Monday, February 27, 2012

Ahhh, motherly support

After arriving at my parents' house yesterday, I removed my coat and my mother hung it in the hall closet. "How cute!" she said, looking at my ever-growing belly. "You're really moving up in the world!" Well, moving out might be more accurate. 

Anyway, I responded that, yes, this bump is a-growin' and my shirts are getting too short. Moments later, she took another look at my stomach and said, "I hate to say this, but - " 

"Don't even say this baby is going to be big." 

". . . he might not be such a little guy after all . . . . " The "little guy" assumption comes from my 20-week ultrasound when his weight put him in the 29th percentile. 

A few hours later, when Brad arrived after putting the first coat of stain on our newly sanded hallway floor (yes, we are once again displaced, roaming around the 'burbs of Pittsburgh, transient-like), I reported my mother's comments to him. He chuckled.

"Well, it's just that it's all in front," she said in defense. "It's not anywhere else."

I made a face at her. 

"You're just such a small person, so maybe it's not actually that big, it just looks big on you." 

Another face. 

"I'm just saying." 

It's too late, Mom. It's way too late: you've already put the terror of a 9 lb. baby into my head. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Somebody teach me!

In addition to learning how to garden, I really want to learn how to make rag rugs. And how to fold origami. And how to quilt. (And how to do the wiring for a new lighting fixture where one does not currently exist, but it seems wise to leave that up to my brother-in-law who once worked more or less as an electrician during the summers.) 

I think I could probably handle the quilting - if only I had a sewing machine (and $150 to buy said sewing machine). But the rag rugs mystify me - even after reading several different explanations/tutorials - and I have a feeling origami would do the same. Imagine the crafting I could get involved with if only I had these skills! The crafting could go on for hours! 

Oh, it's beautiful! 
I know you experts are out there . . . give me some pointers, tips, secrets, tricks of the trade please

Friday, February 17, 2012

Take that (!), Craigslist

Well, I finally did it: I found my chest of drawers for the nursery! And with no help from Craigslist whatsoever. 

As a matter of fact, I am officially sick of CL b.s. and glad to no longer be relying on it for my secondhand furnishing needs at this moment. (Though I must say I snagged a beautiful second-hand convertible stationary crib - Storkcraft in a sort of honey oak color - for my mom's house this weekend in a snap - and it came with a Sealy mattress, all for $75.) 

After a month and a half of searching for a chest multiple times a day, with approx. 18 e-mails sent and 3 phones calls made, I got a grand total of 5 e-mail responses and 1 return call. One of those e-mails was to say "sold"; another to say "selling as a whole set"; another to repeat what was written on the ad and not answer my questions; another to which I responded with a when-can-I-come-see-it and then never heard back; and another to say he wouldn't send me pictures. 

Wow, great. Thanks so much, everyone. 

So basically, I'm ticked at the Craigslist culture that says it's okay to treat potential buyers like idiots if you feel like it. 

But there's happy news . . . the chest! Found it at the ReStore last Friday (my 6th trip there in a month and a half), tried all the drawers (they work), imagined it with white paint and knobs (looks great in my mind!), paid my $55, and was on my merry way. 

Honestly, I thought the price was a little steep, about $15 too much, but for that measly amount I couldn't pass it up or think twice about it given all the looking I have done and all the hours I have spent on said looking. The principle didn't matter one iota in comparison with the joy I knew I would feel once Brad hauled this baby upstairs. And oh yes, I did feel (and am still feeling) joy. 

This chest meets all the necessary size requirements, required no driving to distant lands (okay, distant towns) to see/pick it up/possibly pass on it, and I was already in the Blazer, allowing for immediate transport. 

Basically it's about chest height and narrow-ish - which is just what we need for the space under the slanting of the ceiling - the style is simple and therefore versatile, and it will clean up nicely with a few coats of paint. SOLD! 

Finding this gal made for a much less stressed-out weekend last week, though this weekend I'm stressing about the need to get it and the dresser painted . . . but first we've got finish the whole board and batten thing. And right quick, too, since the 3rd trimester started Monday! Yikes - where has the time gone?! 

Take 'em for what they're worth: Student Evaluations

As a beginning teacher, receiving student evaluations from the previous semester is a nerve-wracking thing. When you're first starting out, you have very few ways to gauge your effectiveness, and that first set of evals is often (but not always) the first sign you have of whether or not you're bombing out. That's not to say it's a particularly accurate sign, but it's a sign no less. 

As time goes on (and stacks of evaluations pile up in your drawer/your hard-drive), your attitude toward these responses changes a bit, if only because experience teaches you what to look for, what to expect - and, perhaps most importantly, what not to get (too) worked up about. 

Though some people posture, saying they don't care what their scores/comments are, I've found that to be universally untrue, at least of the graduate student teaching population. Still, there does come a point when you care less, which, in the world of uber fragile grad student egos, is a pretty good place to be. I think I've almost reached that point (almost), and along the way I've gathered a few lessons. 

The number #1 lesson I've learned from student evals. is something I knew anyway: students care more about their grades than anything else. And, a corollary - they don't conceive of a "C" as average/satisfactory, even if you do. And even if you say this every. other. class. period. for. a. semester. 

Caring about one's grade first and foremost isn't, in and of itself, a bad thing (to my mind), but it does explain why year after year, students gripe about how difficult the grading in my class is - even when I feel like their end-of-the-semester grades are decidedly inflated and not a true reflection of many students' work and abilities. (Though, it should be noted that their grades at the time of evals are almost always lower than they are at the end of the semester because things like participation, homework, and revisions - generally factored in only at the end of the semester - raise student grades a lot. And this is something you eventually learn to live with, even if you do so with a grimmace.) 

True, my grade spread is typically lower than most other teachers' that I've talked to, but not by so much that it makes a shocking difference. It's simply a fact that all students want an A, most think they deserve at least a B, and only a couple will be satisfied with the C that they earn. If you're not willing to change your grading so that your class average is a B+ (I'm not), then the best thing to do is accept the fact that your students will think your grading is too difficult - and move on. 

The #2 lesson I've learned from student evaluations is that after a while (a few semesters?), they start to look pretty much the same from year to year

See #1 for an example of this. 

Now, don't get me wrong - these evaluations can offer meanginful feedback that helps you adapt your teaching style, and I have found them useful over the past 6 years. And I certainly always emphasize their importance to my students. But by and large, the "kind" of teacher you will become is set after the first, I don't know, maybe two or three years of teaching. And after that, not a whole lot will change in how you do things (for better or worse), and, therefore, not a whole lot of going to change in how the students respond. 

For example, if you're the kind of teacher who provides extensive feedback on essays, it's probably because you find that to be really important. This is unlikely to change from semester to semester (though I bet you'll scale back a teensy bit after a while :), and students are, by and large, unlikely to respond to it any differently from semester to semester. If, by contrast, you think that large amounts of teacher commentary on student writing stifles the student's individual writing process (or you don't want to spend the time writing such commentary), you're unlikely to start offering pages of feedback after five years in the classroom. 

This is, of course, a generalization, and I'm sure many people have made huge changes in their teaching practice after 10 years in a classroom. I just haven't seen it, and I haven't experienced it in my own teaching. Maybe I'll say something different 4 years from now. Anyway, the point is, you're going to see a lot of comments and numbers on these evals that look, well, a lot like what you saw last semester (and the semester before that, etc.). 

And, directly in contrast to #2, the #3 lesson I've learned is to never be surprised by any comment or score you receive

An example: a few years ago, I got the best scores I've ever gotten from the worst class I've ever taught. They misbehaved, didn't do their work, never participated, could have cared less about our class, and generally made my life miserable for a semester. And they knew I felt that way. (B/c I more or less told them.) And yet, when I received my scores, I was floored by how high they were. 

While it's tempting to say, "They probably just didn't care enough to put anything but the highest number," once you understand students in general (they always care enough to complain - from freshmen on up through doctoral students, myself included) and this class specifically, it becomes apparent that wasn't the case. The explanation? Who knows. Seriously, I have no idea. The only thing I've been able to think up is that they somehow managed to appreciate the fact that I struggled day in and day out to get them to learn/care/participate when day in and day out they showed me they weren't interested in doing so. Even this is probably wrong. 

But it works the other way, too - sometimes you're blind-sided by a nasty comment or two or by a whole set of not-that-wonderful scores. Sometimes, it's impossible for you to imagine who in your class could have written such an undeserving criticism ("But we had such a great atmosphere!" you exclaim) or how half the class could possibly think your (fill in the blank with teaching quality) was "about the same as other classes." 

The key is to take it in stride. Spend a few minutes pondering the evaluation "surprise," see if there's anything useful to be gleaned from it, and if there is, great, and if not, that's fine, too. 

Basically, while they can be important/useful/helpful, don't give the evals you receive after any given 15- or 16-week period the power to make you feel like Professor Idiot - or like Queen Teacher of the World.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Friday 4: Traits I hope baby gets from daddy

This week: some praisin' of the hubby.

4.  His height 

Yeah, that's right, one of the four traits I picked is Brad's height, a superficial thing perhaps, but an important one nonetheless. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and tall guys, you know it's true, have it easier than short ones. 

Brad is 6' 2.5", and his dad (before he started shrinking a little with age, haha) is 6' 4". I hope the little one grows nice and tall like his papa and grandpa, but maybe not so quickly that he grows out of the clothes I buy him before he's had a chance to wear them at least a handful of times :). 

3.  His likeability 

In the 11+ years I've known him, I've only ever known of ONE person who didn't like my husband.* Seriously. People just like him a lot. And it makes sense - Brad's sincere, kind, easy to joke with, fun to be around - you know, likeable. 

*This was a former boss of his who disliked him upon learning of his existence b/c her coworker (and his co-boss) had hired Brad without her knowledge. There was a lot of politics going on at that workplace, to say the least, and this person doesn't even seem fair to count. 

2.  His family-centered-ness 

Brad puts me and "us" before everything else pretty much all of the time. I wouldn't want to be with someone who did any differently. His fiction-writing is important to him, but not nearly as important as our family; he takes his job seriously, but not nearly as seriously as he does our family; and so on and so on. 

I hope my child learns from his father that a "real" man puts his family first, looks out for those he loves, and values the people who care about him. 

1.  His generosity 

There are a lot of stingy people out there, but my husband isn't one of them. He's openly loving to me every day, which is perhaps the best form of generosity I can imagine. Beyon that, he's never stingy with money, always making sure I have something before he does. And he frequently goes out of his way to help me. If that's not worth passing on to your child, then I don't know what is. 

Though, now that I think of it, my hubby can be a little stingy with his time . . . but's that's actually something we have in common :) - and he's not stingy with it with me, so we'll give him a pass. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

$8.50, 10 minutes, and a Salvation Army near you (well, me)

You know that expensive Salvation Army (haha) I complained about in the past? Well, they didn't come through for me on the chest of drawers (but that's okay since the ReStore did - more on that soon), but they do have some pretty stinkin' cute baby clothes for some pretty stinkin' good prices. And today I picked some up.

$8.50 got me these 7 onesies - originally from Target (Circo brand), Gymboree, Gerber, and Carter's - and a Steelers bib. I'm pretty sure that bib will be completely useless as a bib, but it's so darn cute and was only $1.99 and, the main reason I got it, it will put a smile on Brad's face. 

Second from the left, front row says, "If mom says no,
ask grandma" - how cute is that?! 
Those are little brown buttons on 
the wheels and propeller! 
Considering a 3-pack of Circo onesies from Target goes for $8.99, I'd say I did pretty well. This sweet little airplane one alone would cost $14.95 if I bought it new at Gymboree. $14.95! For a onesie that a baby will fit in for maybe three months! Ha! I much prefer the $.99 I spent. Hopefully the baby will appreciate my frugality, haha. 

Oh, and while we're talking today's deals from the Salvation Army, how about this gorgeous goldy yellow cashmere throw I got for just $8! I know a nursery, master bedroom, and living room that would love to have that draped over the back of a chair. Let's hope they don't fight it out. 

And instead of paying $8 more to have it dry-cleaned and doused in toxic chemicals, I'm going to get some baby shampoo (which we'll be needing soon enough anyway!) and follow Luci's directions for how to wash cashmere in the washing machine. Done and done!

Lay vs. Lie

I just can't keep it straight. No matter having a language arts teacher for a mother, no matter having looked it up online 10 times, no matter having asked this or that person over and over again. I cannot remember when to use "lay" or "lie" or "lays" or "laid" or "lain." Can't do it. 

A language is an infinitely vast and flexible thing - why then must we use the same words to mean multiple things?! Ahhhhhhhh! 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The S(t)uper Bowl

It's hard to root for anyone when one team is the absolutely gag-a-licious New England Patriots and the other is led by boo-hoo-I-refuse-to-play-for-the-team-that-drafted-me-b/c-they-aren't-very-good Eli Manning. 

In this instance, the only thing to do, as I see it, is root against the team that you hate the most. 

And that's easy. B/c there's no team in the National Football League that I (or Brad) hates more than the Patriots. Not the Ravens (who are like thugs, in my mind - no doubt b/c of Ray Lewis), not the Browns (who I have a hard time taking seriously), not the Bengals. The Patriots are the absolute awfulest, even if that's not a real word. 

Tom Brady makes me want to smack my head off the wall (and the question "Is he the greatest QB ever?" makes me want to do a double smack. NO, OF COURSE HE IS NOT. There. Settled). And would somebody please get Belichick a sweatshirt with FULL SLEEVES?! How difficult is it to not-cut your sleeves off?! Or to push them up when you get hot?! Oh goodness I hate them with a fury one reserves for arch enemies and the guy who takes the last bag of plain Lays off the shelf two seconds before you reach for it. 

Oh, whew. Just needed to get that out. 

Now, back to the game. Let's go, gulp, Giants. Let's go. Sigh.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Friday 4: Traits I Hope We Don't Pass On

So, I've decided this is going to be my little theme for the next few weeks, traits I hope Brad and I do - and don't - pass on to our little guy. We'll start with the don'ts first to get 'em out of the way. 

4.  Brad's money-sense 

Even though Brad does all the banking (I'm not confident I could even write a check without at least minor assistance : / ), I'm the money mind in our family. When he got his first credit card at, I think, age 23, he joked, "Free money!" and while that's humorous as a joke, were I not there to insist that the balance be paid every month in full, he might have just spent the next year (till we got married) treating that plastic like an orange tree sprouting dollar bills. 

It's not that my husband is wasteful or self-indulgent - he's not. He doesn't buy cd's or clothes or movies, he doesn't spend money at the bar, etc., nor does he complain about not doing so. But when he goes to the grocery store, for example, he puts the things he/I/we want into the cart without checking the price (while I'm like, "$4 for a bag of chips?! No way!") and if I said, "Let's go on vacation," he'd give the thumbs up without thinking twice. And when we first met, I had thousands of dollars in the bank at age 18, while at age 20 he had a "Spend it the second you get it" philosophy. 

Also, he's not really a planner, so he doesn't create big picture plans with our money. It's just not how he operates. Happily, he very much appreciates my ability to do so. Which means I formulate most of our money goals and ideas, which works out well since I'm a bit of a, er, well, control freak. 

3.  My impatience 

It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I can't wait two seconds for anything. I'm easily agitated when things aren't going snap snap snap, and as soon as things seem not to be working out right away, I'm convinced they're going all awry. In fact, I'm too impatient to even write more about this topic :). 

2.  Our collective eating habits 

My husband's idea of "dinner" is a plate of Tyson chicken tenders/fingers: honey, southern style, crispy, original, honey bbq - if you can name the flavor, on any given day, there's a 50% chance you'll find a bag of it in our freezer. And if I didn't constantly have an aneurysm over the price, he'd go through a bag of Hershey's Kisses all by his lonesome every week. 

Yes, this looks gross - but it's this close
to looking good 
And believe me, I'm not much better. I'm a drink-a-holic (sans alcohol of course), and I would pick a Starbucks, Mt. Dew, IBC Black Cherry, or any number of juices over food most days of the week. I swear half my calories come in liquid form. Like, I got have my drinks. And until I was pregnant and getting sick if I didn't eat early in the day, I usually had my first bite of food circa 3 p.m., sometimes later. And that food was usually pizza or something nutritionally similar. 

So, we're not exactly health gurus in this household. And that's going to have to change, I know, once baby gets big enough to model his eating on ours. But that's gonna be a huge endeavor - you know, undoing just about 30 years of attitudes, preferences, and habits toward one of life's most enjoyable staples . . . . 

1.  My critical-ness/judgmentalness 

I can admit it - I'm too critical of everything. The brash color of the news anchor's lipstick is just as likely to get a comment from me as is the ridiculously unkempt house/yard/driveway down the block. And I'm equally critical of myself, sometimes too much so. 

I haven't been doing a stellar job of this, but I have lately been making little efforts to just button my lips whenever possible. This isn't to say that I don't think a lot of not-that-nice things, but the first step toward being less critical seems, to me, not saying all of them out loud. Which is, I must say, difficult in the environment of grad school where pretty much all everyone does is gossip (it helps to keep you sane, as Jo says). 

Regardless, it seems like the attempt to not pass on the judgmental gene to my little guy begins with him not hearing me cast aspersions left and right 24/7.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Hitting the Wall

Well, it's official: with one and a half weeks of the 2nd trimester to go, I've reached the point where I can no longer carry on my day as I normally would were I not pregnant. I'm. just. so. freaking. tired. 

The 2nd trimester (well, since about week 15) has been relatively good to me. The first trimester stomach issues disappeared; my headaches became very infrequent and more a result of a tight neck rather than hormones; and for someone who's only been able to sleep from 5-6 hours a night in 2.5 or 3 hours increments (which is torture) since week 6, I've had a decent amount of energy. Until this week. 

I feel it, lady, I feel it 
After going about a normal day yesterday (chiropractor, schoolwork, the store, going walking, shower, etc.), I was pretty much exhausted by 6:30. At this point, however, Brad and I began measuring and cutting the first of the baseboards for the nursery. It took us an hour to do two boards (and they're still a little too long), and my patience had worn thinner than thin and every muscle in my body was yelling, "Too tired!" 

That was it: all I could do was collapse on the couch till it was time for bed at 10:00. 

Tonight, after a long day at school, I didn't even try to do any cleaning, crafting, base-boarding, whatever. I just sat my rear down on the couch. 

I've tried to climb back on the horse with cardio this week - nothing too strenuous, just walking for 25 minutes - and maybe that's adding to the fatigue. (Although, isn't the big thing about exercise how much energy it supposedly gives you? I call bullsh*t!) But really, I think I've just gotten to that point where I need to slow down, where a long day at school is enough for one day, where I need to know when to take it easy. 

So, I'm trying to take it at least easier, if not truly easy. I can't say I'm thrilled at the prospect of the next 14.5 weeks in the slow lane, but once there's a sweet (read: crying, pooping, hungry) baby in the house, life will jump into high gear right quick, so I guess I should just embrace it, eh?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

This is how you know you're living way out yonder:

When you search Craigslist for the name of your township and the fifth result is a lamb for sale. Like, a real live lamb. On a farm. Yep, that's how you know. 

Bah! I want to come live with you! 

Scoping Today's Sales: Home Decor Sites

Urban Outfitters 

--If you're on the hunt for curtains (or maybe a new duvet cover), head on over to Urban Outfitters and check out their sale in the "Apartment" department. In addition to like 15 different curtains, there's a ton of cool stuff on sale - like an adorable whale toothbrush holder that would be perfect for a kid's bathroom (for $1.99!) - so it's worth spending 10 minutes if you're looking for home-y stuff with a bit of a contemporary kick. And, there's free shipping on orders over $50 - a major plus. 


--While Anthro always has a ton of really lovely and cool stuff, everyone knows their prices are atrocious. Sometimes silly, actually. Their home sale can sometimes - sometimes - turn up pretty decent deals, and I've really liked some of their sale hardware in the past (doorknobs, cabinet knobs, etc.) 

Currently, though, the sale stuff stinks, and it's a little hard for me to take this "sale" section seriously when, flanked by two little knobs on sale for $2.95 each is this (ugly, in my opinion) mirror 

Venus Mirror from Anthropologie 
for $1999.95. ON. SALE. What?! The original price tag is $2898, so I guess they think they're doing us a favor. 

My verdict:  if you've got an Anthropologie nearby, shop their in-store sale which is, like many in-store sales, much better than what you'll find online, though of course you won't find the big ticket items in the store. And if you don't have one, save yourself the irritation and skip this site's sale (at least at the moment). 

Pottery Barn 

Tons of Christmas stuff in the Clearance section - a lot of it is still very pricey, but the ornaments and stockings are pretty reasonable. 

They're also having a limited-time 20% off sale on baskets. While the sale prices are nothing to write home about, Pottery Barn does have some lovely baskets (and, as Brad says, I loooooove containers - baskets are no exception), so if you've been eyeing up any in particular, now's a good time to pounce. I especially love this Jacquelyne Recycling Bin Basket (on sale for a not-at-all-cheap $71), though I would certainly use it for something other than recycling! 

PB Jacquelyne Recycling Bin Basket 
The whole Jacquelyne line looks great, and the Beachcomber baskets are also really cool - their name makes me think of summer! I won't be snagging any of these because they cost as much as I'm willing to pay for certain pieces of furniture, but that doesn't mean I can't look for look-alikes in brick-and-mortars around here!