Monday, December 31, 2007

Auld Lang Syne

So rarely do we hear all the stanzas of this poem by Robert Burns, but I really like the entire song. So here it is, inspired by Propter Doc's post.

What are your New Year's traditions? My family used to watch Johnny Carson, then run out of the house at midnight banging on pots and pans. We'd each run around a tree three times for good luck. My mom claimed the tree-circling was an old Scottish tradition (maybe actually derived from British apple orchard wassailing?), but who knows its real origin? Doubtless few people perform such a ritual by running around suburban palm trees. And wouldn't it be funny if our ritual really was making the queen palms more fertile? Just what you want. . . more hard, waxy little dates on the sidewalk.

Happy New Year, and best wishes to all of you.

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine,
And we'll tak a cup o kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine,
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit,
Sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne.

And there's a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o thine,
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

I'm sick to my stomach

Someone recently found my blog by searching for the phrase "jeff gordon scrapbook layouts."

2007 Year-in-Review Meme

2007, like 2006, is already a blur to me, but I'm going to do my darndest to answer these thoughtfully.

1. What did you do in 2007 that you’d never done before?
Learned to negotiate, not always successfully, with a two-year-old.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Allow me to quote New Kid: "I probably made some half-assed ones, and did nothing to keep them." For 2008, see my post 101 things in 1001 days.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
A couple of students in my grad program did, yes--both of them from the same cohort of six people. And the same fertile cohort has another one on the way in 2008. Must be something about being ABD in the humanities. . . (Actually, now that I think of it, two of them had/have AAUW fellowships. Maybe that's the ticket.)

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Thankfully, no.

5. What countries did you visit?
Just this one. I'm recovering financially from grad school.

6. What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007?
More quality time with Mr. Trillwing.

7. What dates from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
None in particular--just a vague sequence of Lucas's developmental milestones.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Getting my current job. I really enjoy it.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not getting fit. In fact, getting less fit.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Oh god, yes. I have a child in daycare. On Christmas night, Mr. Trillwing had to clamp himself to me under the covers because I had a fever that was so bad I couldn't stop trembling--I could barely breathe. Thanks, daycare!

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Not sure. Probably something to keep Lucas entertained--art supplies. The most significant thing we acquired is my parents' old Toyota Avalon.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Mr. Trillwing, who deserves a medal for parenting.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
I was disappointed by the behavior of the backstabber mentioned in this post. Also, just about the entire U.S. Congress and the Bush administration. And this week, the more I read about the SF Zoo's current director, the less thrilled I am with him. (I'm following the tiger story closely. Check out this article for more astonishing who-knew-what-when news.)

14. Where did most of your money go?
Rent, daycare, food, credit cards.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Going back to visit Grinnell for alumni volunteer weekend. Also: watching Mr. Trillwing become an even more awesome father.

16. What song will always remind you of 2007?
Once again I return you to "The Highwayman." I really like the theme of rebirth, especially (as I'm interpreting it at this moment) of professional rebirth.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?
Happier, the same, slightly wealthier. I've also had more sleep.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Reading, writing, exercise, hanging out with Mr. Trillwing.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Procrastinating, facilitated by my RSS feed addiction.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
I spent it with my extended family in Long Beach. It's very, very stressful for Mr. Trillwing, so unless one of us has a terminally ill family member, we're very likely to spend next Christmas day here. Luke and I will fly down to see my family just after Christmas so that they don't feel deprived.

21. Did you fall in love in 2007?
Again and again, with Mr. Trillwing and Lucas.

22. How many one-night stands?
I do not know this "one-night stand" you speak of. And hello? I'm happily married.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
Lost, Big Love, Flight of the Conchords, Studio 60, Weeds (on DVD).

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
I don't think I can hate anyone. But see #13 for resentments.

25. What was the best book you read?
Probably a tie between Water for Elephants and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Usually I'm not so impressed with books on the bestseller lists, but these were terrific.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Not sure. Lucas's, however, was definitely Johnny Cash. I guess I rediscovered The Highwaymen.

27. What did you want and get?
A job at the teaching resources center.

28. What did you want and not get?
A job at the humanities institute. But that's OK. I'm happy where I am.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?
I think I saw all of two films in the theater this year: Dan in Real Life and Superbad. I think Dan wins out.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I can't remember what we did. But I turned 32.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Moving sooner into my current job.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007?
Pushing the edges of business casual into frumpiness.

33. What kept you sane?
Not sure. Maybe motherhood, out of necessity.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Not sure.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Climate change. Though why it should be a political issue is beyond me. The earth is fucked up. Could we please take steps to remediate it, already?

36. Who did you miss?
My grandfathers. I wish they could watch Lucas navigate the full flower of his toddlerhood.

37. Who was the best new person you met?
Coworkers.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2007.
Professionally, to be proactive (office settings can render folks passive, you know?). Personally, I didn't know I had so much love in me--but Lucas keeps bringing it out.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
Seriously? Is this, like, seventh grade? Should I be dedicating a Tiffany song to someone?

101 Things in 1001 days

I've decided to participate in the 101 things in 1001 days meme.

I'm leaving the list a bit open-ended right now, so that I can add things as I wish. As of January 1, 2008, this list has 77 items. My end date is September 28, 2010.

Academic (7)
  • Renew IRB approval for dissertation research
  • Revise dissertation into book [in progress]
  • Submit final draft of article to journal [done!]
  • Secure IRB approval for project on collectors and collecting
  • Make 30 key contacts for project on collectors and collecting
  • Write “scrambled eggs” paper on chicken eggs and fertility anxieties
  • Begin tentative research for that other women scientists fertility project

Blogging (4)
  • Write at least 2x week at Clutter Museum [getting closer to this]
  • Write 2x month for MuseumBlogging
  • Write 2x month for Multicultural Toybox
  • Update blogroll quarterly

Bureaucracy (6)
  • Clear my desk completely on the first and fifteenth of each month. [I'm revising this to once per month -- and keeping up with it]
  • Finally type up and notarize our wills.
  • Create spreadsheet to better track debt repayment, retirement savings, investments.
  • Get important papers in order.
  • Buy a fireproof lockbox and use it to store important papers.
  • Get passports for Mr. Trillwing, Lucas, and me. (I know, I know. . .) [Applied for my own]

Business and Professional (3)
  • Follow up on one idea related to project on collectors and collecting.
  • With Mr. Trillwing, think through his work hours/options. [always in progress]
  • Update my personal website with professional content.

Creative (16)
  • Learn digital illustration: sketch and color, as in the Sunday comics. [getting there, thanks to my new Wacom tablet]
  • Complete three moderate-sized paintings.
  • Complete one themed series of 15-25 photos using newish digital camera.
  • Create some artwork and list it on Etsy any see if anyone bites.
  • Paint model horse resins that have been sitting around for a few years. [in progress]
  • Self-publish book of poetry, probably through Lulu.com.
  • Collaborate with Mr. Trillwing on a big writing project.
  • Write one chapter per quarter of novel that’s been brewing for years.
  • Sew a skirt.
  • Make a collage. [making a vision board]
  • Draft text of children’s book.
  • Shop around children’s book, or illustrate and self-publish on Lulu.
  • Finish one scrapbook.
  • Take a class at a craft center.
  • Attend one poetry or fiction reading quarterly.
  • Start or join a fiction writing group.

Family (8)
  • Take Lucas for walks in regional nature preserves at least 4x year.
  • Take Lucas to Yosemite. [done!]
  • Plan Hawaii trip with Mr. Trillwing.
  • Establish regular family meals. [we eat breakfast together, but not yet dinner]
  • Fly a kite with Lucas.
  • Potty train Lucas. [almost there!]
  • Get guitar lessons and make practice time for Mr. Trillwing. [done!]
  • Write, or record with multimedia, at least quarterly letters to Lucas.

Fashion (2)
  • Dress more professionally, especially during non-summer months. [so far so good]
  • Buy one spring/summer dress in which I really look terrific.

Finances (7)
  • Pay down all credit card debt. [chipping away at it. . .]
  • Save up three months of emergency savings. [now a 2009 resolution]
  • Restart mutual fund and stock investments—including an IRA for Mr. Trillwing. [investments restarted, except for Mr. T's IRA. Update: I withdrew funds right before the big stock market crash. Crafty I am, except that I needed the money to spend. *sigh*]
  • Make significant progress on student loan debt. [making regular payments, sometimes above the minimum]
  • Identify “top 5” nonprofits for annual giving (categories: environment, education, women, peace and social justice, health) [semi-finalists thus far: Nature Conservancy, my alma mater, American Friends Service Committee or Friends Committee on National Legislation, Children's Organ Transplant Association, American Cancer Society]
  • Set up account for Hawaii trip w/Mr. Trillwing.

Friends (4)
  • Stay in better touch with good friends from high school and college.
  • Host two big-ish events for my friends each year.
  • Meet in person three bloggers I read. [done!]
  • Have Dr. Wonderful's and Fantastic Mentor’s families over for BBQ once weather warms up.

Gratitude (3)
  • Send 20 thank-you notes. [Sent thus far: 3]
  • Surprise Mr. Trillwing with 20 handmade gifts. [Thus far: 5]
  • Spend more quality time with the dog. [done--and since Woody is no longer with us, I'm busy trying to transfer my affections to Obi]

Home and Garden (6)
  • Grow one. damn. tomato. [done! Grew many!]
  • Improve composting process—get a bin. [improved process, but still binless]
  • Expand backyard garden. [done! Built two raised beds, with plans for more]
  • Have carpets professionally cleaned each January or February (and in July or August if the budget allows).
  • Organize garage. [in progress]
  • Complete one major decluttering/purging project at least every other month. [in progress]

Wellness (11)
  • Bicycle to work at least 3x week when weather permits (between 35 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and not in heavy rain) and I'm not sick.
  • Walk at least 30 minutes 4x week for three consecutive months.
  • Pilates or yoga by video 3x week for three months, then decide whether or not to continue or to try something else. [began this and lost interest, though I know it would be helpful]
  • By September 28, 2010, be able to run 30 minutes without being too winded.
  • Get new more stylish glasses. [done--but I'm already getting tired of them!]
  • Get more comfortable contact lenses. [done!]
  • Take another stab at attending unprogrammed Friends meetings.
  • Do a weekend fruit and juice fast.
  • Find a place to take dressage lessons, and start horseback riding again.
  • Get a new mattress. [done!]
  • Prepare at least one new main dish every other month. (I’m interested in cooking, but I don’t love it.)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Family rituals

Lucas loves to look at photos of himself on the computer, so one of our nightly rituals--along with a viewing of Sesame Street and the reading of several books--has him sitting on my lap, pushing buttons on the computer and shouting, "Gookus! Gookus!" (his approximation of his name)

The past several nights, he's added a new twist: he sits on my lap. And looks at photos. And farts.

A lot.

Ah, the glories of motherhood.

Best Christmas sweater EVER

Courtesy of my parents:

Yes, that is a dinosaur crunching candy canes. (If you click to embiggen, you'll see every glorious stitch of reptilian goodness.) Now why isn't there one in my size?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Need advice: housing young siblings

The largest of many stumbling blocks that Mr. Trillwing and I have in thinking about a second child is how we'd make it work without having to move into a larger, more expensive rental home.

See, when Lucas was born, we were living in a two-bedroom apartment: one large bedroom where we all slept, and one bedroom for Mr. Trillwing's office (from which he works 40-55 hours/week). Actually, when I say "we all slept," I mean really "we all lay down occasionally and tried to sleep." For the first few months of Luke's life, he slept in the living room in a car seat or bassinet, while Mr. T and I took turns "sleeping" on the couch. The other partner then slept in the bedroom with two fans running to drown out the baby's cries. Under this system, each partner was assured at least four hours of sleep each night. Otherwise, we'd each get less than three hours, very little of it consecutive.

Probably not coincidentally, Lucas did not sleep regularly through the night until after he was 15 months old, when we moved into this three-bedroom house and gave him his own room.

So, currently we have: our small bedroom, Luke's only slightly smaller bedroom, Mr. T's office. We have a living room/dining room/kitchen area that flows together, and my "office" (desk and chair) is tucked into a corner of the dining room. There really isn't anywhere else in the house where we could put Mr. Trillwing's office because he needs to be able to shut his door to be productive and meet all his newspaper deadlines and, frankly, to remain sane. We can't move his office into the attached garage because of temperature extremes and what would quickly become a sketchy wiring situation.

So here's my question: if we were to have a baby, where would we put him or her? Obviously, for the first three months or so, a bassinet will work fine for the baby--such furniture would fit into our smallish bedroom. If we wanted to put a crib in our bedroom (Lucas outgrew his bassinet at about 3-4 months, if I remember correctly), we'd have to move one of our dressers into the garage, and even then a crib would be a tight squeeze. And having a baby in the room isn't ideal, as experience demonstrated that we all wake each other up, so we'd all be sleep-deprived. (We tried the co-sleeping thing when Lucas was less than a year old, and while it worked for Lucas and me, it was nearly impossible for Mr. T to sleep with the little guy in the bed.)

The end goal would be for Lucas and any new child to share a bedroom. But how the hell does that work, with baby waking up all the time, and Lucas a fitful sleeper to begin with?

If you have two (or more) kids and they share a bedroom, how did you manage the first year or two until the youngest slept consistently through the night? And how did you find time to sleep with two kids under age 4?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Decluttering for the New Year

To be productive as an academic writer, I need all the paper clutter I can see to have solely to do with the project at hand. It also helps if my immediate environment is clean. Since I have become an increasingly disorganized person since Lucas arrived on the scene, I haven't been as intellectually productive as I would like. Having clutter elsewhere in the house doesn't help, either, even if it's not directly in my view.

So I'm cleaning up for the new year. Projects for this week and weekend:

1. Taming the garage. I spent a good chunk of today building a big donation pile in the garage, which makes the garage considerably less scary to walk through. It still needs work, but I'm no longer stressed by its disorder. I have a dozen or so banker's boxes of papers and memorabilia I need to go through, but I now have them stacked in zones where I can tackle them by theme at some future date. In an ideal world, I'd have only 3-4 boxes of memorabilia (photos, letters, various diplomas (I collect degrees!), and whatnot); a box of cleaning products that I store in the garage to keep them away from Lucas; and Luke's old clothes and toys in case we decide to have another child. Mr. Trillwing has an entire side of the garage lined with boxes of comic books, videos, old artwork, photographs, and three shelves of DVDs. He has a lot of stuff, but it seems so much more orderly than mine.

2. Catching up on balancing the checkbook, especially after all that holiday spending. I have a lot of receipts piled up, and I haven't been in the mood to organize my finances. But it must be done. done!

3. Filing. I tend to set papers to be filed under a small table next to my desk. I used to be pretty good about filing them every couple months. I think I have a year's worth of paper sitting there now, and it needs to be organized prior to tax time.

4. Clearing tables. Stuff tends to pile up on the kitchen (craft) table and the dining room (eating) table because in our house, horizontal surfaces attract stuff.

5. Cleaning floors. Ick. Christmas tree needles + cookie crumbs + dog hair. Just ick. done!

6. Taming my closet and dresser. I have too many clothes I don't wear. done!

7. Clearing off my desk.

8. Making a list of goals. I'd like to participate in the 101 things in 1001 days meme, starting on January 1. I like the timeline of 2.75 years instead of tackling individual, ongoing resolutions. done!

How are you preparing for the new year?

Scylla or Charybdis: An allegory for ed tech


In Book XII of The Odyssey, the hero-wanderer Odysseus must navigate his ship through a dangerous, narrow strait. On one side sits the many-headed hydra Scylla, and on the other is the omnivorous whirlpool Charybdis. Odysseus opts to travel closer to Scylla, even though he knows he will lose some of his crew to her many jaws, because he does not want to risk the entire ship by navigating closer to the whirlpool.


Scylla and Charybdis serve as an excellent metaphor of the landscape of instructional technology at many colleges and universities today. Many in IT would like to put in place a system that serves all faculty needs, a single portal that allows faculty to order books, manage instructional grants, organize personal image collections, and set up a gradebook and submit grades, as well as includes all the tools people have come to expect from a course management system: a chat room, discussion forum, blog platform, podcast service, file sharing, and more. The problem from the user perspective is that while a single system may offer many tools, it typically offers only one form of each tool: one blogging platform, one type of discussion forum, one chat room tool. And because the focus is often on integration of these tools into the language of the larger system rather than on developing top-notch tools, these individual tools themselves may be inferior to those available freely elsewhere online. For example, in my opinion the blogging platform in Sakai doesn't even deserve to be called a blog.

On the other side of the straits of ed tech waits the hydra of the “small pieces loosely joined” approach. From the perspective of the IT folks, faculty members who choose to use a hand-picked selection of tools outside the university-provided course management system—e.g. WordPress, Flickr, del.icio.us, Bloglines, YouTube—are courting disaster because they're using platforms that are not officially supported by the campus IT help desk. While some faculty are excited about the opportunity to try out new tools, the more technophobic or time-pressed among them feel overwhelmed by the huge variety of new media available to them; they don't know where to begin in selecting tools.

As a teaching consultant for my university, my fear is that faculty will be sucked unwittingly into the maw of Charybdis without realizing the limitations and liabilities of such a system. They'll put technology before pedagogy simply because someone has told them they must use the system. Instead, I want to encourage faculty to try new tools outside the CMS--but I don't want to become their tech support guru simply by virtue of being the one who recommended, say, WordPress to them.

It's not a coincidence that I've chosen Odysseus's harrowing trial by hydra and vortex as my metaphor for technological adoption at the university. Both the myth and the technology have a lot to do with fear. Fear on the part of technological and pedagogical support staff of not being able to adequately support faculty. Fear, felt by both IT staff and faculty, of fragmentation, of systems not talking to one another, or of a course's "required" content falling in the cracks between technologies. Fear of letting students create and share more of a course's content--and thereby set the tenor of the course--than ever before. Fear felt by faculty that their course content will be monitored if they place everything into the CMS. From students and faculty, we also get fear in the form of impostor syndrome: everyone is going to learn that I'm an idiot, that I can't figure out the technology, or I'll post something stupid that everyone will find laughable, and I won't be able to fix it.

This list of anxieties suggests that the technophobia floating on the surface of these concerns is a proxy for deeper pedagogical and administrative fears. Identifying those actual fears and anxieties should be job #1; only after we have figured out what ails us can we participate in thoughtful teaching and learning. (Professor, heal thyself.)

The academic process, whether it be teaching or learning, asks us to grapple with-- and even requires that we remain a bit anxious about--the unfamiliar and unknown. It's this mixture of curiosity about and commitment to our disciplines' areas of inquiry that drew many of us to academia in the first place. Most of us jump courageously into the research breach, familiarize ourselves with new subjects, and answer unresolved questions and dilemmas.

Finding the technology that best improves our students' ability to learn is a similar process. It requires a good deal of curiosity: in the best case scenario we audition multiple tools. We should be less interested in the technical details of the software and more curious about its pedagogical applications. If you're trying to decide whether to use ARTstor or Flickr to share images for your course, you'll need to consider, for example, issues of copyright, image resolution, and the user community. On the surface, these seem to be technical details, but they're really pedagogical questions: What images can I share online with my student within (or despite) copyright laws? Will my students be uploading original images, collecting existing images, or modifying images? Will we be soliciting comments or other participation from people who aren't members of the course? If so, what kind of access does the public have to this tool? In how much detail will I require my students to study or analyze the images? Will students need to organize the images themselves? Will they need to be able to highlight and comment upon specific parts of the images? Do I want students to socially tag the images? These questions get at the levels and kinds of collaboration and intellectual and creative production in which we want students to engage.

The process of technology selection requires as well the patience and commitment to try out a tool ourselves and then--gasp!--unleash it on our students, who will use platforms and software and systems in ways that aren't entirely under our control. But the best teaching involves relinquishing control in ways that allow your students to take responsibility for their learning, to consider, research, analyze, and discover--in short, to make new and meaningful connections, to synthesize course material with their experiences.

In the end, the question--Scylla or Charybdis--is, of course, a false dichotomy. There are plenty of other choices--not to use technology at all, to use various tools as well as your campus's CMS, to ask your students to present their completed projects using the tools they find most useful within the context of their work. While it's a good idea to consult with pedagogically-oriented IT staff at your institution, you and your students--and not the IT folks--need to make the final decision as to what tools most improve your students' ability to learn.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Paying it Forward with handmade goodness

Today Susan at posted a meme I've been wanting to participate in but felt too busy to commit to. Now that the quarter is over, I'm feeling saner, and so I took Susan up on her offer, and I'm offering goodies to three of readers of this blog.

If you participate as a receiver, you have to make the same offer on your blog, too. Here's the scoop:
I will send a handmade gift to the first 3 people who leave a comment on my blog requesting to join this Pay It Forward exchange. I don’t know what that gift will be and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week, but you will receive it within 365 days, that is my promise! The only thing you have to do in return is pay it forward by making the same promise on your blog.

What do you have to do?
1. Respond here and give your email address so that I can contact you for your address.
2. Place this on your own blog and also send the first 3 people that respond something.
Any takers?

Frozen Peas Friday

Have you heard of the Frozen Pea Fund? It supports breast cancer research through the American Cancer Society. It's easy to make a contribution of any size, and you're invited to show your support by creating a "peavatar." Here's mine:


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lucas and Mr. Trillwing: a conversation

A typical conversation with Lucas, featuring every toddler's favorite word.

video

(As you can see, Lucas is beginning--finally!--to feel better.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Why I love the Nature Conservancy--and why you should support their work

Anza Borrego desert lands, which the Nature Conservancy has helped to protect. (Photo by Bill Gracey, and used under a Creative Commons license.)

If you look at the right-hand column of The Clutter Museum site, you'll see a nifty new charity badge. I'm raising money for the Nature Conservancy as part of America's Giving Challenge. My goal is to raise $500 by January 31, when the challenge ends. Would you like to join me in supporting The Nature Conservancy? It's my favorite environmental organization--it does amazing work.

Haven't heard of The Nature Conservancy? Here's a bit about them from their site:
The Nature Conservancy's mission is to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.

Our Approach

We have developed a strategic, science-based planning process, called Conservation by Design, which helps us identify the highest-priority places—landscapes and seascapes that, if conserved, promise to ensure biodiversity over the long term.

In other words, Conservation by Design allows us to achieve meaningful, lasting conservation results.

Worldwide, there will be thousands of these precious places. Taken together, they form something extraordinary: a vision of conservation success and a roadmap for getting there—the Conservation Blueprint. Simply put, by protecting and managing these Last Great Places over the long term, we can secure the future of the natural world.
Here's an image from one of the Nature Conservancy's success stories, Santa Cruz Island off the coast of California:

(Spanish shawl photo by Ed Bierman, used under a Creative Commons license.)

Changes in the environment are particularly grim in places we tend to overlook in favor of more celebrated or dramatic landscapes:
Are We Losing Our Lands?
The world is losing key terrestrial habitats, but not the ones you might think. In tropical rain forests, for example, land conversion exceeds habitat protection by a ratio of 2 to 1. We have protected only one acre of land for every two we have lost. That's worrisome.

But in Mediterranean habitats — dry scrublands such as those found around the Mediterranean Sea, along the central and southern coasts of California, and around the tip of South Africa — the disparity is 8 to 1. We have protected only one acre of land for every eight we have lost.

And in temperate grasslands — places like the Great Plains of the United States and the Argentine pampas — we have protected only one acre for every 10 we've lost. Half of such crisis ecoregions — those habitats classified as critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable — receive little or no conservation attention.

Are We Losing Our Waters?
The world's underwater habitats are suffering astonishing losses. Although scientists can't say precisely what percentage of each freshwater and marine habitat has been converted, the overall trends are unmistakable.

More than half of the world's 292 major river systems have been substantially fragmented by dams, but few rivers receive any protective management. Nearly half of the world's coastal mangrove forests have been destroyed, and once-extensive shellfish beds in temperate estuaries are all but gone. Yet less than 2 percent of the world's coastal waters, where these habitats occur, have been afforded protection.
As we all know, things are looking grim for the global environment, and The Nature Conservancy is at the forefront of trying to preserve and remediate key habitats. I urge you to give what you can. (Hey, it's tax-deductible, at least in the U.S.)

Lioness in the Serengeti , which the Nature Conservancy is helping to conserve. (Photo by James Farris, and used under a Creative Commons license.)

I very much appreciate your assistance in reaching this goal. Simply click "donate" in the charity badge in the right-hand column, which will take you to the Network for Good site to process your donation via credit card or PayPal.

Thank you!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Yuck, and yuck.

Looks like Lucas has contracted hand, foot, and mouth disease from other kids at daycare.

From the CDC website:
Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a common illness of infants and children. It is characterized by fever, sores in the mouth, and a rash with blisters. HFMD begins with a mild fever, poor appetite, malaise ("feeling sick"), and frequently a sore throat. One or 2 days after the fever begins, painful sores develop in the mouth. They begin as small red spots that blister and then often become ulcers. They are usually located on the tongue, gums, and inside of the cheeks. The skin rash develops over 1 to 2 days with flat or raised red spots, some with blisters. The rash does not itch, and it is usually located on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. It may also appear on the buttocks. A person with HFMD may have only the rash or the mouth ulcers.

No sores yet, but a little rash, and definitely a lack of hunger and some low-grade fever. At least now we know why he hasn't been eating. . .

The virus apparently causes symptoms for 7-10 days. Grrrrrr.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Trying to slow down

I've been feeling less in need of the Internet lately, and more in need of paper and art and craft supplies. (OK, and maybe some good TV.)

It speaks to me of a need to slow down, to take better care of myself, my family, my friendships, and my surroundings.

Things I've noticed lately:

1a. Lucas is growing up so fast. I want to spend more time with him. His daycare providers describe him as "so gentle" and "very sensitive." I concur, and I want to help nurture his budding talents as an artist and his interest in music. I don't mean to be a pushy parent, mind you--he's not getting acoustic guitar lessons anytime soon--but I want to sit beside him as his right brain really kicks into gear, as it seems to be doing right now. Mr. Trillwing and I are both prone to depression--and have been since we were kids--so I'd like to see Lucas develop healthy, creative ways to express himself in case he inherits our mental and emotional proclivities.

1b. I need to spend more time with Mr. Trillwing. Even though he telecommutes from home, he works very, very, VERY long hours at a job that doesn't offer him, I think, a whole lot of creative satisfaction, even though it's the kind of job that in theory should offer exactly that kind of satisfaction. We don't get enough time to talk. And we need to talk. We're talkers, or at least we used to be. And we're creative types, and neither of us is finding enough time to create.

2. I like my job. A lot. I really like that I can (mostly) leave it at work. It lets me enjoy myself more at home.

3. #2 means more family time. It also means less dissertation/book revision time.

4. I still want to write, but I'd like to write a novel, as well as pull out the poems from my creative writing degree and revise them into a chapbook or book. But I feel I need to get the other book (the diss revision) out of the way first, so that I can start anew.

5. My desk area at home is a mess. I'm many months behind on filing, and papers are piling up again. I'd feel better if I were organized, and I'd probably be more productive, too. But I'm the one responsible for pretty much all paperwork--financial or otherwise--that passes through our lives, so the paper accrues very quickly.

6. I need to get back into better shape. I'm not feeling healthy. Bleah.

7. It's raining. I've missed the rain, as inconvenient as it can be for someone who's trying to be good about commuting to work on a bicycle.

8. My memory is shot. If I don't write something down, I forget about it--and even then my system of tracking action items isn't leak-proof. It's strange, and I'm not sure if it's because I care less than I used to about the things I'm supposed to be remembering, or if it's because I really am losing the ability to remember things.

9. We're making good progress on paying down the scary credit card debt. It may not be paid down as quickly as I had hoped, but we've reduced it by almost 50%, and by the end of January, we'll probably have reduced it by 70% from what it was in September. Of course, it could come back to bite us when taxes come due, as we're able to pay off this debt because we've each taken on some extra work this fall, not all of which has income taxes withheld.

What's been bothering you lately? What's keeping you from accomplishing what you want to do?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Got Fear 2.0?

If so, and you're in higher ed, we want to hear about it for an upcoming presentation at the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative conference. You can e-mail your anxieties about using Web 2.0 technologies in education directly to me at trillwing at gmail dot com.

In addition, if you find (or author) a relevant blog post or web page, we'd love for you to draw our attention to it by tagging it "eli08fear" in del.icio.us. Pages tagged thusly are being aggregated on the "Got Fear?" blog created by the talented Martha Burtis. You should definitely go check out "Got Fear?" for some interesting reading.

Should profs podcast?

(Cross-posted at BlogHer)

This afternoon I sat in on a presentation by a vendor that supplies hardware and software that records college and university instructors' lectures. The software produces not only podcasts, but also enhanced podcasts (with slides) and videocasts. The packages the vendor offers come with many bells and whistles, and I was impressed that one of the reps has a Ph.D. in educational technology and offered to help the institution collect and analyze data on any services the university purchased.

At the same time, I've been working with some absolutely brilliant women bloggers on a presentation for the upcoming EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative conference. Our presentation abstract states, "Web 2.0 tools have the power to transform education. Such a transformation requires that faculty, students, and institutions take risks. With those risks comes fear, which is often unarticulated. How do you tackle this fear and make real change?"

My current fear and anxiety center around podcasts in higher education. And I'm not sure how to tackle it in ways that effect real change.

Why fear podcasting?

Why should I fear podcasting? After all, podcasts allow students to access lectures when they need them. If they learn best in the late evening, then why shouldn't they be able to watch a lecture after the instructor herself has gone to bed? Studies indicate that the availability of podcasts doesn't affect course attendance--students who would usually skip class still skip. In fact, it may be the most studious class participants who access the podcasts--they can review lecture material and fill in any gaps in their notes. In addition, students who are not fully proficient in the language of instruction can watch or listen to the lectures again to try to better translate sections they didn't understand in class.

As the vendors in today's presentation pointed out, some universities are making their faculty members' lectures available to the public, completely free of charge. One vendor rep talked quite a bit about building a university's brand through publicly accessible podcasts. Indeed, in the case of land grant universities, the institutions have a mandate to perform outreach to the public, and podcasts are a relatively inexpensive way to do so.

Plus, asking professors to videocast their lectures can make them better teachers. After all, the university teaching resources center where I work offers to videotape faculty in the classroom; we then sit down with each instructor to watch the videotape and consult with her about her teaching. If faculty watched their own videocasts, they could learn a lot about their own lecture style and presentation skills.

Today's college students, the vendors told us, have brains wired differently from ours. Specifically, they apparently don't have the attention span or discipline required to read books. And because they're always multitasking--even during lecture--it makes sense to provide them with a podcast they can review later to catch any details they missed while text messaging one another during class.

Plus, how much would I love to listen to podcasts of faculty at my own alma mater? I learned a lot there, and podcasts would not only help me learn, but also keep me connected to the institution--a bonus for the folks in alumni relations and development when they make their perennial appeals to me to contribute to the annual fund.

Podcasts don't address students' shortcomings as independent learners

Despite all these potential advantages to pod- and videocasting, I'm hesitant to advocate for these technologies in the classroom. I fear they will do more harm than good and will allow universities to cut corners in educating students.

First, I'm sick of hearing about "wired" students. They love cell phones and iPods and sometimes social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace, and yes, they always seem to be plugged in to some device or another. But they're not really tech savvy in ways that help them better understand the world in the ways undergraduates should. Most of my students--even seniors at my well-ranked research university--don't know how to use the library's vast electronic databases to undertake research. Nor do they understand how to even begin to search for information. Take, for example, the case of a graduate student in (let's say, for the sake of anonymity) gardening studies at a private university where I teach a seminar in gardening history. She was writing a paper on tulips, and yet into the library's search engine she typed "gardens." The entire library specializes in gardens, but it never occurred to her, until I pointed it out, that she might search for "tulips." Many of the other students in the seminar had similar difficulties undertaking research, and this is in what might be the nation's top "gardening studies" program.

Many U.S. university students also have difficulty assessing the authority of a web site; they have frequently cited to me something they learned in junior high school--that if a website's URL ends in .gov or .edu, then it's trustworthy. Um, yeah. I showed them government web sites that reflected the Bush administration's stance on sexual health. It takes a lot of hand-holding to get them to learn to analyze and evaluate sources.

And when, at a professor's request, I go into classrooms to interview undergraduate students about their course, students will say things like, "I wish he would stop asking us questions to which he already knows the answer. Just tell us the information. Just tell us the facts."

In other words: Don't make us do the readings. Don't make us think independently or critically.

Why podcasting is problematic

Which is where my beef with podcasting comes in.

Because most lecture rooms aren't wired with additional microphones for students, it's only the professor's contribution to the class that gets recorded. So even if the professor does try to engage the students with questions or small-group activities, the students' contributions to discussion usually won't be captured. And thus if a professor is going to record lectures "successfully"--meaning produce a video or audio recording with decent production values--he or she needs to stand within the view of the camera (some of the more expensive of which, admittedly, have motion detectors that can follow the professor) and lecture the entire time.

Very few students learn well from lectures alone, though unfortunately many students believe they learn well from lectures because they see themselves as vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge. At universities such as mine, this "knowledge" comprises the information required to perform well on a multiple-choice test or, more rarely, a paper--and in these students' view, hopefully one that doesn't require too much research outside of class.

By promoting podcasting and videocasting by providing easy-to-use services to professors, we're further reinforcing the idea that lecturing should be the default method of instructional delivery. And since the videocasting program offered by this vendor offers screen captures as well, the system also reinforces the too-frequently heinous use of PowerPoint by faculty who don't understand the cognitive style of PowerPoint.

Even worse: According to one vendor rep, some schools find it too inconvenient to establish an "opt-in" system for faculty who wish to have their lectures recorded, so they record everything that happens in the classroom during every class. And some institutions turn the cameras back on the students during exams to discourage cheating. This level of surveillance--of faculty and of students--disturbs me.

As universities take on ever-increasing numbers of students, they run out of classroom space. Accordingly, classes meet less frequently, and previously-recorded videocasts are being offered as an option to replace the missing class meetings. One student in the vendor's promotional video said that he likes the videocasts because "they're interactive." But they're not, except that the student can rewind or fast-forward through them.

Suggestions for videocasting and podcasting

Despite my reservations about the ways these technologies are being deployed in the classroom, it's clear they are, like course management systems, going to stick around for a while. So I have some suggestions for vendors.

First, if you're going to emphasize "social networking" sites in describing the mentality and learning styles of students today, then please actually include some social aspects in your platform. Allow students to tag video and audio and to search tags across videocasts at their university. If my professor's explanation of iambic pentameter doesn't make sense to me, I'd like to easily find videos of other profs explaining the same concept. If students in those other classes can tag or label their professors' videos by chapter, then I could easily search for other recorded explanations of Shakespeare's favorite meter.

Second, allow faculty and students to easily sample and/or mash up videos from a number of different classes. If I know one of my colleagues gives a killer lecture on the 1893 World's Fair, I want to be able to pull out his five-minute discussion of the enormous Ferris wheel and how its popularity reflects Americans' changing views of technology at the end of the nineteenth century. I could assign a viewing of his explanation as homework, to be completed alongside more traditional academic readings on the Fair. There--I've saved myself probably 10 minutes of stumbling through a Ferris wheel lecture, as well as a couple hours of research for lecture prep--and more importantly, I've gained 10 minutes of quality time with my students, time that I can spend interacting with them instead of talking at them.

Third, let me capture that quality time. Make it easy for me to record students who report back to the class after small-group discussion, without making them come to the front of the class, where they might feel alienated from their group and therefore intimidated.

Fourth, integrate into your platform technologies similar to that used by Voicethread so that students can add their own questions or commentary to lectures, either as audio or as text. Then encourage faculty users of your technology to respond to their newly annotated lectures. In other words, make your software truly interactive and social.

Fifth, work with my institution to come to an agreement that treats my lectures and course activities as my intellectual property and that lets me release the course session recordings under a Creative Commons license. As an adjunct, the last thing I need is to be recorded out of a job when the administration decides that it can reconstitute my course using only my syllabus and videocast lectures, using a low-paid T.A. to issue grades.

Your thoughts?

What do you think of podcasting in education? What are its advantages and liabilities?

Friday, November 30, 2007

White men singing

I can't seem to get enough of this song lately. Lucas has been asking to see a lot of Johnny Cash videos ("Gee-tar! Cash!"), and I'm a huge fan of Willie Nelson and especially Kris Kristofferson. I have to admit that while Waylon Jennings is fun, I'd rather see Merle Haggard in his role. . .

Anyhoo, here's a video of a live performance:



I especially like Johnny Cash as a starship pilot. Make it so, Mr. Cash.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cutest dino-dragon ever

RAWR!





(I love the tail.)

No pants! No pants!

So. . . I've been taking these unexpected, but not too long, hiatuses. I've been reading blogs like crazy, but I just haven't felt much like writing, nor commenting. Feeling kind of wallflowerish, I guess. (Let's call it "reflective.")

I hope that means more posts are brewing--I think it does.

In the meantime, know that I'm OK, and I'm happy to see that so many of you are doing well, too.

And all that writing and editing I hoped to do this month? Yeah, it's not getting done. Lucas is especially cute right now,* and I can write any time, but he's only this age once.

I'll be back to blogging here soon.


*For example, tonight I had managed to wrestle him into the top of his Superman pajamas set, but he refused to wear the pants. So he took several laps around the house, the whole time yelling, "No pants! No pants!"

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Looking beyond administrivia

I work in an office whose raison d'ĂȘtre is improving the teaching of undergraduates on campus. As part of that, we offer or oversee a couple of instructional programs, a graduate-level seminar on college teaching (which I'm teaching right now) and a first-year seminar program, taught by faculty from across the disciplines, that offers about 100 special-topic seminars each year. Because of this instructional mandate, we have a faculty director with a half-time appointment. This is the case with other offices on campus whose mandate includes undergraduate instruction.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have come into my job under our current faculty director. Much as I learned about what it means to be a savvy academic and a productive intellectual from Fantastic Mentor, I'm learning so very much about administration from Professor Thoughtful.

We're a very small unit (the equivalent of 6 FTE, plus several graduate student researchers and graduate TA consultants), so when one of our administrative people gave notice yesterday that she'd be leaving us for another unit, I of course immediately thought, "Who the hell are we going to get to replace her? She's terrific!" But today Professor Thoughtful pulled me and my coworker with my same job title (let's call her The Ecologist) into his office and proposed about 30 different ways to reorganize our little unit so that it both functions more efficiently and allows us to collaborate more meaningfully with several other academic departments and administrative units. Obviously, he's been thinking about this reorganization for some time, but literally overnight he came up with all these different reorganization plans, each of which is thoughtful in its own way.

I can't blog about the specifics because what we saw was apparently For Our Eyes Only, but I so much appreciate being included in these discussions, both because I want to have a hand in the reconstruction of the unit and because I really enjoy watching Professor Thoughtful at work. Plus, he very much listens to The Ecologist and me, and I feel he takes our concerns and recommendations to heart.

He also told us that he sees the two of us as the "franchise players" of the unit--and then he had to explain what he meant by that sports metaphor. It's good to know he recognizes our commitment and special skills, and that he wants to provide us with more opportunities to develop professionally. That may mean promotions and a higher salary, or it may not, but regardless of what happens, I'm delighted to be part of this organization.

I read a lot of griping about academia (and have done plenty of it myself), and I wish more academics who are getting the institutional shaft would consider transitioning into positions like mine. There's a huge need, especially at an institution the size of mine, for creative thinkers who not only "think outside the box" but refuse to think about boxes at all.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Smart little poop

CAUTION: This post contains mother-of-toddler poop talk. Read at your own risk.

Today we began toilet training Lucas, albeit with no forethought or real strategy in mind. He's two years and two months old, and all the books say this is about the time to start training.

I saw him grunting during breakfast and put him, fully clothed and diapered, on the potty. He sat there until he was done and then asked to be changed. For the first time ever, he used the word "diaper," totally without prompting.

Usually he poops once a day. After pooping on the potty today, he returned to it twice to poop again. He even threw in a gratuitious non-potty poop for old time's sake.

He must think this is a fun game. I'm not going to be happy, however, if he decides it's fine and dandy to poop four times a day from here on out, especially since I must tend to his modern-day chamber pot. Not cool.

He's going to kill me if this post is still online six or seven years from now.

Feel free to leave toilet-training tips in the comments.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Clearing the decks

Well, I've signed up to participate in International acaDemic Writing Month (InaDWriMo). I've pledged to revise an article that's been sitting around too long, as well as substantively copyedit my dissertation, as well as set up a time to go to an archive that very soon will be moving to a less accessible location. As a bonus, I may finish a book review that I managed to blow off because I've been a slacker a busy mother and 8-to-5 employee.

But before I begin work on those things, I need to spend this weekend clearing the decks--quite literally, as I need horizontal space on which to work. My to-do list:
  • Clean bill-paying stuff and other papers from dining room table. That means finishing paying the bills, of course. . . misc. papers cleared (by moving them to my desk)!
  • Clear off craft table in kitchen. done!
  • Clear papers off my desk.
  • Polish off overdue (ouch) work for freelance client.
  • Do museum studies reading and prep for class.
  • Grade museum studies seminar papers.
Those are the primary must-dos. Other possible distractions that should be done this weekend:
  • Catch up on folding laundry.
  • Vacuum.
  • Clean kitchen floor.
  • Dust living room.
What about you? What's on your mind (or your dining room table) that's keeping you from being productive?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

RBOC: Weekend Puke Edition

  • Lucas, who was diagnosed yesterday with a pretty nasty stomach virus after four days of puking ("24-hour flu" my ass), is doing a bit better. He hasn't vomited (yet) today (knock on wood). Just as I was finishing this post, he threw up again. That makes five days of puking. Ugh. Plus he's kind of whiny and he's not eating much.
  • While Luke still refers to Sesame Street as "Melmo," his affections have been transferred from Elmo to Ernie. He makes me rewind the DVR so he can watch the Ernie sketches, especially the bathtub scenes, several times in a row.
  • Has Ernie been using the same rubber ducky since time immemorial? Because it's looking pretty icky these days.
  • Lucas has some Sesame Street bathtub fingerpaint/liquid soap. Thanks to the labeling of these bottles, he now refers to the colors red, yellow, and blue (words he hasn't even begun to use) as Elmo, Bird, and Cookie respectively.
  • I'd just like to point out to the Toys R Us marketing folks that "PINKtacular" is a really stupid word, and possibly even a troglodytic one.
  • Finally finished detailing the Camry today and listed it for sale on Craigslist and Cars.com. If you live in the area and are looking for a very reliable car, check it out. Note that, although tempted, I did not use the word "BEIGEtacular" in the ad.
  • In the last few days, Lucas finally started using a couple of words to indicate assent. Previously, he disagreed with us by saying "no," and agreed with silence or by repeating a word related to the proposition. ("Melmo!") Now he says "yeah" or "uh-huh." Baby steps. . .
  • The other day while Lucas was staring at my computer screen, he muttered, "penis." Usually he talks about what's on my screen or reaches for the keyboard while insistently saying "button!" (I assure you there wasn't a penis on the computer screen.) It puzzled me, because although we use the word penis to describe his "private parts," he hasn't seem much interested in penises. But then this morning I watched him flip through the awesome children's book Your Personal Penguin, and the entire time he was muttering "penis" under his breath. Mystery solved: "penis" = penguin, much as "rayniz" = raisins. The boy, he has a bit of verbal dyslexia, as well as some sins of consonant omission.
  • Big news: I invited the director of the California Academy of Sciences to come talk to my graduate museum studies seminar, and he said yes! I'm so excited, and some of the other faculty are a bit anxious about the visit, since he's never come to visit the campus before. How anxious? I was reminded via e-mail yesterday that I am to provide him with water, which made me giggle because it sounded like I was dogsitting. Teehee. Here's hoping all my students do the reading so that they can ask him some intelligent questions. (BTW, if you haven't checked out the awesomely green building that is to be the new Cal Academy, you should definitely visit the site.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Health care frustration

Facts:

(a) On Wednesday night, Lucas puked all over me, but otherwise was running around and seeming to feel fine.

(b) On Thursday, we kept Lucas home from daycare because he still couldn't keep food down. Between pukings, he was in good spirits.

(c) On Friday, Lucas returned to daycare. As far as we know, he didn't throw up at daycare. Although he's usually a good eater, he only ate the fruit in his lunch. Of course, by the time we found this out, the doctor's office was closed.

(d) On Friday night, Lucas didn't want to eat much. I got him to eat about half a pear. An hour after eating it, he threw it up. But otherwise he seemed in good spirits. I hoped he would be able to eat on Saturday morning.

(e) It's now Saturday morning and Lucas is showing NO interest in eating. This means he's now gone 2.5 days eating hardly anything. And of course it's Saturday, so the doctor's office is closed.

I went online to my health insurer--Blue Cross of California--to try to find an urgent care clinic nearby that's covered by Blue Cross. I'm not sure he's at the ER stage, since he seems to be doing fine otherwise, wanting to play and appearing otherwise to be in good health.

But:

(1) When I went to look for an urgent care center, the Blue Cross site didn't have my plan listed under its many health plan options in its drop-down menu. When I chose what I thought would be the closest type of plan, no urgent care center showed up as available.

(2) So I tried to register on the site. It asked for my 9-digit ID number. Next to "Member ID" on my card, there is a 12-digit ID number, 4 letters and 8 numbers. No reasonable combination of those numbers allows me to register on the site. It said I could use my Social Security number, so I entered that instead, and repeatedly encountered an "internal error" message.

(3) So I went back into the drop-down list of health plans and selected another random one. And what do you know? I was prompted to download a list of Urgent Care clinics. And guess what? There isn't one in my county covered by my insurer. Yes, I live in a state of 40 million or so people, and my insurer, I imagine, covers many thousands (if not tens of thousands) of people from my university, and yet it offers no urgent care clinics in this county. The nearest one is about 45 minutes away. Nice, eh?

(4) So I did a Google search for urgent care centers in my county, and one came up at the local hospital where Lucas was birthed (and where we are, alas, very familiar with the ER because of Luke's propensity for spiking very high fevers very quickly). "Great," I thought. "I'll call over there and see if they happen to accept my specific insurance plan." So I called the number listed on the website, and a very nice advice nurse explained that she can't give me advice because Lucas's doctor is in the university health care system, not the hospital's health care system. She told me to call our doctor's office.

(5) I call Dr. Wonderful's office. The answering service takes my info and says they'll have the doctor on call give us a call. I'm not holding my breath. Dr. Wonderful is indeed a wonderful doctor, but the health care bureaucracy working in my favor on a weekend? Highly unlikely.

So it looks like we'll be taking Lucas to the ER for a visit that, unless he ends up having some kind of digestive blockage, will place us in a group that everyone complains about: people who use the ER for non-emergency services because their health plans don't cover regular care. But you know what? My health plan is supposed to be a GOOD one--I pay extra for it, and we do have some choice of providers and care.

I'm pissed. I've tried to do what I can to lobby for health care for the poor and working class in this state, and to ensure coverage for all children. But here I am, fully insured, and I can't even get my sick child to see a friggin' doctor because the extent of his illness didn't present itself until Friday night/Saturday morning.

Good fucking job, America.

UPDATE: Just a moment ago an honest-to-goodness doctor did call and said there's a Saturday urgent care clinic closer than any of those listed by my insurer--but still not in this county. He's going to call and get an appointment for Lucas. Yay for doctors who are available to return calls at 7 in the morning!

I'm still pissed, however, at the system.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Debt: How it happened, how we'll get out of it

It's my secret shame, Mr. Trillwing's and my financial debt. But I need to write about it, to tell people about it, because it's blocking some of my other creative energies at the moment.

Where we are today
I won't share specific numbers here. Let's just say that if you add up student loans, the debt Mr. Trillwing brought into our relationship, and the credit card debt we racked up when I was in grad school and we needed emergency dentistry, car repairs, or veterinary surgery, we're up to our eyeballs in debt. Over the past 6 years, we've probably paid off more than $50,000 in consumer debt (largely Mr. Trillwing's debt, and largely paid off by cashing out his profit-sharing account from a previous employer).

Yet despite those payments (monthly and lump sum), we have more debt now that when we made that first giant payment from his retirement account. Our three major sources of debt are (in order of largest stress--but not largest amount--to smallest stress) one credit card's debt, a loan from my parents, and student loan debt.

How I initially got into consumer debt, and how things got worse quickly
Before starting my Ph.D. here, I always paid off my credit card balance in full. But the move to our current fair city cost us $500 more than we had at the time, and that amount went on the credit card. That was the start of The Shame and The Stress I now carry. We couldn't pay it off that month, or the next one. Both of us took big pay cuts when I came up here to grad school. My income was slashed in half; Mr. T lost nearly a third of his. And our cost of living here is higher than it was in Long Beach.

Then almost immediately Mr. T's 10 years of meth use (in the 1980s, loooong before I arrived on the scene and could chastise him) came back to haunt us in the form of necessary dental care (and Mr. T's $1000/year dental coverage wasn't going to cut it. The dentist declared he needed about $40,000 worth of work. So far we've put in about $8,000-$10,000, and that's just to keep up with the deterioration, not to get him any new teeth).

Our tactics
We borrowed money from my parents to pay down the rest of Mr. T's high-interest credit card and bank debt that he brought into the relationship. We've paid off about 1/3 of that amount, but I was hoping to have it all paid off within the next two years. That's not going to happen. It's embarrassing to me and, I think, to my parents that we haven't been paying as much each month as I had proposed. My parents don't need the money, but I need to preserve my veneer of financial responsibility.

We have had a few successes. When I was working two jobs plus freelancing, I managed to put away enough money into stocks and mutual funds each month to eventually cover the several thousand dollars I had to pay for Luke's birth.

More setbacks
I thought when I finished the Ph.D. and took a staff job, we'd be out of the woods. But then because I was working full time, we had to put Luke in daycare. We also needed to move into a bigger place because no one was getting quality sleep when we shared a bedroom with Lucas. So my shiny new salary was eaten up almost immediately by daycare costs and higher rent.

And still the credit card debt mounts. We don't charge groceries or anything like that on it--strictly some small monthly bills and emergencies.

Plus now my student loans are due. I started with the graduated repayment plan, which means I pay only $200/month. But even that is a stretch.

Looking ahead
Because of my museum studies job, I'm able to put a lot more money toward the credit card (my primary debt headache) this month, in November, and in December than I have been for quite a while.

And my parents recently GAVE us their very nice older car (a Toyota Avalon), which means we can sell our Camry. My mechanic says to list it for slightly above Blue Book because Camrys sell well in this area.

If we get the full amount for the Camry, and if I put 75% of my take-home museum studies pay toward the credit card, I'll have paid off 63% of my credit card debt by the end of the year from those sources alone. Another reimbursement check I'm expecting will bring that amount to 69%. A freelance project I'm working on will raise it to 74%.

The remainder will have to come, I think, from selling other stuff, unless Mr. T's one remaining freelance client needs a lot of design work done, in which case we might be able to actually pay off the damn thing by the end of January, at which point I would hope to begin paying back my debt to my parents with much greater speed.

My goal is to be debt-free, except for student loans, by mid-2009, as well as to each month set aside some cash to recreate the emergency savings I had before I started grad school. It's a crazy goal, actually, considering the amount. And this assumes we don't have another baby before then, or any other financial emergencies (unlikely!).

How I'm keeping motivated
Seeing the credit card statement shrink is a fine motivation. But reading personal finance and frugality blogs also is giving me some good ideas for economizing. I also am totally inspired by bloggers' stories of paying down huge debts--much larger than my own--within a couple of years.

The take-home message
I was pretty certain of my ability to manage my finances throughout grad school. After all, I'd never had any debt except for student loans (which were always in deferment, since I was still in school) and car payments (which I paid off during grad school).

But I was totally unprepared for the amount of money that is needed to (a) sustain the health of a partner whose health insurance was less than stellar, (b) care for a middle-aged (now senior) dog, and (c) birth a child, let alone live moderately comfortably in this town. It just isn't possible to do so with one partner in grad school and one making an average salary.

I wish someone had warned me that grad school was such a debt trap, and that the older you get, the more of a debt trap it can be (because of partner issues, children, changing needs, job search, etc.). I knew I'd be racking up student loan debt, but consumer debt? Never! Not me!

So if you're just beginning grad school, please, please learn from my example. Keep a wary eye out for looming financial emergencies, and economize whenever and wherever possible so that you do have savings for those human, pet, and auto care needs.

I also welcome your suggestions to speed my debt pay-down, especially if you've been where I am now. I'm already doing the usual things--calling for a lower interest rate, selling books on Amazon, etc.--but if you have creative methods for generating some quick cash that don't involve selling bodily fluids or ova or euthanizing the dog (whose care is a major cash sink), I'd love to hear about them. Leave 'em in the comments.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

International acaDemic Writing Month

What are you doing for International acaDemic Writing Month (InaDWriMo)? Come on--you know you have a project or grant to draft or finish up!

I'll be revising like crazy--one article, one dissertation-to-book--and keeping track of my page count.

Head on over to Dr. Brazen Hussy's place to sign up.

The Pharyngula Mutating Genre Meme

I was tagged by Field Notes from an Evolutionary Psychologist for a meme. It was started by PZ Myers at Pharyngula as a means of demonstrating evolution in cyberspace.

First, the rules:
There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...".
Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:
* You can leave them exactly as is.
* You can delete any one question.
* You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question.
For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is...", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is...", or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is...".
* You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...".
* You must have at least one question in your set, or you've gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you're not viable.

Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions. Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.
So, without further ado:
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Pharyngula.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Flying Trilobite.
My great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is A Blog Around the Clock.
My great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Primate Diaries.
My great-great-great-great-grandparent is Thus Spake Zuska.
My great-great-great-grandparent is a k8, a cat, a mission.
My great-great-grandparent is Monkeygirl.
My great-grandparent is DancingFish.
My grandparent is "No One".
My parent is Field Notes.

The best children's novel in SF/Fantasy is: Bunnicula
The best recent movie in comedy is: SuperBad
The best uplifting song in country music is: Johnny Cash's "Man in Black"
The best cult novel in classic fiction is: Pride and Prejudice
The best high-fat food in Mexican cooking is: Quesadillas
The best dissertation-related words I ever received from a scholar are: "Just write the damn thing."


I am propagating this meme on to anyone else who cares to replicate, and these bloggers:
JustMe
Breena Ronan
Julie
B*

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Two birthdays

I wanted to note here two birthdays:

First, this blog was born on October 22, 2005. It is six weeks younger than Lucas. I began The Clutter Museum at the beginning of a very tumultuous academic year. I was going on the job market for the first time, learning to be a mom, teaching, and finishing my dissertation. In the process of writing here and reading others' blogs, I have learned so much about motherhood, academia, feminism, and myself. Many thanks for your support and advice in this space and across the academic blogosphere.

Second, my grandfather was born on October 19, 1917. He passed away from leukemia in 1991, shortly before I turned 16. Had he survived, he would have turned 90 this week. He was at once a very simple and very complex man, and I wish often that I could talk to him now that I'm an adult. Even more, I wish that my grandmother, who is a hale 84, could have enjoyed all those additional years of companionship with the man she loved. Earlier this week I called my parents, sister, and aunts and reminded them to call Grandma on Grandpa's 90th, and those I reached were grateful for the reminder.

As I was growing up, my grandfather lived four houses from my parents'. The proximity to my grandparents made it possible for both of my parents to work, as Grandma and Grandpa would care for me before and after school. They also let us spend the night on weekends, treating us to lavish breakfasts in the mornings.

I wish I could offer the same benefit to Lucas. After all, I was the fourth generation of my family to live on that block in Long Beach, and wouldn't it be extraordinary to make it five? But circumstances are such that Long Beach does not have the kinds of opportunities I seek, the schools are not places where I would wish to send Lucas (even though I'm a big supporter of public schools and was educated in that school district myself), and the cost of living in LB is even higher than it is here. For example, today we could purchase a home on my parents' formerly very middle-class street for a cool $1.3 - $1.5 million--if I could find a bargain.

I want Lucas to know his grandparents as well as I knew mine. And right now, that's not happening. It makes me sad.

Anyway, happy birthday, Grandpa Lind, wherever your spirit may be. And happy birthday to this tiny little corner of the blogosphere, to everyone who has kept my own spirits high.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Up way too late

. . .so I'll make this short.

I've been in Iowa the past few days (am flying home today) for a volunteer weekend for alumni to reconnect with the college and with each other. It's been awesome.

I went to a presentation this morning on how alumni can help current students think through their life and career choices. The guy from the career development office said something like "Grinnell students are interested in so many things, and they're good at so many things, but they hate to make choices." Because, he said, they feel that would be cutting off possibilities and passions.

Good god does this man ever know his Grinnellians. (Or at least me.)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Craptastic day, tempered here and there with hope

Craptastic item #1: $800 for car repairs

We're selling our Toyota Camry because my parents gave us their slightly less aged Toyota Avalon. Which would be good news except the Camry needed a couple cosmetic fixes: the plastic driver's side handle broke off last week, and the antenna motor has been making horrible grinding noises, without actually raising or lowering the antenna, every time we turn on or off the car or the radio. So I took the car to Just About Perfect Mechanic in order to get it fixed. He reminded me that I'd need to get a current smog certificate in order to sell the car. No problem--Camrys always pass smog.

Except, apparently, our Camry today. Which puzzled Just About Perfect Mechanic, so he went looking for the problem. Ends up there was some kind of leak in the intake system, which ballooned the charges to $800, and that's after Just About Perfect Mechanic fixed the antenna free of charge and gave us a discount on the smog.

The good news is he said Camrys around here tend to sell really well, that I should price it even above its Blue Book value, and that I should make a flyer to post on the bulletin board in the lobby of his shop because people are always coming in looking for good cars. So one of this weekend's projects is to clean the car's interior as best I can before I take it for a final professional detailing inside and out, then advertise it hither and yon. Keep your fingers crossed for us, and if you have any car-selling tips, please share them. We usually run our cars into the ground, so this is new territory for us.

Craptastic item #2: Didn't get the job

Had a job interview yesterday to be associate director of the university's humanities institute. I was one of five final candidates out of more than 45 applicants. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), there were people who were more qualified for the job. Fantastic Mentor, who is currently the director of the institute, tells me that I interviewed very well. This is the same job she offered to me outright on the same day I accepted my current job--but then she learned she needded to list it. On the one hand, I'm glad she attracted such a terrific candidate pool. On the other hand, the job would have meant some really challenging work, as well as a higher salary, and I'd get to work with Fantastic Mentor.

By the way, my favorite question from the interview: "What do you think about ambiguity?" To which I replied: "That's a pretty ambiguous question." Which earned me some laughter from the committee, some elaboration on their part, and some time to formulate my answer.

And I do like my current job, but I'm trying to look long-term, and I don't see myself staying in this position forever. The last guy in the humanities associate director job? I'm told he held it for about 20 years.

Craptastic item #3: Back-stabber

It has come to my attention through several channels (including one, accidentally, today*) that someone who consistently treated me as if I was doing good work has been bad-mouthing that exact same work to People Who Matter A Good Deal to Me. I saw how poorly this person treated one Person Who Matters to Me, but I didn't know until the past couple of months that this discourtesy had also extended to me. I must occasionally work with this person, mostly as a courtesy to this person's department, and I am not thrilled about it. I did not need to be reminded of this person's comments today. Craptastic item #2 + Craptastic item #3 = a very, very deflated trillwing.

So I'm trying to fight off the self-pity partying, and thanks to Mr. Trillwing and Lucas I'm mostly succeeding. Still: Grrrrrrrrrrrr.


*If you are one of the people I know IRL who wears loud shirts, I'd appreciate you not mentioning this bit to Brilliant Documentarian Who Matters to Me. I will probably bring it up with Brilliant D at some point soon, but it's kind of a sticky wicket. So hush!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Food for thought (and discussion!)

While prepping for the museum studies graduate seminar I begin teaching tomorrow at Progressive Ketchup Factory University*, I came across this paragraph written by Duncan F. Cameron in 1971. It's from an essay on whether museums should be temples or forums, but it certainly can be discussed outside the context of the essay itself. I'm interested in your thoughts on it.

We are quite prepared to debate the virtues or evils of new birthcontrol methods, the fluoridation of water, test-tube babies, or the exploration of space, but it never occurs to us to put in jail the research scientists who created the very thing that we are prepared to argue about and which we oppose. In the arts and humanities this is not the case. The artist or scholar who criticizes our society and offends our sensitivities or our values is, in effect, regarded as an enemy of society even before we have allowed time for his work or his statements to be judged and considered.**


*You may find the name PKFU puzzling, but it actually makes sense if you know the place, and hey, it makes me laugh.

**Duncan F. Cameron, "The Museum, a Temple or the Forum." Curator: The Museum Journal 1971 and UNESCO's Journal of World History 1972. Rpt. in Gail Anderson, ed. Reinventing the Museum: Historical and Conemporary Perspectives on the Paradigm Shift. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2004. p. 69.