#611 – Crash & Burn/Phoenix

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“Lord of the Dragons” copyright KLab Global Pte Ltd.
Art by Gameco.com

I haven’t written in some time, not because I didn’t want to, but because I couldn’t. The subject of this blog post was something I needed to tell family first before putting it out publicly, and now that certain people know, I can write.

Regular readers of this blog know that for the past two and a half years, I’ve been working towards an associate’s degree in diagnostic cardiovascular sonography. There are a lot of pre-requisites and co-requisites needed to apply to the program. One of those requirements is formal patient care education. This can be fulfilled through the college’s continuing education course for certified nurse aides, or by the EMT-Basic program, which would add an extra two points to an application worksheet where the difference between being accepted and not is often measured in hundredths of a point. Last spring, I tried the EMT-Basic program, and I crashed and burned out of it about a third of the way through the class. I had one experience actually out in the field in that class, and I started having panic attacks about the course, so I had to withdraw. This spring, I registered for the CNA program. I made it through the classroom aspect of the course very easily, and a week ago last Thursday we had our clinical orientation. There was some patient contact, but mostly it was a tour and an introduction to policies and procedures. The clinical started in earnest this past Monday.

Monday rolled around and as the start of the clinical drew closer, I became very agitated. I was having another panic attack, this time intense enough to have me vomiting and trembling all over. I got in touch with my instructor and texted her that I wasn’t going to be able to be there that evening. A little while later, she replied saying I should drop the course. (Texas state law requires that the nurse aide candidate complete so many hours of classroom and clinical contact. Since I was missing part of the clinical hours required by the state, I would fail the course if I didn’t drop it.) So I dropped the course. Doing so closed the door to me applying for my degree program this year, as the annual deadline would pass before I could take this course again. In effect, I have most of the next year off from school, since there’s nothing else for me to take but this class.

It was about an hour later that I realized that I had now had two panic attacks when faced with the prospect of direct patient care. If I couldn’t finish the CNA course, I wouldn’t be able to apply to my degree program, much less get in. This presented me with a problem. My degree is being paid for through Texas Workforce Commission as part of a program to retrain disabled people to return to the job market. As a result, the decision to pursue a sonography degree was one that the state and I made together after over a year of going back and forth proposing and rejecting various other career paths. Sonography was their idea, but it was the best option that was made available to me, so I took it. The contract I have with the state is very specific: it covers tuition and required books (used if possible) for core curriculum classes and pre- and co-requisites for the diagnostic cardiovascular sonography, as well as some supplies each semester. Anything outside this description is an expense I am responsible for. If I withdraw from a class due to illness and have to retake it, that is done out of my own pocket (I’ve done this multiple times now). In essence, I have a signed contract to be educated in a field that is giving me panic attacks anytime I am in direct contact with patients.

You see my dilemma. So I can either drop out of school with what I have, say it was a good try, and continue to collect Social Security disability checks each month until I die, or I can change my major and try for a different degree, knowing full well that I will most likely be responsible for all expenses.

My college has recently redone its student-oriented interface for its website, and with those changes have come a few new resources that were previously unavailable. One of these is a degree map which shows what your major is, which classes you have successfully taken, which classes need to be taken, and your progress towards your degree, shown as a percentage. There’s also a selection for “Explore Degrees” which will show you every degree the college offers listed in order of highest percentage of completion, as well as which classes have been completed for this other degree, which classes are outstanding for it and what the estimated tuition will be for these classes, and which classes you’ve already completed that cannot be applied towards the degree in question, and it compares all this information with the same information for your chosen major. Turns out I’m right at halfway through three other degrees, and more than 40% complete for several others, many of which aren’t in the health sciences department. Outstanding tuition for these degrees will run somewhere around $3000-3500.

I had a meeting later in the week with my campus advisor and it was agreed that there are multiple options available to me, and since I was going to have to take a year off anyway, I would spend that year researching a new major in a new field, with a projected return to classes in the fall of next year.

The next day, I met with my therapist, who agrees that I am making the right decision, but disagrees with me waiting until fall 2021 to go back to school. She wants me to keep myself in a college frame of mind by taking at least one core class this fall and next spring that would count toward all or at least most degree plans. I’m willing to do this, as this gives me until late August to make research my highest priority and that should be plenty of time to have narrowed down my choices somewhat and figured out what classes would be most universally applicable. The other reason is that my college has over 200 scholarships that are all awarded from a single application and essay. The deadline to apply for 2020-2021 academic year scholarships is April 1st, and with a GPA of 3.914 I should be academically eligible for almost any scholarship.

There’s also another possibility for covering expenses in my new major. My college advisor recommends that I do my due diligence on whatever major and career I choose and then return to the state prepared with facts and numbers and sources to ask if they will allow me to write a new contract. It’s a slim chance, but it’s better than none at all.

This is the end of a four-year journey that has suddenly and unexpectedly taken a fork in the road. But rather than the end of the line, I prefer to see this as the start of a new journey, one where I get to choose the final destination, not the state. (This means that I can and most likely will choose a major that will provide options to transfer to a four-year university and a bachelor’s degree, something that was out of the question going through the state.)

Unfortunately, this is coming during a fairly deep downward spiral. I’m not experiencing any suicidal ideations, I’m not in any danger to myself, but I’m spending whole days locked between the need to accomplish things around the house and the complete apathy of doing anything at all, let alone chores. The end result is that a lot of the time I can’t tell you what I spent any given day doing since most of it was probably either sleeping or scrolling mindless through websites without any real direction. It’s hard not to feel just a little like a failure after putting so much into one degree only to just drop it without preamble. But I have a game plan. I’m going to spend the rest of March working on my scholarship application, then concentrate on turning this depression around in time for the fall semester, all the while researching new possibilities and interests. I will rise from the ash of this dream like a phoenix, with new life and a new direction.

#605 – I Survived

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Once again, I find myself in the unfortunate position of catching you up on a couple months’ worth of activities instead of writing a little bit as I go through the days and weeks. This entry will be shorter than my last one, since there’s really not that much to report on, outside of school.

This will be repeat information for many people on my Facebook feed, but I just completed my second semester of college. This semester I took 14 credit hours, up significantly from the six I started with last fall. I was taking Anatomy & Physiology I, one of my pre-requisite courses for my cardiovascular sonography degree program; Applied Physics, another pre-requisite; English Composition I, a co-requisite course; and Effective Learning, the college’s introductory course in learning and life skills that it requires all students to take early in their degree program. Physics and A&P are both hard classes, designed to weed out students before they get into the program. English Comp is pretty much just that – I was worried about it, though, since I generally don’t write well when assigned a topic. Effective Learning was a comparatively easy course, but outside of labs was the only instance where I had to work with other students on projects and the only instance of doing a class presentation at all. I was very worried about how I’d be able to respond to that much schooling at once.

I survived the semester! I was worried about my grade for three of the four classes – I was pretty sure I’d made at least a B in them but wanted to do as well as I could on the final exams. I must have done well enough. I got straight A’s for the semester!

Throughout all my years of schooling, I have never gotten all A’s for a grading period. While I was an intelligent child, I was also lazy, and in my early years in school was promoted from grade to grade based simply on my ability to perform well on tests, rather than taking into consideration my homework, or lack thereof. That habit started to cost me in middle and high school, though, and my grades suffered for it. I never learned effective time management skills for doing homework and studying and I was a champion procrastinator. So this accomplishment is very special to me.

It puts me on the President’s Honor Roll for the semester, the first time I’ve ever been on any honor roll at any level. It also makes my overall GPA a 3.85 and my pre-requisite GPA a 3.73. The pre-requisite GPA is important for my program application in the spring of 2019. My degree program requires a 2.0 GPA on pre-requisite courses, but I’ve been advised that a 3.5 is competitive to enter the program. My performance so far puts me in good shape heading into the fall, when I’ll take my final pre-requisite course.

So my plan for the rest of my pre-program education looks like this.

In the summer, I’m taking Essentials of Medical Terminology. While this is technically part of the degree requirement, it can be taken prior to applying for a small number of points on the application worksheet. It is an online course and will be the only one that I take for this degree. I hope that I’ve learned enough discipline to keep up with my studies without the structure of an in-class schedule.

In the fall, I’ve got Anatomy & Physiology II, Ethics, Interpersonal Communication, and Introduction to Psychology. A&P II is my final pre-requisite, the others are my final co-requisites. It’s 13 credit hours, but if I can get all A’s on 14, I can do it again this fall.

In the spring of 2019, I’m going to be taking the Certified Nurse Aide program. My degree program requires formal patient care education, and the minimum requirement that meets that is the CNA program. It’s an intense three-week program, Monday through Thursday, 9:00 am-3:30 pm, so it will leave most of the spring semester free for me to prepare for the TEAS exam that is also required by my degree program. And then it’s just a matter of sending in the application and waiting.

I’m looking forward to the rest of this path and to the work that lies ahead of me in the profession. And I’m looking forward to writing more this summer.

#604 – Been a While, Hasn’t It?

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So hey there, how are you doing? Been a while, hasn’t it? I have over two months to catch you up on, and that has been a hectic time. My apologies for disappearing, but there have been reasons.

The last time I wrote to you, I was just getting ready to start the spring semester with 14 credit hours and was preparing to move. There have been a lot of things going on, so I’m going to split this up into categories instead of trying to remember the last two months chronologically.

School: Fourteen credit hours is a lot to take on at once, and with two pre-requisites and two co-requisites on my schedule – and a target of applying to my program a year from now with at least a 3.5 GPA – performing well is very important. I’m taking anatomy and physiology I and applied physics (both pre-requisites) as well as English composition I and something called Effective Learning (both co-requisites), and none of these are really easy courses. I’ve been worried about my performance, especially since I’ve missed at least two class sessions in all four classes thanks to various illnesses, and my reading is falling further and further behind. However, here at roughly the halfway point of the semester I’ve got a high B, in A&P, and As everywhere else. That’s on target for my goal GPA – now if I can just maintain this for about eight more weeks, and hopefully bring that B up to an A, I’ll be very happy indeed.

Home: We’re moved! On moving day we’d not packed up even half the apartment when folks started coming around about 9:00 am, so we knew we were in for a long day. However, we had a lot of friends that came to help us, and by noon we had packed everything up and gotten the vast majority of our stuff down to the truck and assorted vehicles, ready to take it to our new apartment. By 4:00 pm everything we’d brought over in the first wave was either inside the apartment or on our patio. All the furniture was in place and my wonderful mother-in-law had almost completely unpacked our kitchen. That left only a few things to do on the second day we’d set aside for the move, and it seemed like in the blink of an eye our environment had transformed. We had moved from a 34-year-old 2/2 apartment in a less-than-ideal part of town to a ten-year-old gated community in one of the nicest places in town as well as a freshly renovated unit. We moved in about two months ago, and even though we’ve still got some stuff in boxes it still feels a little like us moving into a resort. And then the bills came in. We are estimating that our rent and water bills would be comparable between the two apartments – but our rent includes a surcharge for a reserved covered parking spot, something that wasn’t even offered at the old apartment, so, all in all, we’re paying less here than we would have been at the old place. Our water bill is half of what it was, as is our electric bill, and our internet bill is cheaper for service faster than we had by an order of magnitude. Even our car insurance has gone down. The only expense that’s gone up is our monthly fuel bill – my wife’s commute has doubled in length and four days out of five that trip is being taken twice to allow me to have the car for class.

Health: My anxiety has been doing very well given the added stress of a heavy course load, and only in recent weeks has my anxiety been really elevated. (More on that in a minute.) My blood sugar has been slowly rising, and this morning I recorded the highest glucose reading I’ve had since my diabetes has been controlled, so I’ll be going to the doctor soon to talk about that. Good thing too – my blood pressure has been on the rise as well, although part of that is likely due to school stress.

Family: I got a call from Mom one day a few weeks ago with her telling me that she was in Dallas strolling around the thousand acres that she’d just bought, and wanted to know what kind of cars we wanted her to buy for us, and took special care to point out that she had a private plane on call to whisk us from Austin to her property in about an hour and a half. Since that point, my dad has apparently taken over $2000 out of her account and changed her banking password and disappeared with her car. She figured he’s gone for good and is talking with a divorce lawyer about what she needs to do to file. Fortunately, her brother and sister-in-law have been visiting on the weekends and keeping her company. Here’s the problem: Mom is in a skilled nursing facility in North Carolina and has been unable to walk for well over a decade. My father passed away in 1995, and both her brother and sister-in-law are also deceased. There’s no property in Dallas, there’s no money for his and hers cars, there’s certainly no private plane. My thought is that she has a chronic infection that’s been causing hallucinations for weeks, and despite the facility supposedly treating it her symptoms have not abated. If she were living in the past, then I’d be more concerned about dementia setting in, but this is all new stuff that she’s telling us, so it seems to be more hallucinatory than memory loss. The good news is that the ball has finally started rolling to make me a secondary medical power of attorney for her, which means that the facility will now start calling me, her actual son, when they need to advise us of treatments and progress in her conditions, as well as the family friend who’s local to her and who has been taking care of her for years – and who is her primary medical power of attorney due to his proximity to Mom.

Community: This is where the elevated anxiety comes in. It is not internal. I live in Austin, which has until earlier this week been dealing with a domestic terrorist that planted seven bombs in town, six of which detonated with two fatalities and several more serious injuries. The suspect had started to change up his level of sophistication as well as his delivery method, with one bomb exploding in a FedEx facility south of town, which had the whole of Austin on edge. That fear was almost palpable in the 48 hours leading up to police catching up to their primary suspect, only to have him die in a self-triggered explosion early Wednesday morning. The whole thing hit home with me on several fronts. A friend of mine lives just a couple miles from the sites of multiple explosions and was seriously considering keeping her kids home from school until the perpetrator was caught. Another friend of mine was told by police to stay in her apartment while they investigated a suspicious package left at the high school next door to her. One of the explosions was just a few doors down from a fellow physics student and she was being told to stay indoors until the all-clear had been given – she’d gone so far as to write our professor and tell him she’d likely miss class that day.

So that’s pretty much been my last two months. My schedule has been hectic and a lot of things I used to do on a daily basis have fallen by the wayside since the semester started. I mentioned this to my therapist a couple days ago and she brought up the excellent point that the important things, the medical reasons that I started keeping a daily checklist in the first place, are all being done more or less without fail, so I shouldn’t worry so much about keeping up with everything. She’d also like me to write more often, so I’m going to try my best to get back to at least a couple times a week. On that note, I’ll be around again in a few days with a shorter post.

 

#602 – Goodbye 2017!

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This will be my last post this year. I am packing for a flight to Orlando to spend some time with my wife’s family for a few days. We leave very, very early in the morning so tonight’s post is going to be short, but important.

One of my first posts of 2017 was on January 21, where I talked a bit about what everyday life was like for me. I was barely being social, I was pretty much a shut-in, I was only driving if it was absolutely necessary, and I was very prone to anxiety attacks at the drop of a hat. I was still pretty early in The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, Sixth Edition, and my meds were keeping my mood low but stable.

Fast forward to today. I’ve completed the Workbook and had my meds tweaked to a super effective combination, and together they’ve allowed me to make progress that I could never have foreseen in January. I’ve recently completed my first semester in college, with both classes being taught in the classroom and not online. I started driving pretty much anywhere and going to stores on my own. My confidence started to come back, although it still has a ways to go. I have far more good days than bad. My mood is usually fairly medium but it’s easy for it to spike and rare for it to plummet even for a brief time.

This has been nothing short of a transformative year for me, and I’m hoping that 2018 is going to be more of the same. I’ve got a hell of a workload in the spring semester that starts next month, and just at the beginning of it I’m moving, but if I can get through that with mostly A’s and the occasional B, then I’ll consider myself very prepared for anything else that college – and life – can throw my way.

I want to thank you for following me through this banner year. Your words of encouragement and wisdom mean the world to me, and I appreciate every one of you for taking time out of your day to read my (sometimes nonsensical) musings about my life.

See you folks next year. Enjoy the turn of the calendar and all the promise and hope it brings.

#589 – Running Late

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Hi folks. I’m going to be brief because we had really bad problems with our microphone before our show, and that delayed our start over an hour, and we were going to run a half hour late anyway, and then we added another full set, and well … we’re going to be on the radio until midnight, so this is what you get.

Today’s been a good day, although I still haven’t heard anything on my algebra grades. Hopefully sometime Monday.

Our Aussie friend and fellow DJ is visiting for a few days, so I might be kinda short with the posts while he’s here. Hope you understand.

#588 – It’s Official!

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We have an apartment to move into come January!

We went this afternoon to go sign paperwork and drop off the check for all our move-in expenses. Pretty much the only thing left for us to do to make the apartment ours is to pick up the keys and the gate remotes on the 26th.

I’m very excited about this move, although I’m not pleased with the time frame. The spring semester will have just started, and I am liable to be up to my neck in studying and homework at that point. It means I likely won’t be able to help much during the actual move dates and will probably have to go to a coffee shop someplace to study while everyone’s lugging furniture back and forth. I hate it, I really do, but given the difficulties I had with getting behind in the fall semester, I’ve got to make school my absolutely highest priority.

Speaking of school, I got my final grade in biology fundamentals – 95% for a solid A. I’m pleased with that. I just wish that my algebra grades were going to be so high. I’ll be lucky to pass that course with a C, most likely.

Still trying to get the hang of writing daily again. I’m sure it will come back to me soon.

#587 – The Road to Hell

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… is paved with good intentions.

Today was my first day since August that I didn’t feel like I had any obligations, and my body reacted strongly to the feeling by keeping me in bed until mid-afternoon. I cancelled my radio show, I went out to eat with my wife, I went for coffee and ice cream afterwards, and the rest of the day I’ve been avoiding anything resembling responsibility like the plague.

My mind, however, was not completely on board with this plan. I spent the majority of the afternoon and early evening feeling guilty that I wasn’t doing something. I took a dinner date to distract me from that, so as the evening progressed the feeling went away.

So that’s why the road to hell is paved with good intentions – I was going to write today about everything I’ve been up to and instead I’m putting what’s basically another placeholder with very little information. I’ll fill you guys in … soon. Tomorrow is looking busy, so I make no promises.

For those who have been asking me, I have not yet received my final grades for the semester. I’ll let you know when I hear something.

#586 – Back To It

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Hello, readers, I’ve missed you. No, really, my days have been kinda weird without having my blog to end the day so I can record what’s going through my mind at the time. So I’ve decided to get back into the daily habit of writing, even if it’s a pretty boring, mundane post.

Finals are over, and I’m just awaiting grades. Biology shouldn’t be a problem, but algebra tripped me up in the second half of the semester, and I would be overjoyed if I could squeak out a B for a final grade.

The move is happening slowly but surely. Less than six weeks to go, and there’s still a lot to do.

I’m exhausted writing this, so I’m going to head for bed and talk to you more at length tomorrow, when I have all the time in the world to write.

#585 – Luck, Both Good and Bad

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First, let’s get the bad luck out of the way, because it’s not that much fun to talk about. I had an algebra test last Thursday and I did abysmally on it. Like, might have dropped my average two whole grades bad. I still don’t have a score, but it will not be high. I also did not, on purpose, turn in a homework assignment today. I’ve had this assignment for about a month and like an idiot I waited until the last minute to try and get it done, and doing that drastically affected my test score. Based on that, I opted to cut my losses and start in on the semester’s fourth homework assignment, to be sure I’m doing the work pretty much as we cover the material in class.

That botched test is 21% of my final grade, as are all four tests for the semester, for a total of 84%. We’ll drop the lowest two quiz scores for the semester and average what’s left for 12% of my final grade. That means the four homework assignments will be averaged to give me the remaining 4% of my final grade, so in the broad scheme of things, taking a zero on today’s assignment won’t affect my final score that much.

There’s a backup plan for the poor performance on the test, too. There will be a comprehensive final exam given the last day of class, and that score, should it be higher than my lowest test score, will replace that score in the computation of my final grade. I received a 94 and a 95 on my first two tests, so the chances that my final grade will be better than what I turned in on Thursday is very high. I just need to spend some time in the learning lab between now and then to catch up on the concepts that I’m missing from the third test. Hopefully, that final will be good enough to get me back up to an A for the course.

Okay, on to the good news. We’re moving!

Those of you that regularly follow my blog know that the place that my wife and I live now is an older apartment on a boiler system, with pipes that regularly fail, leaving the complex without water for hours. The complex was built in 1983, so it’s seen better days.

While the condition of our current apartment is enough to warrant moving at the end of our current lease, the real impetus is to get me in-district for Austin Community College to drop the price of a three credit hour course from over a thousand dollars to below three hundred.

On Saturday we looked at one apartment and fell in love with it, so much so that we asked for an application on the spot and dropped it and the deposit off yesterday. Late yesterday afternoon we received word that we were approved for the unit, but that a move-in date would be dependent on when the apartment would be ready. Today we got that confirmed, and we’ll be picking up the keys on Friday, January 26.

But here’s the really cool part of this. The new complex was built in 2008, and is currently undergoing renovations. The unit that we’re getting is not currently renovated, but will be so before the move-in, making us the first occupants of the newly renovated unit.

The new place is on the first floor, a very welcome change from the second floor apartment we’re currently in. My wife has chronic back pain and the stairs have been aggravating that for years. There are at least a couple of handicapped spots right by the walkway our front door is in, in case she needs it after a rough day.

The complex is extremely nice. It’s a gated community, and there’s a 24-hour fitness center, a gorgeous pool, a rec center with TVs and a pool table and even a Starbucks-branded coffee bar, a cyber cafe, a dog park, and a gift wrap station. It’s nestled in a quiet community that’s close to everything – the closest H-E-B (that’s the local grocery store chain here in central Texas, and it’s hands down the best store we’ve ever had) is within walking distance and doesn’t require even getting on a main road, and there’s a medical center right beside that. If I could get in there after I get my degree, it would be amazing to be that close to work. The apartment is less than five minutes away from the ACC campus my degree program is taught at.

We knew we were going to have to downsize when we started looking, so the move from a two bedroom, two bath unit to a one bedroom, one bath was expected. That’s pretty much the downside to the place. There are hardwood floors everywhere but the bedroom, a washer and dryer included in a laundry room large enough to hold both the washer and dryer and our small chest freezer, a garden tub, a security system, ceiling fans in the living room and dining room, a sizable patio with additional storage off of that, a good size coat closet, a nicely sized walk-in closet off the bedroom, and built-in shelves between the bedroom and bathroom, plus valet garbage service. And then there’s the kitchen.

The renovated kitchen will have all-new granite counter-tops, an all-new tile back-splash, all-new stainless steel appliances (including a full-size refrigerator, a built-in microwave, a glass-top stove for easy cleaning, and a fantastic dishwasher) a pretty big pantry, and a new sink with garbage disposal and fixtures including a retractable hose. It is the largest kitchen I have ever seen outside of a single-family home.

We’re also taking advantage of a move-in special that cuts our application costs somewhat and shaves our first three full months of rent in half. So really, the only two downsides that I can think of are that we’re moving to a 1/1, and that the kitchen sink isn’t double-sided. That’s it. Everything else in the place is a plus.

We got so lucky with this place.

We’re already trying to determine what’s going where, and what we need to get for the new place, and starting to think about what needs to go to our off-site storage facility.

There is one more downside that I can think of, but it would be a downside regardless of where we moved to – this move is taking place the second weekend of the spring semester. My ability to help with the move is entirely dependent on what my course load is going to be like at that time. That can’t be helped, though, so we’re going to have to be extra nice to the folks that come help us with the move.

We’re both so excited about this move, and I’ll keep you posted on how things are going.

#581 – From One Extreme to the Other

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On Monday I wrote about being late for class because of construction along my usual route, and about how I was planning on leaving a little earlier than usual tonight to make up for it. Well, it’s been a cold, rainy day here in Austin and so I bumped up my departure time a few more minutes because of the weather.

Class starts at 6:00. I pulled into my parking space at straight up 5:00.

Somewhere in there is a sweet spot for me to arrive early enough to catch my breath from the walk before class, without waiting for the better part of an hour to do so. I aim to find it soon.

Classes went well today. I learned quite a bit in both classes, and the rest of my day was pretty good also.