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.


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!