Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Lift-Off . . . Almost

I'm sitting in the commuter airport that will get me to Cincinnati and then the flight is direct to Rome from there. I have a longer than expected layover because they canceled some of the flights out of this hub that were just added about two years ago. So, now I am in Delta's hands until 10:20 am in Rome tomorrow morning.

Rumor Has It is supposed to be playing on the flight over. It's great to actually have a movie I want to see on the flight. I also bought the DVDs of the first seasons of the West Wing and Everybody Loves Raymond. They will tide me through the no regular TV that I am used to keeping me company.

Mom was feeling better before I left which is quite a relief. She was starting to get worried she could go on the cruise she planned for all of us in January. She has to be so careful with all the side effects - esp. when she can't have any sudafed. I live on 12-hour sudafed so I can't even imagine what it must be like to have to use trial and error to find something that works.

I resisted the tempation to even bring my work notebook although, of course, I did bring my computer. It's actually more for the airplane and layover time - plus now that this computer has an internal DVD drive, I can watch shows and movies. I also have my iPod. I will also download some of Bruce Williams' podcasts to this computer while we are in Cinci.

The plane just landed so all I have to do is survive the hour and a half ride on the small plane and then I can get a Chik Fil A sandwich in Cinci as well as decide on getting Euros, etc. I have some Euros from the last trip but since I have to pay for the first hotel and car from Salerno to Ravello in cash, I had better get more.

Last year, I met an interesting couple that was going to a villa in Italy for a month. I just read an article about the increasing agriturismo availability - although you have to be more selective since the government incentives to turn a farm into a lodging establishment were almost too good and sometimes you get not much more a bed. There's also been more articles recently about Puglia and Basilicata in the gourmet and travel magazines. I almost finished the novel about the man who lived in Basilicata - somewhat on the "trail" of Carlo Levi.

Monday, August 28, 2006

1 day to liftoff!

oops - Aug. 29 is Tuesday, not Wednesday. I'm very glad I discovered that this morning and that my house/dog sitter also has time to come by today. I'm mentally ready and the rest of me should be ready by the end of the day. Of course, this morning I'm in one of the best writing moods I've been in and yet only have limited time. But, I'm confident it will be here when I get back.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

2 days to liftoff

Here is a video of the tour I took last year (but with this year's group):


I thought taking another one (this time of Puglia) would be a great mental break so that I would remember I was on sabbatical. And, I'm actually getting everything ready before the day before I leave. Last year I was up all night packing - not this year! especially since I've learned to travel lighter. Last year I missed the info that said we didn't come back to dress for dinner so I way overdid. The worst part will be not being able to carry back any olive oil in my carry-on. . . . and this year I would be packing light enough to carry it all on except the no liquids so I'll have to check it. At least I should get there safely - which is the main thing!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Academic Resolutions

Taken shamelessly from See Jane Compute; even on sabbatical they still apply:

Academic new year's resolutions

Idea shamelessly borrowed from Geeky Mom.

I have decided that my theme for the 2006-2007 academic year is "Take Back My Life". So, with that in mind and without further ado, here are my academic new year's resolutions:

1. Learn to let things go. This year, I resolve to not let those people who normally push my buttons and make my life generally miserable get to me. I will ignore or avoid them whenever possible, and when this is not possible, I will figure out effective ways to diffuse their button-pushing. (Suggestions are welcome!)

2. Rediscover my "fun side". I'm good about taking care of myself in some ways---I work out regularly and eat very well---but I'm not at all good about taking time out to do stuff like spending time on hobbies, calling friends, or taking Mr. Jane out on dates. This year, I resolve to take some time each week to nurture my relationships and to rediscover the other things I used to like to do, like crafting.

3. Continue to take time off each week. Taking one weekend day completely off is so vital for my mental health. I resolve to continue doing this, and to try and take two weekend days off whenever possible.

4. Submit my work to journals. My work is mature, I have more than enough material, and my results are really good, so no more excuses! My goals: one article submitted by mid-December, and one by May.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Hotels and Online Gaming

This post isn't what it sounds like. Starwood Hotels has come up with a truly innovative idea that leverages online gaming into potential customers/clients. You participate in building your condo and community and then you may have the opportunity to lease and/or buy it. Interesting . . .

I'm still trying to think of ways to leverage this type of approach to learning history. Still lots of reading to do and then there's the issue of actual programming. On that note, I need to investigate more about what is now easily done in Flash.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Not So Fun Parts of Being a Department Member

Yesterday the faculty grievance finally occurred and it's good to have my final duty prior to sabbatical finished. I don't envy the administrators who routinely deal with these particular situations at all.

But now it's on to happier topics. I've been busy working on next year's TAH Symposium to be held in conjunction with OAH and am about to finish up the final pieces on that - at least what falls under my umbrella of responsibility. I'm also working with some of our grant teachers to get us on the Western History program and then to continue the TAH Symposium idea at the National Council for Public History organization that meets in Santa Fe next spring.

I'm still a bit behind on writing but still have some time ahead of me to get caught up. I am doing well with staying with my promise to myself to exercise more - even if the time before noon each day is less productive. In the long run, I'm taking much better care of myself. I'm also taking more time for friends and family and the fun things in life which should only help to improve the quality of my work. This includes taking time to enjoy the positives and the successes of my chosen profession. While I had hoped my sabbatical would bring a good karma - positive events/invitations are already occurring faster than I ever expected in my wildest imagination. Here's hoping that continues.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Final Dissertation Push

Via profgrrrrl

First, I can't believe it's been 13 years this summer since my final dissertation push. I had earned my MA in History prior to taking my first teaching job. I was going to student teach in the fall and the History Dept. chair asked me if I would be interested in being a graduate assistant the next spring. They had a g.a. that would be leaving in December. Because I did not go the thesis route (which I would not advise given that most doctoral programs in this field no longer accept you without a thesis), I took overloads during two summers and a spring while teaching a survey course and graduated with my MA before I took my first teaching job at a nearby junior high school.

At that point, I had no intention of ever going back. I was going to become a high school teacher and that was it. After two years teaching junior high and then volunteering to co-sponsor cheerleading (that's a book in and of itself) in order to move to the high school for two years, I returned to graduate school. I didn't know that you picked a grad school based on their specialty areas but I did know that I wanted to head south and that my plan was to get in and get out. I'd had my own classroom for 4 years and lived in my own apartment. I made a deal with my parents that I would work as fast as I could if they could help with the rest of the expenses that I could not forecast. Most of you in the profession know that most graduate catalogs do not provide much structured guidance about what to expect and since I had graduated from an MA program that was not at a school with a doctoral program, I had no clue. But, in the end, it all worked out. My teaching background - esp. with the 4 years of actual middle school and high school experience required by the national teacher education accrediting agency, along with my more recent participation in Teaching American History grants, has long wiped out any less than perfect decisions about which grad school to attend. (I wasn't there long before I was told I should have gone somewhere else.) However, I've never been a fan of the pedigree club - I'm much more a member of the "what have you done with what you've learned?" organization as well as branching out from my major professors and graduate school cohort (which was virtually non-existent given the low completion rate - I do miss that camaraderie).

The short version of part of the story is that I found both my dissertation topic and my first TT job by participating in regional and national conferences. Because I had heard the horror stories of the "cattle call" each year at the AHA, I decided that since I would be taking my written and oral comps in the spring, I would attend the AHA in Chicago and check it out. I had seen the job ad for the position I eventually accepted on the bulletin board at my school but had dismissed it because I didn't want to go to a place like Miami - this was before I realized that not all of Florida was like Miami. Again - believe it or not, the short version, I interviewed for 3 positions - the other two were in PN. I was given the impression I had at least one of the PN jobs but the folks in Florida showed up in my mailbox first wanting to schedule an on-campus visit (all app materials had to be in before the AHA so that was already done). I really wasn't sure but I went with it. The only complication was that they made it clear that no offer would be forthcoming until I was ABD. The glitch in that was that that VERY semester, the dept. had started enforcing the requirement that you pass both languages (there's only one now) before you took comps. There's another book about my getting caught in departmental politics.

So, I took the job in Florida and moved there ABD having spent a great deal of time at the Truman Library doing as much primary research as possible before I left the Midwest (my parents lived just a few hours from there). I took the position and was given no committee assignments so that I could finish the dissertation. Despite the distractions of living in an apartment complex and city full of navy and marine pilots, I finished most of the writing by early spring. Spring was more productive on that front because my teaching load was reduced because of student teacher visits - while time intensive, they required much less actual dedicated time in comparison to preparing to teach new courses.

In the middle of the final push - about a month before I was to go defend the dissertation and was busy doing rewrites based on committee feedback (since this was before email, I lived at the post office and discovered that USPS Priority Mail _might_ get there in two days and that UPS was a much safer bet), I received a call about a position at my undergrad alma mater that the professor who taught 20th century US had died and that the man who did the social studies methods class had developed a terminal disease and would I consider coming there to teach. While I had not intention of leaving Florida yet, I examined the situation carefully. While I had not had time to maximize the social possibilities in Florida, the job situation was not quite as promised, including the classic complaints from fellow department members that I was "spending too much time in the education building." When all was said and done, alma mater was the better job. The first phone call was a Saturday at noon from someone I didn't normally keep in touch with but was acting dept. chair. I was out walking the dog so had to wait for him to call back on Monday. I had not idea what he wanted. When he told me I was smart enough to say let me think on it a few days - I'm right in the middle of final dissertation rewrites.

Then, the next day, the former history department chair who had become the academic vice-president called and asked if I would seriously consider coming there. I thought, ok, I really have to think this through. I just ran across the "pros" and "cons" sheet on yellow legal pad I wrote up. I ended up taking the new job primarily because the Florida legislature was really late appropriating funding (another issue - no raises in the last several years with no signs of change - lesson learned: don't ever work for a state institution in a state without a state income tax) and we didn't have contracts yet. (Now in my current state, we receive contracts with the money to be reconfigured later.)

So, needless to say, the pressure was really on to finish the dissertation rewrites. The original deadline was so that I could teach a July class in Florida. And, given that they had hired me ABD, it was hard to tell them I was leaving. But, when all was said and done, they would have made the same decision had they been me. Anyway, I was smart enough not to tell my doctoral committee I was changing jobs until after they congratulated me on a successful defense.

I'm tired just reliving that. It also underscores why more people do NOT finish doctorates in the humanities. In the past (it has definitely changed in the last 13 years), you were expected to have no life if you went the PhD route. Now, women doctoral candidates especially, are making their voices heard that these same work challenges (dissertations, TT job requirements) come during the prime child-bearing years for women. While progerss is slow, things are getting better. But, the bottom line is that dissertations are still difficult and there is a big sense of satisfaction once they are done - on one can take that away from you.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Asperger's Syndrome

Last week, I discovered that one of my good friend's children has been diagnosed with 'some characteristics' that may be Asperger's Syndrome. While I am relatively familiar with autism, I have not heard much before about this particular 'autism spectrum disorder.' My friend is being very brave and is doing all of the right things to try to help her child. She and her son and the rest of the family (dad and little brother) have been through the ringer with testing, including a visit to the University of Kansas. Her 7-year-old boy is very bright but was language delayed and still stutters when he is nervous. He's usually stuttering around me because he's so excited when company comes to visit. But he is quite persistent in getting his message across and is highly intelligent. It appears that a great deal of research has been done in this field and that unless his "symptoms" worsen, some simple behavior modification on the part of his parents and occasionally his teachers (ie not assigning him a seat in the back of the room), he will be able to adjust accordingly. I certainly hope so. It's yet another one of life's challenges that we can't prepare for ahead of time. But, as many autism spectrum disorder websites point out, we need to remember to celebrate all of the things a child does correctly instead of only focusing on some minor challenges.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

World Trade Center

It's not your typical Ollie fare and I highly recommend World Trade Center if you want a clearer understanding of the human experience of 9/11. The Production Notes and In Their Own Words are especially notable. The two men chronicled in the film represent #18 and #19 of the #20 people rescued from the downed buildings. Seeing their struggle to survive is quite moving. I went to the late afternoon show - I'm not sure I would have slept if I had seen it during the evening.

There are numerous critics that it is "too soon" to be chronicling 9/11. But we'll lose part of the record if we don't and everyone has a choice as to whether or not to attend these films when they are released.

As one of the reviewers noted, there is not one mention of Islam, Muslim, or the Middle East. I think some are disappointed that Stone concentrated on the human struggle instead of the political struggle.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A regular Saturday?

I'm not driving somewhere nor am I frantically getting ready to leave again. I'm primarily looking forward to my culinary tour to Puglia in a few weeks - the official start to my sabbatical.

I went to the farmer's market this morning but was disappointed we're pretty much at the end of summer and it will probably be a few weeks before the fall crops start. My favorite Missouri farmer wasn't there - which is always disappointing - his produce is always great!

I rode my bike 10 miles out in the country before it became way too hot to do so and walked the dog prior to that. Later today I'm hoping to go see World Trade Center with a friend.

Yesterday we had a conference call about the new edition of a US survey text and it was great to hear such great interchanges between an author team. In the past, I've done the ancillaries and don't come on board near as early in the process but that is all changing and it can only make the entire work better (book and ancillaries). I'm anxious to explore the digital possibilities also and actually spend some time with the publisher. I also discovered the "interim edition" is off the table for now so I can concentrate on some other projects. The summer indeed went too fast but I wasn't nearly as stressed as last summer. The pressure now is seeing a continual stream of grant project RFPs. Just when I think nothing is going to be happening . . .. I remember there was a time early in my university career that I was worried where I would find enough projects to keep me busy. That is no longer a concern.

The sabbatical is also coming at a good time to take a break from teaching. I love teaching undergraduates and traditional graduate students (although we only have a few) but am really liking working directly with the teachers.

We're also getting ready for the TAH Project Directors' meeting next month in Albuquerque. The folks east of the Mississippi go to Cleveland so I am glad we're west this time.

I have, however, taken some travel off the table this upcoming year. I do want to be home some and I've been gone enough again that hotel rooms are just hotel rooms - even if they have an internet connection. Next summer, I don't think I will do any big planning ahead in June and July except for grant trips. That will entail a great deal of time in northeastern Kansas, Kansas City, and, the highlight - Boston!! I hope some of the teachers want to go to "Fresh Catch" in the North End.

I plan to get some work done today as well as some housecleaning. My friend's daughter was busy moving in yesterday to get ready to start school in a week or so and she will watch Shadow for me on Thursday when Julie and I venture north to meet with a grant partner to nail down some logistics.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Around the World

I'm starting to get caught up at home. Woke up listening to the reports on the London terror plot and soon discovered we still have a teacher in the area who attended a Gilder Lehrman Summer Institute there. Luckily, she's traveling with an aunt so she's not alone. Hopefully she makes it home safely sooner rather than later.

Now to get some mowing done before it gets totally unbearably sultry.

Monday, August 07, 2006


I'm headed home today although I'm not sure I'll make it the entire way. But I will certainly end up in Missouri or Kansas. It was a great day hanging out by the lake yesterday. I even found time to do some knitting. My friend's two daughters are off to a drama day camp that lasts all week.

Is summer really over??????

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Back in Minnesota

As I crossed the state line driving along I-94, the sun broke out from the clouds. I left Madison about 7am and made it to my friend's house in the Twin Cities area by 12:30 - along with lunch from Davannis - a "must eat" everytime I'm in town.

Tonight I'm watching the two girls while their parents have a date night in exchange for watching Shadow while I was at the conference. Their lake house is very relaxing and the company is great!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Distance Learning Conference Day 2

The conference is going well. Had a great meal last night at Eno Vino - the small plate approach plus great atmosphere and one of the best cosmopolitans I've ever had.

I'm sitting in sessions on Internet 2 but somehow they skipped the presentation from the Library of Congress (DC) and the Underground Railroad Museum (Cincinnati). Kansas is one of the 36 states on I2 which speaks to its rural nature.

The podcasting session early this morning came from the media theories approach so it wasn't as useful for my interests. I did attend the start of the databse session utilizing AJAX but they lost me when they said they weren't going to deal with the practical applications of how to implement databases - more of a session of why an online instructor should consider using them. I'm already to that point and, given that it's a technology conference, was hoping they would explore the tech specs. Guess some internet research on the topic is next.

The conference ends this afternoon. We're going to check out the Greenbush Bar (I hope they have t-shirts to take to friends at home!) and the University of Wisconsin campus.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


I enjoyed the drive through the nation's dairy heartland on I-94 yesterday. The drive through different sections of Madison along 151 were also insightful. My colleagues arrived shortly after I did and we ate some okay German food for dinner. We're doing "mini meals" tonight and fancy tomorrow.

The conference has gone well - lots of opportunities for networking. Plus, there aren't normally popcorn and fudgsicle breaks at history conferences. :-)

It's wonderful to be in a group that is ALWAYS thinking outside the box and looking for new and better ways to do something - including enhancing student learning and our own teaching.

I'm a presentation now about mobile technology and how it's changing what we are doing. Even the least economically able of my students have a cell phone. In that vein, I'm trying to think of a way to help students understand what it used to mean to only have one phone in the house (with NO call waiting) and to "wait around for a phone call".

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


My friend in Minnesota bailed me out so that I could go to the distance learning conference in Wisconsin. I had planned to stop by to see her and the family (her youngest is my only godchild :-) ) but Shadow's being sick while Mom had her list concerned her and so I needed to find alternate dog-sitting arrangements. After trying to check out several options, I was afraid I would have to cancel. I have been traveling too much and the dog was clearly reaching his stress limit. It's a double-edged sword. I love having a dog at home but also like to travel. If only my last name were Hilton and I could have a whole crew of people just to bring my dog/s along wherever I go. The conference hotel does not accept pets and one across town did. However, that still leaves the problem of what to do with him all day. So, Cathy kindly offered to watch him and I will watch the girls for her and her husband to have a date night when I get back. I'm looking forward to the pretty drive across Wisconsin and am glad they warned me to not drive more than a few miles over the speed limit on I-94 to Madison. Apparently there are people in this neck of the woods who never get tickets except for driving this particular stretch of interstate.

I'm also exploring the idea of researching the history of interstates - since they just hit their 50th anniversary and there are numerous places/states that like to claim that each built the first stretch of the Eisenhower interstate system. Luckily, the records are at the National Archives regional facilities. I just have to make a trip with a friend who used to work at the Missouri Highway Department because, like everything else with the federal government, we have to have the project number unless we want to look through every single record in Missouri's highway history!!!

I'll meet Cary and some of his grant officers for dinner tonight and then I'm hoping the conference is as good as it looks on paper. I was disappointed with NECC last year - a few good things but too expensive for the total package - unless the location is good, that is!

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