Last Day of Class, Semester 1

Tuesday, 29 November 2011
The impossible has been proven possible. We survived statistics! Our last class met yesterday. We still have finals next week but amazingly, I made it through the highs and lows, the feelings of sheer stupidity and the elation of understanding complicated concepts.

Today we presented in our 610 class and thankfully, that went well. I was happy to learn more about the members of my cohort. Surprisingly, one of the most (seemingly) talented and confident students admitted he was highly intimidated at the beginning of the semester. He even said he developed a back-up plan if he wasn't able to swing the PhD program. This was shocking to me. I learned that most of us were not only intimidated to start the program, we were terrified.

Looking back at my feelings and fears during the first week of classes, I realize that I was afraid of the unknown. Stepping out of a successful career was highly uncomfortable for me. It was in fact, painful. Getting a handle on the workload as a doctoral student was almost impossible. Now, I'm not afraid. Yes, I'll suffer anxiety over growing as a researcher and a teacher. I'll shed tears of frustration when I take comps, develop my dissertation and defend it, but I'll survive.

Since I love to garden, I'll offer an analogy pertaining to the doctoral experience. I was a seed in August. During this semester, I began the growing process. With a healthy dose of knowledge and challenges, roots formed. The wind and storms were rough and at times, my pride and emotions were damaged. Now, I realize I'm anchored to this experience and will continue to grow. The environment, trials and seasons will impact me but my foundation has been set.  

Now, time to study for finals!

Food, Flowers and Family

Saturday, 26 November 2011
We had a lovely Thanksgiving day. Mom and I enjoy cooking so the meal was homemade and we even put together a centerpiece for the table. No instant potatoes or gravy cubes for us. It certainly takes longer to prepare the food but it is oh-so-worth it.

Here's a look at the early stages of cooking:



We served turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, green beans, sweet potato casserole, layered lettuce salad, relish, stuffing, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and Snickerdoodle cookies, freshly brewed iced tea and Italian wine. The turkey was actually falling off of the bone.


We also love arranging flowers in mom's silver, three-part urn. You start by putting small bowls in each compartment, fill them with wet floral foam, cover with moss and begin cutting and placing the flowers.



The roses opened up beautifully.


Dad and Dannen enjoyed the meal and even cleaned up. Woot! We then spent the afternoon lounging (with Dewey the cat), watching football and later of course, we enjoyed leftovers.



Gratitude

Tuesday, 22 November 2011
People on Twitter and Facebook have been sharing what they're thankful for all week so I wanted to share as well. Give me some love through comments and share what you're grateful for if you feel so inclined.

I'm thankful for the opportunity to earn my PhD without having to take out loans at the University of Tennessee. It is an honor to learn from so many smart and skilled researchers and work along side some of the top notch professors in the media business. Because of the generosity of some and hard work of others, I'm able to pursue my dream.

My friends in Knoxville and nearby are my family when I cannot be near my parents and brother. They ask me questions about the changes I'm experiencing in life, encourage me when the day seems too long and lean on me when they need a shoulder as well. There is nothing like a genuine friend that is trustworthy and compassionate. Thank you to my friends, new and old, who are there for me. You know who you are and I love you.

What would I do without my mom, dad and brother and close family? I had a talk with them the last time we were together and asked them to please take care of themselves because I can't live without them. I cherish the time we spend together and most of all I appreciate the support they give to me emotionally, physically and at times monetarily. Thank you to them always and from the bottom of my heart for believing the best in me and loving me despite my faults. 

I'm thankful for experiences this year that included good food, intimate connections, emotional warmth, knowledge through travel and a chance to exercise skills and intelligence. 

It's cheesy but I'm super lucky to have two healthy cats. Lily and Violet make me happy. They are loving, funny and come with their own personalities. This year has been difficult and they were always there purring and helping me remember that tomorrow will be better. 

The other aspects of life that I'm grateful for include personal perseverance, endurance and a desire to achieve more. Not everyone has a background that instills ambition and I know that I am lucky to grow up with resources that others do not have access to. I plan to make the best of it as often as possible.  

Inspiration

Monday, 21 November 2011
If this guy can jump off of a cliff and survive while making it look fun, I can get a B in statistics. Enjoy!

Positive

Sunday, 20 November 2011
Some people are extremely upbeat and positive. When I run into a person like that, I love it. Wonder where it comes from, really... Is positivity/negativity a learned mind set? Such as... do people who are negative and miserable learn to be that way from their parents? From their co-workers? Does negativity pass from one to another like a winter cold?

Those who believe people are going to fail them constantly have a hard time letting others in. I struggle with that because life can be easier when you rely on no one but yourself. However, it is much less rewarding and lonely. I think I have a healthy balance of misery and happiness but in my mind, negative thoughts sometimes circle. It is a horrible waste of brain power.

That's why, again, I'm so happy to run into folks who put out a vibe of chill and happiness and kindness. I want to be more like them.

Winners make a habit of manufacturing their own positive expectations in advance of the event.
--Brian Tracy

Toss it Back

Thursday, 17 November 2011
Things are looking up. Thanksgiving (I'll actually get to be with family on the day) is next week and I cannot wait to be in my parents' home, eating fabulous food and lazying around, watching HGTV and working on research. We have a great time together and of course I'll get to hang with my little bro bro (he's not little, just younger).

Dannen is fun to be around and has quite a bit of energy. Hopefully sis can keep up. I'm looking forward to talking with him as he is always great in a heart-to-heart conversation. I can imagine he humors me because I don't rely on him too heavily for emotional support. Although if I needed to, he'd be there.

I've completed my rough draft for the methodology section of my research proposal. It was due today and I'm confident that at least all of the pieces are there. Our professor, Dr. Wang is patient and enthusiastic. She gives excellent feedback and I look forward to revising for our final draft due at exam time (we only have three weeks left in the semester)!

This week has not been easy. In fact, I've had some pretty low moments for various reasons. I received some interesting advice from a cohort regarding a research project that I decided to apply to my professional and personal life.

Let's say there is a well-cited theory that supports your hypothesis but isn't easy to fit into a measurement or framework. Rather than striving three times as hard to study literature and force the theory conceptually, it is okay to start over and adopt a new theory or even a new topic which coincides with the initial theory. The fear is there that the next theory won't fit or a new topic will be just as difficult to frame but surprise! The more you trust yourself as a researcher, the easier the process becomes. I started over four weeks ago on my research proposal for 610. It was difficult to get back to ground zero and took quite a bit more work but now I'm confident and passionate about my research proposal. My new topic also supports future research and is not as frustrating to pursue.

What's the point of the rambling? I'm not exactly sure but it approaches the idea of:  the shoe that doesn't fit. Even if it is the style you prefer, don't be afraid to let the blisters go and shop for a new pair. Life is too short to paste on a smile and limp through the pain.

I've been wanting to blog about the Penn State alleged abuse case but wow I only have time recently to spew something quick about the PhD gig. What's new with you?

Fallen

Saturday, 12 November 2011
For hours today, I crunched through the leaves the trees in the back have dropped. I even winterized by bringing in all of the cushions on the chairs, the umbrella and the hibiscus and palm tree. Actually, I couldn't manage the palm by myself so I'll wait until I have time to purchase the round little rolly thingy that goes underneath a potted plant to bring it inside.

My small triumph, however, had to do with a fallen tree. Last summer I spent hours and hours and days clearing the back lot. I was always wary of one of the trees that appeared to be dead. It was overcome with vines. At the time I even consulted a tree specialist. The worry was that it would fall toward the house but I didn't have the big bucks to have it taken down.

Lucky for me, during last night's fierce winds, it fell nicely toward the left. I just need a chainsaw now. My electric, heavy Black and Decker model has crapped out. I'm great at bartering...

White Blank Page

Friday, 11 November 2011
I have been writing for an hour four days a week as I'd hoped. Today when I sat down to blog, however, I found I have nothing to say. I'm emotionally drained but physically strong. That means, I can try again tomorrow I suppose. Meantime, Mumford and Sons' White Blank Page has been stuck in my head.

Listen to the song here. Here's a look at the lyrics:

Can you lie next to her and give her your heart. Your heart?
As well as your body and can you lie next to her and confess your love. Your love?
As well as your folly and can you kneel before the king and say I'm clean. I'm clean.
But tell me now where was my fault, in loving you with my whole heart.
Her white blank page and a swelling rage. Rage.
You did not think when you sent me to the brink, the brink.
You desired my attention but denied my affection. Affection.
But tell me now where was my fault, in loving you with my whole heart?
But tell me now where was my fault, in loving you with my whole heart?
Lead me to the truth and I will follow you with my whole life.
Lead me to the truth and I will follow you with my whole life. 

Pursuing Growth

Wednesday, 9 November 2011
I cannot believe my cohort is almost through the first semester of our first year of PhD candidacy. This is certainly the time to pull up the boot straps and concentrate on finishing strong. The endurance of getting up and facing new challenges and intellectual heartache should pay off if I can earn at least 3.33 GPA this semester.

The UT library, while once a hulking structure housing towers of books and caverns of darkness on certain floors is now my friend. I breathe deeply in concentration when I enter the building and feel comfort in knowing where JK543.A678 can be found (4th floor, right at the elevators, two rows over and half way down on the right). I have my research assignment of 10 hours a week to thank for this confidence. While tedious, the time spent on my knees searching call letters on the bottom shelf has helped me evolve into someone who can now access scholarly knowledge in a new way.

Challenge and change, while terrifying reaps reward.


One day last week around 8am I was literally buried in academic journal articles, books, papers and hand written notes. I looked around my bedroom and thought, "This is my life now. I'll always be conducting research and writing. I'll always be surrounded by things that need to be read and explored." That felt good. Here's to hard work before the holidays and a commitment to pursuing growth outside our comfort zone!

[Things] change, and change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass. - John Steinbec

Write it Down

Monday, 7 November 2011
In my spare time (hahahahahahahaaaahahahahaha) I'm trying to get through the book, "Mentor: A Memoir" by Tom Grimes. My friend Hillary passed this along to me because she knows about my dream to be a non-fiction book writer (travel, memoirs, media topics).


If you have any interest in writing or you just enjoy a good human interest story, pick up this read. It was named best non-fiction book of 2010 by The Washington Post.

Tom meets his mentor Frank and they embark on a colleague/friend relationship that eventually leads to Tom finding his literary voice and getting published. Frank encourages Tom on the peripherals of his writing routine and Tom has such respect for Frank and his writing ability that he remains committed to finishing his novel. The most encouraging part of Tom's story is his background. He worked as a waiter for years and had book after book rejected by agents and editors. His perseverance paid off and after working with Frank, publishing houses wanted to buy his books.

The take-away from the read so far for me is commitment to the mundane task of sitting down to write on a schedule. Tom writes every day from 8 to 11:30am and then heads to the university to teach. While I can't set a writing goal that high right now (what with the PhD studies and all...), I am setting a goal of writing for an hour four days a week. That'll add up to approximately 16 hours of writing a month. I should be putting in double or triple the amount of writing but while I'm going to school full-time, teaching and researching for two professors, writing papers for conferences and conducting research studies this is going to have to do. Plus, it's better for me to start out with a manageable goal and ramp it up from there.

Other developments: I'm getting back into piano because it is included in my tuition waiver at UT. Yay! Also included in our activity fees is access to the on-campus gym and group classes. It is time to get back into athlete-shape. Maybe I'll try out for the UT cheer squad. (Hahahhahahahah - I'm cracking myself up today.)

RouXbarb

Sunday, 6 November 2011
There are times as a graduate student when you just really need to get out, eat good food, lose yourself in good company and sip sophisticated wine. Wednesday of this week was one of those times.

I haven't written about a restaurant in ages but I felt inspired to give up on the PhD diatribes for a day and do so. (Lately some favorite eateries have been Chez Liberty for brunch, Bravo for the amazing appetizer deal after 9pm and Sunspot for inventive veggie dishes).

The other night I ate at RouXbarb for the first time. It is close to Bearden Hill, located off Northshore next to the dive pub Union Jacks. The place is intimate with amazing ambiance and white table clothes. The waiters are very knowledgeable and the dishes combine amazing food concepts with fresh ingredients.

"At RouXbarb, we use only premium ingredients from family sustained farms, local or regional sources when available, and with all meats, seafood and poultry being hormone, antibiotic, and steroid free whenever possible."

Tony, my dining companion, ordered the smoked duck and I chose the quail dish. We also started with a fried seafood appetizer plate which was prepared similar to fried calamari. We felt the breading was a bit bland but our meals were lovely. The quail was presented on perfectly flavored greens and whipped turnips. Yummy! Certainly a down-home feel to the menu, served flashy-bistro style.

One of the best aspects of RouXbarb, in my opinion, is the BYOB policy. Yes, they charge a corkage fee but the option offers a nice opportunity to enjoy the wine you have collecting dust around your house and avoid the 10x mark up on bottles at restaurants. We brought a lovely bottle of Williamette Valley Pinot Noir which Tony won at a recent charity auction event benefiting ChildHelp, a Knoxville non-profit. It was a 2006 Beaux Freres. Wine Centric lists these tasting notes:


"Dark ruby color with red berries, oak and vanilla on the nose. Wonderful ripping acidity on the back-end. The acidity is so intense at first that it almost creates a carbonated effect in the mouth. Spice, red raspberry, cherry and strawberries. As the wine opens up more oak emerges but early on it is very subtle and underscores the wine. There's a sweetness to the wine that really balances it."

Even though we were one of the last couples to leave Rouxbarb (the atmosphere is such that you'll want to linger and chat), the waiter didn't lose energy while making sure we had everything we needed and even Chef Bruce stepped out of the kitchen to say hello. Rouxbarb serves dinner Tuesday through Sunday and reservations are recommended.

Another Week

Friday, 4 November 2011
Highs and lows again this week. I didn't get the grade I was hoping for on my stats midterm but I can certainly kick in more, more, more study time. It's all about perserverance and endurance. Time to carb load and put my head down, going uphill.

Moving on to good news... One of the professors that I research for asked me to co-author a scholarly paper! Excellent news and certainly an honor. The project is going to take up quite a bit of time but at least the month of December will be mostly free.

I did submit an abstract (research proposal of sorts) to the Young Scholars Conference, held at the Missouri School of Journalism in February. You've heard the "Publish or Perish" mantra so even first-year doc students are encouraged to be involved and get work out there. I should find out if I'm invited to present or submit a full paper by December 1.

The other element on the burner is a Fellowship at the Walter Cronkite media school. 12 teachers will be invited to learn from business news journos the best methods on coaching students to cover important buisness stories. This is very competitive but hey, if you don't try, there's zero chance of getting in.