Friday, August 29, 2008

A Long Summer...

I know it has been awhile since I've posted, but, as those of you who have spoke with me know, it has been an incredibly insane week. Some of it good, some of it really bad, but most of it just nutty.

I'll get more into my first week of school later. Right now, I need to write about the really bad:

After a couple of years of strange, inexplicable health problems, my great aunt, Susan, passed away Tuesday night. As I was not in the loop on the day-to-day health issues she experienced, I was completely stunned.

Although she was my grandmother's sister, she truly was a "great aunt" to me. Because my uncle worked for Delta, I spent my childhood with her at nearly every family function, hardly even realizing she lived hours away in Atlanta. She was such a huge part of my young life, and I always lit up when she was around.

I've often told family members the following story in order to convey what she meant to me:

When I was 8 or 9 years old, I went camping with my family up in Georgia, and Aunt Susan and Uncle Jim joined us. My grandfather was chopping wood for the campfire with a small ax, and I decided I wanted to contribute. So, I grabbed the ax and began to chop the wood, too.

As I was very small, it took me quite some time to do the work my grandfather could do in seconds. He offered many times to help, but I refused, determined to do the work myself.

Aunt Susan observed all of this, and, with cigarette characteristically in hand, turned to me and said matter-of-factly, "Jeni, you're going to be somebody someday."

I remember it like it was yesterday. What she said resonated with me more than any encouragement that ever came from my parents to immediate family members. When Aunt Susan said something, she meant it. It was clear she had made up her mind about me. I never forgot it, and I always tried harder to live up to her proclamation. 

As I've prepared to go to her funeral in Atlanta, I've thought a lot about what she said to me. I wondered if she was aware of the work I'm doing at UF. When I first told people I am getting my doctorate, they were surprised, and I'm sure some thought (and still think) I am nuts.

I don't think Aunt Susan would have been surprised. I think she knew how far I could push myself all along.

I've had those thoughts on my mind during the past couple of days since I got the news. But this morning, I woke up with a new one. I know just what Aunt Susan thought of me, and it meant the world to me. I wonder if she new what I thought of her.

I don't think it's too late now to tell her that I am proud of her. I'm proud of the way she raised her family, of her independence, and of her assuredness. I value the way she made herself a part of all our lives, and I love the way she could always make us laugh and then turn around and make us take a closer look at who we were.

Most of all, I'm amazed by the way she snagged all of our hearts. When we're in Atlanta this weekend, her absence will be as permeating as her presence was.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Just a quick update, because I'm so exhausted!

I started orientation at the University of Florida today. It went well, although it wore me out. After a month off, getting up at 5:30 a.m. was brutal!

This morning, I was one of a couple thousand new graduate students (master's and doctorate) to enter the school. What was astonishing, though, was that about three-fifths of the students there were international students -- about half Middle Eastern and the other half Asian. 

It was amazing to me how motivated these students were to come to a new country, where they barely speak the language, and they're able to do exactly what I'm doing. Incredible.

I met up with a small group of friends -- one of whom I'm carpooling with, and the other I'll be teaching with. We had a nice lunch, and, since they all completed their undergrad degrees at UF, they showed me around campus. Very nice girls.

After that, we returned to the student union, and we were among the hundreds of teaching assistants beginning this year. My teaching professor gave a speech to everyone, which was great. She's so enthusiastic and helpful. I know I'll have a great experience working with her.

I start again early tomorrow. So far, our schedule is the same, despite Tropical Storm Fay bearing down on us. Will keep you all posted on that!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sans Mrs. Robinson...

Jeremy and I spent the weekend back in Alabama (hopefully for the last time) at graduation!

Finally, it is over!

Here are the obligatory million family pictures...

Us with the Brannocks:

Us with my mom:

Us with the Cox family:

The whole gang:

With Dad & Mindy:

And joking around with the siblings:

We arrived Friday with my mom, and we immediately grabbed James and Josh and went to have some beers at a bar called Rhythm & Brews. After that, we met up with Dad and Mindy, along with our friend Steven, from Anniston, for dinner at a wonderful Italian place called DePalmas.

The graduation ceremony Saturday morning went quickly. Apparently, UA no longer welcomes speakers due to an incident that occurred a year ago. From what we were told, a speaker made some political comments and it got ugly. He was booed offstage and had to have a police escort out of the building.

Only in Alabama...

After lunch and a quick, much-needed nap, we all went to the Brannock's hotel and had some drinks and pool time.

Here's Josh:

The Cox twins:

Mom (along with Josh's floating head):

The guys hanging out in the hot tub:

And the ladies chatting on dry land:

After the pool, we all got dressed up and went for a great dinner at a Shakespearean-themed restaurant, called The Globe. Everything was delicious, and the company was outstanding.

Now, our whirlwind weekend is over, and it's time to start thinking about the next step.

Jeremy's job is going really well, and we're loving Jacksonville.

I start orientation at UF on Monday, and classes begin the following week. I'm nervous, but feeling good.

But for now, I'm enjoying the last precious moments of vacation time before my life becomes insane again!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A-Parent No More...

On Sunday, mom and Rich came to take the children off our hands. And, I'm happy to report, they were very sad to leave!

As is (apparently) becoming our custom, we took them down to Jacksonville Landing, and spent most of the day watching dolphins play in the river, grooving out to a local band, and just wandering around.

We had lunch at a very cool Mongolian-style restaurant, called Mongo's. I had never seen anything like it before, but I can guarantee that if you come to visit, I will be taking you there.

It's a really rustic-looking place, with bare, concrete floors, and very little decoration. We were clueless when the waitress told us there were no menus!

What you do is you get a small bowl, go to, what looks like a long salad bar, and begin stocking up on raw foods, such as veggies, meat, fish, chicken, and tofu. 

(Not my picture)

Next, you pick some seasonings to sprinkle on your raw food. Then, you spoon a touch of oil onto the concoction. 

After that, there are some other fixings you can add, including noodles, beans, sprouts, etc.

Then, you choose from a bunch of sauces, such as spicy lime or orange or teriyaki, and you bring your bowl over to the cook, who grills it in front of you on a hot, stone slab.

(Not my picture)

It was a unique and fun experience.

After lunch, we took the $5 water shuttle around downtown. We actually saw a bunch of dolphins playing right next to the boat, which was very cool!

Everyone seemed to enjoy the relaxing time on the water...

Afterwards, we grabbed some drinks at the outdoor bar and wandered around the shops until it was time to go home.

Good times had by all!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Suddenly A-Parent...

Last week, Jeremy and I had our hands full with two delightful visitors: my brother and sister, Nathaniel & Julz.

We took them to downtown Jacksonville, where we walked for a long ways along the St. John's River. It was a beautiful, though humid, night.

We walked to a place called Jacksonville Landing, one of the coolest nightlife/restaurant/shopping areas I've seen in a downtown area. We had a great time people watching, and we enjoyed dinner at The American Cafe, while looking out at the river.

Then, we walked a ways farther to see the Jacksonville Suns (AA baseball team) pull out an amazing game.

The kids were thrilled to see two back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the ninth, and it was incredible to see the team come back after being down 8-2 in the sixth inning.

Of course, that didn't stop them from torturing each other during the slow points in the game!

Afterwards, we watched a great fireworks show, which wowed, deafened, and blinded us!

Afterwards, the kids were thrilled to take their first ever cab ride back to Jeremy's office, where our car was parked (we didn't want to walk the approximately two miles back at 11 p.m.).

As always, we took the kids bowling. Everyone had a good time (although my camera appeared to have been on the fritz, as most of the pictures from this point on turned out blurry...).

Here's Nathaniel showing us how it's done:

And Jeremy, who won the first game, but was no match for me in the second:

And me, showing off my skills:

But, as usual, the highlight of the weekend for the kids was plenty of puppy time. In fact, on the morning I brought the kids with me to Jacksonville, Julz opened her eyes wide (from a sound sleep), and exclaimed "PUPPIES!"

I guess we see where we rank!


Sorry I've taken a few days off. I've had my hands full with two young charges for the past few days! (More on that later!)

So, where did I leave off? Ah, yes...

Last Monday I visited my future campus, the University of Florida, in Gainesville.

Thankfully, the drive wasn't too bad. But the parking was a nightmare! I spent about 15 minutes trying to find a parking deck, and then another 20 minutes driving around the deck looking for a space. Fortunately, I found one that was 2-hour parking. Unfortunately, I had to keep running back to feed the meter!

I spent the day at the journalism building talking with my advisor and with the professor I'll be teaching under.

The building itself is pretty cool. It's got a media area at the entrance, complete with a CNN-like news ticker:

The main part of the building features a solarium, which is beautiful, but a bit warm in the summer:

And, like most college campuses, it has some -- ahem -- "unique" art.

Anyway, I found out a bit more about what classes I'll need to take this semester, so I feel a lot more at ease about that. I'll be taking a colloquium course, which will help me get my degree plan and dissertation in order. 

I'll also take a mass communications and perspectives course (sounds sexy, huh?) and a teaching course. Finally, I'll round it all out with an independent study course, during which I will attempt to research, write, and publish a paper.

Wish me luck...

After getting all that straightened out, I met with my teaching professor (who is great!), and she and I discussed some strategies for the two sections of writing lab I'll be teaching. I'm nervous, but eager.

And now, there's nothing left to do but watch the final days of my summer vacation fritter away!