Saturday, 24 January 2009

feeling a bit overworked

It's busy period at work at the moment. We are buried under reports, paperwork, and parents' evenings. I am struggling to keep up with my usual lesson planning and marking. Thursday and Friday were manic; I was observed by visitors four times and I was madly trying to get a set of reports finished as well.

I went into work today for two and a half hours and, surprising, that was a really encouraging thing to do. I finished the reports (a bit past their deadline, oh, well) and did some paperwork I have been putting off. One can only put off those things so long because all of them are time-sensitive, regardless of how much work I have on my plate. Now I feel a bit more on top of things and hope that Monday morning might not be quite so hectic.

As I mentioned before, I am reading a book about work in an advertising office in Chicago called Then We Come to the End by Joshua Ferris. I was reading it on the way to and fro work on Thursday, when I was so stressed by everything and I marked this passage about motivating oneself to work in the afternoons.
Heading back from the couches, knowing we had to toss out our ad concepts for the fund-raiser and start over again in the disagreeable hours of the afternoon--which tended to stretch on and on--we felt a bit fatigued. All that work for nothing. And if we happened to case back, in search of edification, to days past and jobs completed--oh, what a bad idea, for what had all that amounted to? And anticipating future work just made the present moment even more miserable. There was so much unpleasantness in the workaday world. The last thing you ever wanted to do at night was go home and do the dishes. And just the idea that part of the weekend had to be dedicated to getting the oil changed and doing the laundry was enough to make those of us still full from lunch to want to lie down in the hallway and force anyone dumb enough to remain committed to walk around us.
Well, at least I am feeling a bit more positive now but it still irks me sometimes that I have to do all the rubbish chores on the weekend! Such is life.

Friday, 16 January 2009

so many books, so little time

Wouldn't it be lovely to read and write all day? I often wonder if changing careers would make me happy. But to what? I read a book recently about a science writer who woke up with her coffee-making alarm clock, pulled out a book (from under the pillow, occasionally) and started to read. When the coffee ran out she left the cosy bed to shower and eat, then return to read, think, reflect, and write. Ah, what a life.

At book club on Wednesday we were talking about If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor. My friends were not entirely taken by the book. But I loved the way I had to figure out who was speaking and what was taking place. I found the last hundred pages riveting and finished it sitting on a bench in the tube station for 35 minutes, eyes glued to the page and ignoring the trains and people going by. (I believe I am slightly insane! I should have been elsewhere.)

I wish that I had more time for reading. I read my Bible every morning over breakfast and this forces me to slow down a bit and actually take the time to eat and read properly (since four chapters a day takes about 20 minutes). I have been travelling by train recently due to a cold and reading a book on the train is so enjoyable! Sadly I can't continue this when I go back to commuting by bike later this week. In the evenings, Ant likes to watch TV and play Wii, but I like to sit on the couch next to him and read (or surf the net, reading online). But wouldn't it be nice to be paid to read? Or maybe this would just spoil the process. At the moment, I really like just reading and thinking over what I read.

I like to learn as I read and so I try to reflect a bit. I even mark passages in fiction books. They bring up ideas that I wish I had time to mull over. Like this sentence from If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things. The narrator is talking about her stilted relationship with her mother. "My mother was polite, and responsible, and didn't always seem to notice I was there." I feel that this might somewhat describe how I am with my students. I am always polite and try to be consistent. I build routines so they know what to expect and how to succeed. But I am not really that emotionally invested in them and, to be honest, I don't always care much about them. I like the ideas of learning and I became a teacher because I love maths and teaching, not because I love children. The book made me realise this about myself and makes me want to explore this idea a bit more. Should I cultivate my students more? Get to know them a bit better (other than as mathematicians)? Try to notice them a bit?

Our new book club book is Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. It's a tale of modern cubicle life and less to my taste. But it makes me think that every person's voice has something interesting to say. A story about an employee, Brizz, who was laid off and then soon died makes the narrators say that they hardly knew him.
Goodness, why had nobody stopped him? Why has we never, not one of us, stopped, turned around, and said, Knock, knock. Sorry to interrupt you when you're proofreading, Brizz. Why had we not gone in, sat down?... How many times did we end up down at our own offices, doing pretty much the same thing, preparing for some deadline now come and gone, while Brizz lived and breathed with all the answers a hundred feet down the hall?
Thoughts like this, and the endless stories of the mundane life of an advertising copywriter, make me want to form more meaningful relationships. Let's face it, life is very mundane sometimes. Knowing God and loving one another seem like the only meaningful things sometimes.

practical matters

I have several things I have been thinking about posting over the last few days. In fact, looking forward to posting. But writing them down seems to be a barrier sometimes. I am so tired that typing seems like an effort, let alone attempting to write something that will be coherent. I have successfully been battling a cold this week--with the help of my new bottle of ColdFX. (Thanks, Mum, for a very practical present that has already kept me from having a sick day.)

I have had a small timetable change this term that has resulted in a change in my marking days and now I am swamped with marking at the end of every second week. Here is the pile I was working my way through today and I ended up having to take a fair amount home this weekend. Taking work home is something I try to avoid at all costs, but I am simply going to have to do it, or use my time better in the week. I had a really profitable afternoon, though, and managed to get all the photocopying done for the next two weeks.

One thing I've been meaning to mention for a while now is that I bought a slow cooker at the beginning of January. I have used it a few times to great success. I am not a big meat fan in general but the meat cooked in the slow cooker comes out so tender and flavourful that I do enjoy it. Today I made black bean curry with gammon (ham) cubes and it was mighty tasty. Paired with a fresh salad of rocket, watercress, and cherry tomatoes it made a really nice (low fat and low GI) meal.

Well, there I got over my writer's block and wrote this post. So I will have to take the "little and often" approach and try again tomorrow to tackle some other things I want to reflect on and write about.

Friday, 9 January 2009

rememberance and heritage

I have just finished reading a book my Mother lent me, Of This Earth: A Mennonite Boyhood in the Boreal Forest by Rudy Wiebe. It's written by a Canadian author who had a very similar background to my Grandpa: family from (what is now) the Ukraine, who emigrated to Canada to escape religious persecution. Wiebe's family settled in Saskatchewan and scratched out a farm family's existence in what seem like quite harsh conditions: penetrating cold, stony soil that needed constant clearing of the bush, and few technologies. Wiebe was ten years old when WW2 ended, so my Grandpa was slightly older than him, but Mum said that the experiences Grandpa had a child were quite similar to what she read in the book.

The Saskatchewan forest seems like it was a difficult place to live but Wiebe fondly remembers his family life, knit together by a strong family life. His stalwart mother propelled him through chores and was a firm moral compass. His companionable older sisters read with him and helped him with school work. His older brother was a strong, guiding presence on the farm and provided warmth and security through his large sleeping form in the childhood bed they shared. Wiebe's Mennonite faith provided a structure of church services and an inner strength that sustained him.

Wiebe is an excellent writer (and well recognised in Canada). His family focus and growing love of words is something I enjoyed reading about. His stories are plain, natural, and engaging. He has set about the task of remembering his childhood honestly and also inquisitively, in a way that makes me also look back at his time in the Saskatchewan forest fondly, if this is possible for someone who has only a vicarious experience of it. Wiebe makes it his job to remember and report his life, thoughts, and instincts. A quotation on the frontispiece says, "What do you do for a living? I asked./ I remember, she replied." It is clear that Wiebe relished the reminiscence of his childhood.

However, Wiebe also says that he felt a physical memory of some things his parents lived through, but he had never seen. "I have felt remembrance beyond words.... when after six decades of life, I walked in places where I had never before physically been:... the village cemetery where my parents met..., the village school he [Dad] first attended...." This makes me wonder whether, if I come to know more about my grandparents and our ancestors, I would come to feel the same affinity for them and their places and their words. As I read the book I felt a connection with their heartfelt faith and devotion, which I see modelled in my Mother and her siblings. I enjoyed the Low and High German passages in the book; Ant and I have been learning German for a few months and I am starting to understand a few words. Hearing my Mother sing in German at Christmas is always very moving and seems to connect her with her heritage; it makes me feel connected just to listen. The names of the families in the book also feel like a friendly neighbour, since they are names I have heard since my youth: I have an uncle named Rudy, and Wiebe's mother was named Katharina. I hope I have opportunities to deepen my connection with my Mennonite roots.

Monday, 5 January 2009

rock on!

This summer I bought Ant a Wii for his birthday. Then Matt bought him Guitar Hero 3. Then Ant bought Matt Guitar Hero World Tour for Matt's birthday. Then Ant and I bought us all rock mullet kits for Christmas. Our conversion to rockers is complete!

Saturday, 3 January 2009

family time

Ant and I have really enjoyed all our family and friends time over the Christmas break this year. Mum learned to blog this week! I helped her set up her blog and she has made two posts so far. I am very proud of her.

This is her new tablecloth, which looks very striking with the octagonal plates and cups that she has. We have has so many tasty and fun family dinners over the last fortnight. We are very sad to leave today and look forward to seeing them again soon. Keeping in touch electronically is good, too, so I hope my Mum can keep up with her blogging from time to time.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

New Year's resolutions

The fewer resolutions, the better, eh? Last year I only made one resolution, and this helped me do a better job with it. I resolved to keep in touch with my friends and family better, and I did make some progress towards this goal. I think I reply to emails better than before but I still need to keep working at phone calling especially.

This year I am going to set three reachable goals.

1. Keep in touch with my friends and family better. I am determined to continue improving at this and would welcome the occasional chastisement if necessary.

2. Do 10 minutes of non-cardio exercise each day. I get plenty of cardio through my weekday commutes. I need to do ab work, strength work, and stretching. I think ten minutes is an obtainable amount.

3. Read the full Bible during the year. I was inspired to do this by my friend Sarah in Ottawa. Last year when I didn't have a Bible reading goal I really floundered. So this year I am going to use the M'Cheyne plan to read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice over the course of the year. The link above includes a printable page that I will keep in my Bible.

Over to you. What are your plans for the New Year?

happy new year!

How will you remember 2008? What about the leap second that was added yesterday evening? Apparently the leap second keeps the atomic clock in time with the earth's actual rotation time. Ant and I were spending New Year's with Kevin and Sonya. How would you use an extra second? We were discussing early in the evening and I decided that the best use for my extra second would be to grin at everyone around me for a full second. And I took this picture for you to see.

Max celebrated the new year by wearing this lovely hat.

Claire and Ant have been playing a game where they build a cake (in three shapes: circle, square, heart), then choose its flavour, decoration, and icing.