Thursday, 2 April 2015

Hiking and a Spring Update

Our semester is winding down, and spring is in full bloom in Huntsville. I bought myself a little time to write since I surprised my students yesterday by catching up on homework and quiz grading, and because I gave them a progress-grade report. I still have a set of papers rotting away in my Turnitin inbox (and another set is due on Friday), but right now these are my only obligations (other than lesson planning and meetings) for a while.

Spring in Huntsville is breathtaking. Everything is so green--like Indiana or Delaware--and there are flowers exploding into bloom everywhere. I need to take more pictures of the flowers, because they are lovely (and I forgot how much I love wisteria until I saw some growing in the wild area next to my apartment complex). When we moved here, people told us that Sam was especially lovely in the spring because the grounds-crew takes full advantage of the warm humidity to plant many flowering plants. Now I can see what they mean.

David and I have taken to hiking around Huntsville State Park, as anticipated. It rains fairly often here, so we take advantage of breaks in the weather on the weekends for hikes (the park is only 10 minutes from our apartment, which is fantastic). The park has a number of interesting trails, which cut through the tall pines and trip along the edge of a lake (these lake trails are sandy). We really like parts of the Chinquapin Trail best (we’ve also walked Dogwood Trail). The whole trail is 6.8 miles, so we usually just take on a piece. The park trails have lots of hills and roots, so we get a pretty good workout if we walk down a piece for 30 minutes and then turn around and go back.

Chinquapin is the orange trail; Dogwood is the blue trail.
On our first trip, we came on a very early spring day, which was misty and made the woods look eery. I love a good eery woods.

On our second trip, the weather was much the same:

Then we went last weekend on a sunny day (there were many more people on the trails, which was disappointing to me), and we went at that time of the day when the afternoon light is magical.

My second disappointment with the park (the first being the amount of people on the trails; I prefer solitary walks) is that we’ve seen very little wildlife. There are certain types of wildlife we have no desire to see (snakes and spiders and things which would eat me), but I would love to see an armadillo or another rabbit or a woodpecker. I’m already looking forward to winter, when fewer people will be around (in general, Texans do not like chilly weather).

We only have four more weeks of school at Sam. I try not to think too hard about what this means for my grading regimen, and I am instead choosing to look forward to the fun we will have this summer. My classes are going pretty well (even my unruly section), but teaching 90 students and grading over five sets of papers for each class is just a great deal of work. [Sidenote: Really, Texas needs to rethink its policy of “the more papers, the better.” Students need to focus more on revision and rewriting their work than they do on producing as much as possible].

I know this isn’t a super-exciting post, but as I’ve said before we really spend most of our time staying on top of work (grading, planning, reading, meetings), so when I get done with things I watch TV and crochet. One only has so much energy at the end of a 12-to-16-hour work day. We sometimes go out with philosophers (philosophers are the best), but the highlight of my week is usually going out to dinner with David once per week (or hiking with David! Hiking is my very favorite non-work activity).

But I should note that teaching is absolutely THE BEST, even though it takes almost everything I have sometimes. How lucky am I that I get to work with young minds and teach them how to develop necessary skills (writing/communicating) better? I also get to step into their lives for a bit and care about them, which is a privilege. Work-life satisfaction = achieved.


Saturday, 7 February 2015

Busy Weeks in February

These last few weeks have been full of the kinds of days where we both stay at the office late, eat a hurried dinner, and then work until midnight. David’s schedule was worse than mine, as he is in the process of reapplying for his job. By the time he gets through the last interview on Monday, he will have had over ten interviews, special lunches and dinners with the jobs committee, and one job talk, and all of these occurred in between teaching and preparing for four classes. These last few weeks for me were crazier than usual because my students were working on their first paper (thus I met with 20-30 students per day on my prep days). I’m also in the process of reworking all of my lesson plans and course materials, too. I’m always reworking my lesson plans, but this semester (as I’ve mentioned before) is the big overhaul.

David, in his professorial job talk clothing.
He'll be embarrassed that I posted this.
One of the highlights of my week was getting to see David’s job talk on Thursday. In the past, for every single one of David’s talks (including his dissertation defense but excepting his OU philosophy MA defense), I was in Delaware and we didn’t have money for me to fly in and see him. Because of this, I was ecstatic this week that our schedules aligned and I was able to see David give his job talk. He did a great job, of course, and no matter how many times I’ve read his notes or his papers, I was still super-impressed with his competency.

I get the fancy desk in my office now.
Meeting with students was also a highlight of the week for me. If I have to be extremely busy and stressed, I would rather it be because I have so many one-on-one meetings with students than for any other reason. These meetings give me a chance to build individual relationships with my students and their work, and because of them I am able to push my students to give me a lot more effort (hence, better papers). Psychologically, if you can get a person on your side (by simply caring about them and their work), then they will just give you a lot more. At least, this is my experience in working with people.

Today (Saturday), we are taking most of the day off to rest and reconnect. After David gets back from our car tune-up appointment, we’re heading to Spring, TX,  and one of our favorite bookshops (Good Books in the Woods). Knowing us, we’ll probably feel guilty for taking time off and we’ll spend time grading this evening.

We have a number of interesting things coming up in the future. First, because the weather is really great out here in the spring (mostly 40s, 50s, 60s), we’ve found ourselves enjoying talking long treks around campus in the evening. The Sam Houston campus is very hilly, so we get a pretty interesting workout as we walk around. David and I have always enjoyed long walks and we’re really close to some great state parks, so one activity that we’re going to try is some more serious hiking on the weekends.

Another reason why we are going to try some more serious hiking adventures is because if David gets the job here again for next year, then we are going to try and take a trip to the northeast this summer. The thought of hiking adventures in the beautiful wilderness of Oregon and Washington is enough to motivate us to take on the trails here (despite the fact that we may encounter poisonous creatures, particularly snakes). In addition, it’s been such a long time since we’ve taken a vacation together--just the two of us. I mean, we visit our families once or twice per year in Indiana, but this is very different than taking a vacation. I am very hopeful that this plan will come to pass.

My basil plant in the sunshine this afternoon.
In two weeks, David is going to presenting at a conference (a book review) and I will be covering his intro philosophy class. My topic is Aristotle’s Golden Mean, and I’m both excited and nervous about it. Other people probably have this fear all the time, but I get so nervous about covering David’s philosophy classes because I am just SURE that some student is going to have great objections and I won’t know how to respond. Then I’ll be just the silly wife of the philosophy professor (one of my greatest fears is that I will become just a smart man’s wife rather than an intelligent instructor who is distinctly Katie). I know that especially at Sam there really isn’t a chance of this happening, but it could happen someday. On the other hand, though, it’s always really fun to teach a different subject than Composition every once and a while (even though I love teaching comp, I also love developing teaching skills in other subjects). I think I will also bring them candy, so as to increase my odds of success.

Well, it’s off to enjoy this beautiful sunshine. And books.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Reports from Break and Reflections on Nostalgia

Sunset at the Wright homestead in Greenfield, IN
It was nice to spend some time with family in Indiana over the winter break, although the Katie and David of the future need to give themselves a few more days of downtime at home before engaging in the stress of the holidays. I had a difficult time enjoying as much of the trip as I usually do, as I went straight from spending the final few days before traveling in grading papers, entering final grades, and baking (I don’t like to come to visit empty-handed). By the time we made the long drive to Indiana (with a cat who just wouldn’t settle down, which is unusual), I was ready for a three-day nap.

Painting party with sisters.
I always do enjoy being back in places that are so familiar to me, though, and it’s such a strangely-wonderful feeling to drive around in places which are so imprinted on your memory (I know so many back roads and short cuts, though not by name--only by sense or landmark). Isn’t it cool how we retain our child-senses about familiar places (knowledge by landmark or sense)? Nostalgia also creeps in when I’m back in Indiana, though I try to remind myself of roundness of experience that I had there--not everything was wonderful; not everything was homey; not everyone was kind; and I had many scarring experiences in this place, too. I also remind myself not to be like a person I grew up with, who daily succumbs to the world of nostalgia with its siren call and only sees the past as good (the BEST) without the pain and struggle that was also truly there. Nostalgia is pleasurable but deadly if not balanced with reality.

I think it’s also a great deal more difficult to relate to others in their pain and trying experiences if we only live in the memories of the good parts of our lives. Of course, swinging the other way is dangerous, too (living the mantra that life is only good in the future).

It was also fun to be with family (though tiring, as there is so much fun we need to have!). David and I felt very filled up with deep conversations and love when we left.

Our two-week break was lots of this ...
We both spent our two weeks before the beginning of our spring semester in gradually revising our syllabi, reading, watching TV (I watched a great deal more of “Bob’s Burgers” on Netflix than I care to admit here), and taking a few fun adventures. Our best adventure was journeying to one of our favorite bookstores of all time: Kaboom Books in Houston, TX. Picture this: nine-foot shelves, stacks of books on top of half-sized shelves, many comfy chairs and bean bags and couches for reading, a friendly cat roaming around, a quiet space, friendly owners who love books.

Last week we started our spring semester at Sam. Both of us have a new plan for the way that we are presenting materials this semester, and we’re excited about the fact that because we understand the study body a bit better, we can probably help them achieve more by teaching in a way that they understand better. I’m keeping records of what I changed and why I changed certain things, so that later I can develop a better set of curricula for this course (and so I can remember my reasons why I decided to shake up my class). This is a big “test things out” semester for me (and for David, too), so we’ll report in at the end to let you know if we were able to do a more effective job.

Last week I also finally went to get my Texas driver’s license. I resisted doing this for a long time, and it was actually legal for us to keep our Indiana DLs while we were in school (it’s hard to become a state resident if you are only here for school)--or, so I thought. We learned that you are actually driving illegally in Texas if you don’t get a state DL after being here for 90 days. [Sigh]. I succumbed. I have a temporary license for now, but the new one should be here soon. I did get to see my picture, and if you are my friend on FB then you saw my notice about this (bad picture but crazy eyes). I am looking forward to seeing people’s reactions to this awful picture. This week David has to run the gauntlet for the DL himself.

As we were returning from College Station a few nights ago (for our bi-monthly Indian food fix), I had the realization that driving back to Huntsville from different places now feels like we are returning home. Throughout my time in both College Station and Newark, I never really felt that either place was home (in both places I felt my own difference very naggingly). Huntsville, though, feels like home. Part of me is really annoyed by this (I don’t want to stay in Texas!!!), but part of me is just relieved. And, I remind myself, just because Huntsville feels homey now doesn’t mean that I couldn’t feel homey in other places, too.

But before I make any declarations about how long we’re going to live here or whether we’re actually settling down, we need to find out if David will win back his position which he had to reapply for. If he doesn’t, who knows where I’ll be calling “home” next year at this time.