Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Talked out

My high school chemistry teacher, Mrs. Baker, wrote in my year book that she expected to see me as a talk show host. The comment meant I talked a lot. Others who know me agree. Still, today, I am talked out. I talked for 5 1/2 hours, and that just counted the students. It doesn't count talking to other faculty, the HR folks or Doug. Three hundred and twenty-five minutes of lecture. I'm sure by the end of the day my students were as sick of hearing my voice as I was. This evening I'm barely grunting.

It should be better. Three of my four classes are senior-level. At this point, I am trying to make sure we are all on the same page. My writing class, which is 100 minutes, should never again be all lecture. I will introduce our topic for the day and provide their assignment. On my campaigns classes, we will have more discussion and less lecture. Today was the exception. I have to believe that or else I will never get my own talk show.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Dogs vs. kids

Have you ever seen the saying about my dog being better behaved than your child? This video proves it.

My least favorite time of the year

Living in central Texas, this has to be my least favorite time of the year. At this point of the summer, we've had more than two months with temperatures greater than 100 degrees. By mid-August the heat becomes oppressive, like one is weighted down with 50 pounds of chains. There is no escape. At 7 a.m. the temperature is already 78 degrees and the humidity engulfs you like a wool blanket. At 7 p.m. temperatures are starting to drop for the day -- it was 101 and now it's only 99 degrees.

In the car, at the store, in the office, in the classroom, you can't escape it. The back of your neck stays clammy from perspiration, while sweat runs down your legs. By late afternoon you notice the somewhat sickening smell of an unwashed body and you realize that it is you; your morning shower, deodorant and personal hygiene has lost the battle of the heat.

Unfortunately, the heat will remain for at least another month. It will be awhile before the temperatures slowly start to dip. It is the burden we have to bare for living in such a beautiful place with such mild winters. We all wonder what the cooler weather will bring. We are experiencing a severe drought right now. Water levels in the area lakes are dropping a foot a week. Business and tourism is suffering. We know it will end – it always does – but with the end of the drought comes a flood. The joy of rain, when it finally comes, will be short-lived as the rain becomes the enemy.

Last night we went to a pool party to celebrate the birthday of a friend. There was not much pool to the party as most people opted to stay in the air conditioning. Someone brings deviled eggs and I step outside to give one to Doug, who has opted to sit underneath the fan on the patio, next to the pool, rather than inside. Ninety seconds in the heat and I am sweating when I walk back into the house. Later, after the sun begins to disappear in the night sky, several of us are outside, dangling our feet over the edge of the pool. The water feels good and we decide to go for a swim. We change into our suits and jump in, realizing that the water is deceptive. It's not cool and refreshing, but warm and engulfing. It's like lukewarm soup, but at least we aren't sweating.

Today is the annual hot sauce festival. We like festivals and Doug likes hotsauce, but most years we pass on this event. It's just too hot to be outside in a crowd of people. We've yet to decide whether we are going or not, but it isn't too likely. Instead we will remain inside, in the air conditioning, praying for the god of autumn to bless us sooner, rather than later.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Chocoholics in the house

This weekend we had my (1 week) belated graduation party. The special treat was the chocolate fountain, provided by Austin caterer/personal chef, Cindy Feyereisen of Pretty Dishes. She is one of the best dessert chefs in Austin, and has done several cakes for me, all works of art. The chocolate fountain, however, was unique, interesting and quite fun.

Cindy brought the usual stuff, including strawberries, pretzels and nuts, but then she added unique flair. For one thing, she served kiwi on the tray. Kiwi and chocolate, who’d a thunk it? And dried pineapple chunks – yum! She also served a variety of spices that you could add to your chocolate-covered dreams – several kinds of chili powders, espresso, citrus salt, and a Chinese five-spice. It was absolutely to die for.

As you can tell from the photo, she did a wonderful job with the presentation. What you can’t tell, as they were cropped out, was how all the party guests just loved the fountain. All of us seemed to be chocoholics. My friend Mary said she wanted to do one for her birthday party this weekend. Luckily, Cindy was available, although Mary’s roommate is keeping the fountain a secret. Pretty Dishes is just starting to add the chocolate fountain as a party option, but it should be a success. I just hope Cindy doesn’t get too busy where I can’t hire her in the future. Maybe Doug and I should go ahead and plan our Christmas party now so I can book Cindy before the holiday season.

New school year, new faculty member

Wow. I didn't realize it had been so long since I posted. Needless to say it has been busy around here.

Classes begin today at Texas State University. There are several new faculty members this year, including myself. The past two weeks have been spent learning a new course management system, various training and orientation sessions and other meetings. We had a faculty party last Thursday. Yesterday was the convocation/campus-wide faculty meeting with the president of the university. From there, we headed to a college faculty meeting with the dean. After that, it was the faculty meeting for the school of journalism and our new director. Then a meeting for us newbies with our departmental admin and academic advisor, going over important procedures.

In between all this stuff, I've had to take care of stuff, like getting a parking sticker and faculty ID card. Then there is all the piddling little things, like prepping for classes, planning out the semester, and developing syllabi. I am teaching three courses (four classes total) this semester. Even with the Intro class I've been teaching for a year, we've switched texts, so I have a total of three preps. Luckily my first classes aren't until tomorrow, as I don't have my first day lectures/materials ready yet.

Through it all, there is weird feeling of transition. I am back on campus, but this time as a teacher, not a student or as a student who is teaching. I get all the perks of faculty that I didn't get as a teacher when I was still a student. One of these is my office. I know it's small and windowless. Others have complained, but I am just thrilled to have my own office, one I don't have to share with five other people, one where I can hang my own photos on the walls.

Then there is the parking situation. As a student, I had to park way off campus and take a bus in. This added 20 minutes to my commute. Even when I was teaching, I was still a student. I would walk out of the classroom, cross the street, and wait for the bus with my students. They always thought it was weird. I didn't like it much either. This year, I have coveted faculty/red parking, complete with an access card so I can get through the gates and park next to our building. Evidently the faculty that complains about parking have not been a student on the campus. Of course, having 8 a.m. classes not only saves me from the traffic, it gives me the primo parking spaces.

The strangest part of the transition is what to call other faculty members. For two years they were my teachers and I called them Dr. Weill, Dr. Peirce, Dr. Niekamp, Dr. Rao, and so on. Now they are my colleagues and as such, the protocol is Sue, Kate, Ray and Sandy. It feels a bit funny and isn't easy to transition. Maybe I'll just call them "hey you" for awhile. :-)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Commence to speaking

Last night was graduation and I was selected as commencement speaker. The text of my speech is below.

Mark Twain once said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” For many of us, today’s graduation ceremony marks the end of our formal schooling; we will never again set foot in a classroom as a student. Others of us will continue on to graduate school, earning master’s and doctorial degrees. Whether today is the last day of school, or a mere pause before continuing studies, I challenge the class of 2006 us to remain students in our hearts and pursue the goal of lifelong learning.

What is lifelong learning? It is the continuing of education well beyond graduation. Knowledge is not gained only in the classroom. It can occur in the workplace, at home, and with wireless Internet access, even at McDonald’s. Lifelong learning means that we have an opportunity to continue our education without worrying whether a class will fit into our degree plan or whether some fact will be on a future test. The idea of lifelong learning puts our future education, and ultimately our own success, in our hands.

Often when we transition from school to the workplace, we place our education on a backburner. We learn what we need to know to do our jobs, but seldom do we strive to learn more; we become mediocre. Having been a working professional for 12 years before returning to graduate school, I often heard comments from co-workers that they were too busy to attend a specific training session, or that they would go back to school but only if their employer paid for it. While these people did okay in their jobs, they never quite excelled. The people who excelled in their jobs were those who valued education and took the initiative to learn everything they could.

One of the people closest to me has a philosophy of investing in himself; each year he takes 10 percent of his salary and applies to personal and career training. For each dollar he invests in his education, he receives that dollar back in form of a salary increase. If I had one piece of advice to give to graduates, it would be to invest in yourself and strive to be a superstar, not just mediocre.

Lifelong learning doesn’t have to be just career-related. We are now at the point in our lives where it is up to us to learn what we want to learn, when and how we want to learn it. Having a job doing corporate sales doesn’t preclude one from taking cooking classes if he or she wants to learn to be a gourmet chef. Someone with a degree is in mass communication can still study Japanese art if that is their passion. Some scholars argue that the true measure of learning is whether a student is passionate about a subject and continues to learn about that subject outside of the classroom. I would urge each of us to discover what things we are passionate about and learn all we can about those subjects. That is the true measure of lifelong learning.

Today may be the end of our schooling, but my hope for the class of 2006 is that it is the start of our education.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Redecorating relationships

You always see those lists of what events cause stress on relationships. Usually it's things like finance, jobs and kids that are on the list. What isn't on the list, but should be near the top, is decorating and remodeling. I can't imagine many things that are more stressful than this.

What started as a simple, yet massive, organizing and decluttering project at our house has now turned into remodeling our front room. We have emptied the room, threw away a ton of stuff, painted from baseboards to ceilings, bought both new and used furniture, and bought and installed a new ceiling fan. While we are pretty excited about what we've done and how the room looks, there have been little squabbles along the way. Things like,
  • "Yes, I want to add color to the room, but no, lavender and lilac won't be the colors."
  • "Read the directions. They will tell you how to install it."
  • "Tell me where you want the bookshelves. Once they are in, they stay there. They are too heavy to re-arrange to see how they look."
  • "Your painting job isn't as bad as I thought."
  • "Humor me. Just put that there."

From Home Depot, to the recycling center, we have gotten into discussions along the way on how to do things, where items should be placed, how to load, unload items, colors, and of course, cost. To top it off, we have a tight deadline to get everything done. My parents are coming to visit this week and we have to get Doug's office looking less like the place where he collects everything, and more like a guest bedroom. We are making progress, but needless to say, we are behind schedule. Doug had wanted to steam clean this weekend, especially his (former) office, so it wouldn't smell like a whino died in there. One too many exploding beer bottles have taken their toll.

On the other hand, it is a bit exciting to see what can be done in a room. Our next goal, later this fall, will to be to redo the smaller room, making it more useful. We (me especially) have been watching all sorts of home decorating shows on HGTV, DIY and TLC -- anything with initials and paint will do. In the meantime, I have more work to get done on this renovation before bed.