Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mildly productive

Dinosaurs love homemade beer

My dreaded meeting with Dr. Asiago actually went great--he handed me my prospectus draft and said things looked great, except for the footnotes.  Which, being as my citations and notes are all crazzy, were not complete or very pretty.  So those will get cleaned up, a bibliography attached, and the thing will finally be done.  So the rest of the meeting was spent listening to Dr. Asiago rant about the many problems of the department.  Dr. Asiago, per his usual, complained at about the current first year grad students, the incoming students, the undergrads, other faculty, meetings, book reviews, cable TV about ghost hunting, and other faculty.
Which is not to say that there aren't many problems with the department; I just hope the departmental politics he's mad about won't shut me out of funding or something, since he's butting heads with people who control that kind of thing.  All the more reason to get done with the PhD as soon as possible.

I'm wondering also if I'm going to be Dr. Asiago's only advisee for a very long time.  I'm his first grad student, and it doesn't sound like he's going to take another student for the foreseeable future.  Partly, at least from his end, because of said departmental politics.  I don't know what that means for my networking or having a reputation when I go on the job market.  My other committee members have between a few and lots of students, so I'm not totally high and dry, but it just seems like an odd situation.

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My office cleaning reward
The rest of the day was spent gleefully not writing a thing.  J and I went shopping at the used book store, a junk/antique shop, and a fabrics thrift store.  I found some beautiful vintage lace; not sure where the beaded one is going to end up, but there's four yards of it and it's so pretty.  Our beer is bottled and carbonating; we opened a bottle today just to check, and it's getting along pretty well.  There's not much carbonation yet or much head, but the flavor is maturing from what it was in the carboy.  The carbonation should build over the next month, but the lack of head is from a lack of protein and won't change.

I've been fussing over my digital and real life organizational systems since that archives notes workshop, and not getting very far.  I did, however, clean my office back to a useable state, which makes tackling my hard paper files easier to think about. I bought my first two drawer filing cabinet this summer, and I hate to even write this, but I think I need to buy another one.  Maybe a bigger one.  Everything goes in there, and even though it's all filed neatly, it's just about bursting because I've stuffed too much paper in it.

No progress on the digital refiling project.  I've fooled around with Zotero and can't get it to import citations from my library website, which makes it useless for me.  I might go back to RefWorks, or just despair at the thought of putting together a comprehensive bibliography.  One of the ideas presented at the notes workshop was to just keep one central word or spreadsheet file with citations and brief descriptions, and a note about where to find the file the document photo or PDF is in.

I'm playing with the idea of making an html document with local links to my research photos, so that I can search my citations and link to photos directly.  This appeals to me because it would be searchable and could show the photo or PDF with a single click, instead of hunting through files, but changing anything or even throwing it on an external drive would break all the links.  It also has the downside of all the citations would have to be entered by hand.  I have to think about it a little more.  Cleaning the physical office is a lot easier than trying to get my digital house in order.

Monday, February 14, 2011

This is how we do

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Very well read houseplants
V Day at chez Construction was very chill--work for J, class, microfilm and a workshop on archives note taking for me.  J's presents--two houseplants I've been waaaaanting for a long time--are up on the book shelf that gets the most light.  

Then lots and lots of delivery Thai food (fried tofu and fried bananas in the same meal?  Yes please!) and a good day was had by all.  There may be some Super Mario in the near future as well. 

The archival notes workshop was a lot of repetition of things I've found out myself the hard way, but two professors showed how they file things on their computers to keep track of them, and that's got me thinking about the mess that is my own system.  Which was a system before I started doing a lot of archival work, but is now a smoking pile of ruin and too many photos.  Dr. Asiago wants a detailed primary bibliography of everything I've worked on so far and everything I know about but haven't seen, and it's been a huge pain to put together because I haven't kept a running central list of everything I've looked at.  So I suppose there will soon be posts about shuffling research files around on my computer or something equally boring.

I've also got a meeting with him tomorrow that I'm sort of dreading about the prospectust that won't die--rather than reading the newest draft and OKing it, he "wants to talk about it."  Which means that there's probably another draft in the near future as well.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

When is research worth it?

Scholarly cat thinks your research is good enough
to sit on, but that's all.
I'm slowly working my way through the State Capitol research photos to which we sacrificed a car.  They're very boring, individually.  My research looks at the material culture (clothing, houses, food, etc) of a Native American group from the 17th century through the mid 19th century, and what changes in material culture say about how the group views itself through time, since the documentary record is mostly written by white people about what white people thought about Indians.  The 19th century for this group is especially under-studied, and State Capitol Archives have a collection of documents that have literally only been accessed once since they were created in 1857.  Besides archivists, I am only the second person to look at these since they were written and put in boxes.  And there's a ton of them, over 600 individual records, all from the reservations I'm studying.

But they are sooooo boring individually.  They're forms, reporting individual losses of personal clothing and equipment during war service, which makes them perfect for my project and not very useful for anyone else.  They're also interesting in that they report the veteran's date of death and age at death, which is hard to come by in the early 19th century for any Native group, and they have signatures of the veteran or heir when literate, so these records are an interesting index of literacy.  (I also study the intersection of material culture and education).  But they're forms, so except with small variations of place, the individual differences are sometimes just the name and maybe a 50 cent difference in the price of a piece of clothing.

I love me some digital quantitative analysis, so I've been entering all of these forms into a spreadsheet so that I can go through later and click some buttons and find the averages, means, and all those good meaningful patterns.  This has worked out good before: I work with a lot of merchants' account books, which get passed over because they're mostly lists of prices and quantities, but some interesting patterns come out when you can see what type of person is buying what type of thing.  And that's hard to do without a computer to tell you, so I've gone through several hand written account books, written before double-entry bookkeeping (so they're all crazzy with notes about things everywhere), digitized them, and found really interesting things.  One in particular is so good that it's probably going to be a dissertation chapter all by itself.  But the process of entering the info into spreadsheets is soooo booooorrrinnnng.  I work for about five hours today, with some snack/internet/cat breaks, and only got through 150 of these forms.  And there are about 400 left.

So I'm in this place right now where the act of research sucks.  The archival part is fun: I get to discover things that no one has seen forever, and decide if it's important to my project.  The end of the digitizing is fun, because I finally get to see the patterns shake out.  But right now I'm trudging through something that I think (hope?) will end up being significant enough to form the basis of a chapter, but I have no way of knowing.  With humanities departments being shut down, and the humanities job market what it always has been (bad) it's depressing to think of this work as going nowhere fast.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What to do?

Blog Pictures 081So after maligning my students again yesterday, they were pretty good in section today.  It might have been my expectations were modified; it might have been the reading was complicated enough to work through without being so complicated they couldn't get through it all; it could have been that Dr. Comrade (the prof in charge of the course) emailed the class last night to ask if it was worth continuing to hold sections if only 6-8 people are making use of it.  I mean, I would love to have my Fridays clear, but I got a lot of panicked questions today about whether sections were going to be cancelled because I had something more important to be doing, and please don't cancel section, because it's really helpful.

What?  This was from students who text all during class, and in fact were texting as they asked me not to cancel section.  That's supposed to mean they're bored and not engaged.  I don't know how to gauge interest.

The students who have been to every section said it's made the readings much clearer; the students who come occasionally said it was good to have a resource when a particular reading made less sense than usual.  And then we had really good discussions about the intersection of religion, race, and politics in American history.  (Which is another one of those areas I have to fake my way through--I bet no one enrolling in a 20th century course thought they would learn so much about 17th century theology, but that's what I know).  So I don't know what to do.  If five people out of forty are getting good use out of section, does that make it worth it?  The prep time is the same for me.

It just feels odd to try to lead discussion when there's only two people, and the scattershot attendance means that if something comes up from a previous discussion, anyone who wasn't there doesn't know what's going on.  Regular attendance at least means that even if they haven't done the reading, they got the jist of the important parts of the readings and the ideas to keep in mind for next time.  I try to pick up key themes to carry through the semester and throw discussion back to previous weeks to help students make connections between the readings, but that doesn't work so well if not everyone in the room was there.

In the mean time, though, J and I have been productive.  The blueberries are out of their vodka, tasting ok.  There's not much blueberry taste.  3 cups of blueberry vodka took 1 cup of 2:1 sugar syrup and 2 tsp of lime juice to bring out what blueberry there is.  It's more of a grassy taste, like in a blueberry ale, with a lot of alcohol burn to finish.  I think it'll be more pronounced over ice with some seltzer water or something.  J's shirt project is coming along, although he's monopolizing my sewing machine, and his carpenter brain could not get around the idea of easing a sleeve to match an armscye.  That's a whole nother mess of teaching problems.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Teaching the willing

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The homemade orange liqueur in action
So, after my maligning of my over-worked seniors, I went to give a talk to a class of 6th graders about archaeology.  And it was pure, unadulterated awesome.  The wife of a friend in the history department I'm in teaches social studies and science at the middle school one town over, and they're doing a unit on Egypt.  I don't work on Egypt, but I do a lot of my research with archaeological collections, so it's not that big of a jump.

They were interested, excited, and asked a lot of good questions.  I used to work at a museum doing school group presentations and workshop days, and I love working with middle school groups.  They're at just the right age to know a little about everything without being so old that they can't be excited in front of everyone.  I decided to go to grad school rather than get a teaching certificate in part because I felt like I found that excitement again in college, after hating high school, and in part because I didn't want to teach to the test or have my curriculum dictated by evolution denialists.  And college students are excited.  Sometimes.  It's just a lot harder to get them excited about the rhetorical differences between socialism and marxism than it is to get sixth graders excited about gold rings and mummies and playing detective.

Blog Pictures 077It was also odd to have such a large age difference: I came into grad school straight out of college, so especially when I'm teaching seniors, I'm sometimes less than three years older than the students I'm teaching. Really, age shouldn't have much to do with it, and I try to present myself older than I am, but even the women in my department who are much older than me or the undergraduates are treated as if we were much younger than our male peers by the students.  Academic drag helps, but there's only so far some severe glasses and a blazer can take you.

Once, when I was TAing a US history course and we were getting ready to study the French and Indian War, the professor told the other TA and I: "Really emphasize to the students how young George Washingon was when he started the war."  (At age 20, Washington unintentionally triggered a global war by letting some French soldiers he was negotiating with in the backwoods get killed under his command).  "Really emphasize to them how young and stupid he was, only their ages and in command of all those people!"  I think I was 22 at the time, and in charge of a room of 18-20 year olds.  It didn't help much that the prof I was TAing for obviously didn't think much of twenty-somethings.

I'm sure I wouldn't be romanticizing sixth graders this way if I taught them every day, but it was just so nice to go into a class room where they were excited to talk about something, where they were so excited that we ran out of time, and where I didn't have to position myself defensively.  I felt like I had so much energy when I was talking to them that I could just keep going for hours.  When I get in a bad section, I can't wait for it to get over either and I look at the time as much as my students do.  If I could figure out how to bottle that energy and excitement and take it with me, I'd be set.

What I do have in bottles is the orange liqueur, which we made sidecars with tonight.  1oz orange liqueur, 1oz brandy, and a half oz of lemon juice per person shaken over ice and it's just heaven.  Super simple, and the taste of the clementines really comes through.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Delicious booze

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Remember these guys, my progress oranges?  They came out of their brandy soak and the verdict on homemade Cointreau is that it is delicious.  As J said when we were sampling rather liberally on Saturday night, it has all the taste of clementines without the weird artificial orange juice flavor that orange liqueurs sometimes have.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


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The malt steeping
This is our first beer, and so far it's going great.  It should be ready to bottle up some time this week.  We did a brown ale with 6.5 lbs of amber malt extract and two lbs of a dark roast malt, and with that and hops and yeast, our total cost was 20 dollars for what will become 50-60 bottles of beer.  The carboys, thermometer, airlocks, hydrometer, bottles, caps, and bottle capper all increase the total cost, of course, but we already had everything and got it for cheap in the first place.  (Or, in the case of the bottles, we've been saving recappable bottles from beer we'd have bought anyway, so we're out nothing on those).

Monday, February 7, 2011

Can only teach the willing . . .

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Where the magic happens
I've been thinking about teaching lately, since I'm not doing much of it this semester. The 20th century political history course I complained about having to TA has been, so far, a whole lot of nothing.

The way classes work here is the students attend lecture two days a week with the professor, and one day a week attend a discussion section with me.  I am responsible for attending lecture so I know what the students know, leading the discussion section, and grading most of the exams and papers.  The prof may, if he feels like it, grade half of the final papers.  This is a little less grading than most profs here do--most split the grading evenly--but not abnormal.

Except that the sections for this class are voluntary--attendance neither hurts nor helps the students' grades, so they have no incentive to go except to hang out on Friday afternoons with me and other students with nothing better to do and talk about the development of 20th century American Socialism.  So they don't go.  The first week of classes I had 8 students, the second, 5 students.  I'm guessing this week will have even fewer.  

This, paradoxically, makes more work for me, or at least less return on the work I put in.  I still have to put enough time into the readings--more than 200 pages a week--so that I can lead discussion on material I've never seen before.  That takes the same amount of time no matter how many students show up to class.  And now I've had several students emailing me saying they can't make it to the scheduled section time, and could I please email them the discussion questions.  And I figure that as long as I email them to some students, I might as well email them to everyone, so that at least when the exams roll around I'm not flooded with "I don't understand the readings, can you explain what the important parts are?"  Which is almost a certainty.  

But I don't know if that will just encourage students to not come to class.  And am I obligated to go out of my way to do more work if the work I'm supposed to be doing doesn't show up for class?  I want everyone to do well--I want them to get the material, and if discussion questions will help that, then great.  But showing up to discussion would help that more.  I don't know.  Some days I want to help as much as possible, and some days I just don't care.  I've got almost 2000 photos from the disastrous State Capitol research trip to go through--I guess this week I don't care.

Craftie Quickie: The Fellowship Dress Belt

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The belt was the last thing I did for the fellowship dress, and I was surprised at how quick and easy it was.  My sewing projects tend to be epically complicated.  I wasn't originally going to make a belt for it, but the pattern of the fabric was so overwhelming without something to break it up and define the waist.  In all, it took about a half hour, most of that turning it right side out, to make a really cute belt.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Our regularly schedule programming

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Modeling courtesy of my beat-up ducktape
dress form
The February round of fellowship applications is written and sent out; now the March round begins. When I finish the March round, I'll be done with this year's fellowship application marathon and will allow myself to start another dress. Round 1's dress is done, and turned out very well. Waiting til I'm done with the next round of apps to start the dress is a little arbitrary, since I'm teaching J to sew his own shirts, but at least it will make it so there's only one fabric explosion covering the house.

The dress was relatively quick and easy.  I used Simplicity 2588, but did a couple of modifications: The bodice was faced, and I added a lining, which made the back zipper trickier, and I added the pocket details and the ruffle at the bottom.  The pattern was also extraordinarily tall and had waaaay too much ease: despite my measurements matching the pattern sizing guide exactly, I had to shorten both the skirt and the bodice by an inch and a half, and take in the bodice quite a bit.  I've found out that I looooove working with piping also.  It's a very fun detail, and although I love the fabric, I think it would have been a little much without the accent.  It's turned out well, but the muslin looked like a nightmare.

Speaking of nightmares, I've been having this recurring dream in which Dr. Asiago emails me to ask why I'm not applying for a fellowship whose application is due tomorrow.  I've been writing these applications to the neglect of real dissertation writing, and I know it's for a good cause, but he keeps telling me to apply to these grants that are due in only a few days (in real life as well as in the dream).

I'll be glad when the spring round is done and I have a few months of reprieve to do some dissertating.  One of my other committee members, who we'll call Dr. Smackdown, has written a lot of my letters of rec, and recently wrote me that she expects I'll get so many fellowship grants I won't be able to use them all.  I think this was her way of saying she's done writing letters, because I could only hope to be so lucky.  Even getting half the ones I'm applying for would be great, as last year's grants only had a 30% success rate.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Shibori dying

I actually did this project before we had our little research adventure, but I didn't get a chance to post it.

One of the things that convinced us to move into this apartment was the washer and dryer (a hard thing to find in apartments in Overcast).  They're great--really new, Energy Star, and very quiet.  With all the sewing I do, it's nice to not have to schlep everything to the laundromat to pre-wash.

But they're in our bathroom, and the bathroom is tiny, so the washer and dryer is all anyone sees.  Plus our extra cat litter, broom, and potting soil or whatever we've thrown in there because there's no room for it anywhere else.  I've been looking for a nice curtain or even bedsheet to hang up and add some pattern while screening it off, but haven't been able to find anything nice.  I took a class on dying in college, though, so I decided to shibori dye a bedsheet myself.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

To the archives!

After last night's car drama, J and I bussed to the archive today, and we're back on track for the stress of doing research travel with a spouse.  This involved a brisk walk across a lot of partially plowed imperial plazas and side walks in State Capitol, which was probably the most pleasant part of the day.  

Most of my stress surrounding this trip (pre car drama) was in the planning: I have a lot of flexibility in leaving Overcast City for research travel, because I'm only locked in to teach one day a week.  I'm TAing, so I can miss lecture the rest of the week and it's not too big of a deal.  J, on the other hand, works retail, and has neither regular nor back-to-back days off.  I originally had a four-day research extravaganza planned, because like all good research trips, my last trip to State Archives ended with me stumbling onto an amazing collection of records which no one has worked with before, and which the archivist told me I wouldn't be interested in or find helpful.  They are, in fact, actually what I need for the last chapter of my dissertation, and I found them literally a half hour before leaving the archive last time.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

This post is dedicated to

Just a regular evening, "hiding" in the couch.
J, and Kyle, the tow truck driver who rescued us from freezing to death in rural Cloudy State and gave us a scenic tour of State Capitol while driving us to a repair shop.

This post was going to be about the stress of planning for a research trip with partner in tow (no pun intended), but now it's about the stress of having a minor single car accident during a research trip. I am ok, J is ok, we didn't really nearly freeze to death. What we did do is decide to try to leave Cloudy City for State Capitol before Snowmageddon '11 was supposed to start, and spun out into a guard rail on the interstate without hitting any other cars. We broke a headlight, a turn signal, most of the front passenger corner, and probably the radiator. At any rate, when started back up, the engine runs but belches a lot of anti-freeze smelling steam/smoke, makes horrible noises, and spills antifreeze everywhere.

We have AAA, who called a tow truck for us, but because we decided to drive in Snowmageddon '11, there were a lot of other people who needed tow trucks also, and we had to wait for two hours for ours. But at least that gave us time to call J's sister and have her look up the best-reviewed mechanics in State Capitol on the interwebs, for us to call them, and find one that had space to look at the car tomorrow. Right now the plan is to see if they can make it safe to drive so we can be back in Cloudy City by Friday (both J and I are scheduled to work), rent a car to get to the state archive in the mean time, and if it's not, arrange to drive the rental car back to Cloudy City and come back for the broken car later. It may get sold or scrapped once it's repaired-ish. We're not sure about that, it depends on how much the repairs get quoted as.

So far the cost of repairs, towing, etc, is not going to break our budget. I got a very generous research grant to look at collections at this archive, and we've been very frugal with the hotel and other expenses, so my research grant will probably cover the accident and our hotel and rental car, maybe with a little bit out of pocket. Of course, I can't report that the research grant money was spent on the car repair, but it makes me feel better to think about it as replacement of the money spent on the very foolish car accident.

So that's why there's a picture of our cat sitting with his head in our couch. It's a cat blogging kind of day.  At least today will make a good anecdote on the dedications page when my dissertation gets published