Monday, October 31, 2005

Eyeglasses & Halloween Costumes

I picked up a new pair of eyeglasses this morning, pictured here. This is a very different look for me: a big change from the wire-rims I've had since 2002 (and the only other pair of glasses I've ever worn). Wife isn't going to recognize me this evening, so I'm calling it my Halloween costume for this year! I've seen myself in the mirror and I wonder who the heck that is looking back at me.

Speaking of Halloween, our son is dressing up as a giraffe tonight. It was on sale at the clothing resale shop in town. Wife and I were very pleased that he actually wore the costume, with a head piece and everything, a couple of weeks ago. Big step for someone who hates hats! Let's hope the weather holds up tonight to allow for trick-or-treating.

Random post. I'm procrastinating from writing, which I'm going to get back to doing right...about...now.

Autism Conference 2

Has it really been a week since I've posted? Time flies.

The MAAP Conference on Autism was really quite helpful last weekend. Wife and I learned a good amount of information from the medical, educational, and social points of view. We met many very interesting and warm people. We also had the pleasure of hearing Temple Grandin speak at the conference. She is the author of Thinking in Pictures and several other books on both autism and animal behavior (she has a Ph.D. in the area, which is truly remarkable for anyone, let alone someone with autism). She autographed our copy of Thinking in Pictures. We asked her to dedicate her signature to our son. Someday whenever he starts reading he'll have a really special treasure from this incredible woman.

Naturally we're exhausted and are pretty much on overload from the entire discussion of autism. Nevertheless it was time well-spent. We finally have a good view for what our son's future looks like based on numerous others we met who are living relatively normal, successful lives with autism. It will be slow going for a while, but one promising thing we learned is that the symptoms our son struggles with now will only improve with time. This was VERY encouraging to us; I think this would be harder if Autism was degenerative in nature.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

This might take longer than I thought

I keep hearing this statement is a common trend among those of us writing dissertations. I guess I'm not surprised.

The dilemma now is the timing of my data collection (qualitative interviews). One committee member is suggesting waiting till the fall. If Advisor agrees, then my personal plan falls apart. I was hoping to have the data collection completed next semester so I could seek a full-time job starting in the summer. I know that analyzing the data and writing the results & implications chapters on the side of a full-time post would not necessarily be easy. However, I don't know if I can go a fifth year as a full-time doctoral student. Not that I don't love the lifestyle, but the lack of a paycheck is wearing very thin very fast.

There I go again, worrying about things in the future that haven't happened yet, and may never happen. AUGH! If I can focus this week on finishing up the unfinished business from my Writing Retreat, then I'll have a chance to get to a point where data collection CAN happen in the spring.

Thinking positively, I sign off for the evening. Bye.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Autism Conference

Wife and I will attend a conference on Autism next weekend (her folks will come to SCT to watch Son for these couple of days). Click the link embedded into this post's title for more information, if interested.

Temple Grandin is one of the keynote speakers. She is a 50-something woman with a Ph.D. in animal behavior, and she is autistic. She's one of the few people I've ever heard who can actually explain what it is like to be autistic to those of us who are not. She's written several books, and I'm currently reading her second one called Thinking in Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life with Autism. I've only just started it recently, but it's fascinating thus far. While she has a "different" way of communicating and writing, she's communicating nonetheless. The amount of brainpower coming out of this woman is incredible, so it will be a pleasure to have the chance to hear her speak in person.

I've attended numerous conferences over the past 11 years as part of various jobs in higher education. However, I have yet to attend a conference with my wife, so I'm really looking forward to the experience, on several levels.

Request for Technical Assistance

This isn't really a big deal, but I'm just curious: does anyone out there know why the "Technorati" icon isn't showing up in my sidebar? I have a Technorati profile, and the URL and other coding is embedded into the sidebar section of my blog's template near the coding of the other buttons (it's supposed to be in between my Bloglines and Firefox butons). It's not appeared there in a few months, and I'm wondering if others have experienced trouble with this?

I can't stand it when something technical decides not to work for some unknown reason!

But once again, it's really not a big deal in the scheme of things.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

First Week after the Retreat

While I don't miss the separation from my family and the self-induced pressure to get a lot accomplished in a short amount of time last week, I do miss the simple life I led. This week has been a catch-up week at work, catching up on the number of hours missed by being away, that is. It went well, but I didn't get anything accomplished on papers and such.

However, earlier this week I asked my minor advisor to join my dissertation committee, and he agreed. I'm excited about this because I like his advising and communication styles. He questions things I'll say about my topic with a simple, "I don't know what that means," or "Tell me more about how that works." If I can't respond to him, then he's found a gap and I have more work to do; if I can respond to him appropriately, then I know I'm on the right track. We have good arguments. These are not arguments that either of us are competing to win. On the contrary, it's a good way to communicate for us because it gets the pertinent issues out on the table. He likes the topic and is an expert at putting together a variety of research studies, so it will be good to have him on board as my Outside Person (i.e. he's from a different academic department).

OK, I'm off to get some writing done this morning prior to when the football games start up on TV.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Writing Retreat - Days 5 & 6

The writing retreat has been well-worth the trip. I finished up a couple of projects that I have been struggling with for a long time, and it's a good feeling to leave those behind me. There is one more that's still looming overhead, but at least I've started it. Starting it is half the battle for me, so I should finish things up pretty soon.

I have lost my steam these past couple of days, so I've not been as productive lately. It's definitely time to go home. Yesterday was slow, but I did finish up Project A officially. Then I spent the evening with an old friend and her family.

Mid-afternoon today when I realized I wasn't getting much done, I chalked it up to needing to get the heck out of this house. Also, weather is nice here today (I HATE allergies!). So, I drove over to my favorite local Lake Michigan beach and just stared at the water for a piece. That was nice. I came back to the house and had a good chat with the couple who lives in the house next door. He's a freelance writer who works at home, so we had a good amount to discuss in that regard! They have kids around the same age as Son, so it was nice to have a good social chat with people in a similar place in life.

Tomorrow is my day to drive home, but not till the late afternoon. I'm taking an old friend to the Bear's game. Should be fun, but I'm really looking forward to a safe arrival home.

Am off now to find a bite to eat somewhere and then to attempt to get a little more work done on this paper before packing up my things this evening. But I expect I'll have a little wine with dinner on my last night in town.

Thanks for reading this week. More once I return to Small College Town (unless I'm so inspired later tonight).

Friday, October 14, 2005

Writing Retreat - Day 4

Well...this wasn't as productive a day as the others, but I did get SOMEWHERE. I'm trying to get through a bunch of reading for Lingering Paper #2, and it's going OK, just slowly.

Tonight was my night to just hang out at Relative's house alone, and it was nice. I ordered my own Chicago-style pizza (mmm) and watched some TV for a bit. Then I spoke with a colleague on the phone for a while, which was very good and provided some much needed social contact from someone who "understands."

I think my allergies are diminishing here a little bit, but I'm relieved I was able to find a replacement for the prescription decongestant I've been on for a while at the local Walgreens. I run out of the stuff tomorrow, and the last thing I need now is another sinus infection. TMI, I know. Sorry, but it's my blog! :-)

Tomorrow will be productive. I'm determined to have a good draft of this Lingerer done before I have dinner with an old friend tomorrow evening.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Writing Retreat - Day 3

This was a productive day in that I good solid draft of Project A, and I shipped it to a colleague who will provide some feedback for me. Then, I started outlining/brainstorming about Lingering Paper #2. I hope to knock out this one tomorrow and have it be over & done with. Frankly I've been avoiding this paper for a while because the topic is very general and I don't have a lot of guidance. Still, it really shouldn't be that difficult, and getting something completed for this is better than having it continue to linger! Send good thoughts my way: this is the one I'm dreading the most of this week.

Spent another evening at the home of my sister and brother-in-law, hanging out with the nephews and helping out with their evening routine. We all wish we lived closer together. Who knows what will happen with our location in the next year?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Solitude

I have a "grass is always greener" relationship with solitude.

In general I'm an extraverted, social guy, especially with people I know well. I often gain energy from being around others. There are times, however, when I become overwhelmed with interpersonal communication and I crave sitting in my cave by myself. And yet, too much alone time makes me pine for interpersonal interaction.

I must admit I was nervous about taking this retreat. Think about it: I purposely took time away from my family and friends, traveled to another state, and am practically locking myself in Relative's home in order to get this work done. Part of me thought, "Am I NUTS? Am I going to lose my mind??" However, another part of me knew I should savor this time and use it wisely."

Fortunately, I've learned to be OK with the rarther brown grassy lawn of solitude this week. While I don't particularly enjoy the alone time, I do enjoy the fact that I finally am feeling productive, more so than I have felt in several months. I'm maintaining a more simple life this week. I desperately miss the companionship of my wife and the playfulness of my son, but I don't miss the feeling of being torn apart by having to choose my studies over my family. These past two days, I've worked during the day and have felt no guilt about hanging out with relatives and friends at night. If I can achieve a similar balance after I return home next week, then perhaps I can start to get my life's balance back? Perhaps I can handle the alone time at home better if I reward myself with family/friend time in the evenings.

You'd think that by the 22nd grade I would have all this crap figured out??

Writing Retreat - Day 2

A grey day hung over Chicago today and it just should have rained! There are few things I do not miss about living in Chicago, but one of them is the grey autumn and winter weather where no precipitation falls from the sky all day long! Oh well: at least I wasn't missing anything as I sat here inside Relative's house at the computer.

It was a productive day, but slower than I had originally planned. I finished up Lingering Paper #1, final draft and all, and I sent it to the professor. Yay!

I started working on "the other project," and I hope to have that finished up tomorrow. I may chunk away at that one tonight in front of the TV.

Tomorrow I need to power away through Lingering Paper #2 as quickly as possible, because I really want to spend most of my time on Lingering Paper #3, the pilot study to my dissertation.

At the beginning of this week, I had grand plans to finish the three Lingerers by the end of the day today and then start on the dissertation proposal itself tomorrow. Now I'm more realistic: I realize that even if I ONLY finish the Lingerers this week, then I'll still be farther along had I not come on this retreat at all. When at home from here on out, I'll only need to focus on the dissertation proposal itself. I hope I can stick to my "realistic" schedule and get all this stuff done this week.

My evening entertainment was hanging out at my sister & brother-in-law's home with their two kids. It was much fun. My brother-in-law even helped me fix a couple of minor issues with my VW. Also, I got to hold my four-month-old nephew several times, which always puts me right to sleep. Zzz...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Writing Retreat - Day 1

I'd say today (well technically yesterday) was a successful first day, even though I didn't get through my entire list. I do have a decent schedule set out for myself for the rest of the week, and I did just about finish Lingering Paper #1. I was reminded about Project A (thanks to a colleague who commented to the post below this one), so I need to get on that in the morning before hitting Lingering Paper #2.

After a day of solitude & writing, and I enjoyed dinner at the home of a good friend from high school and her family. I had not yet met her youngest child, now two years old, so it was fun to play board games with their children and have a good meal with old friends. I stayed there till Midnight catching up! Sign of an enjoyable evening.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Writing Retreat Begins!

Greetings from the home of Relative, set in idyllic suburban Chicago. I arrived yesterday afternoon and attended a block party that was happening in Relative's neighborhood (I know another couple in the neighborhood). Then I went out for dinner with my sister, brother-in-law (& their two kids) to celebrate their anniversary. Needless to say, it was a nice arrival here. I'm now settled into the house for the next week.

And now it's time to get crankin'. My plan is to focus and be productive while the sun is up. Then I should be able to relax at night. I will exercise each morning (already did that today) and be at the desk as early as I can, when my brain is "on."

I'll probably post here at the end of each day so I feel like I have some accountability on a regular basis. I also have a couple of "foot-tapping" friends back home, waiting to hear about my progress. You know, tapping their foot, arms folded, waiting for a response. Did that joke work over a blog? I dunno.

Anyhow, I have three Lingering Papers, two from last semester and one to revalidate a course I took in my master's degree in 1995. The over-arching plan for the week is to get through the Lingering Papers and have a very good, solid outline for Chapter 1 of The Dissertation. Today I plan to do the following:
  • Get a good, realistic schedule planned out for the week
  • Finish Lingering Paper #1 (it's about halfway done now)
  • Do research/outline for Lingering Paper #2 (the revalidation paper I've been avoiding for a while, I must admit)
Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Not THIS Kind of Doctor!

You Should Get a MD (Doctor of Medicine)

You're both compassionate and brilliant - a rare combination.
You were born to be a doctor.

Brilliant? Me? I dunno...

I've actually never considered medicine. Interesting questions to ponder, nonetheless.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Opportunistic, yet frustrated

I have a fantastic opportunity, and I don't remember if I've mentioned it. One of my relatives is traveling out of the country for a couple of weeks, so I'm going to house-sit for her and take advantage of the solitude to complete a major portion of the writing done on my dissertation proposal. At least, that's my hope. My generous in-laws are coming to SCT to help Wife with Son while I'm gone. And my mother & sister/family all live near the place where I'm house-sitting, so I plan to have some home-cooked evening meals after what I hope to be productive days of writing. I feel very fortunate to have support from my extended family. I leave this Sunday 10/9 and will return the following Sunday.

I had planned to be much further along in the writing process at this point than I am. However, I'm still working on finishing up an incomplete and this silly revalidation paper, and it's giving me the blues. One of the reasons for not being finished is beyond my control: these allergies are kicking my ass. I've felt under the weather for the past month. Also, I've never experienced an allergy to doing something I LOVE to do for relaxation & focus: being outside. I think it's getting me down more than I realized.

The other reason for not being as far along as I had hoped is probably a bit more in my control: it's the notion of developing a structure for myself and then sticking to it. Sure, I have a set schedule developed: that was no problem for me. Sticking to the schedule...now that's another story. I've found it hard to focus, and I'm not sure what the hell is going on. Suffice it to say that at this point, I'm just so angry at myself that I haven't gone as far as I'd like that I'm probably going to be motivated by my frustration rather than by any structure I try to implement on myself. This isn't necessarily the type of drive I was looking for to plow through this stuff, but nevertheless it's probably going to be the motivator I need.

I tend to work well under pressure, so perhaps I'm scheduling TOO MUCH time for myself to get this work done? That sounds ridiculous. But I'm actually a very fast writer and am often more motivated by a deadline than by much else. So maybe this next week will be a good way to condense a great deal of work into a relatively short amount of time. However, I don't want to bite off more than I can chew. It's sort of a balance there, I suppose.

I will have internet access from the house-sitting location, so I'm sure I'll continue posting in the week to come.

Well, I'm off to attempt to get something completed before heading off to work.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A Diagnosis

Everything went very well at the children's hospital. The day went smoothly (though very long) and our son was his normal angelic self, which frankly was pleasantly surprising with all the new things he encountered that day. We figured he would be crabby at some point, but really that wasn't the case.

The diagnosis from the hospital is indeed autism. This is not a surprise, though it certainly makes us sad. Our plans for today and the next few months certainly are no different as a result of this diagnosis. However our vision for the future is now a big question mark. I guess it will just force us to live in the moment and not worry as much about the future. Living in the present isn't my strong point, but Wife and I can hold each other up throughout this process.

The nice thing we kept hearing is that we're doing the right thing for him now, so we just need to continue onward. We were relieved that we never heard anything like, "You're going to need to change the way you do 'X' with him." On the contrary, they were quite complimentary. This was good to hear since both Wife and I are the types to blame ourselves for these sorts of things.

The preschool he's in now will do its own evaluation by the end of this month. We suspect a similar diagnosis, but it will be interesting to see how it all pans out. The school has been fantastic with our son, so we suspect they'll be part of our team that helps him learn.

So, onward and forward. Son is a great kid, and with any child it's the parents' job to stick by him and help him grow and develop in whatever manner that may be. Wife and I are relieved to have a diagnosis and to no longer be in the dark as to what's going on with him.

Monday, October 03, 2005

A Journey Begins

We're in a hotel in Large City to the North, getting ready for a day-long cognitive evaluation for Son at Well-Known Children's Hospital. Wife and I are feeling quite ready for any diagnosis that may come about as a result of the day. At least we'll know SOMETHING!

More later. Suffice it to say it's the beginning of what will be a very different day for our family.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

VW Blues

I absolutely love driving my 1999 VW Jetta, Wolfsburg Edition (the last of the older-style Jettas). However, I do not like owning this car. I'm thankful it's paid off and the engine runs well. However, the DUMBEST things get messed up on this car, and it always ends up costing an arm and a leg. A "check engine" light often means $700 or more. This has been an all-too frequent occurrence lately. Also, three of the four electric window motors has broken...two times EACH. The speedometer/tachometer work only about 50% of the time, and that's a $500 repair. It's a very frustrating car on the one hand, and on the other hand I absolutely love driving it.

And now the latest: the glove compartment latch broke, and I can't get it open. Why I oughta... Contents of the glove box include:
  • registraion
  • insurance card
  • owner's manual
  • tire gauge
  • a box of Altoids
  • a small squirt gun (hey, I always travel prepared)
  • a pad of Mad Libs for road trips
  • and - if you can believe it - two pairs of driving gloves. One must keep at least 1 pair of gloves in one's glove compartment. I hardly ever actually use them, but nonetheless they form the defining factor of said glove compartment.
I kinda need that tire gauge right now, not to mention the fact that I (ahem) would like that box of Altoids handy. And I'm supposed to go to Chicago next weekend, so I'd like access to the registration & stuff just in case. Guess I need to make yet another trip to the auto place this week. Glad I found a spot other than the dealer that works with foreign cars.

ARGH!