Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Grade Perspective

After seeing the impossible syllabus first day of class last August, I had decided I would do my very best, but that I would be happy if my best was a B for my Methods in Study of Literature class (aka Thursday class). I would never have said that in previous English classes/degrees. I did get one A- in my masters program and was mad about it for years because it gave me a 3.9 GPA. However, this time around, I have a different perspective. This class was HARD before I even started! It challenged me and made me doubt myself and fight to get through it. I was working hard as I could but asking God "please just let me get a B." (FYI: B's are not good in PhD programs and you can't really get more than one, maybe two, and expect to be awarded the degree.)

Grades were in end of last week. I received an A in the Brit Lit class, which I expected. And an A- in Methods?! For me, a grade has never been more amazing, more hard fought, or truly earned. And even the minus part of it couldn't be more beautiful. This time, the minus is the difference between an A and B, not a low A and higher A.

Part of me wants to think the prof rounded it up or took pity, knowing I tried but fell just short. Not only is my prof not like that (hence the difficulty of the class), but I also know God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. My A- and all the change it represents within me (cause God knows how this class challenged me in personal ways as well) is to God's glory.

Monday, December 19, 2016

My Library - More Than a Collection of Books

The one thing I've been waiting for since we saw our new house for the first time almost a year ago is finally finished. My library - more than a collection of books now! A week and a half ago, we picked up nine of IKEA's Billy Bookshelves. Hand crafted shelving is hardy but extremely expensive and bookshelves in local stores are flimsy although extremely affordable. I was so pleased to find IKEA's shelves are sturdy and the prices comparable to Target and Wal-Mart shelves.

In three nights last week my husband pieced the bookshelves together and placed them accordingly. The room immediately transformed with their placement and the minute they were up, I unpacked tote after tote of books. My poor books had been packed up almost a year ago and although I knew I missed their presence, I hadn't realized how much it would feel like reuniting with friends as I unpacked them. My books have stories and hold memories...even if it's just the knowledge of where I was in life when I bought a particular book.

Front entry to library

View from front windows
So, the unpacking of books was glorious. With limited time that night - although I was up until 2 A.M.taking them out of totes - I simply stacked books on shelves according to genre. As only book lovers can imagine, that wasn't as easy as it sounds. I had to estimate how much shelving to designate for what I already owned and for how much each genre may grow in the future. Also, there's the matter of some books applying to more than one category. Let's be honest, I reveled in it.

That was Friday, 12/16. On Sunday, 12/18, my friend and fellow reader S.R. offered to come over to help alphabetize. I gladly took her up on it. What better way than to enjoy the project than with a friend? I want to say it took us about two and half hours. Seeing the empty space left when we were done was both sad and exciting. Sad because I had cleaned out my book collection before moving and now missed them, even if they were just to take up space. Excited because I haven't really bought a physical book just for the heck of it in a long time and Barnes & Noble will be exciting in a new way for the next few visits.

Anyway, I'm obviously excited, but who am I kidding? You just want to see the pictures!

The shelves along the back of the couch (left to right) hold Christian nonfiction and fiction, textbooks, childhood books, signed editions, and very old/first editions. The single bookshelf on the other side of the window holds biographies and general researched stories on people (mostly authors) and mythology/fantasy. The single bookshelf juxtaposed to it (only in profile here, but can be seen to the left in pic above) holds memoirs and general subject nonfiction.

The main wall has four bookshelves, where I decided to put fiction, since it is the largest genre in my collection and the most likely to grow. The single shelf juxtaposed to those contains Classics.

As you can see, there's room to grow. After that, well, who needs windows?

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Quick Hello

Not much posting going on around here, is there? Even now I'm supposed to be prepping for a final for tomorrow, but would rather throw out a quick hello to the blogosphere.

My bedroom/office. When we moved in August I
never bothered to put up a single decoration in
my room. It immediately became my work space.
First, finals week. I am excited to say that this time tomorrow I will only have one final to finish and the first semester of my PhD program will be done. I've worked so hard, so it's kinda depressing to realize that with all the steps I have to take I have only finished 1/4 of 1/4 of the requirements. Ugh. But for once, I may not be wishing away the hard work. Knowing there's something big this all leads to, I don't want to sleep walk through or wish away the lessons to learn and the character forming experiences. Among the things I hope to succeed at more next semester are time management and focus. I did what I had to do to survive this semester. Next semester I'd like to manage the work time I set aside better. That will mean learning to focus and will likely mean leaving my house to work more often. I knew I needed to study elsewhere this semester, but in the day-to-day it felt like a hassle to leave my house - see the pile of books in the pic above? At one point I had 40 some books checked out of the library - I brought the initial bunch home in a large 31 tote and will be taking them back the same way. You can't just casually haul that crap around! Next semester I will work elsewhere more often, thankfully with smaller texts.

This semester I've also surprised myself in some of my ability to "let go" of things. I'm a control freak. As many of you know, early in our marriage, my husband worked a night shift job that pretty much left him only with time to eat, sleep, and work...leaving me to make decisions and carry things out. It's very hard to drop that habit even though it's been years since he left that job.

Saturdays are big work times for me, so my husband took over the time consuming task of meal planning and grocery shopping, two jobs I did even though he's the one who cooks. He's done a great job and it's been a big help in relieving weekend stress.

I've also learned to live with a little mess - well in my car anyway (my house is still too new and exciting for me to let mess build up). I was so shocked by it one day that I actually took a picture. During a good bit of the semester my car floor was a mess of trash, books, bags, sweaters, and random other items from my travel between two schools. There's also a gallon size bag of cashews and almonds for snacking in there somewhere. Very not me, but again it worked for the days I found myself running from one place to the next, dinner in the car, and more stuff than my book bag could hold.

The excitement for this week isn't just finals though. We made our first ever trip to IKEA. We bought my daughter a desk and dresser - one as a birthday present and one for Christmas. With the move and school starting, the trip didn't happen until now and she's been patiently waiting for her "new room" to come together. I couldn't take pictures, cause she doesn't have everything arranged yet, lol. She'll be going to college full time next year, but has decided to stay home and commute to the local college where she has already been taking classes. We all thought it would be a nice fresh start with a new look for her primary living space. It's going to be a crazy transition next year, as college student life very much becomes living as an adult even if she is home with us...and it will likely be harder for us to adjust than her! Not that I mind the change, I just know I won't remember she's not a "kid" anymore.

My presents under the tree for now!
We also went to IKEA to buy my bookshelves for my library! There are nine total and they will cover three of the four walls. I am beyond excited. By the time finals week finishes up, they should be ready for my books and I'll have all the time in the world to arrange to my heart's desire. I can't wait. I promise to put up pics as soon as the library shelves are stocked and everything is decorated.

And FINALLY we were able to do something as a whole family. We went out to dinner after IKEA for our son's birthday. It's near impossible to have family time that consists of everyone these days. For us it becomes a matter of making sure we've spent time with all of the kids and each other at some points throughout the week. It's a new norm.

Hope everyone's December is treating them well. The month is flying by and that special time we wait for every year - (Christmas but also time off of work for those lucky enough to have it) will be over before you know it. Enjoy the time building up to it. Love.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

It's the Small Stuff That Counts

Last week was refreshing - a stop and consider type of refreshing. The kind that realigns your heart and mind, allowing your perspective to broaden. First, I realized I have only two weeks of the college semester left, that I've essentially made it to the end! All that crazy almost done. Hard to believe, but such a relief.

Then my son had a sleep over birthday party. I set a limited number of 12 year old boys who could crash at my house, but my husband said "No, invite them all." When I bulked (I don't "do" bigger groups of younger kids well) he said he'd take over the party. And that he did. I made sure the party had what it needed and hung out for happy birthday, then split. (Yes, I came back and spent the night listening to nonstop chatter except between the hours of 3am-6am, so I didn't totally abandon my husband to the mob!) But what a husband. Knowing I have limits to what I can take with a huge group of crazy younger kids, he was more than willing to take over and let me escape for the craziest part of it.

And escape I did, thanks to one of my best friends answering my picture and rhetorical question on IG about needing to escape the number of running, noisy bodies in my house. Hang out time and a movie and just a really nice night. It is rare to find people you can completely be yourself around. I have foot in mouth disease - the bad combination of a big mouth and a strong-will - so it's refreshing to find someone who knows who I am and I don't have to replay the night in worry later.

The weekend was also shared with a family friend who comes by once a week to watch movies with us. He owns over 2,000 movies and we've currently been binge watching our way through seasons of Survivor. We've been at it for 18 months now and we're on season 23...that's 11 1/2 years of Survivor! It's always a great night when he is with us - we usually eat dinner or have snacks and cheer or yell as needed at competitions that are years gone. Lol.

And the moments that started the refreshing of these past couple days were with my students. My Seniors, the majority of whom were my Juniors last year, started presenting their "Things That Happened to Me" slideshows last Thursday and finish up tomorrow. Based on Oskar Schell's photo book of the same name in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, I asked them to choose a combination 20 pictures of their own and internet that show me who they are. I don't think I've enjoyed any other project as much.

Can't put up my students' pictures,
but this is where we meet.
My Seniors told me where they've been and where they're going; what they've failed and what they've accomplished; what makes them laugh and what makes them cry; who they love and who loves them; how the world has changed them and how they want to change the world; how they're broken and how they've healed. They've shared their families, friends, pets, jobs, favorite colors, hobbies, interests, secrets, and dozens of little things in between. I've enjoyed every word of every presentation the past two days. How could I not?

According to the state of Pennsylvania they're my job, but to me, they're simply my kids. And soon enough, after two years in my classroom, they'll be graduating. So this week, for now, I am going to enjoy my time with them and all they're willing to share.

Yes, we have work to do, friendships have tough times, my kids and their friends can be a crazy bunch, my husband and I may not always be so mindful of each other, and my current journey is CRAZY, but it's the day-to-day where life happens - memories are made, lessons are learned, and lives are fortified.

It's the small stuff that counts.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Set Apart

I know I've been MIA here on the blog, but I'm just finishing up week 12 of 15 for the semester and the weekly assignments they come with! The work load stayed consistent up to this point, but I've slowly felt less crazy about it. All I have left are two final papers and presentations for each, one per class.

What's changed? My ability to schedule in family time and bits of fun around work and school work improved, although I will not claim perfection by any means. But, overall I settled into the new schedule; however, that happened in large part due to my perspective change.

I always thought I'd get my PhD as a career step, taking me to the place I've been working towards all this time: professorship. The final means to the final end. That might be the case one day, but it's no longer a certain goal. As I've worked, cried, and dragged myself through this first semester I've realized differently.

This journey is a dream realized, but it is not the destination.

This journey is going to change me like no other journey has. It's going to force me to face my weaknesses and broken parts and learn to live in them and through them, changing what needs to change to come out a stronger and better person than when I started. Deep? It was a crazy "Whoa" moment when it came to mind, so yea, I'd say so, but also not surprising.

I should know by now that it's always about the journey. When one ends another begins and so we are always living in an opportunity of personal betterment, if we're willing to see it.

I was not willing to see it for the first half of this semester. The work was immediately challenging and forced me to set boundaries on my time and energy. To do well, I had to change the routines I'd been living in (basically doing whatever I wanted to) for years. I felt left out and lonely on a journey that no one around me had taken before - so that even in the good moments I didn't feel anyone could share my joy. Because of that I tried to keep my schooling separate from the rest of my life and often found myself silent among people or avoiding the topic because my schooling is my life right now. I avoided the FB newsfeed to avoid the empty hole ache of what felt like friends enjoying life without me and spending time with their families while I had to limit my own. I felt guilty over the choices I made to balance my schooling with work and family. Feeling completely dumb, I kept wondering why something I wanted so much was so difficult?

I felt God had given me the desire of my heart and then left me there to struggle through it. Dramatic? May seem so, but anything life changing has the ability to turn you upside down and inside out, while appearing completely normal to everyone else.

Fortunately, I do have family and a couple friends who allow me to vent and babble my way through the emotion and revelations until it's all sorted in my head. Also, I read a few books over the summer whose lessons kicked in for me on a level I hadn't foreseen. One of my beloved authors, Lysa TerKeurst, states best what I've learned about this journey so far in her book Uninvited:

"There is something wonderfully sacred that happens when a girl chooses to realize that being 'set aside' is actually God's call for her to be 'set apart.' This is true.

To be set aside is to be rejected. To be set apart is to be given an assignment that requires preparation.

Embrace the preparation today. And remember you are 'set apart' beautiful one. Chosen. Adored. And reserved for a high and holy calling."

This...now...is the preparation for something else. God has not left me high and dry, He has set me apart. This is time to wait but also time to grow. If I put in the time now, seeking all God has for me on the other side, all the hardship and change will be put to good use - the best use as only God can manage. I don't know exactly what awaits on the other side of my next four and a half years of schooling. I am content to know I am right where God wants me and that He will guide my steps. I need only keep my focus ahead and remember He has me set apart for a higher purpose.

Wherever you are today, I encourage you to stop and ask God "Why am I here and what would you have for me?" He may encourage you in the direction you're already headed; He may surprise you with a turnabout; He may ask you to keep waiting on Him. Whatever the answer trust in it and keep at it!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Without Rival

Without Rival: Embrace Your Identity and Purpose in an Age of Confusion and Comparison, by Lisa Bevere

Publisher: Revell
Publication date: August 16, 2016
Category: Christian motivational, nonfiction
Source: I received this galley from NetGalley for consideration of a review.

Wow, October just blew past me. I didn't even realize it until I came to the blog and saw I only had two posts for the month, but have the start of half a dozen waiting with the intention to finish and post. And two of them book reviews! One from the summer, but, I somehow managed to squeeze another read in September. Assuming you read the intro info, it was Without Rival, by Lisa Bevere. I had the pleasure of hearing Lisa speak in September while reading her book too!

Lisa and her well known author husband, John Bevere, have a number of motivational Christian books to their names. Although I've read John's books previously, this is the first of Lisa's I've read. The title and idea equally captured my attention. What would it feel like to live without rival? To not see others as competition or not feel limited in life? It's almost unimaginable. Except Lisa lays out the very real possibility of living without rival.

Throughout her book she discusses how to (list from Amazon):
· Flip rivalry so it brings out the best in you
· Stop hiding from conversations you need to be a part of
· Answer the argument that says women are unfit, easily deceived, and gullible
· Dismantle gender rivalry and work with the men in your life

And of course, she does all of his through a Biblical lens, fighting through the comparisons, lies, etc., to become who you were made to be. I love the way Lisa cut to the truth with simple statements. Among my most favorite are two quotes that work together to form a wall of comfort around me for the hard stuff of life.

"The attacks on your life have more to do with who you might be in the future than who you have been in the past" and "Destiny is revealed in seasons of confrontation rather than seasons of comfort." Together these statements tell me I matter, I have purpose. The hard times will not go to waste, what I learn will move me further, and there is hope because I just have to keep alongside God, fighting through.

So powerful! To know we have purpose - a calling - and we need to keep reaching. I am absolutely encouraged by Lisa Bevere's Without Rival.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

New Levels of Excitement: the Library

This post's original title ideas were "I Hate the Library" and "My Frenemy the Library," but then I thought I'd stick with a familiar title I'd already started this month - "New Levels of Excitement" - and it would apply just as well. These titles aren't meshing are they? Let me explain.

I've always loved libraries. When I was two my grandmother told my mom she didn't know what to do with me, I just wanted to sit and "read" my little books. My high school librarian told me once she loved that I took books out - not just books, but classics. I paid for lifetime alumni status at my undergrad university so I would have access to their library forever. I helped fundraise to establish the newer library in my community after spending a childhood walking to and perusing the smaller, out-of-date one. My longest standing car window sticker reads "I ❤️ my library."

Given my history of love affairs with libraries, where can the words hate and frenemy possibly fit? On a Saturday night, 9:30pm, the cold seventh floor of Kent State's library. On hour 12 of work, with only a 45-ish minute interruption around dinnertime to drive from Youngstown State's closing library to Kent's open late library. Nose running from the cold and the one thing my backpack the size and weight of a small child doesn't have is tissues. McDonald's for dinner, again, and feeling like it's been one McDonald's meal too many. Confusing books scattered around while I alternate between my document and another confusing reference guide online. My right hand is freezing from using the mouse; hours plugging away at my laptop.

In that moment the words came unbidden to my mind: I hate the library.

I think I physically flinched from the blow to my mind. What a grievous sin for a lover of everything a library represents. Surely I could let the concussion subside and no one would ever be privy to the thought? And yet, the feeling lingered, demanding to be felt. So, I'm breaking the first rule of this fight club; I'm talking about it.

Life, and everything in it, is multifaceted. Think of the people and passions you live for. I love my husband and kids dearly, but they can also drive me crazy (and I them). I have some of the best people on earth for friends, but they can disappoint (as I disappoint them). I live my passion teaching high school English, luckier than most people get in a career, but it's hard to roll out of that warm bed every morning. I love books, learning, education, searching and finding, but I loathe heading to the library as of late.

Do I deny the crazy of my people, the difficulties of my job, the challenge of my current dream just because I love them? No. I can't. Everyone and everything has multiple sides, the good and the bad. How can we truly claim love when we only want to accept half of the person or the easy side of the situation? This life and world are not perfect and we set ourselves up for disappointment and despair when we sweep hard feelings under the rug in the name of a pretentious peace and contentment. The hard feelings demand to be felt and allowing the feeling to come and go is the only way they will resolve. Once resolved, what's left? Love. Real love, as it should be, for everything a person, passion, or dream really is, not just what we want it to be.

I left soon after my hard thoughts in the library that night, unable to understand why I felt so wronged by something I'd faithfully devoted myself to for so long. It wasn't half an hour later that I took the nighttime photo of the library posted here, texting it to a friend in my sudden awe. Twelve stories of wondrous humanity, with the school's beautiful blue colors streaking up the front, lighting the darkness. And just like that, I'm in love again, for better or worse.

Monday, October 3, 2016

New Levels of Excitement

New things bring new and different excitement...marriage, babies, cars, jobs, houses. Up til now my new excitements were identifiable by most people because most people have shared similar experiences in their lives. And if they haven't, the experiences are understood by people in general. My PhD adventure has turned that on its head. The things I get excited about now, well, I'm not sure what to say about it. Imagining the conversations makes me want to laugh.

Friend 1: My daughter lost her first tooth and my son made the travel soccer team!

Me: Oh wow, that's awesome!

Friend 2: Nice. Hey, that new restaurant opened, we should try it out.

Me: Good idea. Oh, guess what?!

Friends: What?!

Me: I found a copy of the Cambridge edition of The Great Gatsby online for $11!


Hyperbole, yes. My friends would likely smile and nod at least. Haha, but that's my life right now, full of weirdly exciting moments here and there, but with whom to share them? You think I'm kidding? Here is my list of personal excitement for the past week or so:

*One professor told me I read very well (it was poetry, Wordsworth, and chock full of crazy punctuation...I impressed myself)!

*I had a less than ten minute conversation with a professor whose focus is in the same time period as my studies, discussing American canon and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and it was among the best minutes of my week.

*I didn't cry once on the way home from my Thursday class last week (this could change; I have nine weeks to go).

*I found and bought the Cambridge edition of The Great Gatsby online for $11 (yes, that was true. Yes, it's a very good thing. No, I didn't try to put it into conversation with my friends).

*Purdue Owl's site has literary theory definitions AND help to form your thesis!

My husband is crazy supportive with all of this. I've told him all of these excitements and more and he is excited with me. He sees behind the scenes and understands a little better how these things could be exciting. I have a couple of extra supportive friends I tell some things to, but these kinds of things don't always communicate well via text message. And I do have the blog. So, here they are, my new excitements for the week! You have been great cheerleaders from the time I thought about doing this til now. Thank you for your nerdy willingness to read and comment and cheer me on! Maybe we'll make a meme of it:

"New Levels of Excitement - Things Only a Nerd Could Love"

Friday, September 30, 2016

So Much for the Afterglow

The shiny newness is fading. Gritted teeth and long hours will do that. So will challenges to my time, family, friends, house, church, and work management. Challenges to my skills and whatever natural talent is hiding out in my brain. Challenges to my hobbies, eating, and sleeping habits. Challenges to my joy, peace, patience, and self control. Challenges to my eucharisteo. Everclear stated it best, as 90's music does: "I guess the honeymoon is over. So much for the afterglow." Is a dream still a dream even as it turns into something you didn't expect; something you can envision quitting now that it's here?

Of course. Not the direction you thought I was headed, huh? Blame the click bait title (red herring, as the English teacher in me prefers to call it) or just typical human assumption. We humans have dreams and set goals and strive to reach them, only to find out when we get there that it's going to take hard work and determination to carry the dream out. And we have the audacity to be surprised! Why do we think after the hard work it took to get to the dream, that the dream itself would be easy peasy?

Think of people who have done big things: famous, semi-famous, or not at all. People you know personally and those you don't. My parents had a dream to put three kids through college working jobs that didn't necessarily pay that kind of money, but they sacrificed every place possible financially and did it. Martin Luther King, Jr clearly had a dream. He died for it. If God's ultimate goal in sending his son Jesus to earth was for him to die innocently on a cross, why we do we think our dreams and goals shouldn't cost us?

Your dream is your dream for reasons unique to you. Your dream will take you places you may not have thought possible and will change you in ways you could never foresee. Your dream will do this because dreams have a tendency to seem or become bigger than life, and when you face Goliath and triumph, you can't help but be a different person because of it. It's always about more than the dream itself.

So what dreams are on your horizon? What dream are you living out right now? Is it crazy hard and making you desperate to quit? Then it's doing its job. Keep on swimming. You are right where you need to be.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Truth in the Text: Beginnings

Or what you're made of!
Am I the only one this scares to death?
(Source: theroadtopeace.net)
Hoping to start a new meme here on My Life in Books, related to my PhD experience and called Truth in the Text. I've noticed in my assigned college readings that a few lines here and there will stand out as true to life in ways other than to what the text is referring. I was inspired again by a piece in an assigned reading for this week and thought, hey maybe more will show up along the way. It may or may not replace Begin the Week with Words, or they may both come and go as I find good stuff and the time to post. Time will tell.

This piece comes from Edward Said's Beginnings: Intention and Method, of which I read chapter 2 "A Meditation on Beginnings." The chapter discusses how something can be considered "the beginning." Look at the two points below, the topic of literary criticism, and how true to life they are way outside the realm of literature:

"First of all, there must be the desire, the will, and the true freedom to reverse oneself, to accept thereby the risks of rupture and discontinuity; for whether one looks to see where and when he began, or whether he looks in order to begin now, he cannot continue as he is" (34).

"Finally, and almost inevitably...the beginning will emerge reflectively and, perhaps, unhappily, already engaging him in an awareness of its difficulty" (35).

Things in daily and weekly life have
changed/ended that I can only hope and
assume are part of the process.
Whoa, blew me away. Two sentences that could not describe my life more right now. I feel as if my life has been ruptured and discontinuity has ensued...and the problem is my mind is trying to continue on as I was, which the quote quite correctly states is not possible. I am having a hard time giving over to the rupture needed to allow my new beginning to gain momentum. Starting this degree means giving up other hobbies and missing out on events and time spent with people. It's hard to do that just because, but also because those things go on without you.

This making the second quote true too. Although I am where I've aimed to be for twenty years now (getting my PhD) and am glad to be there, it is only upon entering into and looking back on the short few weeks that I really see this is truly a new beginning, more than the "change of pace" I thought it would be. And difficult it is, mixing unhappy and hard moments in with the happy and good, and altering other parts of life in the process, the new beginning transforming everything around it simply because I had a dream. It's strange to think something you wanted so bad, for so long, could be so hard and bring such physical, mental, and emotional conflict. Do I overplay it? I don't think so. Anyone who's ever dreamed desperately only to find themselves in over their heads upon arrival would understand.

Just keeping it real people. Beginnings are hard.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

PhD Hacks

Anytime you start something new, it's overwhelming, but you end up learning the ins and outs with the help of short cuts and best practices. A few PhD hacks have saved the day in the past few weeks.

My amazing husband didn't hesitate in buying
me a laptop. He told me what a few offered and
suggested which were best for what I needed and
left me to get whatever I wanted. 
1. Get your own laptop. The convenience of leaving my accounts logged in at all times and bookmarking every other site I'm on makes up for every dime spent on a new laptop (which wasn't much - bought a cheap HP with word processing and decent storage and RAM). Especially when I discovered starting this new program meant opening new accounts for software, journals, associations, and search sites weekly. My iPad works for many things, but limits word processing options, among other important items. Although I'm the only one who really uses the desktop at home, my family and their friends can also use it, so I don't want to leave accounts logged in. Also, on the laptop I know the only things on it are my things and it stands little chance of someone messing with them deliberately or accidentally - it is the PhD laptop. Plus, the desktop doesn't help much with PhD hack #2.

Kent's University library - although it is far away,
so I'm only there to pick up books after class.
To work, I head to YSU or a public library, all
close to home.
2. Leave your house. Yes, I need to work, work, work, but it has to be away from my house. No matter how much I tell my kids the next couple hours are work-time, they inevitably have a question, need a fight settled, or wonder in to talk because I'm mom and that's what I'm here for, right? It's really hard to tell them to leave because I don't want them to feel ignored or have hurt feelings. But, if I leave the house for my work hours, I get work done and they don't feel I've pushed them away, I was simply not home. Purchasing my own laptop gives me the freedom to take ALL of my work with me too - again paying for the convenience totally worth it.

3. Have a go-to reply. At first I tended to answer the question "How's school?" by going on about my new laptop and project and people I've met, but soon realized the person asking had kinda stopped listening, was distracted doing something else, or changed the subject as soon as I answered. I know people have good intentions for asking, being courteous, but they don't usually seem ready for the long answer I give. So I've decided on a simple answer for the question "How's school?" For this semester it's along the lines of, "One class isn't too bad and the other is tough." Nothing near what I'd really want to say to answer that question, but people are happy with it, and if they don't ask any further questions, it's all good.

The other side of this is there isn't always much you can say that people understand. I've worked so hard for this experience and not even I knew what was coming exactly - I feel like I'm in the middle of a ton of things I have no clue about right now! The first couple weeks I was excited or worried about simpler things, like getting a new laptop, being on campus, spending the day at the library, getting to know professors, etc. Those are easy to share my excitement about to those interested, but it's already changing speed and I need a reply without all the extra detail. Also, when school is taking over my life, I imagine there will be times I won't want to discuss it and I think having a go-to reply will help then too.

I admit, I love calendars and lists and organizational tools.
4. Designate and ask for help. Since I am the organizer and scheduler for my household (details and organization are a gifting of mine), a friend told me that assigning certain things to my family and asking for help as needed would save me so much stress. Hmm...I'm not good at this. I like things concerning my house and belongings done my way, with my supervision, but I needed to work on my control issues anyway, so now is as good a time as any. I bought a day planner for my kitchen. Everything that needs done around the house is assigned to family members able to complete the task on the day it needs done. For example, the kids are assigned dog duty by the week, feeding and taking them out. Everyone brings their dirty laundry to the basement on Tuesday night and picks up their clean laundry on Thursday night. (Laundry being the one thing I won't give up control over! And with my new huge washer and dryer, I only do four loads a week anyway.) The kids are not allowed to go anywhere or do anything fun until homework and assigned calendar items are complete and my husband can see where I might need him to do something that I would usually take care of. This past week for example, my husband did the meal planning and grocery shopping while I worked at home. Also, a purpose of the family day planner is to handle lists. If there are items other than the usual that need done, they are assigned a day and person so I have them written down and off of my mind. Anything left undone is moved to the next week. My friend also said to hire a cleaning lady in at least once a month, which I could totally go for, but we'll see how the family assigned cleaning goes first.

Sometimes, sitting in the sun for a few
minutes with my fur babies is a
perfectly fine break.
5. Plan time for fun. It's true that the majority of my usual "free" time in the past three weeks has been spent on school work, but I've found that I can't just work every free moment, even if I have enough work to justify that. My brain and emotions will fry. I've noticed that when my mind is constantly on a daunting assignment or the amount of work in general, it actually paralyzes me. I feel unable to work because the scope of the project is looming in my mind. So breaks are a must, but it's also a must to plan them out. If I have break time planned, I have something to look forward too and I'm not going to overwork, crash, and need an emergency break at a time when I can't afford it. Over the four day Labor Day weekend we had a cookout with a few friends at the new house. Knowing I had extra days off work, I knew I could spare one evening. Last Saturday I spent most of the day at the library researching for my writing assignment, so I planned for our friend to come over that evening to watch through an old season of Survivor we'd started two weeks ago. I think it will work well and I'm hoping I find opportunities to connect with people during these breaks - finally having this new house but limited time to gather friends here is driving me crazy.

So those are the secrets and short cuts I've found working best for me on this journey so far. I'm enjoying the process and journaling of my schooling more than anything right now because at this point I've learned every part of life's journey is designed to make you better if you'll let it. I'm determined to look back at all I learned and became and see how I'm better for it.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

#30Authors Presents Claire Fuller on The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon

#30Authors is an event started by The Book Wheel that connects readers, bloggers, and authors. In it, 30 authors review their favorite recent reads on 30 blogs in 30 days. It takes place annually during the month of September and has been met with incredible support from and success in the literary community. It has also been turned into an anthology, which is currently available on Amazon and all author proceeds go to charity. Previous #30Authors contributors include Celeste Ng, Cynthia Bond, Brian Panowich, and M.O. Walsh. To see this year’s full line-up, visit www.thebookwheelblog.com/30authors or follow along on Twitter @30Authors.

Without further ado, Claire Fuller's review of The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon:

The Pier Falls is a collection of nine short stories by Mark Haddon, most famous for his 2003 novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

Every story in this book is outstanding. The eponymous tale is about a pier and the lives and deaths of the people on it as it collapses and falls into the sea. Each individual’s action is written from a distance as if Haddon realises that to be closer to the tragedy would be unbearable. Instead he gives us snippets of the future for some of the survivors; the pathos highlighting those who don’t make it out alive:

                “He swims steadily towards the beach where he is cheered ashore, 
                  wrapped in a red blanket and led to an ambulance. His wife will 
                  spend three hours thinking he is dead and will not forgive him for a 
                  long time.”

The stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. In Wodwo an English family gather together for Christmas when they are interrupted by an unusual intruder who changes all of their lives over the course of the coming year, until Christmas and the story comes around again, full-circle. The Woodpecker and the Wolf is about six people on board a space station, waiting to be relieved by a second crew who never arrive. Things just get worse from there on. Many actions are described in minute detail, emphasising not only the way the astronauts have to live, but also the type of person who would sign up for such a job. The story spins out of control, even while it is clear that Haddon has a firm grip on what he is intending, until reaching an ambiguous conclusion. I have never so desperately wanted to talk to someone about an ending as I did when I finished this story.

The writing across all the pieces is peculiarly unemotional, as if Haddon is giving us, the readers, the space to find our own emotions between the words. And if these stories sound bleak, that’s because they are. Don’t dip into The Pier Falls expecting a sunny ride, but if you’re looking for limpid writing, and top story-telling then this is your book.


Claire Fuller trained as a sculptor before working in marketing for many years. In 2013 she completed an MA in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester, and wrote her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days. It has been published in the UK by Fig Tree (Penguin), in the US by Tin House, in Canada by House of Anansi and in Israel, Taiwan, Italy, The Netherlands, France and Turkey. It will be published in a further four countries. Our Endless Numbered Days won the 2015 Desmond Elliott prize.

Claire's second novel, Swimming Lessons will be published in early 2017.


Friday, September 9, 2016

Insanity - Only Two Weeks In

My books this semester, for two classes.
Not bad you say? This doesn't include the 20+ books 
and articles I need to read for writing my seminar papers.

As the title of this post suggests, I am either insane or will be so shortly. And, as promised, I am documenting every insane second through journals and this blog. Two weeks into this PhD thing and I have quit at least once every day, sometimes more, but decided I can do this by the end of each day. Since I'm still in it, I guess we can say the "I can do this" side is currently winning.

I decided already to literally take each piece of my classes one step at a time. Even if told to make sure I'm looking ahead to another step, I think I have to focus on and finish off things according to due dates. If I can get to class each week knowing that what I need done is done and done to the best of my ability, well, at this point I can't ask for much more.

First week of classes overwhelmed me with a tidal wave of details. The assignments aren't a single step, but there are so many details and steps for each activity and assignment, I took an entire day to work on an eleven question library research project and I only had one question answered at the end of six hours. The rest of the questions required finding and reading articles and book chapters from various journals and online periodicals. Granted, learning the system hindered me a bit, but by the end of the day, I hadn't even collected all of the materials needed to begin reading to answer the other ten questions.

The reading for just one of my current classes has hit between 200 - 300 pages a week. The reading proves helpful and informative so far, but definitely not the same as reading a good book just for the story. The other class assigns smaller selections, but on material I have little background knowledge of, so I go searching and reading additional resources.

I enjoy the classroom experience itself, as always. If I had applied for a PhD in Education, I could complete everything online, but I noticed of all my options for an English PhD, none were offered online and for good reason. Good literature thrives on intricate discussion. Intricate discussion works best in person. Driving an hour up and an hour back from main campus twice a week hasn't been too bad, although I'm not looking forward to it come snowy weather, but the drive gives me time to transition from my school-as-teacher day to my school-as-student day and the same as I head home at night.

Probably the biggest challenge I've learned the past two weeks is time management. I thrive on organizing and prioritizing and I'm a do it all person - well, do it all according to what I think is important. I've never really had to scale back on my calendar. I've fit in people, responsibilities, hobbies, etc. any time I wanted. This is absolutely not the case now. Teaching takes at least 40 hours a week, more if current activities require working at home. In the past week I've spent every hour between working on one of my two PhD classes - no exaggeration. And in order to function fully from morning to night in all this work, I moved my bedtime back by an hour and a half (which doesn't always happen). I've been forced to draw boundaries around my job and classwork times, making them a shared first priority with my family...and even family takes the back-burner at times. For someone who treasures her friends and hobbies, it's a difficult position to already say "maybe" and "no" to activities I'd gladly attend, but I'm determined to make it through this.

See, "I can do it" is winning today. We'll see where I stand after spending the entire day at the library tomorrow! Watch out reference librarians, here I come.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Begin the Week with Words

You know you need to pay attention when you hear or read the same thing a bunch of times in a day or two. The first is a scripture verse I read more extensively on in the book Play with Fire, which I reviewed Thursday. It showed up on three different, unrelated people's Instagram posts the next day. In the same two days I read or heard the following three quotes on destiny. So I'm paying attention - they do seem to apply to my road ahead. 

"Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

"Destiny is revealed in seasons of confrontation rather than seasons of comfort." Lisa Bevere, Without Rival (book)

"A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it." Jean de La Fontaine

"They say that when a man faces his destiny, the destiny ends and he becomes the man that he really is." Mos Def, 16 Blocks (movie)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Play with Fire

Source:Family Christian Book Store
Play with Fire: Discovering Fierce Faith, Unquenchable Passion, and a Life-Giving God, by Bianca Olthoff
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: August 30,2016
Category: Motivational, Christian
Source: I received this galley from NetGalley for consideration of a review.

As I've worked my way through a series of motivational titles this summer, I feel lucky that so many wonderful authors decided to share their experiences and wisdom through publication in the past so many months. Among these titles I found Play with Fire, which I requested mostly because of the author, Bianca Olthoff. I was not familiar with Ms. Olthoff at all up to this point, but she is one of a few big names in the field of female Christian authorship scheduled to appear at the Propel Women event I am attending in September. Hearing authors speak is always a good time, but how much better when I'm familiar with their thoughts and words? It's akin to rereading the book, which is always good, but I have little time for typically.

Wanting to be familiar with Ms. Olthoff, I went in search of any books to her name and came across Play with Fire on Amazon. Seeing it wasn't yet published, I headed over to NetGalley. What a good idea that was! What makes me especially like Olthoff's book is the fact that although I couldn't identify with much of her life experience growing up, her ability to state her thoughts, emotions, and spiritual situation hit me, and those I could relate to. That's talent.

Play with Fire takes readers through a set of years where Olthoff found her life falling apart. Her mother's worsening fight with cancer, her father and siblings at wit's end, making bad choices for herself financially, emotionally, and relationally, she likens the experience to the Israelites wandering the desert for 40 years. She spent years looking every which way for anything that would ease the pain of wandering lonely and afraid, only to find nothing helped, and in fact she felt worse. As Olthoff's story unfolds, so does the evidence of God's grace. With hindsight, Olthoff is able to trace the places where God had been by her side in her personal desert all along, waiting for her to reach the point of crying out and truly longing to be set free from her turmoil. Although pushing through was not easy, and she found herself stalled at times, Olthoff's story is heartfelt and encouraging to anyone finding themselves stuck in a hard place.

I always assume that part of what makes a book good is the timing in which it is read. Olthoff's book came in amazing timing for me. I am floored. I am speechless and inspired and ready to take on the place I find myself most fearful to enter. I know the current path was set before me for a purpose, so to walk through it, my faith bigger than my fear, is the only way through. Sounds simple, but we all know it isn't. I thank God for the wonderful men and women of God publishing their lives and God's message for all to read this past year. Their words do not fall on deaf ears.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Journey Begins

A trip I made to explore campus prior to orientation and classes.
My journey into my PhD program has barely begun (orientation was this past week and classes start next week) and I already see two things coming for My Life in Books as a blog. One, unfortunately, more possible stretches of silence. I've been so crazy busy pulling life together with our renovating and moving and the start of a new school year, that I haven't even always remembered to post my weekly quotes on Sundays! From what I heard at orientation this week, I can expect much of the same crazy busy between family, work, and school. Second, posts will become grad school oriented. My studies are literature based, so it definitely will still be about books and reading, but I already know that I will have some experience based posts brewing as well...like this one!

I am excited though to have an established blog from which to share the experience. This past Tuesday was graduate orientation at Kent State. It was much bigger than I thought it would be, but it included masters and doctorate students from every department/major of the University. The afternoon was spent selecting sessions we thought would be most beneficial. I attended two that were extremely informative, although they also made me a little more frenzied.

Two down, one to go. Can't wait for
the day when the Kent sticker
reads Alumni under it as well.
The first informative session was titled Conferences and Publishing. The speakers are current PhD students who have attended numerous conferences and have even presented at them. They gave great pointers, like ask professors and current students the best conferences to attend in your subject. The list of do's and don'ts for conference attendance were both practical and specific. And, the best part, they made us aware of the Graduate Student Senate, where you can easily apply for the college to pay your travel expenses to both national and international conferences if you are presenting. Presenting at a conference remains a mystery to me for now...I'm not sure I understand how you go about making that happen and how a topic is chosen, etc., but, at least I know it's something I should do. More than I knew before.

The second part was a little scary, but also part of my dream: publication. They are typically talking publication of your papers to journals and such, but there was also talk of books. For example, one of the speakers has a professor who is writing a book and she asked if she can write a chapter. He said yes. Her name will be in the credits of that book and she can put it on her CV (No, not a resume. What is a CV? Click here). PhD students are expected to have published three or four times by graduation, a process that will take papers way beyond the time and grade restrictions of a class semester.

This session led me to the discovery that the field of academia depends upon networking. The more people you meet, the better. The more exposure you have among peers, the better. The more you can do, the better. And that's why they tell students to attend conferences at every turn. We were even told to get student business cards especially for the purpose of meeting people, making connections, and being remembered. Weird to hear at first, but the more they spoke, the more I came to understand why. The world of higher education is vast. In my little piece of nowhere Ohio alone, I had the choice of three major colleges I could commute to for the PhD program I wanted. If you're expected to publish material and work together on topics, then you have to be in the know within your field. And one of the best ways to do that is through who you know. You never know who will be doing what in the future and if they remember a discussion with you on that topic and have a way to contact you, well you could end up with a project heading toward publication, among other opportunities.

The second session gave access to a panel of current Kent professors. We asked them anything we had on our minds and they all answered honestly. There were a lot of good questions asked and I was particularly excited about their confidence in us. Two questions asked that pertain to me in particular concerned working students; those who have worked between degrees, as opposed to going straight through, and those who are working full time jobs alongside the degree process. Both of these apply to me and the professors' responses were encouraging. They said work experience between degrees benefits students greatly because it prepares their minds to look at the workload and their image in a different way than someone who has always been a student. Seeing all of the work and experience needed beyond the classroom I asked if they had any more or different advice for people working at the same time...mentioning that I also commute an hour and have three kids. They said to plan ahead for the things you know you have to do and those that are most important to attend and accomplish and say no to the rest. And one professor of English added in that working students are among the best he ever has! So, I feel better about it now.

Well, that was just part of my orientation day. My classes start Monday and I am on edge to get this started after a year of discussion about it. Wish me luck!

Friday, August 12, 2016


Rooted: the Hidden Places Where God Develops You, by Banning Liebscher
Publisher: WaterBrook (sold by Random House LLC)
Publication date: May 3, 2016
Category: Christianity, nonfiction
Source: I received this galley from NetGalley for consideration of review.

"God is not interested in developing your vision first. He is interested in developing you." The basis of Rooted lies here - we need a foundation to accomplish anything with true success. Professional athletes do not just show up on a field and play, authors do not publish the first draft of their books, teachers do not just waltz into classrooms from the streets randomly, builders do not just throw up walls on a patch of dirt when building any structure, and a seed cannot skip straight to the fruit bearing stage. They all lay a foundation first. A schedule, routine of practice, and/or work that hones their ability, secures the task at hand, and gives them the experience needed to perform their best when the time comes. Likewise, God does not first throw us into the highest level of our calling. He lays a foundation in our lives that we must have for His calling on us to succeed.

What is the purpose of a foundation? It supports something else. In order to effectively support something, the foundation has to be built up, be bigger. A foundation makes ready the object and the object's purpose. Author Banning Liebscher focuses throughout the whole book on how and why God spends so much time laying foundations in our lives and how our ultimate calling will fail without the proper foundation. Liebscher also makes it clear that we complicate the process with distractions and fighting what God is trying to do.

To give you a taste of the wisdom I gleaned, Liebscher points out that foundations often go unseen. Common sense, yes, but something I never actually thought about. I can watch a football game, read a published book, witness a teacher in action, enjoy living in my house, and pull an apple right from my fridge, but only because someone spent time in the background laying the foundation from which these things sprung in the first place. Foundations happen in the "secret place," where no one necessarily knows or sees what you are learning, practicing, realizing. It is there the real work is done and it is there that your ultimate calling will find its support.

What I love about Rooted is it's clarity and practicality. All of Liebscher's discussion was easy to understand and well supported with facts and examples. As he spoke about loving where God has you in the moment, even if it's hard, because it's what will lead you on to bigger things, I could feel it. Being in a tough spot of transitions and new journeys over this past year (crazy that so much happens in a year's time), this was huge. But to get a sense that the crazy emotion, day-to-day life, and physical and mental work of my current life is working toward something great and meaningful yet to be revealed? How could I not feel excitement?!

I highly recommend Rooted for anyone wondering why they may be where they are at this point in their lives...knowing God has a bigger purpose for your life is one thing, but knowing why He gets you there the way He does is valuable insight.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Begin the Week with Words: Thanks Mom and Dad!

Verse my mom gave us as we went into the final
week of last minute fixes and moving in.
This weekend we moved into the house we started to buy in January. I have to thank my parents - give credit where credit is due. I will admit the complete renovation of our new house was more crazy than fun. The end results were well worth it, but still tons of stress for such a good thing. With our type of loan there was a lot of potential for setbacks time wise, and being out of our realm of experience and comfort there was a lot of potential for breakdowns. It took tons of robbing Peter to pay Paul while waiting for funds, putting our hands to the work at hand for hours on end physically, and remedying and preventing meltdowns. Two people who never let us down through the whole thing were my parents, Ray and Georgia.

They deserve every ounce of credit any of us can give them. Our specific loan works through pay out of pocket and be reimbursed when the work is satisfactory, which is difficult for a smaller construction outfit, not to mention us. My parents lent us funds after ours were depleted and waited for the bank (and sale of our house) on all counts as we did to be paid back. Without that help, we would still be waiting on the bank to order and complete pieces of the house and weeks away from moving in.

Mentally, emotionally, spiritually, they kept me anchored. For Brandon too, but I personally fell into upsets and rants more than I'd like to admit throughout the process. At first my mom would help remedy an upset, but soon able to see where the main potential for stress in the process was, she would come to me with prayer or a scripture verse to prevent upset. My dad would come immediately to remedy things within the house that gave us trouble or we couldn't do - hanging chandeliers, building closet shelves, mudding holes in walls, painting, fixing issues the crew didn't quite get right. My dad (and Brandon) dedicated almost two weeks to laying tile and hardwood floors throughout the entire first floor and upstairs bathroom. He and my mom helped us paint the entire 2300 sq ft from start to finish.

They've simply been amazing. They put in so many hours of work at and for the house. For us. God truly used them to make our dream come true and we couldn't be more thankful. We celebrated our first night in the house with hibachi, which they'd never done before! A great end before our new beginning.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Lift: The History of Fitness Culture

Source: Amazon.com
Lift: Fitness Culture, from Naked Greeks and Acrobats to Jazzercise and Ninja Warriors, by Daniel Kunitz
Publisher: Harper Wave
Publication date: July 5. 2016
Category: Nonfiction
Source: I received a free copy of this galley from TLC Book Tours for consideration of a review.

With my new interest in exercise this year (I'm up to 20 lbs lost since January), I jumped at the chance to review a book on the history of exercise! In his new book Lift, out July 5, 2016, author Daniel Kunitz first seeks to answer the question why? Why do we exercise? Most of us are not athletes, we are not competing in events, we do not need to take exercise to the levels of dedication that we do. So why the push for exercise in our culture currently? While Kunitz admits there are those who use exercise in unhealthy ways (an addiction to the sense of euphoria or as control over one's body), he makes a couple points that most anyone who exercises regularly would give a standing ovation for.

First the obvious: "We are always either getting stronger or weaker; improving or decaying; learning or forgetting - and the athlete tries to right the ship daily."

The second is longer, but it's the one I like and think other fitness minded people would cheer: "It is this marshaling of habits that I call the practicing of life, of which athletic training is only one form. Practice regimes have evolved in many forms, from the ascetic life of religion to that of the military to artistic practice, acting, medicine, philosophy, and scholarship - all aim at some type of self-enhancement through training. But athletic practice holds special interest for us because it forms the basis for all other types that followed...While [other] regimes are all voluntary, we are born into the regime of the body...we are always practicing some sort of fitness regime, be it sitting or gymnastics...For once we progress beyond the limited goal of merely shaping our bodies, we stop acting as if we were machines with a single purpose and instead begin aspiring to expansive ideals. We begin practicing the artistry of the self."

"Born into the regime of the body..." indeed. It's interesting to note that this has always been the case for everyone and yet, over time, views and types of exercise have evolved. But like all advancement, we must stop to ask ourselves if bigger is necessarily better? And this is where Kunitz begins to explore the essentials of exercise and its place in humanity. From the ancient Greeks to the feminist movement of the past century, stopping everywhere in between, Kunitz explores and asks, What are the basics of exercise and why should we get back to them?

Well, you'll have to read Lift to find out. With Kunitz's humor and the topic of exercise this close to the Olympics, it's a book many people can appreciate and enjoy right now.

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About Daniel Kunitz

Daniel Kunitz has served as editor in chief of Modern Painters, as well as an editor at the Paris Review and Details, and has been a contributor to Vanity Fair, Harper’s Magazine, and New York. He is also an avid CrossFitter and weightlifter. He lives in New York City.