December 26, 2011

Thoughts on Christmas

I don’t remember the point when I stopped looking forward to Barbies and CDs under the tree. Now I hope for cashmere and little green notes to help me cover the Health and Recreation fees at school.

The holidays are different once you leave home. Especially when you leave home and have a “life” somewhere else. For me, coming back to Lincoln was particularly bizarre this year. I left my whirlwind of linguistics and language for a few weeks of good old Nebraska. My family puts on an epic party every year, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world—although maybe for plane tickets to Thailand (sorry Mom!). This year, the party was on the 23rd, that’s the day before Christmas Eve and the day after my Mom’s birthday. Three party days in a row is a lot for this grad student.

For my Mom’s birthday, my cousin picked me up to go downtown and have lunch with our mothers. My cousin, who I may always picture as a 10-year-old, is now about 6’4” and 270 lbs. He just finished his first semester of college and we suddenly had a lot in common. When did that happen?

It was also on my Mom’s birthday that I gained a lot of respect for my own body. I had to have a blood test done at the doctor, and I forgot that I should lie down during the blood draw. I survived the poke, the eternity of the draw, and the put-your-finger-on-the-cotton-ball, but after that, it’s all a blur. I came to slumped way down in the chair, with three nurses holding on to me. I put the pieces together to realize that this was not a bad dream and that I had actually passed out. It’s a special condition they told me. Something about the veins in my head contracting so much that I don’t get enough oxygen. Lot s of people have it. It’s always the big guys that pass out on us. Nothing to be ashamed of. Drink this orange juice.

I threw up the orange juice, much to the dismay of the lab tech. My blood pressure hovered around 70 for a little while as I did my best to stay awake. They put me in a wheelchair and wheeled me back to the exam room. The doctor chuckled at me and we joked that passing out was worse than the symptom I was trying to treat!

I regained most of my color and tried to fake some dignity on my way out.

Amazing how resilient the human body is. Unconscious one minute, paying a bill the next. If only my bank account were so self-healing.

Besides my medical misadventures (I’m fine, by the way, nothing a few days of medicine couldn’t fix), it was an eventful few days. The Griesel Christmas Party has reached legend stage. My parents invite over a hundred people, and most of them show up and bring friends. My Mom bakes about 500 cookies in the months before the party, and my Dad cooks up ham shanks and sauerkraut and grilled brats for everyone.

We hire someone to help in the kitchen during the party, we have two bartenders serving guests, and we have had hired babysitters and piano players in the past. Part of me feels like hiring people to work at your party is too bourgeoisie, but actually, it’s much better for the Griesels, because we can enjoy the party ourselves and we don’t have to spend the whole night pouring drinks.

While I know many of the guests, there are at least 50% that I either don’t know or can’t recognize from the last party. The deck is somewhat stacked against me, since everyone knows my parents and therefore knows that I am the daughter. Most of those people even know my name, so they rush over and greet me, and I frankly have no idea who they are. I have fish for clues or ask them straight up for names. I once asked a couple “So, how do you know my parents?” When they said, “We are your neighbors”, you can imagine the embarrassment.

This year, having started a new phase in Flagstaff, I had a good excuse for not knowing the neighbors. I also had a much better outlook on life than last year, and a more certain feeling than two years ago (it was about 2 weeks before I left for Cambodia). Telling people about grad school and Flagstaff felt good. I feel like I’m hitting my stride right now. I have a job that pays my bills, I’m studying something I‘m interested in, and I have some idea of what’s coming up in the next several years. Especially the parents of my brother’s basketball team seem to appreciate my struggles and successes. They also tell me how much my little bro misses me when I’m gone. That is a good Christmas present.

When I was little, Christmas was all about the cookies, the presents and the unwrapping. Now that I’m doing some of the wrapping, paying the Christmas credit card bills, and watching what I eat, Christmas has a new meaning. At the risk of sounding very Dr. Suess circa How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Christmas does mean something more. I’ve never appreciated eating breakfast with my family like I do now. I’ve never seen a more beautiful Christmas tree, or wanted to cry so fiercely during silent night at church.

This newfound reverence probably comes from life experience and possibly some latent homesickness. Whatever the cause, it couldn’t come at a better time. The holidays should be about appreciating our families, our health, and the hard work we put in during the year. Cashmere and cake balls are good ways to show appreciation.

Merry Christmas.

December 16, 2011

One down and three to go!

I survived  my first semester of grad school. I haven't seen my grades yet, but barring any major snafu in my final exams, I think I will be pretty proud of myself.

Flagstaff was an unexpected gem of the decision to come to NAU. For about six months of the year, the weather is outstanding. For the other six, or at least the part I've so far experienced, you better have snow-boots. Actually I saw a woman walking her dog on cross-country skies yesterday. That kind of bold spirit characterized this town as the pot-smoking-vegan-cowboy-environmentalist town that it is. If it isn't organic,made by Patagonia, or if you can't spend the week rock climbing it's caverns, it isn't good enough for Flagstaff.

Granted, I'm not exactly a Flagstaffer yet. I appreciate the concern for the environment and the healthier diets, but sometimes the hippie stuff is too much.

Moving on, my cohort of MA-TESL students is incredible. I've made some really good friends. Since we all share the daunting experience of being first-year graduate students, I think we bond on fear and anxiety. Those bonds go deep. It's a good thing to bond with your cohort, because they will be your biggest support. In an graduate program with both PhD and MA options, the MAs get run through as quickly and painlessly as possible. On the other hand, The PhDs go through an arduous screening-in process to become candidates. I didn't realize how political graduate school can be, but having shared an office with two PhD students, I sure got an ear-full.

TESL itself was a good choice for me. I feel like I am able to invest a lot of myself into the assignments because of my own experiences learning language, and my experiences in Cambodia. Especially for my term paper about attitudes toward English in Cambodia, I had put my heart into researching and writing, so it was a great validation to get an A. I spent yesterday morning discussing that paper with a friend who wrote about refugees learning English. We are going to present our papers together at a small conference in February. It was rewarding to talk with her about something that I was so proud of, and to feel like maybe I know what I'm talking about. It's the first of four semesters, but if I keep expanding my knowledge at this rate, I think I will need a bigger skull.

I also turned in grades yesterday for my ENG 105 class. What an experience. Teaching composition is one thing, but being a teacher is quite another. I had a few students cry during the semester, another disappeared, and some just never quite knew what to do. I have so much admiration for teachers. This profession goes so deep. You are the presenter of materials, the grader of assignments, the counselor, the motivational speaker, and, in a way, the decider of futures. Next semester, I'm signed up to teach a special section of 105 designated for international students who are at a high level in the Program of Intensive English at NAU. Two of my good friends taught this section this semester, and are going to do it again in January, so at least I won't be alone.

Grad school is an intense experience. It reminds me of studying abroad in a way. When I was in Austria, I felt like I was trying to eat, sleep, and breathe German language. Now, I am eating, sleeping, and breathing English. I wake up at 6 and start thinking about plans for the day. By 7 or 8, I'm checking emails from my students, by 9 I'm tutoring, going to class, doing homework, teaching, updating grades, commenting on papers etc, then at 10 PM, I crawl into bed. That's when I do mental lesson plans for the next day. Luckily, about half-way through the semester, I stopped dreaming about school.

It's kind of exhilarating to be that immersed in something, but at the same time, wow, do I need a break. I miss my family and my boyfriend. I miss my kitties and I miss the flat horizon of Nebraska. I miss thinking about things besides English. Just give me three weeks away from the ponderosas and the mountains and I will be fine.

Get ready, Nebraska.