Archive for April, 2008

It’s Coming Together

There’s nothing quite like the week after a semester finishes. I’ve been so productive the last few days. Rob and I have put doors up on two kids’ bedrooms so that leaves only one more. I just finished installing the doorknob on the second one and sawing off the shims. My taxes are done and filed (just in the nick of time). Wood for the fence was delivered on Monday and I’m planning to order dirt for the garden later today. Hopefully this weekend will be warm and I’ll get lots done in the yard (including having my family over for my daughter’s (gasp!) fourteenth birthday! Of course by next week all of this energy will be gone and I’ll be wondering what the heck I got myself into…

And the week after that I’ll be whining that my next paper is due at the end of May and I’ve got nothing to say or the research doesn’t connect with my topic or something like that…and then that paper will get handed in after a week and a half of much coffee and little sleep.

Ahh the seasons of a student.

A Strategy for Writing a Long Paper

I’ve got a hideous paper due Friday and yesterday I realized (for reasons that I won’t go into now) that my topic is all wrong. Unfortunately, there’s no time to start over so I’ll have to make do with the research I’ve been doing all semester and salvage what I can when this semester is over.

I’m having trouble focusing on what to say in this paper (what with the premise being all wrong and stuff) so I’ve decided to break it down more than the usual outline. I did the outline last week — and it isn’t working. It’s too vague maybe for a long paper and I don’t know how to make it more detailed (yes the paper is due in two days).

So the new strategy? I took everything I’ve written so far and separated each section and made each into its own document. I now have 13 independent documents open plus another with notes that haven’t found their way into the paper yet. My strategy is to complete each of these 13 documents as its own mini-paper and then assemble them as a complete work (by this time tomorrow). :)

It was too confusing trying to keep track of where each piece of research fit into the long document. This should be much easier as I’ve saved each with a meaningful title.

zomg writing is hard (or: Beyond Footnotes)

Forget asking how did people write before word processors — how did people ever write without hyperlinking? I’m going crazy trying to write my final essay of the semester without hyperlinks. Aaarrrggghhhh!!!

It would be so sweet to go beyond footnotes, to be able to include a link to a photo or a text or a discussion or another essay. Alas, when your professor is a historian of print and publishing it just ain’t gonna be happenin’ here.

Another Reason Divorce Sucks for Kids

Every time my kids go to their dad’s they ask me to take care of their Webkinz gardens. At xmas time they ask me to loot the NeoPets advent calendar for them. I do my best but times three kids it can add up to a considerable amount of time.

I try hard to get my kids comfortable on the computer, whether it’s through gaming, making their own levels on kGoldrunner, designing title pages and drawing pictures, writing stories, blogging, accessing the home network, troubleshooting, researching, and programming. I know how lucky they will be if they can understand and maintain their own computers and how important technology mastery will be as they grow up.

webkinz garden under snow title=

It doesn’t help the developing computer-love if they come home from their dad’s and their Neopets are dead and their Webkinz gardens have all withered and the food is rotten before it can be harvested. In this case the computer is just another thing that makes them sad. They see their investment as wasted time. They don’t have Internet access at their dad’s and we won’t get into what hardware he must have but there was this project my daughter brought home on a floppy disk. She’s saving for her own laptop but it’s going to be awhile still and that won’t help with the dying frogs and ponies.

Given that after school time is busy with homework and chores these online games should have an option for kids who only really have access to them every-other-weekend. (And that goes for games that offer a paid membership like Runescape). Neopets does have hotels and such where you can park your animals when you’ll be away but the cost adds up. As more and more kids face a double life with often a discrepancy in access to technology how will the technology adapt?

flickr photo by polar bots member mascott girl

How to Procrastinate

When did a B become a bad mark? (omg I hope I don’t get a B on my assignment.) It seems this is what happens moving up into graduate studies. Everyone is stressing over grades. Nothing below an A is good enough and a B is required to pass a course. I hate having that kind of pressure. I did well in my undergrad but even though I stressed over my grades I don’t remember this kind of dread. In my undergrad I wanted high marks but I didn’t need them in the same way I do now. Knowing that good work is a fail and that very good is barely a pass I am paralyzed for fear that my work will be mediocre – or worse — adequate.

There’s been some weird power flickers here today and my desktop keeps shutting down. If it wasn’t happening to the clocks on that side of the house as well as to Rob’s desktop I might wonder if my power supply has finally given up. Since the machine is off anyway I’ve decided I should let things cool down and take this opportunity to replace that power supply. I bought my new one – a 430W Seasonic – at Canada Computers when I was in Toronto last weekend for Mitch’s birthday shindig. The visit with K & Mitch was wonderful, the staff at the computer shop helpful, the curried vegetables at King’s Cafe were amazing but the stress from almost missing the train home because I miscalculated how long the Spadina street car would take to get to Union Station…gulp…that I could have done without.

So anyway, can you tell when blogger-students have papers due? There’s always a flurry of posts. Instead of writing the assignment, we blog. Or maybe blogging is the warm up? To prove to ourselves that we can still put words together and we may as well write the ones our professors want to read instead of the ones that make our significant others/friends/families wonder if we’re/they’re really going to survive our education.

Always a Decision to Make

I hate limbo. I like to have a general idea of where I’m headed, what’s next, where the groceries will come from next week. So I’m getting anxious because I haven’t heard yet if I’ll receive the funding I applied for to finish my master’s. I had planned to do this degree in one year but when all hell broke loose last fall I had to rethink that timeline. Now I’m sitting here, in need of two more courses and a major research project but funding for only one more semester. There are no courses offered in the summer so if I really and truly don’t receive funding I need an alternate plan. I’m considering taking a leave of absence, gearing up, and finishing everything in the fall somehow (umm, just as my daughter begins high school. Sounds like fun). It would be nuts — more work than I’ve probably ever attempted to tackle. School at this level just doesn’t mix with family. Or at least it hasn’t for me yet. Generally I feel like I’m barely keeping up so the thought of adding more school responsibilities on top of what I had these past two semesters really worries me.

The challenge then becomes how to support my family this summer — oh right, while finishing up my incompletes from last fall. Aarrgh… This degree has certainly not worked out like I thought it would. I dream of a simple life where during the day I go to class, go to the library, think about Big Ideas and write with clarity and grace. Nights are filled with deep films and philosophy and sangria. I go to the gym and eat salad with blueberries. On the weekends I code amazing and tidy projects that combine all of my diverse interests so that when school is all over I have a career path to pursue. A few months like that and everything is caught up, my soul is richer than it’s ever been, and the degree is complete. Sweee-eeet.

Of course, maybe a letter will come today saying I’ve got the funding and I can just keep on going as I’d planned. Then there’s no decision to make.

Some Keys to Blended Family Happiness

These may be obvious to others but I’ve recently discovered a few things that are making life a lot easier. Rob and I blended families last fall and it hasn’t all been a picnic. Some of it’s because of the craziness of our own particular situations but some of it is just because it’s hard when one family moves in with another.

Here’s what’s working right now:

  • I signed my kids up for swimming lessons on Wednesday nights. Every Wednesday we go out and Rob’s got the house to himself. I hadn’t realized how rare an occurrence this was until we started a few weeks ago. I have time here alone during the day because I mostly work from home but when he’s home usually I’m home and/or there’s some combination of our kids here. Given that it’s his house we live in it’s been a big change from it being usually quiet to now, usually loud. I also went away to Toronto for a long weekend while my kids were at their dad’s and it gave Rob some time alone here with his daughter. For years it was just the two of them on the weekends and I think it’s been hard on both of them having me around all the time. They need their space and the chance to be together without a third wheel hanging about.
  • Video game time for chore time. For the past month, every Tuesday night Rob and I go out for coffee/chai at a local independent coffee shop. We play World of Warcraft for a few hours and it’s lots of fun. I make time for this with him and on Saturday mornings we do housework together (specifically cleaning the bathrooms and vacuuming the stairs). These are the two biggest things that get me down when they’re dirty. If the bathrooms and stairs are clean I can mostly keep up (or overlook) the rest of the house. It’s become a great routine and the date night is wonderful. We’re actually having fun together. ;) Having fun is important for making a blended family work. If we’re not happy, then what was the point?
  • A grocery list on the side of the fridge. There are way too many people here for me to keep track of who is out of what favourite food. Each kid is responsible for adding to the list if they finish off a food. If it’s not on the list it doesn’t come home from the grocery store. This goes for the grownups too.
  • Rules that apply to everyone. This is something we’re still working on and will probably continue to struggle with. One of these rules is that school bags and other gear needs to go into bedrooms and cannot be left in the entranceway. For the size of the house I’ve always been frustrated with how tiny the entrance area is. Bags that get abandoned become tripping hazards and it looks awful. Unfortunately we’re all guilty of coming in and getting distracted. One reason is that the kitchen and computers are upstairs and the kids bedrooms are downstairs. Usually the habit is to come in, come upstairs. Later, when they’re ready to go down, they walk right on past the bags. My excuse is that usually I’m carrying in more than one load so it takes me a couple of trips to get everything where I’m going and I get distracted before I’m done putting everything away. Hopefully now that winter is over I can put the boots away and that will clear up a bit of space.

I hope I keep finding more things that I can add to this list.

Geeks get the Monthlies

I’ve been playing with calendars on my fresh install of SuSE Linux – experimenting with customizing Lightning for Mozilla Thunderbird and trying out kOrganizer. I’ve got all of my calendars (kids here, kids at their dads, Rob’s kid, campus activities, due dates, birthdays, etc) on the home network so that I can see my events no matter which computer I’m on. Rob’s got the same thing going and we (theoretically) can try and keep track of what each of us is doing.

The only calendar I hadn’t set up yet was for my menstrual cycle — currently the data for the past year is sitting in a MozBackup file on a flash drive that I’ve misplaced. I’ve got the last two months sitting on a gmail calendar so by grabbing that and setting a customized 28-day repeat cycle I can predict approximately when I’m likely to be crampy, miserable and/or cysty for the distant future (until of course perimenopause decides to visit).

woman and girl walking on the beach at sunset

This is why it’s better to put the calendars on the network instead of saving only a local copy — I never want to go through setting this up again.

The first thing I checked was how things line up with my family week-long summer vacation to the beach. Go figure, my period is due the first day of vacation. How’s that for timing? No guarantees since it’s still a few months away, but since I’ve been pretty clockwork at 28 days for the last 2 or so years there’s a pretty good chance I’ll continue to be regular. I’m happy with my Diva cup so it’s not the need to pack supplies that annoys me, it’s the thought of packing, driving, and being on holiday — and needing copious amounts of pain medication.

That said, I think this is a great application of organizer-calendars. It definitely beats counting out 28 days over and over again. I wonder if the Mozilla Foundation would like an add-on? What would it need to include?

flickr photo by CaseyLessard