2015 in hindsight: difference

As I look forward to 2016, I also want to recall how, in 2015, Marci gave me the STAR word “difference.” I printed the word on a paper star and posted it above my desk at work.

Lots of things were different this year.

  • I turned 40, a cultural milestone, especially for women. Already I can feel the hot breath of perimenopause on my skin.
  • We bought a house this summer, our first. It’s lovely, if already kind of scruffy around the edges in the ways our residences tend to become. (220 pounds of dog generate, it ends up, a lot of dog hair, and the garden is huge.)
  • I sprained my ankle really badly in late September falling down the stairs of our new house, and I used crutches and a knee scooter for the first time in my life. Learning to use crutches at 40 is pretty miserable, especially when, like me, one is more than a little out of shape.
  • I took a new job and have made it my own. I adore the people with whom I work, and I am eager to go to the office every single day because the kind of work we do is really interesting and important. Alas, I also have learned more about human resources than I ever cared to know. (Next up: learning more about delegating.)
  • Because of the new job, I’m home later in the afternoon or evening than I used to be. I’m so grateful Fang long ago committed to being the work-from-home, PTA-type parent.
  • My son turned 10, another milestone. He also earned his second-degree black belt and is turning out to be a bright, balanced, and intrinsically motivated kid. I’m one proud mama.
  • I lost an aunt who I thought might outlive me. She had always been my healthiest relative, and her illness and passing has grounded me further in the here and now and made me reconsider my own health and fitness, especially since I had to show up to her memorial service on crutches.
  • I experienced a major attack on social media that made me experience the world differently, at least for a while, and reinforced some ideas I have about whiteness and masculinity in Idaho.
  • I flirted again with Quakerism, attending a couple meetings for the first time in years and writing an article on teaching and mentoring for Friends Journal. I deepened my belief in the primacy of nonviolence, especially with regards to the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S.

Even though much was different this year, I wasn’t sure how I was embracing difference or making a difference until recently, when my efforts began to pay off in ways large and small.

  • I’m not necessarily at liberty to say exactly how my efforts at work are making a difference–and doing so might make it seem as if I’m tooting my own bureaucratic horn–but I will say I’ve been working hard to get administrators and faculty thinking about priorities in undergraduate education, with a particular emphasis on the accessibility (in every sense of the term, including disability and affordability) of course materials and where the university invests in its technological resources. I’ve been speaking up and pushing back in an attempt to move undergraduate education forward. A lot of this work has involved, appropriately enough, talking about difference among students.
  • In the last couple months of this year, I’ve been trying to emphasize work-life balance, which seemed out of whack when I was primarily a faculty member. I’m fortunate to rarely have to take work home with me–much of what I do can wait until the next day–but I have often mulled over work challenges in my head when I’m at home rather than attending 100% to my family life. I hope to maintain the little momentum I’ve built up there with Fang, the boy, the dogs, and domestic life.

A full deck


Usually when Fang‘s birthday rolls around, we’re ready to duck and cover, as April 19 and 20 are two of those days when crazy people are wont to do and say stupid and dangerous things.

Strangely, though, this year Fang is doing the opposite of ducking and covering—he’s been doing amazing work, running around Boise and its environs with a camera and an assortment of lenses. His work keeps getting better, and as his confidence in his work grows, it’s reflected elsewhere in his life as well.

It’s no secret that our time in Idaho has been rough on each member of my family in different ways, but it’s been especially tough on Fang, as he’s been working from home and is disinclined to use my network to find friends. This year, however, he’s been connecting with people in a really meaningful way, and it’s a joy to see him with and hear him talk about his friends.  (Deep gratitude to those folks. You know who you are.)

Fang also does more than his share of parenting and serves as an amazing role model for the boy. Fang and Lucas are wired so similarly that they understand each other in ways I’ll never fully comprehend.  For Fang’s work in forging that connection, I’m so thankful.

Thank you, Sweetie, for all you do, and for being who you are (I know it’s neither easy nor simple). Here’s to another interesting and love-filled year. Happy birthday!

On Calling, again

As I wrote earlier this year, I’m participating in Marci Glass’s STARward project, in which participants reflect on a word given to them by Marci (who not only writes a thoughtful blog, but also happens to be the pastor of a church a few blocks from where I live). I drew the word calling.

It’s been a fortuitous word.


As I write this, I’m sitting in the room of a historic hotel in Washington, D.C., half-watching the construction going on across the street. The heavy equipment emits a steady stream of growls and whines and beeps, and despite my attempts to render it background noise, it’s a constant distraction.

It’s also a metaphor.


I was in D.C. yesterday for a day of work, but I stayed an extra night so that I wouldn’t have to take a red eye home to Boise.  My plane doesn’t take off until 2:30, but instead of setting out early to explore one of my favorite cities (my modus operandi), I’m in self-preservation mode, trying to save all my energy.  This week is marked by two sets of papers to grade and two sets of final exams.  I’m usually a better end-of-semester planner, but this time I failed in a big way—especially since last week involved reviewing 640 pages of grant applications as well.

Plus, this is the time of year when I’m most likely to get sick.  (Witness last year’s bout of antibiotic-resistant pneumonia.)  So instead of venturing out into D.C., I sit here, at my aging laptop, thinking about all the things I’d like to build—while being distracted by the sounds of people actually building across Massachusetts Avenue NW.


A quick review. . .

In an earlier post on calling, I wrote about the values and qualities I’d like to have more of in my professional life.  I listed:

  • congruity between thought and action/a greater alignment between how I want to spend my working hours and how I’m actually working
  • synthesis of my various interests, and clarity in articulating them to others
  • experimentation with new knowledge and the fluency that comes from regular practice of emerging skills and vocabularies
  • receptivity to new opportunities
  • financial stability

And I acknowledged the qualities that I have in abundance in my current job:

  • autonomy
  • supportiveness
  • collegiality (and especially humor)
  • enthusiasm

I also wrote about the calling I feel:

  • I am called to encourage all people to become fully engaged with lifelong learning, by participating more fully, for example, in crafting their community’s historical narratives or in local citizen science projects.
  • I am called to open dialogues with people who hold very different beliefs from me, not in the hope of changing minds, but of provoking deeper thought in all conversants.
  • I am called to help people become explorers or creators of whatever matters to them, and to help them share their passions with others.
  • I am called to various genres of reflective writing, including poetry and essays.


In recent months, my ideas about calling have not changed, but I’ve sought ways to restore the balance to my personal life.  Lucas is growing fast in every way, and he needs both parents a lot right now.  Fang is always there for him, but my work keeps me out of the house a good deal, and even when I am home, I’m often playing catch-up.

This work situation is not sustainable, especially since we’ve been hemorrhaging money since moving here. It would be one thing if we were saving for a better near-future, but it’s quite the opposite. I’ll spare you the details.


Since I moved to Boise, my sister has had two children, my grandmother has died, and my aunt has developed brain cancer. My parents will turn 70 next year. Meanwhile, on every visit to Long Beach, Lucas announces he wants to move there to be closer to family. He recently informed us he’s saving up money so we can move to Long Beach.

Meanwhile, Fang is trying desperately to provide a stable social life for Lucas, as—long, unbloggable story—it’s not happening at school. So I can’t talk about wanting—needing—to leave this place because Fang is worried people won’t invest socially and emotionally in the boy if our departure seems imminent.  And of course, the same thing applies to me and my career at work.

So, now I have this big new goal, but I need to be relatively quiet about pursuing it.  That’s not my style; I’m twitching and champing at the bit. (So, yes, I’m blogging about it.)


I know from years of searching that jobs for humanities Ph.D.s in Long Beach and its environs are limited largely to universities, and they’re not exactly in a hiring boom. Perhaps I’ll return to academic technology, but more likely I’ll go the entrepreneurial route.

Of course, establishing a business requires either a good deal of spare time from one’s regular job—or a total dedication to the task and a comfortable financial cushion, neither of which I have right now.

It would be easy to throw up my hands and let the financial situation circumscribe my life even further.  But because this is about family, and especially about Lucas, I need to  double down.  I need to learn to ignore the constant metaphorical beeps and growls and whines that constitute the distractions in my professional environment.



1. I’m 95 percent finished with the first draft of a guide for students on how to write argumentative essays.  Despite Rebecca Schuman’s fatwa on the college essay, I’m betting the assignment won’t vanish anytime soon. I plan to get the guide edited, then publish it as an ebook and perhaps print-on-demand.  I’ll let you know when it’s finished.

2. I’ve filed for an LLC and set up the website for a college admissions consulting business.  (The idea emerged from this summer’s internship.)  I’ll be contacting local schools soon to see if I can give some presentations on what the various disruptions in higher education mean for incoming students, and how those disruptions should affect and inform students’ search for the right college.  You can check out the site if you’re curious, and subscribe to the blog.  If you know anyone with students in high school, please share the blog with them; even if they don’t become my clients, I want to help them learn about the rapidly changing landscape of higher ed.

(And yes, when I’ve talked with a couple fellow faculty about my rates, they were astonished. I’ve done my research, and rest assured that at these prices my assistance, even priced as it is, is a bargain.  My goal is not just to support my family, but to get to a point where I’m financially independent enough to spend time doing a good deal of pro bono admissions advising with underrepresented students.)

3. I’ve started a mastermind group with my sister, who is also new to entrepreneurship. Talking with her—she’s one of my favorite people—motivates me to get quickly to the point where Fang, Lucas, and I can move to Long Beach. (Check out her blog if you like new-parent stories.)

I have a timeline in mind—and it’s a generous one; no move is imminent—but I’m not ready to share it here.


So, my calling, amended to include personal goals as well as professional ones:

  • I am called to put family first, and to live near family.
  • I am called to encourage all people to become fully engaged with lifelong learning.
  • I am called to help people become explorers or creators of whatever matters to them, and to help them share their passions with others.

I want to know about your calling. Are you living your calling? If not, what steps are you taking to get there?

Catching up

Long time, no post. I’ve been processing a lot of mostly unbloggable stuff about the boy.

For now, I’ll share our little Halloween triumph:


The boy wanted to be Calvin.  We painted stripes on a t-shirt and sprayed his hair yellow.  But of course he also needed a Hobbes, and you can’t just buy a Hobbes because Watterson never licensed the characters.  I’ll spare you the sweat and tears, but know there’s a lot of my blood on that stuffed tiger.


If you’re interested in your own tiger-based torture, the pattern is at Instructables.

All I have are random bullets

It’s the beginning of the semester, and as usual, I’m pulled in a hundred different directions.

  • The project from my internship with Seth Godin–it’s a hybrid online/offline learning experience–is in pre-launch.  If the project sounds interesting to you, you can sign up for updates.
  • I’m playing intern matchmaker at work, and all kinds of new opportunities are emerging, which not only is awesome for history majors and grad students, but certainly makes my job easier.
  • I’m once again co-directing our department’s initiative to pull our public history master’s degree program into the 21st century; our first meeting took place today, and I’m optimistic about the year.
  • I had a phone interview late last week for a staff job in a great research institute at a fabulous university in a desirable location, and all indications are it went well. They asked for samples of a fairly specific genre of writing–interpreting academic research for an educated audience–and today HR indicated the right people were pleased with the sample articles and social media posts I wrote for them. Fingers crossed. . .
  • Lucas tests tomorrow for his blue belt in Taekwondo.
  • Today Lucas is eight!  I should write a birthday post, but I’m too tired.
  • If Lucas is eight, that means The Clutter Museum is almost that old as well.  Yikes.
  • Thanks to the university’s new core course requirements (no history courses necessary!) my lower-division course is under-enrolled by half.  (In the past, it had a waiting list.)  My upper-division course on U.S. women is absolutely packed, however.

Let’s close with the obligatory cute first-day-of-school photo of my geek-in-training:



What are you up to these days?



Random paragraphs, end of summer edition

Island hopping

I step back to the classroom tomorrow to teach two courses with ridiculously sweeping titles: U.S. History to 1877 and Women in America: Colonial Era to the Present.  Fortunately, I’m not one to fret about coverage.  As I’m sure I’ve explained somewhere on this blog or its predecessor, I take the islands-in-an-archipelago approach to teaching history.

My dad asked if I would be covering the relationship of Prohibition to women’s suffrage in the latter. He said in his day, women’s history wasn’t included at all, and this seemed a good topic.  I reminded him that I am, ahem, me, and thus the course would cover instead reproductive health in the Revolutionary era, women’s Transatlantic abolitionism, adolescent sexuality in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American Indian Movement activists, Chicana feminism, and Asian American popular culture.


There’s a hole in mommy’s car where all the money goes

It’s been quite a summer.

The Big Dog needed a new knee.



He won’t stop licking the damn leg, and he won’t wear an Elizabethan collar (“Cone of Shame”) or doughnut (“Life Preserver of Shame”), and he doesn’t seem to mind bitter apple, so we’ve been forced to keep the wound covered, sedate him, and keep an eye on him at all times.  I’m happy to report, however, that tonight he took me on an honest-to-goodness pull around the block, only two weeks after surgery, using all four legs, including one that is technically broken:


The rear-ended car that the insurance company said they’d be able to repair ended up being totalled.  Because of this massive damage:



Of course we didn’t get sufficient cash back to buy a decent car, but our friendly credit union gave us a little loan to make up the difference, so now we have this:



. . .which is basically the same car we had before, only six years newer, and with all the styling my inner 60-year-old woman appreciates, like automotive-primer-gray leather seats, a prominent digital display of the cardinal direction the car is pointed, and a faux wood burl dash:


But hey, I can’t complain.  It’s the third time I’ve bought the first car I test drove (and I’ve only bought three cars).  I’m one of those research-research-research-OK-let’s-get-this-DONE buyers.  (It’s the academic writer in me.)


Second grade

The boy heads to second grade next week, and a couple days later turns eight.

I’m a bit worried about the whole second-grade thing.  In 18 months, he’s gone from struggling with Hop on Pop to blazing through Eragon.  Phonics is going to seem reeeeeeallllllly boring.  He’s also drawing and filling out multiplication tables for fun.  I need to budget for a math tutor, as he’ll soon be surpassing my meager knowledge–once letters and numbers begin to mingle, I’m pretty useless.

Meanwhile, I’m keeping him busy.


Program prioritization

Idaho universities must prioritize all their programs.  Our administrators are tossing around words like “metrics” and “analytics,” terms that typically elicit two responses from faculty in the humanities and social sciences: (a) tuning out or (b) anxiety.  I’m gathering some metrics I think should be included in the discussion; expect a blog post on the topic soon.

To do (fall semester edition)

  • Finish (finally, for realz) the prison artifact article
  • Revise zoo director article
  • Give feedback on WordPress plugin
  • Finish wolf essay
  • Launch Stories of Idaho
  • Support fellow interns as they launch that neat thing we built this summer
  • Get LLC and insurance for launch of side hustle

Whew! I have a fellowship in the spring to work on one (!!!) project and forgo teaching and service (!!!!!!!!), but I’ll be occupied as well with pulling together a tenure portfolio, as I’m eligible to submit it fall 2014.


What’s keeping you busy or anxious at the moment?



Someone recently asked me what my greatest achievement has been, and my answer, without hesitation, was family.  I’m lucky to have come from a ridiculously functional extended family, as there I learned many of the lessons I’ve applied in my own marriage to Fang.  In just about any marriage, the challenges facing one spouse become the challenges of both, and Fang and I have spent many years challenging one another in inventive ways. Injuries! Illness! Big medical bills! Schedule changes! Depression! Relocation! Pay cuts!  

And yet we persevere.  And we’re raising a damn fine kid, too, who somehow seems to have inherited the best of each of us.  Even mainstream kids are not simple to raise, however–look back at the first year of this blog and watch us age a decade–and I’m proud of the results of our efforts.  Fang in particular is an amazing father; in many ways he vibrates at the same frequency as the boy.  They understand each other at a level that’s not always open to me.  And while I’m jealous of that connection, I’m also grateful it exists.

I’m so glad we’ve made it this far together, and I look forward to our next adventures.

Happy eleventh anniversary, Sweetie.


Hiking with Lucas

The boy, it ends up, is an avid hiker.  He’s 7.5 now, and on Sunday, there wasn’t a single complaint on what ended up being a 4-mile jaunt with lots of uphill walking.

Looking at how big he’s getting also reminds me how long I’ve been blogging.

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Happy birthday, Fang.


Dude is 51. Seriously. No one believes me.

It’s Fang’s birthday again.

April 20 is an inauspicious time to have a birthday, what with it being Hitler’s birthday (also the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting and the Deepwater Horizon explosion) and with the anniversary of the “shot heard round the world” (Oklahoma City bombing, Branch Davidian conflagration) immediately preceding it.  (Let’s not even mention this week’s drama.) Something about the dates brings out the kooks and catastrophes.

Since we moved to Idaho, Fang has met his share of kooks and endured several minor, and a few not-so-minor, catastrophes. Because we moved here on my account, I feel culpable for much of what ails him these days, though of course some of it could be chalked up to aging.  (Few people make it to 51 without some aches and pains.)


Guitar practice is a persistent source of aches, pains, and a good deal of kookiness.

Could I say honestly he has been cheery in the face of various adversities?  No.  But I didn’t marry Fang for his light heart or devil-may-care attitude.


I didn’t marry him for his Rush fetish, either. I’ve stayed married to him despite his ability to bring any conversation around to Rush lyrics.

I married him because he is steadfast and (though he’d probably won’t believe it right now) resilient.  And I’ve kept him around because he’s a caring spouse and amazing dad.  He’s a chronicler of our lives and a creative soul.


Savor it, folks. It’s Fang. . .in nature!

He’s put up with so much these past couple of years, and as I pursue my academic career, I’m so grateful he’s been willing to play, as he terms it, the “descending spouse.”

I won’t be so cruel as to wish him another 51 years, because I know that’s the last thing he wants.  But I will say this: I wish him happier days and months immediately ahead.  (Let’s plan our escape, Sweetie!)


Nice form, Sweetie. The kicks were great, too.

Happy birthday, Fang.  Lucas and I are so very lucky to have you in our lives.

UPDATE:  Here’s the text of Lucas’s birthday card to Fang.  It’s too sweet not to share, y’know?


Because I needed something else to fret about

Here’s what Lucas read over spring break:


That stack amounts to about 570 pages.

Here’s what was sent home as appropriate reading for him from school this week:



It has three pages of text.

Lucas can spell apprentice and warriors and basilisk, but his spelling words this week include boy, toy, and joy.

Lucas is teaching himself multiplication; tonight he was filling out a multiplication table just for fun.

Here are the flashcards that came home with him today:



Surprise! He’s becoming increasingly resistant to homework.

Any advice from parents and/or teachers?  He loves to learn, but he has this stuff down.