Friday, December 31, 2010

Common rites

As I write this, the midnight hour sweeps round the world, ushering in a new year. It's a half hour 'til midnight here, and I'm the only one in the house who remains awake.

I'm remembering tonight the New Year's eves of my childhood. We'd spend the evening at my grandparents' house, a classic bright yellow, brick-porched California bungalow just a few doors down from our own home. Perhaps folks would drink a bit too much, but usually my sister and I didn't notice--we were drifting to sleep as my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles laughed at The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

At midnight, we'd run out onto the porch, banging pots and pans with wooden spoons. Some of the older neighbors joined us in this rite. At some point during these years, my grandfather declared it was an old Scottish tradition to run around a tree three times at midnight for good luck. We're not a superstitious people, but we gave in to Pops's tradition, circling the block's palm trees.

Fang and I don't have any New Year's rites, though I suppose we will concoct some as Lucas grows more cognizant of the significance of a new year, and how in one moment we can be in (for the nation) a truly awful year like 2010 and in the next moment be completely free of it, at least temporally.

2010 has been a dynamic year for my little family. So that I might pursue a tenure-track job, we uprooted the family and moved to Boise. It's a move I don't regret, as I really do love my job and adore my new colleagues, but at least once I day I think of California and feel very much as if I'm in exile from where I ought to be. After all, California is more than just a place I was passing through--my family has deep, deep roots there. I suspect one day I'll return, though not any time soon, as I have lots of exploration and growth waiting for me here.

One of the things I've learned in my first semester here is that faculty here really do have a great deal of autonomy. I'm enjoying that tremendously, and I plan to write more here about how my teaching might change as a result of that independence. The expectations for my position really do seem to be wide open, and folks have seemed interested in whatever I propose. 2011 may, then, be a very interesting year intellectually.

On the home front, I have more work to do. We need more grounding in this place, as individuals and as a family. I need to help Fang find what he needs here—and that means both meeting physical needs and finding him greater intellectual and emotional fulfillment. He is, after all, a newspaperman in an era of newspaper extinction. What do you do when you're almost fifty years old and your entire industry disappears--especially if you don't have a college degree? Fang says he suddenly feels sympathy for hoop skirt makers, but I suspect under his humor there's a good deal of pain and perhaps even some fear about how he fits into our new life here.

So we need to spend more time together, to establish rituals and common rites, and to aid one another's intellectual, personal, and professional development in this next stage of our lives. I need to remind Fang that the advice offered to Seamus Heaney's narrator by the shade of James Joyce applies to both of us, even though our recent move was driven by my career, not Fang's:
‘Your obligation
is not discharged by any common rite.
What you do you must do on your own.

The main thing is to write
for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
that imagines its haven like your hands at night

dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,

so ready for the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly, forget.
You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note.’

Here's hoping 2011 brings both roots and wings.

I'm heading outside now to thrice circle a tree. I'll take an extra lap for you and yours. Happy New Year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

This Friend speaks my mind

Chuck Fager, director of Quaker House, on the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell:
This change has two important effects, I think:

First, it will enable thousands of present and future soldiers to pursue their careers on their merits, which is only as it should be.

Second, beyond these individual cases, repealing DADT strikes an important blow to the identification of war with masculinity, with heterosexuality, with America, and all three with God.

This identification is idolatry, pure and simple. But it is all too widespread in American Christianity, and it is way past time for it to be broken up.


Someone who is close to me recently returned from six or seven months of service as a Marine in Afghanistan. He drives trucks for the military.

Earlier this year, family members were informed he had been involved in an "incident," but they weren't given details. Today I learned a bit more about the nature of this event.

I wasn't surprised to learn that a truck he was driving hit an IED. He regained consciousness in a helicopter.

Physically, he's allegedly recovered. But now that he's stateside, he has terrible PTSD. He can't sleep or drive, and even riding in a car is apparently too much for him. He cries a lot.

What's his family's response to this? They're criticizing him for not being sufficiently masculine. They can't make the connections among the Bush-era anti-terror wars they supported, the crappy economy made worse by Bush administration policies, this guy's joining the Marines because he felt enlistment was his one ticket out of Hellmouth, Arizona, and the total shattering of his life because of his service in Afghanistan.

The family's proposed solution is that he accept Jesus and go back to Afghanistan like a real man.

Fuck you, conservative America.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Band names inspired by grading my students' papers

  • Sketchy Secondary Sources
  • The Successionists* (a Civil War-era band)
  • Captain Obvious and the Weak Theses
Play along in the comments!

* Yes, multiple students managed to write research papers about the South's succession from the Union.

RBOC, Transitions (and Buried Lede) Edition

More quasi-random bullets, because that's all I have in me. (Now with subheads!)


  • I'm finishing up my grading for the semester. I'm down to the single digits on my lower-division students' research papers, and then I have their final exams as well. I hope to finish tomorrow, and then submit grades on Friday, assuming I can figure out the LMS gradebook.
  • That means--yay!--I've finished my first semester on the tenure track. Two course preps down for the year, and two to go--though the next two should be significantly less time-consuming than this semester's.
  • One of the students in my public history class said she thinks she's found her calling as a public historian, instead of the schoolteacher path she had always imagined for herself. She's had a really rough time of it lately for reasons that have nothing to do with her academic ability, and it's nice to see her really come into her own as a critical and creative thinker who's willing to try new things. She also discovered her classmates valued her for her informally learned knowledge of local history; they dubbed her "Boisepedia." She talked to the department's internship coordinator today, and I'll be writing her a letter of rec for what sounds like a good position for her.
  • One of my lower-division U.S. survey students wrote me a really nice note that went a long way toward soothing my I'm-not-a-papered-historian impostor syndrome. She explained she had hated history since fourth grade because that was when she first received a B in any subject, and that my course marked the first time she had been invited to engage meaningfully with history rather than memorize dates and consider only privileged people's histories. She said she now "loves history as a subject" and wants to study feminist theory. Also, there's this: "Most importantly, you helped my writing. I never thought that a history teacher could better strengthen the papers I write. I learned more from you than my [redacted] class. You showed me to come to my own conclusions about the sources I had, not let the sources guide my paper. I will apply this in any future writing I have to do. . . So thank you, Leslie, for making history important to me once more." Her note makes me sad about the state of history in K-12, but for now I'll just enjoy the warm fuzzies.
  • I'll be teaching a section of the capstone writing course next semester. Apparently the seminar raises a tangle of issues about students' patchwork preparedness for historical research and writing. This course has, I'm told, been designated one whose products are to be used for assessing the efficacy of the history department in teaching its majors to think critically and write well. In theory, I suppose I should feel some pressure about that. Still, I'm approaching the course more like Icarus than Sisyphus; we'll see how long it takes for me to plummet to the ground, my wings destroyed by my own hubris.
  • I'm teaching a graduate course next semester called "Introduction to Applied History." I applied for a grant to partially subsidize mobile devices for students in the class, so up to 15 of the students (so far there aren't 15 registered for the course) will each be able to buy an iPod Touch at a 50% discount. We'll be exploring the possibilities engendered by existing apps, sort of a "small pieces loosely joined" approach to local digital public history.
  • We'll also be contributing to a very, very large project I began to organize this week. It's a wiki for Boise. It will be modeled on the absolutely fabulous Davis Wiki, but we'll be doing some structured experiments on public history themes as well. I'll also be watching to see what happens when we give members of the public a relatively easy-to-use platform and invite them to create pages on topics of interest to them, as well as edit others' pages. I'm still working on some domain-mapping issues and getting the site ready for launch, but I'll share the link with you when it's ready for a soft launch. There's also some grant writing I need to do related to this project, so it will keep me very busy next semester.
  • I'm really happy here. Like crazy happy. I like the students and adore my colleagues.

Research and Writing

  • Goal #1 for the new semester: Revise an article that was deemed very interesting, but "not a good fit" for one journal, and submit it to one (which I've already identified) that is both a better fit for the article and, really, for my work more generally.
  • Goal #2: Gather and process materials for another article. This will likely involve travel to archives in Northern and/or Southern California.
  • Goal #3: Use materials from Goal #2 to craft a chapter to replace one in my dissertation. I'm aiming to have a draft of a book based on my dissertation by the end of summer 2012.


  • I attended Friends meeting again, and I'll likely be going again this Sunday, er, First Day.
  • I've been adding blogs by Quakers from across much of the Friends spectrum--from liberal, unprogrammed Friends to orthodox plain folk--to my RSS reader. I've also been lurking on the forums at QuakerQuaker.
  • As I wrote in my initial blog post about recent developments in my faith journey, what I suspected would happen did indeed come to pass: some folks are seeing my attendance at Quaker meetings as a sign I'm going to be "born again"--that Friends meetings are but a first step toward my permanent embrace of their own denomination. This is incredibly frustrating for me--like I-want-to-scream frustrating because of the arrogance and presumption.
  • In case any such people are reading this blog, allow me to say this: I'm committed to the Friends for now. If that doesn't work out, I'll likely take some path through Unitarian Universalism, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodists, with a seasoning of Daoism. Any church that uses the phrase "Bible-believing" as a primary way of differentiating its members is not even on the list. I don't mean any offense to friends or blog readers who attend such churches; it's just not my path, and I don't want anyone to have any delusions that it ever will be.
  • Another sign that the Friends General Conference may be a good home for me: the yearly meeting takes place at my alma mater. Out of all the tiny towns in the U.S., they pick one that matters tremendously deeply to me. I haven't checked to see how the meeting jibes with my summer teaching schedule, but the seed has been planted. . .


  • I've been watching The Wire. Fang has all five seasons on DVD, and I'm one episode from finishing season 4. It took me half a season to appreciate the series, but now I give it my highest recommendation. The writing and character development are impressive.
  • Because of how busy I've been, this year's Christmas shopping is being (literally) brought to us by Amazon Prime. How I adore that program!
  • I need to get back with the Weight Watchers program. After initially losing 15 pounds, I've put a few pounds back on because I became lax about counting points. I eased myself back into it today by having meals that I know are reasonable, but I didn't count the points. Tomorrow I'll begin accounting for points again, which will initially be a headache under the new points system, but I'll adapt.
  • Lucas went in for his annual well-child check-up, where he was treated to five separate vaccinations. I had, finally, the new Tdap vaccine for adults. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know I had some whooping cough fun earlier this year; I was also diagnosed with pertussis a few years back. The injection site on my arm is still sore, so I can only imagine what Lucas's legs must feel like, as he was due for another round of DTaP, chickenpox, and MMR vaccines; a polio booster; and--according to his records, though I vaguely remember him already having one--his first Hep A shot. The clinic staff were terrific, though; the entire sequence of vaccines--administered by two nurses synchronizing the injections--took less than 45 seconds. Still, it's not easy to hear him howling with every new stab of the needle.
  • I went to a birthday party with Lucas last night and connected with some more local parents. That's a very good thing.
What are you up to these days? Toss me some random bullets in the comments.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Public Service Announcement: For Folks on the Job Market

A good friend is hiring for a position in her organization. She instructed her assistant to run Google and Facebook searches on each applicant.

I present, then, an object lesson in why folks on the job market need to set their Facebook wall posts to be private. Here's the most recent update from one applicant:

And yes--as the applicant in question might say--THAT SHIT'S REAL.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Because it's time for a meme, dammit

How long could you survive chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor?

Created by Oatmeal

(Velociraptor quiz as seen at The Seacoast of Bohemia)

The Teenager Audio Test - Can you hear this sound?

Created by Oatmeal

Clearly I haven't been to enough concerts.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

More brilliance from Stephen Colbert

It gets really interesting around 2:50, and absolutely brilliant at 3:50.

For once, I'm grateful I speak cultural studies. Colbert's writers are awesome.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Tip/Wag - Art Edition - Brent Glass
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogMarch to Keep Fear Alive

Monday, December 06, 2010

Post-Structuralism Explained


ART THOUGHTZ: Post-Structuralism from Hennessy Youngman on Vimeo.

I probably should mention it's NSFW--unless you happen to work in the academy.

Saturday, December 04, 2010


Cross-posted from TerraFirma Creative

Here's the prompt for Day 4 of Reverb10:


How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?
(Author: Jeffrey Davis)

When I consider wonder, I think primarily of two things:

  • being in awe of, or delighted with, something in the world.

  • being intensely curious.

These are two of my favorite states of being.

I think these two poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins artfully capture my own sense of wonder. Go ahead--read them aloud to get their full effect.

God's Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

The Windhover

To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird -- the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Do you know what makes those poems different, other than their lovely imagery? Their sound, their diction. Hopkins tried not to use words derived from Latin, and the result are poems rich with Anglo-Saxon sounds and rhythms, sounds from a time and place that's foreign to me.

And so: wonder.


Words are how I cultivate a sense of wonder in my life. I notice things, and I try to put them into words: November, the last orange leaves still snagged on twigs, coated by a heavy dusting of snow. Mountains rising suddenly beyond the city, glowing that western-dry-grass gold in the last sun. Iowa, and its threat of sky. Tracks of unfamiliar mammals in the backyard snow.

Sometimes I fail. And that really underscores the wonder of a thing--when I can't adequately capture a moment in words.

Wonder for me comes when reality exceeds my expectations, at the seam of the urban and rural or natural worlds. Boise has been full of these moments: a badger in the yard. The first snowflakes I've seen in a decade. A river behind my office; a giraffe beyond that, peeking over the zoo's fence.

Negative capability

That's what John Keats called that state "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." For me, wonder engenders negative capability—it happens when I've transcended that left-brain moment of "how does that work?" and shifted into the right brain's "rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!" It's the moment beyond questioning, a moment of beholding. A moment of contentment.

Even though I'm reflective by nature, it can be hard for me to just sit silently with things. But sometimes what I'm building—be it a lesson plan, an article, a business, a happy childhood for my son, a personal theology—needs that moment of reflection, needs that space where I can observe in wonder at the thing-in-itself, the untouched thing before I've tried to fix or alter it. It's a space where I don't need to worry about reaching after fact and reason, where I'm fine with uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts.

And you?

Where do you find wonder?

Photo by William Warby, and used under a Creative Commons license.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Pssst. . . Look over there.

I'll still be blogging here quite a bit, but at the moment I'm also trying to build up a blog on the relaunched website for Fang's consulting biz (in which I am a very occasional partner and collaborator).

It's a very non-businessy business site, if I do say so myself. Très Leslie. (I need to get Fang writing over there, too, but he needs some WordPress tutorials first.)

I'm doing the Reverb10 thing over there, in fact. Go check it out. . .

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


That's how many words I wrote outside of work in November. I ditched the idea of writing a novel in favor of working on some stuff for the relaunch of Fang's freelance operations. That word count includes a couple of ebooks in different drafty stages, the blog posts at that link, and the posts at The Clutter Museum. It's an unconventional way to participate in NaNoWriMo, but I know I'm not alone in attempting to write 50,000 nonfiction words.

When I verified my word count with NaNoWriMo tonight, I was given the opportunity to download this little banner.

Yay me.

On winter fashion

Brrrrrrrrrr! It's been cold here; a few days ago it was hovering in the single digits. It's back up to 30 degrees now, but there's more snow coming down. With the snow already on the ground, we'll probably wake up to 7 or 8 inches of snow tomorrow morning. It'll make for a white-knuckle, icy drive down the hill to preschool and campus.

Is it any wonder, then, that a pair of these Timberland boots, which arrived in the mail yesterday, are among my new favorite things?

I adore them.

They're a lot more practical than the peep-toe stilettos I saw a woman wearing today on campus when it was snowing and about 25 degrees. And they keep my legs warm, unlike the leggings I keep seeing women students wear without pants or skirts. This look, I might point out, is much appreciated by some of the 50- through 70-something men on campus; I've seen them turn around or cock their heads to leer at undergraduate ass on half a dozen occasions since it became cold and the leggings made their debut.

And so, a couple of public service messages for the local undergrads:

Again: Idaho, you're welcome.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On Faith

BrightStar blogged recently about wanting to re-embrace her faith. She wrote, "the very idea of trying and trying and not finding what I am seeking scares me."

Her short post resonated with me. I haven't written much here about faith because it's a hugely difficult thing for me to talk about. It's like several skeins of yarn all tangled together, each strand representing some years-long line of thought.

Among the strands:

- My early experiences with religion. When I was a small child, my parents attended with some regularity a Presbyterian church whose Sunday school teachings were largely inscrutable to me. When I was in the middle of elementary school, we began attending a local Congregational (later UCC) church. The Christian ed there made more sense to me, but the theology still didn't jibe with my understanding of the world. So in junior high I stopped attending church, and I considered myself an atheist. Maybe my conception of God was too narrow, but I just couldn't see the workings of a divine being in the world.

- Politics. The loudest Christian voices in this country are absolutely repellent to me. The homophobia in particular is unconscionable. (Note: I know there are plenty of queer Christians and queer allies among Christians. I'm talking here about the usual suspects we see in the mainstream media, OK?)

- My own long-term commitment to pacifism, plus a frustration with the American conflation of god with country and the resulting unthinking patriotism and jingoism.

And yet, despite my distaste for religion and my lack of belief in anything resembling the Christian god, I have retained some confidence in what might be called the soul--by which I mean not something that goes to heaven or hell once we shuffle off this mortal coil, but rather something profoundly human that at the same time transcends our everyday humanity--the essence that drives the best art, makes love possible, and allows us to empathize with people very unlike ourselves.

I am, it appears, an atheist with an abiding belief in the soul.

As you might imagine, there's not a lot of room for someone with my beliefs in the religious practices, and especially the Christian denominations, most common among Americans.

And yet I feel moved at this time to write something about my search for a welcoming spiritual practice.

* * *

In the fall of 2004, I was a graduate fellow at the Smithsonian Institution, and I found housing that was affordable, safe, and within walking distance of the National Mall in the form of the Young Women's Christian Home, a (theoretically) nonsectarian residence. I learned a lot about conservative American Christianity from my dorm mates during my three months there, and I had a lot of interesting conversations about faith and politics.

Sometimes "interesting" also meant troubling. At one new friend's invitation, I attended Baptist Bible study on Wednesday nights, an experience that underscored for me the delusions of fundamentalism based on "close readings" of the Bible. Let's just say that polysemy never occurred to these folks, and questions that suggested the possibility of multiple interpretations were not exactly welcome.

On Sunday mornings, the YWCH emptied as most of the women went to church, and frankly, after all of my nodding during dinner conversations with young conservatives and listening to one particular Baptist minister persuade his flock that the second coming of Christ will look like an atomic bomb blast and seeing the congregants imagine the schadenfreude the newly raptured would feel when that day finally arrived, I needed to cleanse.

My childhood best friend was Quaker, so when I was looking for someplace to be on Sunday morning, perhaps it's not surprising that I found myself walking from the Metro station in Dupont Circle, up Connecticut Avenue toward the neighborhood of ambassadorial residences that surrounded the Washington, D.C. Friends meetinghouse.

* * *

I had been reading a couple of books by Shelby Spong, who writes in Why Christianity Must Change or Die, "Institutional Christianity seems fearful of inquiry, fearful of freedom, fearful of knowledge--indeed, fearful of anything except its own repetitious propaganda, which has its origins in a world that none of us any longer inhabits." This really resonated with me, as did Spong's explanation in A New Christianity for a New World of his own beliefs. Spong is a former Episcopal bishop who, according to the first chapter of this book, is a Christian. Yet, as he writes,
I do not define God as a supernatural being. I do not believe in a deity who can help a nation win a war, intervene to cure a loved one's sickness, allow a particular athletic team to defeat its opponent, or affect the weather for anyone's benefit. I do not think it is appropriate for me to pretend that those things are possible when everything I know about the natural order of the world I inhabit proclaims they are not.
Spong writes that because he does not see God as a supernatural being, he cannot claim the divinity of Jesus, nor his virgin birth, miracles, or resurrection. He continues,
I do not believe that this Jesus founded a church or that he established an ecclesiastical hierarchy beginning with the twelve apostles and enduring to this day. I do not believe that he created sacraments as a special means of grace or that these means of grace are, or can be, somehow controlled by the church, and thus are to be presided over only by the ordained. All of these things represent to me attempts on the part of human beings to accrue power for themselves and their particular religious institution.
As I read on, and learned that Spong espouses feminist, antiracist, and queer-friendly stances on civil and human rights, I uttered an involuntary amen.

One more bit from Spong:
The primary question I seek to raise in this book is this: Can a person claim with integrity to be a Christian and at the same time dismiss, as I have done, so much of what has traditionally defined the content of the Christian faith? Would I be wiser and more honest if I were to do what so many others in my generation have done--namely , resign from my membership in this faith-system of my forebears? . . . . In the eyes of many, both in the Christian church and in the secular society, it would. . .have represented an act of integrity. It would not, however, have been honest, nor would it have been true to my deepest convictions. My problem has never been my faith. It has always been the literal way that human beings have chosen to articulate that faith.
Dude was an Episcopal bishop. He knows whereof he speaks, and I suspect he knows to whom he speaks, that his audience is a very large one.

I'm definitely a member of that audience. I'm open to Christian philosophies of empathy (walking a mile in another person's shoes), forgiveness and nonviolence (turn the other cheek), and deep caring for people who are unlike oneself. I don't see sufficient embrace or application of such philosophies in the many, many church services I have attended across the Christian spectrum.

So I wouldn't call myself a Christian. Maybe Christianish, though even that makes me uneasy because I find nauseating what passes for Christian discourse in the American political sphere.

* * *

Back in the fall of 2004, I found myself spending increasing amounts of time on the Friends General Conference website. The overview I found there of Quaker belief was reassuring. I don't remember if the website had the same content then as it does now, but these questions in particular interested me:
  • Are you seeking haven in a world which may not be in pace with your needs?
  • Do you wish to join with us to help in finding ways to implement the historic peace testimony of Friends "to oppose all wars and preparation for wars? "
  • Do you wish to discover how you, as an individual, can help to create a better world?
  • Do you seek a religious home, without creeds or required statements of belief?
  • Do you desire to wait upon God in an expectant silence without the presence of intermediaries?
  • Are you looking for meaningful spiritual community?
Aside from the primary testimonies of the Friends—simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and care for the earth—perhaps what most attracts me to Friends is their willingness not to always have an answer at hand. I've found other Christians and pseudo-Christians, when asked a question they cannot answer, turn to the Bible, a book that has never really spoken to me. Friends, on the other hand, will sit with something for a while, individually and communally, listening to the wisps of God within themselves and reflecting on what they hear. I also appreciate that, at least in the strand of Quaker practice that most appeals to me, they don't have a theology of heaven or hell; instead, they focus on this life, on this world. Theirs is a faith, it seems to me, rooted in contemporary concerns and with practices that allow for dynamic engagement with the world rather than judgment of it based on static creeds.

* * *

At the moment, I have many things I'd just like to sit with in silence.

* * *
This past Sunday I attended the local unprogrammed Friends meeting. There were only nine of us in the room, which is a bit small for my taste, but we just about filled the room at the local literary center where the meeting gathers. The meeting last Sunday was a completely silent one, and afterward, instead of people shaking hands as I've seen elsewhere, we joined hands in a circle and shared our thoughts on the previous week.

I met some very interesting people, and I intend to go back, but since there weren't any other kids there, I'm not sure how I'll handle the Lucas situation. I do want to raise Lucas with Quaker values, and establish his dedication to the peace testimony--assuming he chooses to embrace it--so that if there's a time when he needs to be a conscientious objector, he'll have a long personal history to draw upon.

I haven't said anything here about Fang, but he's shown some interest in Quaker values, but I know that he and I don't always tune into the same faith wavelength, so we'll see if he joins me in my latest experimentation with faith.

I'm still uneasy writing about faith in this space, because as I said, I'm an atheist, and I don't want to mislead anyone into thinking I'm opening my heart to their particular conception of Jesus, or that I'm open to proselytizing or evangelism. I wouldn't say I feel as if there's something missing in my life so much as I feel there's something there that I haven't adequately addressed.

What about you? What are the things you're uncomfortable writing about? And how did you find yourself where you are in your particular faith journey?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Corrupting Idaho's preschoolers, one classroom at a time

Lucas has gotten waaaay into spelling lately. Since the letters of the week at his preschool are "O" and "Q," on the way into school this morning, he was asking me how to spell "Q" words. We spelled "queen," and then Lucas spelled "queer."

"Mommy, what does 'queer' mean?"

I explained that queer has a couple meanings he should know and provided the definitions, emphasizing once again that some men love men, and some women love women, and that some kids have two mommies and some have two daddies.

Fast-forward 9 hours. I walk into his preschool classroom to find Lucas sitting at a table with two other little boys and a classroom aide. One of the little boys flashes a peace sign at me.

"Some dudes," he says excitedly, "love dudes, and that's OK."

My work is done here. I can move back to California now, yes?

You're welcome, Idaho.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


My therapists have never liked it when I used the word "manic" to describe my better moods. I don't mean it in the clinical way they understand it, though; I suppose a better term for what I experience is "project-manic." It's a state where, for a week to a couple of months, I am intensely focused on getting things done in a particular aspect of my life--maybe it's a creative project, maybe it's work stuff, and too infrequently it's cleaning and organizing the house.

This time my project-manic phase is centered around work. After years of not submitting an article to a peer-reviewed journal (see: full-time staff job, adjuncting, and motherhood), I've submitted two in the past month, both distillations of stuff from my dissertation. So I'm feeling pretty good about that. And I have most of the material I need, I think, for the next article, but it's probably going to take me a couple of months to write it. Still, submitting three articles in a year is pretty damn miraculous for me. Fingers crossed that they meet with sufficient acceptance.

My application was also just was accepted to participate in a program about teaching and learning with mobile devices. I proposed a project for my applied history grad course next semester, and I'm excited to see how that works out.

In other news:
  • Lucas is learning to spell. He's been writing and typing his classmates' names, and every day he comes home able to spell more of them from memory. He's also been drawing a ton of fun stuff. Here's one Fang and I have dubbed "Fat Elvis":
  • Jake the puppy (9 months old) now weighs at least 100 pounds. Here's a photo of him from about a month ago (photo by Lucas!), as well as a picture that puts his paws in scale--I have pretty big hands for a woman.

  • I'm glad I bought that extra ice scraper last week.
  • Good god even small oak trees have a lot of leaves, as do whatever kind of trees those two in the front yard are.
  • Living indoors too much, and wearing scarves when I'm outside, turns my skin back into a teenager's--and not in a good way. As I've pointed out before, developing wrinkles and battling acne simultaneously is not fucking fair.
  • Lucas is going through a pink stage. He frequently comments on what a pretty color it is, and he's declared he doesn't want to wear his black knit cap with the silver Spider-Man logo on it because he wants to get a multicolored hat that is mostly pink. On the one hand, I'm glad he hasn't yet been swayed by some of the most basic gender norming processes, but I also worry what the other kids will say to him if he wears a hot pink hat to preschool. (I have memories of one particular day in my own kindergarten experience when a boy and I wore the same style of red shorts with white stripes down the side, and I was told repeatedly by the boys that I was wearing "boy shorts." Such comments were really tough for 5-year-old me to handle, and Lucas is that age now.)
  • I'm helping Fang reestablish his freelancing practice, which means much projectizing at home (after Lucas falls asleep) on top of my work-work. With the pay cut I took to come here, I should probably pick up some freelancing or consulting work, too.
  • I changed my NaNoWriMo project to writing a couple ebooks for Fang and the biz; the cheesy Jefferson time-travel project will have the wait until at least the summer.
  • It appears most of my lower-division students can't write a research question to save their lives, even after much coaching about what makes a good question. My faves are all along the lines of "Did the Civil War have a good or bad effect on the United States?" and "How did the California gold rush change life in the entire U.S. from then until today?" Needless to say, tomorrow's class will include more coaching so that I don't have to read 50 really really really really REALLY lousy papers.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Uncomfortable, and aspirational, conferencing

I'm attending a regional women's history conference right now. It resembles pretty closely many of the conferences I've attended. As a women's historian and feminist, it's pretty common for me to find myself at conferences where 85 to 90 percent of the participants are women, and even a higher percentage are white, with a majority (or nearly so) nearing retirement age or older.

I have a great deal of affection for such women—perhaps because I expect to be one of them in 30 years.

Yet there's something about these conferences that always leaves me a little bit cold. I often feel as if I've stepped back in time 20 or 25 years, as these conferences are very second-wave feminist—and it's not just because the women attending cut their feminist teeth in the 60s and 70s. It's because these conferences remind me that so much second-wave work has yet to be done in K-16 history education (and yet I'm beyond ready to move on). Many of my U.S. history survey students say they never had to consider women's history or black history or Chicano history in their K-12 years, and education-focused panels at this conference have reminded me that it's not just Idaho students who aren't engaging with women's history—students in much more progressive states are still getting mostly privileged-white-male history.

At the same time, if you drop me down into a more third-wave conference packed with feminists of color or with a more queer sensibility, I'd be equally uncomfortable. The cultural studies Ph.D. in me thinks they're fighting the good fight and that American society is waaaaay behind the curve in terms of civil rights, but my inner second-wave, white woman history educator also realizes that, in education at least, we haven't adequately set the foundation for such work.

So, for example, on my midterm for my U.S. history survey a couple weeks ago, I told the students they would have an opportunity to answer a question about the three greatest challenges to women's advancement in colonial and early federal America. We had just read Clarence Walker's book Mongrel Nation, and we had watched bits of documentaries addressing Jefferson and slavery. I even pointed out that slavery was a barrier to advancement for all American women. And yet fewer than half the students who addressed that question placed slavery in their top three challenges. Black women weren't even on their radar when they answered the question—even when the question itself asked them to be sure to consider women of color.

* * *

I don't mean to criticize conferences of the second-wave or third-wave persuasion. Rather, I'm trying to express my discomfort with both of them.

I'm also trying to find a way to articulate—in the sense of bones and joints, as well as of language—my own theoretical and methodological and physical space in the field of American women's history. And I need to do so in the next, oh, six hours, as I'm stepping in for a more senior colleague from another institution when I sit on a roundtable this afternoon. And hoo boy, do I ever have a sense of impostor syndrome.

When I agreed to participate in the roundtable, I didn't look closely enough at the timing and the participants. I didn't realize it was the closing plenary with a couple hundred women's historians in the audience, and I certainly didn't realize that some giants of women's history in the U.S. west would be sitting on the panel. I also didn't realize the focus would be primarily on women's history in Washington state, which is a topic with which I'm only passingly familiar. When I saw the long list of questions the moderator suggested we might address in the panel, I had a tiny panic attack.

But someone has to be the most junior person on the panel, so why not me?

I'm thinking, therefore, that my small contribution to the roundtable is likely to be methodological. I suspect if I can stave off further panic attacks on the dais, I'll be pushing (gently) for a democratization of public history, specifically for more innovative and participatory digital history projects. The subjects of public history projects are becoming more populist—for example, yesterday an architectural historian discussed attempts to get National Historic Landmark status for sites of queer struggle or sites significant in labor history. However, I'm not seeing—and maybe I'm just not looking in the right places—projects in which historians are, borrowing a couple of pedagogical terms, guides on the side rather than sages on the stage. Even many oral history projects make me uneasy on this account. I'll have more to say on this topic, I suspect, in the coming months and years, but for now I'll end with this question: How do you think we ought to go about increasing public interest in, engagement with, and initiation of history projects? Which is more important, broadly speaking, in increasing engagement—a project's subject or its methods?

Monday, November 01, 2010

NaNoWriMo, Day 1

This NaNoWriMo stuff is fun, folks. Crazy fun. I wrote 1824 words tonight.

Here's an excerpt from chapter 1 of what I'm terming my shitty first draft*:
She never expected to find herself here. Raised in an unfashionable part of Long Beach—and, really, wasn’t that most of the city? she asked herself now—she was the first person in her family to go to college, and she surprised everyone by moving across the country to write a dissertation on federal America. She had interned at Colonial Williamsburg and regularly played the part of a Spanish visitor to Virginia’s first capital. Her first book, on the intersection of race and gender at Jefferson’s Monticello, had been published only a year ago, but Dr. Bryant had called her two days after Amazon began shipping the text. A fellowship, Bryant promised. A year or two in California, near Jane’s aging parents and her darling nieces and nephews—most importantly, a year or two away from Pocatello, where the roulette wheel of the tenure-track job market had landed Jane seven years earlier. Jane thought of the job market as more like the Peace Corps, really—you go where you’re needed, even if that’s Tulsa or Vermillion or Fresno or Pocatello.

Again her poorly metered limerick ran through her head:
There once was a prof from Pocatello
Who had to subsist on orange Jell-O.
She had to slim down
to fit in that gown
to meet the sage of. . .
Ugh, the rhythm was terrible. She had been an English major before veering into the even less employable field of history, so when the anapests didn’t scan, she felt as if she had just raked her teeth across the dry skin of a pear—it set her teeth on edge and sent pins and needles down her spine.

And now she was headed toward that final rhyme. . . or so she hoped. Sort of. How could she know, really? She had make the mistake of recently watching Galaxy Quest, and so had seen the space pig teleported to the ship inside out, a steaming pile of quivering ribs. Eliza had assured her that with Bryant’s funding and her team’s brilliance, their journey would be completely safe. But still. . .

Jane shoved her hands in her pockets. The clonozepam jiggled reassuringly in its smooth plastic bottle.

* Many participants in NaNoWriMo recommend not doing any editing at all. I'm taking their advice to heart, so please excuse the mess.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A writing fiend

Rarely have I been as dedicated to writing--and to writing well--as I have been in the past month. It helps that I have plenty of material to harvest from my dissertation. I sent out one journal article a week and a half ago, and I'm about halfway through editing another. I hope to pull together one more by the end of the academic year.

I've also been writing lots of web copy to get Fang's freelancing career off the ground, and I've completely relaunched the website of the tiny company we founded in 2002, when we were both moonlighting as freelancers.

Despite this productivity, I've decided to up the ante.

Yes, I'm going to attempt NaNoWriMo, both to reinforce my habit of writing every day and to get a really cheesy novel out of my head--it seeded itself a couple weeks ago and won't stop growing in ways that are completely ridiculous and improbable. Suffice it to say the story involves a political crisis brought on by Constitutional originalists winning the House, Senate, and White House; a wealthy inventor, a physicist, and an historian (all women, of course); time travel; and an aging Thomas Jefferson. Will what these intrepid time travelers learn once again change the course of human events?

Ha! Good thing I won't have too much grading to do in November. . .

Anyone else doing NaNoWriMo? I'd love some accountability partners. Leave a comment here or e-mail me: trillwing -at- gmail -dot- com.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fun with midterms

It can be frustrating, yet fun, when a student confuses the source of a quotation. After reading Clarence Walker's Mongrel Nation, a student attributed the following to none other than Thomas Jefferson:
The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice
I want a black woman for my own special use.
I need wine. Lots of wine.

RIP, John Lind

I've written before about John Lind, my great-uncle. John passed away yesterday morning, about six weeks' shy of his 97th birthday. Two of his children, Ian and Bonnie, shared the news on their blogs yesterday; Bonnie followed up with another post this morning.

John Lind surfing in the First National Surfing Championship, which he helped organize, in Long Beach, California, 1938. Photo stolen from

It's been both fascinating and heart-breaking to read Bonnie's and Ian's blogs over the past few years as John entered his final decline, but I hope Bonnie and Ian know how much those of us who knew John--as well as those who didn't--appreciated their chronicle. The grappling in the open with senility, long-term care, and the decision of when to turn to hospice care, as well as Ian's careful curating and digitizing of John's photographs and other ephemera, have provided us all with a glimpse into the difficulties of end-of-life care, provided support to others going through the same drama with their loved ones, and made us all think about end-of-life issues more deeply and thoughtfully.

I hope Bonnie, the family historian and genealogist, and Ian, a recovering journalist and expert chronicler of the last years of his father's life, find the time and space and strength to publish a volume on the long life, and long leave-taking, of John Lind.

If you have any interest at all in surfing history, you should go read Ian's blog, as in addition to writing about John's experiences in long-term care, he's done a fine job of chronicling John's participation in surf culture in Hawaii. From Ian's blog yesterday:
[John Lind] made quite a mark in the world of Hawaii ocean sports after arriving in the islands in 1939. He was a founder of the Hawaii Surfing Association, a founder and first president of the Waikiki Surf Club, and a founder of the Makaka Surfing Championships. He headed the Waikiki Surf Club through most of its first decade. He believed in amateur sports, and I don’t think he ever warmed to the idea of surfing becoming a professional enterprise.
I wish much peace to the Lind family, this week and always. If you're so inclined, please hold them in the light.

UPDATE: The Star-Advertiser has a nice obit, and the Grunion Gazette (where Fang and I met when we were both working there) has a more Long Beach-centric obit.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Five years

I'm not sure what drew me (ha!) to sketch this monstrous frog on the fifth anniversary of this blog, but tonight the Wacom tablet was calling my name.

(Click to embiggen.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

By request: on professoring

A friend just nudged me for an update on "professoring." Consider these, then, random paragraphs of the very very early tenure track:

Teaching is going pretty well, I think. I have the usual mix of students who clearly enjoy the courses and are getting a lot out of them, those who are aiming for a B or C, and those few (especially in my lower-division general ed offering) who might be disaffected by just about any history course they take.

The student profile here, however, is very, very different from anywhere else I've taught. I don't have the institutional data with me--it's on my desk at work--but here's what I recall:
  • Number of students (grad + undergrad) at the university: 19,993
  • Average student age: 26
  • Overwhelmingly white
  • lots of married students and students with kids
  • 30% Latter Day Saints
  • Most selective public institution in Idaho, but (prepare yourselves for cognitive dissonance)...
  • 4-year graduation rate of 7 percent, 6-year graduation rate of 28 percent (yes, you read that correctly)
In other words, I'm not in the UC Davis classroom anymore. That fact is in many ways a relief, as these older students often bring deeper analytical skills to class discussions--although the writing skills of students here are on average even more dismal (many of them have let me know they never had to write a thesis statement in high school, whereas I very clearly remember learning that skill in 7th grade). I'm really enjoying working with older undergraduate students; my sense of my upper-division public history course is that most students are in their mid- to late-20s, with a smattering of students in their 30s and 40s and about the same number of traditional undergraduate age.

As I've mentioned before, I'm teaching two new-to-me courses, one of which is new to the university: the first "half" of the American history survey (which covers from the beginning of time to 1877) and an upper-division public history course. Next semester I'm tackling two also-new-to-me courses, a graduate seminar that introduces public history to students in the department's Master's in Applied Historical Research and a capstone senior writing course. This semester's survey course is kind of killing me, but I know I'm working less than do a lot of people teaching the course for the first time. Refusing to perform 50-minute lectures three times a week (or even once a week!) helps, as does my belief that students needn't memorize facts--because it means I myself don't feel obliged to establish a comprehensive understanding of 400+ years of U.S. history in a mere 15 weeks. I've been emphasizing critical and creative thinking skills. Best teaching decision to date: having students read Clarence Walker's 2010 book Mongrel Nation: The America Begotten by Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, a slim volume that allows for all kinds of discussions of race and class in early America as well as the current political fascination with the Founders and Constitutional originalism.

I've agreed to sign on to a couple of grad student thesis committees, probably chairing both of them--one on the Master's of Applied Historical Research track and one in the more traditional M.A. program. I suspect I'll gain several more grad students after I teach the M.A.H.R. course in the spring.

Next academic year I'll take over the department's internship program for undergraduate and graduate students. I'm inheriting it from a professor emeritus who appears to have kept the program in very good shape, so I'm not too worried about it.

I've been spared departmental committee work this year, but I am taking over advising the undergraduate history club and its attendant spring conference-going. I've also taken a 16-hour student advising workshop, joined a very interesting faculty interest group on community outreach, and signed on as P.I. to a really interesting NSF grant application that needs an historian of women in science. I also just committed to serving on an advisory committee for the campus's observance of women's history month. Plus, next month I'll be stepping in at a Northwest women's history conference to cover for a faculty member from another Idaho institution; I'll be chairing a session and participating in a roundtable discussion.

The faculty interest group on community outreach promises to be very, very fruitful. Without giving out too many details on a project that we just hatched: a faculty member from another department has a small army of undergraduates he wants to put to work in community outreach, and he knows he wants the students to work with a particular population and to engage in some kind of writing, but he wasn't sure what should be driving their work. I offered to collaborate by helping the students learn to interview members of this group and construct a public history project that draws on both student research and first-person narratives from the group. Assuming we can get a couple of local agencies to participate (I think they will, as it would highlight their work) and can get IRB approval (it's sort of a sensitive population), I think it'll be a terrific project, the kind that births not only journal articles and conference presentations but also exhibits, podcasts, and lovely books of the coffee-table variety that seem to be popular locally.

I've also been helping several students from a colleague's class, as they're required to talk to another history faculty member about the context surrounding famous court cases. So far I've talked with students about the Mountain Meadows massacre, the Scopes trial, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Stanford White murder, and Margaret Sanger. It's been a nice way for me to very quickly review different eras in U.S. history, some of which I haven't had to think about much in the past few years.

I also sent off a journal article today, and I printed out a chapter of the dissertation from which I hope to harvest two or even three articles, as it's a looooong chapter packed with not-quite-fully-formed ideas that I believe merit further development. I'm also occasionally visiting the university library's archives to work with the papers of an Idaho woman who was an amateur mycologist, and I hope over spring break to visit the Smithsonian again, or maybe the New York Botanical Garden, to see the papers of a couple other women. I have the tiniest embryo--more of a zygote or blastocyst, really--of an article about California women gardeners and nurserywomen in the first half of the 20th century, but I'll need to visit an archive or two in southern California to really flesh it out.

My colleagues are excellent, alternately funny, warm, and quirky, as good professors should be. My new-kid-on-the-block antennae are picking up some vibrations of tension and dissent, or rifts among or between certain faculty in the department, but nothing too troubling. I love my job (except for grading, of course), and I feel extremely fortunate to be here.

Plus, Fang likes it here, too, as does Lucas. I now have an Idaho driver's license that's good for 8 years, and I hate hate hate taking tests and going to the DMV, so I figure we'll be here at least 8 years. :)

Monday, October 04, 2010

How cool is this?

A family sent a video camera into space using simple materials (and an iPhone):

Homemade Spacecraft from Luke Geissbuhler on Vimeo.

(as seen at Pacing the Panic Room)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Weighty thoughts

. . .or, rather, thoughts on weight.

When I met Fang, I was just about to turn 24, and I weighed 138 pounds. That is insanely thin for me; in high school, even when I was hyperthyroid, I weighed as much as 165 pounds. Last night, I stepped on the scale and found I weighed 182 pounds, which is quite a bit out of a reasonable BMI range for someone my height. (Yes, I know BMI doesn't work well as a measure for everyone, but in my family, it seems a fairly useful way to begin to measure fitness.)

So I joined Weight Watchers online--last night, just after stepping off the scale.

Today, I carefully tracked what I ate and charted my activity levels for the first time, debiting and crediting points depending on the food and the activity.

I feel like crap, all hypoglycemic and hyperthyroidy. Yay.

I biked into work today--a pleasant enough ride in the cool morning with a couple of downhill stretches. This afternoon I rode my bike home, 4.9 miles with the sun beating down and temperatures in the upper 80s but feeling like the 90s, about 0.5 miles of that uphill. I am desperately out of shape, and walked through the front door all red and blotchy, sweaty, heart pounding, and feeling faint.

I showered, drank a ton of water, and ate dinner. Only after I ate did I step on the scale: 178 pounds. No wonder I feel like crap; my body shed four pounds over the course of 20 hours.

People following Weight Watchers are supposed to lose a lot the first week--allegedly mostly water weight--and then lose a pound or two each week thereafter. I suspect I'll feel pretty happy with myself in a couple of weeks, but this first week is going to suck.

Things I'm noticing:
  • Riding 4.9 miles in work clothes in the warm sun, on somewhat roughly paved streets, some of it uphill, in a state where auto emissions laws seem significantly more lax than in California, is very different from riding on smooth bike paths, mostly in the shade, for two flat miles. I didn't think it would be that different, but hoo boy, for me it is.
  • I'm going to need to dedicate myself to more exercise. Fang has agree to take Lucas into preschool one day a week, and he already keeps him home one day, so that means I can bike into work two days a week, for a total of about 20 miles/week. It's not a lot, but it's a start, and it's equivalent to a full week of commuter bicycling in Davis.
  • I need to get up from my desk in the middle of the day and take a walk. There's a decent path by the river that I could walk, or I could treat myself to an occasional lunch-hour trip to the zoo, which is only about a five minute walk from my building.
  • I need to plan ahead so I have some kind of exercise I can do when winter sets in, and especially when it's dark before or after work. I'm loath to ride my bike here in the dark, even with lights and reflective tape, as Boiseans are nowhere near as attuned to bicyclists as are people in Davis. In Davis, drivers frequently looked over the right shoulders before turning right. Here, not so much, so I'm being extra cautious.
Want to help me reach my goal of shedding 30 pounds?

If you've been on Weight Watchers before, I'd love to hear about your experiences--what should I try to do, avoid doing, etc.? And if you live in a part of the world where it gets too chilly to exercise outside (I have asthma, and very cold air is my lungs' kryptonite), how do you stay active?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In brief

Ah, public history in Idaho.

Where else would a student's query--about authenticating a vintage knife she had purchased--lead me to a web page titled "How do I Choose a Hitler Youth Knife?"

Good times.

Friday, September 24, 2010

On self-censorship

I generally don't write blog posts and leave them in draft form, but for the first time in the five years I've been writing in this space, I just did so, both out of my own inclination and on Fang's advice.*

So instead, I solicit your 100-word essays on the censored post's title: "Giving at the Office." Leave 'em in the comments.

* Maybe I'll publish the post if/when the issue arises again in a year or so, but now is not the time, even though the argument I was making, at least in the opinion of the very talented and exacting Fang, is exceptionally timely and well crafted--so rare for me these days!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Idaho Moments #387 and #388

In a local TV ad, a car dealer just promised to give a gun to anyone who buys a truck.

The state wants to allow residents to shoot an endangered species on sight. One reason, they say, is that elk herds are declining. Hasn't anyone read Never Cry Wolf? (Probably not--the K-12 schools here apparently are underfunded, and not many people go to college.) Methinks we need Farley Mowat to come talk some sense into folks.

RBOC, Reflective Late Summer Edition

I'm putting all my intellectual effort these days into course planning and harvesting articles from my dissertation, so all I have in me are random bullets:
  • Lucas and I were pulling dandelions from the lawn yesterday, and a bee or wasp stung me right in the middle of the palm of my right hand. Thank goodness the critter didn't get Lucas. If I recall correctly, this is only my fourth bee sting, but hoo boy is it by far the worst. My hand has been swelling over the past 24 hours, and I can't make a fist, plus--oversharing alert!--the hand just started breaking out in hives. I almost went to an urgent care clinic, but in light of our new high insurance deductible,* I'm going the Benadryl route instead.** The pharmacist said not to take Benadryl until the evening because it'll knock me out, so I'm waiting until Lucas goes to sleep, but meanwhile I can't use my right hand for anything but typing, and even that is a stretch. It's made me VERY grumpy, but it also means I haven't had to grade papers. :)
  • Someone who matters tremendously to me just let me know she's pregnant after trying for what seems to me to be a reasonable amount of time, but which I'm sure to her felt like for-ev-er. I'm very excited for her and her husband. As soon as she's told a few more people and is into her second trimester, I'll blog about it more openly.
  • Lucas's development is proceeding in leaps and bounds. His drawings are becoming more and more complex--check out Fang's blog if you're interested, as he's been posting several pieces of Luke's art--and his language, too. Today he wrote his last name flawlessly, without any prompting. We're also getting a bit more insight into how his mind works. For example, on Friday, Fang told Lucas they would watch an episode of a Batman cartoon at 5 p.m., and he showed Lucas a clock with hands on it. Fang reminded him when the small hand was on the 5, they would watch the show. Lucas pointed out there was a dial on the back of the clock, and they could turn it right away to make it point to 5 so that they could watch Batman immediately. Ha!
  • We had to administer a series of questions and exercises to Lucas for his preschool teachers. One of them required us to ask Lucas to "Draw a boy or a girl." Fang did this exercise with him while they sat across the desk from one another, and Lucas proceeded to draw a person, only he drew it upside down, so that it was right-side-up for Fang.
  • These latest developments, coupled with others, worry me--I fear we might have a gifted child on our hands. Oy. I'm not sure I'm ready for that, particularly in a state not known for funding quality public education.
  • This weekend I took Lucas to the local birds of prey center. The folks there don't rehabilitate birds, as do many raptor centers; rather, they breed, raise, and release endangered birds. They have a very intimate bird show--the hawk's feathers actually brushed repeatedly against my legs, and the crow took a dollar bill from Lucas (the bird can't have quarters because they're shiny and he hoards them)--and some raptors that can't be returned to the wild for various reasons, including a couple of California condors and some really neat eagles. Despite all the bigger birds, Lucas was really taken with the crow.
  • Jacob has finally noticed the five or six squirrels that frequent our backyard, but still has a pretty sedate reaction to them. He's recovering nicely from his neuter surgery, which he had last Thursday. He's tipping the scales at more than 85 pounds now.
  • Tomorrow afternoon Fang will take Lucas to observe a martial arts class to see if it's something Lucas might want to try. Meanwhile, I'm plotting to take the boy to Friends meetings and First Day school. Would having ninja-level martial arts skills disqualify 18-year-old Lucas from conscientious objector status with the Selective Service?
  • This conversation just transpired between Lucas and Fang:
Lucas: Daddy, will you do something with me? We can do something you like.

Fang: Sure. What do you want to do? (thinking he'll get out the guitars and play some music)

Lucas: (very sweetly) Well, you like to watch superheroes on the TV, right?

The boy knows how to work his dad, that's for sure.
  • Fang is trying hard to be more social, which he admits has always been a challenge for him, even though he's very good with people. He was waitlisted for a guitar class offered through the city's community education program, and he found out today they opened up an additional section of the class. He starts next Wednesday, and he's enthusiastic about meeting some like-minded people. He went to a Smashing Pumpkins concert with one of my colleagues last week, and they seemed to hit it off; they seem to have plenty in common to gripe about, if nothing else. (Waves to colleague, who sometimes reads this blog.)
  • Overall, I'd say what has most characterized our first two months in Idaho is resilience, and really, we're not a resilient people. (The phrase "highly sensitive" is a more apt descriptor.) I'm really happy about that, as these are the times that try a family's souls--a big move, a new job, pay cuts, new social circle, no support network to speak of, a new preschool, a Cliffordesque lab who thinks he's still the size of a shoebox. My colleagues and new friends here have been a huge help in easing our transition, and for that I am exceptionally grateful.
*Thank you, State of Idaho, for lengthening the new-employee health insurance waiting period from 30 days to 90. Much appreciated!

**I've never taken Benadryl, but I'm going to take my first pill in a few minutes. Fang is a little too excited about this prospect--he knows I can react strongly to new meds, and he's crossing his fingers for a good show. Will it include further crankiness, slurred speech, or giggles unbecoming a bee-sting victim? I'll keep you posted. (As if.)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A bleg for U.S. historians

Hey, U.S. historians--

When you're teaching the intro survey, what documents or images or material culture do you use to illustrate the transition from Puritanism to Enlightenment thinking and republicanism? We've been spending a lot of time in Puritan New England, and my students are hungry for something new (as am I).

I'm looking for enlightening (ha!) sources from the mid-1700s that illustrate this shift in theology/politics/everyday life. I have a couple of ideas (e.g. comparing/contrasting this and this), but I'd like to hear what other folks use.

I should mention we've already looked at Winthrop, Mather, Whitefield, Edwards, and Puritan children/families (via tombstones, architecture, furniture, family manuals, wills, sermons, and Bradstreet).


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Jake helps Fang christen his new video camera

By the way, we took the dog to the vet last week to see about getting him neutered. At about seven months old, he now weighs more than 80 pounds. Those of you playing along at home know that means he gained 30 pounds in six weeks. And he's not done growing yet.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Give some books to kids

I have to admit I'm a sucker for Today I heard some history department colleagues talking about how many students in Boise go without books, so when I saw this DonorsChoose project asking for funds to buy books for the school library, I signed on as a supporter.

If you have a few spare bucks--and hey, I know it's payday for many of you!--you might consider tossing them in the direction of this high-poverty elementary school.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Lucas's latest

Lucas has been drawing a lot of people lately--our dining room table is drowning in sketches--and tonight he drew this one for me:

Pink dude came first, drawn upside down intentionally.

Then blue dude came along. According to Lucas, blue dude thinks he's happy, but he's really sad. Hence the tears coming from his eyes.

I don't know what the story is with green dude. Maybe he's feeling some schadenfreude for blue dude?

(Fang also received a drawing from Lucas; his features an "invisible guy" drawn in yellow. Fang acknowledges my new acquisition is superior. That's why I'm looking so smug in the photo.)

I will now take a moment to remind Fang that Lucas has never drawn a portrait of me, but Fang has merited several, including this recent one, which is a damn good likeness:

Of course, there's also the famous "neckchin" drawing, and this next portrait, done at age 2 years and 4 months, is definitely among his greatest hits, and an amazing likeness of Fang:

I'm worried this means the boy is going to suck at left-brain thinking. (Who am I kidding? I know it means exactly that--he's cursed by genetics.) Time to save up for math tutors!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

. . .and things I don't love so much

Weather today and tonight in Boise:
  • 104 degrees (tying the record high)
  • Humidity this afternoon
Current weather alerts for the region:
  • Record temperatures
  • Air quality alert (yellow--the alert, not the air)
  • Severe thunderstorms
  • Fire weather
  • High winds (50 mph--not so bad as last weekend's 70 mph)
Tomorrow's forecast? 78 degrees and pleasant.

Welcome to Idaho. It's like Iowa, only with more consonants.

You've got to respect any region whose local broadcaster offers this list of potential weather challenges:


Another thing I love

Posting has been light, and may continue to be--this first week of class has been fun, but it's kicking my butt, too.

Meanwhile, there's this:

Friday, August 13, 2010

Things I like:

Protest signs: check
Smart humor: check
Permission to marry after August 18: fingers crossed

(h/t to @Lisa_V)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A morning with the boy

Wednesday is Fang's craziest workday, so it's considerably easier for him if Lucas and I leave the house for part of the day. As I spent most of yesterday finalizing a big syllabus for a new course, I was happy to go adventuring with the boy today.

We took a little walk around a Boise park that features a hill. After a decade in Davis, being able to see an entire city from the top of a hill seemed downright miraculous. I took a ton of photos, but my iPhone camera skills are not strong when it comes to landscapes. This will teach me to carry a real camera. . .

Lucas, as usual, was happy to serve as a photo subject:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A tenure-track bleg

Soon I need to submit a document to my mentoring committee explaining (a) what I plan to accomplish this year and (b) what I'll accomplish for tenure. It's not a document that's set in stone, but it needs to be thoughtful and ambitious without being suicidal. Would any of my tenured or tenure-track readers be willing to share similar documents they have submitted early in their careers? I'd find it tremendously helpful. You can e-mail me at trillwing -at- gmail -dot- com.

Alternatively, if you happen to know where I might find such documents online, please leave a link in the comments below. I'm having a heck of a time locating samples.

Many thanks!

Frozen potatoes

A couple posts ago I marveled at the number of frozen potato items available in a local grocery store. After all, this is Idaho, and you'd think fresh potatoes would be on everyone's plate. Running across these freezers makes me suspect otherwise:

And yes, those are all potatoes.

Stephen Colbert on the recent ruling re: Prop 8

This is too good not to share:

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