Thursday, January 22, 2015

Elvis has left the building

How do I begin a post for this blog when my brain is scattered to the farthest thin edges of my perceptual reality of existence?  If there were such thing as a cosmic vacuum extractor, I could use it to suck back enough gray matter to think clearly with, perhaps.  Sadly, the only alternative is to will myself to stand up to my natural tendency to evaporate, and carry on as any normal human being would.  Yes, on the outside, I am a normal human.  On the inside…let’s just say Elvis has left the building. 

Our house has fallen beyond its usual state of ruin.  Christmas decorations are still waiting for me to pack up and put away.  The process is started – we’ve had boxes stacked in the hallway for weeks.  Last weekend, deChristmasfication was on my task list to get done.  I dragged up more empty boxes up from the basement last Friday evening after work.  End of story.  No follow through, or perhaps it’s a matter of extended procrastination.  That’s how I roll.  The Christmas tree, the boxes, and me…all collecting dust.

The start of the semester was hard last time; it’s even harder this time with two classes.  I expected the online students to struggle with getting started, but the face-to-face people really have no excuse, and they are struggling almost as much.  We have met three times.  They’ve had three opportunities to get my full attention to help with their issues.  I get to class early and I stay after for anyone who wants help.  Few want help.  My students had a deadline for two assignments at midnight last night.  These things were assigned a week ago, and I’ve made two explicit announcements about the due date.  Last night around 7PM, I had 10 or so emails from students wanting help.  At 10PM, around 30 more emails came in.  At 11:30PM, I just signed off and went to bed.  Obviously they need some serious hand-holding. 

Some of the students in my class should never have been allowed to enroll.  They are supposed to be up-to-speed on basic computer literacy and ability to use simple features of Microsoft Office.  I have students who don’t know how to upload/download files, how to rename files, or how to find files on their computers.  They don’t understand that Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer are two different things.  That makes a course like mine too much for them, especially for an online student.  One student doesn’t even understand what a table is.  We are just learning Word right now….can you imagine how much trouble she will have when we get to pivot tables in Excel?  Or for that matter, anything in Excel and Access?  I don’t see success in her future with this class.
For now I’m writing instructive emails with screenshots to help my students.  It’s taking too long with so many students.  I just bought Camtasia so I can make short narrated videos to show them what to do.  It’s on my task list to learn to use it, along with undecorating for Christmas, and cleaning bathrooms, decluttering the basement, and …
A month ago, I asked my supervisor if working part-time is an option for me.  If this were an option for me, it would make building a portfolio of adjunct teaching jobs easier to do.  I could shrink my hours at my real job as I grow my teaching load.  He said he’d get back to me with an answer.  This week, he gave me his answer.  He said to ask if I can work part-time when I’m ready to work part-time.  His answer was, in fact, exactly what I expected…no answer.  So, it’s time for me to launch a job search.  When I have a good offer on the table, I’ll see if I can continue on part-time at my real job (where I can make way more money than I’ll ever make teaching).  If they say yes (I believe they will), it’s going to cost them much more to keep me than if they’d made a decision up front.  They can afford to pay for causing me inconvenience, and they’ll be feeling the pressure when they get two weeks’ notice from me.

An editor of a small, local newspaper contacted me earlier this week.  He wants to write a story about me for his paper.  I agreed to answer his questionnaire because really, there are several universities in this immediate area.  Just maybe, the right person will see that I’m trying to make a career change.  On a more personal level though, I don’t really like exposing myself to the world…but OK, it’s probably no more than the county, but still…I wrote answers to his questions, and who knows what the item will say about me after he’s done with all his editing.  It’s not that I have something to hide, but more that I like invisibility.

But yes, it must be that now is not the time to embrace anonymity.  I must project a competent, go-getter persona so as to line up some teaching I can tell my employer (if need be) to take this job and shove it.  It's up the ante or up yours, fellas, which will it be?   

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

rut race

There was not enough caffeine on the planet today.  I was up WAY too late last night (er…this morning).  I had to prepare to fill 75 minutes of student-time with something worthwhile.  It was on my list to start on first thing when I got home (right after (1) deposit computer bag at my desk, (2) give Gracie some loving scratches, (3) take off my coat and hang it in closet, (4) hang up Someone’s coat, (5) change my clothes, (6) start a load of laundry, and (7) bring in the mail and newspaper and sort through it for anything that’s important).  *sigh*   It’s sad that my life is that routine, but it is. 

Someone never puts his winter coat on a hanger.  It’s so F’ing annoying.  He likes that it annoys me.  If he leaves it on the floor, or it falls off from wherever he tossed it to the floor, I make a point to step on it.   It’s especially gratifying if I can do this in front of him so he will say “Damn it, don’t walk on my coat”.

So…I sat down to work and found my inbox overflowing with student emails:  students having trouble with this or that, students having questions, the department head telling me she overrode my class-size limits and added more students.  That’s OK.  Based on last semester, more students will be dropping out than were added in.  Some students are already making excuses for why their work will be late, even though nothing is due until next Tuesday. 

I answered all the emails while munching popcorn for dinner.  Now that the girls have moved back to school, I’m back to making microwave popcorn for dinner most nights.  It’s a good hot meal with no dirty dishes resulting….what could be more perfect?  Emails were done and then I decided to take Miss Gracie for her daily walk.  It’s the least I can do for her, and it’s all the exercise I get lately (which is really sad).  A brisk walk in the cold night energizes me, so it’s a good thing when I will be working late.

After our walk, I sat down to work.  It was nearly 11 PM by then.  I was deep into it when the phone rang at just a few minutes past midnight.  Caller ID informed me that it was my alcoholic brother.  Oh gee.  I shouldn’t have picked up, but I did.  He was wasted and rambling on and on.  He told me that our father’s cousin called him – I reminded him she has been dead for at least 20 years.  He said he knew that, and that’s why he wanted to tell me because it was so remarkable to hear from her.  He’s seeing and talking to dead people again.  I cut him off and told him I had to get back to work.  He had no idea he was calling in the middle of the night.   

I left work early today, using vacation time to teach my class this afternoon.  It went smoother today than our first class Monday.  I had something concrete to show them rather just rambling about what we’re going to be doing for the next 16 weeks.  Afterwards, I drove home, repeated steps 1 through 7 (but skipped step 6 today), walked Gracie, made popcorn, answered emails through dinner, and now…SOON….it’s to bed with me.  Sometimes the ending is the very best part of the day.  

Monday, January 12, 2015

career transition milestone

Today was sort of a milestone for me.  I conducted my first ever face-to-face class with a section of live students (as opposed to an online section of students).  It was…what...stressful for me to say the least.  I can only imagine how bad it was for them.  Nobody wants to listen to somebody like me ramble.  Unfortunately, I did a lot of rambling today, even though I came organized with an itinerary and estimated time for each topic so everything would be covered.  As much as I hate talking, obviously some of my students are as bad.  Our class is small (13 students), so we went around the room and introduced ourselves.  A few people talked for several minutes, but some said no more than their names and majors.  It’s OK; they’ll have lots of chances to “talk” in our online discussion forums.

It all went smoothly enough though.  The university was having technical troubles with email and Blackboard off and on all day.  A few times I was trying to show something to the class and the network froze up or Blackboard crashed.  So it goes with technology – it’s wonderful when it works.  The fact that things were NOT working as planned gave us an important talking point.  Students will always have at least 3 days’ notice on any assignment and all assignments must be turned in electronically; therefore they should not wait until the last hours before the due date expires to start working.  You just never know when the Internet will crap out.  My students nodded in agreement, but nobody is perfect (we all know).    
I can’t say I really enjoyed standing up in front of the room and leading the class for an hour.  We were supposed to meet for 75 minutes, but after an hour there was just nothing left to talk about.  Some students (younger ones) were out the door immediately.  Several of the older students wanted to linger and chat.  That was fine.

For some people, the gift of gab is inborn.  My first husband was that way; my current husband is also a chatterbox, but to a lesser degree.  A friend once posited that my husbands were attracted to me because they liked to talk and wanted a wife who didn’t interrupt.  Perhaps there is some truth to it.  When I was young, I rarely said anything unless I had to.  If I had a dime for every time somebody asked me if a “cat got my tongue”, I’d have been a millionaire by the time I reached 18.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

hiems desperatio?

Happy New Year, World.  It seems rather trite and even futile to hope that things will be better in 2015 than they were in 2014.  With all the crime, terrorism, and human evilness that have become so routine, not to mention natural disasters and man-made disasters, all we can really do is hope and pray that we and our loved ones get to continue on relatively unscathed by all the uncontrollable chaos that goes on around us.

Christmas came and went.  No, there was no cream candy made.  No, nobody got a Christmas card from me unless I was also mailing a gift card with it.  No, I haven’t taken down any decorations yet.  No, nothing is ready for the two classes I start teaching in about 10 days.  Motivation did not happen.  I’ve been a slug in all aspects of my life lately. 

KYLady (AKA mollusca gastropoda soleolifera testacellidae)

On a happier note, there is good news about my cancerous face (mentioned most recently here).  The doctor took a quick look and declared it to be pre-cancer.  She froze it which was a bit scary but didn’t hurt.  It made an ugly blister immediately.  The nasty scab dropped off on the 11th day after she did the job.  There’s still a red spot that hopefully will fade, but it feels smooth.  With any luck, that took care of it and nothing will come back.

Christmas was lovely.  Sarah came home Christmas Eve evening and spent the night with us.  We opened presents together Christmas morning and visited until she had to drive back and I had to start making food to take to Someone’s family’s dinner.  It was a nice holiday, but once the New Year holiday is over, it’s very dreary to think there are no more holidays for me until Easter…my company gives us Good Friday off, but that’s about three long months away.  As much as I hate winter, I’ve no desire to move to a place where there isn’t winter.  Spring and fall are wonderful.  Winter is OK if there are mildish days mixed in and the sun shines on weekends.  We used to have very mild winters here in the Ohio River Valley, but the last two have been ferocious.

Winter window

Most people saved vacation for the weeks around Christmas and New Year Day.  Not me.  I burned up most of my vacation this year doing college visits with the girls, going to Emily’s basketball games and Erin’s tennis matches, and attending training for my teaching job.  No regrets.  It’s kind of nice being at work when nobody else is around and all is quiet.

So now, it’s time to put the blog away and get serious about getting my classrooms built.  There’s no time left for procrastination.  Today is the day it gets done.  Do or die.  

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

sugar buzz

How very strange not to be racing around so close to Christmas.  It’s been many years since I’ve been so caught up with things before Christmas.  Perhaps it’s been since the time before Sarah was born that I’ve had so much spare time so close to Christmas.  Children take up a tremendous amount of time and energy, but that is how it is and I have no regrets about spending too much time on my kids.  In fact, my regrets are all about not appreciating them more when they were little and spending more time with them than I did.

I do still have things to do…a few small gifts to wrap, prepare some cards with cash to give the mail-lady (who is not a good worker) and the man who delivers our morning paper, mail some Christmas cards, and make food to take to Someone’s parents’ house for the big Someone’s-family-dinner on Christmas day.  Oh…and I suppose that means I need to fit in a trip to the grocery store.  The cards will arrive after the holiday, but better late than never, right?

I might just bring the marble slab up from the basement and try to make a batch or two of cream candy.  It’s a very big deal around here.  Most people know what it is, but it’s hard to come by because few people make it anymore.  There is a Kentucky candy maker that makes and markets it commercially, but it’s very expensive (about $12 for a very small container).

My grandmother used it make it every winter.  She made tons of it to give away as Christmas gifts (ok, admittedly that’s a bit of exaggeration).  She usually made it over the course of several weeks, making a batch or two every day while we were gone to school.  It’s hard work because you have to pull it for a very long time, and cutting it is no easy chore.  Hers was the best though, always very striped and she used dye to make it pretty colors of pink, green, yellow.  She also made chocolate and sometimes flavored some to be almond or coconut.  A tin of Mom’s cream candy was a gift everyone was happy to receive.  She was my grandmother, but my brothers and I called her Mom because we lived with her since we were toddlers/babies.    

During World War II, my grandfather was off in the Navy and my grandmother and her son (my dad) lived with her sisters.  One sister, Louise, was not married then and had no kids.  The other sister, Ruth, was a widow with three young children.  My dad and his cousin were the same age and became like brothers, he said.  All three women had jobs (two in shoe factories and one in a grocery store), but their schedules were such that there was always somebody home to babysit the kids.  Money was very scarce because women were paid significantly lower wages than men.  The ladies pooled their sugar ration coupons and bought sugar to make cream candy.  They took orders from people all over town who bought it for Christmas gifts.  For large orders, their customers had to give them sugar coupons because they couldn’t buy enough sugar to fill the order without extra coupons.

They made candy on cold, clear days on their back porch.  Low humidity was necessary for the candle to cream.  They kept their marble slabs outside because the colder the slab, the better.  The candy is super hot when it’s taken off the stove, then poured out onto a cold, buttered slab.  Just as soon as it’s cool enough to touch, you rake it together into a rope, pick it up, and start pulling it.  And you pull until the cows come home…or until it’s no longer shiny and it becomes too stiff to pull.  Then you lay it down, grab scissors, and cut it as quickly as possible.  The candy looks like little striped pillows.  When it dries out, it creams, and the stripes become less noticeable.

Yes, I have made the stuff a dozen times or so since my grandmother became unable to make it.  It’s hard work.  I usually end up with very sore hands after making a batch.  I get blisters from pulling the hot candy and from cutting it.  My grandmother did not like me to be in the kitchen with her when she was herself.  When she got older and dementia started setting in, she became kinder, and even invited me to come help her.  She made double batches using two slabs, and together we pulled the candy.  Invariably, my rope would become a mess of hot, slippery strings.  She would watch me struggle, then switch with me.  She could take my mess and make it into a perfect rope, while I sometimes took her perfect rope and lost control of it.  There’s definitely an art to making it look pretty and presentable.   

So when the batch just fails for whatever reason, it’s not all lost (well, usually).  Sometimes it just stays chewy like taffy.  Sometimes it creams suddenly before you can cut it.  Then you have ugly crumbly pieces, but it still tastes good.  If you cook it too long, you end up with hard candy.  It all tastes good; it’s just not what you hoped to end up with.

After my grandmother had full-blown-no-doubt-about-it Alzheimer's, I brought her a sample of cream candy I'd made.  She didn't say anything, but took a piece out of the tin and eyeballed it closely.  She frowned and studied it, turning it over to view it from all angles, then stuffed it down in the chair cushion.  I didn't take offense; she did that with food all the time after her mind was gone.

Second from left - my grandmother.  Far right, Ruth.  Center, Louise.  My grandmother and Louise both had Alzheimers before death.   

Sunday, December 21, 2014


I should go to bed.  I don’t want to.  As soon as my head hits the pillow, it’ll be Monday morning.  Never you mind that I’ve already planned to take Wednesday off (which means a 5-day weekend with Christmas!!!!), but I’m dreading tomorrow.  I’m going to a new dermatologist about a spot on my face that is most probably skin cancer.  Again.  Damn it.  No doubt my face will be all chewed up by some chemical or cut on like Frankenstein when I have to go into a classroom and stand up in front of a bunch of strangers on January 12th.  Great.  I’m hoping whatever happens, it can be done tomorrow, and hopefully not the 3-weeks of toxic chemical to my face.  I hope she can just cut/burn/freeze the spot somehow.  We will see.

I drove over and visited Sarah today.  She has a fabulous Christmas tree, and the perfect house for a fabulous Christmas tree because the ceilings are tall.  I couldn’t stay long because my task this weekend was to bake cookies for my brothers, and I had several batches to bake tonight.

Beautiful Christmas tree

It’s a long story.  Neither of my brothers are married.  Alcoholic brother has no girlfriend and little brother’s girlfriend doesn’t cook much.  Little brother asked his daughter to make cookies for him this Christmas, in particular Mexican wedding cookies that our grandmother used to bake nearly every Christmas.  Well, his daughter just had her first baby a few weeks ago.  She texted me and asked if I had the recipe.  I looked one up online and sent it to her.  She said, “Hell!  I don’t have time to make these damn cookies.”  Of course she doesn’t!  If she has any spare time at all, she’s probably sleeping.  My brother has no clue what being a new mother is like.  I told her not to worry, I’d make cookies for him.

So, little brother stopped over Friday evening.  He asked if I was baking cookies for him.  I assured him I would get some to him before Christmas.  He said, “While you’re at it, I’d really like some chocolate chip ones too.”  That’s my brother!  Anyway, I baked the Mexican and chocolate chip cookies, and then Someone pouted because they were not for him.  Being the good house slave that I am, I baked a double-batch of his favorite, oatmeal butterscotch chip cookies.  Of these, I set aside a dozen to add to my brothers’ boxes, and put a dozen on the platter for the girls and their friends to eat.  Someone will eat the rest before Christmas, no doubt.  He eats cookies a dozen at a time.

The empty platter...
Had cookies on it for about 20 minutes, until girls and their friends found them.  

I will fix a small box of cookies for alcoholic brother.  He really doesn’t eat, but the homeless guy who he lets live in his house might eat some.  Perhaps I shouldn’t call him the homeless guy anymore…he’s been living in my brother’s spare bedroom for nearly 6 months.  Rent-free.  Homeless guy has many of the same problems my brother has, but he’s been able to call an ambulance three times for my brother, so it’s probably good he’s there.  

In other exciting news, my Christmas cactus has eight very tiny pink buds.  I have done nothing to encourage it to bloom, but apparently the short days and light from the windows have enticed it to reward me with reason to hope it may bloom.

Look close to see the tiny pink buds 
I've been busy wrapping presents.  We are nearly ready for Christmas here at the KYLady homestead.  Molly loves to rattle around in the ribbon, tags, and boxes while I'm trying to wrap gifts.  She always finds a way to be in my way.  Perhaps I'll mail out some Christmas cards this week.  Maybe.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

ending well

I’ve not written much lately.  There’s been nothing to say, or perhaps it’s more that I’ve not been in the mood to say anything.  With Christmas little more than a week away and so much to do, reflecting on all that’s going on in the world is too much effort. 

However…yesterday was a shitful day.  A bad day can just slap you across the face, like “HEY!!  Wake up!!”  Yesterday pretty much did that to me.  It started off with me oversleeping and racing out the door only to find my car with a flat tire.  No time to deal with that, so I was going to drive the old van to work, but the keys weren’t in the expected place.  After 20 minutes of frantic searching, I found both sets keys buried on Someone’s dresser under a pile of papers.   Later that evening, Someone denied that he left the keys there, even though clearly he was the last one who drove the van.  His argument was completely untenable given that children NEVER drive the van and are mostly never home anymore, and I guaran-damn-tee I would never put anything on or near his messy dresser.   Evidently, elves hid the keys from me. 

Fast-forward to 4:30 PM, and I realized I forgot to order birthday cakes for Erin and Emily.  Yes, I could bake cakes but bakery cakes are so much prettier and more convenient.  Don’t judge me.  I wanted to place the order in person because I couldn’t remember what size to order and I wanted to see some before making a decision.  To beat closing time, I left work early in a rush, sped to the bakery, and ordered two cakes just in time.  Whew!  So finally heading for home, I realized the van was running on fumes.  Great!  Someone ran out all the gas.  I stopped for gas which is no chump-change for a mini-van.  Gas prices are low right now, but it still cost me $50+ to fill up.    

Alright, so I got home and the car in the driveway reminded me there was a flat tire to deal with.  By then it’s dark, sleeting, and blustery cold.  Also, UPS delivered a package that afternoon and it was 
nowhere to be found.  I checked the garage and all around the porch.  I checked with neighbors and then blamed Gracie.  She has been known to take packages off the porch to chew up in the nether regions of the yard.  I got a flashlight and slogged around the entire yard: no package or remains of a package.  Then I start thinking a thief may have taken it.  Totally bummed out!!  The package contained a birthday present for the girls and some Christmas gifts.  Anyway, my next step was to drag out a little portable battery jumper\air compressor and re-inflate the tire so I could take it to the tire-place today.  It took about 30 minutes, but it worked!  That was definitely a blessing because I was not looking forward to jacking the car up and taking the tire off in the cold miserable darkness.  (As it turned out, they found two screws and a nail in the tire today at the repair place.  Three plugs for $21 and it’s back on the road…but now I wonder if the other tires have hardware in them that hasn’t caused a problem yet). 

So last night, by the time the tire was unflat and the compressor put away, I was frozen and wet.  My socks and shoes were sopping and my feet were numb from cold.  I came in and changed into warm, fuzzy pajamas, fixed a cup of hot tea, and went to my desk to do some work.  Behold!!!  There was the missing package laying in my chair.  Emily had stopped by, picked it up off the porch, and placed it in my chair which is usually the first place I go when I come home from work.  No doubt she knew I'd find it there.  All’s well that ends well, and so it was yesterday.

Happy birthday to my youngest ladies.  Today they are 19 years old.  Their boyfriends came over to celebrate with us.  All in all, it's been a very quiet evening after a good day.  

Erin is 32 minutes older than Emily.

Gracie almost got Erin's cake while we were taking this photo.