Category Archives: Knoxville

Sunday… (Funday?) and a Tingly Tingle

It’s Sunday. Super Bowl, Ground Hog Sunday. It’s kind of a strange combination, so why not be a little strange and write a blog post on a Sunday? In case you are wondering, I have no idea who came up with the idea of “Sunday Funday,” but I do wonder if those people are chronic church-avoiders. I’m not saying that being at church on Sundays isn’t fun (hardly the case, I would argue), but usually when you see people’s photos on Facebook or Twitter with a #sundayfunday — they’re doing something like mountain climbing or spelunking.

As for me, I’m currently waiting 15 minutes to brush my teeth and shower before heading to church. Why? Because I woke up with a slight tingly tingle in my throat. And when that happens, I get paranoid. I would really like to believe that that tingly tingle is from talking too much and too loud both yesterday (double shift at the restaurant) and Friday (grad student happy hour at one of the loudest restaurants in Knoxville). However, given that Karen has had her second cold since Christmas this week, paranoia is perfectly justified. So I’m waiting 15 minutes to have water because that’s what the generic Cold-EEZE-like zinc product I just took said to do. (And those things taste pretty gross. Combination of orange or other citrus flavor and the metallic hint of zinc. Yum. Anyone who can hold out and not drink something for 15 minutes after letting the thing dissolve in your mouth…we’re a rare breed.)

Time’s almost up!

A Tender Tennessee Christmas

Well, it’s not quite Christmas Eve yet, but the vast majority of the week-and-a-half Christmas music festivities are drawing nigh to a close. With the Celtic-themed Clayton Christmas Concerts behind us after the matinee this afternoon, I’ve had quite enough bagpipes for a little while. You would not BELIEVE how loud those instruments can be in person! I’ve been amazed at how smoothly and easily these concerts have gone this year. Maybe the level of difficulty just wasn’t quite at its usual intensity, but regardless, I heard several comments that audience members were thrilled with the performance and loved the Celtic theme.

I, for one, am pretty much sung out. I feel like I earned the accomplished “sung out” feeling, though. Here’s the litany of the marathon that made up my schedule this week.

  • Rehearsal and all-afternoon caroling last Saturday
  • Two special music services at Church Street last Sunday
  • Two-hour rehearsals on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (at three different locations, no less!)
  • Clayton concerts on Friday, Saturday (twice), and today
  • Finally, singing special music—including the Handel tenor recitative/aria combo of “Comfort Ye” and “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted”—at Trinity UMC in Lenoir City today

That doesn’t include working three shifts at Puleo’s either. As we sang in the Hanukkah Fantasy piece for the Clayton Concerts, OY!

I feel two things upon writing out this list. No, make that three. First, I’m proud to say I did it, and with the exception of missing a half note in “Every Valley” and throwing off the string players accompanying me, the whole week went extremely well. Second, I feel like I might be a little be crazy for going through all of this. I’m mean, really? I didn’t write out the list to brag, despite what my sister is probably thinking right now. I wrote it to remind myself that this is a crazy way to end the year, but I wouldn’t trade it away. The third thing I feel is tired, which must be true because I’ve already forgotten what my original third thought was. Ha!

I bid you all a happy, musical Christmas and New Year—and just for something different, I decided to completely change gears from this week’s musical selections and present to you Amy Grant’s Tender Tennessee Christmas. It must be a testament to my childhood. Growing up, Christmas almost always saw our family driving two hours to one set of grandparents or the other (or both), and those trips were filled with the same musical selections on (gasp!) cassette tape recordings from the radio and who knows where else. The testament to my childhood here is that Tender Tennessee is about the only country~pop~ish song to which I can actually stand listening. Enjoy!

A Well-Deserved Update

I realize it has been a long time since I posted any kind of update to the blog. My apologies.

With that apology comes the roll-out of a new blog template! I thought it was high time that my dark and drastic website design change to a brighter, cheerier, and easier to read look. Voila! Feels better already.

In case you haven’t been informed, my dear five readers, this semester has been one of substantial change for me, academically and professionally. I switched to working with Dr. Derek Alderman, Geography Department Head at UT Knoxville and all-around outstanding scholar in the fields of geographies of race and memory and the U.S South. In the process, I temporarily lost my funding at UT (but I will be back teaching Geography 101 in the Spring – yay!), started looking for jobs, completely changed up my dissertation ideas, and started working as a server at Puléo’s Grille at the Strawberry Plains Pike exit on I-40.

I plan to use my blog/website better, more frequently, and more professionally in the future, after being inspired by my new colleague Tyler Sonnichsen. But we all know I’ve made similar claims before!

Summer Update

I’m sure the few of you faithful readers out there might be wondering how the summer is going for the in-between-semesters grad student, so I’m going to try to update you with a brief post.

After returning from a month in Europe and two more weeks on the road to West Tennessee, I finally took the time for a real summer break. Whether or not this was actually a good thing is open to debate, because while my mental health greatly appreciated some down time, my work ethic has not yet recovered. And that is a really big problem, given all that is upcoming this fall semester!

During the downtime, Karen and I have lazed around the house, started watching LOST on Netflix, and last week had a Harry Potter marathon, culminating in seeing the final movie at the downtown movie theater yesterday afternoon. We also went to Sevier County (read: Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville) on Saturday to get our Pancake Pantry fix and shop the outlet malls whilst we had Gap and Banana Republic store-wide 30 percent off coupons… Banana Republic has become my all-time favorite clothing store, but only when shopping through the outlet store.

In a close second, my next favorite store has become Nike, but again, only the outlet/factory store variety again. (Note the grad-student-on-a-budget theme running here?) Speaking of Nike, most of you have likely seen my occasional post to Facebook about running with Nike+. I started the fifth week today, and though Karen dropped out on me after serious knee pain last week, I’m going to keep this up as long as I can! I don’t know if any of you are using Nike+, but if you are and want to add me as a friend, my username is matrcook.

In the last two weeks, I have slowly gotten the ball rolling on my to-do list for the fall. It’s quite extensive because I’m teaching a section of Geography 101 – World Regional Geography to approximately 120 students. Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:10 a.m.! It’s slightly daunting for my first real teaching assignment, but at least it’s only one class and I have had a lot of time to prepare for it. Last week I laid out the rough draft of my syllabus and this week I plan to hammer out the rest of the nitty-gritty details. The course focuses on five world regions: Africa, South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania. For those of you who know me best, you know that I have never been to ANY of these regions. While that is not a major problem, it does make it a little more difficult to gather materials, and it makes me a LOT more dependent on the textbook and other sources rather than my own experiences, photographs, etc. Still, my goal is to help my students have a better understanding of the world by the time the course is over, while having some fun along the way.

Also accomplished last week was the beginnings of what I’m calling my “List of Ph.D. schools under consideration.” At this point it stands at seven schools in the U.S., two overseas, and (surprisingly) *none* are in Germany. Not saying it couldn’t expand at this point, but I will have to start narrowing it down once the semester starts. Application deadlines for some programs are as early as Dec. 15, though a majority are in January. I’ll keep you up-to-date as often as I can throughout the semester, provided busyness doesn’t have me hanging from the ceiling by my ears.

In other news, my biggest concern for the remaining part of the summer is my thesis research. I have seriously neglected it for a few weeks, and it is now time to remedy that. I’ve started by writing down the common themes that kept popping up in my observations, interviews, and conversations while in Berlin, and from there I will start to work on transcriptions that fit into the different themes. This qualitative data analysis is definitely difficult if you’ve never done it before, but my advisor pointed me in the right direction last week during a two-hour meeting! I’ve now got a couple of books to help steer me for the next several weeks. Beyond this analysis work, I’ve quickly got to start working on a paper for some conferences I’m attending this fall. I was accepted to present a paper on my Stolpersteine research at the MTSU Holocaust Conference in October, and I plan to use many of the same ideas from that paper in another to submit to the Southeastern Division of the Association of American Geographers (whew. That takes a while to write! That’s why we just call it SEDAAG – pronounced “see-dag.”) The SEDAAG conference is in November, but I have to submit the entire paper in about a month. Scary!

That’s all the time I’ve got for now, so I hope you’ve enjoyed the update. I’m sure there are things I’m forgetting, but they’ll be saved for another day!

Blogging. On the iPad 2.

Hi everyone! I know you probably weren’t expecting to read a blog from me any time soon, but I just couldn’t resist blogging from my new iPad 2! Karen and I stood in line for about 3.5 hours this afternoon at the mall. I couldn’t believe the line of people waiting! We were about 88-89th in line and we ended up in ahead of the middle of the line by the time the doors opened at 5 pm.

Well it looks like it is past my bedtime. Writing on the iPad for extended periods of time like this will take some getting used to. Thank goodness for autocorrect, right???

Surprise Choral Concert

Now that we’re safely home I can tell you about our unexpected choir concert tonight! The New Pacer Singers are currently on tour in Tennessee, and while Karen and I knew they are not scheduled to sing in Knoxville on this tour, we were planning to go with them to hear them sing at a nearby high school tomorrow. Well, courtesy of the inclement weather, our usual Monday night activities with the Knoxville Choral Society were canceled, so we drove the 1.5 hours (more like 2 with the snowy conditions) to Cookeville to hear them sing at Tennessee Tech.

It was completely worth it! Dr. Simmons has expanded New Pacers into a 40-member touring ensemble, and they are performing some very difficult pieces, including the 40-part Tallis piece “Spem in Allium.” I hope to have some acceptable-quality photos or videos to post from the concert.

For those wondering, I-40 conditions were not a problem at all. The hardest part of the drive was getting in and out of our neighborhood!

Rainy-ville on the Hill

I love a good rain. Just not when I’m in it. (Isn’t that true for a lot of life? All good urban and economic geographers are aware of the powerful NIMBY: “Sure we need a new subway line, nuclear power plant, and shelter for the homeless, but Not In MY Back Yard!”)

I somehow managed to avoid the rain today while going from Burchfiel (my proper geographic home away from home on UTK’s campus) to South Stadium Hall (under part of Neyland Stadium) where I have my Anthropology of Genocide class. After class, I was even more fortunate: the sun came out and surprised me, given the bleakness that had previously filled the sky. The heavens opened up during my evening class tonight, and I peaked out the window from the fourth floor of my safe haven in the Burchfiel conference/seminar room and watched other less fortunate students without umbrellas get out of class only to find themselves immobilized by the rain. There were some who dared it, and others who were prepared to face the downpour with their umbrellas held high.

But for those who forgot, or ignored the prevalent warning signs swirling in the atmosphere above them today – they found their space suddenly limited, their comfortable space narrowed to the underside of a pedestrian bridge between our hallowed halls on the hill.


I do appreciate those of you who slugged your way through my feeble attempt to write at the end of the day. Thursday are an inimitable pain. I can’t complain too loudly, as I brought this academic hardship upon myself and, indeed, I do enjoy all of my classes thus far, it just so happens that the lineup of Thursday classes pushes my brain to the boundaries on a day when I usually could use an extra nap.

I have had an excellent first few weeks here at UTK. That’s mostly an understatement, for it fails to do justice to the situation. Despite being constantly overwhelmed with my school workload (mostly reading for the Geographic Thought seminar), I am really enjoying the camaraderie of fellow grad students who are as enthusiastic about geography as I am and having a wide range of professors who don’t mind you picking their brains on occasion. This is no way a slight to my undergrad experience at UTM – the program does an excellent job with the resources it has, and I think undergrads get a much more personal education than they would here, simply because of the sheer number of students here compared to at UTM. Both are high quality programs, and both provide a service for their universities – there is just a difference of scale. At the graduate level, however, we are known. Professors know our names and our research interests, considering us colleagues in training.

Perhaps the best part, though, is simply interaction with fellow grad students. There is almost a sense of “finally!” that can be added after that sentence, because a person like myself longs, at times, for intellectual interaction on that level with peers who are as completely engrossed by the subject as well. My advice to any potential grad school applicant (whether any of my readers fit into that category, I do not know…) is to make sure that the schools you apply to are schools that have that interaction and camaraderie among grad students. Yes, it requires more work than simply surfing a departmental website, but it is worth it.

While I’m spitting out mostly unrelated items to blog about, a sad product of not blogging often enough, I’ll just briefly say that Karen and I are enjoying Knoxville apart from campus as well. We’ve gotten to know some of our neighbors recently, through a Labor Day/Boomsday get-together (yes, we call it Boomsday here, for the magnificent 20-minute fireworks show that the city spends millions on each year). We’ve also decided to join Church Street United Methodist Church, a very exciting church in the heart of Knoxville, perfectly situated between downtown and campus. And on an related note (however selfish it may sound), CSUMC has stone floors, a pipe organ, a choir that can tackle complicated classical choral music, and handbells. We’ve also auditioned and been accepted into both the Knoxville Choral Society and its smaller chamber ensemble, the Knoxville Chamber Chorale.

Well, it has been raining on and off as I’ve written this, and my brain, despite being frazzled to begin with, is starting to clear with the writing, so I’m saying goodnight before I wake up any more and miss my chance to fall asleep to drip drops on the window panes.

Church Hunting (and a small dose of Geography)

If you need any proof that Knoxville is as much in the buckle of the Bible Belt as West or Middle Tennessee, the other day while returning the ladder we rented from Home Depot I was scanning through the FM radio stations from bottom to top (the 80-somethings through 100-somethings) and I found three Christian radio stations. Before I even got out of the 90’s. And those weren’t the only ones! Now I no longer have an excuse to switch to NPR or classic rock if I’m bored with hearing a song three times in a day (as happened often in Martin while listening to K-LOVE or AIR1). I can just rotate between Love 89.1, K-LOVE on 103.1, and a plethora of gospel stations.

And man, are there are a lot of churches.

Karen and I are starting the church search today at Fountain City UMC at 11. We decided we would see about the services on our first visit, then narrow it down, and then try out some Sunday Schools/Bible studies with the ones we really like. Of course, being musicians, we’ve narrowed the expansive list of churches down to those that are Methodist, Baptist (and one non-denominational church recommended by our pet groomer), have a choir and handbells. This, however, does rule out several churches that are only contemporary (for some reason, choral music and handbells aren’t found in contemporary churches…hmm…), but we’ll probably visit some contemporary churches as well.

So many to choose from, so little time! As we have been driving literally all over town the last several days, Karen and I have seen so many church buildings in so many shapes, sizes, and denominations. If there are any Christians out there in the world who need a place to try to find out what they personally like/need from a church, Knoxville is the place to do so. Within about a 10-15 mile radius from the center of town, that person could probably visit a different church every Sunday and not be done before new ones are started. Seriously.

All of this is very good, of course, and it reminds me of how similar things can be between places if you look for the similarities. Take for example, Martin and Knoxville. You wouldn’t think, on the surface, that the two cities (and I use that term loosely when referring to Martin!) would be all that alike, but you’d be wrong. Both are fairly typical Tennessee cities. Both, with four-year universities but also a strong (and large) conservative Christian demographic, are some of the most interesting places in the country to have intellectual political and moral debates. These isn’t your Boston or New York or LA, where it’s (naively) easy to assume that everyone is a liberal, Democrat, non-church-goer. These are interesting spaces!

Right here in Tennessee, who knew?