winter things

This winter I'm teaching Calculus 2 at UD. Our school does something a little weird (at least it was new to me). After Christmas break, there's a short winter semester. Students can take a 5 week class in January and the first week of February, kind of like a summer class. The regular spring semester won't start until the 2nd week of February. I think it's pretty strange, since students who only take classes in the normal semesters basically have 7 weeks off for Christmas break. Not that I'd complain if I were them.

Anyway, that's how I find myself teaching a 4-credit class in 5 weeks. I haven't taught Calc 2 in a long time (actually I've only been a TA for it, never the instructor...) so it's been fun remembering all that stuff. It always surprises me how much sense it makes when I come back to it. It's all so much clearer than when I was a student. It's very challenging to try to help people understand it better than I did when I learned it, but that's usually my goal. I try to teach things in a logical structured way (being naturally meticulous and obsessive helps, though it takes a long time) and so far most of my students are doing better than I expected. Calc 2 is definitely a hard class and I'm not taking it easy on them.

I've learned something a little odd since I left ORU. The little dinky school I came from actually had a more difficult standard in our math classes than at the big schools I've taught at. We learned quite a few things (and went into more difficult cases on other things) that I'm not supposed to cover here. The selection of higher level classes is obviously bigger at a state school (you can't take grad level classes your senior year of undergrad at a school that doesn't even have a graduate program), but for the undergrad level classes I've been pleasantly surprised to find out that the courses I took at my little Oklahoma school taught me just as thoroughly (and often moreso) than I would have learned at a big state school.

Sharayah and I went to a hockey game this past week (while my students were all studying for their first exam, I was in Philly watching the Flyers :-p). We were in the really high up seats, which was actually really cool. You can see the whole rink from up there, but it's not so far that you can't see the action. I don't really watch any hockey most of the time. I just know the rules from video games from back in the day. The things those guys can do with a stick and a hockey puck are just unreal. I even thought their warm-up was impressive. It looked choreographed how well they all skated around each other, crowded in because each team had 20 guys on the ice, passing and skating and shooting. If you ever get a chance, get the really good (i.e. far away and high up!) seats at a hockey game and show up an hour early to see them warm up.

Yesterday we had 3rd (4th?) Christmas at my parents' house. Then we watched the Broncos handle the Patriots and win a spot in the Super Bowl. I'm looking forward to watching that game. I always think it's fitting when the two top-seeded teams make it to the Super Bowl. It's more exciting that way. Let's hope the better team wins.


no small plans

I have a goal for this year.

Yes, yes, I want to exercise more, pray more, love more, read more, etc., etc., etc.

But I have another goal. I want to jot it down so that I can look at it, read it, remind myself whenever I find myself losing focus throughout the year. I want to hold myself accountable. I want to hold my thoughts accountable.

My goal this year is to be proud and unashamed of my dreams and ambitions.

It sounds a bit cheesy written out like that. But the deed is done. This is my goal for 2014. It will require less physical action than exercising and praying and loving and reading, but I know it will be mentally challenging. I think I am up for it.

Being "book smart" has always been my "thing." I have never been good at socializing with random people. My small talk skills end abruptly at "Hi." I have never had much fashion sense. If someone told me to wear something, I only asked, "How?" and did it. I feel like I was never able to get past mediocre when it came to athletic abilities. And my mediocre is just not good enough to put on public display. So, luckily, I had my academic intelligence, my one "talent."

I am not sure what determines people's "smart" levels. Perhaps it is just some inherent capacity for knowledge and logic or maybe it is purely a hard-work mentality or maybe, more likely, it is just some balanced combination of the two. However it is come by, I knew I had it. I knew I had the potential to accomplish anything I could possibly want... in any "smart" job field I could possibly want.

But, there was obstacle one. What profession did I want? What title would I want to be identified by for the majority of my adult life? Did I want to be Sharayah the Chemist? Or maybe Sharayah the Veterinarian? How did Sharayah the Computer Programmer sound? I could be a lawyer, or an actuary, or an engineer, or a mathematician [ha, no, I could not be a mathematician]. I could be nearly anything if I put my time and effort into it. I had the potential, and I was well aware of it. I just had no strong leanings one way or the other [science! is not a specific enough leaning as it turns out].

So, since imagining myself as an adult and planning out the rest of my life was a bit daunting, I switched gears. What would I enjoy learning about? Learning was a big part of my "thing." I read. I learned. I read some more. I learned some more. Whether it was how to be a good boy scout [I once built a stable ladder out of branches and rope (for spying on the neighbors, which, I suppose, is not so boy-scout-worthy)] or how to run a chicken farm or even just how to make toothpaste... I found it all fascinating to read and learn about. And what is college but 4 years of your life dedicated to learning? I knew I would love college. I would learn new things.

Armed with my excitement to learn, I chose to learn about engineering. It was a good solid "smart" choice of a field. Smart people became engineers. What an excellent choice. So, off to ORU I went. It was like living in a gigantic book-come-to-life. Learning was everywhere.

One of the first things I learned was that I wasn't as smart as my SAT scores may have led me to believe. Nearly every single one of my friends was a better student than I was. They got better grades. They understood things quicker. They also all were "learners" and being "smart" was their "thing." I was not special by any stretch of the imagination. They all were aspiring doctors and programmers and engineers and lawyers, and for good reason:  They all seemed to know what they wanted to do/be, and they were all smart enough to be able to achieve it.

And then there was me. I was learning new things in all of my classes, but I still had no strong ambitions one way or the other for a profession. I knew I could do anything, but I had nothing I truly wanted to do. I felt completely devoid of ambition and 10-year plans and professional aspirations. My "I'll just learn things!" mentality sounded absolutely stupid, but what could I do but carry through with it?

Things started off a bit bumpier than I would have liked. I remember living out one semester that felt like one of my recurring academic nightmares:  I am sitting at a desk taking a test for a class that I don't remember attending but that is completely crucial to my curriculum, and how I do will determine if I pass or fail... at life. Except that this was worse than a nightmare, because it was real. I knew it was real because I had to walk to my Chick-fil-a shift after the test wanting to curl up and die because I just knew I was going to get a D in the class, if not an F. I had done poorly all semester, so I knew I was deserving of such a grade, but the truth didn't make it any less awful of a realization. And what would I do if I failed a class? What would my family say? What would my friends think? Learning and being "smart" was supposed to be my "thing." How can you fail at your own "thing"? I was miserable.

I did not fail the class. In fact, I got a B, which was a full letter better than I could have ever hoped or considered begging for. To this day, I still think something get tweaked weirdly in the totaling of my scores, but I was not going to question it. [Is this bad? Oh well...] Fail or not, I do not think I ever fully recovered my self-confidence from that class. Add to that some other rough grades and a messed up schedule that led to pre-requisite issues, which necessitated taking a year longer to graduate, and I left ORU feeling like an utter failure.

I was still terrible at making small talk, though I had somehow managed to fool some people into thinking I wasn't an uncomfortable social mess. I still defined my fashion style as "little to no effort and everything goes with flip flips, right?" If anything, I had become less skilled in athletic things, and much less willing to show off my bumbling coordination. And, to top it off, I was now completely aware of how I measured up academically. If pickles were sad, I would say I was a very sad pickle [but everyone knows that pickles are happy foods].

Note:  All of life was not sad. I had Jason. And if I was a sad pickle, he would be my ever-supportive sauerkraut. Life truly was good.

So, I now had a degree in engineering. I briefly looked into engineering jobs or jobs that would use my degree and what remained of my "smarts." But... I just didn't want to be an engineer. I had learned about it. I had completed what I set out to do. I had zero interest in working in the field. I had zero interest in going in to sit in a cubicle every day. I didn't care about being a professional woman. Not one iota. But I knew I needed to do something so others wouldn't think I was worthless [I realize how dumb this sounds but emotions are sometimes not logic bound].

By the grace of the One who is Always Good, I took a course in medical transcription and found a job that I have enjoyed for the past 2 years. I am good at transcription. I received a 99.7% score on my first quality review and have received nothing but 100% on all the rest. It's not really a job that requires a high level of intelligence, just hard work and quick fingers. I am entirely blessed to have spent the past 2 years in this line of work.


There's a part of me that cannot shake off the feeling that this job is not truly a profession, that it is not really a worthy use of time for someone with an engineering degree who used to believe she could conquer whatever professional world she pleased. She considers her academic intelligence to be her "thing"? Look at her now. What a fool. What a waste.

There is still a part of me that has subconsciously bought into the lie that my identity and purpose lies in the professional job title that I hold. I hate it.

I am aware of this lie's hold on my perspective, and I hate it. It is a mindset that is based on pride and insecurities. It is a mindset that is flaunted everywhere in society. People are so much more than their jobs. I am so much more than my job.

A while back, I was struck by how much I had allowed myself to be sucked into this idea of success = job = identity [as if my feelings of failure after graduating weren't enough of a sign]. I have married into a very professionally ambitious family. Intelligence runs through the Vermettes like soy sauce through rice [yum, rice!]. Everyone has a "smart" job, a job or aspiration that is befitting of their talents and "smarts." Anyway, during one particular conversation, it came to the dreaded [by me] Naming of the Prestigious Professions Represented. "So and so is this. So and so is that. What's His Name is this. What's Her Name is that." Engineers, doctors, computer programmers, lawyers, mathematicians. It seemed like everyone was someone. Except me.

I do not fault the person for the oversight. I know it was not on purpose. I know it was not meant to be hurtful. Professionally, I just don't represent much. And normally, I am okay with that. Time has passed since graduating and deciding to do MT work for the time being. The sting of what I felt to be academic/professional/personal failure has worn off slightly. I don't have lofty professional goals and I accept this as perfectly acceptable. Most of the time.

Just, for some reason, at that particular time, the reminder that I do not, and will not, ever fit into one of those proud listings of jobs was crushing. And I only have my ambitionless self to blame. It's ridiculous, I know, but when I brought the whole thing up to Jason some time later, I cried. I blabbered on and on about how stupid the world was [yes, this is generally how I express my frustrations] and how stupid I was for not wanting to make something of myself and how I was sorry he married such a stupid failure [stupid is my choice word].

Mid-blabber, he stopped me. He told me I was being silly. And he reminded me that I had the best professional ambitions in the world. He told me my professional ambition was one of the reasons he married me. And he finally voiced the heart of my conflict:  Of all people, despite everything I railed against, I had somehow bought into the lie that identity and success came through a professional job title.

It was an eye-opening moment for me.

Jason knows my one and only job aspiration. I want to be a mom. That has been the only "long-term" plan that I have ever had for my life, from childhood onward. When filling out engineering job applications, they would often ask for my 5-year plan. The only thing I could ever think to put there was, "Be a stay-at-home mom. Raise amazing kids. Bombard the world with adorableness." And Jason is fully supportive of this plan. I have never had any kind of professional ambitions like become a CEO or save lives in an operating room or build giant airplanes or even be a zookeeper [zookeepers can be professionals!] for the duration of my adult life. No, I have only ever truly, strongly, solely wanted to be a mom. That is my end goal. Everything else is peripheral.

Allowing myself to believe that being "just a mom" is somehow less admirable, respectable, and worthy simply because "anyone can be a mom" is a lie I am choosing to no longer believe. It is no longer an acceptable thought or mindset. Anyone can be a mom [if they are of the female gender, of course], but no one can be the kind of incredible mom that I can and will be. I take pride in that, and not what I can do to bring in money.

So. Goal for 2014:  To be proud and unashamed of my dreams and ambitions. Make no small plans here.

Oh, also:

  • Exercise more...
  • Pray more...
  • Love more...
  •

To all a good night.


I can also do bullets

Christmas was good this year. We got some fun stuff, including some cool new board games like:
  • Pandemic - the game where you're all on a team (so everyone loses together!) fighting to stop 4 super-viruses from destroying all life on earth (at least, all human life). By the way, Amazon's description says it takes about an hour to play, but I disagree. You can lose much, much more quickly than that. It's actually quite challenging, but we have won a couple times.
  • Catan: Seafarers - an expansion for Settler's of Catan that adds boats and islands and other things to the game. We haven't played this one yet but we read through the instructions and it sounds like a cool addition to an already great game. There are about 8 different variations you can play using this one expansion.
  • Ticket to Ride - actually, we got this for ourselves with gift cards, but I think that counts. This game is much less stressful than Pandemic, because nobody dies, ever. You just build trains. Ahh. Trains. There are little paths across the US and you have to complete certain train routes between various cities. Now that I think of it, you're probably not building trains; you're building tracks. Unless there are trains that reach from LA to San Francisco. But it looks like you're building a train. (This paragraph was supposed to read "I don't really know how to describe how this game is played, but it's a lot of fun," but Sharayah said I had to make an attempt. So that was my attempt.)
  • Morels - a game about foraging for mushrooms, which Sharayah always wins (because mushrooms), and which my dad thought was a book about safely foraging and eating wild mushrooms when he bought it for us.
We also got a food dehydrator that we're looking forward to trying out, a couple Lego video games, some books, and other cool things from our awesome families. (Oh, also we enjoyed spending time with family). It was a good end to an overall good year.

Since apparently I'm using Sharayah's bullet point style for this post, here are some notables from the past year:

  • Our lovely 5th anniversary cruise, taken 4 months early in January.
  • Many, many trips to Longwood Gardens and the zoo.
  • Our actual 5th anniversary.
  • David and Becky's California wedding.
  • Our epic road trip to Wyoming and the fun times had while there.
  • Visiting the newlyweds in DC and seeing some touristy stuff like the Smithsonian.
  • Part two of the corn maze and the massive pumpkin patch.
  • Our NYC half marathon with breaks for magical pizza.
  • Winning 2nd place in soccer.
  • The snowiest of Christmas tree hunts, and the equally adventurous drive to and from the tree farm.
  • Peyton Manning breaking all kinds of records (most of the ones he didn't already own, and a few of the ones he did).
Yep, it was a pretty good year. So now a new year has begun. Things to do this year:
  • See some cool people get married.
  • Go to a hockey game.
  • Teach classes.
  • Finish PhD research.
  • Work on arithmetic.
  • Become better people.
  • Think of more things to do this year.