2013 The Year of Reflection

I’m reading lots of top ten posts about 2013 and thinking about the last year. The last year was consumed with having to find balance. This was not having some idealistic want for balance, but rather out of necessity. What have I learned in these last 12 months? Well, I’m going to share my top ten thoughts from 2013.

1. Stay Healthy–this includes exercise, sleep, and eating right

2. Say no strategically

3. Work smarter–this meant rethinking my productivity

4. Make time for family and friends

5. Say yes strategically

6. Read, relax, and run

7. Be firm

8. Honesty is important

9. Unwind

10. Happiness is more important than just about everything

The list is in no particular order. I will say this there is nothing like a health emergency to force you to rethink everything. I am forever grateful to the family and friends who were supportive during the last year, as we coped. I am looking forward to 2014. I am sure it will hold lots and I look forward to tackling it with my family by me.

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My Lifetime Listens to Yours. Muriel Ruckeyser

I have a book of quotes that serves as writing prompts and this is prompt two. There is space to write on the page, but I sent the first prompt to a friend in another department. And, have torn out the second prompt. Now, the title of this post comes from part of poem and the lengthy poem says lots. But, what does this excerpt say or how does it speak to you. I am thinking like a Political Scientist or Social Scientist at the moment and how I learn from reading and listening. If I think from a mentor’s point of view, I know that my reading and listening includes what is not said or spoken. People have “tells” for when they lie or feel uncomfortable and these nuances of movement are important to support and understand. What is your tell? I have different tells, but one is to stop and think and take a drink of water. During this short moment, I am thinking of my response–formulating what I want to say next.

We listen with more than our ears. But, do we learn from what we hear and see? I am in the midst of heavy marking and looked forward to this writing prompt and I come back to learning from others. I have also had several hours of office hours and meetings and tried my best to listen intently these past few work days. I firmly believe in life-long learning and this prompt reminds me of the importance of mindfulness. When I think of mindfulness, I always picture Dr. Juliann Allison, as she practices mindfulness in all that she does. This week I am trying to actively practice mindfulness. The Ruckeyser quote was the perfect reminder, as I try to balance out meetings, honors presentations, grading, and planning a conference. And, that is only part of the to do list. I’m breathing in and out and trying to listen.

Parenting, Community Building, and Email

I never thought I’d post about something as mundane as trying to get birthday invites to my elementary aged daughter’s friends. Previously she was enrolled at a private school and not only did we have an online family directory, but we also had class representatives who collated a parents’ email, address, and phone list. This made birthday or play date invites extremely easy. This also allowed for socializing among the families–yes, for community building and did so in a way that many of us appreciated. We could email and connect or choose to call and coordinate.

I have booked my daughter’s birthday party and given that she’s two months into a new public school I thought that I should find out what the protocol is for birthday invites. Actually, I walked into the office assuming that I would get the contact information for the classroom parents or an email for the class representative. Well, I could not even get the teacher’s email. Nope. This violates privacy laws in the province, allegedly. No information about the child can be disseminated via email. Whether or not this is true is not my bone of contention. The fact that in 2013 I could not get the work email for my child’s teacher was absolutely ridiculous. I was politely told that my daughter can distribute the invites at lunch or recess. This is a great exercise for kids to see who is invited and not invited. Big sigh. The e-vites allows for no paper waste.

The staff suggested that I speak with the teacher to see what she prefers. So, off we trundled down the hall. I spoke with the teacher and she would not give her email. She asked if I could just come in. I explained that I am always near a device, so that email is convenient. I received another polite smile and was told that she’s happy to meet with me prior to school. I’ll have to be happy with that. Apparently, she does not check her email often–and that’s fine. But, I’m still shocked. I inquired about the birthday invites and was again informed that my daughter will need to hand them out during recess or lunch.

I might sound like one of those self-entitled parents who demands that the system works her way, but I’m not sure if that is the case here. My concern is three-fold: ease of communication, access to information (emails) to set up play dates or arrange a pick up swap, and understanding that it’s 2013 and technology is pervasive. So, slap my rear and call me Betsy, because I was shocked with my findings today. Seriously, I have to go old school and have my kiddo pass out invites. This also means that I have to meet the other parents so that we can actually become part of this new community. I have some “let’s arrange a play date” note cards that I can finally use. The good news is that I’m going to be more outgoing at drop off and pick up to meet other parents. I’ll roll with it.

My second to last concern is that the kiddo is not inviting the entire class, so the chances are that some kid will have her or his feelings hurt. We have a set limit for the party and we are inviting a mix of kids from the old school and new school. Thankfully, I can use an e-vite for the kids from the old school. Regarding the hurt feelings, well that’s part of growing up–I know. I will have a chat with the kiddo about how to do this as discreetly as possible. And, my last concern, I’m still troubled by the fact that the nuclear codes were not made available to me as a parent– I don’t have the teacher’s email address. An email address is something so basic in my world as an educator. But, then again, maybe the teacher is drawing boundaries and really prefers only face to face interaction. At this point in time, I’m expressing my surprise via the blog post, but I’m not about to write the school board. This is not official complaint worthy. Thoughts?

Adding–of course–I googled the teacher. Her email was not found and she is off the grid. Boundaries, time management or teaching philosophy…

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Who Was I Kidding?

My last post was one after a family crisis and I really thought that I was back in the saddle. Ha! I am still catching up and feel like the proverbial hamster doing her run. Things are getting better, but I am behind. Behind with my research, emails, and other work-related things. But, I will say this, after these last two months, I am so happy for my good health and that of all my family members.

What did I learn during these last two months? Well, I learned that I had two types of friends: those who really wanted to help during my family crisis and those who only wanted to know what was happening. You can guess which ones I now prefer. I also found out who I could count on and it hit me the other day that many of the most dependable, selfless people I know right now are people who I first “met” on Twitter. These people have become some of my closest friends in real life and I have to give a deep thank you to Twitter for connecting us. I also know that others are colleagues from work, who have become close friends. And,I consider myself lucky in this respect.

It also became apparent to me that some students lack any semblance of compassion and were absolutely heartless in their expectations and demands–even though they knew that I had a family member in the hospital for two weeks. I was frustrated and saddened to have met with such harsh expectations and comments. But, I have to remember that some students really do not care about anything else but their assignments and their lives. I learned a good lesson with this–that some students do not want their professors to be human. And, well, I might have an invisible S for Superwoman on my chest, but this term that pesky Kryptonite brought me down to Earth. Hopefully next term I can do the usual 4-10 day grading turn around, but it didn’t happen this November or December!

I am back in the saddle, but not cinched in or seated properly! That’s life, right?

My Breast Thermography Scan

I am revisiting this post, as once again it is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I happily participate in the Race for the Cure and last week I had my hair cut as part of the fundraising Cut-a-thon at On the Fringe. Remember, it’s important to take care of your girls year round! This post is slated on the second to last day of the month because I want to remind you that you need to think about breast health all of the time.

I am blogging about breast health! To this end, this post is about my Breast Thermography scan at Valentus Clinic in Victoria, BC. In the spirit of disclosure, I did not pay for the scan, but was contacted to get a scan to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness month and to blog about my experience. And as it so happens, I can also compare the Thermography scan to the mammogram that I had two days prior. Note to others—try to space out the mammogram and Thermography scan about a week apart so that your breast are no longer sore from the pancake, I mean mammogram procedure.

I was asked to not wear any perfume, lotion or deodorant, so I went in for the scan first thing in the morning. If you have long hair, bring an elastic band for your hair. They will have a clip for your hair, though. You will need to disrobe from the waist up and different scans will be taken of your breasts from the front and side profiles. What I liked best about the scan was the ongoing conversation about breast health. I did not feel rushed and asked questions about this scan and breast health.

During my scan the technician, Dr. Joylin Starling was great. She explained everything that she was doing. She also made sure to scan my low back more as she saw lots of “hot” spots there. (I am recovering from a car accident and it was very interesting to see the scan that included my shoulders and low back). The Thermography scan is not invasive or painful. I had to sit still and move according to Dr. Starling’s directions. Frankly, being inquisitive I was interested in the scan and what the different colors mean—more vascular work going on under the skin. The scans are then sent to the US for evaluation. Then, I return for a follow up from the scan.

The next portion of the exam is a digital and ultrasound exam by the technician. During this exam, Dr. Starling was again thoughtfully answering my questions. I was amazed that she was able to assess which breast gave me more “trouble” when nursing my kids. She felt scar tissue in one breast and it was the one that I could recall massaging in the shower and using cabbage to help ease pain after my breast milk came in when I was nursing my babygirl, who is now 13!

Likewise, I was shocked to know that I had scar tissue from the underwire in my bras. She showed me where it was and after touching these areas and other spots around my breasts, I realized that the feel of the tissue was different. I need to make an appointment at one of the suggested bra shops in town for some bras without underwire.

I left the examination feeling lucky. I felt lucky that I had a thorough exam and I read through the folder of information that they provided me with after the exam. I was contacted about a week later for the follow up. I gave a sigh of relief when I heard and read that my breasts were fine. Breast cancer does not run in my family, but like most women the thought of breast cancer is a punch to the stomach.

I have to say that the Thermography scan, digital examination and ultrasound is less painful than a mammogram. For those of you who have not had a mammogram, the technician gets friendly with you and places your breast in a vise and takes photos. OK, that is not wholly accurate, but it sure feels like it. The important thing to note with the mammogram is that you want to have it done when your breasts are the least tender and that will vary from woman to woman, but most experience more tenderness right before their periods.

Now, extended health care might cover the cost of the scan, but you will need to look into it. Mammograms are covered under the province of BC if you meet certain age or health requirements. Regardless of what you opt to do, please make sure that you check your breasts. This includes under the arms, too. And, for younger women, you should also check your breasts. Young women in their teens and twenties have occasionally been diagnosed with Cancer. Cancer does not discriminate.

For more information about Valentus Clinic:
Oak Bay Professional Building
#103 – 1625 Oak Bay Avenue
Victoria, BC, V8R 1B1
Tel: 250-590-5090 Email: Appointments@valentusclinics.com

Now, in the year since the exam, I have replaced some of my underwire bras, but not all. It’s hard–some of the underwire free bras are–shall I say–not as pretty. Yes, I’m shallow here, when I really should be thinking about breast health. Blushing. The major take away is make sure that you examine your breast monthly–include the underarm area, too. Be healthy!

Managing Projects: Having More Balance

I did something radically different this Summer with my writing. I didn’t have a strict schedule and I worked daily on different projects. Normally I would have spent 60-120 minutes on different projects over the course of the day and work on multiple projects each day. This Summer was one per day–OK occasionally 1.5 per day. I have not decided which I preferred. Moments have taken place where I’ve wondered the veracity of this tactic. But, overall it’s freeing to try something new and then think about if it worked for me.

I’ve also made a point of taking some time off during my vacation this year. I ran twice a week with two close friends and kept this date firm in my schedule. I also was not the usual office rat. What this meant was that I did not go into the office every darn day, too. I was in the office 2-3 days per week. What I did differently–I worked at libraries, coffee shops, and outdoors. This meant more distractions and more conversations with people. And, looking at my bank account it also was a little more pricey. But, another way to look at this is that I was able to actually turn myself off from work. Some might say that this sounds unproductive or maybe less productive. Occasionally someone looked over my shoulder and would ask me some questions–even though I had my ear buds and music going. I was polite and engaged in some conversations. These interruptions were usually good. The best part was always the senior citizen who never believed that I was old enough to be a professor. I joked that they could go to the website and see me on the homepage. The screen shot below is of the new site that goes live in a few days, but the photo is the same one that has scrolled on the university website this Summer.

In all seriousness, I also spent as much time as I could outdoors–running helped me stay outdoors. I read outdoors–even if it was for only an hour. I am a Summer person and usually go back to Southern California for the Summer. I didn’t this year, so I tried to get as much Vitamin D as possible in Victoria, BC. This takes effort, as occasionally if you shower, you could miss Summer! No offense to fellow Victorians, but our Summer is sometimes forgetful. It seemed appropriate to try something different, since I was at home for the Summer.

I’ve thought about this again and again and at the end of the Summer I will evaluate what it meant for me and my productivity. To clarify, I am in a teaching tenure-track position and due to my heavy teaching load (8 courses per school year)–it really means that I have to write during the Summer months. Now, I realize that this situation is common for my colleagues who are lucky enough to teach half as much and more than common for my colleagues who don’t really get that much time off, since they have to teach year round to survive. Regardless, this Summer meant a few thing: write and relax! Oh, academe, thank you for these gifts! I know–I have a full-time job and should not complain. But, I’d like to remind that I did my time adjuncting (we call this sessional work in Canada) for more than 10 years.

Now that I’m in the last push before the term resumes, I can honestly say that I got less work done. I didn’t fret about it either. Oh, maybe I did a few times, but then I’d look at my kids and remember that I have to do better, as they observe and learn.  I had more balance in my life during these last two months. I spent lots of quality time with my family and by myself. Sure, I was in the office a day or two per week, but on my terms. The papers were revise (not ready to resubmit) and projects are further along, but I am happy. I won’t put a price on happiness, and all the time I spent with my two daughters. I also took up golf. Can you believe that? It was a great Summer!

The two photos are shots of my girls. I don’t post photos of them on my blog, so these are not direct face shots. My two loveys.

Busy is Hard to Unlearn: Having It All

An article in the Globe and Mail that discussed how students today don’t really take a Summer break gave me pause. Once I was in high school I found a love for running and spent my Summers training for Cross Country and Track Seasons, but I also took the occasional Summer School class up at Mt. SAC. I was also enrolled in some Honors and Advanced Placement courses, so by the time I graduated I had more than the first term of college courses completed. While in university I also took Summer School and ultimately graduated with my BA in Women’s Studies and Minor in Political Science in 3.5 years. Yes, you read that right.

I was a first generation college student and the eldest of 5 kids. College wasn’t really about having the time of my life and finding myself (well, I did a little of this), but was about being  busy and serious to get it done. I had my family to think of and how they would help all five of their kids go to college or university. Three of us have degrees and the two others took some coursework, but never completed to earn the four year degree. Two of us have multiple advanced degrees.

The crux of this post, though, is the article about teenagers not having Summers today. I can recall being in middle school and getting bored after one month and I was ready to return to my school schedule. I was a good, focused student. Today, though, I am a workaholic and not saying this out of pride, but just sheer honesty. I work hard and I love my job, but I have to remind myself that I am not my job. I say this, as I want to be a good example to my own teen and her little sister. I want them to have a Summer and decompress from the busy school term that is filled with classes, competitive swimming, piano lessons, and more.

What does it mean to be so busy? What does it mean to have it all? Yes, I’ve linked to the now infamous NYT and Atlantic articles. What some of this means is that it’s getting harder to relax. I’ve blogged previously about the electronic umbilicus between me and my gadgets. I’ve also blogged about Breaking Up with Foursquare. I’m mindful of my work balance issues and trying hard for better balance. But, I also know that my Type A personality is at work, and I work in a field where my job is not the traditional 9-5 gig. I always have a project to work on, a chapter to revise, or journal article to write. And, I need to say “no” more.

It’s no wonder that during my first week of vacation I was at the office three days for meetings. Meetings planned months in advance with four or more people and our busy schedules meant that we could only find time in July–my month off. The second week of my vacation I was also at work three times. Each time I came into work the wonderful, Graduate Secretary smiled and me and said, “Now, I thought you were on vacation?” I love her to death for her humor and support!

This third week, on Monday I met with some mentees and I’m finally ready to get to my own projects and writing! But, as any of us working in higher education knows, there is still work to be done on courses and other work related stuff during the month off. This post is the first in a series thinking about what it means to be busy or attempt to have it all. I think I just about have it all, but it means that I’m busy. Cue the big sigh.

11 Months Later: Revisiting the Life List

I decided to revisit this great exercise from one of the BlogHer 2011 pre-sessions.What do I think differently after this last year. I was reappointed unanimously by my colleagues, applied for an Associate Deanship and was shortlisted, didn’t get the job, had surgery, and then had a pretty rough term. The second term caused me to re-evaluate my priorities. Numbers 16-19 are new and I used a / to add to an original thought.

Life List exercise at the afternoon session for “My Blog as a Life Changer” was hard to do. Here is my first stab and again, unedited.  Try out the exercise. It’s fun.

  1. Go to Hawaii with Jason and both girls / See my family more. More quality time with them at home.
  2. See my family of origin more than one time per year. / Yes, see them more.
  3. Publish my books / I’m working on this and progress has been made.
  4. Get tenure / I was re-appointed, so step one is confirmed.
  5. Continue to Mentor / Ongoing
  6. Continue to Teach / Ongoing
  7. Learn French / I’ve heard more and have attempted to speak some. Does that count?
  8. Start a Women and Politics Center on campus / Oh, long term goal.
  9. Take kids to Grand Canyon and DC / Long term
  10. Work on either a Congressional , Senatorial or Presidential campaign / Long term
  11. Learn how to golf / Started learning in May!
  12. Spend time with friends in the US and elsewhere / Did some in March–ongoing want.
  13. Take kids to Europe / Long term goal
  14. Go to Harry Potter Theme Park / Long term goal
  15. Use sabbatical to attend conferences / To write book and to visit teen in university
  16. New to the list–take better care to relax. I am powering off my phone more and trying to not work for an hour or more every night. Balance
  17. Remember to schedule time for me and Jason
  18. Exercise as part of my daily routine
  19. Return to the life list once a year!

Revisiting Being a Feminist

This was the first post in a series where I ruminated on what it means to me to be a feminist. And, for re-reading the post not much has changed in the past two years or so. First things first, I have no problem self-identifying as a feminist. Just as some of my colleagues live by their Marxist or Socialist tendencies, I live by my feminist beliefs. I advocate feminism and I am an advocate of feminism, but I do not shirk the label.

I do get frustrated though when assumptions are made about feminisms–as if there is this  monster of sorts. There is so much variety among feminist theories and feminists themselves. I am a strong believer of the fact that there are different types of feminisms. There is not a monolithic feminism or feminist club that I have to earn a card to be a member of and act and speak a certain way in order to keep my membership. Feminism is not Costco. Feminisms provides a philosophy of life, love, education, politics and so much more. My feminist politics includes an understanding of the importance of intersectionaliy. My feminism includes an understanding that politics and life are influenced by race, class, education, sexuality and many other indicators.

To be honest, I find it quite amusing when a student or other person outside of academe accuses me of having feminist politics. The student might as well accuse me of breathing and thinking. We are all guided by a philosophy of sorts–mine just happens to be feminism. And, some many decades later this term seems to scare, enrage or confuse people. I recall being in grad school and a professor asking me if I was a Chicana or Feminist first. I felt the question was a ridiculous question. Shall you take my right arm off or my left? My identification of my ethnic background is inextricably connected to my feminism.

Feminism informs the way I read pop culture, articles, people’s actions and I will not apologize for thinking. If my feminism intimidates you–you need to think about why is this the case? Do you understand feminism? Do you want to? Years ago I recall telling a friend that I was going to be a cultural critic when I grew up. I don’t think either of us understood this, but when she later told me that her mother thought that was a terrible idea, I knew I was on to something. I tell my students that my vocation is thinking, reading, writing, and more thinking. This thinking is informed by feminism.

The typology of feminism that best explains my own would be Women of Color feminisms circa This Bridge Called My Back  added with Third Wave feminisms. I was lucky enough to earn a BA in Women’s Studies (Go Aztecs! ) at SDSU, so most of my mentors were of the Second Wave persuasion. I feel well versed in different types of feminisms.

How does this feminism inform my daily life? Well, that is for a different post or two. One about my teaching, and another about relationships (parenting and love). Femnisms informs my life.

The above screen shot is from the Feminist Ryan Gosling Tumblr. What a great gift and I add here to make make you smile.

It’s OK to Talk About Mental Health

Airdrie Miller @airdrie_miller Public School Teacher http://www.talkingtoair.com
It’s OK to Talk About Mental Health #Breatheyyj

Miller is sharing her experience with panic attacks in university. At first she kept quiet about her experience, but later sought help from the university mental health services. She has a 1998 baby, too. Awwww. “Nowadays we’re not putting pictures in albums–we’re putting them online.” She stopped her therapy and later had another baby. Then, postpartum depression hit. This is so common for many women.

She realized that she suffering from depression and resumed therapy. She got better and then resumed work after nine months. Oh, I love the Wonder Woman slide. She was doing it all…you know where this is going to go. Love her slide of the WHO’s definition of Mental Health. It’s telling and we need to stop and assess. Are we healthy? Are we pushing ourselves to attempt to be perfect?

Miller notes that mental illness does not discriminate! Twenty percent of Canadians will suffer from mental health issues in their life. This number is important to think about, as we all know many who are living with mental illness. Miller shares that she began to have serious thoughts about self-harm. She then quit her job and became what she calls a Desperate Housewife, but still suffering from depression.

She was very brave and ultimately was placed in the psych ward. This turn of events changed her life. Her experience with the outpatient therapy was positive. She went back to work part-time and tried to keep balance in her life. Then, her dear husband contracts colon cancer. Sigh. Derek Miller. After four years he succumbed to cancer. I’m so glad I heard her share her truths. She ends noting: It’s OK to not talk about it. Do what is right for you–so true.