Classes are almost complete!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013
This is the last week of classes for the spring semester at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. That means, my needed courses for earning a PhD are almost complete! I truly cannot believe it. Time flies and while I have a long way to go to earning my PhD (comprehensive exams at the end of the summer and then writing a dissertation), I need to pause and celebrate little accomplishments.

I think back to the first day of one of my classes two years ago. I went outside, sat on a bench and called my mom. I told her I was dropping out because I wasn't smart enough and that I'd hoped I could get my TV reporting job back. Ha!

If I could give advice to my "new student" self two years ago, it would be:

1. Relax.

2. Take your time putting together a comp and dissertation committee. Do not rush into it just because the College says you have a certain deadline.

3. Go to more happy hours and cohort-centered events. These people are going to help you get through the highs and lows.

4. Do not take a 600 level statistic class offered for the first time ever. Wait to see what other students, who know more about the department do and follow there lead.

5. Remind yourself that you only live once.

6. Stop trying to please others before yourself.

7. Trust your intuition when it comes to personal and professional relationships!

8. Enjoy teaching and remember you can influence students. Show them that you care.

A Few Flicks

Sunday, 21 April 2013

One result of the PhD pursuit is that I spend a lot more time at home. No problem because I am a home-body anyway. I love the house that I own; my garden, my bedroom, my deck and my cozy living room are safe, happy spaces.

The other reason I spend so many evenings at home has to do with a true lack of time and money to be anywhere other than at home (studying). There’s always reading to do, grading to complete and a research paper to write. I digress…

An amazing entertainment is on the market that has made a big difference to this grad student at least… is Redbox. Movie rentals are just $1.20 per evening. Woohoo.

I watched this year’s Oscar Awards with my friends Hillary and Jessalynn. While we watched, we took note of the movies we wanted to see and this spring I’ve watched a few of them when they come out on Redbox.

I’m fairly critical of movies because they are just so expensive these days (they are produced on huge budgets so what do we expect?) and take a lot of time to watch. Therefore, I feel it is okay to give an honest opinion of flicks. It’s the entertainment industry.

Disclaimer: My opinion is not the right opinion. This is just an overview of the pros/cons of certain movies as I see them:

Les Miserables – Amazing, passionate acting. It’s hard enough to sing without acting and emotion. This cast nails it! The “musical style” movie is hard to get used to at first but it was beautifully shot and the costumes/scenery design was impeccable. The lighting by the way is… PERFECT. (I’m such a good lighting fan.) However, Russell Crowe cannot sing at all. The movie could have been really great...

 DJango – Jamie Foxx is a great actor in the movie. Samuel Jackson was just creepy. I’m a Tarantino fan because he is not just a successful writer, he also skillfully directs his vision onto the big screen. Yes, this was violent but viewers know that before they start the movie. The ending is somehow happy.

SkyFall – Too long, boring and a sad, strange ending. Not worth the time. Poor Bond looks terrible (some have told me that is the point but come on... that's part of watching this, right?).

Zero Dark 30 – This was my favorite movie of Oscar choices. I have a penchant for “real” stories and this flick, while not that easy to watch because of the content, has great pacing and smart acting. This is an interesting story that of course, is better than fiction. 

The Sessions – Another movie that is based on a true story. Helen Hunt appears naked in a scene or two in this movie and she does so with such confidence! I liked the acting and story pacing. The movie was entertaining and a nice look back at the 70s. If a sexual story lines bug you, skip this one. (It's about a sexual surrogate for poet Mark O'Brian who had an iron lung.) If not, enjoy...

 Life of Pi – I loved reading this book years ago. The acting was great and the animations of the tiger on the boat were top notch. The movie went on and on. It could have been shorter.

First responders, hospital staff and journalists: Hats off

Friday, 19 April 2013
James and I were in Kyoto when the Newtown School shooting happened. He was so kind in the way he told me the details. Kyoto is eight hours ahead of the Eastern time zone in the U.S. As we were waking up, we turned on the 24 hour news networks to watch the horrific details. I felt no emotion while seeing the photos and I'm sure James wondered about my reaction.

When I was just 21 years old, I began reporting on the September 11th attacks at WATE in Knoxville (the attacks happened on my first day of employment at WATE). Not too long after that, my brother became an Army Reserve member. He was deployed to Iraq in the early days of the conflict.

At the time I was the morning anchor for WATE (filling in after another anchor quit). I would come into work in the quiet hours of dark mornings around 4:00 a.m. and open the Associated Press report of recent American casualties. My heart would pound out of my chest every morning from the time my alarm went off at 3:00 a.m. until I could read over the list and register that my last name, my brother's last name was not on the list.

While that was a relief... in a war situation you never know if the government has the names correct anyway. My brother's name not making the list didn't necessarily mean that he was safe or alive. The weak part of my bones still ache just thinking about those uncertain, anxiety-riddled days. (Dannen returned safely after amazing service where he won prestigious awards.)

Once, during those days of uncertainty when I covered the surprise visit of a soldier to his son's elementary school, I had to excuse myself to the bathroom and stand in a stall until I could breathe normally. I didn't cry but I realized that I had been holding my breath. If I continued not breathing I couldn't do my job effectively and that just wouldn't work. The intense feeling of shock passed in about 5 minutes and I successfully filed a story that day.

I've been out of TV news reporting for two years and today, I feel real sorrow and anger for people living in Boston. The first responders and journalists on scene now are doing the best they can to make sense of what has happened.

Listening to a live report on the radio where the officials were taking questions, I could tell that the reporters are tired, on edge and frustrated. They're human too and I hope those who love them remember to help them cope too. Police officers, hospital workers and journalists don't outwardly show it but they are also impacted by the traumatic scenes around them. Their reality is dramatic, dangerous and deadline means there is no escape.

Hats off to those in our communities that attempt to pursue justice and protect residents. Hats off also to those who provide information about those important efforts. 

End of Semester Parking Games

Wednesday, 17 April 2013
As a PhD student, I've learned the ropes around the University of Tennessee Knoxville program in more ways than one. I always forget about the end of semester parking games, however.

More students go to their classes at the end of the semester than at the beginning or middle. This means that in the last three weeks of class there is an influx of undergraduates crusing around the commuter lots (where PhD students park) looking for a space. I blame UTK for some of this mess because they oversell the permits. That means not all drivers with commuter permits have a space to park on campus during busy hours.

Just this week I had a meeting at 10:00 a.m. but was already on campus for an 8:30 class. I decided to move my car after class to the back commuter lot which is closer to my office. Bad idea. I followed some poor kid to his car (yes, I car stalk for parking spaces) and when he got there, he jumped in and pulled out. Before I could pull in (I was clearly waiting for the spot), a female student in a green Jeep Cherokee with hipster stickers on the back zoomed into the spot.

Remembering my position as graduate teaching associate, research assistant and PhD student at this fine university, I took a deep breath, shook my head and calmly pulled away. I drove around the lot two more times while 10 other cars drove the same loops anxiously. There were just no spots.

Sooo, almost late to the meeting, I drove to the front of the building and stopped to get a 45 minute permit to park in Circle Park for free. I put the permit in my window, parked and went to my meeting (which was very productive by the way). When I came out smiling in the spring air, I noticed a parking ticket on my windshield. I was legally parked and still within my time limit. What was the problem? Grabbing the citation, I read the comments, "Permit not visible. Picture taken." The penalty for this offense is $24.

I wouldn't be so uptight about it if the permit actually was not visible or if there were enough parking spaces available for commuters during busy times. Now I get to go through the tedious and frustrating process of appealing the citation. Just two more weeks of classes to go this semester. I'll be arriving extra early everyday or perhaps I could employ a "creative parking" strategy like this person in Italy...


Heading to Vegas

Sunday, 7 April 2013
Part of being a PhD student at a research-focused school is going to research conferences.

One of my papers with Dr. Michael Martinez (UTK) was accepted to the Broadcast Education Association's conference so I'm headed to Vegas today to present it. I'm also on a panel that was accepted regarding using Twitter as a classroom tool. Panels consist of 4-5 "scholars" and we each talk about different aspects of the topic. This is my first time sitting on a panel and I'm pretty excited about it!

It is also supposed to be low 80s there. Even though we'll be indoors in conference sessions, I'm going to try to spend a little time in the sun. 

Snorkeling in Silk Cayes, Belize

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

One of my favorite experiences during Spring Break was a day tour to the Silk Cayes for lunch and snorkeling. The area is 36km off the coast of Palencia Village (an amazing place). James arranged for us to head out with the Turtle Inn dive shop crew to this gorgeous island (see above). 

Many divers say the coral reefs here are second only to those found in Australia! Before we even suited up and got into the water with our guide, we saw three Lemon Sharks in the shallow water surrounding the island (don't worry, they aren't dangerous).

The island was so beautiful. Interesting creatures inhabit the small plot of land including tons of tiny hermit crabs. 

The island has a few palm trees and we sat in the shade while admiring the turquoise waters. 

We snorkeled three different times and the last location had the best surprise of all! This is a picture of James with Loggerhead sea turtles:

On our last dive, James and I watched Loggerhead turtles and Southern Sting rays. He snapped some amazing underwater photos that I hope to share here later. I caught this picture from the boat of a Loggerhead before I got back in the water... 

The reason the Loggerhead sea turtles are so special to me (and my parents) is because we see them hatch on Bald Head Island in North Carolina at the end of the summer. We also helped one get back to sea one morning in 2002 (I think) with a conservation crew after the huge turtle became dehydrated and disoriented. 

The Loggerheads swim South after laying eggs on the beaches in the Outer Banks to take a long route to warmer waters. The cycle continues until they feed and mate and return to NC to lay eggs again. I told this female (pictured above) that I might see her soon when I visit the Outer Banks. :) 

This was certainly a memorable and special Spring Break. I'm a lucky gal.

Monkey River Tour

Monday, 1 April 2013
Our guide, Delwin, was born and raised in Monkey River, Belize. The community is very small, located at the mouth of Monkey River.

He started our private boat tour by pointing out a young Blue Heron and a Great Egret. We took this as a good sign for spotting wildlife throughout the day.

Along the way we saw an incredible variety of birds, Mangroves, King Palms, Saber trees and even crocodiles! The best part, however, came during our hike through the jungle. Delwin pulled the boat onto a steep beach in front of a small clearing in the trees. After applying more bug spray, we began walking on a narrow path that led into the trees. (Check out the huge variety of Bamboo in the picture below.)

Our guide carried a machete with him and I was a little too creeped out to ask him why. In the distance, we could hear strange roars and as we walked the sound became louder. We were on the hunt for Howler Monkeys!

Delwin started walking faster and stopped along the way to show us a Blue Crab shell. (It is a land crab that digs almost 7 inch across holes in the ground.) When a Blue Crab dies, its shell turns white.

As got closer to the howling, our adrenaline spiked. The roaring in the distance was coming from the monkeys.  They were apparently trying to get rid of an errant male Howler that was too close to their territory. Soon, we were right under the monkeys and the noise was deafening. They were growling and roaring and shrieking! Delwin told us that the movie producers for Jurasic Park actually used calls from Howler Monkeys as the dinosaur noises in the movie. I believe him. They were very difficult to capture in a photo. The picture below shows a circular form in the center and slightly to the left. That's a Howler Monkey.

On the way back to meet with the boat captain that would take us back to our lodge, we saw a female Comerant sunning on a branch as well as a Bare-Throated Heron. The weather was hot but lovely.