what’s new and upcoming

Hello! I hope you’re staying warm and cozy on this winter morning (it’s one degree Fahrenheit outside here in northern Indiana). I’m just dropping in to let you know that I’m planning to be back soon with some new posts on creative writing. For now, check out my latest podcast episodes at https://anchor.fm/tess-r-martinus. There’s a zombie episode, a board game episode, and some opportunities to hear from people who mean a lot to me. Listen and let me know what you think!

Work Places: The Carlisle Inns of Ohio

This is the third post in my series about places to do remote work in some of America’s most beautiful vacation spots. Click here for the first post and here for the second.

Good morning from the Carlisle Inn in Walnut Creek, Ohio! I just walked into our room after sitting on the balcony, which overlooks rolling farmland and (on the front side of the hotel) the quiet main street of Walnut Creek. (It’s just slightly above freezing outside, but the balcony faces the sun and is warming up quickly–and besides, I had a cup of tea.) My husband and I are here on a weekend trip that’s part family visit and part couple’s getaway. We plan on spending time with my aunt and cousins who live in the area and are avid board gamers like ourselves, but we’re also going to do a few things just the two of us, like taking a walk this morning and, tomorrow, hitting some of my other favorite spots in Walnut Creek: Der Dutchman Amish Kitchen Cooking (for breakfast), Carlisle Gifts, Coblentz Chocolate Company, and Walnut Creek Antique Mall.

Why would one want to spend a chilly November weekend in middle-of-nowhere Ohio? For one thing, it’s beautiful here, especially at this time of year, with recently-harvested fields resting on hillsides, orange and red trees blazing over the ridges, and mist rising off the pastures as the frost melts in the morning. For another, it’s quiet here. Although this area (primarily in Holmes and Tuscarawas Counties) has become a prosperous tourist destination in recent years, it isn’t overdeveloped, and businesses close down early at night, reflecting the agricultural lifestyle of the Amish, whose culture-challenging lifestyle is one reason why tourists find the area so fascinating. (Jordan and I passed almost as many buggies, tractors, and bikes as cars as we came into town last night.)

If you visit, I recommend staying in one of the Carlisle Inns, whose slogan is “Peace & Comfort.” (I feel like that should be every hotel’s slogan, right?) They are part of the Dutchman Hospitality Group, who run several fine establishments in the area, including the Der Dutchman restaurant (hearty, homestyle fare) and two of the most gorgeous fine gift shops I’ve ever visited, Carlisle Gifts in Walnut Creek and Dutch Valley Gifts in Sugar Creek. There are two Carlisle Inns. The one in Walnut Creek, where we’re staying, is the older of the two, so the rooms maybe aren’t quite as up-to-date, but they’re still comfortable and clean, and you can’t beat the charm of this location, which stands as a friendly beacon at the foot of Walnut Creek’s main street (especially when it’s lit up for Christmas, like it is now). I love being able to walk next door or across the street to the retail establishments I mentioned earlier, or stroll a little further into the residential part of Walnut Creek.

The other Carlisle Inn is in Sugarcreek, a somewhat more built-up town, though still not at all overdeveloped. It’s newer, so the rooms are a little nicer, and it sits on a whole compound of Dutchman Hospitality properties, including the Ohio Star Theater (a popular local spot for concerts and live theater) and Dutch Valley Market, a food shop. I prefer the location of the Walnut Creek inn a bit more, but you really can’t go wrong with either. You might choose the Sugarcreek Carlisle Inn if either a) you want an ultra-comfy room to stay in on a quick overnight stop on a road trip (I’ve done this) or b) you’re coming to see a show at the Ohio Star Theater (I’ve done this too, when a friend and I came to see Fernando Ortega a few years ago). You might choose the Walnut Creek Carlisle Inn if you want a quiet weekend getaway where you can do a little shopping but still feel like there’s no one else around for miles.

Since this is part of my Work Places series (and Jordan is wrapping up work across the table from me right now), I should mention that the rooms in both Carlisle Inns, from my experience, all have decent-sized tables and ample plugs. I don’t remember the Wi-Fi situation in Sugar Creek, but here in Walnut Creek the network, while adequately fast and reliable, isn’t password-protected, so if you’re concerned about security, you might want to forego the hotel network and create a hotspot on your phone. Also of note, the rooms have Starbucks coffee in them.

But don’t stay in your room working too long if you can help it. Take a cue from your Amish neighbors and distance yourself from technology for the weekend. Isn’t that what you came here for?

Work Places: On the Lanai in Oahu

This is the second post in my series about places to do remote work in some of America’s most beautiful vacation spots. Click here for the first post.

Today is the last day of a week-long vacation I’ve spent with my husband and his parents on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. This has been my first visit to Hawaii, and it’s been wonderful. My main advice to anyone visiting Hawaii for the first time is don’t work. Seriously–this is too beautiful a place for you to spend your time inside staring at a computer. If you have a job that truly requires you to check in from time to time, don’t be checking your email on your phone while standing at the edge of the Waimea Valley waterfall or one of the equally stunning vistas you’ll see practically every time you step outside. Instead, build in a day or two when you can hang out at your lodging and get your task list to the point where you feel okay not worrying about it for the rest of the trip. And if you can, stay at a place that has a lanai.

A lanai is essentially a Hawaiian patio. We have been fortunate to be able to stay in a first-floor condo that has one main lanai, plus two smaller ones accessible through the bedrooms’ sliding doors. I’ve been doing yoga each day on the lanai outside our bedroom. On the main lanai, we’ve been eating all of our stay-in meals, playing games, and watching the sun set over the ocean almost every night. This is also where I did at least a little bit of my work on each day that I had to do some grading. There’s no electrical outlet out there, and it does get quite warm when the afternoon sun reaches the lanai (and that’s going to be true no matter what time of year you visit Hawaii). So I did end up going inside and doing some work in the air conditioning at the dining table, which still afforded a beautiful view of the palm trees and the ocean. But as often as I could, I tried to be outside, feeling the breeze, hearing the ocean, and watching the bold birds hopping across the lawn (most common were mynas, Brazilian cardinals, and zebra doves–yes, we bought a Hawaii Audubon Society book at the grocery store) and the occasional mongoose slipping through the bushes.

In summary: Don’t go to Hawaii planning to work. But if you can’t avoid it, you can’t beat the lanai.

Work Places: breakfast and Wi-Fi in Ludington, MI

Since working remotely has been a theme of this blog since it became what it currently is, and since I’m finding myself working in a variety of far-flung parts of America this month, I’ve decided to start a recurring series called Work Places. In each location, I’ll write about the places where I get out my laptop or planner and do anything that falls under the umbrella of work (and I have a fairly expansive definition of the term).

Before I get to today’s location, I’ll briefly mention where I was last weekend. My husband Jordan and I spent Labor Day weekend at a family cabin in Grantsville, Maryland, in the mountainous western part of the state. There’s no Wi-Fi at the cabin, and I didn’t want to spend much of this vacation working, but I did have some grading to catch up on, and one of our days ended up being too rainy for hiking, so I create an iPhone hotspot at the cabin. I worked for about three hours under the sturdy roof of the outdoor kitchen area, while Jordan sat by the nearby campfire and read. For a grading session, it was pretty idyllic. Afterward, we had lunch at the Cornucopia Café, a breakfast and lunch place with a quiet, rustic vibe, a seasonally changing menu (we’ve eaten there several times and always enjoyed the food), and a full coffee menu, within a short walk of the historic Casselman Bridge and the Spruce Forest Artisan Village. We saw a woman using a laptop at one of the tables, so we’re assuming there’s Wi-Fi there, but don’t quote me on that.

All right–now for today’s Work Places. This weekend, Jordan and I are RV camping with his parents in Ludington State Park, on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan (i.e. the Michigan side). Cell phone reception in the state park is terrible, at least in the campground where we’re staying, and in general I think that’s a good thing. (When we came here last year, my phone kept thinking I was in Central Time–it must have been picking up a signal from across the lake. It was like being in a place outside of time.) But today, Jordan needed to do a half-day’s worth of work, so I decided to join him in his quest for Wi-Fi in downtown Ludington.

We left the park when the sun was just coming up; the quiet and semi-darkness made the trip feel more magical than such an errand normally would. Jordan’s dad had scoped out a few locations for us earlier in the week, and his recommendation was Red Rooster Coffee and Community on James Street, so we headed there first–mainly because it’s one of the few businesses in town that opens at 7 am. It has the somewhat sterile industrial look that seems to be so popular in coffee shops these days, but it still manages to feel cozy, mainly because it takes that “community” thing seriously. There are bulletin boards advertising local events and businesses, the baristas are friendly, and it seemed like every other person who walked through the door knew either one of the staff or one of the other customers. The coffee was good (Jordan had a cold brew, and I had a hot cup of their medium roast), and so were the muffins (we split a banana nut and an orange cranberry). We decided to wait until our second location of the morning to have a full breakfast, but the Red Rooster offers oatmeal, an acai bowl (my father-in-law tried this and said it was good), and a variety of breads and spreads. We stayed for about two hours and never felt like we were being pressured to move. The Wi-Fi was strong and easy to connect to, all the tables had easy-to-reach outlets, and the bathroom was clean. The hip youngster music they were playing was a little loud, but not too distracting, though Jordan did have to step outside to made a phone call.

You can park on the street for free in downtown Ludington, but the spots (which are nice and spacious for bad parallel parkers like me) are all marked “2 hours.” I am not sure if this regulation is closely patrolled, but I went out to move the car a little before 9:00 anyway. About that time, Jordan came to a good stopping place in his work, so we decided to walk down the street probably a tenth of a mile to Brenda’s Harbor Café, a breakfast-focused diner whose menu looked good to us online. We were seated right away even though the place was clearly busy, and we’re still here (9:48) finishing up our breakfast and working on our back-to-back Lenovo Yogas–yeah, we’re cute :). (There aren’t many outlets, but the Wi-Fi password is clearly printed on the condiment tray. It’s like they want you to stick around.) Although the décor here is nautical kitsch (anchors on the curtains and wallpaper, walls packed with framed photos of boats), this place actually feels a lot like the Red Rooster with its friendly staff and vibrant conversations among the patrons, who seem to be locals. (Again, I’m only exaggerating a little when I say that we seem to be the only people here who don’t know anyone else.) And the food is great! Jordan had a classic breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast, and hash browns, while I went for the slightly fancier option of eggs Florentine (a Benedict variation with spinach and tomatoes), and we both really enjoyed our meal. The waitress kept the water and coffee (a solid standard diner coffee) coming, and I enjoyed doing a little people-watching while surreptitiously writing this post. (I didn’t really want the waitress to know I was reviewing this place in real time, you know?) I haven’t checked out the bathroom yet, but the Wi-Fi is working great, and the music is more muted (I think I’ve heard the Beatles and the Eagles, but I can’t really tell).

I want to emphasize that I encourage setting boundaries around work. It’s important to disconnect regularly, even if you don’t go to the extreme of camping in a park where time zones don’t exist. But if you do have to check in with work while in Ludington, check out these two spots. Stay tuned for more Work Places!

why giving feedback to students makes you feel tired

I had an idea for a post to write today, but I’m not going to write it. One reason for that is that the topic is better suited to my podcast, so I’m going to save it for an episode. But the main reason is that I don’t feel like I have the brain capacity to write about that topic–which is as abstract and philosophical a topic as I’m willing to touch–right now. I have just spent about two hours answering student emails and text messages, grading assignments, and making Microsoft Word comments on a student’s masters thesis draft. The emails and texts were not just “Received, thanks!” type of messages; they consisted of several paragraphs’ worth of writing advice (in this case, about creating plausibility in a fantasy scenario) and explanations of how to use our learning management system. The grading feedback, while short, got into the topics of primary sources in early American history, tree communication (this is a real thing; there’s a book about it), and parallel universes. The Word comments weren’t of the basic “put a comma here” variety; they involved suggestions for further research, recommendations about elaborating on particular topics, and other macro-level issues regarding this student’s thesis.

Sometimes I get to the end of several hours of this kind of communication and wonder why I feel like I can’t have an intelligent conversation, or why I don’t want to talk at all. Maybe you’ve felt the same way. I know why: It’s because those individualized comments–whether they are written in red pen on a paper, typed in a comment box on Canvas or Blackboard, or spoken to a student in a face-to-face or phone conversation–are perhaps the most important thing we give students. I would venture to say they are more important than grades or lectures or materials. And if you take your job seriously and care about your students, you’re going to bring your best to writing (or speaking) those messages. So it’s no wonder they wipe you out in a good way. They are not peripheral–they are your work. Teacher, you are a writer (or a speaker, and not just a lecturer). Own that!

What’s new on the podcast?

I just got finished recording two episodes for my podcast, It’s Lit Time! with Dr. Tess, where I talk about anything with a storyline. I had so much fun with both of my guests today as we talked about widely different topics, and I’m looking forward to a third recording session tomorrow night. I’m going to try to get a little fancier with these episodes than I have with past episodes (and by that I basically just mean that I’m going to work on creating an intro with some catchy music), so you can expect these episodes to release in August:

What Is a Family? with Andy Thigpen (all about The Godfather)

What Is a Lousy Book? with Christy Austin (or, the top seven things that make Christy stop reading a book)

What Is a Superhero? with Sam Harris (hopefully, the title is self-explanatory on this one)

Meanwhile, you can listen to my first two episodes, What Is a Story? and What Is a Novel?, on my podcast site: https://asynchronous.podbean.com/ (Another of my goals for the near future is to make these episodes more accessible and easier to discover.)

Enjoy, and join the conversation by replying to this post!

monthly goals

Hello, blog readers! It’s been over a month since I’ve posted, and I miss you. I’ve had a couple of students tell me they’ve started following my blog, so I thought I should get on the ball with some new content. Before I do, though, I want to remind you about my podcast, It’s Lit Time! with Dr. Tess. While this blog focuses on teaching and learning, the podcast is about literature in a broad sense, including film and other forms of storytelling. I have some exciting conversations with guests coming up later this month, including discussions of The Godfather, superheroes, and mistakes writers should avoid. For now, check out my first two episodes:

Episode 1: What Is a Story? https://asynchronous.podbean.com/e/its-lit-time-episode-1-what-is-a-story/

Episode 2: What Is a Novel? https://asynchronous.podbean.com/e/its-lit-time-episode-2-what-is-a-novel/

And now that the commercial is over, today’s post.

I was reading last week about someone who shares her goals each month with her blog readers as an accountability method. I thought I would try doing this, with hopes that it will be useful not only for me but also for you–perhaps as an inspiration for a framework for your own goals. (The goals themselves, of course, will be highly individual.)

All year, I’ve been using a formula for my goals that involves the concept of loving others well. I started with three and have added one each quarter, so I’m up to five. Here they are:

  1. Love and serve God well.
  2. Love and serve Jordan well. (Jordan is my husband.)
  3. Love and serve my students well.
  4. Love and maintain my body.
  5. Love and maintain our home.

The first thing some of you might notice about these goals is that they are not the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based) goals that many of us have been taught to make in organizational settings. (Teachers, you know these would not fare well as lesson objectives, as in “After this lesson, the student will be able to…”) This shortcoming is addressed partly by the fact that these goals deal with relationships in which I’m attuned enough to the other person or entity that I can usually tell intuitively whether things are going well or poorly. But also, as facilitated by my Cultivate What Matters Powersheets Goal Planner, I’ve broken down each of these large-scale goals into quarterly mini-goals, which are further broken down into action steps. My mini-goals for this summer range from the near-universal “Clean more regularly” to ones that are specific to my situation right now, like the one about helping Jordan transition back to the office three days a week after having worked almost entirely from home since March 2020. My action steps are even more varied, from setting my alarm earlier on Sunday morning to training for a race (I just signed up for a local zombie-themed 5K trail race) to making strategic use of apps like Forest and Love Nudge.

Once again, this post is meant to be inspirational, not prescriptive. And I realize that for some of you, the idea of making quarterly mini-goals and action steps sounds cheesy or restrictive. But for those of you who enjoy this kind of stuff–or are open to trying it–I hope this post gets you excited. Please feel free to keep me accountable–and to share your goals with me. Let’s help each other out!

It’s Lit Time! with Dr. Tess

I’ll keep this brief, but I want to let you, my blog readers, know that I started my podcast! It’s not the education podcast I envisioned when I posted about this a few months ago, but rather a show about stories of all kinds–books, movies, and anything else with a story arc (though, as I hope I showed in this first episode, that term “story arc” is a bit slippery). I’ll keep my ruminations about online teaching and learning here on the blog, and my observations about literature on the podcast–though there may be some crossover from time to time. If you like stories, listen to Episode 1 and let me know what you think!

https://asynchronous.podbean.com/e/its-lit-time-episode-1-what-is-a-story/

Well…CRAAP! Is it time to SIFT the CRAAP?

Today we have a guest post from one of my brilliant graduate students, Miriam DeCock, who wrote this post for an assignment in my class. If you’re a teacher or student, especially at the college level, you may have heard of the CRAAP test for evaluating sources, especially websites. In this post, Miriam introduces us to the SIFT test, a sort of pre-screen that helps researchers determine whether a site is worth the time it takes to go through the CRAAP test. I had never heard of SIFT before reading her post, and I’m excited about this new tool for helping students become literate consumers of information–one of my passions. Even if you’re not a teacher or student, the principles of SIFT can help you sort through the piles of information that get virtually dumped on you every day.

What follows is the text-only version of Miriam’s post. If you’d like to see her original version, which takes you through the process using examples from a real website, you can find it here. The title of this post is Miriam’s too!

Credible, reliable sources…in this crazy, high-tech, low accountability digital age, how do you know what stays and what goes?

We all know that source credibility is paramount to a successful academic or professional paper.  How do you determine if your sources are credible?  How do you teach your students to determine source credibility?  What is credibility, anyway?

A commonly-taught method of determining source credibility is the CRAAP (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose) test, designed by librarians at the University of California, Chico.  Of course, these elements are important to consider when evaluating sources.  A problem, however, is that this checklist is geared towards print material; in today’s digital age, it is imperative that we can quickly, carefully, and accurately evaluate online sources.  In light of this new digital age we are in, Mike Caulfield has developed a tool, referred to as SIFT (Stop, Investigate the source, Find better coverage, Trace claims, etc.) to help quickly determine if an online source is worth digging into deeper, or moving along and leaving it in the dust.  

Both tools are valuable and both are worth learning about.  Just like any tool, though, we must understand when each one should be used, and how it should be applied.  

Let’s focus on the SIFT test.  The SIFT test is designed to quickly (60 seconds or less!) evaluate an online source.  If the source passes the SIFT test, then it’s time to run it through the CRAAP test (but that will be a post for another day!)

What is the SIFT Test?

STOP: Is the site familiar?  What reputation does it have?

INVESTIGATE: What authority does the author have?  Are there “affiliate links” or page sponsors that might indicate a bias? 

FIND better coverage: Look for a trusted source to confirm the claim.

TRACE claims to the original source: Where did the information originate from? Can you trace the claim to its origin to “get the full story”?  If you are already looking a the primary source, you can search for another source to verify the claims; if you are looking at a trusted source, this step is not absolutely necessary.

Note from Dr. Tess: This is where Miriam takes you through the SIFT process using a real website in the full version of the post, which I highly recommend!

For further reading…  

Want an in-depth look at the SIFT evaluation method?  Make sure to check out Mike Caulfield’s site at https://hapgood.us/   

Caulfield provides an excellent, free, mini-course to learn how to implement his system in various settings.  For more about the CRAAP test, visit https://library.csuchico.edu/sites/default/files/craap-test.pdf

Sources Consulted and References

California State University, Chico, (2010 September 17). Evaluating information: Applying the CRAAP test. https://library.csuchico.edu/sites/default/files/craap-test.pdf   

Caulfield, M. (2019 June 19)) SIFT The four moves. https://hapgood.us/2019/06/19/sift-the-four-moves/

Sawchuck, C. (2017 August 23).  Test anxiety: Can it be treated? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/expert-answers/test-anxiety/faq-20058195  Vaiana, D. (2020 February 12).  How to overcome test anxiety: 5 strategies that work.  College Info Geek. https://collegeinfogeek.com/test-anxiety/

        

“Not many of you should become teachers”

I am slowly memorizing the book of James in the Bible. Right now I am focusing on chapter 3, which opens with this statement: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers” (ESV). The humor here comes from the fact that James himself is clearly performing the role of a teacher throughout his letter, with his terse tone in which love for his audience competes with exasperation with them, his frequent questions and illustrations, and his short sentences, after which I can almost imagine him pausing to make sure his students are tracking with him. I would personify James’s narrative voice in this letter as a high school boys’ Sunday school teacher standing in front of a whiteboard alternating between outlining serious theological concepts and keeping an eye on the cutups in the back of the room. “Really, guys? You can be better than this.”

If James himself is a teacher, why is he warning others to pause before following in his footsteps? The second half of the sentence explains: “for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” This makes me think of two of the great sayings of James’s brother Jesus: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36) and “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). All of us will be judged on the careless words we speak, but the more people who hear the careless words, the weightier the judgment. James is talking about influence.

If James were writing his letter today, he might say, “Not many of you should become influencers.” I think nearly all of us are at least a little bit allured by the idea of having a large platform with a large audience, whether it consists of book readers, podcast listeners, or social media followers (or all of the above, if you’re branding and marketing yourself as you should be). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having those things, and I don’t think James would either. He is just saying: Before you take on that kind of responsibility, count the cost. Make sure your words have a firmer basis than your impression of what will sound wise or hip in the moment. People are listening.

James is talking specifically about teachers of the word of God, and I could write a whole series of posts about how influencer culture has…well, influenced the Church in the 21st century. But this blog is written for and by a different kind of teacher, and James’s principle applies to us too. Our students are listening. Preschool and elementary teachers realize this when they hear their students repeating their words and then wonder, “Yikes! Did I really say that?” (Most parents have had this experience too, I think.) I am always a little freaked out when one of my graduate or upper-level undergraduate students cites one of my course presentations in an assignment. [Fun side note: Now I’m starting to see my married name in citations: (Martinus, 2021).] My first reaction, even before I feel flattered, is a little bit of fear: “Oh, they’re actually paying attention. I need to be careful what I say!” I remember how cool and smart I thought my college professors were, especially those in my major. (And I should add, in case any of them read this, that they really were cool and smart!) I took their words very seriously. And I know I probably have some students now who think I’m cool and smart and who take my words very seriously. “Everyone to whom much was given, of [her] much will be required.”

Nobody is exempt from this principle, of course. We are all influencers. Some people have a wider (e.g. Instagram celebrities) or more intense (e.g. parents) influence than others. But no matter who you are, someone is hearing (or reading) your words and watching your life. You are a teacher. This is a great and a fearful honor. Yes, there is grace for when we make mistakes. But hear James’s warning whenever you are tempted to speak a careless word. Someone is listening.