Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lessons from the Pilgrims

Thanksgiving is here. Yay! It's my favorite holiday.

Talk of Pilgrims always comes up in November at my house, especially if the kids have been studying them at school or want to read a selection from our holiday book collection. As I recounted the story of the Pilgrims in my head--the real story with its harsh realities, not the "happily ever after" condensed version often shared with kids--I saw many lessons that a nontraditional college student could take away from it.

One thing that I appreciate about the Pilgrims is that they accepted failure but didn't let it defeat them. Did you know that the Mayflower wasn't the Pilgrims' original boat? Actually, they had two boats: the Mayflower and the Speedwell. The Speedwell began taking on water shortly after departure and had to be sold. The Pilgrims didn't abandon their efforts; they just changed course. They combined passengers and moved on.

They managed to make it across the Atlantic, but it was winter by the time they arrived. They managed to build one common house. Nearly half of the Pilgrims died during the harsh New England winter. At one point, there may have been only six people well enough to help care for the sick. They stuck together and endured until the break of spring.

They didn't have homes or know how to farm the land, but they kept plodding on. Eventually, as everyone knows, they were successful in their efforts, mostly thanks to the native people who were willing to share their knowledge.

There it for thought. I hope you will be enjoying some real food this weekend and counting your blessings. I have so much to be thankful for, but I will admit that one thing I am especially thankful for right now is Thanksgiving break!!


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Guided Study Procrastination

There's this really big part of me that is feeling kind of relieved these days. I have no more tests until finals, we are done with lectures in one of my classes, we are putting the finishing touches on a group project that I have no qualms about and there are no major assignments between now and the last six class days of the semester...but I think I've lulled myself into a false sense of security.

I've mentioned before that guided study or independent study classes have been a great addition to my traditional university classes and were actually part of the reason I am graduating in December rather than January. However, it is easy to put those classes on the back burner in favor of classes that seem more urgent. There are no timelines on my guided study coursework other than the fact that all lessons must be turned in by December 12th.

I've worked on the projects in bits and pieces, but I have yet to finish one complete section of the three classes I am working on.

I am confident that the work can and will be finished, but I have to constantly remind myself of it lest it get swept away to the farthest recesses of my backpack. My goal is to get it completed before finals. Lord knows I don't want to be studying for comprehensive tests AND trying to cram in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator lessons!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Group Projects

Group projects: you either love 'em or hate 'em.

If you love 'em it's are a slacker hoping to get a good grade with minimal effort on your part by allowing your group mates to do all the work.

If you hate 'em it's fear being "stuck" with a slacker and having to do all the work on your own lest it jeopardize your grade. You also probably hate the possibility of spending extra time outside of the classroom working on projects and/or the difficulties associated with trying to coordinate a bunch of incompatible schedules to do so.

I have always disliked group projects. Even when I was a "true freshman" I hated them. Back then, I was working crazy hours--sometimes up to forty hours a week. I barely had time for "regular" homework, much less anything extra time consuming. Plus, I felt out of place. All of my group mates didn't have jobs which meant that they had plenty of time on their hands to meet whenever they wanted; I was the only holdup. It was frustrating.

When I started back to school, I still disliked the thought of group projects mostly I because I worried about being paired with kids who could care less about school and don't mind sabotaging my GPA. (I'm clinching my jaws just thinking about it.) I also feared feeling out of place again, but in a different way. Nobody wants the "old folks" to be in their group, right?

I must admit, my back-t0-college experience has been the opposite of what I expected. The traditional-aged students have been welcoming if not downright befriending to me. In one class, my constant partner and I are "PB&J" because we work together so well and totally depend on one another. In another group project, I'm paired with three girls who are probably ten years my junior (I got a reality check when they all admitted to being too young to remember much of the Columbine shootings--I was pregnant with my first child when that happened!), but we have a great time studying together, encouraging one another and laughing...a lot. Plus, I know that I can count on these girls to do their part and they are as concerned about making a good grade as I am.

For me, group projects are no longer a thing to dread because I'm having so much fun doing them! Maybe the key is that my professors let us pick our own groups and that has allowed us to pair up complimentary personalities.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

You Can't Have it All (Or Things That Have Suffered Since I Returned to College)

Hate to break it to you people, but you can't have it all despite what they tell you. Sure, I have a family, a job and attend college full-time, but there are plenty of things that have suffered along the way.

Diet & Exercise

Throughout most of the year, I have done really well turning my eating and exercise habits around, but the past two months have really taken a toll on them. There never seems to be enough hours in a day, so exercise is the easiest thing to skip on my "to-do" list. Eating well has also gone on the backburner because it takes so long to plan ahead and prepare healthy, balanced meals (keeping fresh items in stock when you live in the country can be pretty challenging). Somehow, I've managed to maintain (even lose!) weight this semester, but I don't feel as healthy or strong. I have a feeling that I'm losing the muscle mass that I worked hard to build and my skin just doesn't look as healthy. I'm not eating well and I'm not drinking enough water. Since I'm in class through lunch, I usually have a fountain drink and a package of carbs or nuts on the way home as my pitiful meal replacement. I used to pack a sandwich lunch and apple, but I can't even manage to get that together each morning. I'm not eating a hearty breakfast anymore (though I never skip breakfast entirely) and my family's dinner is, more often than I'd like to admit, just thrown together at the last minute. I'm frustrated with myself and my inability to get out of bed at 6 a.m. to exercise, but late nights and long days have weakened my will power.


The universal thorn in a woman's side: laundry. It seems like when I finally get to the bottom of my laundry pile, it only takes a day or two before it is out of control again. Why is that? It's so annoying! I've tried doing XX loads per day or doing a marathon laundry session, but inevitably, it gets the best of me. I have encouraged my husband to get a "spare" wife whose sole duty would be to tend to our laundry, but he doesn't seem too interested.


I'm honest enough to admit it--my parenting skills have not been as stellar as I'd like them to be. I've denied my kids' requests to help with knitting projects or postponed storytelling time on occasion. They often get in bed later than I want (I'm talking 9:30 instead of 9, but still...). I can't seem to get them to the hairdresser often enough. I sometimes forget to check their homework folders until it is almost too late (because I use the time they spend outside playing with the neighbor kids to do homework). So, okay...I'm not a terrible parent or anything, but I am getting a little sloppier than I'd like on the Mama end.


I find that there is SO much going on in my life, it is hard to just "chill" because there is always something I could be doing. It's been a while since I've watched an entire movie or read a book (for recreation) because those things are pretty time-intensive. I do have one saving grace: the DVR. Husband and I usually record our favorite sitcoms and watch one or two before bedtime most evenings. Even when I could be working, I try to take a sitcom break with the husband because a little something is better than nothing.

I used to be the kind of girl that remembered everyone's birthday, wrote letters to grandparents and shared photos of my kids with friends. These days, my family blog has been neglected for months in lieu of homework, I rarely remember a birthday (until its too late) and my grandparents get their updates on the family through the grapevine. I really hate these changes and I'm hoping that this too shall pass when I no longer have class projects or crazy commutes.

To give credit where credit is definitely due, my husband has been a real champ throughout this university journey. He has filled in the gaps during my inadequacies from laundry to housework to reading with the kids, and he even understands (and sometimes encourages) eating out when my plate is full. (No pun intended.)

If you are contemplating returning to school as a non-traditional college student, you should definitely consider who could be the "gap filler" in your life. You may have plenty of cheerleaders, but "gap fillers" are what you really need to be successful both in the classroom and in life.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Value of University Education...from the Wiz

This afternoon, as I was doing my homework while my daughter watched "The Wizard of Oz," I giggled when I overheard the scarecrow asking the Wizard for a brain. This is what he said:

"Why, anybody can have a brain. That's a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous
creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I
come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great
thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than
you have! But they have one thing you haven't got - a diploma. Therefore, by virtue of the
authority vested in me by the Universitatus Committeatum E Pluribus Unum, I hereby
confer upon you the honorary degree of Th. D...that's Doctor of Thinkology." *

Good news for those who are worried that you don't have what it takes to get a college education: according to the Wiz, you don't have to be a brainiac....just learn how to think deep thoughts and you, too, can have a diploma!!

*Special thanks to for posting excerpts from the script...because, even though I'm getting a diploma soon, I had no idea how to spell "pusillanimous!"

Friday, November 14, 2008

The "F" Word

The "f" word: my professor said it two classes today. It was like music to my ears.

That's right...she brought up finals. :)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Only Ten More School Days!

I can hardly believe that I can count the number of class days left using only my hands! Whoo-hoo!

Want to take a quick trip down memory lane with me?

I remember my very first University Mama blog post like it was was the post where I how I ended up postponing my degree in the first place.

Over the past three four semesters I've discussed my insecurities about being "the old lady" in class, the differences in college life from "back then" to now, why I think it was a good idea to get my degree traditionally rather than online, even occasionally wondering out loud "why am I doing this?"

It's been a wild--and sometimes exhausting--ride as a thirty-something non-traditional student with a family to care for and a business to run, but I know that at the end of these last ten school days, I will FINALLY have the peace that comes from marking that enormous, ever-present "to-do" off of my bucket list.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Research Papers

I love to write and I love to research, but I hate to write research papers. I'm not sure what my hang-up is with writing for academia. I guess it's that I feel like my creativity is squelched by end notes and abstracts. At any rate, research papers are an almost inescapable part of university life; here are a few resources that I have found helpful:

Easy Bib: Why am I always "a day late and a dollar short?" My pal introduced me to this site just as we were completing our papers. It's a free service that create your works cited page. You have to enter in all the vital information, of course (like titles, authors, dates, etc.), but Easy Bib automatically sets up your entry in the correct style and will alphabetize all your entries. Sweet!

Tips for APA format: Having only written in MLA style in the past, I had to do a little research about APA style. The OWL at Purdue website was the one place that I kept coming back to when I had questions, and it answered them all for me.

The Elements of Style is a must-have book for any writer. This book focuses on the fundamentals rather than forms of writing. Since there is more to a research paper than making sure you have your title page formatted correctly, Elements of Style is a great resource to help professionalize your writing.

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Sixth Edition
is another must-have book for every college student's bookshelf. If you're required to use APA format as I was, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association would be a great resource to have as well.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

From the Kids That Brought You President Obama...

Okay, so that blog post title may not be entirely true, but according to some of the stats that are being reported, voter turnout for the 18-29 crowd really jumped this year. Considering that most young voters favored Obama two-to-one, there may be some semblance of truth in my blog post title after all!

I thought it would be interesting to play the "fly-on-the-wall" and do a lot of listening around the classroom yesterday as I expected a lot of post-election chatter. I will tell you that I live in a very red state and there were a great deal of students (more than I expected!) who were planning to vote for McCain. Here's what was going on in my classrooms today:

9 a.m.--Guy recounts his evening at his place of work (I assume a bar or restaurant), mentioning how one guy came in whooping and hollering after Obama's win. He mentioned how one girl that he worked with was getting aggravated--not because of the Obama celebration--but because the whooping-and-hollering guy wasn't an American citizen. He's African.

When discussing the electoral college, one girl says, "Why don't the McCain supporters move (spread out across the country) so they can get more electoral votes?" (She was joking, probably a little half-heartedly, though.)

10 a.m.--Classroom is strangely silent. It's usually a very chatty place.

11 a.m.--African student (mentioned above) shows up for class giddy & blasting an "Obama, Obama" song from his cell phone. He recounts his beer-filled evening: neighbors called the cops as he cheered in the front yard around 11 p.m. (he was alone) then he walked back into his apartment and blared the "Obama, Obama" song through his stereo speakers. He writes the total electoral vote on the board and "400 year of oppression are over." Other students giggle; they are used to his antics. They also sarcastically tease him about how they are so glad that prejudice has been completely wiped out of America in a single vote and how every American must have obviously been a bigot until this day. In true non-partisan form, we all join him at the computer to watch a YouTube video of the (fake) candidates having a dance-off (with a surprise guest appearance from Sarah Palin). At some point, someone mentions his non-citizenship status, but he says, "My wife and son are Americans, so that's enough for me." He even says, "I love America!" (though most days he spends classtime telling us what's wrong with the country compared to European nations).

From my guesstimation, most people in this class were McCain supporters. No one tries to start arguments or complain.

12 p.m. Other students talk about how they stayed up watching the election (and drinking, of course). One guy said "I just kept drinking because I'm a Democrat, but I voted for McCain because Obama scares me." He wasn't talking about the man Obama, but Obama political ideology.

Talk turns to media coverage (a likely topic in a journalism class). Things that were mentioned:

*calling states for a candidate when only two percent of the ballots have been returned
*how it was hard to choose between real coverage (CNN, Fox, ABC, etc) vs. fake coverage like Indecision 2008 (Comedy Central)
*breaking down every single exit poll by black vs. white voters (argument: no other ethnicities were mentioned and "I thought this election wasn't about race?")
*only cutting to the reactions of the African-American communities after the election was called (again, the argument that the media made the election about race)

Someone (of mixed ethnic heritage herself) asked how a person of mixed ethnicity goes about choosing "one side or the other" when determining race.

(I must mention, these kids weren't being racially biased. They really were frustrated with a society that says "don't see people in black or white" but then basically reports everything from a "black or white" perspective. This was particularly confusing to them as black and white Americans will soon be in the minority compared to the Hispanic population.)

1 p.m. Girl comes to class wearing her Obama shirt that she picked up in California. "Wasn't it great?" she asks with a smile. Another girl (a Caucasian, since we're breaking down by race again) mentions being angered by an African-American guy who didn't seem to care about the historical significance of the election,. She also mentions how she was almost brought to tears herself by images of Jesse Jackson crying at the Obama post-election rally (she didn't mention Jesse Jackson by name--I'm not sure she knows who he is--but this girl is not the emotional kind).

Looking back over the semester, McCain supporters were much more likely to discuss politics in class while Obama supporters were more visible, wearing Obama t-shirts and put "Vote for Obama" buttons on their Facebook pages, etc. I'll leave it to the political parties to determine all the psychology behind those behaviors.

For now...I'm just glad the election chaos is over because I have a lot of homework to do! :)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Life Lessons: The Classroom in Action

Everyone in the United States and throughout much of the world knows that today is a special day: Election Day.

I can recall many of the lessons on Democracy that I had been taught as a child from the fabled tales of George Washington cutting down his father's cherry tree to the more serious matters of civic responsibility and service. I vividly remember my American Government professor (who slightly resembled a Viking in my mind) who with all the passion and gusto he could muster, plead with our 18-year-old college selves to get involved in the political process, even encouraging us to save our pennies and buy an expensive meal at a political fundraising gala so our voices could be heard. I remember how, during times of trouble (war, terrorism or natural devastation), Americans rallied together for the common good. All of these things factor into the importance I place on voting and being a part of the democratic political process.

Sometimes, as a parent, it's hard to remember how much influence you have on your child's life. I began to think about how much I had talked with my kids about political matters, and I was pretty surprised to realize how little we had discussed it.

I decided to change that.

A month or so ago, I decided that I was going to get up early on Election Day and take my kids to the polls with me. Since that time, we've discussed how often people get to vote, voting restrictions/age limits, why I will/won't vote for a certain candidate, the difference between state and national government, etc. None of these conversations were in depth, mind you; they were just kid-sized nuggets of information.

This morning, my kids got to see how voters check in, what a ballot looks like, how to fill out a ballot and how ballots are cast for a final vote. The only effort on my part: getting out the door a few minutes early and letting them watch over my shoulder. There's just some things that can't be taught in a classroom.

I feel like I have completed my civic duty for today, both as an American and as a parent.

Studying for the 21st Century

I think anything that makes life easier or makes information more accessible/portable is cool. Sometimes I wish I lived in a metro area and had to take the train to get to work just so I could watch podcasts on the train; it just sounds hip!

As a commuter student, it can be difficult to manage the transfer of information from school to home and vice versa, especially when you are working on many different computers. It can also complicate studying on-the-go. You've heard about my love of old-fashioned index cards , but since I am also somewhat of a self-proclaimed technology geek, I have been looking at the many online study aids that are available to students.

SyncNotes seems to be one web application with promise. You can synchronize information between the web and all your many techno gadgetry (computers, cell phone, PDA) so you will always have access to the information you need no matter your location. You know what that means, right? No more excuses for not studying!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Good End to a Bad Month

October was a terrible month. It was a want-to-pull-my-hair-out-slightly-overwhelmed-and/or-exhausted kind of month. Translation: "I've never been so happy to see November!"

No matter how crappy the month may have been, I've got to admit that it ended--and November started--on a good note due to the following:

*Professor and I figured out an alternative route for the guided study classes that I am taking (the extremely time-consuming ones that I feared I would never complete).

*I came home to a SPOTLESS house that my husband had graciously cleaned on his day off. Walking into a clean home always melts the stress away. I was able to let go of all those nagging "undones" (well, all except the nagging laundry "undones").

*My sister came to visit.

*I enjoyed the yearly hayride/trick-or-treating with a trailer bed full of friends from our small town...and we were able to leave our coats and hot chocolate at home this year!

*My best friend and her son drove up from Texas like a stealth bomber and made a totally surprise visit (in coordination with my sis and hubby). It was like having a surprise birthday party except without the "growing older" part (yes, she even brought dessert!).

*Said friends and family members helped me eat all of the children's Halloween chocolate quickly so I wouldn't be tempted by it for a week. I's a tough job but somebody's gotta do it! Don't worry--we left plenty of Starburst and Skittles for the kids; I'm not tempted by that at all. (lol!)

*I went to see High School Muscial 3 at the theatre with the kiddos. I'm not gonna lie: I'm a fan. It was cute.

*I went for a drive in the country and enjoyed the beautiful autumn leaves.

*I relaxed.

*I got an extra hour of sleep thanks to Daylight Saving Time.

Moral of the story: there's never anything so bad that a little time with friends, family or a pillow can't improve.

So, bring it on, November...I'm ready for you.