Monday, January 31, 2011

The Race

Good morning on this fine, fine, drizzly Monday!  Apparently our scattered showers are nothing when considered in relation to the whopper of a storm headed to a huge swath of the country today.  Yikes and a half!  Anyway, I thought a little anecdote from this weekend might amuse you.
My 4-year-old son Bear has been really into running lately... just short fun races of course.  He knows I run, and he loves to run around our nearby trails, which is what got this started.  Of course he’s not “training" or anything, and we only sign him up for races when he asks.
A few weeks back, Bear started bugging me to sign him up for another race, so this past Saturday he and I did a 1 mile "fun run" near home. Based on Bear’s reaction to not winning prior races (of course he’s not going to win… he’s usually the smallest, youngest runner out there!), we had long pep talks almost every day for the last 2 weeks, then again during the drive to the race , and even during the race itself.
I very cheerily told Bear leading up to this, and even while we ran, that there was no way we were going to win.  I gave him this news happily, talked to him about how I never win my own races and that it’s about finishing not winning, yadda yadda. We agreed (I thought) that we needed to either decide to have fun no matter what or not to run, and he was all into it, big smiles, looking around, having a blast. He seemed particularly pleased because we learned at the starting line that finishers would get medals. Hurray!
Not actual medal, not actual size.
We had gone almost the full mile and were rounding the corner toward the finish line -- mind you, we were far back in the field but were not last at this point by any means -- being cheered on by a group of teenage girls and some older kids who had already finished the race, and we had no more than 100 yards to go, when Bear collapsed (deliberately) in a crying heap, wailing that, "I'm not going to win!" and "I won't get a medal!" and all this sort of thing. Bear would not budge, not even with all sorts of cajoling from me and the girls and a sweet kid named Chris who couldn't have been more than 11 years old. Bear wouldn't let me carry him to the finish line... if I tried to pick him up, he turned to spaghetti, crying the whole time.  The one time I did manage to lift him and carry him for a few yards, he wriggled out of my arms and scurried back to his crying spot.  I was flummoxed.
It took Bear and me maybe 13 or 14 minutes to run most of the mile-long course and another 10 minutes to get the last 100 yards, but finally Bear walked (reluctantly) that last bit on his own and collapsed again ON the finish line where he lay on his back, crying at the sky for another 2 minutes or so. A short while later, Bear bawled that he couldn't find this Chris kid to thank him for convincing him to finish and coming with us the whole, tedious, grudging way from the crying spot to the finish line... my adjectives, not Bear’s.
We have not had a "clean" race yet, but he keeps saying they're so much fun. ?!?!?!?!?
Have a great week, my friends!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Always a VP, Never a P

Between my full-time school obligations, my work commitments and my family time – which is non-negotiable in my head – my time is locked up tight these days, with only maybe 5 minutes before drifting off to sleep to read a page or two of the huge novel my mom gave me for my birthday.
So imagine my surprise, and my initial reaction, when my neighborhood’s HOA President emailed me to ask me to be the HOA Vice President. In his very sweet and encouraging email, he commented how the HOA duties take very little time and how all of the other HOA board members are very busy, so I should feel right at home.
My first thought was, “Bubala, you don’t know from busy! Oy!”
My husband and our kids playing tetherball at our neighborhood park.
But then, two things occurred to me. First, our HOA is both voluntary and passive. We don’t have the kind of HOA that threatens to charge you penalties if your shutters are the wrong shade of off-black or intimidates you if you don’t park your cars perfectly parallel in your driveway (if you’re uncouth enough not to hide your cars in your garage, merciful heavens).  Our HOA puts on a few neighborhood festivals each year, organizes a couple of yard sales, runs an online message board and keeps the neighborhood communal areas as safe and pretty as possible. Not a bear of a burden. Second, I realized that I was already getting involved in neighborhood-y stuff – announcing stuff going on with our school system, contributing to gripe sessions about a nearby amphitheatre, calling out neighbors who let their dogs run wild – and would like to support the amazing people on the board getting stuff done.
So… I am now the HOA VP. Ironically, I’ve been a VP before, for work. In fact, I’ve been several VPs, though no never two at the same time. I’ve never been president, though I think I don’t want to be. Ever. Like, never ever. I like deferring to someone. Call me crazy, call me lazy.
The funniest thing about all of this, aside from the fact that I’m giddy all the time now from pure exhaustion, is that I’m simply awful at organizing the kinds of events the HOA runs. Seriously. I’m very much not event planning material. I’m also a disastrously inept fund raiser. The last time I ran a marathon to raise money for charity, I contributed half of my pledged minimum donation out of my own pocket. (If any of my neighbors who haven’t paid their dues are reading this, don’t get any ideas.)
Well, that’s what’s new in my ‘hood. I’ll let you all know when we’re ready to have our next neighborhood yard sale. Come buy our old stuff. Support your friendly HOA VP, or your friend the HOA VP.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Look Out, Your Career is Showing

For those of you who may not know me so well, or even for those who do but can’t quite get a fix on what my career is, I have been working primarily in recruitment and recruitment advertising and marketing for more than 16 years. What that means is that I’ve spent many years helping companies sort out ways to promote their jobs – e.g., help wanted ads, job postings, etc – and their employment brands.  That’s the super-basic “nutshell” and doesn’t include the half year where I worked as a Writers’ Assistant on Spelling Entertainment’s “Love Boat: The Next Wave,” starring Robert Urich. A classic if there ever was one.
What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with school?  Not much, except that it encroached on my Literature class this week.
For my Thursday class, we were assigned to read a short story called “Rodman the Keeper” by Constance Fenimore Woolson. It was written during Reconstruction, and the main character is a former Union soldier named John Rodman who is the keeper of “the national cemetery” located in the South (presumably the one at Andersonville).  
We learn during the story that Rodman wasn’t assigned to this duty but rather learned about it and applied for the post. The first thought I had upon reading this passage was, “I wonder how they went about advertising the job?” After kicking myself hard in the calf for such ridiculousness, I put down the book and considered for a while how one would describe the job to appeal to the right potential candidate, where one would promote such a post back in those days and how one would go about applying.
What… the… heck??? 
Also, while my professors and more intellectual classmates were drawing insightful parallels to classics by Dickens and Faulkner, I sidelined-psychoanalyzed Rodman and declared that “he has serious survivor guilt issues.” 
Ah, well.  As always, Old Dog, New Tricks.
On a side note, if you can manage it, please take a moment and leave some love with fellow blogger at, who is going through a serious, wrenching, personal tragedy right now. And if you know of anyone who refuses to ask for help in troubled times or who is considering suicide, her site is a must-visit right now. Just know it’s raw and it’s real, and it will break your heart.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Learning to Obey: Another New Trick for This Old Dog

UPDATE (1/28/11):  Not surprisingly, Project Coach has turned out to be a fantastic projectmate and a nice new friend!  This just reinforces my assertion that any initial challenges were my own.  Must learn to go with the flow more....

For one of my classes, I am encountering a phenomenon I have not experienced for many years… group work.  I have a paper to develop with a class partner, including finding and reviewing a ton of primary research, as well as a larger group effort involving building a long proposal.  Things are starting to get interesting, and I’m finding myself a bit flustered by the whole thing, more so even than with the whole downloadable book issue.
The irony in this is that my very career, has been built on collaborative work.  When you work in a niche advertising environment, it’s important to function well in a team: to identify partners whose skill set compliment your own, to determine and assign deliverables, to manage a timeline and ensure all components of a project are delivered on time and to specification, yadda yadda yadda.  One would think that this group activity for my class would fill me with ease and comfort since it, in theory, matches what I’ve been doing for work.  And one would be wrong in thinking that.
Let me state first that I really do respect, and even like, my project partner.  I can be a bit taxing to work with, since I’m a smidge of a perfectionist, but after only a few days working on our first paper, I can tell that Project Partner has similar tendencies. This is all good. But I’m also getting the sense that Project Partner isn’t quite used to working in a team environment. OR she is used to working in a team environment, but she’s also used to being the coach.
When we sat down at Starbucks to discuss the topic of our paper and how we should get started, Project Partner smiled and apologized that she had had no time to review a vital prep document, and she asked if I’d mind if she spent a few moments tackling that. No, I indicated, I did not mind, and so she scanned the document. From there, we determined our topic and wandered through some websites, familiarizing ourselves with certain databases, search norms and a few other key elements. All seemed fabulous and easy.
THEN… Project Partner unexpectedly morphed (was it just too much coffee?) into Project Coach. From the Time of her Transition, I couldn’t get more than a sentence out of my mouth at any given time. Project Coach reworded every one of my comments into some sort of “accepted verbiage” for the project outline. She redirected me if I made a suggestion. She dictated where I should and shouldn’t search for documents. I found myself wanting to respond to her comments with, "Yes, ma'am." It was unnerving!
The key here is that I’m probably too used to being in a management role. In other words, “It’s not her, it’s me.” (Yes, I know that’s grammatically incorrect.)  But man, this is going to take time to get used to! (Ditto.)
I suppose this is a learning experience, and since I’m in school to learn, this is all for the positive. Or so I’ll continue to tell myself until these papers are turned in.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Born Again Modesty

I know that throughout this experience I should write about higher learning type stuff that’s interesting from an intellectual, my-how-college-differs-from-my-career perspective.  However, I had an experience today that must take precedence.  Today, I ran at the university’s Rec Center, and afterwards I showered and changed in the locker rooms.  Of course I showered; when I run, I sweat.  A lot.  But that’s not where I’m going with all this.  No, rather, I encountered the end-all be-all of locker room heaven: shower stalls with enclosed changing areas!
All right, so I know that’s not mind blowing for some of you. Still, most of us who have joined (and used) a gym since reaching independent adulthood have experienced the wide open locker areas that provide little-to-no opportunity to cover up – or hide away – while changing clothes or getting dressed post-shower. It’s… um… it’s intimidating, okay?  And if you’ve ever changed in one of these giant diorama type areas, you almost certainly have found yourself twisting and bending awkwardly while trying to pull on underwear without knocking off the towel precariously wrapped around your upper torso only to then have to sort out how to drop the towel while at the exact same moment putting on your bra so simultaneously that you don’t accidentally flash the other novice contortionists in the room.  I wonder if there is some Guinness World Record to be attained with all this?
Yes, yes, we should all be grown ups and not care about others of the same sex seeing our naked bodies. Our bodies are beautiful and natural, right?  WRONG!  Wrong, I tell you!  ...  Ah, I kid.  I admire women who can just let it all out and be okay with their naked selves in a relatively public private place. I, however, am not one of them.
I was forced to confront this fact head-on today when upon learning that I could shower and dress without anyone seeing me I almost laughed out loud with joy.  I must have looked a bit lunatic, grinning from ear to ear while shuffling madly toward the shower stalls carrying my towel and giant gym back.  “Uh oh, Ma escaped and wandered over to the university gymnasium again to try to use their super secret ultra modest shower stalls. Your turn to round her up.”
On a side note, did you ever notice how cheap, brown paper towels at large institutional buildings smell not terribly unlike throw-up?  Just an observation.
Anyway, today I am grateful for the modesty of college age young women and for the university I attend that took the trouble to design facilities respectful of that attribute. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Technically Old School

I cannot believe I’m about to admit this, but I am old school.  I mean seriously old school, as in this old dog apparently is having trouble learning new tricks.  The long and short?  I hate reading my online schoolbooks.  Hate with a capital L.O.A.T.H.E.
The odd thing about this is that while I am getting a little lengthy in the tooth, I am pretty familiar with (addicted to?) the Interweb and computer-y stuff.  I get most of my news via a wide variety of online sources.  I spend way too much time on Facebook and Twitter and email; I don’t actually speak out loud with any friends anymore.  I follow techie newsie social-y stuff on TechCrunch and Mashable.  People, I even advise clients on ways to ramp up and enhance their social media presence, and I spend a good amount of time testing different tools and sites and whatnot.  I’m not a guru, but a slouch I am not.  
My precious Kindle in front of my favorite elephant lamp
In addition, my husband and parents teamed up to get me a Kindle this year, which I ADORE. J’adore. Lo quiero. Did you guys know there are, like, a billion books, including many classics, that you can get for FREE to load onto your Kindle?  I spent hours and hours a few days ago force-feeding classics into my skinny little reader buddy, classics I may or may not ever choose to or care to read.  Just because they’re “classics” and they’re “free.”  As my husband says, if it’s free, I’ll take two!
Where was I?  Oh yes… so a few of my classes offered downloadable books, and I thought, “Wow, how very technologically awesome! And so environmentally conscious. Yes! I will buy the downloadable books!” And so I did.
The first problem I encountered – and if you’ve been in college this century, you may know this already – is that these books aren’t always (often?) made for a Kindle type reader. Nook can read some, but not all. The books I was assigned… well, they each needed a special, downloadable reader, and neither reader system carried both books I needed.  So now I have two new programs on my computer, each taking up space and memory in order for me to read a single book.
So far, not great but not awful, right?
I ran into the second problem when I tried to read one of my downloaded books from my laptop computer while sitting on my couch. The reader system just churned and churned but wouldn’t open my book.  After a few refreshes and a complete reboot, I called the company customer service and told him exactly what was happening.  Here is a snippet of our actual conversation:
Customer Service:  I think I know what’s wrong. Are you using a laptop and not plugged in?
Me:  Um, yes, that’s correct. My laptop is not plugged in.
Customer Service:   Ah, that’s the problem. Our system won’t run correctly unless your computer’s plugged in.
Me:  Come again?
Customer Service:  Our system glitches up when you’re on battery power.
Me:  Let me get this straight. If I am working from my laptop from some random place, like a Starbucks or my couch or a playground that happens to have WiFi, and I'm not plugged into a wall socket, I can’t read my downloaded book?
Customer Service:  Yes, ma’am.
Me:  And this system is supposed to be helpful for modern college students?
Customer Service:  Yes, ma’am.
So I went online and bought the physical book, which would be in my possession already had it not been for Snowmageddon.
The other downloadable book reader isn’t as odd in its performance, but after a week using it, I have to admit that I don’t love reading a book on my computer screen.  I don’t like scrolling down to read a column of text only to have to scroll back up to the top of the next column.  Highlighting via touchpad is kind of anticlimactic, and, well, there’s something so very scholastic and memory-enhancing (and just a smidge naughty!) about scrawling actual, handwritten notes on a physical schoolbook!  Don’t ya think?  And isn’t there even a study about how writing by hand helps lock in knowledge?
Oh, well. Enough griping. I suppose I should drag my sorry behind into the 21st century. This old dog has some more online reading to do. While taking copious notes. Into a notebook. By hand. With a ballpoint pen.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Where Did I Put My Brain Again?

One of the things I’m finding about my new studential life is that I am overwhelmed.  It’s not the workload that is making me nuts (already, only 4 days into my first semester).  The volume of work and the reading materials and all that are not only manageable but exciting!  It’s the schedule that has me in a tizzy.  A schedule involving 2 in-person classes and 2 online classes which, while challenging, also afford the potential to tackle the work when the kids are asleep or from Starbucks or after an awe-inspiring, stress-relieving rendition of Don’t Rain on My Parade, thank you very much, Glee Karaoke Revolution for Wii.
You’d think, based on my almost clinical inability to maintain a clear thought in my head about due dates and deadlines that my career to this point has involved just dancing along, doing what I want when I want without a care in the world.  “La dee dah!  Hey, you know what?  Maybe I’ll write an ad today and place it somewhere. Print? No no no, that involves an actual deadline. Let’s put it online so I can post it tonight sometime, like during the break between Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice.”
During my career, I admit that I’ve become a bit of a slave to my Outlook calendar, but I didn’t realize how much!  Good gravy!  I have now put every single class, exam, post and other deliverable onto my Google calendar, along with many SMS and email reminders, in the hopes of not living that college nightmare of forgetting something critical or – heaven forbid! – reaching the end of the semester only to find I’ve never been to a class for which I was secretly registered, secretly even to myself!  Oh heavens!
I also am discovering that my ability to quickly read, analyze and interpret content – an ability I’ve leaned on heavily for client support for, oh, 16 years or so now – has abandoned me.  Hopefully a temporary setback until my brain adjusts to scholastic writing versus marketing-type jargon?  So far I’ve officially read 150 chapters in the last week.  It seems.  Or rather I’ve read 5 chapters close to 10 times apiece.  A few words are starting to ring familiar. Ish.
Either way, I love my highlighter, and my calendar is my lifeline right now.  When I’m away from my computer, I feel a little shaky and adrift, like a little kid on a raft slowly floating away from the beach on a slightly offshore current. What was I reading again?  When is that response due?  Is it THIS Sunday or NEXT Sunday?  Did I already do it, or was that my imagination?
This is what being snowed into my house for 5 days has done to me.  (Check out my porch, people! And this is not far outside Atlanta!)  Perhaps I need to take the hint and spend the rest of the day scouring the house for my brain.  I think I remember putting it away upstairs, maybe when we moved in?

Inaugural Post -- Welcome, All! Welcome, Me!

Welcome, friends, Romans, countrymen, people with time on their hands, etcetera, to my inaugural post to my new blog, which may or may not continue after the first few posts.  For those of you who may not know me, I’m a not-quite-40-year-old advertising professional, with two small children, who has decided to embark on a new career… teaching.  High School.  English.  And yes, I did this voluntarily, not due to a lay-off or anything like that.

Way way way (you get the picture) back in high school, I had this amazing English teacher -- let’s call her Mrs. Amazing -- who literally changed my future.  Until my senior year in high school, I was in love with math, though I had no idea what I would do with math in a professional sense.  College loomed, and I just kind of went with my parents’ suggestion to consider pursuing a business degree.  Why not, right?  Business is sort of business-y and general and promises big bucks and all that.

Anyway, I’d always done well in English, but I thought it was super boring and tedious and rigid.  Then I was assigned to Mrs. Amazing’s English class.  She made English fun (*gasp!*)!  She would let us write the way we spoke and gave us context for books we read and spoke to us like other people, not morons.  It was liberating!  And then – here’s the kicker – I finally got that all those novels I inhaled at home and all the notes I constantly wrote to my friends between (and during) classes had something to do with this whole English class thing!  Amazing! 

Well, I went on to major in English in college, and that led me to my career in advertising and recruiting.  It’s been a great career, but it’s time for me to pursue my dream of teaching, of following in Mrs. Amazing’s footsteps.  I think.  If I can do it without screwing it up.

The first step, of course, is returning to school to get at least credentialed in teaching and hopefully to earn my Master’s in Teaching as well.  So that’s what this blog will focus on, at least for now… What is it like for a long-time workaholic professional with two small kids to return to being a full-time student in today’s university environment?  How will the transition go?  What will be easy and what will be mind-blowingly different to the point of frightening?  Is success a possibility? Is failure an option? Will all this typing count as exercise?  We shall see.  Onward and… onward!
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