Monthly Archives: March 2012

Friends Versus Colleagues

Lately, the people in my Master’s program have become unbearable. Whenever more than two of us get together, it seems like all we’re able to talk about is school. Although these conversations seem to make some people feel better, I leave these discussions feeling more frustrated and irritable than ever. Ideally, I would be able to cut these Debbie Downers out of my life entirely, but our associations at school make that inadvisable, if not impossible.

What I’m learning now, then, is that there can be a difference between friends and co-workers. For those of us just starting out in the adult world, this distinction can be difficult to understand at first. As far as I can tell, the major difference is intimacy. While I might tell my friends about difficult situations, I don’t necessarily share those same situations with my co-workers. With a friend, you don’t have to think about image. With co-workers, you should try to remain on your best behavior. With co-workers, it seems to be better to stay pleasant and friendly but avoid over-sharing. Sometimes friends and co-workers overlap, and that can also be a difficult situation to navigate. Two friends and I went out to lunch this afternoon, and although I begged them to talk about anything OTHER than school, it seemed like the conversation kept drifting back to professors, other students, coursework, and theorists. To make my friendship with these co-workers function, I’ve tried to put as much distance between our professional life at school and our personal life as friends as humanly possible, but it doesn’t always work. Sometimes, I still get frustrated when they get a better grade than I do on a paper I know they didn’t work as hard on, or when all they want to talk about is a book we read in class a month ago that I hated, but I take a deep breath and remind myself that we’re friends.

Keep your friends close, and your co-worker friends closer. (Image Credit:

I’m the type of person that doesn’t enjoy mixing business with pleasure, and maybe that’s because I get so frustrated about my work that I want to be able to forget about it at the end of the day. That doesn’t necessarily go for everyone, but being friends with a co-worker does bring up issues of privacy that other friendships may not. You don’t necessarily want photos circulated around the department or office of you wearing a hula skirt at Jill’s 29th birthday, and making these expectations clear to co-worker friends can help clear up any ambiguity. Also, try to keep office gossip to a minimum. Although it’s fun to talk about other people, if things go south in your friendship you may be in for a bad few months as your former friend and current co-worker begins to share some of your less-flattering comments with other co-workers.

What have your experiences been with having co-workers as friends?


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Ten Ways To Satiate Your Hunger for The Hunger Games

One of the reasons I love stories that continue over a series is that I have a hard time letting go of well-written characters and plot lines. After seeing The Hunger Games on Tuesday night, I’ve been trying to find ways to relive the excitement of seeing the film by rereading the trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins. Here are some other ideas to help keep you in the Panem spirit.

Bread and Circuses

The name of Panem comes from the Latin for bread and circuses, which is all you need to keep a country going successfully. Bread may not have factored into the movie, but in the books Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son, gives bread a lot of significance. Each district has a different kind of bread–after Rue dies in the first book, the people of her district send bread to Katniss as a thank you. By having food play such a significant role in both culture and class (the poor eat less-desirable bread than the rich), Collins truly develops the world of Panem (which, by the way, stands for the “bread” in “bread and circuses”). To help get your family involved in the world of Panem, why not take a page out of Peeta’s book and bake some bread? If you’re looking for ideas, try Whats4Eats’s great assembly of bread recipes from all around the world. While your bread is busy rising and baking, talk to your kids about why the bread you’ve made has the ingredients that it does (which probably has something to do with availability of ingredients).

Fighting Shape

Quite a bit of The Hunger Games narrative is taken up by the tributes training for the games. Whether its learning to tie knots or how to fire a bow and arrow, there are plenty of possibilities for your family to try some of the things that the tributes do. Check out animated knots for a great how-to guide of useful (and beautiful) knots, or try to find a local archery range where you can rent a bow and arrows for the afternoon and get in some target practice. Or, if you’re looking for a longer-term commitment, why not try signing up for a martial arts class and improve your hand-to-hand combat skills?

Take a Hike

Once the tributes are in the arena, survival skills become just as important as fighting skills. Luckily,  you don’t have to be put into an arena to experience the thrill of the great outdoors. Find a local park (if you’re in WNY, try Letchworth or Allegheny State Parks) and make a day out of exploring your natural environment. If you’re feeling particularly motivated, why not try taking a weekend class? Many parks offer birdwatching expeditions or plant identification walks.

Make a Masterpiece

Although Katniss doesn’t really embrace her quest to find a talent, Peeta develops his skills as an artist and creates not only beautiful cookies, but also magnificent paintings that help him deal with the lingering emotions from the Games. Try getting out some paints (if you’re just starting out, why not try some cheap watercolors?) and some paper (or a canvas, if you’re feeling particularly motivated), and create a masterpiece. If you’re looking for inspiration, why not try painting or sketching a scene from the novels or film?

Fan Fiction 

If you can’t seem to let go of the world of Panem, why not try writing your own stories based in Collins’s world? The world of fan fiction is exceptionally active online, and plenty of enthusiastic fans and talented writers are borrowing Collins’s genius to create their own literary works. Try writing a scene from the books from another character’s perspective, or extend the storyline into the future or the past.

Train, Train, Rolling Down the Track

One of the greatest thrills of going to the Capital is that Peeta and Katniss get to ride on a luxurious train. While some people are used to riding on trains, for many of us who don’t live in large cities the idea of riding a train is still exciting. Check out Scenic Rail Excursions to find a railroad that offers a scenic trip near you!

Dressing Up

One of the things I looked forward to the most about The Hunger Games film was seeing how they portrayed the Capital residents. I was not disappointed. While it may seem a little early, why not try starting to plan your Halloween costume early and create an outlandish look? Go overboard with your make-up and bright clothing! Start shopping now so that your outfit can be truly worthy of the Hunger Games by Halloween!

Healing Skills

Katniss may deny it, but throughout the books she becomes a pretty skilled healer. Gain some healing skills yourself by taking a First Aid course. The American Red Cross offers lots of different options for courses, everything from Swimming and Water Safety and Babysitting to Wilderness First Aid and Pet First Aid. Check out their website to find a course in your area!

Camping Trip

This is a little more involved, but why not try taking a weekend camping trip? You’ll probably want your accommodations to more comfortable than those offered in the arena, so don’t forget a tent and sleeping bags!

Start a Book Club

Bond with friends and family members by starting a Hunger Games book club. Start by reading (or re-reading) all the Hunger Games novels, and then move on to other books (consider other dystopian YA novels, including The Giver by Lois Lowry or, for older readers, 1984 by George Orwell). Try arranging a group outing to see the movie.

What are other ideas you have for staying in The Hunger Games spirit?


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Put Away Your Laptop!

I spend way too much time in front of my laptop. I use it to work on my school assignments; I use it to watch television shows and movies; I use it to stay in touch with friends, family, and business associates; I use it to write and post my blog entries; and I can even use it to shop. By the end of the day, I spend more time in front of my laptop than away from it. That realization has not been a pleasant one.

It doesn’t help that laptops have become sort of all-purpose tools, or that working from home means that I feel like I need to be constantly checking my e-mail. Really, the only distance I get from my laptop comes when I’m asleep. The idea of “giving up” my laptop is impossible. I need to write my papers in Microsoft Word, I need to conduct my paper research on the Internet, I need to e-mail my professor the final copy through e-mail. I don’t even get distance for when I want some entertainment. I don’t have a television, so I use the internet to watch any shows I want and Netflix to watch any movies. To stay in touch with family and friends, I use Skype more than I use my cell phone. Through Project Gutenberg, I even do a lot of my school reading online. The introduction of my Nook e-reader into my technological stables has led me to spend even more time in front of a screen.

I’m not so young that I don’t remember a time when I spent days without going on the computer. Heck, I remember a time when playing on the computer was a treat. I’m not trying to get nostalgic here, but I am curious as to how the computer has become so ubiquitous within only a few years. Why can’t I just unplug myself from the laptop? Why don’t I spend more time not on the laptop than I do on the laptop?

Has anyone been able to get some distance from their laptop? What are some tips you have for someone like me who is trying to get some space?

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Hungry for More of The Hunger Games

Oh, so you thought that this blog would miss out on the cultural phenomenon that is The Hunger Games?

Not a chance.

The trilogy first came on my radar seriously about four months ago. Touted as a great young adult book series with similarities to Harry Potter, I was intrigued. It wasn’t until my spring break from school and a bout of illness that finally got me to read the books. I purchased the first book in the series on my Nook, and it was the first book I read using my e-reader. While I could spend another post extolling the virtues of the e-reader technology, for this post I’ll only focus on my immediate love for the narrative Suzanne Collins created.

Why choose between the book and the film? I choose both! (Image Credit:


I was hooked. I finished the first book in record time and immediately bought the two final books. I read straight through, from sunup to sundown, and when I reached the end of the third book I had to resist starting from the beginning of the series again. The Hunger Games have everything I love in books. Collins crafts an intricate universe through a compelling narrative. The main character, Katniss Everdeen, is a strong and resourceful female who doesn’t rely on others to survive. The books are as politically aware as George Orwell’s 1984 and as wonderful to read as Harry Potter. Collins caters to both young and old alike, and the movie does the same.

I’ve made no secret of my love for books that are turned into films, and The Hunger Games gets it right. The film doesn’t shy away from the violence, but it is brutal and revolting rather than attractive. This may not be a film you want to take the youngest members of your family to see, but certainly children over the age of ten should have no problem viewing the highly stylized, fast-cut shots of violence the film portrays. Everything is phenomenally done. I would argue that this trilogy has the potential to be as successful, moving, and enjoyable as the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Even if you or your child hasn’t read the film, go see the movie. Hopefully, it will inspire you to give Collins’s amazing book a chance.

What did you think of The Hunger Games? Did it live up to your expectations?

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My time teaching and tutoring has taught me one very important lesson: how to compromise. A compromise is when both sides get a little of what they want. For example, tonight at tutoring I wanted my student to finish the last 40 pages of his novel during the 1.5 hour tutoring session. My student, however, wanted to check out a new book on optical illusions. In the past, I would have insisted that Jimmy (name changed to protect the stubborn) finish his reading before checking out the new book. I would have thought that the promise of goofing off at the end would have been enough motivation for Jimmy to get his work done. I would have insisted that my way was the most efficient.

The problem is, what seems rational to you doesn’t always seem rational to the person you’re trying to convince. And so, instead of arguing, we broke up Jimmy’s work into chunks. “Alright, Jimmy,” I agreed, “you can have a five minute break if you read five pages. Deal?” He agreed. In fact, Jimmy exceeded expectations and read ten pages before asking for his break. We then spent five minutes looking at the optical illusions book and relaxing. At the end of the break, Jimmy resisted for a minute, but settled back into his book. A few pages later, he wanted to tell me a joke. Now, I could have interrupted the working environment and insisted he keep reading, or I could let him tell me the joke and then insist he go back to work. I compromised and chose the latter.

By the end of the evening, after more than a few breaks, Jimmy had finished his book and taken the breaks he wanted. Sure, I would have liked Jimmy to get more work done on the worksheet he had to follow up on the novel, and I’m sure Jimmy would have preferred to spend less time working, but we both left satisfied.

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Sunday Morning Shout Out

So I am stunned. But it seems like vestiges of the 1950’s are all around us lately.  I can’t believe that they still spank in some schools!  A recent report at the National Public Radio website titled “Spanking Lives on in Rural Florida Schools” by Sarah Gonzalez discusses the widespread use of spanking or paddling in some rural Florida districts. Florida is one of 19 states that still allow spanking in school.

While parental spanking is a whole other issue for parents in this country, I thought that school paddling was a closed chapter.  However, after a bit of research, I found that it was not. New Jersey was the first state to outlaw paddling in 1867; New York outlawed it in 1985.   So I guess the 1950’s weren’t so long ago, after all.

In my mind, this is problematic on so many fronts. First of all, there is a large question of efficacy. The Center for Effective Discipline found that this does not reduce act as a deterrent for bad behavior. In fact, the students who most often received the paddle were the children who got into trouble the most.  Also, it is a dicey type of discipline as hitting a student is often used as a punishment for a student who hits another student. So what are we really saying about hitting and violence in school?  Additionally, The Center for Effective Discipline found that paddling could have short and long term physical and psychological consequences.

Parental consent is another issue. While there certainly are parents, like the ones mentioned in this story that believe paddling deters bad behavior and are staunch supporters of the practice in their district, the opposite is also true. Not all parents in a district agree.  Even parents who did not consent to have their children paddled in school found their children being paddled anyways.  In my mind, this is completely impermissible and intolerable.  Parental consent is of necessity!  I think it is also important to have more of a universal policy of something of this nature.  At least in Florida it seems that each district makes its own policy on paddling and the if, when, and how it is used.

There are a lot of politicians and policy makers that are looking backwards to “how it used to be” to fix social issues across the spectrum. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, my shout out this week encourages us all to take pause before having seemingly knee jerk reactions to large problems when efficacy is in question and particularly when child welfare is also in question.


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Get Your Facts Straight

Driving to the airport this morning, the driver asked me if I had checked the status of my flight. “Not since last night,” I admitted. The sky was blue without clouds, the weather was unseasonably warm, and I really hadn’t seen a reason to. “Why?”

“Well, the baggage handlers are on an illegal wildcat strike, and so they’ve started canceling flights.”

What? WHAT?! I spent the rest of the ride in silence, trying to figure out what the heck I was going to do. If my flight was delayed for two hours, that would be fine. I would still make it to my conference with plenty of time to spare. Any longer, and I would be missing my talk. I felt nauseous, and not just because I had only gotten four hours of sleep last night and hadn’t eaten breakfast.

Well, it turns out that my panicking was for nothing. I got to the airport and found out it was an entirely different airline that was having a labor dispute. So here I sit preparing to board in about ten minutes, and all my worrying was for nothing. The moral of the story is that you can worry about things as much as you want, but there really isn’t a point in worrying until you have all the facts. You’ll save yourself a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety.

Next week I’ll be discussing how to prepare for an academic conference and a rundown of what worked (and what DIDN’T) for my own presentation!

Fly free and easy rather than worrying about worst case scenarios! (Image Credit:

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