Software and backpacks and granola!

I’m getting ready for the school year.

Classes started yesterday, and I felt equal parts excitement and trepidation. On the one hand – a new school year! And this year, my first honours thesis! Awesome! On the other hand – between my health problems and the developments in my personal life, and the ramping up of my activism and my new business… Yikes. Mostly the health problems, really. I’m not sure how to prepare for this, since it seems like things just keep changing.

So this is what I’ve done – I dropped to three classes per semester even though it will mean an extra year in my degree. I’m letting all of my professors know that wacky hijinks have been ensuing in my joints and my personal life and that these things might impact my performance this semester. (Better to say it right away than miss a couple weeks of classes because I’m flattened and not have given anyone a heads’ up, right?) I bought as many of my textbooks in ebook format as I could find. I’m delegating like some kind of actual leader in my non-profit. I’m scheduling time off, and my partner is awesome about reminding me to stop working when I’m supposed to be relaxing. I’m doing lots of reading about chronic illness, coping with changes, and theories of illness/wellness/bodies. It’s interesting, and engaging with my life through academics really works for me as a coping mechanism.

The other stuff I’ve been doing is all related to the tools that will make this year easier.

First, I wanted some sort of organizational tool for my research. Printing off papers is a waste of paper and difficult to keep track of. Keeping folders of pdfs is better, but not by much. I wanted something that would let me quickly and easily search for relevant articles, and would let me annotate and export citations. I also wanted something that would sync a library between my iPad and my MacBook.

I started with Mendeley, but found the interface clunky and difficult to navigate. I also had to import my entire library four times before it took – frustrating! Each time, the corrections I had made to the citation information were lost. And Mendeley was terrible at picking out the relevant information from the article to populate fields like title, author, journal, year, etc. That’s easy enough to fix, but annoying. Although Mendeley is free, I wouldn’t recommend it. I actually deleted it before I had even found a replacement, because it just wasn’t working for me.

Next up, Papers. Papers was recommended by a friend (working on her PhD – I’m consulting on issues of feminism and feminist theory!). I downloaded the free trial for my MacBook, and paid the $9.99 (ouch) for the iPad version. It imported my library on the first try, and although the program still sucks at pulling out the right information, it is much easier to correct. I had a few issues syncing between the iPad and the MacBook, but it was easily corrected by deleting the permissions file and retrying. The major issue with Papers is the cost. $9.99 for the iPad version, and a whopping $79 (US!) for the laptop. There’s a 40% discount for students, which is good. But it might still be too much. I’ll see how much I love it when I use it for the first ten pages of my honours project (due Oct. 1, oy).

Research software: check(ish).

Next up, a backpack. Seems like such a little thing, but it’s kind of a big deal. My trusty little purple backpack died a zipper-seizing death, and I needed a replacement. I can’t carry much weight, and I can’t use anything that sits on a single shoulder. I can’t even carry a purse these days! (Thank goodness for attractive utility belts.) So, I needed something small, light, but big enough for my iPad or laptop, a book, and my lunch bag. If I could carry a bag, it would be easy! But, that is not in the cards for the next while. I’ve been incredibly indecisive lately – along with my ability to focus, I have lost my ability to make quick decisions. It took hours to make my decision. I finally landed on a Thule backpack that’s small and light, with a padded laptop compartment, enough room for my lunch bag without much room leftover, and a couple little features that I love. It’s got a crush-proof compartment for my sunglasses, a little organizer pouch, and a weird vertical pocket that will hold my toque and gloves in winter.

Finally, food. This is huge. And does a discussion of my diet belong in an academic blog? Well… yes. I think it does. My entire honours project is on the topic of bodies. How we see them, how their representation is or isn’t feminist. It’s a deeply physical topic, and although I’m talking about my body in a way quite different from the porn performing bodies that I usually talk about, I think it’s relevant. It’s impacting my academic experience and the goal of this blog is to explore that experience, so, it seems relevant! Also, I have been thinking a lot about how issues that are seemingly unrelated to academics can have a huge impact on academic success and this seems noteworthy. Not that I have anything really meaningful to say on the topic other than – damn. Physical well-being plays a big role in academic performance.

Little things, like being able to carry more than a book or two. Or being able to buy a coffee to get through a long day, or a lunch on campus in the middle of a school day. Time that I would normally spend studying, I now spend cooking and actively resting (it’s work to not work, sometimes!). These are big deals. Being hungry all the time means less ability to focus, less stamina when I’m trying to get through a tough article or a difficult chapter.

So, food was a big issue that I needed to address. I needed to come up with quick, healthy items that I can actually eat (I’m currently not allowed gluten, dairy, eggs, nightshades, red meat or pork, tropical fruits, peanuts, soy, corn or sugar). I spent my week off researching. I made a huge batch of granola (delicious with fresh fruit, coconut milk and almond milk in the morning!). I found some soup recipes that work. I found some snacks that are portable, easy to eat, and fit the bill. I learned how to make hot chocolate with unsweetened vanilla almond milk, pure cocoa powder, vanilla and a tiny bit of honey. I bought rice protein powder and my awesome PhD-ing friend found me a second-hand blender.

And that’s where I’m at!

I’ve got four posts for this blog drafted, ready to be finished and uploaded. I’ve got most of my reading schedule and assignments scheduled into my calendar. My non-profit is doing some really cool stuff, my business is growing slowly but surely (I’m presenting two workshops at a staff retreat on Friday!), I’m doing everything I can to get the health issues under control and trying to be okay with them being out of my control, and I’m ready to tackle this year. I’ve got software, a backpack and granola.

Bring it on.

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