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I had zero access to the Internet this week.  I had a little access to cell service, which I basically used to settle arguments after dinner.  When we couldn’t remember actors’ names or who said what when or what words really meant, I went to my phone to look it up.  I also used it for a couple of recipes, but otherwise, I was offline.  I brought my iPad but only because I had books to read on there.  I also had an audio book on my phone.  I read three books while at the beach.  I read Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant, and Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris.

I liked them all and would recommend the first two to any teacher.  I think there’s a lot of insight to be found in both about teaching and how to reach students and how to interact with colleagues.  I wish Give and Take had been available years ago as I think I would have found it useful to make it through some difficult times and to work with difficult colleagues.  What I liked about both books is that they don’t just offer a look at things as they are, but also offer ways to change things to be the way we want them to be.  So, if you want to be more giving or create a giving culture at work (or in the classroom), there are things you can do.  Similarly with Drive, there are practical ways to tap into your drive or to help others tap into theirs (like our students!).  In fact, I had a couple of truly aha moments while reading both books that will change some things about how I approach and think about work and in my teaching.

There’s more reading to do this summer, and there’s more insights to be had (I hope). Today I go back to my “work” schedule to try to get some things done. Mr. Geeky said something about the summer being nearly over on the way home. I said, “Speak for yourself! It’s just begun!” But it does feel shorter than it should be. Sigh.  I just have to make sure to be restful when I can.

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Random thoughts from my trip so far

DSCN2955 by lorda
DSCN2955, a photo by lorda on Flickr.

Bridges are cool. Mr. Geeky hates them, but I’m fascinated by the many ways we’ve come up with to get over waterways, train tracks and other roads.

I’ve been using Waze, based on a review by GeekMom. Really liking it. We were really wishing we’d listened to the navigation suggestions more. There were a couple of points where she told us to go one way but because we’ve traveled this route many times, we overrode her suggestion. Big mistake.

You can eat well on the road if you’re careful. Taco Bell: cantina bowl. Cracker Barrel: fish with veggies (from their wholesome menu).

I don’t sleep well in hotels.

Road trip

I love road trips. I would rather travel by car any day. There’s just something about getting into a car loaded to the gills and setting out on the open highway. I like seeing different things along the way, stopping at different rest areas and restaurants, staying in hotels, munching on snacks, listening to music, and watching the world go by in the window. I like train travel as well, but it’s harder to do here in America.

As a kid, we road in a station wagon, often in the “way back” without seat belts. We’d play the alphabet game, finding all the letters on signs along the way. Or the license plate game, collecting license plates from all 50 states. My sister and I invented the swump bump game, where we rhythmically said “swump bump” over and over as guard rails went by. Must have driven my parents batty. We entertained ourselves with yes and no invisible ink books. And one of us would always get car sick. We almost always seemed to have car trouble in those days. I don’t know if it was because cars sucked or because my parents didn’t have enough money to maintain them. Radiators blew, alternators went, and tires busted. It was all part of the adventure.

I went with friends on road trips, riding in the third seat of a Suburban, sleeping on the floor board because there was actually enough space for that. I travelled from Memphis to Seattle to California and back, never once stopping for the night. Mr. Geeky and I made our last 24 hour road trip almost 18 years ago to the same place we’re headed to now. On that trip, our air conditioning went out, leaving us to drive in 90 degree heat with the windows down for about the last 5 hours. Now we stop for the night in hotels instead of napping on the side of the road. Our only car trouble: one flat tire in the last 18 years. It’s still an adventure, one geeky girl insists must have a sound track.

Let the adventure begin!

Finally vacationing . . . sort of

Friday through Monday, I finally quit thinking about work, quit thinking I should do something “constructive” every day as if I needed to atone for my getting the summer off. Sad, isn’t it? I have my fall course planned through winter break. I have locked in one speaker and 9 volunteers for our in-service day that I’m planning. I’ve been to two work-related conferences and will go to another one this weekend/early next week. I think I’m working enough. Thank you Puritan background. Sigh.

Because, of course I got up and checked my work email this morning for the first time in a week, and of course, I’m now going in to work for an hour or so. Which I’d sort of planned on doing anyway. But, by god, I’m going to the pool this afternoon. Don’t try to stop me. I’m on vacation. Sort of.

Down Time

It’s vacation time.  I have to admit I really like the longer breaks offered in the education industry.  It’s not as long as a college break, but two full weeks will do my body and mind some good.  Geeky Boy is in school until the 23rd, which still strikes me as crazy.  I feel not just for the kids, but also for the teachers, who will only get a little over a week off.  I know, more than many people, but given how many hours most teachers put in, they’ve probably earned a month off from comp time alone.

I’m not going to be taking it completely easy this break.  There’s all the Christmas stuff to do, which is mostly done, but there are a few other gifts and grocery shopping left.  I’m also going to try to work out this week.   The gym at school is open a few days this week.  Next week, I’ll be on my own, but I’m going to try to do something.  I’ve managed to work out at least once a week for the last few weeks.  My goal has been to work out 3 times/week.  I went to a regular checkup at Thanksgiving, which confirmed what I’d been feeling in my clothes and seeing in the mirror.  I’ve gained about 20 lbs. over the last couple of years.  As I’ve said many times on this blog, I have an aversion to exercise for exercise’s sake.  But I’m at the point where it feels necessary.  I figure if I keep gaining 5 lbs/year, as I have been, then I’ll be in a very unhealthy situation pretty quickly.

I’m also planning to do a little bit of programming over the break and planning my spring semester class.  Geeky Boy is currently taking the class I’ll be teaching.  I have been jotting down notes about what I want to do and it turns out they’re exactly the kinds of things Geeky Boy has been doing.  So, I’m on the right track.  It’s funny because both of these classes could have been taught in a very computer science-y way, but because they’re art classes, I’ve avoided teaching them that way.  Which is kind of too bad, but probably good, because it would be/would have been difficult to plan more computer science-y courses.  I’m looking forward to next year, when I will be teaching computer science and I don’t have to worry about being too computer science-y. 😉

But I’ll be fitting in plenty of game playing, both on the computer and off (we had a rousing game of Settlers of Catan over the weekend).  And there’ll be Christmas special watching and movie watching.  I might even catch up on blog reading and writing.

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Even a Vacation is about Learning

Our trip to Monticello happened to coincide nicely with some of the work the kids are doing in school. Geeky Girl is doing a whole unit on colonial America. They visited a colonial cabin nearby, a trip I served as a chaperon on. Geeky Boy has been studying the French Revolution, a movement inspired by Jefferson’s words and work. We were able, then, to make concrete many of the lessons they’ve been learning in school. It’s one thing to read about slavery. It’s another to see the conditions under which slaves lived. The history of our nation is written as a kind of grass roots movement by people who wanted to be freed from royal tyranny. The truth is much more complicated and visiting Monticello brought that complexity home. There’s the matter of the land and house itself, which clearly show that Jefferson was a well off man. IMGP1572Though he considered himself a farmer, he was not like the farmers who scraped out a living on a borrowed piece of land. He grew a mass amount of fruits and vegetables. And, he had slaves to tend all of it. Another complication for a man who wrote “All men are created equal.”

It occurs to me that this kind of immersion into history is not something available to everyone. We didn’t go with the intention of the trip serving as an educational moment, but we were able to make it into one without, I think, taking away the fun. The reason we could do that were a) we knew what the kids were doing in school because we talk to them; b) we have the financial means to travel, stay at a hotel and pay the entrance fee; and c) we ourselves are educated and know enough about the period to connect the dots. The first reason is easy enough for anyone to do. The second is harder. Certainly, there are budget hotels, but the cost of entrance is quite high. It’s a trip that I think many would have to budget carefully for. Monticello The third reason may seem impossible to overcome, but I think a combination of the library and available online resources could even alleviate that. But still, it’s a lot of work for a small trip, and it was no work at all for us to manage. It just made me think about advantages I often take for granted.

It’s the economy (that’s making us) stupid

A Chronicle article highlights a collection of books pointing out that Americans are getting more stupid. Many of these books blame the internets. I haven’t read any of these books, so I don’t know what they all blame, but in the brief synopses provided by Benton, it seems none of these books blame the economy or business interests more directly. If there’s a book out there that does connect the increase in work hours to a decline in intelligence among our citizenry, I’d love to know about it. And if there’s not, and you have a thesis to write, there’s a topic for you.

I personally say it’s the economy that’s most to blame for a number of reasons, some of them unintended consequences of a thriving citizenry. Some of them a result of the greed of our various businesses. This morning I was reading this article about a woman who finds herself in serious financial trouble. I happened to read it on the heels of the article above, and I couldn’t help thinking, who has time to keep up with politics and culture if you’re working two jobs to pay your bills. On the one hand, a large swath of the American public is able to not just afford the necessities of life, but is also able to afford amenities once reserved for the wealthy: more than one car, a house of their own, vacations, an extensive wardrobe, electronics, and more. On the other hand, many people have purchased those amenities on credit instead of using cash on hand. Often this spirals into needing to use credit for necessities such as groceries and housing because all of their take-home pay in going to service interest on debt. Yes, the individuals can be blamed for their own dilemma in part, but I also blame (as does the NY Times, sort of) the finance companies, who prey on people who fail to read the fine print. Imagine if these companies weren’t allowed to extend credit to people already paying 40% of their income to creditors. Yes, it might mean those people couldn’t buy the couch or piece of jewelry they wanted, but they might learn to put off these purchases instead.

Americans work more than many other people in the world, most notably Europeans. Back in the late 60s, people predicted that by now, Americans would be working 4-day work weeks and vacationing 13 weeks out of the year. How fabulous does that sound? Instead, we’re working more. Some of us are working to pay stuff off, some are working to have more stuff, and some of us are working because of the cultural norm of the Puritan work ethic. Labor unions, who could negotiate for shorter work weeks and mandated vacation time, are weaker now than in the past. Corporations, more concerned with the bottom line than with the well-being of their workers, have taken away benefits and kept wages stagnant, all while they have record profits and pay their CEOs 400 times more than their workers. I almost choked when I heard Exxon had the highest quarterly profits of any corporation ever. If gas costs so much for us, shouldn’t Exxon be hurting just a little bit?

I have to imagine that if we all had a little more leisure time, some of that time would be spent learning. Maybe we’d have time to not just listen to the sound bites on Fox News, but to look up the blog posts that debunk those sound bites. Maybe we’d have time to visit more National Parks, Historic Sites, and museums, thereby learning more about our country’s history, natural resources, and culture. Maybe we’d have time to read books again. There’d be more time for kids to spend with parents and grandparents, helping to bridge the generation gap.

I realize this is all somewhat idealistic, and sadly, because most of us are working our asses off, we don’t have time to fight for these things. We don’t have money for our own lobby the way oil companies and credit card companies do. But I think we should fight for these things. I think we should guard our personal lives carefully before their gone and before we’re all really, really dumb.

The great slide into vacation mode

I have 4 more days of work before I’m off for a week. I really need the down time and I’m more aware of that than ever. Normally, I save enough vacation time to take the week before Christmas off, but this year, the dissertation trip ate up almost all of it. I’m in that mode of having some loose ends to tie up, but nothing major, and no motivation to work on or start anything big. There are things looming after the break, and I’m excited about them all, but I just can’t make myself think about them too much before I’m going to hit a week of doing nothing. I really will do nothing over that time–at least nothing that requires brain energy. The most complex thing I plan to do is work jigsaw puzzles and play video games. There’s holiday baking too, but that’s not really terribly complex.

I seem to get in this mode before every break. At some point, I just feel myself disconnect. I manage to go through the motions, but that’s it. When I had grading, I didn’t really get like this because I had this mad rush to get everything done before whatever deadline I’d set for myself (or was thrust upon me)–and then I could go into break mode. When I’m not teaching though, there is no sprint to the finish. It’s more like watching the last minutes of a game where you know who the winner will be. You watch just in case some miracle happens or there’s an interesting play, but your heart’s not really in it.

Pre-Vacation Mode

I swear my brain no longer thinks in complex sentences. I read stuff and I think, hey, I’ll write about that, but then I sit down to write and I think , “Eh. I got nothing.” I spent yesterday playing Civilization and doing laundry. I am actually packed for my trip, which I don’t leave for until Friday. I also did some mindless work, going through the hundreds of emails that have piled up throughout the summer. I’ve been in triage mode. All this last week, I’d spend some time clearing out a couple hundred messages only to return from a couple of hours of meetings to find myself right back where I started. I think I need to get more organized about that, do some more filtering. A lot of what I get are announcements that don’t apply to me or stuff from email lists (some of which I already filter).

Basically, I think I’ve been in this weird mode all summer of not feeling quite on top of things, and not really caring that much. I’m calling it pre-vacation mode. Whatever it is, it feels kind of weird.