I’m tired.

I have now made it through my first week of grad school.

Two of my classes met this week; the third will start Monday night. I loathe the textbook for my research-methods class, but I like the professor, who has been very sweet and patient as I ease back into academia after a 23-year hiatus, so there’s that. Sadly, the textbook is a compendium of essays by writers who are, to borrow a phrase from my late eighth-grade lit teacher, “inebriated by [their] own verbosity.”

I’m fluent in several dialects of bullshit, including Late-20th-Century Professoric, High Mansplainish, and Old and Middle Educatorese, but this is the first time I’ve encountered Linguistics Philosopherian, which is basically self-important word salad. I finally figured out that the trick was to take notes on the essays first, then go back through my notebook and take notes on my notes. That second layer of note-taking yielded enough comprehensible material to use as the basis for my reading-response assignment; from there, I just had to translate the notes into Modern Professoric to crank out a decent paper. It’s only worth 20 points, and I managed to work in references to Keith Richards and the Infinite Monkey Theorem, so it’s fine, probably.

Thus far, I’m enjoying my Brit-lit class. The professor’s teaching style reminds me of my own, and the class is a mix of grad students and undergrads, so I basically sat around shooting the bull about King Arthur with a bunch of bright kids. The writing assignment for this week just involved reading something and then getting on the class discussion board and posting a 250-word response to the professor’s question. I was the first one to respond, so I’m not sure whether I hit the tone he was looking for, but hopefully he’ll let me know if I screwed it up so I can try again before Wednesday.

I have a couple of short stories to read before my fiction-writing class meets Monday, but I am otherwise finished with my homework, which is good, because I need to do some serious lesson planning this weekend, and Ramona could use a long walk and a romp around the park.

Emily

Remote nonsense

Can we just talk for a moment about the absolute ridiculousness of online education?

Everything sucks about the software I am required to use to teach my core classes, but I have to use it because we are standardizing everything to make it easier to switch back and forth in case we go back to school and then get sent home again a week later. I am not pleased, but I am less worried about this than my colleagues, because I have already accepted as given that A.) my kids are going to be about a year behind by the time we get back to normal, and B.) it doesn’t matter, because I routinely close much bigger gaps than that. (That’s not bragging; it’s just a function of spending part of the No Child Left Behind era teaching in an overcrowded Title I school in Oklahoma, where teachers were the wingnut politicians’ favorite scapegoats.)

Our mandatory software does not have any automated journalism classes, and my district is all excited about Google Classroom, so I had to set up a new Google account and log into Chrome with it to set up a virtual newsroom. Teachers do not have school-issued laptops, which means I have to do this on my own computer. The problem, of course, is that Chrome is my primary browser, and I use it to research and write my novel. When I am logged into my school Google account, somebody at the regional ed office in Portales can monitor everything I do. On my own computer. At home. Outside of school hours.

I will NOT be offended if somebody starts a betting pool on how long it takes before I am called into the superintendent’s office to be interrogated about my interest in obscene 12th-century grotesques because I forgot to switch accounts before typing “sheela-na-gig” into my search bar. Anybody who thinks it will take more than a week is probably an incurable optimist.

Meanwhile, ENMU has standardized exactly nothing, so two professors are Zooming their classes, while a third is using Microsoft Teams, and while two of them seem content to email information to students, another is communicating almost exclusively through Blackboard.

And people wonder why my retirement plan is to go off the grid and stay there. Yeesh.

Emily

Things I’m Doing

Here are things I am doing at the moment:

1. Getting ready for the first day of school. The jury is still out on whether this will happen from my office or from my classroom, but either way, I have to learn Google Classroom and digitize (read: rebuild from scratch, using the mandatory prefabbed software) my entire curriculum as soon as I find out what I’m teaching. Which I still don’t know, because my boss asked NMPED a question May 20 and didn’t get an answer until Tuesday night, after calling umpteen people and bugging hell out of them until they deigned to respond. I am not surprised; I’ve dealt with our state bureaucracy before. I realize the pandemic creates uncertainty, but our question was unrelated to that, and if they didn’t know the answer and didn’t have time to research it, they should have just said, “We’re not sure; hold off this year, and we’ll send this up the food chain and get you an answer next spring” instead of keeping us in limbo all summer. I really needed enough lead time to do some advance planning this year, because I am also …

2. Taking three grad-level classes. In a moment of weakness last summer, I let my boss talk me into enrolling in grad school. We’ll see how well I can juggle a full-time master’s program and a full-time teaching gig, all while …

3. Fostering a four-legged abuse victim. Shelters aren’t great places to work through PTSD, so Fionn the Chiweenie is now curled up under my desk, giving my feet a wary look. We’re pretty sure somebody kicked him hard enough to break a couple of ribs.* Riggy and Walter politely welcomed him to the pack, Tootsie is ignoring him, and Ramona reallyreallyreallyreallyREALLY wants to make friends and can’t figure out why he keeps snapping at her. (She will win him over. She wins everybody over. She is the consummate Hufflepuff.)

Emily

* Dog abuser, if you’re reading this, please understand that “Fought a descendant of Boudicca” sounds much more impressive than “Kicked a 15-lb. Chiweenie,” and I would be DELIGHTED to help you upgrade that line on your resume. You’re welcome. Happy to help.

I hope to God it’s good.

“Finished this day — and I hope to God it’s good.”
— John Steinbeck, upon completing The Grapes of Wrath

It’s not likely to be as good as Steinbeck, but I have just finished the second draft of my sequel to Greetings from Coldwater. Surprisingly, it bears a closer resemblance to the draft I posted here this spring than Greetings from Coldwater’s second draft bore to its first. This probably has something to do with the fact that I was working from an outline and actually had an idea of where I was going this time.

I’m still not completely happy with the last chapter, but the rest of it feels solid, and a friend from church who very much enjoyed Greetings and the first draft of this still-untitled prequel/sequel has agreed to give it an edit. I’m looking forward to his feedback.

It’s been a ride. I know more about Celtic mythology now than I ever imagined I’d need or want to know four years ago, when Miss Shirley began bugging me in earnest for a prequel, or even seven months ago, when I sat down with a stack of real books and a Kindle full of ebooks and began taking notes. If my interior monologue is worth a damn, I owe Beverly Cleary a beer. If my fantasy elements are worth a damn, I owe J.K. Rowling and the late Rudolfo Anaya a beer. If the dialogue is worth a damn, I owe Quentin Tarantino a beer. And if the book reaches its final form before Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine goes into mass production, I probably owe the notorious M.L.G. (New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham) a beer. That shelter-in-place order lit a fire under me and gave me a nice block of time without a lot of distractions to get this project to this point much faster than I would have otherwise.

As the Dead once said: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Emily

Annoyances and updates

Once again, I find myself apologizing for neglecting my blog. This summer has been … a lot. I’ve been working a few mornings a week at the Roadrunner Lodge, adding to my office mural (still not done; I’ll try to post an update soon), making gifts for my free boutique project (46 items so far, not counting stuff I tried that didn’t work), gardening indoors and out, making faux-barkcloth curtains for my kitchen, and working on the second draft of my new novel, which still doesn’t have a title.

Meanwhile, somebody stole my credit-card number in early May and spent three days using it to buy a bunch of stupid crap, including a subscription to some weight-loss scam out of Lithuania. Commerce Bank responded instantly when I called, which is good, but they took four days to get around to dropping my replacement card in the mail, along with a form I was supposed to fill out and return to them to help their investigators. They mailed the card and form June 23. The deadline to return the completed form to them was June 30. Both items arrived in my mailbox July 3.

Ain’t nobody got time for that, so I transferred all my recurring charges over to Ron’s Discover account.

If anybody but AT&T provided reliable service from here to House, I’d switch cellphone providers, too, because I could devote an entire blog post to the runaround AT&T gave me when I tried to update my credit-card information. I finally got that sorted out this afternoon, but if they provoke me again, I’ll cancel my account and not look back. I don’t have to pay for service to be able to call 911 in an emergency. I already downgraded to a ’90s-style Nokia last week after my poor old iPhone’s screen cracked (again), so at this point, I am basically paying $30 a month to accommodate people who can’t be arsed to email me.

Annoy me again, AT&T. I DARE YOU.

Despite those hassles, it has been a productive summer thus far. I’ll try to update here as time allows. With the iPhone out of commission, I’m not on Instagram, and that’s about the only social media I’ve used for the past year, so maybe I’ll have time to blog once in a while.

Emily

Loaves and fishes

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest round of unemployment numbers today. The current unemployment rate is sitting at 14.7%.

If you are not among that 14.7%, I see three ways to look at this problem:

  1. Erect a Somebody Else’s Problem field around it and keep going. Anyone who considers this a reasonable option probably isn’t reading this blog in the first place. (I hope not, anyway; I’d hate to think my writing appealed to that sort of person.)
  2. Drown in guilt and frustration over the unfairness of it all. I did that for a while this week. You may be shocked to learn that it benefited exactly no one.
  3. Let the math motivate you. When the world seems to be spinning out of control, I tend to close my eyes and trust-fall into the arms of Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, better known as the Father of Algebra. In the >30 years since I learned to solve for x, ol’ boy has never failed me.

With that in mind, let’s look at the numbers:

If 14.7% of us who normally have jobs are now unemployed, that means 85.3% of us are still working. (Note: The unemployment rate is different from the labor-force participation rate.)

If my scratch-paper scribbling is right, if every working person had the same income, the 85.3% of us who are still working could take care of the rest by sharing just 17.2% of our income.

We don’t all have the same income, and we can’t all afford to share that much. But honestly, I think 17.2% represents a worst-case scenario, because a lot of currently employed people are white-collar workers who can telecommute, and a lot of currently unemployed people are service-industry workers.

Because white-collar jobs tend to pay better than service jobs, we probably don’t need every currently employed person to give away $1.72 of every $10 s/he earns in order to pick up the slack; we just need all the current haves to take an honest look at our available resources and figure out how to leverage them to help as many of the current have-nots as possible.

If you identify as Christian, you already know a guy who did that at least twice and ensured that his initial investors got a pretty impressive ROI out of the deal.

Emily

Good dog!

Ramona the Pest has been a Very Good Girl lately. We’ve walked or jogged together almost every day since this semi-quarantine began, and now she’s learning to work off-lead. 

Getting a dog to work without a leash is challenging, because the handler has to trust and respect the dog enough to relinquish control of its movements, and the dog has to trust and respect the handler enough to listen and follow directions instead of running off and getting into mischief.

Some dogs are better suited for this than others. Under the wrong circumstances, an off-lead excursion can turn an asset into a liability or amplify a personality quirk into a real hazard.

Ramona is a bit scatterbrained when she’s excited, and walks are Very Exciting, so I start our lessons by walking or running several blocks down the alley with her on a loose lead. 

Once she’s settled down enough to focus, I drop the leash and let her drag it, paying close attention to our surroundings so I can run interference quickly if I see trouble brewing. I like working her in alleys, because they present plenty of distractions but few real hazards, and they’re narrow enough that I can catch up to her quickly if she tries to bolt. 

We had a great training session the other night. She did very well at heel, sit, and stay, remained polite while visiting her friend Bruce and his housemate (who was less polite), and even did a little modeling next to some breezeblock walls:

Brown dog cocking its head and looking at the camera
I’m pretty sure she knows how cute she is.

Brown dog licking its chops
“I was told by Applecare that there would be treats.” — Ramona, probably

Two dogs greeting each other over a concrete wall as a third dog flashes its teeth
I wish I spoke dog. I’d love to know what he was saying. (Probably some variant of “You damn kids get off my lawn!”)

My long-term goal is to be able to take her on long runs off-lead, because handling the leash siphons off a little more energy than I’d like — no big deal for a 5K, but unpleasant at half-marathon distances and beyond. We’ll see how it goes.

Emily

Lotion bars

As a beekeeper, I tend to have a lot of beeswax on hand. Every time I harvest honey, I render the cappings, but I rarely get around to using them for anything.

Last fall, I used some of my surplus beeswax to make a batch of mini lotion bars to hand out to my colleagues at school. I ended up with way more than I needed, so I stored the leftovers in the freezer. They’ve been a godsend since we started washing our hands approximately nine million times a day to ward off coronavirus.

I realize normal people don’t just have chunks of beeswax lying around, but if you can put your hands on some, you can make your own lotion bars with just a few minutes’ worth of work.

For the basic bars, I used:

1 part beeswax
1 part coconut oil
1 part olive oil

A lot of recipes say to melt your beeswax in a double boiler to reduce the risk of igniting it, but I’ve melted beeswax in the microwave for years and never had any problems. The trick is to use a Pyrex measuring cup; cut the beeswax into thin slivers; and watch it closely, stirring every 30 seconds to prevent hot spots.

(If you ever do have a fire in your microwave, just unplug it and leave the door shut until the fire burns out. It shouldn’t take long, because there’s not much oxygen in there.)

When the beeswax was mostly melted, I added the coconut oil and continued nuking and stirring until it was all melted together. Then I stirred in the olive oil and enough wintergreen and peppermint essential oil to make it smell nice, poured it into silicone molds, and stuck them in the freezer to harden. Once they solidified, I wrapped them in candymaker’s foil and stored them in an old sherbet tub in the freezer.

To use, hold a bar in your hands until it softens up, then rub it over your skin. It takes a while to soak in, but it’s a good overnight moisturizer that doubles as an excellent lip balm.

Emily

P.S.: Hat tip to Mom Makes Joy, who posted the recipe I used as the basis for mine.

Just what the Doctor ordered

“An N95 respirator is the safest thing to put between myself and a virus, but it is by no means the most interesting.”
— The Third Doctor, probably

As a courtesy to everybody he interviews this week, Ron has been following the governor’s advice and covering his face.

With a bandanna.

Which makes him look as if he is planning to rob a stagecoach after deadline.

I couldn’t let him run around like that, so I rummaged through my craft closet tonight and let him pick through my fabric stash to find something he could handle wearing. He chose a blue fabric with Our Lady of Guadalupe on it. He could do worse than to have the Mother of God standing between him and everybody’s cooties, I suppose.

I, of course, insisted on geeking it up. It would take a pretty audacious virus to try to get past twelve Doctors. (This fabric predates Thirteen by a couple of years.)

Allons-y!

Emily

P.S.: Ron also has an N95 respirator to go with his stylish cloth mask. I found it in my craft closet tonight while I was searching for elastic. I think I bought it to ward off migraines while I was painting the kitchen in Cape, so if you see him in it, don’t side-eye him too much. I’m pretty sure the people fighting the pandemic didn’t want a slightly used mask that’s been rocking around in the bottom of a craft bin for three years. o__O

Sustainability on a shoestring