Tuesday, February 24, 2015

making do

This cold weather is playing hell with the utility infrastructure around here.  The ice last weekend caused trees to snap and fall on power lines.  Many people are still without power.  Fortunately, my house still has electricity and cable/Internet.  What we don’t have is water.  The freezing cold causes old, brittle main water lines to break.  We’ve had no water since yesterday afternoon.  Some people I know have not had water since last week.  Now we’re to the point where it’s difficult to find bottled water in stores. 



To make do, I’ve been collecting snow from the yard and melting it on the stove in a big pot.  It’s fine to flush toilets with and wash up in.  We’re using paper plates and plastic silverware until we have water again.  Someone is not adjusting well to the inconvenience.  He wants us to just use our dishes and let them pile up until we have none left.  I’m sure that’s a fine solution for someone who has no intentions to clean dirty dishes that have been sitting around for days (or it could extend into weeks…who knows)?  He’s a city boy.  He doesn’t like camping because he doesn’t have conveniences of home.  I like conveniences, but I can survive without them (well most of them….I get cranky without Internet access). 

Growing up, I spent lots of time at my great-grandparents’ farm in the country.  They didn’t get indoor plumbing until I was 9 years old or so.  Until they remodeled a bedroom into a bathroom, and even after that, they had an outhouse at the far corner of their yard.  It really was a horrible thing and I hated to use it.  You may have seen pictures of outhouses with a moon or star cut in the door to let light in.  Their outhouse had no such feature.  The only light that came in was the tiny rays that leaked through the cracks between the boards.  At night, you took a flashlight with you.  In summer, the stench was disgusting.  Giant spiders made their homes in there because outhouses, by their nature, attract flies.  I remember looking up once and seeing a bat hanging upside down in the corner.  I couldn’t exit quickly enough.

Erin's bat

       
We were instructed to make lots of noise before opening the door and to inspect the floor and look up at the rafters before entering.  The neighbor got bit by a copperhead in his outhouse.  He startled the snake by opening the door and plowing in before giving any wildlife a chance to scamper.  My grandmother told me that once when she was young, she was sitting “on the throne” and a snake fell off the rafter onto her back and into the hole below.  That was a story I definitely didn’t need to hear.  I always worried about snakes being down in the hole and finding a way up.
 
Needless to say, I never lingered in the outhouse…not intentionally anyway.  One of my older brother’s greatest pleasures in life was to lock me in the outhouse, corncrib, or shed.  Really, being locked into any place that was dark or had threat of snakes and spiders would get a rise out of me, just what he wanted and I never disappointed him in those circumstances.  I confess, I’ve done my fair share of purposefully-mean things to my brothers.  They deserved it so I have no guilt about things I did or caused intentionally to happen to them.

brothers

For now, we have plenty of clean snow on the ground.  The temperature is supposed to warm up 10 degrees above freezing this weekend.  I sure hope we have our water service restored by then.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

winter slam

We were slammed this week.  Mother Nature dumped about 14 inches of snow on us in less than two days.  We’re still digging out of that while the temperature has plummeted to well below zero – very, very unusually cold for this part of Kentucky.  Today, the sun was brilliant and the world looked bright and clean out my window, but it’s bitterly cold.  Molly did not go out this morning and Gracie only went out long enough to do her business and wanted right back in.  It’s just too cold for man and domesticated beast to be outside.  Our roads are finally becoming decent to drive on in most places, but we have another front moving through tonight.  The weatherman has promised us another 6-8 inches of the white stuff overnight.  I’m ready for winter to be over, but that snow tomorrow is supposed to be wet.  This old lady might just go out and build us a fabulous snow-creature, perhaps a large snow-dragon or snow-insect of some sort.  We will see.

View from my office window this morning


I had to teach my class Wednesday afternoon.  The university was closed Monday for a holiday, and then closed every day this week except Wednesday for snow or too cold.  Wednesday morning, four of my fourteen students in the class emailed me and said they were unable to attend because of slick roads or being unable to get out of their driveways.  That was OK because it was no easy task getting my car to the main road and to the office that day.  Many of my students commute from the boonies (i.e. rural areas).  As it turned out, only three students came to class.  We had a very informal, fun class.  All three had already completed the week’s project and scored 100% on it, so it was mostly review and talking about when or why they would want to use some of the things they did in the project.  It’s interesting that the three students who came are top students.  Perhaps they are top students because they are so dedicated to being good students.

I finally got Camtasia and SnagIt loaded onto my PC.  I’ve used SnagIt at work every day for years to create documentation or to help my end-users with their problems when a picture really is worth 1,000 words, but the software I bought is like the Cadillac SnagIT.  It’s incredibly awesome and has all sorts of graphic add-ons and effects.  I love it!  The version we have at work is complete shit in comparison.  I wouldn’t have purchased it at all for myself, but it was bundled with Camtasia and the price was so attractive that I gave in to impulse.  I knew it would be better than Paint (what I used up until now at home), but my expectations were fantastically exceeded.  Thank you TechSmith.



Let me tell you about my Camtasia adventure.  On first site when I opened it, it was like “oh…this looks complicated.”  Then I watched about 15 minutes of quick training overview videos conveniently linked to right from the main menu, and then I was in business.  I actually made a usable 30-second training video to show students how to sum numbers in a column using the Quick Access Toolbox in Excel.  I even made it ADA compliant (meaning it has closed captions for hearing impaired).  I edited the video to remove the “oh shit” that I interjected inappropriately when Molly jumped on my back and dug her claws into my shoulder, and to delete the muttering at the end when I fumbled around to stop recording.  Tonight, I might insert a slide at the front that identifies me and the video’s topic.  It’s great!  But I can do better.  For one thing, I need to zoom in before I hit the record button.  I only used a few cells for the demo, and I didn’t use anything on Excel’s ribbon.  There’s no need to confuse people by showing them more than what they need to see. 

Someone has no regard for the joy I get from learning to use a software tool for something useful.  I made him watch my finished video.  He thought the closed captions just happened automatically and correctly without me doing anything.  HA!  His response was, “hm…boring.  Is this what your students have to learn?  I’m glad I’m not in your class.”  Hey, me too!!  I am with Someone the way the kids are with me.  When they see me trying to set the DVR to record something, most likely they’ll snatch the remote from my hands and just do it for me.  When Someone is on the computer and trying to do some simple something he can’t figure out, I try to be patient with him, but it’s really, REALLY hard to maintain that professional cool I have with my clients at work.



It's the weekend at last; the days I live for.  Despite the wicked forecast and deaf to my pleading, both Erin and Emily came home for the weekend.  I love having them home, but already I'm worried about how they will get back to their respective campuses with so much snow on the way.  But oh well, what's done is done.  The future is not here yet.  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

hair today, gone tomorrow

It’s funny how my hair can just be there, all inconspicuous and no trouble at all for several months at a time, and then suddenly it becomes an alien enemy combatant.  As of two days ago, I’ve been fighting my hair all day long.  Today is the same, and surely it will remain this way until Monday when it gets cut.  It’s entirely my own fault for not scheduling haircuts more frequently.  I just tend to ignore things until they become a problem…like now.  The dry winter air creates a mess of static.  I can shake my head and hear my hair crackle, but I don’t do it often because it makes the static even worse.  Conditioner helps, but it’s not a cure-all.  Even Someone, who rarely notices anything, asked last night what was up with my hair.  It must be really bad.


Curriculum Vitae, aka CV, aka nightmare.  Having worked in business my whole life and being still very new to the world of academia, I submitted my CV to a consulting company that specializes in helping lame-ass people like me find teaching jobs.  They reviewed it (for a nominal fee) and gave me feedback to improve it.  Yes indeed, their advice was to completely rewrite the shitty thing.  Mine is too brief, too much like a resume and not enough like a CV.  Since I’ve accomplished so little with my life, it seems extremely incorrect to have a heading with one puny item under it.  This is what they’ve told me to do.  I will have several headings with one item.  In my mind it’s like having a list with one bullet point.  NO! Just no!  But it’s what I must do.  They are the experts.  I paid for their advice.  The CV must be rewritten before I can apply for more teaching jobs.  I must get more teaching jobs before I can retire.  Life is just so F*ing complicated sometimes. 

Someone tried to simplify our lives by buying a lottery ticket this week.  I’m sad to report, we lost again.  Someone and I both know we have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning on the moon twice in the same day than winning the lottery, but he still plays it every week.  Long ago, I used to play it every week, but finally and somehow broke free of the habit.  It got to the point where I risked life and limb to get my ticket for fear that they would draw my numbers when I hadn’t bought a ticket.  I remember loading little baby Sarah into the car one evening just hours before the drawing.  There was ice on the streets and snow coming down, but still we went out to get my ticket. 


The pot was several hundred million this week.  Someone bought extra tickets, like that would matter.  He even talked about who he was going to call to drive us to collect our winnings and how we were going to invest all that money.  I looked at Someone incredulously.  He was obviously in some crazy fantasyland.  Good for him.  Meanwhile, I’m in my personal hell wondering how I can make the house payment, pay for insurance, continue our cell phone bill, help the girls with college, and pay our taxes while working as a college instructor.  On top of that, my van has 160K miles on it, and I promised Erin I’d get her a newer used car this summer.  No wonder Someone doesn’t want me to change careers.  He’s in love with my paycheck.  So am I.  

    

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

rock star wanna-be

February has already come.  I’m pleased to announce that as of last night, February 2nd, Christmas is packed away and things are back to their usual state of chaos at least on the main levels of the KYLady household.  The basement, however, is a sad story.  Holiday decorations have a place in the big closet under the stairs.  I promised myself that this year, I’ll empty the closet, sweep it out, get rid of things we haven’t used in years, and restack everything in there nice and neat.  Right now, the closet is half empty with contents piled and stacked around the doorway.  I should get right on it, but when I walk down there to start on it, it’s overwhelming and completely depressing.  Perhaps it would go better next time if I put on some loud music and take a bottle of bourbon with me.  When things get too dismal and that urge to run comes on, I’ll take a big swig.  Heck, if I get a large-enough bottle, cleaning the basement might just become a new hobby.
 
Mondays are such a drudge for me.  Dread begins the moment the alarm clock starts its assault.  Yesterday morning, after I cursed the clock and silenced it, I forced myself to slide out from the soft, warm cocoon that is my bed, and dragged my lazy carcass to the shower.  Is there anything as wonderful in the morning as a hot shower?  So it was the usual morning ritual for me, off to work on a dreary very cold morning, park the car, and trudge into my office.  But as soon as I walked in, my spider plant grabbed my attention.  Over the weekend, it had put forth a delightful little blossom to greet me.  It’s funny how something so small can just completely turn around my day.  I could start at least 75 new plants from the babies on this one.

Beauty is its own excuse for being - R. W. Emerson

Bunches of spider plant babies.

    
Mondays are bad, but not as bad as they used to be.  Starting last month, I use 3 hours of vacation time on Monday afternoons to go teach (my other job).  It’s getting better and easier for me, thank heavens!  Yesterday, the chapter we covered was short, so after we reviewed it we had an hour to kill.  I devised a game for the students to play, and brought a sack of candy to use for prizes.  We drew names randomly for teams – that was a good thing because it quickly became apparent that students really didn’t know who each other were.  This realization was a bit of a surprise to me because many of them have been in the same program for a year and share lots of classes, our class is only 15 students, and yesterday was our 5th class already.  The game was purposeful in that it helped them prepare for their first test next week, but better than that, the teamwork forced them to interact and learn each other’s names (at least those who were on their team).  Most students had fun with the game.  The hour flew by for me, and we even went a few minutes over (for those who wanted to stay, which was all but one) so that everyone could finish up the last round and pick out some candy.  It was a successful class, it seemed.  It made me feel like a competent instructor to see them engaged in learning together.
    
I’ve gone from feeling worthless, to having a sense of mere survival, to feeling competent after teaching a class.  It’s a vast improvement, even if it all goes to hell next week.  I’m somewhere around the middle of the instructor self-assessed self-defined competency continuum, at least regarding yesterday’s class. 

KYLady's competency continuum

It’s time for me to revamp my Curriculum Vitae and launch Phase 2 of Changing My Career.  I’ve got to find more work, the sooner the better.  But like everything else in my life, I’m procrastinating.  Why is success so f*ing hard for me?  You’d think I’d be doing everything in my power to get where I want to go.  I’m my biggest obstacle.  I will get started….tonight!      

Friday, January 30, 2015

doppelganger

I was back to work today, after being off for a day and a half with an evil but short-lived virus.  Someone has been sick with a bad cold for more than 10 days.  My assumption was that I caught his germ, but either it mutated or I am Wonder Woman and fought it off quickly.  Perhaps it was the 18-hour nap that cured me, but I’m nearly good as new now.  

A guy I work with stopped in today to tell me my doppelganger was on TV last night playing Jeopardy.  She won and will return with tonight’s episode.  He wants me to watch it so I can see how much this lady looks like me.  He said both he and his wife saw her and immediately remarked at the same time that she looks just like me.  Oddly enough, later in the afternoon, another guy stopped me to say he saw my twin on TV.  Well, curiosity got the best of me so I had to arrange my evening to watch Jeopardy tonight.  And guess what?  There is absolutely no resemblance at all (at least, in my opinion).We aren't the same race or hairstyle or anything...except maybe we both have big teeth.  

No, KYLady did not win $16,000 on Jeopardy.  

It happens all the time.  People think they know me, or that I look exactly like somebody they know.  One time, a woman ran up to me in an airport and threw her arms around me.  She called me by my first name and said, “I thought I’d never see you again.  You haven’t changed a bit.”  She was crying tears of happiness and I had no clue who she was.  When she realized I didn’t recognize her, she let go and said “you’re not *name*, are you?”  I said no (we did share the same first name though).  She apologized all over herself, but I assured her it was quite all right and it happens to me all the time.  It does.

This sort of thing has happened more than once in airports (most people don’t hug me immediately though).  It’s also happened on city streets when I’m visiting places I’ve never been before.  At a business meeting once in a room full of strange people, a man walked up and apologized for staring at me.  He said I could be his sister-in-law’s identical twin.   

Mostly, it’s an advantage to look familiar.  Oftentimes if I’m shopping and walk into a store, the clerk thinks I’m a repeat customer.  She or he goes to extra efforts to help me and show me good deals (since I’m such a good customer)….even when it’s the first time I’ve been there.  I've checked into a motel where I've never been and the clerk will say she's glad to have me back.  This has happened many times.  I’ve learned to just smile and go along with whatever they want to believe about me.


I do hope I never find myself in a police lineup.  In that situation, looking familiar will not be a good thing.   

       

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Elvis has left the building

*sigh*
 
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 jobs...so 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.