Saturday, October 24, 2009

Work Routines

I have not been blogging for a long time and am hoping to get back to it. During this summer, I did not blog because I was trying to work on my dissertation without distractions. But this was a far from easy experience. My laptop crashed three times during this time. The first time they managed to fix it and I recovered everything. The second time I lost about half a chapter (I had been backing everything up but unfortunately, could not make myself do it each time I wrote). But the computer was done – its hard drive and memory were fried. So, Gregg and I went out and bought a desktop and I put the dissertation on it. I could not load Endnotes on it though (that is what I had been using for my dissertation) and had to switch my entire Endnotes library to Refworks. It took me a week to switch my dissertation to refworks from endnotes.

Anyway, all of this paid off and finally I am done with the dissertation (except some small changes). But here is the problem: I have developed a routine for work. To work – whether that is grading, prepping classes, reading for the dissertation or writing – I need to sit on my couch with a laptop and the television on. Most people do not believe this. They think it is impossible to read or write with the television on. But this is how I researched and wrote my entire dissertation. So, since the defense I have found myself completely unable to work. This is not exhaustion as everyone keeps telling me. It is simply that I cannot work without a laptop. The desktop is nowhere near the TV and I cannot work when anchored to a spot. It drives me crazy and I can only sit at the computer for about 30 minutes at a time.

So, about 6 weeks after the defense, I finally gave in and bought a new laptop. Nothing fancy or complicated. But tonight I am sitting in front of the TV as I type this and I am so happy. I feel productive again. I wonder whether everyone has a work routine without which they are unable to be productive. I hope so…that would make me less crazy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Next Step

So, Sept. 11th (2009) was a monumental day – I successfully defended my dissertation that day. I had been very reluctant to schedule the defense for that day – it seemed so inauspicious. As I told my committee, the only day that would seem worse would be something like Friday the 13th. But as graduate students rapidly learn, it is very difficult to make four committee members come up with a common date and time they can meet – and you would have to be out of your time to make them change such a date after they have decided on it. So, we kept the date in spite of my misgivings. And to be fair, I would probably have had misgivings no matter what the date was.
Anyway, the defense went well except for one minor problem. On some (minor) things, my committee agreed on the changes I would have to make to transform this into a book. But on other things, they disagreed – even disagreeing on the best chapters/topics which should form the heart of the book. Some thought articles should come first; others pushed for a book.

All of this seemed a merely academic discussion at the time. I had just defended – what did I care? I still have small changes to make before turning in the vast amount of paperwork and the dissertation which will earn me my actual degree. But those who know me, know that I am not happy with little to do. I have a love-hate relationship with what I do – I hate it when I actually have to write but love the material. So, starting today, I have asked myself: what next? What now?

I do have a very long To-Do List. Most of it is from the summer – things that got put aside for the dissertation. But I like my dissertation. I want to work on it. So, should I start an article on it? What does that entail? Or think in terms of a book? I realized that while grad school has taught me some things, it has taught me nothing about how to convert a dissertation into a book. Does one work on the dissertation first? On a book proposal? Talk to editors? I have no idea. So, the next step for me is: research how to publish books in academia and work on journal articles.

It’s always about the next step for me. I wish I could learn to relax. What do you do after you finish a major project?
To-Do List:

1. Apply for reappointment for my third year at MU
2. Clean out the more than 100 boxes in our basement
3. Make two new course proposals for Ancient & Medieval Political Thought and Modern Political Thought – will write more about the process for this later
4. Make changes to the dissertation and submit it with all the paperwork
5. Apply for travel grants for conferences this semester
6. Shop for the India trip, get shots etc.

Plants: All my plants made it through the summer, so this experiment was clearly a success. I love the fresh herbs, so I am definitely getting more of them next summer.

Giggs: He has had a rough few weeks. He hurt his right back leg about a month or so ago. The vet thought it may be a torn ligament and if so, would need surgery. She gave him a painkiller and anti-inflammatory but it worked and he stopped limping. Then, 2 days ago, he hurt his left back leg while trying to chase a dog. He is back on that medication and has stopped limping. However, he is very cautious about that leg, so I know it still hurts him. Then yesterday, he got a stomach bug and threw up about 4 times. He finally ate some crackers and drank some water (with sugar and salt in it) last night, so I am hoping he is feeling better.

A New (Old) Car: Gregg and I bought a very old 2001 Ford Explorer this summer. So, while everyone was trading in their clunkers, we bought one  It is much easier to have two cars – I do not have to plan my life around the car anymore. The Camry is now my car – which I love. No more adjusting seats and mirrors every time I get into the car. I hate driving the Explorer though – it is too big and I simply cannot park it. So, I am very happy with the Camry as mine. Gregg likes the bigger car anyway – sense of power or control or whatever it is.

Last Thought on the Significance of Sept. 11th, 2009: When Gregg’s mom heard about the defense, she decided to send me a card early. However, I was very unwilling to talk about the defense and certainly refused to open a card prematurely – it seemed like bad luck. So, she contemplated putting the following on the card: “Do not open till Sept. 11th” but decided against it because of how it sounded. I am so glad she did not send that to a green card holder 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Brief Update

I know it seems like I have abandoned this blog. But I think about writing often. However, this past summer, I cut ties with anything that would distract me from the dissertation. I have worked on little else. Now, finally the end is in sight and I will resume blogging after I defend. A tentative date has been set for Sept. 11th (though it may be deferred if necessary). I do not like the date Sept. 11th for a defense - the only worse date would be Friday the 13th!!! So, look for the blog after the defense. In the meantime, I have kept up with all the other blogs and really appreciate your regular writing - it kept me sane and provided a few much-needed distractions.

Oh and btw, I still have the thyme and basil plants - so that experiment was a success.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Reality TV

This is a rant against reality TV. Let me preface this by saying that I have never watched reality TV, so it may be a little unfair. Also, I make a distinction between reality TV and competitive shows. So, shows like American Idol would not make it on this list. Actually, what started this rant is the recent publicity of the show “Jon and Kate Plus 8” and the news that “Octomom” signed a reality TV deal. Let me start by saying that I have never watched “Jon and Kate”. I have just heard a lot about it and read a lot about it since it is based in Lancaster. But here are my two cents on this type of show:

Reality TV appeals, in my mind, to the lowest common denominator in the human mind. The goal is to watch people make fools of themselves, watch obviously incompatible people interact or watch the inner workings of a social unit which has opened itself up for observation. However, any group that allows itself to be filmed is playing a part. So, by definition, it is not “reality”. And why are we so interested in reality TV? It is disgusting because it is voyeuristic. We are prying eyes seeking the scandalous, the sensational, the sordid. It demeans us as much as it demeans the people who agree to be on it. We are absolutely no better than they are.

Now, people would probably object that this rant cannot apply to the Jon and Kate show. After all, what can be wrong about watching a couple of parents deal with 8 cute children? But consider this: the show’s highest viewing has come from reports that the couple are having marital problems. In fact, I saw that in the Lancaster newspaper. What is this but an obsession with the sordid details of others’ lives? Granted, these people consented to put themselves out there but they are successful at it because of us.

Which brings me to “Octomom.” I read somewhere that she has signed a reality TV deal. This has led to some pretty mean comments. But here is the truth: it is the viewers of reality TV, the viewers of Jon and Kate that has created Octomom. Why do they think she will be successful? Because if a couple with 8 children can be successful, how can a single mom with 14 fail? An additional 6 kids – 1 parent = more dysfunction = greater success!!! That is the way TV stations tend to think and we are the ones responsible.

For all those out there who watch reality TV, I apologize for this rant. It does not make you bad individuals for watching reality TV. But as a societal phenomenon, reality TV is scary!!!


Other News:

Giggs: He is so energetic. I am hoping that he calms down soon. After all, he is 1.5 years old.

The Plants: Both basil and thyme have survived – now it is officially over a month!!! In fact, the basil is thriving. Now I think I am going to buy cilanthro and parsley.

Work: Not going so well. I need to work faster than I have but it is so difficult. Giggs makes it more difficult because he tends to paw at my laptop any time I am actually working on it. He is a complete lap dog, so anything on any one’s lap annoys him.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tending Herbs

Some people have green thumbs, I have a brown one. In other words, I have the thumbs of death. I have killed every plant which I have owned. My record is 3 weeks – that is the longest I have kept a plant alive. Either I water them too much or not enough. Either they get too much sun or not enough. However, one of the things I have always wanted to do is to have a herb garden. I love fresh herbs but they are so expensive. But, for obvious reasons, I have not tried this.

Now Lancaster calls itself a “garden city” with good reason. It is surrounded by farmland (Amish and otherwise) and has a lot of local greenhouses selling plants all year round. So, with the start of summer, I bought a small thyme plant and a small basil plant. It is my new experiment. If I can keep them alive for a month, I will get another plant – probably rosemary or cilantro.

Now, buying these plants did nothing to increase my self-confidence. We went to a local market which has very nice, personal staff. I asked one of them how much water these two plants needed. Here is her response: “Well, they do not like being very wet or very dry. Just touch the soil and let the soil tell you.” Thanks!!!! If the plants could talk, could tell me what they need, they would not be dead. So, I tried again: “So….water them every day, every other day???” Her response: “There is no real rule. It all depends…..” The only definitive thing she told me was that the plants need a lot of sunlight. Of course, that is the most difficult thing for me because they have to be on our back deck which gets very little sunlight – only about 3-4 hours per day.

So, I have had these two plants for about 2 weeks now. I re-planted them in bigger pots and with better soil. The basil plant was actually 2 plants, so I have 3 pots. One of the basil plants is looking a little droopy and I do not have high hopes for it. The other one looks OK though the thyme is the one which seems to be thriving. If they are still alive on June 5th, I am getting more. I have been using fresh basil and thyme for the past couple of days and I LOVE it.

Do you have herbs? And how much time and trouble do you spend on these plants?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hallmark Holidays

Before I start this train of thought, let me say: Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers and expectant mothers out there.

Now, let me ask: what is the difference between a holiday like Mother’s Day and a holiday like Valentine’s Day? My friend Jill does not observe Valentine’s Day (neither do I) on the grounds that it is a holiday manufactured by Hallmark to enable an already consumerist society (correct me if I am getting your position wrong, Jill). But isn’t Mother’s Day the same thing? Yet, it seems to me that it is more unpopular to voice this opinion about Mother’s Day than it is to voice it about Valentine’s Day. Maybe this is because Valentine’s Day seems more self-indulgent: celebrating oneself as well as one’s significant other (and your Romeo-Juliet-esque love no matter how short a time you have been together)!!!!! On the other hand, who can refuse to celebrate their mother or deny her a day in her honor? The problem is made thornier by the fact that when an entire society celebrates “Mother’s Day” it becomes an expectation on the part of the person being celebrated. So, even if you do not believe in it, you will probably hurt your mom by not acknowledging her on Mother’s Day. Once the expectation is created, Hallmark basically wins. Unlike Valentine’s Day which requires reciprocal action from two parties, Mother’s Day requires action on only one side. You and your significant other may be perfectly happy to not observe Valentine’s Day because each one of you is freed from the obligation to make the day special. But you cannot come to such a mutually satisfactory arrangement with your mother simply because there is no obligation on her part. So, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day etc. becomes an expectation like a birthday – one you cannot forget without hurting your parents.

This is what started my train of thought. I was brought up in India during a less commercialized time. We did not celebrate Mother’s Day. We celebrated our parents’ birthdays, their anniversary, Christmas, New Year etc. However, after we came to the U.S., Mother’s Day started to sink into our consciousness. However, I did not take it seriously for the first couple of years (I still have trouble remembering when it is). Then, my mom started spending her summers here. She spent a number of consecutive summers here starting probably around 2002-2003. Knowing the hype around Mother’s Day, I started calling her on that day. This was our routine till this year. This year, she is in India. So, I called her on Saturday night to wish her Happy Mother’s Day (it is Sunday morning in India). She started complaining that we (my sister and I) do not properly acknowledge this occasion because while we call on time, we do not send her any cards to mark the day. I pointed out to her that she did not even know there was a Mother’s Day till about 6 years ago. Her response: “So what? Now we do celebrate it and it is a real holiday.”

I refrained from saying what I was thinking. It is NOT a real holiday. It is manufactured by card companies and we have all fallen into the trap. But how do you say that to your mom? Plus, as Gregg pointed out, we should have sent cards to both our mothers anyway. Thanks a lot Hallmark!!!! You win!!!!!

Any thoughts?

Friday, May 8, 2009

End of Semester!!!!!

The semester is over!!!!! Grading is done!!!!! My first year of a tenure-track job is over and now summer is now officially here.

It has been some semester!!! All the work that 4 classes and 120 students bring. On top of that, I had three trouble students. Two of them are seniors and needed to (in the case of one) pass my class to graduate and (in the case of the other) needed a B level grade in the class to graduate. The class has 3 exams (including the final), a paper and a participation grade. Once they took the first exam and realized they could not make it, the problems started. Constant demands for extra credit, for a curve etc. However, it was also clear from in-class discussions that they did not do the reading. Both turned in their papers late and argued relentlessly against taking off points (this is a long story for another time). This went on for weeks. I gave in, gave the class extra credit, a detailed study guide etc. But passing a 300-level PT class is impossible without doing the reading and only studying the power points I put up in class. So, they both failed to get their desired grades (by a lot) and I am still dealing with that problem. I feel bad that they cannot graduate but apparently, my class is not the only barrier to graduation – I learnt yesterday that they did badly in their other courses too (not as badly as in mine though). This is the sort of student situation which I hate, the worst part of being a teacher.

Plus, I have had some pretty draining health problems all semester which thankfully, are mostly resolved for now. But the upshot of all of it, for now, is this: I need to eat less carbs and sugar/sweets. This is a particular blow to me. I love sugar – but I think I love carbs even more. So, about eating “less” carbs: how on earth do you do that? If you had to cut down on pasta, couscous, rice, breads etc., what would you eat? And, on the question of eating less sugar/sweets…this is going to sound crazy but that is the one thing I do not think I have to work on. I do not drink sodas anymore, I put only 3 teaspoons of sugar in my morning coffee and I have a slice of apple pie or cake at night. To me, that does not count as “too much” sugar. How would you cut down on sugar and carbs?


Plans for the summer:

1)Finish dissertation: this means 2 chapters (which are partially done) and writing an introductory chapter (also partially done) and a conclusion. Obviously, this will take up most of my time.
2)Write up 2 new course proposals: Millersville does not offer courses in Ancient and Modern Political Thought. I have to write up these course proposals to have the University approve them (very bureaucratic)
3)Clean out basement: our basement has about 70 boxes (at last count) of books, clothes, misc. items which I need to go through. These are boxes we have not unpacked from our move – a year ago.
4)Start a tenure folder/box: apparently, it is easier to prep for tenure applications if you have a box with EVERYTHING you have done for the past 5 years.
5)Prepare for the Common Seminar: I volunteered to teach one of the University’s freshman “Common Seminars” which means I have to read and make discussion questions on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Anyone read it? Is it good?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Trip to India

The last time I went to India was right before I joined graduate school – the summer of 2001. Since then a lot of things have happened – but the biggest one for my relatives back home is that Gregg and I got married. We have been married for 2 years now and have never made the trip. Therefore, we have been getting a lot of pressure to visit. Now, we moved to Farmville, VA in 2007 (shortly after the wedding) and to Lancaster, PA in 2008. So, we have not had either the money or the time to plan for and take a trip to India. However, this year seemed the right time to take the trip. We renewed the lease on our current apartment till July 2009, so we are not moving anywhere soon. I am continuing at Millersville University next year. I have my green card so coming back into the country should not be an issue. However, there was one problem – the economy. The economy has been so bad that we did not want to spend the $3500-$4000 it takes for 2 round trip tickets. However, turns out that it is precisely the economy that changed our minds.

A couple of months ago we started searching for cheap tickets to India. It turned out that people are not travelling anymore and therefore, travel is much cheaper than we thought. We ended up buying two tickets for under $2400 – saving at least $1100 on the transaction. How could we pass this up?

The other question was: when should we go? Gregg wanted to go during the summer since we would be able to spend more time there. But my parents were adamant: it will be too hot; you have to come during the winter. Besides, as mentioned earlier, I have to finish and defend my dissertation by the end of September. Taking 3-4 weeks off in the middle of summer seemed unfeasible. So, we finally decided to go during the Christmas vacation. We will be leaving on December 24th and will reach Calcutta on Christmas night (their time – here, it will be Christmas morning). Tickets were cheapest at this time though Gregg thinks it will be weird to be on a flight on Christmas Day. We will be returning on January 14th. While there, Gregg will not only get to see Calcutta and meet all my relatives (JOY!!!!) but we will also be travelling to see the Taj Mahal as well as Delhi and Jaipur. Just for the record, I have never seen the Taj Mahal either.

Gregg has been more excited about this trip than I have. He is trying to learn Bengali and reading up on things to do in and around Calcutta and in and around Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. This is my first international trip with Gregg and my first trip back home in a long while, so I am excited too.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Home Cooking

Sorry for the long absence – this has been a rather crazy semester. Actually, I am looking forward to this crazy first year of teaching, advising and committee work to come to an end. Then I have three long months to look forward to – spent on my dissertation. My deadline for getting that done is September 30th. But more on that later. Today, I want to talk about some of my ways of saving money in this horrendous economy.

The more I hear about the economy, the more nervous I get. It is getting very bad out there. So, I usually respond by doing things which are within my power. One of these things is cooking at home. It saves money, allows you to tailor your meals to your taste-buds and is a way of de-stressing.

1. I have started making ghee (clarified butter) at home. I mentioned this before (September 13th, 2008) and it saves quite a lot of money.

2. I have stopped buying beans in cans. We are now buying dry beans and soaking them overnight. It is much cheaper than buying cans and the extra work is not that much of a hassle. Also, and I learnt this from Food Network, you can be a more versatile cook with dry than with cooked beans.

3. I have started making more meals with lentils. I love lentils but Gregg has never been crazy about them. But lentils with ground beef/chicken with rice or couscous has changed his mind.

4. I am making flan – not from scratch but from the Goya packets. It took me some time to learn how to make the caramel sauce properly but now I have mastered it. It is so much more healthy than the store-made apple pie and is also cheaper.

5. I am making better use of leftovers and eggs. To this end, I bought a great nonstick pan which goes from the stovetop to the oven. Eggs for dinner can be good if spiced up with leftover meats and veggies. This is new for me because ordinarily, I hate eggs.

Things I still do even though it may be cheaper to stop doing them:

1. I still buy cans of diced tomatoes with green chilies. This is a staple of Indian food and it really saves time when I do not have to cut up tomatoes and chilies.

2. Coupon cutting is only done when it is easy (something catches my eye) or when I am making a bigger purchase (like bedsheets or something). I have stopped going through books of coupons and cutting everything out. It takes too much time and driving from one store to another to get a deal is just not my thing.

3. Switch stores: I love my current grocery store – Stauffers. It is local to PA and has great selections. It would be cheaper to switch to Walmart but I cannot do it.

4. Giving up on one nice meal a week: As I said before, I like cooking and experimenting and once a week, I try out something new and slightly complicated. I still do this though it is sometimes a little expensive because I do not have all the ingredients I need at home.

5. Buying healthy snacks: I still eat crappy snacks like potato chips but have been buying pistachios, fried peas and other slightly more expensive but healthier snacks.


Other News:

School: Has really exhausted me this past year. But I have only a month to go – the last day of school is April 24th. In fact, the last day to turn in grades in May 7th. But this is also advising time which is turning out to be quite hectic. This is also the time of year when I am most irritated with my students because they realize that their grades are more than halfway there and that they need to do very well in the final month in order to increase their grades.

Giggs: He is now a year and 3 months but his puppy behavior is still in full force. He is now a little over 10 pounds.

Trip to India: I will write more on this later but Gregg and I just bought tickets to go to India for 3 weeks in December. This will be Gregg’s first trip there and my first in 8 years. I am so excited!!!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Student Situations

It has been a very long time since I wrote – partly because I have no idea where the Christmas break went. Gregg and I cancelled our trip to the Southern Political Science Association Conference because even the thought of packing and flying to New Orleans was so tiring. I slept a lot, worked on my syllabi for the spring and did (very little) work on my dissertation. I also tried to clean the house (though that was a wasted endeavor, since it looks as chaotic now as it did before I cleaned it).

But one of the things I had to deal with this semester were some crazy requests from students for grade changes. Here are two cases:

Two students turned in papers which were almost exactly the same – word for word. Though there were some attempts to change the language, these were few. I emailed both students and one of them took complete responsibility saying he had requested his friend’s completed paper and then mistakenly turned it in with his name on it. So, I emailed him back and commented on the differences between the two papers saying that the story did not hold up because some changes were certainly made. He emailed me back with a long explanation but here is the crucial part: according to him, he worked on the draft of his friend’s paper, changing things here and there, then started writing another version of the paper but mistakenly printed out the one his friend had written. He realized this but just as he was handing it in, so he kept quiet about it and “hoped for the best”.

What would you do in this situation? I told him that since he had knowingly turned in someone else’s paper, he would fail it – and the class.

The second case is more unclear. This student was on academic probation and was dropped from my class early in the semester for having too many credit hours. He continued attending and turning in work all semester while fighting to have the class added. They literally added him to my class roster on the last day of the semester. However, he got a D+ in the class. Since political science is his major, he needed a C- or better to get credit. On top of that, he was on academic probation for the third time and without a C- or better, he would have to quit school for at least a year. After the semester was over, he started lobbying hard for extra credit assignments to raise his grade. However, I felt that it would be unfair to other students in the class (there were a couple that had failed) to give him chances to raise his grade. So, in spite of his entreaties and after speaking to his advisor, I decided against giving him extra credit assignments. Thankfully, there is still a chance that he will be here this semester – he is trying to work it out.

Do you think this was a harsh decision? Should I have given him those assignments? These are the times when I find this a difficult profession. I do not want to be the reason for someone not finishing school but at the same time, I have to be fair to all and I think it is not wrong to hold students to high standards. What would you have done?