Sunday, May 22, 2011

Natural Things

I've been trying to get outside more and enjoy the nice weather, especially after a semester of being cooped up most of the time because of teaching and classes.

It's been so dry, I've never seen a place go so long without any significant rainfall. That's to be expected I guess, but as a New Englander, I'm just not used to it yet. We got some light (very light) precipitation earlier in the week, but nothing that amounted to much. New Mexico has been in a really bad drought for several years now, and in the mountains and campgrounds you see evidence all over. Campfires and grills are forbidden, and designated areas have been blocked off by the forest service. Matt's gotten some updates on areas that will likely be closed off if it stays dry for much longer. Fire danger signs all point to either orange or red.

Still, I've always loved being in the desert and woods in dry heat. The air is wonderful, you can smell all the plants. It reminds me of the last time I was in the Black Hills, the heat drawing out the smell of the ponderosas. I get the same aroma up in the Sandias, but down in the foothills all the other plans smell amazing too. I need to get a plant guide, because I have no clue what most things are around here.

I'm happy to report some wonderful news. A couple months ago we had a roadrunner nest that failed near our apartment. The other week we noticed they were back on the nest for a second attempt and there are FOUR little babies currently hanging out. We've been able to get a good look at them, the parents are gone more often now that the eggs are hatched and the babies are getting bigger. I can't wait till they start running around, they're already adorable.

Picture taken by Matt's birding/butterfly-ing friend Joe

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Good Things in Life

Wow, it's been a crazy couple of weeks. I'm happy to say that the semester is officially over, and I have no more teaching or class obligations for the next 3 months. One of the things that I always loved about college was that summer break starts so early, and now that I'm in New Mexico, I have hot weather to accompany that break so it actually feels like vacation.

Of course, I'm going to be working quite a bit between now and Aug 22, I just don't have to be up early to get to school to do anything on a hard and fast schedule. This week I'm also giving myself some lazy time, I was so stressed out for the past month or so that I'm taking it easy, at least for a couple days, to decompress. I had an absolutely fabulous weekend. On Friday afternoon I met up with some of my lady friends for happy hour at Opa!, then continued the fun times at Meghan's apartment late into the night. There's nothing like kicking back, having some drinks, playing games, and getting a little silly.

Saturday was absolutely beautiful, Matt and I went for a late morning walk in the bosque down by the nature center to enjoy the good weather. In the afternoon I did some serious shopping with Meghan and Clare. Clare has three weddings to go to this summer, so she needed to look at shoes and dresses. I picked up a few nice things for myself, enjoyed a delicious blended Boba Tea, and perused Sephora. In total, I think we spent about 5 hours shopping, which for me is highly unusual. I typically hate malls, and Saturday the place was completely packed. But, I had a great time, good company makes all the difference.

Saturday evening the cohort got together at Marble Brewery. That place is just too loud. They have good beer, but I can't even hear myself think when I'm there. They had their outdoor area open, but that still didn't alleviate any of the loudness. I think next time I'll suggest somewhere a little quieter.

On Sunday evening Clare's room mate had a cookout, because he recently got his master's degree and is now working on applying to medical school. Matt and I made a very large pitcher of lavender lemonade, which I will DEFINITELY make again. It was so refreshing and delicious. The food at the cookout was your standard hamburgers and hot dogs, but someone made some killer cupcakes that were way better than anything I've bought in recent history. There also seemed to be endless amounts of watermelon, and some deliciously hot salsa that gave me hiccups.

The weekend overflowed a bit into Monday, and I spent yesterday with Matt in the Sandia Mountains looking for birds and butterflies. We are having a horrible drought at the moment, I heard it's the worst since 1953. The state is starting to close off wilderness areas because of the fire danger. On the one hand, this is very bad because I have plans for camping and hiking, and outdoor activities are a major thing around here. On the other hand, it is getting pretty dangerous, to the point where one careless cigarette could probably result in a huge wildfire. All it would take is one stupid person to create a huge problem, so closing areas off is probably the only solution until we finally get some rain.

I am going to go in to work for a few hours this afternoon. I need to establish my summer work routine, and once again I'm going to initiate my writing schedule. I'll be traveling a lot over the next few months, so I need to get things done when I have the opportunity.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The End of Year One Approaches!

I was so thrilled to be done teaching and taking classes on Friday, that I had a major brain fart this weekend and forgot to complete part of my GIS project. However, that is now turned in, and this weekend was worth it.

Friday I got my official confirmation that I will be on a fellowship next year. That means I'm getting paid to do my own research, not teaching. It's a welcome change of pace, I have so much I want to work on and write. Once I am done with all my grading and my last final exam, I'm going to start working on projects and enjoying my newly found academic freedom. Friday evening Jim and Felisa hosted a barbecue to celebrate the end of the semester, the new fellows, and new PhD recipients. It was a really nice get together, complete with a little bit of unplanned herping.

Friday was kind of a weird day and tiring day. I had the written part of my GIS project due, and my evolution essay was also supposed to be turned in. I managed to get that all taken care of in addition to my other academic responsibilities. It was also my turn to lead the Paleoecology seminar discussion, which is always a good time. On a weird coincidence, the entire Smith lab was wearing dresses/skirts and very similar footwear (all except Ian of course). We took a group picture, because it was so bizarre, it's not like we're all the type to dress girly in dresses, and we totally didn't plan it. I think the similar outfits resulted from such a beautiful day, it was sunny and hot, perfect dress weather.

Saturday Ian had a spontaneous cookout at his place. We had grilled chicken and veggies, and I supplied the margaritas. I had been in the mood for a margarita since Thursday, Cinco de Mayo, but up until then I had been denied by work and teaching duties. Earlier in the day on Saturday I went to go check out a rental house with Meghan and Jason. I just don't think we're on the same page for what we're looking for, I LOVED the house, but it doesn't look like it'll happen. It was roomy, and had a killer back yard. Hopefully over the next few weeks more good options will come on the market. I desperately want to move out of my apartment, I'd like to be able to garden, and I'm sick of my neighborhood.

Yesterday I more or less relaxed and graded. I've been grading for almost 2 days now, and I'm almost done. I just have two homework assignments left and I'm finished. I just finished all the exams. The lecture exam went fairly well, the average was much higher this time around. The lab exam was kind of a train wreck. I have a tendency to write them for my students who pay attention, study, and do their work. The average for my lab practical was pretty sad, but over all I don't think it hurt anyone too much. I really thought I had made it reasonable. I didn't ask anything super specific, and I was forgiving and gave lots of partial credit. The essay portion went well, most people did well on that part. Some people didn't, but those were the same people who have been out to lunch pretty much all semester.

I hate making generalizations, but by a month into the semester I can usually figure out who is going to try to do well in the class and who really couldn't care less about being there. It's sad really, so many people want to go to college, and space is at a premium, and yet I have seats that are sometimes filled with people who are taking their position for granted. I'm sick of the fixation on grades and the totally lack of caring about learning. I occasionally get a batch of students who only care about how they can finesse a passing grade out of me. What they don't realize is I am willing to work with them to learn, but I'll be damned if I'm going to just spoon feed them. That's not what college, or reality, is about.

I will say, however, that over all I liked my students this semester. Many were friendly, respectful, and bright. I had a lot of bright students, but I wanted to shake the ones who were obviously smart but just not applying themselves. Then again, I too was bright and lazy, back in high school. My parents were paying out the nose for me to be at Penn State, so I knew not to waste my time once I was in college.

I'm happy to see this year go, and I'm anxious (in a good anticipation way) about the summer and the upcoming fall.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Exam Day #1

I'm about ready to head to bed, tomorrow is a test filled day: my students are taking both their lecture and lab exams, and I have a mystery test of my own to take in my evolution class.

First, the mystery test. I have no idea what to expect, other than maybe some questions about evolution and phylogenies, which really doesn't narrow the field down. The professor was sort of flippant about what he was going to ask us and he said "don't study". I don't know what that's supposed to mean, but I didn't study. If I have time tomorrow (fat chance) I'll flip through my vague notes. I did the posted reading for tomorrow, maybe the test is on that?

I'm going in at 7:30am to set up my students' lab exam. It's a combination of lab stations for them to answer questions about, as well as three essays. I think I made it fairly easy; then again, I thought my quizzes were easy all semester and that didn't always turn out so well. If I get in to work as planned, I'll have about 45 minutes to an hour to set up. I don't think it will take that long. I basically need to place questions and objects around the room, and then let them have at it. Then I get to come in for my evening section and do it all over again! It won't be exactly the same test, I'm not that naive.

The lecture exam is also today, which frankly, my students should worry about more than my little test. I hate proctoring tests, it makes me nervous watching people squirm in their seats. However, in some weird twisted way, I love making exams. There's something oddly gratifying about coming up with a perfect question, one that is comprehensive and really tests to see if they know what's going on. The preset guidelines I was given for my lab exam prevented me from making such a test this semester, so I'm kind of "meh" about its quality. Last semester I put together a final that 1) actually tested to see if they learned anything and 2) was ridiculously easy to grade. As far as I'm concerned, those are the two most important elements to an exam.

Once tomorrow is over, I have until Tuesday to finish all my grading. I also have another test (in GIS) to take on Wed. For that test I know what to expect, because the instructor isn't trying to trick us. It's going to be a pain trying to grade and study at the same time, but that's sort of been my problem all semester.

Countdown till I'm done-done: 7 days

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I'm So Excited!

I've never looked forward to the end of a semester as much as this one.

This is the last week of classes, next weeks if finals week, and then I can move forward with doing what I want to do for a change. All that stands between me and summer are two papers, a website update, giving a final exam, taking a final exam, and grading. That sounds like a lot, because it is a lot, but I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel. As of next Wednesday afternoon, I will be free.

So what do I plan on doing with all of my new found time? I'm going to get some work done for a change! That isn't as depressing as some would make it out to be. I'm really looking forward to starting my research projects, and one week from tomorrow I will have that luxury. I also have it on good authority that I won't be teaching next year, I'll have other funding. I get the official word on Friday, but it's pretty much a done deal.

Next fall I'm going to start anew, and do things very differently than I did this year. First of all, no teaching. None. That's 20 hours I get back every week. Second of all, I'm going to take fewer courses, and schedule some research time. There are maybe two classes I'm interested in taking, other than BioBlog and Lab Group, and a seminar. A priority come fall is to schedule regular writing time, hopefully every day. I have data, I've had it for months. It's sad that I haven't been able to do anything with it. That's going to change.

Over the summer I'm going to outline the paper Russ and I are supposedly writing, and I'm going to pester him weekly about it (other than when he's in the field, no sense wasting emails when he can't get them). If I can get the figures done, get an abstract written, and send him an outline with solid topic sentences, that might be enough to get the ball rolling.

For right now, I'm just trilled that I'm almost done with the spring semester. I'm down right giddy about it!