Just do it

On of my biggest issues with my clutter problem is procrastination.  Only with housework is this an issue for me.  I was not a big procrastinator in school for the most part, nor do I procrastinate at work.  But I look at a load of laundry to fold, shrug and move on.  It doesn’t help that Mr. Geeky is the same way.  A year or two ago, I got Unclutter your Life in one Week, a book by one of the writers from the Unclutterer blog.  I read the whole thing and did what it told me to do, and definitely made progress. The first chapter is about firsts, dealing with the things you see first–when you wake up, when you come in the door, when you arrive at work.

At my house, the first thing I see when I walk in the house is my front porch.  Back in 2005, we put a wall up to create a kind of entry way on one side and an office on the other side.  I used that office for a couple of years, but because the porch wasn’t insulated, I could really only use it in the fall and spring.  Summer was touch and go and winter was off limits (I cannot deal with cold).  The office became storage mostly and that’s something I want to tackle eventually but that area is mostly invisible.

The entry way, however, I could see every time I walked in the door, and what I saw every time was unfinished drywall and a paint color I hated.  It made me feel defeatist about my whole house because the first impression was basically saying, meh, I don’t care what shape my house is in.  Last week, I decided to just do something about it.  I had the paint, purchased months ago, and I had almost everything I needed to fully complete the project.  So when I got home from work on Thursday, I just started painting.  I continued on Friday,  Saturday, Mr. Geeky and I went to the hardware store to get trim and a few other things to finish up the space.  I put a third coat of paint on the wall, and Mr. Geeky put up the trim.  Then Geeky Girl and I went to Home Goods so I could get something pretty to put up on the newly painted wall.  Here’s where were were by end of day on Saturday:

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Sunday, I tackled the trim, but it took longer than I thought.  I can’t get back to it until later this week, but I will.  I already feel better about walking in the front door.  When it’s done, I’ll post an update.

What if?

While camping, I finished Randall Munroe’s book What if: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions?  If you haven’t read it, you should.  I’ve been and xkcd fan for years, and I love science-y, geeky things, plus humor so the book was great.  I actually learned some things, too, like what’s really happening when objects enter the atmosphere.

When I was in an MFA program, eons and eons ago, I had another book called What if?  It was a collection of prompts, meant to help writers get ideas for writing.  It included things like “What if a woman left her family to pursue a music career?”

What if is also something people use to frame things in ways that are outside the box, to get people thinking about possibilities.  So, you might be at a strategic planning meeting and be prompted by “What if we weren’t limited by finances?” or “What if we didn’t have disciplinary divisions?”

In all three of these scenarios, “What if?” is expansive, optimistic, a way to explore things in intellectually curious ways, a way to expand one’s horizons.  And I’ve always thought of “What if” in this way.  “What if I tried x? What’s the worst that could happen?”  “What if I follow this path? Let’s see what happens?”  But there’s a flip side to “What if” that I hear sometimes.  You’ll come up with an idea and someone will say something like “What if this happens?” and they mean “What if this fails?”  It’s the Worst-Case-Scenario What-ifs.  And it’s good to have these checks on unbridled optimism, but sometimes they can simply be used to resist change.  Underneath the What if might be fear, anger, or a personal issue.  So you have to address them, but you can’t let them drag you down.

I have done this to myself sometimes, gone down the negative What if path, but I’m determined over the next year to avoid that and think about the good What ifs.  What if I ignore the negative talk in my head? What might happen? Maybe we’ll get to see.


I was going to call this organizing, but that doesn’t quite get at my dilemma.  I have a lot of stuff and not a lot of room to put it, and I’m not good about putting away my stuff.  I have a room of stuff that I don’t know what to do with.  The room has become the room where we put stuff.  It’s not quite useful as anything else, but it could be made useful, perhaps, if we didn’t put so much stuff in it.   And it bothers me, daily.

You can do a search on this blog for “clutter” or “housework” or “organization” and probably find many posts where I’m frustrated by my lack of organization. I honestly don’t know if I’d be neat if I lived by myself.  I wasn’t so neat when I was a teen nor in college and by the time I hit my 20s, I was living with another person, so who knows.

I’ve tried a number of things: FlyLady, UNFYH, Unclutterer (the book, even).  And it’s not that they didn’t work.  They did, for a while, and then they didn’t.   Part of the problem, of course, is that I usually attack these things all at once, treating it like a sprint, or at most a 5K, when really it’s like a Forrest Gump style run across America. It’s going to take a long time.

Also, I don’t have a good system for keeping things in order.  And that’s where things really fall apart.  FlyLady had a system, and I liked the idea of just following a list of stuff to do, but the overall system didn’t work for me.  Some of it took too much time and some of it wasn’t addressing the things that were most problematic for me.  UNFYH let me do random chores in a game-like manner, and both FL and UNFYH followed a limited time method.  You would do something for 20 minutes or 45 minutes and then take a break.  And you could do one of those or 3 or 7.  And the time thing *does* work well for me.  I did that on my own long ago.  Knowing there’s an end in sight makes dusting or cleaning out a closet feel so much better.  You don’t have to decide when you’re done–the timer does.

I don’t yet know if this is something I want to throw myself into, but I do know that it’s gotten to a point where I’m so overwhelmed by it that it makes me a little anxious.  And really, if you came to my house, you’d say, “What are you talking about?”  On the outside I have the normal amount of piles everyone does.  But I know where the bodies are buried, and it’s like “The Tell-Tale Heart” for me.  So I must tackle this, I think, but I must do it differently than before, because nothing else worked.  If you’ve streamlined, organized, etc., and have ideas, do let me know!

Dog Days of Summer

It’s August.  School is still over a month away and temperatures are way up there.   According to Wikipedia, the dog days of summer will be over for us soon, but it’s still always a challenging time to get through.  I’m just back from 4 days camping without Internet or cell phone or electricity even, and it’s going to be a challenge to go back into the mode of always on and electronics everywhere.  I do love my technology, but I love camping because it reminds me that it’s not that hard to live without it.  And it’s beautiful!  See?

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I learned a new term for my affinity for nature, biophilia.  It’s not a new idea, but a biologist friend of mine told me about it, and I thought it fit my general love of being outdoors.  I don’t like exercising indoors at all.  If I’m going to move around, I’d rather do it, even in the freezing cold rather than on a treadmill.  I’m not as adventurous in this area as some people I know.  I’ve been backpacking once, but only overnight.  I don’t have a desire to truly be out in the wilderness, but I like being in semi remote places for a while. Mr. Geeky and I often talk about relocating to a house with a more outdoors-y feel.

Anyway, August will be a preparation month.  Aside from a short visit from family, we have nothing else planned.  We might take another long weekend, but essentially, the work will begin.  There’s a lot of that work I’m looking forward to.  It’s going to be a challenging year, filled with some interesting transitions, for me, for my school, and more.  I’m looking forward to those challenges.  And I’m hoping to find balance between my work and my life–or at least be at peace with everything that’s on my plate.  More on that later. Enjoy the dog days.  When they’re over, the real work begins.

Summer, maybe

School ended almost 2 weeks ago and I’m still wrapping things up.  Because of my new administrative duties, there’s a lot of things to do.  I leave on Friday for an actual vacation.  I’m going to do my best to disconnect and not think about work.  When I return, I face a whirlwind of conferences, most of which I’m looking forward to, but it’s work still.  I’m not doing this to myself next year.

I am still teaching of course and I have a new course on the books that I have to develop.  I’m going back to where I started and teaching a web design course.  I have to relearn some things and learn some new things, but I have a good sense of the structure of the course. So I’ll be working on that this summer.

I’m giving a very big TED-like talk in October, and I need to prepare that.  I’m looking forward to it because it’s a topic I’m passionate about: women in CS.

I have some administrative things to tackle over the summer as well, but they’re not huge.  Most of what needed to get done got done this last few weeks.

Finally, I have some household things I want to address.  There’s a room we’re using for storage that has gotten out of hand.  We need to have a garage sale and do some major purging and reorganization.

I’m planning to alternate days in terms of work.  I find it easier usually to focus on one thing at a time, so one day will be class work, one day house stuff, one day administrative stuff and just keep rotating.  I’m hopeful that will work and that I’ll have some time for relaxing in there as well.  Seems like this happens every summer, but I don’t mind.  I’m working at my own pace, and I know from past experience that everything will get done.

Women and Confidence

I’ve just finished The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman.  I picked this book up last year, started it, then set it aside and forgot about it.  A few weeks ago, I picked it up again.  I’m glad I did.  The book is well researched and reveals some interesting things about how confidence works, for all people, but with an emphasis on why women seem to feel less confident.

I think about confidence all the time, for myself, and also for my students. I regularly have students who are afraid to get things wrong and who think they’re not any good at what they’re doing.  My first year of teaching Computer Science, I was carrying around some flyers for the robotics club to post, and as I passed a student standing at the library desk, I held one up to her and said, “You should come give it a try.”  She said, “Oh no, I’m not smart enough for that.”  And my heart sank.  I have a suspicion that many a student doesn’t even try to take one of my classes because they think it will be too hard.

And that’s one of the interesting facts that Kay and Shipman reveal in their book.  They found one study where men and women were given a test on 3D shapes.  The men outperformed the women significantly, which some might think revealed a deficit in women’s spatial reasoning ability.  A closer look at the results, however, showed that the women didn’t even answer a significant number of the questions and that’s where the difference in performance lay.  They gave the test again, and this time, they told everyone they couldn’t leave an answer blank.  When the results were tallied this time, the women performed as well as the men.  When women try at most things, they do just as well.  This result says to me that making things that people are afraid of mandatory might help eliminate the gap in performance between women and men.  And yes, I’m thinking about Computer Science, but there are other things as well.

The other interesting take away for me was that to be confident as a woman does not mean becoming more like a man–entirely.  Again, studies show that women who exhibit a balance of stereotypically male and female confident behaviors outperform not only those women who tip one way or the other, but also men who behave in stereotypically male ways or who exhibit feminine characteristics.

Kay and Shipman summarize their findings like this:

Think Less. Take Action. Be Authentic.

For the intellectuals among you, do not be alarmed by the the “think less” mantra.  It turns out that women, more so than men, overthink their decisions.  Rather than say, asking for a raise, they’ll think about all the reasons they shouldn’t or why they don’t deserve it, etc.  So thinking less moves you to action, but you must be authentic to your values and beliefs.  It seems like sound advice generally.

Summer Learning

I should be doing a million things right now–grading, responding to email, etc.  but I’m going to clear my head a bit and write a post about summer.  I’m sitting outside on one of the many benches we have around the school.  The birds are chirping.  There’s a slight breeze and it’s warm.  In the summer, I start to get tired of the artificial climate indoors and prefer a little sweltering to the refrigeration of air conditioning.

I am planning a lot of learning this summer, as I do every summer.  I’m repeating a couple of conferences from last year and attending another that I haven’t been to in a while.  I’m going to be at conferences 3 weeks in a row, which might be a bit much, but I know I’ll be challenged and will learn a lot.  I will start my conference going with ISTE, which is here in Philly this year.  It’s been a few years since I’ve gone as I felt like I’d gotten as much out of it as I could.  I’m presenting this year, and I’m looking forward to attending some other sessions on new ideas.

Next, I will go to Constructing Modern Knowledge.  This is where some serious learning will happen.  I’ll be rolling up my sleeves, and actually trying to create a project using programming and materials I may never have used before.  i learned a lot last summer, and I expect to learn more this year.

Finally, I will end with CSTA, a conference I’ve been enjoying for 5 years now.  This is the conference where I get to get into the nuts and bolts of teaching CS and people don’t look at me like I have two heads when I tell them I teach Computer Science.  No one will think I’m teaching word processing when I mention the word computer.

In between, I will likely work on my programming skills, perhaps learning yet another language, and I’ll be figuring out how to approach my new role.  I always tweak my courses, both in response to student feedback and by adding in new things I’ve learned about.  Yes, summers are for relaxing, but they can also be for gaining new perspectives and learning new things.

Best thing that happened in class

This is our last week of classes.  Monday and Tuesday, my students will present their final projects.  We didn’t have quite enough time to do another intense programming project, so I decided to let them do something a little different.  They had to pick a concept they learned in Computer Science and demonstrate it in a multimedia project.  Although I didn’t require any programming, some students have used programming anyway, because that was the medium they wanted to use.  The projects I’ve seen so far have been creative and fun.  And I think some of them will be useful for showing other students why Computer Science is a great thing to do.  One of my favorites so far is a painting by a sophomore:



I love some of the subtle references like the echoes of a circuit board and the icons and the brain.  I can’t wait to frame it and hang it somewhere prominent! I am always trying to get my students to think outside the box, and so far this project seems like it’s pushing them to do that.  I’ll share more as they come in.  Seeing them is the best thing that’s happened this week!


Getting through the end of the year

This time of year is always hectic for teachers and students.  Students are finishing final projects, taking tests and preparing for exams.  Teachers are helping students through those tests and projects, creating exams, and then there’s the grading.  And there are meetings, lots of meetings, because everyone suddenly thinks, “Oh, the end of the year is coming and I need to meet with x committee.”  Here are some ways I’m finding to get through the craziness.

1. Take it one day at a time.  Don’t think about all the stuff you have to do or that you will have to do next week.  Just work on what you need to get done now.

2. Take breaks.  Luckily this time of year usually coincides with lovely weather.  Go for a walk. Have a cup of tea.  Play a quick game of Candy Crush.  Just don’t think about work.

3. Celebrate! Think about your successes and your students’ successes.  This is the time of year when we’re doing that anyway, and it makes all the work feel worth it!