Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Nothing Like a Trip to the Health Center on the First Day of School

My daily tempo escalated yesterday when my students returned from winter break. We've enjoyed six glorious weeks without each other, a much-needed break for both parties. Many students have actually acted friendlier and less hostile this week than what I recall from when I last saw them in December, but my perception could have been distorted from ripping apart final papers and dealing with end-of-semester grade disputes. Now that they've had to put up with their parents for six weeks, they realize that I'm not so bad.

I experienced a unique "first day of class" incident yesterday that would almost be funny if I didn't feel so bad for the kid.

Firmly planted in my office yesterday morning, typing away, I heard a loud bang in the hallway. It sounded as though someone had dropped a heavy package on the floor or maybe, hit a wall in anger. Because vandalism is a reality with college students, I shot up from my desk, intent on catching the perpetrator. To my surprise, I found a student who had (unintentionally) walked straight into the floor-to-ceiling glass window that borders one of the doors to our office suite. Unbeknownst to us, the housekeeper had turned off a light in the hallway outside of the door so it was a little dark, and the kid was unfamiliar with this building and this office. In his haste, he didn't see the door and instead tried to walk straight through the glass window. Admit it: we've all walked into an inanimate object at one time or another.

The student actually broke the glass window when he made contact with it. Thank God for shatter-proof glass or we would have had a bloody mess on our hands. He first struck the glass with his knee, which caused the glass to splinter all over, and then nearly fell face-first into the glass, which left a distinct and somewhat greasy face smudge on the window. My co-workers and I made him sit down, and we gave him a glass of water and a cold compress. A small bump immediately emerged on his forehead and he said that he saw stars. After we suggested that he visit the health center to make sure that he didn't have a concussion, he said, "Sure, can you point me in the right direction?" I had assumed that he was a student who enrolled at the university last semester, and I said, surprised, "You don't know where the health center is?" and he responded, "No. Today is my first day on campus!"

My heart immediately ached for the poor kid. He transferred to a new school and on his first day, he walked into a window in our office suite, broke the glass, bumped his head, left a face smudge, saw stars, and now had to go to the health center. What a rough way to begin a new experience. I told him that I would drive him to the health center, which he allowed me to do, but he refused to let me come inside with him to help him register. I think that I scared him away by acting too much like his mother.

At least my co-workers and I were the only witnesses to his blunder. Besides posting this story on the Internet for my faithful readers' entertainment, I won't tell anyone. Promise.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Entering Birthday Season...

Today marks Brad's 32nd birthday! Happy birthday, Sweetie! You are catching up to me in age. For the next 17 days, you are 32 and I am 33, but that will all change on February 11th. Such is life.

I'm curious to see if Brad will actually read this tribute to his birthday. Since I began this blog, I've learned that marriage vows ≠ guaranteed readership.

Once Brad and I married, we began the tradition of treating ourselves to a nice dinner and sometimes a trip in lieu of birthday or anniversary presents. We're settling for just birthday dinners this year as 2008 involves much (fun!) travel for us (to be expanded upon later). We actually love this tradition of eating and sometimes traveling instead of buying each other gifts. It allows us to frequent fancy restaurants that we would never normally try. And we always splurge on all courses and nice wine, so it is truly a treat for us!

Brad is determined to sample every single high-end steak restaurant around, but we are actually repeating a previous choice tonight. The Caucus Room is one of our all-time favorites and it meets our main criteria: amazing food/wine and top-notch atmosphere. It's a local steakhouse with a political-themed decor, which is right up Brad's alley. We also enjoy The Caucus Room because it's fancy, but not a chain, as are most of the high-end steak restaurants. The restaurant also has plenty of other items on the menu in case you don't eat red meat, which I'm sure are delicious, but I can't speak from experience as I always eat steak (I am a Midwest farmer's daughter... how can I NOT love steak?).

Here are the steak restaurants that we've visited for Brad's birthday:
2003 - Morton's
2004 - The Caucus Room
2005 - The Capital Grille
2006 - The Palm in NYC
2007 - Smith & Wollensky

We've also eaten at Ruth's Chris for a non-birthday meal. Also on our list to try at some point are:
Ray's the Steaks
Charlie Palmer
Jordan's (a new steak and sushi place on Capitol Hill)

Any suggestions for must-try steak restaurants?

We're going to be so fat and happy after dinner tonight - I can't wait! Happy birthday, Sweetie! I love you!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Worries Be Gone!

I don't want to gross you out, but for a few years now, I've had a small growth on my scalp, about an inch or so higher than my hairline. It never hurt and was virtually invisible to anyone else. I never really thought much about it until I decided that the bump had grown this past year. Because I'm a worry-wart by nature (about everything but my health, obviously), Brad has always called it my "worry bump" and he swears that during stressful moments it actually feels larger! If it grew at all this past year, I blame my dissertation 100%. From my last post, you know that crazy things can happen to Ph.D. students. The alternative explanation is that I've been growing a horn, but I'd much rather affectionately refer to it as my worry bump!

I visited a dermatologist today to have it removed and it was a quick, easy, and painless procedure. The doctor also explained that scalp cysts are very common due to clogged hair follicles and that he sees patients every single day for this procedure, which made me feel better. (I guess that these types of cysts are also common on your back too, FYI.)

I officially declare myself worry-free (for today at least)! Who needs a therapist when you can simply have your worry bump lopped off and all worries drained from time to time?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Warning: A Ph.D. Program Can Make You Crazy

A girlfriend from my doctoral cohort who is in dissertation mode recently called me and said, "Girrrrllll....I think that I officially went crazy last week."

You see, she was standing in her kitchen, making lunch, when a mouse scurried close to her foot. Like most people, she screamed and jumped out of the way. But her initial, normal reaction quickly progressed to a full-fledged meltdown. She sobbed, hyperventilated, and nearly made herself sick. Her out-of-state boyfriend happened to call at that moment (some guys really have a knack for timing, don't they?) and he couldn't understand a word that she was saying. The boyfriend immediately called upon a friend to go check on her and the friend found her standing outside in her pajamas, still screaming and crying and causing a scene. The friend promptly looked for the mouse, went to the store and bought traps, and called an exterminator. My girlfriend bolted and didn't stay at her condo for over a week! She drove to campus and made a beeline to the counseling center for an emergency intake session, only to be told by the counselor, "It's not about the mouse. You know that, right?"

That's right. It's NOT about the mouse. It's about the mental hazing and abuse that occur in doctoral programs. It's about constantly getting the run-around from your advisor or being blown off by people who can be your best friend or your worst enemy (and you never know which it will be). It's about simple tasks taking ten times longer than they are supposed to because no one else operates on nor cares about your timeline. Sadly, I have known a number of people who divorced while pursuing a Ph.D. Graduate school can take a rough toll on significant others too. I think that all doctoral students endure at least one major meltdown at some point. There is a reason why less than 50% of all students who begin doctoral programs actually earn the degree.

Dear Readers, take heed! If you are thinking of pursuing a doctorate, know that your innermost fears and phobias can rear their ugly heads at the most unlikely times and and in unusual places. And be sure to watch out for scurrying mice in the kitchen.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My Second Career: Professional Letter of Recommendation Writer

It's begun. The request for letters of recommendation from a plethora of students, that is. When you work at a university and interact with students daily, one (unofficial) time-consuming task involves crafting perfectly-worded praises that accurately represent each individual's talents, skills, accomplishments, character, and potential without going completely overboard and sounding ridiculous. That's the ideal.. or you just throw together a statement of why each person should be duly considered for medical school, law school, veterinary school, dental school, graduate school, study abroad, local scholarships, national scholarships, fellowships, internships, co-ops, summer jobs, part-time jobs, full-time jobs, or other fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

I've written at least 150 letters of recommendation over the past seven years. I should charge students for this service - I could make a fortune! While I write letters consistently throughout the year, I am most swamped at the beginning of each semester. And it seems to be starting early this year as I've received three requests in only two days. Good Lord! Someday, I will run out of nice things to say about people.

Occasionally I rebel and refuse a student who really needs a letter. Normally, my denial is for one of two reasons:

1. Not enough notice. Any student who e-mails me at midnight and demands a letter within 1-2 days is automatically turned down just based on principle alone. I am at no one's beck and call. This situation actually occurs more frequently than you would imagine because many students ardently procrastinate. And believe it or not, this scenario mostly happens with students that I know well and actually really like. They think that my fondness for them will trump my annoyance at their disorganization/procrastination. Nope, sorry. Not with this chick.

2. Dislike. I just don't like some students and cannot, in good faith, say even one nice thing about them. This is rarely the case, but it has happened in the past. I teach two large lecture courses (150+ students/class), so I definitely deal with a few behavior issues each semester. It always amazes me that some students can act horrendously in my class for an entire semester and then have the effrontery to ask me for a letter of recommendation when the semester ends. I guess that other instructors dislike them also, and they turn to me, thinking that my generally nice personality means that I say yes to everything. Um, no. Do not confuse my jovialness and attempted professionalism in all situations for weakness. And if you're acting like a stinker in my class, I definitely know who you are. And that's not a good reason to be known. I normally respond to these outrageous requests with "I am not in a place to write a positive letter of recommendation for you at this time, so I suggest that you ask someone else on campus who can better speak to your skills and abilities...". I could take the passive-aggressive route and submit a negative letter of recommendation behind their backs, but I like to be up-front about my feelings so that they don't ask again. Plus, it would make me feel too guilty. God blessed me with an incredible conscience.

The students that I work with are all really talented and I believe that they would achieve great things without any letters at all, let alone one from me. But I do have one success story that renewed my faith in my abilities as a recommendation writer. One student told me that during a medical school interview, the interviewers described my letter of recommendation to her, asked her questions about some of the examples that I shared, and said that my letter about her really stood out from the letters for the other applicants. After she was accepted to their program, my student shared this story and thanked me for "getting her into med school!". She was actually one of my favorite students and she's simply amazing, so I will not take any credit for her accomplishments, but it made me feel good all the same.

I do get presents out of this from time to time from the most conscientious students, anywhere from candy and flowers to gift cards and personalized stationery. However, I think that I need to start holding out for cold, hard cash. I could use the supplemental income for my wardrobe.

Friday, January 11, 2008

7 Things You Might Not Know About Me

I've been tagged by my good friend and fellow blogger, Smiling Mama, so here's my contribution....maybe you'll learn something about me!

1. Growing up on a Midwest farm provided me the opportunity to enjoy some unforgettable and character-building summer activities: pulling weeds in my dad's bean fields, moving cattle from one pasture to another, and detassling corn with all of my other 14-year-old friends. My parents expected me to quit my detassling job after one day. I surprised them by not only working the whole season, but voluntarily going back for a second summer. These activities first hinted at my pertinacious tendencies.

2. I'm a voracious reader and never spend a day without a book. I even made time to read for pleasure throughout my Ph.D. program - I couldn't give it up. Out of 56 book club meetings over the past six years, I've only missed one (stupid stats class during June of 2005!), but I still read the book anyway.

3. I am the first person in my family to earn a bachelor's degree.

4. I worked as a hostess at Chi Chi's one summer during college. Yes, I had to wear the blousy white shirt and the bright, floral skirt. I looked lovely, let me tell you.

5. I will write a novel at some point in my life. It might not be good, but it will be finished.

6. I take a girls' trip with several friends from undergrad almost every year. Here are some of the places we've visited: New Orleans, Madison (WI), Athens (GA), Iowa City, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, South Florida, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Stamford (CT), New York City, DC, Chicago....

7. Brad and I are MUCH more alike than we are different. Seriously, sometimes I think that we are the male and female versions of the same person (except I'm not a sports nut like he is).

Next, I tag two friends: Di, who we all strive to emulate as the original blogger in our group and Amy, the newest one to succumb to this addiction...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Blood, Sweat, and Tears: I Run Through It All

When I arrived home this morning after my morning jaunt around the park, I noticed that I had a big red stain on my right tennis shoe. I didn't remember feeling any pain during my run, but sure enough, when I removed my shoe, the tip of my sock was drenched in blood. The skin around my middle toenail looked a bit irritated and evidently bled quite a bit, but I can't figure out what happened. I felt no pain at all and I only ran 3.5 miles this morning, a meager distance compared to the marathon that I completed and all of the long training runs leading up to it, all of which were blood-free, I might add (though I definitely paid my dues in sweat and tears on those runs). Even my many pairs of pointy-toed, high heels that I wear daily have never drawn blood. I think that my toe just woke up this morning and decided that it would have a bad day. You know, how people do sometimes.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Adios to Another College Football Season

I know that a number of women everywhere will join me in rejoicing that another college football season has finally ended. Thank you NCAA and BCS for finally releasing my husband. You kidnapped him once again, but thank you for sending him home. I'll put the ransom check in the mail very soon.

It's not that I dislike football or that I am against sports. I'm all for rallying behind your alma mater, watching games with friends, and keeping up with teams' records. In fact, I'm very proud of my team that had a phenomenal year by knocking off the undefeated and National Championship contender Ohio State. Too bad that the Illini tanked in the Rose Bowl, but at least they made it there!

But my sports-loving husband, like many others I'm sure, can never get enough football. He can literally watch it 12 hours a day on the weekends and not blink an eye. College football dictates our social schedule from late August through the end of the bowl games. We can never make plans on a Saturday until he knows the game times, and even if his team isn't playing, he usually insists on watching all of the big games of the week anyway! Normally that's where I draw the line, but I don't always get my way. I didn't mind Brad's obsession so much when I was in dissertation mode. In fact, I felt grateful that he was perfectly content in front of the tv all weekend while I monopolized the computer. But now that I'm done, well, we'll see.

Brad's love of sports extends beyond simply watching college football games during the season. ESPN comprises 95% of our viewing pleasure at home year-round, and this was actually before we entered the world of HDTV, so this statistic is likely to increase. I eat my breakfast every morning watching Mike and Mike in the Morning (which is actually a radio program except that ESPN televises it?? This has never made sense to me...). Have you heard of ESPN classic? This channel allows Brad to fill his football need throughout the year by watching reruns of games played decades ago. Thank God for Direct TV/tivo. This system allows Brad to pause or rewind live tv in case I happen to make a noise or walk in front of the tv during a big play (which happens often in our house) .

Whenever I express my frustration about Brad watching so much sports, he counters my arguments by saying, "Let me remind you that you knew this about me before you married me. This is what you signed up for when you said 'yes'." He's got a point there. I also know that I do love that "guy's guy" quality about him. I would probably think that he was weird if he wasn't into sports.

I'm still glad when the end of college football season rolls around every year though. But who I am really kidding? I know that I'll still compete with the NFL playoffs, college basketball, March Madness, golf, NBA playoffs, baseball, and then college football begins all over again. Thank goodness that he's not really into hockey or soccer.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Don't Underestimate the Power of Park Walkers

A couple of years ago, Brad and I decided that it might be fun to take up running. Well, maybe not exactly fun, but it would get our lazy butts out of bed some mornings, give us more energy, and in general, help us feel more productive and healthy. Some races have really motivated us to train consistently, others, not so much. We're attempting to reestablish a training routine to prepare for our first race of 2008, so today is the 3rd day in a row that we've braved the elements to add some miles to our shoes. Hallelujah!

On weekdays, we awaken around 5:30 a.m. to take a short run before work. For the sake of convenience, we often run laps around a park located right next to where we live. This park is home to a number of runners, walkers, dog owners, and the like. Even hours before sunrise, you can normally find at least a few other people out and about.

Last spring, an elderly gentleman who often walks laps around the park in the mornings unexpectedly befriended Brad and began yelling words of encouragement every time Brad passed him on the sidewalk. "Good morning, Brad!" "Looking good, buddy!" "Keep going! You can do it!" Smitty quickly enlisted his friends and walking partners Joyce and Arelia to jump on the encouragement bandwagon, so Brad enjoyed his own personal fan club during every run.

Of course, I immediately questioned my hubby, "Why don't they cheer for me? I need the support more than you do! I'm dying out there!"

Granted, Brad and I run separately around the park because we run at different paces, so they didn't intentionally exclude me. But they weren't noticeably befriending any of the other runners - my hubby was the only lucky one and I just couldn't figure it out. Were they in awe of his speed? His form? His red hair? I obsessed for months about how I could gain entrance to this exclusive group until Brad finally introduced me to them this fall one day after a run on our walk home. On subsequent runs, after he reminded them that his wife was out there too, they'd cheer for me when I passed by. At last - success!

Here's the rub, though. They can NEVER remember who I am! It normally takes at least 2-3 times of me passing them before they begin their pleasantries with me. This morning, I swear, it was like they had never seen me before! They acted like I was a complete stranger when I bellowed a big "good morning!" when I first ran by. First, they have to realize that Brad's out there, and second, he has to joke with them about trying to catch his wife (because he gives me a head start - yes, I'm pathetically slow) before they catch on and cheer for me too.

Oh well, they're old. At least they are faithful to one of us. And believe me, we'll take the encouragement wherever we can get it!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Plug for a Pro

I've already shared one story about my New Year's Eve festivities, but there's another. So, a total of five couples stayed at the bed and breakfast inn that I described in my previous post. Two of the couples were older, they definitely had grandchildren, and they were just a riot. The other two couples (besides Hubby and me) were around our age, definitely 30-somethings and were very cool people. Before dinner, all five couples hung out in the little pub because it was loaded with drinks and appetizers. After dinner, the couples immediately self-segregated; the oldies planted themselves by the fire in the living room and the youngins made a beeline back to the pub. As soon as we sequestered ourselves in the pub, we laughed about how the young couples immediately banded together (I'm sure that the oldies were saying the same thing and breathing a sigh of relief).

I soon discovered that one of the other women is a freelance writer and she authors a shopping blog on washingtonpost.com. I highly recommend that you check it out every Tuesday and Thursday. The blog isn't about fashion, but more practical shopping-related stuff, like, whether toilet paper is really cheaper at costco or how to make the most of post-holiday sales. Seriously, Tania knows her stuff and the more hits her blog gets, the better for her! From an amateur blogger to a pro, this is my plug for her...

I also give Tania kudos as she is due with her 2nd baby on 1/21/08, yet she stayed up with us on New Year's Eve until almost 1 a.m.! She was amazing and even had a little champagne toast with us at midnight!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

(Some) Kids Like Me More Than I Like Them

I'm definitely not anti-kids or anything, but I've never been one to seek opportunities to spend lots of time with children. I rarely babysat in high school and when I did, the time could not pass fast enough. I have younger siblings and other relatives, but I've never been characterized as very "motherly". But, every now and then, I encounter a small child who for some unknown reason, becomes absolutely fascinated with me. Out of a group of ten or more adoring adults, the child will attach himself or herself to the one who is probably the least adoring - ME! I met my latest fan over New Year's Eve, and I thought you'd enjoy the story.

After my dissertation defense, my hubby surprised me with a New Year's Eve getaway to the bed and breakfast inn where we stayed over six years ago the weekend that we became engaged. It's a beautiful place only about 90 minutes from where we live and we've been dying to return to it for years now. We arrived this past Sunday to settle in before New Year's Eve the following day. Upon arrival, the innkeepers introduced us to their five-year-old granddaughter, Alex, who was staying with them for the week. Alex "helped" to check us in and show us around. We saw Alex throughout that day, but didn't really talk to her much other than to say hello. I caught her peeking at us a few times from behind furniture or doors, but I didn't really think anything of it. The next day, Hubby and I were hanging out in the private Irish Pub (that the Inn is famous for) and Alex sauntered in to keep us company. Well, she really just sat and watched us. She did talk to us when we asked her questions. When we got up to leave, she quickly said, "Where are you going?" and I think that she was on the verge of inviting herself back to our room with us, but her good manners took over and she refrained. She really is a very well-behaved little girl.

Well, when we came downstairs for the New Year's Eve candlelight dinner later that evening, much to my surprise some of the other guests immediately said, "Oh! You must be the blond lady that Alex plans to sit with at dinner tonight!" Really? This was news to me. I thought that I was there to have a romantic dinner with my hubby! Unbeknownst to me, Alex became my #1 fan. I guess that she had talked about "the blond lady" all afternoon to her grandmother and had announced to the rest of the guests that I would be the lucky one to sit with her at dinner that night. The time came to move into the dining room for dinner. She immediately went to a table that had three chairs, hoping that Hubby and I would sit with her. I bypassed it and went to a table for two, only to quickly cave when her eyes welled up with tears and she seemed on the verge of a fit. To her grandparents' (the innkeepers) credit, they were absolutely appalled that she was intruding on their guests' romantic dinner and immediately tried to come to the rescue. But Hubby and I told Alex to pull up a chair and join us for dinner. It seemed to mean the world to her and it was only a small sacrifice for us. The innkeepers appreciated our gesture and thanked us numerous times. In retrospect, maybe we should have bargained for a discount on our bill!

So, Hubby and I spent our New Year's Eve dinner trying to make conversation with a five-year old (which is easier said than done). The four other couples in attendance were ALL parents, so it's ironic that Alex zeroed in on the one couple that does not have children. Maybe she sensed that we have untapped reservoirs of attention and decided to use this knowledge to her advantage. Little did Hubby know that he would be competing for my attention with a five-year old. However, she wore herself out and retired around 9:30 p.m., so we were able to ring in 2008 with adults, thank goodness!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

I'm Free!

Today marks the first day of a school-free year for me, my first in years. Yes friends, I recently completed a doctoral program and I've lived to tell about it. Or maybe I won't tell too much about it (at least, not using this venue) as doctoral students tend to spend sooooo much time commiserating that I'm really anxious to leave that part of the experience behind. But I've dreamed of writing this "I'm Free!" post for years, so I am thrilled to have finally arrived at this point in life. Happy New Year!

Here are the top five most undesirable tasks that I can kiss goodbye now that I'm DONE:
1. Getting up at 5 a.m. (or earlier) on Saturdays and Sundays to write papers while my hubby sleeps
2. Going to bed at 1 or 2 a.m. (on weeknights) because I'm busy writing (and I'm an early-to-bed kind of girl, so this one was particularly tough for me)
3. Literally stalking my advisor and dissertation committee when they fall off the face of the Earth
4. Gently avoiding the question "so, when will you be done?" from those who really mean well, but don't understand that that dreaded question is akin to "so, do you have a boyfriend?" to a single girl or "so, when will you get engaged?" to a couple that has been dating for any period of time or "so, when are you having kids?" to a couple as soon as the wedding ceremony ends
5. Watching people's eyes glaze over as I try to give a very brief description of my dissertation to polite people who ask about it (although, I completely understand... my eyes would glaze over too)

Here are the things that I am most looking forward to doing with my new free time:
1. Hanging out with my hubby and reminding him that his endless hours of uninterrupted TV time (while I do school work) are over:)
2. Sleeping for 8+ hours per night
3. Reading lots of books for pleasure
4. Writing for pleasure (e.g., this blog) and not for academic purposes (I just might burn my APA manual)
5. Getting hooked on some TV shows as I haven't really watched TV in over three years (and we've recently entered the world of HDTV)- any suggestions?
6. See #1

Thanks for joining me as I enter this new stage in life!