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.
A few months ago, I gave up caffeine. My addiction was come by honestly, as I remember nipping espresso from the unguarded cups of grown-ups since I was able to hold a cup. Now that it’s time to ‘fall back’ in most of America, it occurred to me I have never faced a time change without caffeine to power through. I will save the humorous details of the week for another time and focus on how to get through the busiest time with study, work, and the coming holidays.
The end of daylight savings time marks the beginning of the holiday season, my busiest professional time of year, and a few weeks away from registering for exams. Instead of gaining an hour of sleep on at least one night I seem to have lost two or more every night this last week. I started to wonder if, perhaps, holding onto my espresso until May, or at least January, might have been a better plan. I am coming to you a bit sleep deprived and without caffeine but quite contemplative and very realistic about getting it all done, and making sure there is time for effective study. Jelly Bean and I put our heads together, assessed our options, and came up with a plan.
Do you recognize the butterflies in the stomach that come with realizing exam time will be here sooner than you think? Maybe it is really a cold panic. Instead of feeling like a far off five and a half months away, the month of May, darling buds and all, instead feels more like it is about five weeks away. Moreover, exam registration time is a mere sixty days or so away. Glancing between the growing stacks of books on my study desk and the mountain of work on the desk in my home office intensifies the feeling. There is positively no time for procrastination. Here are some words of wisdom from an author I am reading this week, Louisa May Alcott: ‘Whatever we can do and do well we have a right to, and I don’t think anyone will deny us.’
We do a lot of cooking and entertaining at our house, mainly because I just cannot help myself. Cooking is fun and relaxing for me and always has been. I went to culinary school to help manage that particular problem, though the experience and all the years as a restaurateur only reinforced my habit. There is a lot to learn from the daily challenge that comes with facing one hundred or so people all wanting something different to eat at just about the same time. Let’s sum it up by saying it is an intense and quickly changing few hours that demand concentration. Besides the sybaritic pleasure intermezzos offer, you quickly learn to appreciate how a little intermezzo can go a long way for the chef as well as the diners. Once a foodie always a foodie I think, so, for me, it is quite natural to think of my daily tasks in the metaphor of a multicourse meal. As my responsibilities and academic work become more demanding, I started looking for an ‘intermezzo’ to help me move from task to task.
‘Screw your courage to the sticking place, and we’ll not fail’ might be the most famous piece of advice given to someone with chilly feet in the face of an overwhelming task. While Lady Macbeth might not be everyone’s first choice for a motivational speaker or life coach her famous line is a great rallying cry for digging into our studies, even if you are not an English major.
It is a little daunting to start our new courses from scratch. The big questions on everybody’s mind right now in our VLE and social forums are how to begin the study process, how to locate answers to the questions in the study guides’ learning outcomes, how to find the balance between working with primary and secondary texts, and how to apply critical theory to primary material we read. Studying at degree level is not as easy as looking up answers. We need some special skills to read and analyze the material we are studying and to begin developing our responses. While none of those big questions has a simple answer, for me, it comes down to focus on study methods and resources. We have to start where we are and make the most of our unique perspective, experience, and the tools at our command. Read the rest of this entry »
Does study sometimes become boring? It is a long process from the beginning of the term until exams. It sometimes feels like running a marathon. In both preparation and running the actual race we come face to face with the intellectual boredom of repetitive activity. Sometimes the intensity of the activity and sense of accomplishment will balance the need to just keep putting one foot in front of the other no matter how tired or distracted you feel. When I am feeling tired finding a refreshing way to effectively engage with so much material is very necessary.
To me an ‘effective’ studying means mastering targeted learning outcomes, using the material in flexible and articulate ways, and engaging in a way that helps me internalize content and remember it. After all, I must be at my command eight months from now. Those points can be stumpers individually or taken all together. A few weeks ago mustering my resources for a study session after a long day filled with other demands presented a challenge. I decided to apply creative writing techniques to study. My hope was to overcome the sense of exhaustion from a busy schedule and the tedium of habit in my day in and day out reading and research. Using creative writing exercises and techniques helped me remember details about authors and literary periods, work out arguments, and perform text analysis.
Do you have the beginning of term blues? It is October, one month into the new term, and time for the first assessment of progress in my study plan. A busy schedule and limited time for study provided the first inspiration for monthly progress checks. The biggest motivation comes from the need to ensure I am achieving learning outcomes for each of my four courses. At the beginning of each month I review the goals set for the next 30 days and evaluate the work just completed. That might sound a little obsessive but organizing the big project of studying four courses into manageable pieces has been an effective strategy. My ‘October Review’ is perhaps a little more involved than at other times because it is the first of the term.