aunt Cool Urban Woman bought us a top-of-the-line baby monitor before Luke was born. It's so sensitive it can tell us whether or not Lucas is breathing. Since Luke now squirms off the motion-sensor pad that comes with the monitor, we just use the sound sensors. I keep one speaker in my home office so I can listen for Lucas's stirrings while I work. Because Mr. Trillwing goes to bed early and we share a room with Luke, while I work I can hear (a) the fan Mr. Trillwing uses as white noise, (b) Mr. Trillwing's impressive repertoire of snores, and (c) Luke's little vocalizations as he rolls over in his sleep.

Things I can't hear: neighbors' phone conversations. This is somewhat of a disappointment, as I know nothing about my neighbors and I'm not above some "accidental" baby monitor spying.

See, back in the late 1980s, Grandma Wonderful often cared for my Aunt Olympian's son, so she kept a baby monitor for when infant Cousin Mute Teen Boy was napping. During that time period, Aunt Highly Educated was in the process of divorcing Highly Unstable Husband, who still lived next door to Grandma Wonderful, and Grandma frequently picked up Highly Unstable's cordless phone conversations on the baby monitor. That's how we learned, as we hung out in the kitchen during the final phases of Thanksgiving dinner prep, that Highly Unstable may have contracted herpes from a new girlfriend.*

Anyway, I guess my baby monitor isn't on the same frequency as today's cordless phones. Bummer!


*But then again, Thanksgiving at Grandma Wonderful's always brought interesting revelations. At his last Thanksgiving, while carving the turkey Grandpa Wonderful told us that his first "rescue" as a young lifeguard was a "floater" (a corpse). The next year, also over a turkey dinner, Aunt Highly Educated talked about how, during her own training as a young lifeguard, she had learned to search for bodies that had sunk below the surface of the water. Is it any wonder I'm vegetarian?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

PowerPoint-style presentations must die

So I went to this teeny tiny interdisciplinary graduate conference at my university today. I attended it several years ago, I think during its first year, and I thought it would have grown since then, so I submitted a paper. The conference was still small (too small for a university the size of mine), but it made for a pleasant enough day.

How interdisciplinary was the conference? My quirky humanities talk was bookended by a genetic analysis of skeletal remains and a talk on the intrinsic risk factors contributing to North American mammals' extinction. Fun!

I didn't talk about my dissertation research, except tangentially, but rather indulged in a talk about a recent rift in the model horse collecting community. I know, it sounds really provincial, but I had 'em rolling in the aisles compared to the other participants. (Why do people who have never seen me talk think at first that it's not OK to laugh? It's like I have to warm up the room for every friggin' talk.)

Anyway, what was nice about the conference was we had evaluation sheets to fill out for each speaker, so at the end of the day I received a nice little stack of evaluations of my talk. I received some good feedback, but waaaaay too many people were fixated on my slide presentation. I believe PowerPoint-style slides should be used only for visuals, not text. Years ago I remember reading the results of a study that showed that textual slide presentations actually cause people to retain less information than they would from a talk without the slides. Obviously the other folks in the room disagreed with me because they felt (a) I didn't have enough slides, (b) I didn't have enough text on the slides, and (c) I needed a "standard" first slide that stated my institution's name. (Hello? We're all from the same institution--they're lucky I had a title slide.)

Seriously, I believe PowerPoint presentations are the overhead projector of the 1990s. It's time to move beyond them, unless you have some nifty photos or graphs to show. I don't need to see your talk outline, dude. (I once saw a professor give a talk on how to better engage students--and he read it to us from a PowerPoint presentation. Argh! Irony. . .hurts.)

Here's the funny thing. What did I write on all of their evaluations? Less text on slides. Talk directly to us.

My favorite comment from my evaluations? "I loved the humor. I was sure before your talk that I wouldn't like it, but I loved it." Teehee. I <3 my crazy model horse stuff. Must finish dissertation so I can play with it in earnest.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Poetry Friday

This one comes from Adrienne Rich's Dark Fields of the Republic.

What Kind of Times are These

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled,
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light--
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.

1991

Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Hell just froze over

I am giving up sweets.

Let me say that again: I. am. giving. up. sweets.

I'll wait a moment for those of you who know me well to recover from your fainting spells and pick yourselves up off the floor.

Here's the deal: When I got pregnant, I was already 12-15 pounds overweight. I gained, oh, about 40 pounds during pregnancy. I lost 35 of those almost right away. But the last 5 pregnancy pounds will not go away. Which makes 17-20 pounds I needed to lose upon childbirth, and I think I've actually added 2-3 additional pounds since then. Grrr. I've never been this overweight in my life. So: Before I must move into elastic-waisted pants, I am giving up sweets and being more conscientious about exercising.

This is not a Lenten thing, though it does coincide with the beginning of Lent, and I imagine my will shall be tested around Easter, when a pound or two of See's Candy always seems to elbow its way into my life.

Until then: Goodnight chocolate chips. Goodnight Girl Scout cookies. Goodnight little Ciocolat café's tempting dessert display. Goodnight cinnamon toast and Farmer's Market pastries on Saturday mornings. Goodnight frothy glasses of sweet soy milk.

Hello carrot sticks and assorted veggie snacks (sans ranch dip and hummus). Hello apples and pears. Strawberries, would you kindly come into season now?