Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Two Pieces of News

One: situation at home continues to be variations on the usual themes, with a broken furnace thrown in for a bit of extra excitement. Four layers appears to be the requirement for indoor living right about now.

Two: My book is on Amazon. June 2010, people. Save your pennies.

Monday, December 21, 2009

End-of-semester report (part two: travel edition)

I am writing this from the Grit City** airport. I have completed all grading, save for 6 grad seminar papers. Most students got the final grades that I expected they would, so that's all good. My one plagiarism report is filed. In about half an hour, my flight for Puddletown takes off. I accidentally went and left trusty ol' point-and-shooty in my drawer at home, so I guess this means I really and truly have to follow through with buying that new camera. Nikon D40 is my current first choice, though I will listen to any problems that people are having with it.

Have I done any shopping for presents? Of course not.

Have I already begun eating far too many cookies, apparently in an attempt to undo all the good work of getting in shape this past year? Well, duh.

Did I leave a stove burner on or something smoldering in the house somewhere? Uhh....

Nevermind. What's done is done. Next dispatch from Puddletown!

**Behold the new pseudonym for the place I currently live and work! I mean it with real affection: the metaphorical grit is what makes this place bearable. Of course, the literal grit is what makes me have to sweep every two days if I leave the windows open, but that's another story.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

End-of-semester report (part one)

It's finally happened: I'm getting sick.

After a full semester of avoiding swine flu, regular flu, and an upper-respiratory thing, all of which have been laying students, colleagues, and friends low, I came home tonight from a lovely holiday party, and suddenly began to feel a very bad sore throat, which is the usual first sign of a nasty cold. So I'm up late blogging when I should be in bed because I need ten minutes for this zinc lozenge I'm sucking on to dissolve. Seems like a good opportunity for a look back, and possibly forward.

In three days, I will be getting on a plane for Puddletown, to spend ten days with the family, increased by one since the last time I was there. There will be presents to buy, family dynamics to negotiate, and friends to see. Hopefully the grading will be done by then as well.

I will also be buying a fancy new camera for myself, so I hope to be adding more pictures to this blog in the first months of the year.

This holiday season is quieter than the last one. About a year ago, my life took an unexpected turn, as it often does, and things never really slowed down enough afterward for me to adjust and figure out which way was up.

No, actually, that's not quite right. What really happened was this: I lost something big and important, and slid into letting enormous amounts of work-related activity fill in the gap that was left behind. I've recently decided that this works well as a distraction, but not as a real fix. I'm hoping that the next few months will allow me time to finally address this. My medium-term goal is to restore some balance in my life, and get back to myself.

Good plan, no? I'll let you know how it goes as things progress. But for now, my zinc lozenge is almost gone, so it's time for sleep.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Winding Down

It's Wednesday on Finals Week.

I've done none of my holiday shopping. I still have seminar papers to grade, a couple of late assignments to track down, two meetings with grad students I'm supervising, two article-length copy-editing projects (one for me, one for a friend), packing, laundry, etcetera. All must be accomplished by Monday.

On the other hand, I managed to get through all of my bluebook finals, most of my methodology papers, and I haven't gone insane.

Best of all, my dear friend K. from my year in Fellowship City is here for a brief visit. And that's just nice. I already feel like I'm on holiday.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The secret to stay-soft cookies

You know, I grew up in, let's say, a lower-middle-class household. In the 70s. So my diet consisted of 10% ground beef, 15% whatever-helper, 25% canned stuff, 10% basic fresh veggies and fruits (featuring iceberg lettuce and those mealy red apples),** 15% sugary snacks, 5% cheddar or colby cheese, 5% white bread, and 15% sauces and unguents (usually mayonnaise-based).

Yeah. Some of you know where I'm coming from.

But, believe it or not, the non-elite diet does have one major secret ingredient that's actually good, and I'm about to share it with you. No, it's not marshmallow fluff, though that's an important part of any diet, too. It is, in fact, the secret to chocolate-chip cookies that will not turn into hard little pucks within 3 hours after baking. Are you ready?

Instant mashed potato flakes.

I poo you not. Replace 1/3 of the flour in your recipe with an equal volume of instant mashed potato flakes (flakes, people, not buds). Since the flakes are less dense per volume than your flour, you may have to toss in an extra tablespoon or two of flour to compensate. Then do up the recipe as normal. If you don't go over a third (and sometimes you can push it to almost half) you will not smell potatoes, you will not taste potatoes. But you will have a wonderful, soft cookie that will stay soft for days. If you can make your cookies last that long.

Oh, and if the humble chocolate chip is too pedestrian for you, and you want to get all uptown with it, substitute dried cranberries for your chocolate chips, and throw in some chopped pecans. That's some yummy stuff.

**To be fair, there wasn't the produce variety in the 70s that there is today. And to be even more fair, my mom, for several years, desperately tried to get us into growing a vegetable garden. But we lacked the proper moral fiber, and mom couldn't do it by herself, so she gave up.***

***The urge to go back and make that right is one of the many reasons that I wish I had a time machine.

****That, and investing in Microsoft in 1986.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

One more day.

Yesterday (Monday) was just about the perfect day for the solitary professor: I woke up to the sound of rain (rare), rolled over, and went back to sleep for another hour, knowing it was a non-teaching day. When I finally struggled out of bed, I pulled on my comfiest, "I'm not going out of the house" clothes, put on a pot of coffee, and curled up with a book. Because not only did I not have to go to work; I was also caught up on my grading and had finished all my boomerang projects. I invited my neighbor over for tea. I finished a book. I sent off a few e-mails. I stayed inside while it rained outside. Lovely.

And today.

Today the rain has stopped, and I need to teach at 9:30. It's currently 8:15, and I'm still in my comfy clothes. But soon. I will get ready, bundle up, and get on the bike. There will be grading to collect. But you know, I don't mind. Because I planned my furloughs so this will be my last teaching day before finals. That's right: I've given myself Wednesday through Friday before finals off.

Two more classes. But I can already see the light of break (and subsequent sabbatical) up ahead in the distance.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The boomerang effect

I didn't end up blogging this past week because everything was making me cranky. When just one thing in particular is making me cranky, it's great blog fodder. When everything is making me cranky, it's only a matter of time before I discover that I'm the problem, and feel really bad about bitching at such length, not to mention breadth and depth. There has been more awful budget news for next year, and a Wiki-plagiarist. But I was thinking that readers might be bored of hearing about it. Certainly I'm bored of talking about it.

So, in lieu of that, I bring you the odd news that, in the past week, just as I was coming up on about 96 hours of breathing room, several of my boomerang projects came whizzing back, all within a couple of days of each other.

We all know about the boomerang effect: You "finish" a project, send it out to someone else who needs to act on it, and wait for it to come back. Throw, wait, catch, repeat.

This often means that you can't really do much scheduling. You send out projects in one sequence, they come back in another. In the past 10 days, I have received:
  • Grad student thesis: begun, 2006; last thrown, September 2009
  • Journal of Excellent Studies article: begun, April 2007; last thrown, May 2008
  • New Article Project: begun, September; last thrown, one week ago
I've managed to crank these all out more or less as they've come in, alternating them with the end-of-semester grading. In the next month, the book MS will boomerang back as well. And just 24 hours ago, I got a request to review a book for a journal, with a February deadline.

If you're looking for me over the next two months, I'll be right here, juggling boomerangs.