Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Morning Musing

I'm up pretty early on Christmas morning. I'm the first one in the house who is awake, actually. A rare thing for me since coming back to school and pulling some nite-owl sorts of hours. I do miss the early morning thing, though, so perhaps I'll get back in the routine of being the first one awake.

Christmas has some mixed emotions for me this year. On the good side, I still cannot believe we're here in LSC and I'm working in this particular job. It doesn't seem real to me, probably because I have not yet finished the task (i.e. the doctorate) through which I had planned on obtaining said job. That's the bad side: Study #07- 11947 continues to loom overhead. In fact, just thinking about it is what woke me up early today, I will admit. I suppose that's a good thing...nothing wrong with some negative incentives to get the f-cker done.

The other thing that weighs heavy on the mind is, of course, Moose's autism. I go back and forth on this. On the one hand, his autism is part of him, and I love all of him unconditionally; I almost hate to want a core part of his being to disappear. On the other hand, I want for him a normal existence. For example, I wanted him to be up front during our church service last night with the other kids. That was almost painful to watch, knowing he was at home with his aunt.

Generally speaking, I wouldn't change a thing about my present day-to-day existence. I will continue to plug away on the dissertation, and I will hopefully finish in 2008. The autism...well, I'll just learn to deal with that as time flies by. No use in wishing for something that simply isn't going to happen in this lifetime. I've not much to complain about in general, but during these early-morning reflective times I bring out some of the more painful aspects of life to hopefully have them then settle back into the larger scope of life more smoothly. Perhaps these individual aspects of life won't be as painful if I sort of raise them up, look at them upside-down, and then let them rest again. Sorta like taking fish out of water for a few seconds, stressing them out, and then putting them back in the river. They still keep swimming, going with the flow...

Wow...my mind is making some pretty strange images right now. Better get some coffee in me and get ready for Christmas morning. Ah, I hear others stirring upstairs now. Bye bye early morning solitude.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Tree 2007

Late last December and early in January of this year, I wrote a couple of posts on our Christmas Tree. The post in January discusses a bargain tree that Wife found at Chain Grocery Store Near Our House (CGSNOH). Said tree is now up and 'glowing' in New Chesterley, and we think it looks mighty fine. Figured I'd put a few pics here.

First, with the flash to display the ornaments:

Next, a shot without the flash to display the lights:

We've told the story of the $10 tree quite a bit this year, so I just had to add a this post here as a reminder.

Dissertation Week 2007 - Day 5 Report

I almost forgot to comment on how things went yesterday, the last day of this year's Dissertation Week:

It was just fine, thanks.

I still have continued frustration with obtaining the qualitative data management software I decided to purchase, and I suspect it's due to the advanced age of my laptop. It will be 5 in April. Ugh. I really just wanted to use ONE computer for my doctorate (I purchased this one at the end of my first year). The prospect of needing a second one to get through the dissertation is not pleasant. And it may be costly. I dunno...maybe I should just get a used laptop to get me through? Not sure.

Yesterday I did get more coding done, which is nice. No more transcribing, though. I am quickly going to need to find an additional person to help me with these, or just take off some more time and literally chain myself to the desk.

My wife's family arrived earlier today for Christmas, and I'm sure we'll have a fine time. My sister-in-law, who is a physician, was asking me about the details of my dissertation. When I showed her one of the documents I was coding, she suggested I only do the coding with some form of alcoholic beverage in my hand because let's face it, the task really SUCKS. Not a bad idea. I mean, I could finish the data analysis and become a snooty wine connoisseur at the same time. Or better yet it could be scotch. The analysis may become a little bit disjointed, though Hmm...there's gotta be a balance there somewhere, ya know?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dissertation Week 2007 - Day 4 Report

Day 4 sucked. I had numerous technical problems that took over too much of my life: a furnace repair in the morning, a new starter for The Fucking Jetta, and more software installation problems.

And then Wife and I experienced an enormous problem in our back yard. Some idiot meter maid left one of the back fence gates open. Chester escaped. Fortunately, Wife saw him on the wrong side of the fence before he got too far, and he's perfectly safe. I'm glad it wasn't Moose playing outside, or else it's pretty likely he would have run away and gotten lost and/or killed by a car. Your typical six-year-old would tell you the gate is open, or he would know that cars are inherently dangerous to pedestrians. Mine would not. Our house is practically a fortress, and we've spent a chunk of money making it as such (the new fence, deadbolt locks on every door with the keys out of reach, etc. etc.). But when an idiot enters the system, it quickly all goes to hell.

This action of course prompted me to make phone calls to all our utility companies to see if they could put a note on our record to close the gates when they check the meters in the back yard. For the most part they were compliant, and even apologetic, for any angst they may have caused. Most understood the importance of why I was calling without my having to explain it. It was encouraging.

However, customer service at My Phone Company was provided by idiotic humanoids. The conversations went something like this:

"Your Phone Company's customer service center, how may I help you?" she asked.

"Hi. I have a special-needs child at home, and we have a fenced in back yard to keep him, and our dog, safe. A gate was left open today; I'm not sure by whom, but my dog escaped. So, I'm calling all of my utility companies to ask if it is possible to have a general note placed on my account indicating that the gates must remain closed at all times if they enter our yard to do routine work. Can you help me with this sort of thing?" I asked, courteously.

"No, but I can transfer you to someone who can," she replied, happily. Why did this make her happy?

"Great, that would be helpful. Thank you," I said.

"OK, but before I transfer you, I see in your file that you are eligible for a random free upgrade to a cell phone package you neither want nor need. Shall I get one of these phones to you in the mail within 2 business days for you?" she asked, sounding too cheery for my taste.

"No thank you. I am not interested in upgrading any of my services. I am calling to get a note placed on my account in order to protect my son from escaping from our back yard," I said, slowly losing patience.

"OK, is there a reason why you do not want to upgrade your services?" she questioned.

"No (are you kidding me??). I am perfectly satisfied with my phone service. As I said, I am not calling to upgrade my services. I am calling to have a note placed on my account regarding my back fence so that my autistic child does not get abducted or killed by a car." My tone was no longer courteous.

"OK, but before I transfer you: Have I answered all of your questions today?" she asked, perkily.

"No, you have not (and you are dumb as a post)."

And then she cheerily transferred me to the repair department, for whom I waited about ten minutes. He then brilliantly transferred me back to Customer Service again after not being able to help me. I finally spoke with someone who had a brain cell and got the damn note placed on the account. And then I re-checked the status of the gates before I collapsed in exhaustion.

You can't deny that my priorities are in line. Securing those gates was far more important than progress on the dissertation. I'm pretty thankful I was home today, actually. Guess I need to have three signs made that indicate something to the effect of: "Close the Gate Behind You, Moron." If you have any suggestions for how the signs should read, I'm all ears.

Dissertation Week 2007 - Day 3 Report

How did it get to be Thursday already?

Yesterday, Wednesday, went alright. Not stellar in terms of tangible progress, but good in terms of emotional and self-efficacy-related crap. I didn't get the transcription finished, but I did finish coding that first interview. What I thought would be a pain in the ass actually turned out to be a very good exercise. Also, I installed the trial version of the qualitative data-management software that I intend to purchase to help me organize things. The thing is, the darn thing didn't install correctly on what is now my aging laptop. Frustrating.

Finally, I reconnected, via e-mail, with two former colleagues who finished their Ph.Ds a couple of years ago. I wrote them to seek very bare-bones advice on how they managed the small-level technical details of managing all their data. Not only did they provide good technical advice, but even more important (and totally unexpected) they provided empathetic moral support. I miss them. I am getting tired of being among the group that's the furthest along in the doctoral student process in my program. I miss having folks nearby who are just a few steps ahead of me to help lead the path. I realize this really isn't a chore in traveling with someone else; I sort of need to carve out this particular pathway myself. And yet, others have done it before me on different topical pathways, and it's helpful to hear advice from them.

It was comforting to have a professor friend of mine, who specializes in qualitative research methods, say, "The data management process was, and continues to be, the toughest part of qualitative research for me." My other friend simply said, "Glad you're keeping the faith," and "Take a look at your own resume, and remember how much you've already done." That last comment was pretty funny: she was quoting ME from a couple of years earlier when I was giving her a pep talk during her job-search process. Funny how the advice comes full circle. Both of these friends, and several other former colleagues, have offered to help read drafts and things as they come up in the next few months. I'm really thankful for their willingness to loan me their precious time even as they work toward their own tenure clocks or other work tasks. I think that energy from friends and colleagues is part of the whole process that will keep me pushing this little research study to completion.

OK. Agenda for today: 1) Finish installing the software (the tech support folks wrote me back last night with a very helpful workaround that I hope will work). 2) Test out said software with the interview I've already coded, only for 60 minutes or less (I am seriously going to set an alarm for myself on this one, as I tend to tinker too much with technology). 3) Finish transcribing "Andrea's" interview. 4) Complete at least half of another transcript.

I'm feeling pretty focused today, so hopefully this list will be attainable. It's also Moose's last full day at school for the week (his Fridays are half days), so it's my last full day with a quiet house).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dissertation Week 2007 - Day 2 Report

Day 2 was just fine. Probably not as energetic as Day 1, but not a bad day one bit.

I stayed home all day and got my head back into the process of coding. The reading I finished up in the morning (see yesterday's report) was very helpful. I guess it was sort of a review of the coding technique. Then, I spent much of the rest of the day finishing up the coding from the longest interview of the entire study. I figure that this will be the longest, slowest, most difficult, coding job I'll do for the study. As I said to Wife last night, "I'll never have to code my first interview for the dissertation again." I'm all about celebrating the small victories in this process.

Typically I become anxious about the idea of starting an academic task, but when I get into it I tend to move fairly quickly and, frankly, it tends to go well. I think now that I've gotten over the first bump (it felt like more of a mountain than a bump!), and I've figured out how to do it "well" from this refresher of the reading, from here on out things should go OK with the coding tasks.

On the agenda for today, Day 3: I will probably finish up a transcription from home this morning and then will start coding it. At least the coding part can be done at Free Parking Cafe, if I need to escape.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Thanks to Psycgirl for a nice shout-out in the 14th Carnival of GRADual Progress. I needed that reminder that I'm part of a community of similar struggling graduate students in this dissertation process, and many of us have bumpy roads along the way, for a variety of reasons. Just yesterday I was missing the strong blogging community I joined a few years back when I started Chesterley. This shout-out was a little inspirational kick in the assets to help get me back on track with reading, analyzing, writing, and probably blogging too. Yay.

Dissertation Week 2007 - Day 1 Report

Hi Blog. As I mentioned earlier, this is the week I'm taking "off" from work to work on the dissertation. No pressure, really. Whatever! I've just told everyone I know and work with that I'm doing this, so they'll all be asking for progress reports. Guess I better make some progress! LOL.

Actually, yesterday's Day 1 went really quite well. After a weekend-long snow storm (which has made everything wonderful and wintry here!), I needed to get out of the house yesterday. I went to Relatively-Nearby Trendy Neighborhood and hit the Starbucks there. Forgot I had to feed a parking meter, so I didn't stay very long. Perhaps it was the pressure of having the meter running, but I CRANKED on part of the data analysis process where I need to realize how my own life experiences may influence the manner in which I analyze my data. And I worked things out in only about 90 minutes. I was pretty excited about that.

I spent a long while a year or two ago pondering if I was going to be able to write on this particular topic because it's pretty close to my heart. That self doubt caused me to temporarily change my topic. I later changed it back because I really could have cared less about that other topic, so now I've been happily back at square one for a long while. HOWEVER, I hadn't really worked out how I could separate myself away from my participants enough to analyze the data and not project my own thoughts on their words. I think I finally worked it out. At some point I may share the details in this blog, but for now suffice it to say I made a good amount of progress during that short time yesterday morning.

I then spontaneously grabbed lunch with Wife, a benefit of working from home this week. Afterward I went to another cafe (free parking!) and did some reading from:

Charmaz, K. (2007). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

I've been skimming certain portions of this book when needed (I love her work). This week I'm trying to "really" read portions related to where I am in the data analysis process, and I'm finding it helpful. Since I've been out of coursework for a while, and am now working full-time, I must admit I've not been doing scholarly reading nearly as much as I used to. I miss it, so I'm grateful to have the time to do some reading. OK, I can't believe I just said that.

That's the report from Day 1. A good first day. Today I'm working in my home office/prison for a while, finishing up some reading this morning. I may head out to Free Parking Cafe this afternoon if I start to go bonkers here at home. More tomorrow.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Embarking on A Dissertation Week

Today was my last day of work-work for the year. No vacation here for another week, though. I've got to make decent dissertation progress in the next seven days.

The kicker is: I just got slammed with an annoying head cold. I was doing OK at worky today, but the aches and stuffy head hit home just before dinner. I fell asleep at the table...I am not kidding. Took a nap on the couch instead of putting Moose to bed. Am feeling a little bit better, and thankfully I'm not feverish, so hopefully this will pass quickly and I can get to work tomorrow morning. If I get achy wrists, this'll be a good thing because it will mean I'm typing interview transcripts. We're supposed to get slammed with snow during the next two days, so hopefully this will mean I'll get good work done with crappy weather outside.

You know, I'm looking forward to this blog becoming more intellectual again instead of just the mundane, "Geez I hope I make progress," bullshit that it's been lately.

Feel free to check in, send a batch of girl scout cookies as encouragement, or just think happy productive thoughts in my general direction. Thanks.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Thanksgiving Photos

This is my first time embedding a Picasa slideshow...let's see how this works. Photos from Thanksgiving at Chesterley.

Ho Hum

I really shouldn't use this blog to express disappointment in myself for not making a ton of progress on the dissertation this week. I shouldn't share the feelings of dread I have, knowing I still have a ton of work ahead of me, the end of 2007 is looming, and that I'd really rather just curl up in front of the fireplace wrapped in a blanket with an 'interesting' book in hand instead of sit alone in my home office/prison coding data and finishing the transcriptions. I really shouldn't share that here: it's not good to express self degradation in one's own blog.

Yesterday I communicated with one of the "harder-to-reach-via-e-mail" committee members to tell her I finished up the interviews in October. She was all excited indicating that many other doc students she's working with are making progress as well, so there must be something good in the air. Good. Glad to hear. Guess I need to breathe in some good air some more, cuz I gotta tell ya, I ain't feeling it here this week.

This particular committee member is taking a sabbatical out of the country next semester. Nice timing. Why was my dissertation not in the forefront of her mind when she decided to take this trip? Just kidding. Well sorta. We discussed how long-distance communication would work, and she's confident that she'll be able to keep up via e-mail and/or a possible "Breeze" connection (whatever that is) when/if needed for a teleconference. She also said if I'm not comfortable with this arrangement, then she would completely understand if I wanted to find a new committee member to replace her. It's for that reason that I want to keep her on board: NO EGO. I'm glad that conversation happened and that it turned out OK. I was a little worried. DC seems just fine with the arrangement, too.

So, I guess saying I made no progress this week isn't really valid. Knowing that I feel a bit disorganized, unproductive, and not my normal "I've got it all together" self isn't really a good feeling. Am glad this week is over. Next week should hopefully be better.

Did I mention I'm taking the week of December 17 off from work to focus on the dissertation? I plan for that to be a focused, productive week.