Tuesday, October 26, 2021

how to afford a full-year sabbatical

 In order to take sabbatical for a full year at some institutions, you have to be prepared to lose part of your paycheck. Believe me, it's totally worth it (particularly because sabbatical is giving me a break from the chaos pervading my workplace)--but you still have to pay your bills, especially if you're like me and your paycheck is the only paycheck coming into your household. In my case, I took a 35% pay cut.

So in order to fund this full year, the first step is to save up what you need to cover your expenses for the year. One of the upsides of living through a global pandemic is that we are one of the lucky families who ended up saving all the money we weren't spending because we weren't going out to eat and venturing places where the money is easy to spend, and I kept my job. So, despite not really planning to need to save up for sabbatical, I ended up stashing away enough to cover the difference in pay. Also, those extra child credit payments are basically making up a good part of the difference too. All of this is to say that I had good timing and a few other factors on my side, which may be hard to replicate, but certainly took the pressure off given that I didn't originally plan to have to cover the pay gap.

Second is to budget, budget, budget. I figured out how much my monthly income would be with the pay cut and figured out roughly how much we'd need to try to spend on things like groceries. We like good food and if left to our own devices, we end up spending more on food than is strictly necessary, so now I hound my spouse to stay under a specific number and *surprise* he does--and we still eat delicious food. This took about a month or two to get used to, but now we seem to be able to stay mostly within our budget. Also, we're still not eating out much (like maybe once a month) or buying coffee out anymore (which would be higher if I could actually go work at a coffee shop), so that amount continues to be very small. We use YNAB for our budget (link contains a referral code), and I like it a lot--it synchs with all your accounts and helps you spend only the money you have if you're also using credit cards because it makes those expenses visible, even if they aren't coming out of your bank account in the moment.

Third is to make/thrift/mend instead of buying new. While not practical for all things, I certainly have sufficient clothes, but I'm finding myself doing things like patching a ripped seam in my undies (they are perfectly useable otherwise!), darning socks, and knitting up things we might want. I am a crafter, though, so I also have all the materials around, so if I'm making something new, I'm generally trying to use materials I have on hand instead of buying new materials because that would defeat the purpose, so yay for fabric/yarn stashes. And the spouse is taking advantage of some time to browse thrift shops for things we want--and I'm trying to make lists, like telling him to find me yoga blocks at the thrift shop instead of buying new ones, or looking there to replace our waffle iron (which is better for the environment anyway).

Finally, it also helps to have fewer expenses, like being able to get through undergrad/graduate school without loans (or being able to pay off the small loan I took out quickly), not having a car payment, and not having to pay for childcare. This series of circumstances reminds me that where I am is a mix of good fortune, resources, and other things outside my control (along with a few choices we made).

I meant for this to be a little tongue-in-cheek, except as I wrote it, it got earnest. Mostly, I want to point out that the combination of luck, lowered expenses, increased funds from outside my job, and other factors that I had little control over actually helped me out--and I'm leaning into a year of being more deliberate with how I spend money (and using all our skills to make things more cheaply). 

And as I told my partner, the goal wasn't austerity but frugality, and I think we're seeing how making a little less money isn't so bad because we have enough overall, which isn't the case for a lot of families. When I was younger, I didn't have enough--my family was poor in the full definition of the word, and I had to get to a point where I had enough in order to break the boom/bust cycle of spending that happens when you never know if you'll get a windfall again (basically, after I got this job). But now that I've had sufficient resources for long enough, I'm able to manage--and have a safety net too. My financial security is still something I marvel at and feel grateful for every day. And I'm glad it can support this sabbatical year that I sorely needed.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

a series of unfortunate books

 Apparently, October is the month for books about misfortune and heartbreak: I finished Qian Julie Wang's Beautiful Country, which was incredible but so dire, so I told myself, I'll read something light to balance that out, only to dive right into Lessa Cross-Smith's This Close to Okay, a book about the relationship between the two main characters after one stops the other (at first, a stranger) from leaping off a bridge in the aftermath of his own shattering losses. Then, I dive into Suleika Jaouad's Between Two Kingdoms, the memoir of a young woman's live during and after being diagnosed with leukemia. All three books were beautiful, and I rated them highly on Goodreads, but all three were about loss, in-betweeness, and learning to keep living in the face of pain.

Maybe now I'll dive into something fluffier, or I'll see if the theme of unfortunate books continues.

Monday, October 18, 2021

bike versus car

 On Friday, I was hit by a car while I was biking onto campus.

I'm still reeling and processing--I was HIT by a whole CAR and not a small one either but a FREAKIN' SUV--but overall, I'm ok. I have a bruised arm and bruised shoulder, and the muscles around my shoulder blade were a little sore/tight, and I scraped by knee on the pavement. But I'm lucky to be relatively unscathed (and my bike seems to be also just fine).

How it happened: when I bike under the bridge on the Greenbelt that is also the entry to campus, I usually get off the Greenbelt and onto the street, as is encouraged by how the paths are set up. Usually, the Greenbelt is full of pedestrians (particularly during class change-overs), and there are many people on wheeled conveyances of various sorts, so the faster-moving folks are encouraged to move to the street, where there are sharrows one way (and a bike lane the other). So, basically for the last six years, I move from Greenbelt to street at the point it's encouraged by the designers.

As I hit the point where I was moving to the street, I noticed an SUV at the stop sign--I paused, checking to see if they were planning to actually stop, and I thought they were (they slowed down), but quickly realized they were NOT going to stop, but it was too late for me to correct, so I managed to turn my body and shout and slammed into the front quarter panel of the car with my shoulder and fell off my bike, landing where I could stare at the wheel that could have crushed me.

I was, understandably, furious--the driver asked me if I was ok and I shouted at him about how he needed to stop at the stop sign. At first, I was like "yes, I'm ok...no, I'm not!" and continued scolding him for running the stop sign. Basically, he was only looking to the right where cars might be and didn't even look around to check for pedestrians, cyclists, or other people, so he didn't fully stop at the sign.

At some point, he was like "well, gotta go, byeeeeeee" at which point it occurred to me that I should have called campus security and that he absolutely should not leave, but it was too late, and I was too frazzled to do anything other than note the make of the car (the color was seared into my brain) and the first part of his license plate.

It was then that the enormity of the situation hit me, like a dark blue SUV who blew through a stop sign: I could have been seriously hurt. I could have died. And then I started bawling, out of pain, fear, and rage. I slowly climbed back onto my bike and cycled to the kinesiology building, crying the whole way. My trainer took one look at me and asked what was wrong, where I then burst out "I was hit by a car on my bike!"

Everyone was kind: my trainer quickly sprang into action, ushering me outside and grabbing a first-aid kit so I could clean up my torn knee (note: I also ripped my spendy running leggings, which I am BIG MAD about too). I called campus security, and the receptionist was kind and caring. She called me back to let me know they had a video recording of the incident (which clearly showed the guy at fault, so that was a bit of a relief). My trainer and I walked around as I calmed down and got over the dump of adrenaline in my system. Then L came to pick me up from campus, and I went home to cozy up and feel safe.

It was a terrifying incident, and I hope I never have to go through it again. It reminded me to be conscious as a driver--and to pause long enough to make sure a car really will stop at a stop sign. I got back on my bike Saturday, and I was a little nervous, but I also felt ok being back on the bike, knowing that I am careful and conscious in general, and that I will continue to be in the future.

Monday, October 11, 2021

put gourds in all the food

 It's pumpkin season! I held off, mostly, this year until it was officially Fall and the weather cooled enough to require sweaters and boots and such. Then, all the pumpkins for me. I made pumpkin spice syrup yesterday and a pumpkin spice latte.

Pumpkin spice latte in a lovely clear mug covered in mushrooms

And then because I had leftover pumpkin, I made pumpkin teff pancakes this morning. And more pumpkin recipes are on the horizon, like this pumpkin tiramisu (vegan!) from NYT Cooking, which I'll make for a book club where a few of my friends are vegan/dairy-free.

We also made this pumpkin spiced caramel corn a few weeks ago to take to a child's birthday party (outside, small group), but then our oldest kiddo got a stomach bug, so we then ended up with it all for ourselves, a dangerous thing because it's the perfect combo of buttery, sweet, salty, and spiced.

I'm looking forward to more baking and pumpkin-based treats in the upcoming weeks--the cooling temperatures make me want to be cozy and have baked goods around, so they may as well have pumpkin in them.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

sabbatical goal update--exercise progress

 CW: exercise talk. I do not subscribe to punishing myself through exercise or exercising as a way to change or control my body. However, if reading about someone's exercise is triggering to you (and it is for so many people), please stop reading and take care of yourself!

One of my sabbatical goals was to exercise more consistently--I tend to let exercise go when I'm crunched for time, and I usually pay the price in extreme grumps and an achy back. Exercise is critical to me feeling like I'm living optimally because I enjoy physical activity, I like how I feel when I'm exercising regularly, and it gives me space to think. When I don't exercise, I am cranky, and my body starts protesting (and then it's hard to move well). As I get older, the cycle of activity and inactivity also is harder on me physically and more likely to lead to injury or at least aggravated this and that.

So when I had the chance to sign up for a personal trainer through a kinesiology class for the fall semester, I thought, hey, here's a chance to learn some new exercise things AND work with someone who has a lot of knowledge! A chance to work on this goal with some accountability! I did make sure to lay down boundaries though: I have specific goals (namely, increasing upper body strength and improving my run speed), but I have zero interest in changing the size of my body. And the trainer I was assigned has been very respectful about this boundary, and instead, we've been talking a lot about proper form and learning new exercises and discussing what works and what is less helpful, with no body-size talk. It's been great.

We couldn't meet yesterday, so I did the workout today that he assigned me: running intervals. I ran 5, 6, and 7 minutes (increasing pace) with 5 minute walks, then a 1 mile all-out. And my mile time was 8:30! I was definitely pushing the pace (giving probably 90% or so), and it felt great and strong.

Anyway, I've been enjoying being a learner and also getting to talk to a current undergraduate in a relationship that is professional but isn't professor/student, which has been a bonus to my participation. And hopefully by Thanksgiving, I'll have developed a new skillset and a clearer understanding of my abilities and capacity--and be encouraged to continue learning new things and growing. And taking care of myself by having a sustainable approach to exercise that will serve me for decades to come.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

learn something new

 I just finished Adam Grant's Think Again, and it was so interesting and so helpful for thinking about my own thinking--and how to have better conversations with people. He goes through research about what helps people change their minds and why it matters, and he offers tangible, actionable steps to think like a scientist. His goal is for us to be open and willing to update and revise our beliefs and to have better interactions with others on a variety of topics.

This book struck a chord with me, in part because of my own commitment to curiosity and learning. However, like anyone, I can get hung up on my own beliefs about what I think is right, despite evidence to the contrary, and I can react against what I see as "wrong" ideas or information without even pausing to assess the data. So I think one goal I have is to pick something I think is true and dig into it more at least once a week and reflect on what I learned here. Here are my results from Grant's quiz:


Pretty interesting, though I think my scores were swayed by reading the book and wanting to be a scientist--though, I have often said that I am a learner and am a curious person, so those traits come out here, I think.

Another thing Grant points out is not feeling tied to a predetermined path--we should stop to reassess whether our career is what we want it to be or other elements of our lives. I've been thinking about this a lot in reference to work, since the past year (but maybe more like past two years) have had a fair share of unhappiness and misery at work, in part because of relationship conflicts. I think Grant would say it's time to do a career check-up. 

Luckily, sabbatical is giving me life--like, I'm loving my job like never before. I'm excited to do my work, and it feels invigorating and engaging. Why? It's because I can focus on projects that are meaningful and important to me, I have a high degree of autonomy with my time, and I'm learning new things (both for my research and in my new role as a faculty associate with the Center for Teaching and Learning). So, for me, I'm definitely in the career I want to be in, but I'll have to think about how to move back into a "normal" academic year and maintain meaningful, autonomous work with an element of learning new things. Can that happen at my current institution, or should I look elsewhere? That, I suppose is what I'll have to answer next year.

Friday, September 10, 2021

oh, those goals

 We're closing in on three weeks of official sabbatical, and the time is glorious. I am reveling in the chance to be free, to think and to read, to write and to plan. I am finding my rhythm for each day, each week. I'm sloughing off the stresses of the past year, with apologies to my friends and colleagues still in the thick of it. I'm cherishing this time.

And I'm making stuff happen. While I don't want to bore you with all my amazing productivity (and, of course, we should always question the emphasis on productivity as a main goal for all things), I have been making steady progress on my goals, both personal and professional. So I decided to finally commit them to (virtual) paper, though it's a little scary to share them beyond the printed document stuck on my bulletin board.

Personally, some of my goals were to focus on my running and build up strength. I have been running steadily and consistently the last few months (and feel that I can run 5-6 comfortably and stretch to 7-8), though I have to be conscious of my healing foot. This week, I haven't been able to run as much because of the terrible air quality and smoke, but that's how it goes sometimes. The other part--strength--is being helped along by my participation in a strength conditioning group with a kinesiology student trainer. I volunteered myself as a participant, and in return, I get to try to work toward doing full push-ups. Yes!

Other personal goals are to make time for my hobbies, like reading lots of books and making macramé wall hangings and knitting and sewing stuff, so it's been fun to have time and energy to do those projects. Also, no pressure to do them--I'm fine with a slow and methodical approach.

Professionally, my goals are to work on my BIG SABBATCIAL project, or the thing I submitted as my project, which is to listen to stories of students' experiences with team writing in engineering. I'm making great progress on that, as I just submitted my IRB proposal and got permission to recruit students from three programs, so that's exciting.

My other projects involve written deliverables: a book chapter (due next week), finishing up an article draft I've been working on for a while, and finally FINALLY getting around to wrapping up an R&R on a project that I submitted two years ago (oops). I'd also like to get a grant application together to submit for my first NSF grant (based on my research). I'm also creating some faculty development for a program. Essentially, by the end of this year, I'd like to have four published/submitted things (articles and book chapters), a grant application, and materials related to faculty development, along with some conference presentations. I might stretch myself to a fifth article/chapter. It's ambitious, but I think I'll be able to accomplish most of it, even if it's getting a draft finished and submitted, or a draft planned and started.

Finally, I'm also reading--diving into the scholarship I haven't had time to read or stuff that's interesting to me. This is the part where I'm realizing the joy of sabbatical--the ability to sit and think and to explore. And I'm all for it.