It is well below zero and snowy here in Pittsburgh – great snuggling whether if you have a little friend like Jelly Bean to curl up beside you. It is finally the New Year, and all is settling into that lovely quiet that we enjoy so much in the winter season. This seemed like a very good week to share the story of Jelly Bean, since it is as heartwarming and touching as any story about a dog can be – a great way to start the new year and the new term!
It has been a very interesting week for me. It started with some excitement, when the notice that exam registration is now open arrived in my inbox, and ended with several inches of new snow and an ice storm while I was traveling home from Florida. On the days in between, I worked with a dance troop to develop an entertaining conservation program, helped host a gala for the organization I work for, and decided to spend an extra day touring the first, and just recently opened elephant sanctuary in the United States. The sanctuary is also in Florida, not too far from our endangered species reserve, which explains how a very big ice storm got between me and my home in Southwestern Pennsylvania, leaving me stranded at an airport in North Carolina for a few days.
From Friday to Sunday I had a lot of time to listen to the news, read the book I packed for the road, and think about how to manage exams. As it turns out I am rather glad I ended up stranded for 36 hours or so, because otherwise, I would not have had a chance to read Wilkie Collins The Woman in White cover to cover in one day, listen to a very interesting TED talk about narrative and memory, or paid such close attention to the moving tributes to Nelson Mandela. Strangely enough this odd combination of events really helped me make some sense of narrative strategy and exactly why novels are so captivating, and stories are such a powerful part of our lives, and more fully appreciate the kind of powerful impact a life like Mr. Mandela’s can truly have on us, whether or not we have a personal connection.
I’ve a really good excuse for not writing for over a month. Really good. I’ve been too busy putting into practice the theory I haven’t even had time to learn yet. I told you all last time that I’d chosen Health Services Management as my specialty stream for my MSc in Public Health.
Well, admittedly to the detriment of my study, I’ve felt for the last month or so that I got thrown into a very long and realistic classroom scenario exercise in health services management, save for the fact that it’s not just exercise but real life. As I mentioned last time, I got involved with St. Joseph’s Hospice in Rawalpindi, Pakistan a few months back on the premise that I was apparently young enough to help ‘rev up’ the Facebook page. That benign suggestion was the beginning of one very long rabbit hole, that I admittedly let myself get pulled into.
It is a cold, snowy week here in Pittsburgh. Jelly Bean and I are home alone, settled in for a good snuggle and read. We enjoyed a long eleven-day holiday celebration with a house full of visiting relatives, and a few visiting playmates for Jelly Bean. This morning everyone is on a plane home to Wien, Washington D.C., and Baltimore, and my husband went off on a business trip. After a fun afternoon playing in the snow together, my collie dog is ready to curl up on her blanket, watch the snowfall, and wait to bark at the corgis and cats that live next door. Despite all of her anticipation and excitement, I am quietly enjoying a mocha latte and reading the posts in our VLE to get back into the swing of studying. Many newer students have a great question as they plan their study agenda: what books on the recommend reading list are the most useful and merit purchase. Read the rest of this entry »
So it’s one month on and sadly/happily this student has now left South Sudan, after two and a half years living there. It was a pretty hectic last month, trying to get everything finished before I left, and of course full of a lot of emotions, and goodbye parties. In amongst all that I must admit there was not a lot of time for studying, although now I am safely arrived in Cairo and have my own room to study in, this trend is changing. I had a lot of fun being massively culture-shocked going into a supermarket to buy stationery for studying :). I am trying to be philosophical about the small amount of studying I’ve done recently and hopeful that I can catch up.
One thing I did read over the past month, however, on a day when the internet wouldn’t allow me access to my textbooks, was the excellent article by Sir Richard Doll which outlines the causal link between smoking and lung cancer.
I found this pretty amazing because, of course, it’s a knowledge I’ve always had, for as long as I can remember. Yet this article really does clearly start from a position of merely having a hypothesis that is then stringently tested, nothing is assumed. As could only be necessary in a former era when this was not necessarily something that all people knew or believed, and a desire to show facts in a purely scientific matter was also paramount. I thought he did so in not only a convincing but also an elegant way, addressing every possible riposte to his conclusions.
The neurons of my grey matter were almost overloaded with the different formats of the Java programming language five years back. They meant nothing more than permutations and combinations of alpha-numeric characters - ‘system.out.println’, still stuck in my memory. It was time for exam preparation, rather preparation for puking it out during those tense hours. I had already sensed that computer programming (the backbone behind modern computing) was not my cup of tea.
It is late in the evening now, and I am writing to you from my kitchen table after celebrating Thanksgiving Day here in America. The kitchen windows are frosty but Jelly Bean and I are snug and warm. I am baking brioche and enjoying a steamy pot of tea while she snoozes on my feet with her favorite toy under her head. Winter arrived early in Southwestern Pennsylvania this year. We have already had more than a foot of snow, which is unusual here. It has been cold and snowing all week giving an early start to all the activities I enjoy most. We like being out-of-doors, so winter fun like tobogganing, skiing, ice skating and frolicking in the snow with Jelly Bean are a real treat. For me there is nothing like a day exercising outside in the crisp winter air and sunshine then relaxing in the warm, snug kitchen of our home with my collie dog close beside me. Winter here is under-appreciated, I think, and many people do not understand how it can be my favorite season when summers here are so lovely. But for me, winter is bracing, invigorating, and a chance to indulge in my favorite things.
If you are anything like me, disruption to your finely balanced and structured schedule can be challenging to recover from. While a little change in routine, like studying in different locations, can be highly beneficial and easy to appreciate, some disruptions can feel more problematic, like how to manage big changes to our schedules and shifting responsibilities. Right now I am considering adding a client to my professional workload while enjoying the festive season that admittedly begins a bit early at our house. For me these big disruptions need some thought to accommodate successfully.
How do you ‘recharge?’ This week a dear friend of mine reminded me how important it is to rest, relax, and recharge during times of high engagement, demands, and busy schedules. Not only is she completing her licensing requirements as a master’s level therapist, and her area of professional interest is quite demanding. She specializes in equine assisted psychotherapy and works with children and families coping with autism. We talk a lot about the concept of self-care and the importance of ‘recharging’. As a therapist, she is obligated professionally and ethically to ensure she is unimpaired for each counseling session. Unimpaired means nothing is distracting her focus, and she can give one hundred percent of her attention to each child. She has to schedule time during each day to restore her own sense of well-being before going onto her next appointment. Sometimes, especially during a hectic week like this one, the idea of being professionally required to schedule recharging time seems remarkable, even blissful! The trick is knowing what will make that time most effective.
I have attempted to write this blog post on new beginnings, several times during the last month, only to leave it incomplete. I couldn’t bring myself to write it because for me, it didn’t feel like the academic year had actually begun. Yes, I had selected the subjects for the year, registered online, and even downloaded the subject guides but I didn’t have any hard evidence to pull me out of my prolonged holiday bliss.
Then I came home last evening to find the now familiar cardboard box marked University of London. For a moment I just stood there looking at it. My books had arrived. Procrastination was not an option anymore. The new academic year had indeed begun.