Short Break at River John's

Monday, 26 August 2013
A guy named John bought a gorgeous piece of property on the water in Maryville, Tennessee 37 years ago. He noticed that the deed included a four acre island and purchased it all for $27,900. Over the years, John turned the island into a peaceful oasis for people who like to camp and kayak. The island is for rent on the weekends and through the week but people book it years in advance. You can read about it on his website:

My friends Diane and Alan book two weekends a year and I was fortunate enough to be invited back this year. We had such a nice time. The property is only 40 minutes from my home in Knoxville and it is surprising that you can find complete peace and tranquility so close to town.

My friends Jackie and Katie (from my PhD program) went with me and we camped for two nights. 

I studied for comps until 4:00 p.m. on Friday and took Saturday off (except for continuously thinking about my answer to the next question). On Saturday a group of nine of us went kayaking on the Little River.

The water was relatively low so we enjoyed some great rapids. I almost dumped once but regained my balance. The weather could not have been better. This was such a fun day! 

Sunday I was up and had my tent packed by 9:30 a.m. and went home to study. Comp #3 is tomorrow. 

Comps - One Down, Three to Go

Wednesday, 21 August 2013
Yesterday I was up early, did a few yoga moves, went over my notes and headed to school. I was seated in a large room alone in front of a computer that only allows word processing by 9am. For the next four hours I wrote about the First Amendment: its importance theoretically and historically and what it means to journalism, how it applies to what journalists seek to do and its relevance to social media. I poured my brain and heart into that answer and I ended up with eight solid pages addressing the question. I even remembered all 20 citations.

I'm so glad that I'm finished with at least one comprehensive exam question. This morning I'm studying for number two. I take it Thursday morning so there's not much time to blog. I'm glad that I studied for comps throughout the summer. I'm happy with answer number one but I have no idea if it will be good enough for my committee. What did I leave out? Should I have dug deeper when considering the philosophical foundation of the First Amendment? We shall see. Now back to studying...

Julia Child's Eggplant Pizza

Friday, 16 August 2013
Since I'm eating only vegetarian dishes for the next two and a half months (some fish occasionally), I've been tried some new recipes. Julia Child's Eggplant Pizzas are delicious. You can read the full recipe here. They are also easy to make! 

I purchased a medium-sized eggplant and cut it into 3/4" discs. 
I then pre-heated the oven to 375F and while it was heating, I salted the eggplant slices and let them rest. You'll see tiny beads of water come to the surface of the discs which you'll pat off with paper towels.
I then sautéed petite diced tomatoes with garlic and red onion in extra virgin olive oil and kept it hot, adding 2T tomato paste and stirring. 
After letting the eggplant rest, I brushed it with olive oil, salted it and added my own dried oregano, rosemary, salt and pepper.
Put it in the oven for 25 minutes.
After 25 minutes, take the eggplant out and switch the oven setting to broil. 
Top each disc with the tomato "sauce," fresh, sliced basil and low fat italian cheese mix. 
Put the eggplant back in to melt the cheese. 

Delicious! I'm such a huge Julia Child fan because she was ahead of her time, independent and such a hard worker. It was a thrill to recreate the dish. 

A Check on "Improvement" Efforts

Thursday, 15 August 2013
A few weeks ago I blogged about starting an "Improve" program that I designed for myself. I've given up meat and alcohol for three months. Full disclosure: I will eat some fish. I will have one random glass of red wine for special occasions or if I'm about to lose my mind to stress. Overall, however, I've kept up the new program and I've been doing yoga almost every day. I can even do the modified tree pose which looks something like this:

From (This is not me obviously.)

So how am I feeling? At first, I felt nothing new at all. I was still really tired in the morning and my joints creaked a bit. I'm only 34 years old but let's face it... 30s is no longer 20s etc. I still felt stressed out with the pressures of life (don't we all!?) and didn't see much of a change in my weight or body. 

Hold the phone. 

Today is Day 15 of the new regiment and I've noticed a few changes. I have abs again! I might not be able to see them very well but they're there and they are strong. My breathing is also different. Because of yoga (you learn a lot about breathing) I've learned to breathe through difficult situations and expand the rib cage during deep breathing. This helps with anxiety. 

Cutting out alcohol has been fantastic. I cannot believe how much I was drinking every week (this is all relative I realize). Even a few beers a few times a week really ads up in calories. Now I drink water with a full lime and lemon squeezed in, unsweetened ice tea with fresh mint from my herb garden and of course green tea, coffee and occasionally fruit juice watered down. My clothes are starting to feel looser (I hope this isn't just in my head) and I'm able to get out of bed early in the morning to study without feeling fuzzy. 

With all of that said, I don't recommend cutting out alcohol and meat to anyone. It isn't easy but I would try adding yoga to your life. During the sessions I feel so peaceful and strong while holding various poses. Your muscles really burn and surprisingly the heart rate does go up. You can also do it for free in the privacy of your own home by logging onto YouTube and searching "beginner yoga." 

Here's a video I particularly enjoy (remember to just do what's comfortable for you):

PhD Comprehensive Exams

Sunday, 11 August 2013
The culmination of the PhD student experience has to do with comprehensive exams. I will have to answer four philosophical questions over two weeks and for each question (core, method, theory and college question) I will go into a room with a computer that only has word processing and write for four hours. While I don't know what the questions will be, I have ideas from my professors and that has helped with the studying. I am very nervous.

I have studied for "comps" during the entire summer but throughout the last three weeks I've heavily concentrated on resources and formulating arguments. This week's AEJMC academic conference in Washington D.C. came at a terrible time because I was only able to study for about two hours each day. Did I mention tests make me nervous?

Thankfully, I have an amazing team of scholars to work with on this (Dr. Violanti, Dr. Button, Dr. Gross and Dr. Martinez). All are former journalists except for Dr. Violanti but she may as well be one - her editing skills are the best I've ever experienced. She also understands news.

My friend and colleague Iveta put my mind at ease a little bit by reminding me of the oral exams. Those come about two weeks after written comps where students have a chance to defend answers and also provide additional information for an answer.

I just wish I had more time to study. If I had six more months, however, I'd wish for six more... There is just so much to learn and retain and even after a total of 8 years of education, I feel like I've only skimmed the tip of the iceberg of knowledge. I wish I closely understood more theories. I wish I had more time to use different methods.

Sometimes, though, we have to cut ourselves some slack. Now when I read articles about scientific research, I understand them! I remember a time when my eyes would almost cross reading about reliability, validity and objectivity in Science. I at least have some confidence in this area but I have 10 days to start positive self talk and envision success in this venture. I know I can do it and I know I have the tools to ace exams. I just need to believe it. Thanks for any prayers, good vibes, energy, positive thoughts that you can send my way. I owe you. xo

Kayaking the Mangroves

Saturday, 10 August 2013
My uncle Stacey found a cool spot called Robbie's near Islamorada that has shopping, boat rental and a restaurant. It was great because we could enjoy the great weather and plan a get-away on the water. 

We decided to rent kayaks (me, dad, Dannen, Stacey, Vic and Lauren) to take out to a small island and then tour the mangroves nearby.

Dannen was the "mission leader" and I was in charge of communications (I brought my cell phone). Lauren was super fast on the way over but the paddling was wonderful. The water in the keys is pristine and fairly calm. 

It took us about 45 minutes to get to the island and we docked near Water Street. The island still has some footprints of old structures from when people lived on the island. 

The place is now a state park so it is protected from development. Because it is small it didn't take us long to explore the island. The vegetation was gorgeous and I was just dreaming about living there. Ha!

My favorite part of the kayak tour was going through the dense mangroves. I was able to observe similar mangroves while on the Amazon with James and his family but we didn't get a chance to get very close. This was fascinating. The roots of mangroves are so strong! 

We really enjoyed seeing the wildlife and feeling like we were really out in the wild! 

Snorkeling and Key West

On our second day in Islamorada, we chartered a boat from Two Chicks Charters and went to Big Reef to see dozens of species of fish. This was one of the most gorgeous reefs I've ever seen. Although we didn't observe large fish or turtles, the coral was vast and colorful. 

The boat ride in general was fun but I wouldn't recommend Two Chicks Charters. The advertising says there's a bathroom on board but it was being used as storage (?). Also when we arrived they said they only accepted cash which was a bit suspect.  

Captain Brian took us through the canals to look at other boats after stopping at the Sand Bar (shallow, sandy area on the way in to the dock) where we all swam and looked for sea shells. We saw a nurse shark while we were in the water! We also noticed this pink Cadillac on the water. Only in the Florida Keys...

One day we all went down to Key West and took a city tour around the old part of town. The tour was on a trolley with a guide and it was so much fun. 

We went to "The End," did some shopping, ate lunch and walked around to take in the lively vibe.

No tourist can go to the Southernmost Point without taking a picture. It's just 90 miles from Cuba. Maybe one of these days we'll be able to hop on a Ferry for the day...

For lunch we went to a bit of a tourist trap (everything in Key West is a tourist trap) but loved the food and live music! My young second cousin Will absolutely loves music and he was mesmerized by the singer at Sloppy Joes.

Dannen and Lauren had fun sampling the beverage selection. They loved the "Sloppyrita" and so did we so we all had one since we weren't driving back to Islamorada.