Thursday, December 31, 2009

N for New Year's

I used to love celebrating New Year’s Eve. It was my holiday; I was the one who always threw the party. The New Year’s after my husband and I started dating, so the one in which we would welcome 2007, I had prepared to throw my annual shindig. The Minnesota weather had other plans though, and the large amounts of snow that dumped down upon us prevented my prospective guests from traveling to my humble abode. Music Man and I celebrated alone, trying to make a dent in the vast amounts of food I had prepared and watching horribly bad movies on cable. We just barely made it to midnight, staying up just long enough to watch the ball drop on TV and to do the midnight kiss to welcome the new year right. A little over a week later, I finally threw away the remaining party food, because neither Music Man nor I could possibly eat another barbecued weenie. This year would foreshadow the years to come; I didn't know it yet, but my party days had come to an end.

The following year found Music Man and I engaged and freshly grieving the loss of my sister. I was facing a return to work, and thus a return to “normal” life that was anything but, so we were really in no mood to celebrate. The theme of the past few weeks had been family togetherness, and we missed a couple of our good friends, so we decided to have a low-key get together at our home. Our best couple friends, a gay couple whom we affectionately call “the boys,” and my middle (now only) sister and her boyfriend joined us. We munched on snacks I’d prepared, had a few drinks, and tried to control our tears as we reminisced about my sister and how much she loved celebrating anything. Our guests left shortly after the ball dropped, and 2008 began without much fanfare (for us, anyway).

As 2009 approached, we faced a looming move, because our landlord decided that he no longer wanted to rent to pet owners. Now husband and wife, Music Man and I had takeout for dinner, and once again, barely made it to midnight. We trudged up to bed looking forward more to sleep than to the year ahead.

We thought about having a party this year, but none of our potential guests seemed very interested, which ended up working out for the best because Music Man and I are both quite sick with bad colds. Our night will probably go something along the lines of this: we’ll have some kind of takeout for dinner, we’ll play with the dogs a little bit to tire them out, and all four of us will cuddle up on the couch to watch a movie on our Netflix instant queue. We will most likely be in bed before midnight, because we are both totally wiped out from this nasty cold. Hopefully we’ll wake up to 2010 feeling healthier and well rested.

There’s always next year for partying. Maybe next year will be the year we resurrect the New Year’s party, and I reclaim my holiday. We shall see. It’s a long ways away (12 months, 52 weeks, or 365 days), and I cannot speculate on all the things that can and/or will happen between now and then.

I hope that, whatever you decide to do to ring in the year, you have fun and stay safe. Wishing you all the best in 2010!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

C for Christmas and Catching-Up

I’m sorry it’s been so long since you’ve heard from me, dear reader. My goal for the new year is to try to blog more regularly. In the event that I am successful with this goal, you’ll likely start seeing the blog deviate from being only about school to being a little bit more about my personal life, which I think will be nice for both of us. For now, I have some catching up to do!

I’ll start with that overwhelming weekend I mentioned in my last blog. I ended up skipping out on Christmas with my dad’s family; I decided I’d much rather get caught up on baking and Christmas shopping. Normally I would feel bad about missing out, but I didn’t this time; I knew my decision would greatly benefit me, and sometimes, you just need to think of yourself first. I figured the extended family would understand, and that if they didn’t, that was their problem. My dad is truly the only one we’d miss, and Music Man and I can get together with him and his wife for dinner sometime after the holiday craziness dies down. I’m really glad we ended up not going, because we got a ton done; almost all of our Christmas shopping was completed, and I got a good jump on my Christmas baking. Since I am not your “typical” woman in that I loathe (not love) shopping, Saturday afternoon was exhausting.

As the evening approached, I started to feel more and more tired. I did not want to go to the bonfire. I wanted to cry myself to sleep and then sleep through the whole evening instead. Because the day had been so busy, I’d managed to keep my thoughts and emotions on the anniversary of my sister’s death at bay. I hadn’t thought too much about how very long the past two years seem to have been, and how each anniversary puts me further and further away from the last time I heard her laugh, saw her smile, or felt her wonderful hug.

As I said in my last blog, there was no way I was going to miss the bonfire, so I bucked up and got myself ready to go. As we drove, I started to get excited about the people we would see; I was especially looking forward to seeing my nephews and niece, and it had been awhile since I’d seen my twin brother. When we got there, we headed inside the house to drop off the cups and utensils we’d brought. My deceased sister’s son (also my youngest nephew) saw me and literally flew into my arms. (Well, it was really more like a running leap, but it seemed like he flew.) He was so excited to see me, and he gave me the most wonderful hug. In that moment, he reminded me so much of his mother—the excitement on his face, the hug that conveyed so much love—that I felt as though they both were hugging me. It was truly incredible. He didn’t want to let me go, so I held him for a while and talked to him about his new puppy; feeling as though I was exactly where I needed to be right at that moment.

The bonfire was fantastic. As usual, so many of my sister’s friends, various family friends, and family members showed up that it was overwhelming. There was also one very special guest; one of the jurors from the criminal trial showed up. My mom’s husband and I have communicated back and forth with this young woman via Facebook since right after the trial. It was so incredible to finally meet her in person!!! She was overwhelmed at the hero’s welcome she received, and she told me later that she just about lost it when she saw my nephew. He made it all very real for her, and seeing him made her realize just how important the decision she and her fellow jurors made really truly was. It was an incredible experience to meet and talk to her, and she was eager to hear the stories we had to tell about my sister. It’s incredible how this horrific experience has brought strangers together and made us friends.

Energy renewed after hours of celebration of my sister’s life and memory, we headed home where I proceeded to finish up a little baking. By the end of the weekend, I had completed the following: 5 dozen flourless peanut butter cookies, 9 dozen oatmeal butterscotch cookies, 7 dozen snicker doodles, 5 dozen Oreo truffles, 5 dozen mint Oreo truffles, and 5 dozen cherry cake balls. I still had to do the candy coating on the mint truffles and the cake balls, but holiday baking was nearly complete!

The Christmas celebration with my husband’s grandmother on Sunday went well, and afterwards we finished up the rest of our Christmas shopping. The Christmas holiday as a whole was great. We spent Christmas Eve with my in-laws where we had beef and shrimp fondue for dinner and had cookies, which I’d brought, for dessert. They gifted us a nice check that we’re hoping to use on a steam cleaner; with two dogs and white carpet, it would be a very useful thing to have. (Mark my words: when we buy a house, it will not have white—or even light—carpet.) Christmas day was spent at my mother’s house where we ate lots of good food, lots of good cookies (my mom always makes tons), and enjoyed watching the nephews and niece open the gifts we’d gotten them. Overall, it was a wonderful holiday. The one exception being the Christmas gift my husband and I received from my family: one heck of a nasty cold. We both feel just lousy and are hoping the cold passes quickly.

Music Man and I had decided not to exchange gifts, because the Pug we recently rescued was our gift to each other; however, he decided to play Santa on Christmas Eve. Christmas morning I woke up to a stocking filled with some nice things: an iTunes gift card, gum, candy, gloves, disinfectant hand wipes to carry in my purse (he knows me so well), and a laptop sleeve (which was actually propped up against the stocking, not inside of it). I felt horrible that he’d thought to do such a nice thing for me and that I had done nothing for him. Then I realized that he’d filled his own stocking with a few things he’d wanted/needed like a new CD, and I didn’t feel as bad, because he’d at least gotten himself some things too. Next year I will remember to pick up some things to fill his stocking with. He is always the more thoughtful one when it comes to gift giving where I usually struggle with what to get him; clearly he really pays attention when I say I need/want something, and I need to get better about doing that.

In school news, final grades are in. I am proud to say I continue to hang on to my 4.0 GPA!! My final grade in English was an A, and I got some very nice comments from my instructor. She told me that I am a very talented writer, that she knows I’m going to go far in my career, and that she hopes I continue to write. That’s a great compliment coming from a woman with a PhD in English! My argument paper was on domestic violence, and she told me I’d managed to strike a good balance between factual information and my own personal/emotional story (my sister’s death). She wrote a comment that she hoped I’d keep writing about my sister, because her story should be told and I have the skills and insight to tell it. I was touched. I also passed the Interpersonal Communications Competency!!! I still eagerly await the evaluation form, stalking the mailbox every day in the hopes that the letter grade equivalent will soon be revealed to me.

With that, we’re all caught up! I hope you had a fantastic holiday, dear reader, and with New Years approaching, I wish you a happy and safe New Year!!

Monday, December 14, 2009

O for Overwhelmed

This upcoming weekend, the first weekend of my break from school, is going to be ridiculously busy, and I’m not at all happy about it. I get overwhelmed when too much is going on at once, which is why I just hate this time of year, because it seems like I just can’t keep up no matter what I do. My parents have been divorced since I was five years old, so I’m used to having to split holidays; but other events, including marrying my husband a year and a few months ago, have exacerbated the holiday busyness. This Saturday is my dad’s family’s Christmas party, which is about a 45 minute drive from my house. The party starts at noon or one. Since it’s one of the few times a year that I get to see my dad and his extended family, and it’s important to my dad that I go, I have to go. So, Music Man and I will leave the house at about noon, get there at around one, stay an hour or two, and head home to let the dogs out and to relax for a bit before the evening event.

Saturday evening is a memorial bonfire for my youngest sister. On December 19, 2007, my nineteen year old sister was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. He strangled her to death with a ligature he made out of a shoelace, which we found out during his criminal trial meant that he had to spend at least two minutes squeezing the life out of her, because that’s how long it takes to kill someone by strangulation. Then, he dumped her body in the back seat of her car as though she were a bag of trash, left their nearly two year old son alone in his apartment, and abandoned the car in another city; oh, and for good measure, he set the car on fire. This is probably the biggest reason that I now hate this time of year.

I miss my sister terribly, and every time December 19 rolls around, it’s as though the event is happening all over again. I vividly remember the early morning phone call from my mother on December 20, 2007, and my inability to grasp what she was telling me because it was just too horrible. I remember numbly getting ready to go to my mom’s house, sobbing in the shower and thinking horrible thoughts that I just couldn’t stop: Did she know who killed her? Did she suffer? Did she beg for her life? Are they sure it’s her body? Maybe by the time I get to mom’s house, she’ll be there. Why? Why? WHY?!? I remember stopping at my brother’s house, because it was on the way to my mom’s house and no one had been able to reach him yet. I remember Music Man asking me on the way if I wanted him to talk to my twin brother, and I remember insisting that I had to be the one to tell him. I remember how I could barely speak as I tried to break the news to my brother; the words coming out in nothing more than a hoarse whisper. I remember my brother, Music Man, and I clinging together as we cried; perhaps trying to prevent our bodies from doing what our hearts already were: splitting into a million pieces. Every year, the wound that seems to have barely begun to heal is torn open again, and the only difference is that I don’t have the media in my face this time around (I was the family spokesperson to the media.), and we don’t have to plan a funeral again.

The fact that my sister’s murderer was eventually convicted of first degree murder (and found guilty of domestic violence murder, second degree murder, and tampering with a body) and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, doesn’t help me to feel any better. I don’t know that anything ever will, because no one or nothing can tell me why this happened; even if something or someone could, the answer wouldn’t be good enough. I look at my young nephew and just want to cry. He’s almost four now, which means he has been without his mommy for two years; the only way he’ll know her is through pictures and our stories, many of which he’ll hear at the annual bonfire we have in her honor. Needless to say, I cannot—I will not—miss this event. After a couple of hours outside in the snow and cold (this is Minnesota after all) reminiscing about my sister with family and her friends and talking about how much I miss her, I will go home physically and emotionally exhausted. However, the dogs will still need to be cared for and played with, especially after being kenneled almost all day, and I’ll need to try to get some holiday baking done, because I don’t know when else I’ll have the time to do it.

Sunday we are joining my husband’s family at his 93 year old grandma’s nursing home to celebrate Christmas with her. Since this is grandma’s first Christmas in the nursing home, and it will probably be her last Christmas, according to my mother-in-law anyway, we have to go. After a couple hours, we’ll leave to finish our Christmas shopping. Hopefully the shopping crowds won’t be too horrible on a Sunday evening, and we’ll be able to get it done quickly. Once we finally get home, I’ll probably try to finish up more baking, depending on the time of course. When I finally get to bed, I’ll be completely and utterly exhausted and not at all ready to start another week at work, even if it is a short one. I will probably bake every night next week in order to have cookies to bring to my in-laws for Christmas Eve and to my mom's for Christmas day.

As I now read back over what I’ve written, I feel like a total bitch. Christmas was one of my sister’s favorite holidays, and she always loved gatherings. She’d give anything to be here, involved in all the celebrating and busyness. And yet, all I can do is bitch about it. I will try to remember this as the weekend approaches and the crazy schedule begins, and I will try to appreciate that I am alive to experience the absolute exhaustion that will inevitably result from it all.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I for I did it!!

I am proud and relieved to tell you, dear reader, that I finished the Interpersonal Communications Competency! I missed out on Thanksgiving with both my family and my in-laws (which, just between you and me, wasn’t really much of a sacrifice; sure I missed some of the good food and desserts, but I didn’t miss the noise or drama or fake niceties.), and stayed up ‘til 3 a.m. this past Friday, but I finished the damn paper. I think I did a pretty good job on it too. I had been worried that this assignment was going to ruin “When Harry Met Sally” for me, but it didn’t. I’m always happy to have an opportunity to watch one of my all time favorite movies, and because I know the movie so well (and love it so much), watching it made the assignment seem like less work. Saturday was the actual competency, so I had to go to a group discussion and turn in the paper.

I had gotten an email a little over a week ago reminding me that I was scheduled to complete the competency at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 5. I just about had a heart attack Saturday morning when I double checked the competency schedule that was mailed to me at the beginning of the semester and saw that Interpersonal Communications was scheduled from 9-10 a.m. It was 9:30 a.m. when I looked at the schedule, so if it was correct, I had missed the competency. I nearly cried. Had I dreamt about that email? Was the email wrong? Panic Attack: OhmygodwhatamIgonnadonow?!?!?!??! I double checked me email, which did indeed say 1:30, and decided I’d show up at that time and hope for the best. Thankfully, the evaluator and a small group of students were there when I arrived at about 1:15. Apparently over thirty people had signed up for the competency, and the evaluator didn’t think a good group discussion could happen in only an hour with over thirty people, so they broke the students into three separate groups; I was lucky enough to get the afternoon timeslot.

The competency evaluator was great, and I thought the discussion was actually kind of fun. It was interesting to hear how other people approached the movie and what concepts of interpersonal communications they found. The one hour discussion flew by! The evaluator had told us at the beginning that we’d know after the discussion whether or not we passed the first part of the competency, and we found out that everyone passed. I’m glad to know that I’m good for 40% of the competency, but I was never worried about the discussion; I knew I’d pass that part.

I’m worried about the paper, which is 60% of the grade; it will take 4-6 weeks for me to find out how I did on that, which kinda sucks. The grade won’t affect my GPA at all, because competencies are graded on a Pass/Fail basis. However, a letter grade equivalent is given on the final evaluation form, and that’s the grade that Big College that I plan on transferring to for my bachelor’s degree will look at. I need a C or better, and just in case you haven’t quite figured me out yet, I’m shooting for an A. Grades are due by December 22, so I’ll know by then whether or not I passed. Then, I’ll just be left to agonize over how well I did on the paper until I get it back.

I’m soooooooooooooooo glad this competency is finished!!! It was my first one, so it was quite nerve wracking, because there's really not a lot of guidance as to what’s expected of you. I feel as though a huge weight has been lifted, and I’m thankful that I only have three competencies left in my degree plan. I should take the public speaking one next semester, but I’m not going to finalize that decision until I get the results of this competency.

In other news: English class is almost over. Next week is the last class, and then I’ll have a three week break, which I’m wicked excited about. It’s not that I have any grand plans or anything; it’s just that it will be nice not to have to worry about homework for a while. If I want to be completely and totally lazy on a weekend, I’ll be able to. I can't wait!!!!

In class this past Tuesday, we did peer-review of the drafts of our last papers. Once again, I was assigned to a group that gave me little to no feedback while I gave them pages worth. I’m a little pissed that, just because I write a good paper, I don’t seem to deserve feedback. The instructor openly admitted to me that the reason I was paired with the individuals that I was paired with is that I have lots of great knowledge to share and help to provide. Well whoop-dee-frickin’-do!!!

Though I do have to say that the way the instructor’s admission came about was entertaining. We had been discussing logical fallacies in class, because this last paper is an argument paper. Logical fallacies should be avoided if you want your argument to be taken seriously, and include things like: Hasty Generalizations (i.e. all men can’t cook), Ad hominem (attack on a person rather than their opinion; i.e. Green Peace isn’t effective because they are all dirty, lazy hippies), False Authority (i.e. I’m not a doctor; I just play one on TV. This headache drug is the best!), Exaggerated Appeal to Emotions (i.e. This poor starving child will die if you don’t support this tax increase.), and others. [Side Note: You are most welcome for this incredibly useful and valuable lesson on logical fallacies. Go forth and use it wisely! Or, you know, don't, because you have no use for it; just like the other, oh, about 90% of the population.]

I was sitting at a table with two of my friends, Cam and Mel, and we wanted to be a peer-review group. I was interested in reading Cam’s paper about stem cell research and Mel’s paper about early childhood education. Mel had also been in my first peer-review group and had given me good feedback on my first paper, so I was looking forward to getting feedback from her again. After a class exercise on identifying logical fallacies, the instructor announced groups; she could see that we were visibly upset that the three of us were not paired together. She said something like, “Oh, I’m sorry! Were you really looking forward to working together?” I said, “I was just really interested in their papers and was excited to read them.”

She started trying to explain her reasoning for groups, and I jokingly said, “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I’ll just cry about it later.” The class busted out with, “LOGICAL FALLACY! Exaggerated Appeal to Emotions!” and everyone started laughing. The instructor hung her head and said, “I know!!! See how well it works?!?! I’m sorry, Frazzled, it’s just that you have so much knowledge and wisdom to share with others who need a little help.” I told her that I understood as I begrudgingly got up to join my assigned group. (Perhaps you didn’t find this little story as entertaining as I did; I guess you just had to be there. I’m sorry if I just wasted a couple minutes of your life.)

In a way, it made me feel good that she was announcing to the whole class that I was that good. On the other hand, I was upset because I had a feeling that I wasn’t going to get any decent feedback, because I hadn’t gotten any decent feedback in the last peer-review, which was also assigned groups. I will honestly admit that the draft I brought to class yesterday was a piece of crap—really, total garbage—partially because I was busy finishing up the competency rather than working on the first draft of my argument paper, and partially because I hate writing arguments. I was really looking forward to some kind of feedback on this paper, because I didn’t feel as though my argument was strong, and I felt like my paper went in too many directions. I thought it turned out like more of an educational piece than an argument paper.

This is the feedback I got: The girl reviewer wrote that my argument was “domestic violence.” HOW exactly is that an argument?!?! Domestic violence was the subject, yes, but my argument was: society needs to quit blaming victims of domestic violence by asking rhetorical questions such as, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” because leaving a domestic violence situation isn’t that simplistic; instead of perpetuating the stigma and shame of domestic violence by blaming victims, we need to educate the public on resources available to help victims of violence. She thought that my argument was good and that my conclusion was strong, but she said that I needed to focus more on addressing the con (or counter argument) of the issue. I didn't disagree with that last bit of feedback, but when I asked what she thought the con was, she didn’t know. Well, that’s really helpful, isn't it?!? The guy reviewer handed my paper back to me after he’d gotten halfway through and said, “I think I need to start reading more to develop my vocabulary. I don’t understand a lot of what you’re saying.” I was speechless. I mean, really, just how am I supposed to respond to that?!?

I’m so thankful that this is my last paper and that next week is my last class. I’ll have another one or two English classes in semesters to come, but I’m going to space them out, because they are brutal. In fact, I think I might try to find a class to replace creative writing, which is currently in my degree plan. The only thing is, I don’t think there’s another class that will meet the state transfer curriculum goals that I can replace it with. It’s hard to explain, but suffice it to say I may be stuck taking creative writing, which means I have that writing intensive class and another writing intensive English class left in my degree plan. Wonderful!!!

Hopefully, by the time I have to take the next English class, I’ll have forgotten the pain of this one. I’ve never had children, but I’ve heard the phenomenon of childbirth; wherein a woman soon forgets the pain she went through to deliver a baby, and thus is able to repeat the process (if she so desires) more than once. It must be true, because I doubt that so many women would have more than one child if they were still perfectly capable of remembering the pain of labor from the first one. If you truly remember that kind of pain and still want to repeat it, there has to be something wrong with you, and you definitely shouldn’t be having more babies. Instead, you should probably be locked up in a mental ward or science lab somewhere, because it’s just not normal to openly welcome and accept excruciating pain.

I will return soon, dear reader, to regale you with stories from my last English class. Until then, is there anything you want to know about the adult student experience? Is there anything in particular that you want to know about me? Don’t be shy! Leave any questions in the comments, and I will address them in an upcoming blog.
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