Stuff I Typed During Nap

The babies are still asleep for their morning nap (knock wood), and I’ve gotten in a 30-minute barre3 workout, showered, washed and hung the diapers to dry, and refilled my coffee. So I may as well sit here and type some words to you, the internet, on this, my blog.

Here we are! What to talk about?

My promotion dossier is due on Monday and it’s almost finished and I SUPPOSE I am mostly satsfied with it. It is currently about 215 pages long and is the embodiment of all the stereotypes you no doubt have in your mind about academic bureaucracy. It includes, for example, a PDF of the original offer letter I received when I was hired. Without this document, after all, how would the university know whether they actually employ me? (I joke because I am nervous, obviously.)

On Wednesday, I go back into the classroom for the first time since I went on bed rest at the end of November. I do not have my syllabi, assignments, or class websites finished. Or started, in some cases. It’ll be fine. Right?

We placed an ad for a part-time babysitter (2 mornings a week) online and we have a ton of applicants to go through and decide who we want to meet. I’m kind of dreading the whole process. I don’t like meeting new people, or having strangers in my house, or leaving my babies with a stranger in my house. Pretty much none of that.

I suppose I can just eliminate all the people who, instead of responding to the specific job description, just sent us their boilerplate “about me” statement from their profile, right? That shit is lazy, y’all. Tell me you have experience with twins/multiples, or that you’ve cared for babies their age, or that you have the relevant days/times available, or just anything specific to the ad. How do I know you even read the description?

Moving on.

So, I guess those things are heavy on my mind going into the next week. Returning to work and all that it entails — and I’m happy to be going back! — has got to be a little stressful. I’d be a fool not to expect that. There were times duing maternity leave where it felt like I’d be trapped in my house forever and never leave. Now I’m wondering where the last eight months went. Typical.

The babies are going to wake up from their nap soon and I need an errand or something to do to get us out of the house for an hour or so before their second nap. I am finding this makes the day go by much faster. But today I’m drawing a blank! If it were not so oppressively hot and disgusting outside, I’d just take them for a walk or to a park or something. They’re probably too little to enjoy the library, I’m guessing. They do have baby storytimes, apparently, but not today. We could….walk around the mall? I wish I needed something at Target. Who am I kidding? I always need something at Target.

Work, Bitch*

Fall semester starts two weeks from tomorrow, and y’all, I AM READY. I’ll be back in the classroom full time, which, this year will mean teaching three classes and doing some service/leadership/mentoring work in lieu of my usual fourth class. It will put me on campus all day Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and I’ll probably spend part of the day on campus Tuesdays and Thursdays for meetings or the aforementioned mentoring work, and (hopefully!) part of the day at home.

I’ve technically been working since May, but, in comparison, this summer I’ve been teaching only one class, an online class, and have spent zero time in the classroom. I come to campus Mondays and Thursdays to work, but I am mostly spending this time alone in my office. I haven’t talked to a lot of people in person and haven’t needed to dress up. I’ve had the time to fit in trips to the gym or to the nail salon while I’ve been “working.” It’s been work-lite, with 75% fewer calories, if you know what I mean. I have really appreciated it.

I am not cut out to be a stay-at-home or work-from-home mom full time, I can now say for sure. I was at home full time for the first 6+ months of the twins’ lives, and I am so grateful I had that opportunity. I wouldn’t trade it. But it was also really, really hard. The first couple of months were hard, especially — the long nursing-feeding-pumping routine that took place every two hours, feeling trapped not only at home but specifically in the bedroom (where my ass wore a groove in one side of the mattress because I never got to get up), and all the challenges of caring for two babies while being only one person — it all took 100% of myself. I loved it, but it was not easy.

Being at home with them full time now would, of course, be different. They’re in a different stage — they eat and nap at predictable times; we can go out without it being too big a hassle; they’re more active and interactive. In a lot of ways, it’s much easier (no more endless nurse-feed-pump grind, for example). On the other hand, it still takes 100% of myself. Mobile babies, y’all. Two of them. Today they shut me out of the nursery — I was using the bathroom next door and had left them playing. Then, I heard the door slam. When I tried to get back in, L was leaning up against the door from the inside. I could swear I heard them laughing. 

Monday mornings are always a little rough, as Monday mornings often can be when you’re faced with re-entering your workday routine after having put it on the shelf for the past couple of days, but Monday mornings now also come with a little breath of relief. When I arrive on campus, I stop at Starbucks on my way to my desk and pick up a giant iced coffee and then when I get to my office I close the door and sit down in the quiet and drink my coffee while handling emails from the weekend and planning my day. It’s quiet. There is coffee. I can drink the coffee while it’s still at its intended temperature.

I assume the transition back to working full time will be rough. I’ll lose the less-structured time at the office that I’ve recently been enjoying. It won’t be as easy to fit in trips to the gym, for example. At least three days a week, I won’t see E&L until dinner time, at which point I’ll only have a couple of hours with them before they’re in bed. I know that’s going to be hard and I’ll miss them. I’ll also have plenty of exhausting days at work — time in the classroom and/or in meetings will do that — and when I get home from work, I won’t be able to zone out on the couch, because there will be two babies there who need me and a tired husband who will need a break after spending the last 10 hours caring for them. (He’s taking his parental leave during fall semester and will be at home with them while I’m at work.) It won’t be easy, I know. It will take 100% of myself, too.

If all goes well back in the classroom, however, I can only assume that no one will scream at me, vomit on me, or defecate directly into my hand. Even better, I will not have to try so hard to put anyone to sleep at nap time — in my classes, it just happens naturally!

*Britney Spears, obvs 

No Bouquets of Sharpened Pencils, but I Did Put Lunch in a Jar

Fall semester started yesterday, whether I liked it or not. I am in most ways looking forward to the classes I’m teaching this semester, but over all I have a strange feeling of anticipation about the semester because, as I mentioned before, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the end if the babies show up early. At this point, I am just acting as if everything is going to play out the way I’d like it to. And, of course, creating a plan B.

The first day of classes didn’t feel like a significant moment for me, really, because I was working all summer. Instead of going from time off to full-bore work, like many of my colleagues do when fall starts, I just went from some work to more work. Fairly anti-climactic. I didn’t even get need to buy new school supplies.

I am back to packing my lunches this semester, which I did not do over the summer. Buying lunch on campus is ridiculously expensive (you can’t get a sandwich and drink for less than about $10) so that’s a no-go. In the past, I used to be fine just bringing some combination of yogurt, fruit, and granola bars, but this semester that’s not going to cut it. For this week, I made a batch of baked tofu and quinoa and put it into mason jars with some massaged kale and peanut sauce. You can see the jar sitting in the background of this photo, my obligatory first-day selfie:

It's the first day of school. Let's do this thing.

One basic formula for things like this is a grain, a protein, and a green. Just add interesting sauce and you’re good to go! Put in Mason jars, obviously, because that’s where all the cool kids are putting things these days. Keep it cool on the air conditioner in your office because no one unlocked the office break room before classes. You’re welcome.

Minnesota and Iowa

I spent the last week in the Midwest for a combination of work and personal travel — I had the opportunity to present at a conference at the University of Minnesota and I jumped at the chance. My junior year in college, I did a combination of national and international student exchange programs, spending the fall at the University of Minnesota and the spring at the Bildungswissenschaftliche Hochschule Flensburg Universität. (Got all that?) They were both such great experiences, I came out of the year wishing I’d had some way to spend a full year at each school instead of only a semester.

Since Fall 1998, I have only been back to the Twin Cities once, for a couple of hours, while on the way to Sioux Falls. Needless to say, I was quite happy to get the chance to spend a bit more time there this week. A lot has changed since my days there — the juice bar where I worked part time, the Crazy Carrot, is no longer in business, and there is now a very convenient light rail, for example — but I was happy to feel easily at home again on campus.

The conference was held in a brand new university building that houses state-of-the-art classrooms, which happens to be located just a stone’s throw away from my old dorm and right next door to my favorite campus building, the Weisman Art Museum.

My favorite building in Minneapolis! In Fall '98, I lived right next door, in the brick building you can see to the right.

I do love me a big, shiny, ridiculous Frank Gehry building; I just can’t help myself. Before the conference got rolling, I had time to spend in the museum, which was such a treat.

WAM

Off campus, I also enjoyed that wonderful feeling of being in a “real city” — you know, the proximity to a variety of interesting restaurants, shopping, and things to do. My first night in town, I checked into my hotel feeling exhausted and starving, but it was a matter of just a short walk to a delicious Thai dinner. Not too shabby, Minneapolis.

Taking myself out for Thai food.

Academic conferences can be both invigorating and exhausting at the same time. I met a lot of interesting people from all around the world, exchanged ideas, got great feedback on my presentation, and came home with a head full of thoughts about things I can do going forward. On the other hand, I had to talk to strangers all day every day the entire time. The only opportunity to recharge was the thirty minutes of waking solitude I managed at the end of each day before passing out in my giant hotel bed.

Downtown from the East Bank

One great highlight, though, was the evening I got to spend with Alexa, whose blog I have been reading for years and years but whom I’d never met in person before. She picked a fabulous restaurant downtown and we got to sit and chat and eat delicious frites, spaetzle, and strudel. Alexa is just as smart and funny and kind in person as she is online, so it was easy to while away the evening while letting the stress and work of the conference fade away. I haven’t often had the chance to meet my online friends in person, but this summer I’ve gotten to do that twice – I highly recommend it.

Dessert

The next morning, I was up at 3:15 to catch a 4:00 town car to the airport for a 6:00 flight. Oof. I was meeting my husband in Moline, IL on the way to his hometown in Iowa. This was the first time I’d been to Iowa in the summer (we usually go at Christmas), so it was my first time seeing the family farm when the corn was high and the ground wasn’t covered with snow. He picked me up and we made our way to his parents’ house in time for lunch, after which the 20-year high-school reunion festivities began. It was his reunion, not mine, of course. I am much, much younger than that. My 20-year nigh school reunion isn’t taking place until *mumble* next year *mumble*.

We connected with friends that night for dinner and games, and the official reunion was Saturday. Since CW was one of the event planners, we showed up early to help set up and were planning to stay late to help clean up, but our tiredness (well, my tiredness) eventually won out and we had to sneak out a bit early. The experience of being at someone else’s high school reunion where I knew almost no one and was sober as a judge all night was…well. Let’s agree to call it “a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” The time in Iowa was brief, but we managed to pack it with as much family and friend time as we could, so it was worth it.

Goodbye, cornfields

After a very long 16 hours in the car, we got back home last night at 1:00 AM, making it the third night in a row I’d been up that late. Today I’m spending the day at home catching up on work emails, laundry, and some other household stuff. Classes start in a week and I am in no way ready. Tomorrow, back to work.

Kansas City Snapshots

I wish I could blog in detail about my adventures scoring standardized tests in Kansas City, but I can’t. Instead, I thought I’d share a few snapshots and tidbits from the week.

All in all, it was a really good experience. With thousands of other teachers taking part, I got to meet a lot of colleagues, both those who teach at universities like I do, and those who teach in high schools. I learned a lot about how the high school English programs work and got some interesting perspective from those teachers. Mostly, I really got a broad picture of where high school students are coming from in terms of their writing as they get ready to start college.

Kansas City, here I come. #latergram

On the way to KC, I was an online check-in pro. I logged in to Southwest’s site precisely 24 hours before my flight and got myself into boarding group A, allowing me to snag a sweet, sweet window seat in a row where no one wound up taking the middle seat: my ideal scenario. On the way home, I completely forgot to check in. I guess you can’t win ’em all, right?

Le déjeuner sur l'herbe

We spent each workday (8-5 from Thursday-Wednesday) at the KC Convention Center, which has this lovely little greenspace area right outside the room where our meals were served. After each meal, I went outside to enjoy a little natural light and fresh air before going back in to resume essay scoring. As you can see here, I was not the only one who felt the need to get outdoors whenever I could.

The convention center is right across the street from the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, which I enjoyed photographing, perhaps excessively. The design reminded me a bit of a Frank Gehry (when I lived briefly in Minneapolis I was right next door to the Weisman Art Museum on campus), but I found out it was in fact designed by Moshe Safdie, so now I have another architect to learn about. Bonus!

Dramatic sky on my lunch break. I love sitting outside in the middle of an otherwise dull day of work.

On a few different occasions, I observed a crew rappelling down the building and cleaning it, which, well, frankly looks like the exact kind of job I could never do. Nice work, rappelling crew! I’ll just be taking deep, calming breaths over here from a safe distance.

Lunch break, watching this crew rappel down the building while cleaning it.

Here are a couple more snaps from right outside the convention center. Sitting out on the lawn and taking in the view was definitely the highlight of my usual work day while I was there.

Another lunch break outside.

See? I really took too many photos of the Kauffman center. But isn’t it so pretty?

My view during dinner. Not too shabby.

One of the perks of this test scoring job is that they provide all three meals a day for all the teachers — there’s a huge room in the conference center that gets turned into a cafeteria serving all ~3,000 of us breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s fairly impressive. Of course, cafeteria-type food can get old pretty quickly. The salad bar starts to look a little tired; the vat of reconstituted “scrambled” eggs becomes a repulsive necessity for anyone who needs protein at breakfast. Just cast your memory back to your college dorm’s cafeteria and you’ll know what I mean.

Luckily, I have a very sweet friend in town who picked me up one evening and took me out to a great Kansas City BBQ place for the local specialty, burnt ends. I have been online friends with Elsha for a while now, but this was our first time meeting in person — it was so much fun, and just the break I needed from the monotony of work and the cafeteria. If you ever get the chance to meet an online friend when you’re in the same town, I definitely recommend it! But don’t be like us — remember to take a photo of more than just your dinner!

Kansas City Burnt Ends (delicious) with @vandeblogger, who is, to no surprise, lovely and fun in person just as she is online!

These are burnt ends, if anyone is curious. I had never heard of them before visiting Kansas City. They were pretty great. (Elsha and I? Not pictured. Whoops.)

This is inside my hotel. The windows at the top look into the gym.

The hotel I stayed in was the Westin, which was, over all, very nice. I was most appreciative of the soft sheets, multiple down duvets, and approximately 87 pillows. After each day of essay reading/scoring, I found myself tired enough to climb into bed right away, create a cozy nest, catch up on some social media and reading, and fall asleep by 9:30. So the bed was basically the only aspect of the hotel that mattered. It did have this “fancy” indoor waterfall, however, which I think must have been about 2 stories high. If you see the windows near the top of that photo, they look in on the gym, which — ha! — I never once visited.

I feel I have to add, though, that no matter how fancy and pretty this indoor waterfall looks, that it not natural. It is gross, recirculated, stinky water. It smells. Indoor waterfalls: not recommended. So by my 8th morning waking up in the Westin and walking out past that huge waterfall, when I had to hold my breath until I got past the smell, I knew it was a good thing I was heading home. Besides, I missed my husband, my dog, and my cat.

Now that I’m back and recovered from the trip, it’s time to start my second summer job — my five-week summer literature class starts tomorrow. Current status: bracing myself.

Summertime and the Livin’s…Something

I’m sure you’re familiar with the typical school-related anxiety dream: you find out the morning of final exams that you forgot to drop your math class. You haven’t been attending all semester, but today you still HAVE TO TAKE THE FINAL!!!1! To make it worse, you oversleep for your final exam; you can’t find the classroom; you don’t have a working pencil. You know the drill.

I think I have discovered the teacher’s equivalent to this type of dream. It’s the Monday after finals week, students are all eagerly awaiting their final semester grades to be reported online, and you realize only too late that you have FORGOTTEN TO POST SEMESTER GRADES IN THE SYSTEM!!!1!! You scurry all around trying to get online and post the grades, but your wifi won’t connect; you can’t log in; you seem to have lost all the graded exams.

I’m not sure why I’m having anxiety dreams lately, as there is absolutely nothing stressful or even interesting going on in my life at the moment. I’m just another government-paid teacher sitting on my duff for my three-month summer vacation, raking in all these dollar bills from the taxpayer.

Reader, now is the moment when you hear the tell-tale record scratch.

Actually, I’m gearing up for my first of two summer gigs, which begins tomorrow. I’ll be spending a little over a week in another city grading standardized tests in my subject area. (I’m being explicitly vague about this because I don’t want to name the exact testing company here.) I’ll be working from 8-5 for seven days straight and spending my nights in a double-occupancy hotel room with a woman I’ve never met before. So this should be fun.  I welcome this opportunity to connect with other professionals in my field, talk about our subject, and peer deeply into the minds and hearts of thousands of America’s high-school students via their timed essays.

Is that laughter you’re hearing now, or weeping? Only time will tell.

Grade me! Evaluate and rank me!

March is going to be an interesting month. More immediately, this week is going to be an interesting week. Tomorrow I have my annual review at work, which is a big factor in my being reappointed for next year; Tuesday we have a doctor’s appointment/consultation at a new clinic; at some point later in the week, on a date to be determined, we will have a consultation with a mortgage broker to set the wheels of our house hunt in motion. Work, reproductive health, and a mortgage for our first house all in one week. No pressure.

tumblr_lsne2yzAIw1qh59n0o1_250

I tend to have just a little bit of Lisa Simpson in me, and it’s not that we’re both vegetarian, book-reading, grammar-nerding, jazz-loving baritone saxophonists. While I wouldn’t describe myself as a typical overachiever (I think to bear that label a person has to try hard to achieve, which I haven’t often done), I am most certainly a typical nerd. Success in school always came easily to me; I am good at taking tests and have a great memory for facts and information. In school, this served me well. Today, I have carried it over to a love of even the silliest online quizzes (“How much do YOU know about art history?!” asks the incredulous-seeming quiz full of questions even my dog could answer correctly). I even enjoy filling out paperwork. Neatly writing my personal information into dozens of pages of forms, perfectly answering each question with concise and correct information? Why yes, I will, thank you.

So I assemble my annual review materials with a sort of weird enjoyment: that PDF, so many, many pages long, filled with all the evidence of my successful teaching in the past calendar year (syllabi, assignments, grade distributions, student evaluations, a CV, and a philosophy of teaching) is both a giant pain and a pleasure. I happily fill out all the overly detailed, intrusively personal medical forms, giving honest and specific assessments of how many ounces per week I consume of caffeinated regular soda, caffeinated diet soda, decaffeinated soda, wine, beer, liquor, caffeinated coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and so on. (I will refrain from discussing some of their other questions; you’re welcome). I look forward to printing off and organizing a sheaf of financial paperwork that will reveal to the carefully trained eye all too much about my income, debt, and spending.

Perhaps if all of my forms are filled out properly — if all the questions are answered to everyone’s satisfaction — I will be deemed worthy of the life I want. I’ll keep my job; buy a house; have a baby. Look, I have very neat handwriting and I’m sure I have some color-coded sticky tabs I can use, if you think that would help.