Thursday, 30 October 2014

"Autumn" in East Texas

How adjuncts spend their autumn evenings.
When October hits, I always feel like autumn must be just around the corner. Of course, autumn is just around the corner for people living close to or above the Mason-Dixon line. There is no autumn here, really. I am told by weather websites that some leaves will change color in early-to-mid November, but we’ll see about this. I am not hopeful. The leaves never really changed in College Station. Today the temperature dropped (high of 79 degrees projected). This is not the weather for dying leaves and bonfires and hot drinks.

 One of the things I love doing in strange (to me) areas of the country/world is talking with locals about seasonal expectations. Some of my students indulge me by sharing their perceptions of “cold” weather, seasonal clothing, and seasonal activities. My students have been wearing sweatshirts lately (it’s 79 degrees, after all!!) and begrudgingly not looking forward to winter weather (50 degrees).

There’s also a sense of desperation some days on campus to wear all of the autumn clothes that one is supposed to wear in this season, even when temperatures are in the high-80s (autumn clothes = jeans, leggings, boots, sweaters, sweatshirts, fleece jackets, flannel shirts). I always chuckle at the autumn-clothed student, struggling and sweating across campus on an 87 degree day, and they always chuckle at me for unfashionably wearing decidedly summer clothes (summer clothes = capris, skirts with no tights/leggings, short sleeves, flats). We share a mutual chuckle.

By the end of October at universities, there is also a sense of dread and work-piling-up and sicknesses caused by not sleeping. I am a strong defender of the need for a fall break in October; both for the well-being of students and professors. My students are tired and sick and stressed, and they really need some time away from class so they can come back refreshed. I am tired and behind on grading and really need a break to refresh myself. Texas universities do not have a fall break, though, so we just have to bully-through until Thanksgiving break (which is super-long here; it starts after classes on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week).

I always like to dress up on Halloween if I’m teaching, and, conveniently, Halloween falls on Friday this year (when I teach all of my classes). Dressing in costume is a silly think for a professor to do, but I’m not technically a real professor (I’m like a half-professor), and I don’t mind being silly. Therefore, I usually dress in costume and give my students candy. This year, I will be Nancy Drew, albeit the early, independent, and updated Nancy Drew (the first set of books had a more independent sleuth; then they got a little too “I need a man to come in and save me”). I am updating the early Nancy Drew by wearing jeans, as I think this version of Drew would definitely wear jeans if she was around today (it’s so much easier to climb through brush and investigate strange events in pants). Also, I will wear no hat because hats are annoying.

I have to plan my costumes and usual teaching clothes around the temperatures in my classroom, too, as I nervous-sweat in front of people (and I hop around all the time in the front of the room). Two of my classrooms are super-warm (my theory is that they are on the floors where all of the older professors have their offices, thus they complain about reasonably cool temperatures and demand the heat on at all times), so I am planning around this factor. I will also plan to be less bouncy, but I can’t promise anything.

Family updates:

JVJ: This cat had an adoption birthday at the end of September, so he got a whole can of tuna and a few tiny bits of butter. It was a glorious feast. JVJ seems pretty content and happy. His favorite game of late is to dive headfirst into a reusable bag on the floor and slide down the hall.

Katie: I’m always behind on grading, though I do usually take some evenings off from doing work (especially nights when I teach all day). Sadly, there is no time for craft projects, which includes remaking David’s school bag (it’s falling apart and I have the materials but no time). Winter is coming. I’m not really that ashamed about falling behind with grading, since the state of Texas mandates that we give our students five papers per semester. There’s no way I could have kept up, really (someday, after I leave Texas and don’t need to fear keeping my job, I’ll write a long rant about suspect education policies in writing classes).


David: Since David is teaching two different classes, he has double the lesson plans and tests and quizzes to make. David is always working (with breaks on date night and a few hours over the weekend). He had to reapply for his position here and submit a few other job applications, so work was added on top of work. Despite the work, he still makes the time to read more books than me.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

"Preventing" Disease with Soup and Biscuits

Soup time! #nofilter (hence the tag on the hot pad)
We had a bout of super-summery weather this week in Huntsville, but despite the heat and humidity, I felt compelled to make soup. One thing that I—always too much the idealist when it comes to teaching—forget is the resurgence of many diseases in the classroom in the mid-semester. Students get sick because they spend quite a bit of time in contact with the germs of others, don’t sleep much, and don’t eat well. I am a lower-level hypochondriac, so the waves of disease going through my students are scary. Hence, soup is a preventative measure.

Homemade soup has so many wonderful things going on. Chicken broth (at least, the homemade stuff), I read somewhere, has healing benefits. I don't know if this is true, but soup always makes me feel awesome. You get all of those good fats together in warm broth and good things happen. I always add real ginger and garlic to every soup I make, too, since these wonderful roots are supposed to help prevent colds and flus.

On soup nights I also always make spelt flour garlic-cheese biscuits to accompany soup, because: butter and cheese and garlic. No other answer needed.

Here are the recipes for my favorite soup and biscuits. The soup is based on a recipe by Ree Drummond (here), and the biscuit recipe is modified from two in the Betty Crocker Cookbook.

I forgot to add some of the ingredients in this pic. Most of the things are here.

Katie’s Hypochondriac Italian Chicken Soup

1 pkg. (4-6-ish) boneless, skinless chicken thighs (you can use the bone + skin kind, but then you have to pick them out later.
1 c. chopped carrots (really, use as many as you want)
1 green pepper, seeded and diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 large, fresh tomato, peeled, diced, and then chopped into a pulp (trust me, the fresh tomato is so much better than the canned ones in this recipe)
Any other veggies you want in your soup (I like zucchini or cauliflower; broccoli is too strong)
1 tsp. dried basil (or as much fresh basil as you want!)
1-1/2 tsp. dried oregano (or as much fresh oregano as you want!)
2 tsp. salt (you may need to add more at the end)
2 tsp. black pepper (you may need to add more at the end)
either ½ tsp granulated garlic or 4 cloves of finely diced garlic (I can’t get it small enough for my liking, so I use the dried, granulated stuff)
1 to 2 tsp. fresh ginger; diced, and then chopped to a pulp (or buy the frozen stuff in cubes and add one cube)
1 bay leaf
hot sauce to taste
About 4 tbs. of heavy cream.

Directions:
Prep everything and toss it in a pot (except for the heavy cream). Fill with water until it covers the chicken. Uncovered, bring it to a boil and then simmer for about an hour (or until the chicken is falling apart and the broth has reduced by about 1/4. 

Pull the chicken out and shred it. Add the chicken back to the pot. Add the heavy cream and let it simmer for about ten minutes (I begin making the biscuits when I add the cream, and I turn the soup off and let it sit as soon as I put the biscuits in the oven). 

Taste it before you serve it, to make sure that you don’t need to add more salt and pepper. Sprinkle Parmesan on top if you feel so inclined.

Pictures:

[almost] Everything in the pot!
Time to shred that chicken
After cream is added and I turned off the heat. Done!

Garlic-Cheese Drop Biscuits with Spelt Flour (makes six)

1 c. spelt flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
½ Tbs. sugar or dry sugar substitute (I like xylitol; stevia is too strong)
¼ tsp. granulated garlic
¼ tsp. salt
¼ c. cold butter, chopped into cubes
¼ c. shredded cheddar
½ c. milk (I prefer heavy cream, but you do what you want; skim will ruin it, though, so use some kind of milk product with real substance; you need fat in this recipe)

To brush on top:
2 cloves of garlic or another ¼ tsp. granulated garlic
2 Tbs. butter, melted

Directions:
     1.  Mix dry ingredients (flour through salt here).

     2. Add butter cubes. Cut into dough with pastry blender. Use fork if you don’t have a pastry blender. I imagine a food processor would also work, but I’m snobby about my pastry so I can’t answer for you if you use a food processor. Cut butter in until the little balls are smaller than peas.

     3. Add cheese. Cut in the cheese in the same way, but you don’t need to cut it into as many smaller pieces; just get it worked in.

     4. Add milk (or cream, if you like delicious things). Stir until just blended. If you use cream, it will be a hard ball.

     5. Divide into six pieces. Try not to touch very much of the dough so the butter won’t melt. Drop onto sheet tray (I use parchment paper, as the cheese can make things sticky).


     6. Bake at 450 degrees F for 11 minutes. Remove and brush with the butter + garlic topping mixture immediately.

    Pictures:

After the dough is mixed. I forgot to take a picture of the dry ingredients after I cut in the butter and cheese.

Biscuits on the tray; ready for the oven (you'll notice that I handled them a bit).
Garlic butter time!



Thursday, 18 September 2014

After Teaching for a few Weeks

Now that we’ve settled into our first few weeks of school, David and I have more of a defined schedule that I can report on.

My Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays begin at 5:30 and my Tuesdays and Thursdays begin at 6:30. David generally gets up an hour or so after me, as his walk is shorter and his teaching day starts later. I teach on MWF at 8:00, 9:00, 11:00, and 12:00, and David teaches the same days at 9:00, 10:00, 1:00, and 2:00. We both hold office hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:00-12:00.
So, that’s the backbone of our schedule.

We both actually usually leave our respective offices at 4-ish every day and walk home together. After I’m finished teaching, I usually either meet with students or read (recovery time). On Tuesdays and Thursdays we stay so late because there is so much to get done for classes on Wednesday and Friday. 

One thing that I was reminded of on my second day of teaching (when I went to make copies of something for my classes in the morning before I taught), is that faculty are awful about getting jams in the copy machine and then not taking the time to fix them. It makes me so self-righteous, because I always stop to fix jams that I make (even if it will make me late to class). But, this factor of faculty being cads about cleaning up their messes makes it imperative that I make copies the day before class rather than the morning of class (since I teach at 8). 

My students are very different in some respects than my Delaware students, and one of these reasons has compelled me to make handouts for them (with blank spots for notes). I didn’t have to do this in Delaware because I could just rely on my students to be able to easily figure out what they needed to know from class and what they could avoid taking notes on. My Sam students don’t have great study skills and don’t know how to take the best kind of helpful notes, yet. However, if I make these handouts for my students at Sam, they are much less panicky, they pay better attention, and they actually refer back to the handouts when they ask questions in and out of class and when they work on their papers.

I’m not going to do too much internet-public talk about my students in this blog, as it’s not fair to them and it falls into a legal gray space, but I will say that these are some things that I love about my classes:

The diversity in my classroom.

Their openness to discussing difficult issues like poverty and racism.

Their willingness to ask questions in class; even if their questions might be perceived negatively by their peers.

The huge spectrum of unique ideas that they produce for papers (it feels less “one note” than it did in Delaware).

The fact that they all suck up positive critiques like dry sponges (they are so beaten down and expect me to hate everything they write).

The fact that they usually handle my negative critiques of their writing well, and they respond by making something beautiful out of their papers.

They can’t resist using some title before my name (“Ms.” “Mrs.” “Professor” “Miss”). My favorite is “Professor Katie.” My second favorite is the unintentional misspelling of my name: “Mrs. Write.”

Keeping up with grading some things has been a challenge; especially on weeks like this one when I have conferences with students every day. Overall, though, grading has not been too bad. Their first “official” paper is due tomorrow, so we’ll see if I can give a one-week turnaround. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
And now, the family reports:

JVJ: I haven’t seen JVJ this happy since my last winter break before we moved out of Texas. Seriously. He plays the “toss the chewed up piece of plastic that I found somewhere” game with me, in which (like a dog), he brings me this plastic and I throw it and then he dashes after it and pounces on it and then brings it back again. JVJ has decided to stop blaming David for our move, too. JVJ is not meeting his goal of becoming very fat, as I am keeping his snacking limited to specific times.

David: Every few days David returns from the library with another sack of books. As all of you know, he likes to read widely and often, so his library collections are diverse. He is currently balancing some projects with his teaching and finding the balancing to be a tricky thing (but not impossible). Right now in his Critical Thinking class David is getting to teach more philosophy (the first part was more about logical processes) and things are going better (it’s more his groove). 

We both don’t really have other people in town to do fun things with, but I feel like I’m either so busy most of the time or so exhausted from teaching that I don’t have very much time to devote to doing activities with other people. I personally don’t see this is a problem right now, but maybe later we’ll attempt to spend time with other people (and both of us are introverts, so alone time right now is precious).

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Heat + Humidity: Or Why I am Obsessed with the Weather Here

This is me, every day.
The heat in east Texas is no joke. People sometimes laugh at me when I declare that I would not live long term in Texas because of said heat. After all, we had heat in Delaware and Indiana, too. Heat in east Texas is something like this:

7:30 am: 78 degrees, 90% humidity, 5 mph wind.

This sounds like no big deal, right?

At a humidity-level this high with relatively no wind (5mph is nothing), it actually felt like 85 degrees. At 7:30 in the morning (and I cannot emphasize to people how miserable this feels when there is sun and humidity this high).

By the time we had walked ten minutes to the library, my hair was completely frizzed (it was beyond repair, really, and on ID picture day, too), my glasses were foggy around the edges (because the damp air was reacting with my cooler body temperatures and condensing on my plastic-framed glasses), and we were dripping with sweat.

By the time we walked to another building at noon, the temperature had risen to 93 degrees, the sun had come out, the humidity had dropped a few points (when the heat rises, the humidity drops for sciency reasons that I won’t get into), and it felt like 99 degrees outside. There was still no wind. After a twelve minute walk home, we were very dehydrated.

Now, I hear rumors that the heat is more bearable in west Texas because it is dry there. We live in a very humid, lush (for Texas) zone which gets enough water during the year that it can actually support tall trees. I know from experience that Austin (similar latitude but in the center of the state) is a great deal more tolerable in the summer than Houston (on the east and a little farther south).

I am thankful for the taller trees in Huntsville—a nice outcome from the east Texas moisture—though, because there was a great lack of tall trees in College Station which hurt my soul. The taller trees also provide more shade (yay for shade!).

Next week, the weather websites are forecasting temperatures in the 100s. I am hoping that the humidity drops a bit, since next week we start classes.

Progress Reports:

JVJ: currently hiding behind the washing machine because there is a thunderstorm outside. He’s also not happy about having to relearn not to sharpen his claws on David’s chair.

Katie: I am now in the system at SHSU, which is a relief. I've been reading lots of short stories in preparation for teaching my composition courses soon (classes start on Wednesday next week). Adults on campus keep asking me if I’m a new staff member, and students keep asking me which classes I’m taking this semester which is driving me crazy. I think I need to cut my hair short. I met with the director of the undergraduate program in the English department today (as I said on FB), and he answered all of my questions and gave me some great, insider advice.

David: David is reworking his syllabi after meeting with his department head. He has a really sophisticated plan for his courses, so the reworking is not as intense as it could have been. David had me frame his diplomas (four; for five degrees) so that he can hang them in his new, fancy office on campus. We recently got our campus IDs, so he stocked up on books after his summer library-drought.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Visiting College Station

Today we went back to College Station for a short visit. One of our new, Huntsville acquaintances once said, when we remarked about how much we didn't like the CS area, “The good parts about College Station are the amenities [shopping, coffee shops, bookstores]. Everything else … well … I prefer amenity-poor Huntsville.”

There are several Starbucks in College Station and a great Half Price Books store and the best Indian restaurant that I have ever been to (Taz).
David at Taz. I did not take a picture of the food because I was too busy eating it.
College Station also has the best hair salon (at a non-jaw-dropping price) that I have ever been to. At this hair salon, I used to go it and just say to Quint (co-owner of Sheers), “I want my hair shorter, but I don’t really have anything in mind. Just cut it like you think it would work best.” And he would, and it would be amazing.
This is a mural that one of the owners (Quint) painted inside the waiting area. He painted himself and his wife (the co-owner) into the mural in the center (as they looked when they met in beauty school).
Fun story about College Station:  The first year we moved there, College Station actually had working traffic cameras at lights. People got tickets and had to behave (and complained all the time about the injustice). That year, though, the city allowed College Station residents to vote to shut down these cameras, which, of course, passed. When we first moved here people were much better about going through red lights, but now they do so with abandon. It’s like they’re thinking, “Yeah, like you’re going to plow into my heavy duty pick-up. I want to go through this light, therefore I’m gonna do it.”

College Station also has very few trees, so the sun is always everywhere at once, beating down on you with its heavy fists. The atmosphere makes me feel trapped and hot and overwhelmed. There’s also too much traffic and many of the drivers are college kids in fancy cars who drive very, very badly.

We went back today for a haircut for David and to attend the reception for a former student of his who was just commissioned as an officer in the military. One of the people we met at the reception who had gone to Sam Houston told us to go to this place in Huntsville we've wondered about called Shenanigans. This place advertises itself as a “beach club,” but being that there are no beaches in town, we were royally confused so we asked him about it (Every time we drive by on our way to the gym we play a guessing game and then invent stories about it: Maybe it’s a place with a pool. Maybe it’s one of those sad Tiki bars).

According to this young man, “Shenanigans is a bar, and they have the cool, bar part in front with a dance floor and the beach club in back. The beach club is this place where they do rap and stuff. Don’t go there. Stay in the front.”

My interpretation: The front part of the bar is where white people hang out and the back part is where black people hang out, since white people who don’t know anything about black people use the term “rap” to insinuate racial difference.

I’m still going to think of sad, dingy Tiki bars every time I pass Shenanigans.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Beginnings

At SHSU; on the walk between David's building and mine

As promised to various friends and family members, thus begins my blog from Huntsville, Texas.

We've been here since July 28, so I thought that now would be a good time to give some first, overall impressions. There are several ways that I could do this (lists, categories, day-by-day description), but I think that the best way to do this is to describe our first Sunday at an Episcopal church.

David and I arrived in trepidation, as this was our first "real" time in public in Huntsville where we were actually going and intending to talk to people. Our first experiences with meeting people in College Station six years ago (other than meeting people from the university) were pretty negative (David had long hair), so we had very low expectations.

We were immediately welcomed at the door by the rector and various greeters, and after they gave us the usual overview of the church and asked us questions about ourselves. After we sat down, people kept coming over to us an introducing themselves and asking us friendly questions. During the "peace" (the time in Episcopal services where we shake hands with people and say some version of "Peace be with you"), I think that half of the church came over to shake hands with us. It lasted an incredibly long time. In the words of David, "I think that everyone is attempting to greet every other person in the building."

After the service, someone swept us along to a room where they had refreshments and tables. For the next hour, David and I were approached by nearly everyone in the church, and they engaged us in friendly conversation, told us about various projects (church and non-church, when they discovered we were employed at the university), and called in other people who they knew in our various departments to come and talk to us. We were invited to lunch by a bunch of people, invited to all of the extracurricular church activities, and could not even leave the building without being walked out in conversation with others.

The rector called us during the week to invite us to more things and to ask us how things were going with our unpacking venture.

This has been our experience in Huntsville so far. Our experience with university folk (staff and professors and administrators alike) has also been extremely positive. No one anywhere in town has given me an angry look for wearing a Delaware t-shirt or for not saying "Howdy" (there have been no "Howdy"s here, thank goodness).

To conclude, here are some reports:

Cat report: JVJ loves all of the windows and cupboards and closets. I think he's especially happy that he can sit on the floor to look out every window (he's taken to tapping one of the blinds such that it allows him to just peek through).

Katie report: though I was lately in bookshelf purgatory (I am the furniture-assembler), I have now emerged on the other side. There are still a few boxes under my jurisdictions which are only half-unpacked, but we're mostly there. So far I have seen no dangerous insects/spiders. I am far behind on my course planning, but in my defense the person I need to speak with before I can proceed is a phone-only person (who has been away from his phone).

David report: David has cataloged all of the new books and assembled our library. He has been diligently working on his syllabus for weeks (no one should be surprised at this).

Weather report: Hot and humid. No wind.

Overall, our experience here has been four-thumbs and two-paws up.