Dissertation Defense Scheduled!

Roxie snoozing in her purple dress.

Roxie snoozing in her purple dress.

It’s been quite busy around here lately–mostly because I adopted an adorable puppy I named Roxie a few weeks ago. BUT even more exciting is that I’m in the process of writing my final dissertation chapter AND I’ve officially scheduled my defense date! (March 4th at 10:30am for those who’d like to know.) It’s both amazing and a bit terrifying.

Surprisingly, I’ve found myself reluctant to work as the “end” approaches. I expected to find myself super energized and ready to finish. Instead, I’m reluctant to work. I’m not sure if it’s just because I need a break or if I’m anxious about ending this phase of my life and beginning a new one. I’m certainly excited to no longer be an official student. And I also anticipate some revision and an additional chapter to transform my dissertation into a book, so it isn’t as if the project is *done* once it’s defended.

As I write this, I’ve decided that either way, it is “okay.” I will do as I have always done and push forward toward success. The end of my dissertation is near, and that is *AWESOME* and deserves to be celebrated!


Oh, Hey, That’s My Picture!

So the recent copy of the University of St. Thomas English Department’s newsletter, Writing in the Margins, came in the mail last week but I never got around to looking through it. My mom did, though, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it not only featured my picture from my October colloquium presentation, but also several updates regarding my recent academic activities and progress. It kind of made my day!

While this issue of the newsletter is not yet available online, I did take some screen shots that I’ve shared below. The photo from my presentation has been added to the events page. And even more surprisingly, a photo from my Master’s graduation ceremony is being used to promote an information session for the program. (I’m the second from the right in that one.)

So now I get to head off to bed tonight feeling special as well as excited to add a new layer to my current interpretation of Mary Shelley’s “The Invisible Girl.” It has been an all-around excellent holiday season so far, and I hope everyone is enjoying it as much as I am!

AFS & Watercolor Class

Hello all! I’ve been MIA for a while now, I know, and I do apologize. That being said, it may continue for a bit still.

I finally finished all my conferences for this year, and the American Folklore Society annual meeting was a *wonderful* conference to end on. I bought some great book from Wayne State Press, with signatures by authors, and met so many of my favorite fairy-tale scholars. It was both a networking success and just plain fun! (In case your wondering, the books I purchased are Kimberly J. Lau’s Erotic Infidelities: Love and Enchantment in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Channeling Wonder: Fairy Tales on Television edited by Pauline Greenhill and Jill Terry Rudy.)

Since then, I’ve been focusing on job and postdoc applications, and they do seems to be eating up my life. I’m hoping to get the next set submitted soon so that I can return my attention to finishing my next dissertation chapter on Elizabeth Gaskell’s gothic fairy tales.

However, I have continued my attendance at my community watercolor class, which I first discussed here, and I am pleased with my progress there as well. I’ve included the two latest paintings that I’ve finished and I’m about to begin another on my service dog, Oakley. Once this session is done, though, I’ll be taking a break to avoid driving in the snow (which has been here for a week already) and to really focus on my dissertation as defense time approaches. I’ll probably start back up again after my defense in March, since it really is a wonderful stress reliever for me.

white-tailed deer watercolor

This one was tough, but I’m pleased with the result. The photo I used as inspiration can be found here.

Bird Watercolor

This was just fun to do–I love all the colors. It was inspired by another watercolor that I found via Pinterest. I’m not sure who the original artist is but I’d be happy to credit them if someone could let me know!


Dissertation Break & Scheduled Relaxation: Community Watercolor Class

While I am ever so slowly getting back into my chapter (and getting excited about the topic once more), the dissertation writing process frequently feels like a lonesome task. And it is lonely, particularly as I am focusing on my dissertation rather than teaching this academic year. While I certainly don’t miss the hassle of course preparation, lesson planning, and grading, interacting with students and other instructors is a method of getting away from the solo business of writing and focusing on something else; in my world (and I assume in that of many other academics), teaching can become a research break that forces me to stop thinking about my chapters.

But what do you do when you aren’t teaching? The guilt of not working on my dissertation is ridiculous, especially when I can’t claim other types of productivity. Moreover, while I’m happy to be done with coursework, I do miss being a student and the joy of learning. Enter the community center introduction to watercolors class.

My community center art class has proven to be a great method of forcing myself to relax and forget about my dissertation for at least a few hours a week. There are many reasons for this:

  1. It’s fun.
  2. I’m paying for the class so I’m going to attend the class because, like most grad students, I have a tight budget. But, the class is not nearly as expensive as a college course so it actually fits within my budget. Supplies were also affordable, which is why I chose watercolors over the more expensive ceramics class.
  3. Nobody in the class cares about my dissertation. Unlike my friends, family, and colleagues, the instructor and other students don’t want to hear about my research, beyond the general topic being fairy tales, so while I’m in the class, I’m not talking about my progress and challenges.
  4. It meets regularly in the evenings, so each week I have 2.5 hours set aside for the class without worrying about losing or wasting time. Basically, relaxation is built into my schedule. Also, evenings are usually my least productive time of day, so I’m not painting during normally productive hours.

I really enjoyed my 6 week late summer class, and this weekend I will be registering for Fall session classes. If you’re like me and find it difficult to relax but really need to get out of the house and away from your research, look into what classes are offered by your local community center. You may be surprised by the options available and find a great new hobby. Plus, my finished artwork (pictured below) made a lovely birthday present for my mother.

Watercolor purple flower

My Finished Watercolor (Painted from image at top of post.)

Optimizing My Writing Space: DIY Desk Makeover

This is the reveal of my new and improved desk!

I discussed some ideas I had for optimizing my writing space in this post, and after an at times hellish week, my desk revamp is now complete. The process of repainting and stenciling my hand-me-down laminate desk was more time and energy consuming than I originally thought it would be, but I’m very pleased with the end result, and I’ve learned *a lot* about painting (laminate) furniture.

Here is what my desk looked like when I began the project. (You can see that I tested my metallic paint on the keyboard shelf by the time I thought to take a “before” photo.)

plain laminate desk before paint


And here is the end result, after spray painting, stenciling, and sealing.

Painted and Stenciled Laminate Desk




Create an inviting and inspirational workspace to make the idea of sitting and writing for hours on end more appealing.


  1. Laminate Desk
  2. Spray Paint (I used 4 cans of Krylon Fusion for Plastic in Metallic Shimmer on the base and ~1.5 cans of Krylon Dual Superbond Paint + Primer in Ivory Satin for the desk top.)
  3. Stencils of choice
  4. Acrylic Paint (I used three colors I had laying around from a previous project for the stenciling)
  5. Foam Brushes to apply acrylic paint
  6. 1 spray can of Minwax Polycrylic in Clear with Satin finish (to protect desk top)
  7. 220 Sandpaper to sand between coats of polycrylic
  8. Tarp to protect garage floor
  9. Boxes to stand furniture on while painting
  10. Internet Access for continual research

Process (actual not necessarily recommended):

  1. Research via Pinterest for tips on painting laminate
  2. Decide spray paint is the answer to “easy” furniture makeovers and that you want your desk to be a metallic copper
  3. Run all over more than one town looking for the only spray paint that explicitly states it is made to work with laminate (Krylon Dual Superbond Paint + Primer) only to find it is unavailable at most locations and is definitely unavailable in copper
  4. After being lied to by a sales associate regarding the presence of the desired paint in silver, settle on a silver paint made for plastic (because plastic and laminate are basically the same thing, right?)
  5. Also purchase a can of spray polyurethane that is not the polycrylic you thought you needed only to discover you were correct and that the purchased product needs to be returned
  6. Test the paint on the keyboard shelf to make sure it doesn’t simply refuse to stick
  7. Talk father into helping to paint the desk he gave you
  8. Run out of metallic spray paint after base is painted (desk top is still original laminate)
  9. Decide the metallic paint is darker than you expected and so desk top is going to be painted ivory and stenciled (because it should be a simple process, right?)
  10. Do more research regarding stenciling furniture
  11. Run all over more than one town (again) looking for ivory paint made for laminates (found at 1st store, score!–along with foam brushes and sandpaper), correct spray polycrylic (found at 3rd store), and stencils (found at 6th store).
  12. After spray painting desk top ivory, spend 7 hours painting the stencils in a filthy garage in 90+ degree heat, bent over the desk top and unable to sit
  13. Decide the stencils can be cleaned later because your back is killing you (they are still waiting to be cleaned and I’m still in pain)
  14. Due to pain, ask dad to help again by applying polycrylic to desk top and sanding between each coat (3 were recommended, 5 were applied and then the can was empty so we–he–stopped)
  15. Have dad move the desk to new apartment, put it back together, and take picture of end product…1 hellish week complete!

Lessons Learned & Tips for Future Projects:

  1. Plan ahead. *Way* ahead.
  2. When trying a new technique (all of this was new to both me and my dad), begin with a smaller project (like a box, a frame, an end table, etc.).
  3. Don’t attempt to complete entire project in 1 week.
  4. Purchase all needed materials ahead of time, perhaps via the internet to avoid driving around everywhere only to find your desired materials are unavailable.
  5. Painting wood furniture instead of laminate furniture would also make purchasing materials easier, as there are many more products available for painting wood.
  6. Choose more temperate weather for outdoor projects (meaning not humid and 90+ degrees)
  7. Hmmm, I know there are more but I’m drawing a blank, so I’ll end with have fun with it and enjoy the final product of all your hard work!


Although this was a difficult and trying process, I’m extremely pleased with the end result and look forward to using my pretty new desk (once the desk top has plenty of time to dry). It was certainly worth all the work.

Now I find myself eyeing up various pieces of furniture as possible future projects. I won’t be taking them on any time soon (after all, I have some smaller crafts in the works to continue upgrading my work space) but this project definitely has not turned me off from painting and/or stenciling furniture in the future.

The possibilities seem endless…and I have this end table that would look lovely in a metallic copper!

Sources of Inspiration and Information (in no particular order):

  1. Everything I Know About Spray Paint!” and “Painting Furniture 101” by All Things Thrifty
  2. How to Spray Paint Furniture Like a Pro!” by Classy Clutter
  3. Bling for the Bedroom–A Silver Nightstand–Sold” by The Ordinary Made Extraordinary
  4. Painting Laminate Furniture” by Gluesticks
  5. Table Redo for $12–Holla! + My Best Tips on How to Spray Paint Furniture” by The House of Smiths
  6. DIY Desk Makeover” by The Chronicles of Ruthie Hart
  7. DIY Thrift Store Desk Makeover (Using Silver Leaf!)” by LiveLoveDIY
  8. Make It Nice Again” by Pinterest & the Pauper

Optimizing My Writing Space: Paint & Plans

In a previous post, I discussed how having a dedicated and comfortable writing space was improving my productivity as I compose my dissertation. I mentioned purchasing a separate keyboard to use to increase comfort when typing as my desk is setup with a keyboard shelf and therefore not super conducive to typing on a laptop resting on the desktop. (I switched to the keyboard halfway through the first sentence of this post, so it was a very good decision!) In this post, I’d like to compile and discuss some of my plans for improving my writing space (aka desk).

In a week I will finally be moving into my “permanent” apartment (yay!) and so will have the opportunity to reorganize my work space. This is what I currently have in mind:


To begin with, I’m painting my current desk to make it more aesthetically appealing. The desk was a hand-me-down from my dad, so I really had no say in picking it out. Also, because it was free for me, I’m not opposed to putting a bit of money into painting it.  What color, you may ask? I’ve decided on metallic nickel!

I’m excited for the transformation and have been “researching” how to spray paint laminate furniture (mostly on Pinterest). This backfired a bit as the paint I wanted, and the copper color I wanted, was unavailable in my area. I was able to find the metallic nickel color, however, and the paint, while not formulated for laminate, is made for plastics and other “hard to paint surfaces.” I tested it on the keyboard shelf yesterday as an easily removable and mostly unseen piece to paint and perhaps ruin, and so far so good! Hopefully, the results prove equally pleasing when the rest of the desk is done!

messy workspace, painting in progress

Part of my current disaster of a work space. You may notice the newly metallic keyboard shelf at the bottom.


In addition to painting my desk, I’ve been considering new ways to organize my materials. During this recent in-between time (crammed into a one-bedroom apartment with another person–my bed is in the dining room actually and my desk is located at its foot) my desk has become out of control–simply a huge jumbled mess of random stuff (see photo evidence above). While this may do for now, I want a better system in the new apartment. Enter Pinterest (again)!

I came across some pins from a Better Homes & Gardens slideshow called “Home Office Storage on a Dime.” This simple organization system using some labeled clothespins appealed to me.

While the article suggests using the clothespins as a weekly schedule, labeling the clothespins with days of the week, I think this setup could be perfect for organizing various notes, quickly jotted thoughts, questions or directions, and/or quotations. Each pin could be labeled according to article or chapter topic or even sub-topic (for instance, Literary Annuals, Mary de Morgan, Theory, Introduction, etc.). Additional pins could be used as a to-do list or even a series of goals. Really, the possibilities seem endless.


The same article also suggested turning canvas artwork into a memo board. It explained, “Don’t spend money on a corkboard — instead turn an artist’s canvas into a practical memo board. For a magnetic surface, attach a sheet-metal square. Hang it above your desk to keep important items visible” (“Home Office Storage on a Dime“)

I like the idea of a “prettier” memo board. But more than that, I like the idea of creating my own piece of artwork on a canvas and transforming that into a memo board. I’m currently taking a watercolor class at the community art center, and I think this may be the perfect way to utilize my newly acquired (basic) watercolor skills. Or, for more pop, I might use some basic acrylic paints, or even just wrap a canvas in a favorite piece of patterned fabric. Plus, I can choose whatever size I want and/or need.

Moreover, should I go the magnetic route suggested by the article, I could glue magnets to the labeled clothespins and skip the hanging twine altogether!


Finally, I’m considering a motivational quotation, perhaps in the form of a wall decal. Tradingphrases.com has several options, but I kind of have a specific quotation in mind and am having trouble finding it in decal form. It’s from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:

Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.

Not only is this quotation motivational as it encourages perseverence in the pursuit and completion of goals, but it also is rather calming in suggesting that there is a linear process to an end, whatever that end may be. I simply love it. So I might need to order a custom decal with this quotation. Or I might get an extra-large canvas for a memo board and incorporate the quotation into my artwork. 🙂

Making a Good First Impression: Does My Hairstyle Matter in Academic Job Interviews?

I debated with myself about whether or not to write this post, but the me that said yes won out, mainly because this question has been bothering me and I think it may be a legitimate concern: Will my personal choices regarding my hair have an impact when I’m searching for my first academic job?

My decision to write this post was reinforced when a quick search of The Chronicle of Higher Education website (search terms: interview appearance) yielded this article by Rob Jenkins, “How to Dress for Your Interview” (2009). Interestingly, while Jenkins goes into extreme detail, noting clothing colors and styles, shoes, specific accessories (including hose for women) and makeup, and even mentions men’s hair length and grooming, women’s hair is conspicuously absent from his advice. Jenkins’s advice reappears in 2010 in “How to Stand Out in Your Interview,” in which he briefly states (after repeating a summary of the detail from his 2009 article), “Women should avoid extremes in hair styles, makeup, and jewelry.”

I like to experiment with my hair cuts and styles as a fun form of expression that is not permanent. Currently, I’ve been focusing on low maintenance so I do not have to worry about making and going to appointments for upkeep. This means my hair is now quite long, its natural brunette with only a few subtle lowlights mixed in away from the hairline (so no roots to worry about), and my previous heavy bang has been allowed to grow into side-swept bangs (in part because it’s nice to be able to pull them back during the hot summer). Practical, no nonsense, no upkeep hair that still leaves me the option to experiment with new updos when I’m in the mood.

long hair, brunette, side bangs

Current Hairstyle via Pinterest

Ginnifer Goodwin, Pixie, Short Hair

Ginnifer Goodwin via Pinterest

The hair I’ve been dreaming of is Ginnifer Goodwin’s pixie cut, which manages to be quite versatile despite its short length. My concern is whether such a hair cut may potentially negatively impact me when I begin my job search in the fall and (hopefully) have interviews. Could some established academics (in particular those on hiring committees or those with fixed opinions like Rob Jenkins) still be put off by a woman with short hair? I don’t know and that is what is bothering me. When you hear colleagues judging candidates based on their shoe choice (I’m not kidding! Someone was bashing a candidate because his shoes were too shiny, pointy, and fancy!), deciding whether to take the leap and cut your hair short becomes a bigger decision than whether or not you’re personally ready to take the plunge.

Yet I’m also concerned that leaving my hair as long as it currently is may also not give the best first impression. I look young, and long hair tends to accentuate youth. I feel like that would work against me in potential interviews and that could be worse than looking too “edgy” or trendy with a super short cut.

So I’m now considering the compromise below.

mid-length hair, heavy bangs, edgy yet professional

Compromise Cut via Pinterest

brunette, highlights

Compromise Color via Pinterest

This cut and color combination may provide the best of both worlds: the cut is professional and timeless while the bangs still add a little edge, and the color is basically brunette with subtle highlights to add interest. The other benefit is that I’ll still be able to pull it back into an oh-so professional bun if I choose.

I haven’t made my decision yet, but it’s amazing how something as mundane and personal as hairstyle can seem to have larger connotations and permanent consequences, particularly when job prospects are so dismal. Where clothing can be selected specifically for an interview and quickly discarded, hair is less easily professionalized.

Thoughts??? Could hairstyle be a concern when it comes to making a good first impression when job searching, or am I simply over-thinking things?

Sixth Anniversary of Spinal Cord Tumor Removal

Today, July 9th, 2014, commemorates the sixth anniversary of my spinal cord surgery. In 2008, I was diagnosed with a pilocytic astrocytoma in the thoracic region of my spinal cord (T4-T7). It was, without understatement, a life-changing discovery. Nonsurgical treatment was not an option in my case; the tumor needed to be removed, and quickly, if I was to have any hope of recovery. Six weeks later, on July 9th, 2008, Dr. Michael Edwards successfully removed the tumor surgically at the Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford.

While the surgery was a success, following the surgery I was paralyzed from the waist down. I have since regained the ability to walk with assistance (a cane for the last several years), and, more importantly, the tumor has not returned. Yet permanent nerve damage remains, and I cannot help thinking fondly of my life prior to my spinal cord tumor and disability.

As suggested in the above video, my education and academic aspirations have remained a significant constant both before and after my surgery. They kept me from giving into depression following the surgery, and academia still remains a field in which I am not limited by my physical disability. I’m happily writing my dissertation, preparing to apply for teaching jobs in higher education, and planning to graduate with my doctorate in May 2015.

In regards to my limitations in mobility, I’m also preparing for continued progress, as I will be returning to physical therapy at the end of this month in the hopes that further freedom of mobility can be achieved. My dream is to be able to walk unassisted, to finally lose the constant companion of my cane.

I’ve met a lot of amazing people since my surgery and the release of the above video, and we can all attest to the fact that life goes on after surgery and/or disability. It’s different and difficult, and it’s not what we may have expected, but it continues and we adapt and thrive.

I hope to have more good news to share on my tenth anniversary in four years. 🙂

Getting into the Writing Mood: Where Candles & Literature Collide

One effective writing habit that I have whole-heartedly embraced in the last few months is that of the designated writing location. For me, it’s my (often messy and full of flotsam) desk. But sometimes merely sitting at my desk isn’t enough to get into the writing groove. Enter my signature “writing scent” and Frostbeard Studio Soy Candles.

I came across these candles at a local craft show (Craftstravaganza, I believe it was called) and was instantly drawn in by their unique combination of scented candles and literature. I fell in love with and purchased Pemberley Rose, a pink candle inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. According to Frostbeard Studio’s online product description,


Part of our Book Lovers’ Series, this candle is a completely original scent! Inspired by the Pemberley Estate and ideal for fans of Jane Austen.

This scent is our most feminine and traditional, a pleasant floral garden mix.

Fresh roses with a hint of lilac and hyacinth.”

Candle, book, Spellbound, Pemberley Rose

Frostbeard Studio’s Pemberley Rose Candle & Molly Clarke Hillard’s new text, Spellbound: The Fairy Tale and the Victorians

The floral scent is lovely and perfectly sets the mood for dissertation writing. Moreover, these candles seem to be ideal gifts for any book-lover, and Frostbeard Studio also notably features several candles inspired by Harry Potter and even Doctor Who.

The Lit Lover’s Dilemma: Where Do I Store All My BOOKS?

As every literature student, instructor, collector, lover, etc. knows, bound books take up valuable living space. A lot of space. As every literature lover who has had to move knows, bound books are HEAVY. As a rabid reader of fiction since junior high school, I have accumulated A LOT of books though the years, as anyone who has helped me move can attest. And every time I move, I determine to downsize. But I can never part with my books, and since I continue to buy more each year, my collection continues to grow.

Book Cover Images

A small selection of titles in my bound-book collection.


As I am currently once more in the process of moving, the dilemma caused by my extensive bound book collection is fresh on my mind. I have too many boxes of books to count packed and stuffed into the one-bedroom apartment I currently share with another. We won’t move into a two-bedroom apartment until August, so I tried to anticipate my writing and reference needs by filling a suitcase with “necessary” books for easy (or simply easier) access.

A family friend who helped move me from Michigan to Minnesota lamented (repeatedly), “More boxes of books?! Why do you have so many books? Haven’t you heard of e-books?”

In theory, I have no problem with e-books. I own a number of them actually. But there are many reasons I continue to use and purchase bound books.

1. I owned the bound book before the e-book was available.

A lot of my books, in particular my non-academic, mass-market paperback genre fiction novels, were purchased before the release of the e-reader. These are the books I tend to purchase as e-books because it is simply easier and saves space; it’s also more convenient for vacation or relaxation (aka “fun”) reading as you can access a variety of texts anywhere, anytime with an e-reader. But as much as I’d like to simply replace these bound texts, it is not financially feasible on a graduate student budget. I keep telling myself I’ll do so when I get my (dream) job and can afford to do so.

2. Bound books are easier to use as sources for literary analysis.

When I’m analyzing a text and writing an argument about it, it’s a lot easier (for me) to reference a bound version of the primary text. This is because I can mark relevant quotations, make marginal notes, and skip around within the text as needed. Finding unmarked passages that I need is also easier to do in a bound book, as you can fan through the pages as needed and have a better idea of physical location (for example, I’m looking for a passage in the middle of the book so I’m fanning/skimming in that area). While I can mark, take notes, and sometimes search through e-books, skimming really doesn’t work, and I can’t move quickly back and forth between difference notes, marked passages, etc. as I can with a bound book. Furthermore, MLA citation requires page numbers that are usually unavailable in a digital format.

3. Bound books are easier to use in the classroom.

For many of the same reasons listed in the previous point, a bound book is easier to use in the classroom, as the class moves from passage to passage, not necessarily in any chronological order. This is especially the case as an instructor, I think. I’ve used e-books in the classroom as a student (it’s hard to pass up free 19th-century texts) and have found them clunky and unwieldy. Even using the search function to locate specific passages, I am inevitably behind in the conversation, unlike those students who can simply reference a page and paragraph number.

4. Used bound books are cheap.

I love used book stores. One of my favorites is Half-Price Books, and I’ve found some excellent deals on both literary texts and literary criticism/theory texts at their stores (particularly if I visit a store located near one or more college campuses). Cheap bound books are also available on Amazon. While e-books are often (but not always) cheaper than their bound counterparts, used bound books are often cheaper still. So until I can purchase a “used” e-book, I cannot overlook the deals available on used bound books.

5. A lot of critical texts are unavailable as an e-book. Numerous academic monographs, anthologies, etc. are not available in any form other than bound hardcopy. This means access is limited to purchasing the bound book or borrowing the bound book from a library. While the library is often a good source, purchasing the book allows unlimited, repeated access and reference, and it can sometimes be quicker as well.

6. Bound books are more aesthetically pleasing. Sometimes it’s just nice to admire a book cover or unusual binding, to hold a book in your hands and smell its pleasantly musty scent. In my opinion, personalized epigraphs and signatures in books received as gifts also adds value. Yes, they’re dust-traps, but don’t they look nice displayed on your books shelf???


I think these are pretty good reasons to keep my collection of bound books. I obviously didn’t explain this in detail to the lamenting family friend, but his lament’s did encourage me to think about this in more detail. (My response on moving day was “I’m an English major.”)

And regarding storage space, I’ll simply have to invest in another bookshelf to make up for the loss of the built-in shelf I sadly said goodbye to in my Michigan apartment. Off to Ikea I go! I’m also looking to purchase a rolling book cart (like those used in libraries) to store some books in my closet. Maybe some day I’ll use that same cart in my own home library…