Friday, 29 May 2020

The Best We Can

The end of the semester came both slowly as myself, my students, colleagues, and university grappled with the effects of this pandemic, and all at once, as the work we had been doing suddenly came to a close and we sent our seniors off with mailed gifts and a Zoom call party. It was not the ending to the school year that any of us wanted, but my one take away from the whole 2019-2020 school year is how proud I am of my students. This year asked so much of them. It asked them to pivot and adjust and communicate and overcome, and they really, really did.

Graduation image from @lifeatolivet
The university closed the week after spring break, and the students had to move home but continue all of their course work from there. I was impressed by my upper division fiction and poetry students who continued to produce good work, respond to their peers, and ended the semester with a strong portfolio of work. If possible, I think I was even more impressed by my 50 some 200 level college writing students, as almost all of them submitted their major, final project on time and finished the semester strong. I said this to my 200 level students in their final course announcement:

"This is an announcement to let you know that your final semester grades have been calculated in the grade book. You have finished the semester, and you have done it well. I don't know that I have ever had a group of students that I have seen face as much difficulty or been prouder of for finishing strong. Good, good work."

Some of them faced real hurdles in completing their semester, and I hope they know how proud of them I am for doing so well. That being said, the semester definitely did not end the way any of us had envisioned. I felt especially sad for my seniors who left campus in a rush and didn't get to say goodbye to their friends, professors, and favorite campus spots. The president of the university did confer degrees digitally, but I know they were also very sad to miss their graduation. There is a graduation ceremony scheduled for mid-August, but if that will actually happen is yet to be seen. Instead of donning mortarboards like last year, we were at home wearing masks.

May 2019
May 2020
We did have a celebration for our English department seniors via Zoom. I had taught all nine of the graduating seniors this year, so I was really glad to get a chance to say goodbye to some of them on the video call. I also wrote them a send off poem (with some feedback from my colleague), and I read that to them at the close of our Zoom call party. Glad we could send off the seniors with good wishes!

Senior Zoom Party

As I alluded to, all of my students completed large writing projects in the second half of the semester. My College Writing II students wrote final projects in the form of academic article manuscripts that incorporated multiple sources of secondary research and at least one source of primary research. In their final presentations and reflection letters many of them said they greatly enjoyed the primary research as conducting interviews, surveys, or observations gave them more input into their research and their writing processes and conclusions. The topics of the articles were meant to be centered around a subject in their majors, and there were articles written about lighting in hospital rooms, the effect of caffeine on college students, screen time usage, understanding the stock market, and many others. The students were invested in their subject matter for these articles, and it showed!

In my Writing Fiction and Poetry 300 level class the students compiled course portfolios at the end of the semester. In those portfolios they included at least two short stories or chapters of work and at least eight poems. The subject matter varied greatly here as well, as some students wrote very literal, stream of consciousness type stories, while others composed fantastical stories set in imagined mythical worlds. There were stories and poems about love and loss, death and life, pigeons and frogs. I really enjoyed reading and commenting on the students' work this semester, and I believe they really enjoyed giving and receiving feedback, as well. Many of them said so throughout the semester and in their final reflection letter. I said this to my 300 level students in their final announcement:

"Though I think we are all probably ready for a break and a bit of a rest after this chaotic semester, I am actually very sad to see this class end. I have truly enjoyed reading your work, offering you feedback, and seeing your discussions with one another. Many of your stories and poems have stuck with me, and I sometimes wonder what those characters will get up to next. I can't wait to see many of your works published or printed, as I'm sure they will be."

I really am excited to see some of their work in a published format one day! I focused the five writing workshops in the class around the five rhetorical appeals, as I had done last time I taught it, and I found that that loose focus gave enough guidance to the students to comment on their peers work but left the interpretation open enough for them to comment on what they wanted to. I enjoyed using that framework in the course again.

In addition to the course work, I also continued to work with my colleagues and department chairs on creating materials and assessments for both the general English major and the writing major, which will debut in the fall. I also continued to research and discuss overall pedagogical practices for our 200 level writing courses. As a practitioner of Pedagogical Cultural Historical Activity Theory in my own 200 level writing classes, I compiled materials and created a module of information for my colleagues to reference in regards to this theory and it's application in the classroom. I also recorded this video called "Chat About CHAT" defining and discussing the theory and some of the ways it can be taken up in scholarship and the classroom.

There is a lot going on in the world right now that it makes it difficult to know how to proceed some days. I feel the weight of injustice and sickness and uncertainty, and I wish nothing more than for those realities to be lifted from my friends and family and our state, nation, and world. Personally, it is nice to have a break from work for the summer summer, but it's also tricky to find balance and motivation. I'm focusing on being thankful for all that I have been given and to use my voice to support and love as I can and distribute my energy as needed. Thanks for reading.

Be safe. Be kind. Be well.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020


So excited for these students who won the departmental short story contest out of a large amount of entries! Very proud to have both Michael Jorgensen and Cara Triebold in my Writing Fiction & Poetry class this semester, and I am glad to see their good work honored and recognized!

Michael also recorded a reading of his winning story, "Disconnect," for Olivet's Scholar Week.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Bent But Not Broken

It will come as no surprise to anyone that this spring has not turned out at all like we believed or hoped that it would. As my blog would be the millionth-and-oneish published source about coronavirus disease (COVID-19), I will not attempt to detail any past frustrations, current fears, or future predictions, as they are all so fluid they could change by the time I have finished this post anyway. Instead, I will give an update on what life has looked like within our walls and refer any reader to the World Health Organization's website for the most current, reputable information.

As I was on maternity leave for one third of the fall semester, I was looking forward to a more normal spring semester; however, that has not been the case. Academically, the first eight weeks went by pretty smoothly before the virus roadblocked the second half of the semester. Olivet has moved all classes online for the remainder of the semester. I feel lucky that the impact for me was minimal, but it has been a big adjustment for both my students and my colleagues. My students have had to leave campus, travel home, and then try to figure out a new normal from there. I do feel for each of them as they have been thrown into these sudden changes, but my heart breaks for my senior students who will not be able to finish their college careers on campus with their friends. That being said, I know my students have shown great resilience, and there are many sweet and inspiring stories emerging from around the world as we collectively grapple with our current human condition.

I have been continuously impressed with the work ethic, communication, and dedication of my students in their course work this semester. I am currently teaching a ENGL 210: College Writing II with 54 students and ENGL 329: Writing Fiction and Poetry with 12 students. The work that my students have composed and produced this semester is really on the next level. My 210 students just submitted plans for conducting primary research, and I am excited by their ideas to do personal observations, interview family members, survey their friends, or analyze existing interviews or data sets. My 329 students are submitting very original and compelling fiction and poetry work. I've been impressed by their ability to dive into their created worlds and bring the reader along with them. My students have really taken these changes in stride, and I'm proud of the work they have done.

In addition to my teaching work, I have been working to prepare for the full launch of the new writing major! I'm really excited for this opportunity for our current English students, as well as a way to draw other majors to our department through a double major. Through a set up of new course and internship offerings, I think our students will have access to a lot of great material and experiences. Happy to have been able to work towards this end. Wade, Coco, and I were able to make the trip down to Olivet at the beginning of the semester. I met with my 210 students in large groups, I met individually with my 329 students, and I was able to touch base in person with my department chair on the work we are doing this semester as I continue to help create materials and plans for the writing program.

Though I totally agree with the decision, I was very disappointed that CCCC 2020 in Milwaukee, WI was canceled for this year. I would have been traveling down to Milwaukee today, and I'm sad to not be able to see my friends or grow from the knowledge sharing and energy production that each conference brings. I also will not be traveling down to Olivet for our departmental workshop dates in April, as the workshops have also been canceled. One bright spot of the semester, though, was that my article "Food Memoirs: Agency in Public and Private Domains" was published in the fall 2019/ winter 2020 edition of Peitho. It was really rewarding to see my work finally in print, and I'm glad to be counted among the authors published in Peitho. Would love for you to check out the article!

Looking ahead, the landscape is somewhat foggy. I don't know what this spring or summer will bring, so we are just trying to enjoy our days at home. Wade and I are both working fully remotely, and we have the cutest six-month old baby and two sweetest doggos as co-workers. We take fun lunch breaks, walk outside, and drive through the country together. We have dance parties in the kitchen, listen to episodes of Armchair Expert, and bake a lot of treats. We cuddle up in bed on Saturday mornings, grill out on the deck, and watch episodes of Schitt's Creek on our laptop. Life is very, very complicated outside for many, including some of our close friends and family members, but we are counting our blessings that we are safe and can spend simple and sweet days together.

Keep calm, friends, and carry on. 

Sunday, 12 January 2020

A Baby Blog: Post Bump Products

A little less than three months before the baby was born I did a post called "A Baby Blog." I discussed various suggestions we had while preparing for the baby, some of the pre-baby celebrations, and some hopes I had for the future. We had, overall, a really great birth experience, which I documented in the "Birth Story" post, so I won't revisit that here. Instead, now that our son is over three months old, I want to document some of the specific items that have been most helpful to us in these first months of his life and our adjustment to all things parenthood. This will serve to remind me of these things later on, but I'd also like to be able to offer these suggestions to others who may be looking for suggestions in the future for themselves or for gifts. We are planning to do a bit of a remodel on Cohen's room, so I'll do a post about that and the items we have in there once we have that done! I've sourced all of these items from Amazon* because it's so convenient to ship it to the door or add it to an online registry.

1) Twelve Hours' Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old by Suzy Giordano

Our number one concern/prayer/planning focus before the baby was born was in regard to SLEEP. We both like to sleep (me even more than Wade), and we both know how important it is to our well-being to get as much sleep as possible. So, we asked, we read, and we talked about sleep a lot before our baby made his debut. The very best resource we found was this book by Suzy Giordano. It's short, well laid out, and it gives an overview not just for sleeping but for eating and awake time activity as well, for the first three months. Now, in real life there are always small adaptations or concessions, but by consistently following this guide, we have found that we have been able to be better attuned to our sons wants and needs regarding schedule, sleep, and eating. It's really worked for us, and I recommend it as a must read to all new parents.

2) Fisher-Price Baby's Bouncer

Our next favorite item was a recommendation from a colleague when I asked what "must haves" I should put on my baby list. Her first suggestion was this geo meadow baby bouncer, and she wasn't wrong. Our baby has loved this thing since his first days at home, though, he needed some neck support to sit in it for awhile. Like all baby products it needs to be used according to the instructions, under supervision, etc., but it's a really great place to put the baby down. I think he likes it because he can see the world, be entertained (now) by the toy bar, and even drift off in it before we move him for a nap. We don't use the vibrating feature because it is not recommended in Giordano's book, but I'm not sure he would have liked that much anyway. We have also affectionally nicknamed it his "pooping chair," because as his pediatrician explained, it is hard to poop laying down! So this chair really helps things get moving through him after some yummy milk.

3) RaZbaby JollyPop Baby Pacifier

These pacifiers are really wonderful for appeasement, particularly before feeding or bedtime. We were given one of these in the hospital with the recommendation to wait until the baby was about two or three weeks old to give it to him to insure a good nursing latch. We did wait a couple weeks, but once we gave him this pacifier, he loved it. He hasn't been a fan of any other kinds, but he's always taken well to these. He never had any latching issues, either, so I think they are good to use once the latch is established. He had been using our fingers as soothers before this, so we were all glad that he took to the pacifier so well! He uses it primarily during the day now as he seems much more interested in sucking his thumb before bedtime.

4) Boppy Original Nursing Pillow

Before I even had a thought about having a baby I knew of Boppy pillows. They seemed all the rage at baby showers and in every nursery. I was a bit on the fence about requesting one because I don't like a lot of clutter, so I thought it might just sit around taking up space. I did get one, though, and I love it. As I alluded to, breastfeeding came pretty easy to the little, which was so helpful to me. That being said, I've used this Boppy pillow in the hospital and everyday (multiple times) since. I've brought it with me in the car and to Chicago. I can nurse him without it, but it just makes everything so much easier (and nicer on my back and neck), so why stop using it? I am nervous about him getting too long to be comfortable on it, but we'll address that as it happens. The covers are easy to switch and wash, which I also like. I do also like the Boppy lounger that we were given. Babies shouldn't sleep in it, but it is a comfy, safe place to set them down.

5) Moby Wrap & Ergo Carrier 

For baby carriers, we were gifted a couple. We were given the Moby Wrap and an Ergo Carrier. Now, we really liked both carriers for the first couple months, but we seem to have hit kind of an in-between spot in using them. I used the Moby in restaurants and at church quite a bit when the baby was really little-- like one to two months. We also used the Ergo for walks and soothing up until about that point as well; however, he seems to have outgrown the infant holds (he's a long boy!), but since he can't hold his head up yet, we haven't been able to transition to the other holds. As is, he just gets cranky or uncomfortable because he doesn't quite fit in the carriers right now. That being said, we did really like using them for him as an infant, and I think we will like them again soon, as soon as he is able to hold is head up and be stable in the alternate holds. We also have a Milk Snob Nursing Cover that I've used both on his carseat in the warmer weather and to nurse him.

6) Infantino Go Gaga Infant to Toddler Play Gym

As another option for a fun and safe place to set the baby while we are doing laundry, cooking, eating, etc., we have really liked this baby play teepee. Again, I was a bit hesitant to have something set up that takes up so much space, but it is a very fun little area for the baby to kick and explore. For this teepee in particular, there is a mirror where he can see himself, as well as some fun music from the hanging owl. Otherwise, he can watch the animals swirl around and will eventually be able to touch and tug on them. Like our Summer Infant Clean Baby Bather, it's hard to know what item is right from the myriad of options available. We chose the teepee (and bather) from suggestions from friends, and I think that is often the best way to go! Our friends have the teepee for their baby girl, and they called it "the best babysitter!" and I think they were right!

7) Halo & Zen Sack Sleepers 

For having done quite a bit of research and reading about sleep before the baby came, we didn't have much of a plan for what the baby would sleep in. We knew we couldn't do blankets and would definitely follow the "back is best" campaign, but I guess we figured we would just figure out what to put him in once we came, and we did! The first night in the hospital we tried swaddling him, but we couldn't get the blankets tight enough without a nurse helping us. But then I saw the Halo Sleepsack Swaddle in a drawer and thought we should try that, and it worked like a charm! So easy to use and take a part and do back up when we needed to change him. Before we left the hospital we asked the nurse if we could have another one, so she snuck it into our going away bag. We ordered a size up once he started to grow, but soon he found his thumb, so we didn't want to swaddle both arms so that he could self soothe. Once we had transitioned to having two arms out of the swaddle we switched over the to Nested Bean Zen Sack, and that has also been awesome. I think the weighted beans are very soothing and comforting throughout the night, and it seems to provide the right amount of warmth with a full onesie underneath. I anticipate us using the Zen Sack for a good while. We use Dreft baby detergent to launder all of his clothes, and I really like it. He has had baby eczema on his face for a few months, so we've started using Eucerin cream for that, but he hasn't had any problems on his body, and I think the Dreft helps with that.

8) Comotomo Baby Bottles 

Like the pacifier, Cohen has done well taking a bottle from the beginning. Like most of these items, someone recommended the Comotomo Baby Bottles to us, and they are great! The nipples are soft and they are easy to use and then run through the dishwasher. Again, we were told to wait on introducing a bottle to avoid nipple confusion, so we didn't give Cohen a bottle until he was about four weeks old. When we did, I left the house, as some online articles had warned that even being in the house could confuse him a bit, as he could smell the real milk. So, I took Lacy for a walk while Wade heated up the milk and gave him his first bottle! He took it great and drank the whole thing. We only use a bottle intermittently, as I work from home, but it has never been a problem having him take one or switching between them. I do think these bottles helped that transition! We use this Munchkin High Capacity Drying Rack to dry out the bottles, as well as pacifiers, pump equipment, etc.

9) SmartNoggin Rattle 

One of the more random things that the baby really loves is this SmartNoggin Rattle. I believe that I first saw the rattle listed on some kind of list of developmental toys for infants, but I cannot find that list anywhere. That being said, I added this rattle to our registry, and it is the toy that the baby is by far the most interested in so far. It rattles, it lights up, and it has a good counter weight that he can hold it in his little hand. It's great for helping him develop eyesight tracking, and he is often mesmerized by the changing lights. There is also a little mirror on the bottom, but he hasn't been as interested in that yet. We use this toy to encourage him to roll over, and it's a great way to entertain him if he's getting a little fussy. We've also gotten out his Sophie the Giraffe toy, but he's much more interested in the rattle at this point... although, Sophie is very cute.

10) Evenflo Carseat & Stroller 

One of the only required baby items that you need to have leaving the hospital is a good carseat. It obviously makes sense, and we also wanted to make sure the carseat was not only safe for the baby but worked well for us. We did some online and in person looking and researching, and we eventually decided upon this Evenflo car seat and stroller combo. Now, I really don't know if this is the very best out there because it is the only set we've tried, but we have liked it, and it has already given us flexibility as the baby has grown. We have two bases-- one in each car-- and then we keep the stroller ready to go. Both the stroller and the car seat took a bit of a learning curve to figure out how to work, but we have figured them out. The one struggle I was having was trying to figure out how to keep the baby warm enough in the carseat while not creating any extra layers. A friend suggested this JJ Cole car seat cover, and it is so great. So much easier to keep the baby warm getting in and out of the car.

It's hard to imagine that such a tiny person needs so much stuff before they are even walking or eating solid foods! Of course, this is also all in addition to the myriads of clothes, books, blankets, toys, and decor. We're even storing several items like, a snowsuit, high chair, activity center, and pack-n-play that we haven't even used yet! It's all worth it to have such a sweet little person in our home, but it does make me consider the moms of one or two hundred years ago who had a rocking chair and a blanket for their baby. Ah, well, here we are. Happy baby shopping!

*All opinions are my own and come from personal use. Some affiliate links are included.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Article Publication

So excited to share that my article, "Food Memoirs: Agency in Public and Private Rhetorical Domains," about Diana Abu-Jaber's memoir, The Language of Baklava, and feminist rhetorical domains is out! Check out the latest issue of Peitho: Journal of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric & Composition if you'd like to read it.

Monday, 9 December 2019

A Very Full Fall

And here we are, just like that, at the end of another semester. This semester has required more discipline and focus than in years past because with a little baby around every moment is precious! I want to be sure to not waste time that I could be spending with him, but I also want to do my work well and be totally focused on that when I'm working. This balance is tricky to strike and some days are better than others. I am glad to have made it to the end of the semester! I have about three more days worth of grading to do, and I plan to have my students' final grades submitted by the end of the week.

Baby Cohen Matthew was born on September 27th, 2019, but he was due on September 18th. I had things ready to go for my online classes until week eight of the semester by the 18th, but when he took his time making his appearance, I used that last week to work ahead and get my classes fully set up until week twelve of the semester. I took my maternity leave from Monday, September 23rd to Wednesday, October 23rd. During that time I answered some emails and calls, but I primarily let my wonderful TA and colleagues take the majority of the questions, student help, and grading responsibilities. I'm so grateful to them for doing so and to my students for understanding the circumstances. I'm also very grateful to my mom who watches the baby for four hours every morning so that I can have uninterrupted work time, and I'm grateful for a baby who likes to take naps in the afternoon... except right now, apparently. We have had some fun this fall including Wade running a half-marathon for World Vision in the Madison Marathon, hosting visiting friends and then family for Thanksgiving, and taking Cohen on his first mini road trip down to Chicago to see my family who were visiting from Colorado and New Mexico. 

I think things have really gone as smoothly as possible this semester. I've communicated with my students via email, phone, Canvas chat, Canvas announcements, and video announcements, and I've joined department meetings vis Skype. I haven't made it down to Olivet this semester with the baby arriving about a fourth of the way into the semester and then not getting his first immunization shots until the last full week. I have already planned three visits down to Olivet in the spring, and I'm looking forward to connecting to my colleagues and students in person. 

I taught two sections of College Writing II this semester and one section of Advanced Writing. In both courses the students work toward one major written composition for the majority of the semester. They all turned in their work just before Thanksgiving break, and I was honestly so impressed. Overall, the students were creative in their topics, articulate in their expression, thorough in their secondary research, creative in their primary research, and expressive in their investment in the ideas. I think that large composition projects can be overwhelming no matter when they begin, but I was glad to see that the students tried their best to use the time given to them to compose strong, original academic texts. My Advanced Writing students were expected to submit their work for consideration for publication, and I would be so excited to see some of these thoughtful, well-researched compositions be published and read by a wider audience.

In addition to my teaching work, I have also been a part of proposing a writing major for the English department. Based on input and feedback from my department chair and colleagues, I composed a rationale for the importance of implementing a writing major. That, along with a proposal drafted by our department last spring, was presented and distributed to various stakeholders, and the proposal was accepted in October! The Department of English at Olivet will now having a writing major offered starting in the fall of 2020. I'm so excited about the possibilities and opportunities that this major will offer to current and future Olivet students.

I also participated in an online course development module in the student role, alongside teaching online classes, this semester. I had the opportunity to develop two online course modules for the department, and this six-week course development training helped me in my preparation for creating ENGL 329: Writing Fiction and Poetry, which I will be teaching starting in January. I'm looking forward to working with upper division creative writing students again this spring, and I am curious as to how the online setup will affect the course experience. I will be teaching two more sections of College Writing II in the spring, as well as continuing to develop course descriptions and outcomes for our writing major.

I wasn't able to attend Feminisms & Rhetorics 2019 in Harrisonburg, VA this year, nor the Bloom Women's Retreat in Green Lake, WI. Those are two fall staples that I am disappointed to have missed out on, but I look forward to future attendance. I did get to attend our Bloom move night closer to home, and I was glad to get some time with that community of women. I am looking forward to attending the Conference on College Composition and Communication 2020 in Milwaukee, WI this spring, as well as for my article manuscript, "Food Memoir: Agency in Public and Private Rhetorical Domains" to be published in Peitho this fall. That article has been through several iterations over the past few years, and I am very glad to have it finally be finished and published.

In addition to my scholarly work, I was proud to have completed my reading goal of reading 19 books in 2019. In line with the year itself, there is quite a bit of variety represented here. I really enjoyed most of the books, and I have recommended several of them to others. My favorite fiction book of the year was The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan. It had just the right amount of intrigue, romance, whimsy, and literary references to be so satisfying. My favorite nonfiction book was Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, which I listened to on Audible. I included an overview of that book in my "Baby Blog" post. All but two of the books that I read this year were written by women, and I think overall it was a great year of reading. Looking forward to reading 20 books in 2020.

I started this year with a trip to Thailand over my 30th birthday and am ending it at home with a three month old baby. There was lots of questioning, excitement, work, and planning in between, but we've made it! I realized the other day that this decade has been my first one as an adult, and it really has been one for the books! In this decade, I've: taught English at the college level for nine years at five different institutions, gotten six tattoos, traveled to four continents, lost three close family members, earned three post-secondary degrees, lived in three different states, bought two houses, owned two dogs, gotten married, and had a baby boy. I'm ready, though, for what the next decade will bring.