Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cross country flight

I look forward to traveling for work mainly for the airport and airplane time.  With nothing to do but wait, there is time to read and think -- hours and hours of it.

On my trip to San Francisco tomorrow, there will not only be lots of time, but lots to do to fill it up.  A lengthy board book and dozens of supporting documents to read ... a thesis to read and comment on ... it may be a four-hour flight, but I'm anticipating that work will expand to close to that length.

On the way back, there will be two class days' worth of student work to read, possibly necessitating the purchase of in-flight internet.  And in between, I have fifteen hours of meetings to attend to discuss all that material I read on the way up.

Yet there still seems to be so much time.  Long layovers in Dallas-Fort Worth, an evening on my own here, an unscheduled afternoon there.  Spring break has given me a taste for those unbroken hours during which I can indulge my desire to overindulge on a book, a research project, a knitting odyssey.  There may not be many of those periods during the next four days, but if I can grab even a taste of summer's leisurely pace, I'm going to enjoy it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Stick with your buddy

Lately Archer has taken to controlling more than one player when he plays Wii Party.  He finds it hilarious to make the other players fail and build up his own score to ridiculous levels.  It can make for some fancy juggling when he has to control two or three remotes at once during a competitive minigame.

This afternoon he played "Buddy Quiz," one of Cady Gray's favorite games.  The idea is that two players compete to guess the answers another player will give to opinion questions like "Which is the best dessert?"  Archer was the Buddy, the person whose answers the others try to match.  He controlled Guest A and Guest B, who didn't score a single point, giving either wrong answers or none at all.

As he played, Archer narrated the action for Cady Gray in full storybook prose: "'We like brownies! We're the brownie twins!' said Guest A and Guest B.  But then Archer revealed his clever plan!  'I just love cheesecake," said Archer."  This pleased Cady Gray since she could follow all the moves in the game while still making progress on her game of Sword and Poker on the iPod Touch.

I was impressed with the character and detail Archer was investing into his narration.  Then he really won me over while giving his answer to "How long is the perfect vacation?" The choices were three weeks, two months, three months, and forever (Cady Gray's selection).  Here's what Archer had to say: "'I think three weeks is just about perfect, because I would want to get home to all my familiar stuff and things I like to do," said Archer."

Not just an answer, not just a reason, but a reason that is in perfect character for my boy who thrives on routine but does his best to enjoy the unusual.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mr. Mo Mentum

Two weeks ago, my senior seminar students kicked off their Green Bear Project, an effort to secure permanent protection for the Jewel Moore Nature Reserve, with an enormously successful petition drive.  It was one of the best starts any of us could have imagined.  Ideas for follow-up events proliferated.

Between now and then, we had spring break.  And all that energy dissipated, blown away by the winds of South Padre and Panama Beach.

So our job, now that we're back in class, is to get the balls rolling again.  It was surprisingly hard to pick up the threads and figure out what needed to be done next, who should take charge, and what deadlines we could set for ourselves.

In my other class, the service initiative (called the Agora Project) hasn't had any public events yet.  We are still in the planning stages, but time is ticking down to the end of the semester and we need to achieve lift-off.

The two tasks feel surprisingly different.  There is more pressure on the Green Bear Project, because we have already declared ourselves and gathered a cadre of supporters.  Now we need to come through.  For the Agora Project, it can still be anything we want it to be because it is nothing yet.  The anxiety is living up to our own expectations, not those of others.

Four weeks remain in the semester.  Experience leads me to believe with confidence that both projects will come through and achieve their objectives.  But at this point, anything could happen -- and both my students and I are well aware that to see things through will take plenty more effort.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Blackberry winter

As I walked to my office this morning in near-freezing temperatures, bundled in hat, scarf and gloves, I met a colleague going in the opposite direction with head down and hands in pockets.  "Blackberry winter," he opined in response to my greeting.

Even though it's not a phrase with which I'm familiar, I knew instantly what he meant.  The opposite of Indian summer -- a cold snap after spring has seemed well underway.

A little blackberry winter is not unwelcome.  Scarves and other warm woolies can come back out for a day or two.  I even managed to use it for an object lesson at the Brave New Media conference yesterday.  I used the Ravelry notebook page for my Helleborus Yoke as a case study, and wore the sweater to the presentation, causing several double-takes as the audience realized that my cardigan was my own work.

Nippy temperatures also make it easier to work on those leftover projects from winter, like the socks I'm in the middle of.  And when I finish a scarf, I can head outside to model it and feel appropriately dressed, while my photographer shivers.

This afternoon the sun came out and made us think again of spring, after days of cold, fog, and rain.  I was not at all uncomfortably warm in my alpaca neck wrap and fleece hoodie, but as I walked through campus I saw that others had shed layers at the first sign of blue sky.  In my wintry garb I walked for a few minutes behind a student in a sundress, with bare shoulders, exuberantly flinging out her arms as if to collect as much vitamin D as was on offer this chilly blackberry-winter day.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Moving day

I started blogging in 2003 largely because iBlog, a piece of blogging software for Mac OS X, was being offered for free.  I moved  to Blogger in 2007 largely because I could no longer update that software for free, and because its CSS complexities were beyond my ken.  Ever since then I've only kept paying for .Mac and its successor, MobileMe, because I didn't want more than three years of blogging (including my first several months of daily blogging) to disappear.

Today I started the process of moving all those posts to a new Tumblr space.  It's likely to be a long haul in fits and starts; I'm copying each post individually, and it's going to be a low item on the priority list.  (If there's a better way, someone let me know.  The reason I haven't done this before now is that I've been looking for a way to port it wholesale, or at least in big batches.)

Once the space is closed down, there will be some temporary linkrot in this blog, wherever I've linked back to the original Union, Trueheart, and Courtesy.  Gradually I hope to relink those posts to the new site.  Maybe some of you fancy programmer types know a way to accumulate a list of links to make that job easier.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

That hath such people in it

I spent the day at a social media conference called Brave New Media.  On the beautiful campus of Harding University in nearby Searcy, a group of bright students and progressively-minded professors invited anyone and everyone to join them in a discussion of the potential of emerging media platforms and social networking, and the lessons we can already learn from its short history.

What I took away from the day, aside from some of the insights of my fellow presenters about topics as diverse as the Egyptian revolution and the #ARwx hashtag, was how powerful a force student initiative can be.  I'm a huge proponent of facilitating student projects, rather than setting them to work on my projects.  What I saw today was the brainchild of a student, assisted by other students, and supported by professors.  That's the ideal.  That's how learning happens -- by doing, by pushing against difficulties, by solving problems, and by partnering with others to tap into the right resources.

My hat is off to the professors who participated in making this conference happen, and who showed up today to be a supportive audience for their students' program.  Even the first time I met them, they were already demonstrating the ideal of the professoriate that I've come to embrace.

You can read the tweets from the Brave New Media conference by searching the hashtag #bravenewmedia.  I think you'll be surprised at the insight and positivity surrounding a topic that, in many a higher education setting, evokes only fear and loathing.

Friday, March 25, 2011

To Searcy!

Searcy is a little town a bit more than an hour from here.  I've been there exactly once, when I officiated at a wedding of two former students a few years back.  Noel briefly lived there when he was a lad, just before his parents' divorce (creating negative impressions of Arkansas that caused him to have misgivings about the prospect of my taking this job).

Tomorrow I'm going to Searcy because it's the home of Harding University.  A student group there, HUmanity, has been involved in some interesting initiatives with cutting-edge thought, breaking free of the generally conservative character associated with this private Christian school.  They've organized a day-long conference on social networking called Brave New Media.

One of my colleagues has worked with these students over the past couple of years, and when he heard about the topic of the conference, he suggested me as a participant.  I agreed to do a classroom session on the relationship of online social networks to the creation of material goods.

The free conference is tomorrow starting at 10 am in Cone Chapel.  Casey Neese (social media manager for Heifer International), Alex Cone (online branding for New York City Charter School Center), and Keith Crawford (network engineering and founder of Arkansas Tweetup) are providing the keynotes.  I'm looking forward to spending the day with these folks, having some good conversations, and finding out the kind of thinking they do up there in Searcy.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Change of seasons

One of the items on my spring break to-do list was to clear out the kids' dressers and closets, getting rid of clothes they've outgrown, and replacing them with the warm-weather clothes in larger sizes I bought at the big consignment sale a few weeks back.

Sometimes I go about this half-heartedly, leaving too-small clothes stuffed into the bottom and back of dresser drawers.  That portends the inevitable moment when one kid or another is down to the end of the laundry cycle, and I try to put them into an item that is just embarrassingly inadequate -- jeans that don't cover the ankles, shirts that expose the belly.  And I wonder why I keep putting those clothes back in the drawer so it happens all over again.

The reason, of course, is that I have this irrational sense that I ought to do the job thoroughly -- purging all the outgrown clothes at once and finding a reasonable way to dispose of them -- rather than piecemeal, pulling only the item that I've now noticed doesn't fit anymore.  At some point I usually get motivated or frustrated enough to do that.  The fact that I did it today rather than sometime in June or July has to do with the amount of time since I did it last.  If I hadn't filled up garbage bags with old clothes today, I wouldn't have had any place to put the summer togs I got at Rhea Lana at the beginning of the month.

And it's time to break out those summer clothes -- the shorts, the tank tops, the sundresses I love so much for Cady Gray to wear.  While we are still in the realm of the occasional cool snap (today's high was only in the sixties), we're no longer in danger of needing coats or anything made out of fleece.  The sun beats down warmly, and promises to beat down hotly very soon.  The clo thes that fit last August are few; if I want my kids to be appropriately clad,  I have to take the tags off the new purchases and find places for them in the closet.

Interestingly, I don't go through any version of this process for myself.  I know some people make quite a production out of changing out their wardrobe from winter to summer.  For me, it's just reaching to a slightly different spot on the hanging rack.  Maybe if I bought clothes in any significant quantity for myself on a seasonal basis, I would have a good reason to rotate them more intentionally.  But unlike my children, I don't tend to outgrow my clothes so much as I simply wear them out, a process that takes far longer.  If someone would invent adult clothes that gradually shrink over the course of a year, so that when you put them on again the following winter they would be too small, I might get more variety in my wardrobe and do a better job at changing with the seasons.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Off and on for the last couple of years, Cady Gray has been trying to learn to ride a bike.  She's been motivated, but I've been inconsistent.  If we had taken a whole afternoon to work on it last summer, she could have mastered it, but instead I tended to parcel my supervision out in twenty-minute chunks, where we were just able to make a little progress or simply remind ourselves of lessons from last time.

My philosophy has been that when she's ready, it will be easy for her.  And today it happened.  I've been using this training handle to help Cady Gray get the feel of balancing, running along behind her.  There was a palpable shift halfway through our ride today; I could tell that she was balancing and steering instinctively not just every once in a while, but consistently.  And so finally I let go and let her ride completely on her own.  As Archer ran alongside, rating her form ("Perfect!"), she crowed in excitement, almost losing her tenuous grip on balance.

I asked her to write about the experience.  Here's what she gave me:
Today, A miricale happened.  Today is the day I leaned to ride my bike.  On a two-wheeler.  Part of the way without my mom's help.  And my brother tagged along too.  It made me feel happy.  It made me feel glad.  It made me feel cheerful.  Not gloomy or sad!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Perfect timing

Books and albums have had official release dates for years.  Used to be that if you wanted to be among the first to read that book or hear that album, you made time to go to the store on that Tuesday.  (Why are release dates always Tuesday, by the way?  Anyone?)

Now thanks to internet pre-orders, you can have the book or album shipped to you, scheduled to arrive on its day of release.  Or if you have a Kindle, you can have the book appear on your device as soon as it's available for purchase.  I woke up this morning and found the next book in my all-time favorite fantasy series, Elizabeth Moon's Kings of the North, ready to read on my Kindle.

This process hasn't completely killed the tradition of going to the store on release day, though, as anybody who has ever attended a Harry Potter midnight release party knows.  It's become an optional, socially-intensive way of acquiring a highly-anticipated book or album.  We have the no-effort way, in which it comes to you, and we have the maximal effort way in which we make a big production out of the acquisition.  Either way, there's something wonderful about waiting for that piece of media you want, and devouring it on the first day you can get it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Wander down the Champs Elysees

Today's post about warming up the sewing machine is at Toxophily.


Cady Gray just can't match that mean monster face, no matter how much she tries.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Getting the scent

What does spring smell like?

Honeysuckle. Mountain laurel. Freshly turned dirt. Dew-wet grass.

Nothing smells more of spring to me than skin or hair that's been in the sun.  What chemical reaction is initiated by spring sunshine that unleashes this scent?  Is it the body's natural oils rising to the surface?  Is it vitamin D being made?  Is it the light musk of dried sweat?

Mix it with sunscreen and you have summer.  I forget about it every year, and then all of a sudden, the first time the kids spend a warm day on the playground, they re-enter the house and I'm overwhelmed.  I gather them in my arms, bury my face in their necks and inhale as deeply as I can.  I huff it.  I'm addicted.

The long Arkansas warm season is just beginning, and I will breathe it in, heedless of the pollen that's bound to come with it.  Spring smells so sweet.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

It begins

I have really looked forward to the beginning of spring break.  For me it means that my to-do list changes over from the things I have to do to the things I want to do.

So it was a thrill when Cady Gray piped up from the back seat during our drive back from lunch: "Mom, when can we go on our next knitters' retreat?"  Why, today, honey.  Is today okay with you?

Going to Starbucks to knit and crochet with my daughter.  Putting together a blanket for a baby that's on the way.  Getting back to my research.  Breaking out the sewing machine for another project -- building my skills for some of the other tings I'd like to make.   Those are the top items on my to-do list for spring break.

There are regular items on there, too.  I need to catch up on the student work I missed while I was jetting here and there in the last three weeks.  A week from today I'm leading a session at a conference on social networking; I need to firm up my notes and build a presentation to go with it.  A new staff member in the office needs to be set up on the office's Google calendar, which I administrate.  Nothing huge -- a morning's work here, half an afternoon's work there.  Add in time I'll spend supervising the kids out of the house so Noel can get his work done, and I'm sure the week will go by quickly enough.

Not so quickly, though, that I can't check off some things from my wish list as well as my want list.  It's what I've been anticipating throughout one of the most intense few weeks of my year, and I'm going to enjoy every second of it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Spring is here

The calendar may not make it official yet, but spring has arrived here in central Arkansas.  The Bradford pears and tulip trees have been in full bloom for a week, and what was at first a slight scribble of green on the deciduous trees has turned into a definite halo.

More importantly, spring break has arrived.  And after this week of interviews, petition drives, admissions huddles, and road races, it's none too soon.  Many years, spring break is just a scheduled hiatus in the midst of business as usual.  This year, it feels like I've earned a vacation.  To borrow a metaphor from March Madness, it's been a full-court press both here at the university and in my other leadership position in my scholarly organization.  A week with no appointments, no classes, and only self-imposed deadlines?  Sounds like exactly the break I needed.

Today, walking across campus in the pleasant seventy-degree weather, a breeze ruffled my halr (which I've been growing long as a last-ditch protest against the gray that's starting to appear.  It occurred to me how different the wind can be from one season to the next.  Four months ago, the wind was my enemy; I fortified myself against it with my warmest scarves and hats, put my head down and tried to duck from building to building as quickly as I could before its icy fingers penetrated my defenses.  Today the breeze was warm and welcome.  I could hardly stop myself from lifting my head and inviting the wind to lift my hair off my neck and shoulders, letting it spread out and away from me.  What a change -- to welcome the wind rather than warding it off.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A week of triumph

Want quick highlights of the last seven days as bracketed by Archer's chess tournament on the front end and his 5K run on the back end?  Noel and his trusty Flip have you covered.  Watch and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What we've worked for

Tomorrow is the Viking Voyage, an annual fun run for students at the kids' elementary school.  Throughout the year, members of the running club meet after school twice a week.  Those who attend a minimum number of practices get to participate in the race.

Last year Archer ran the one mile option, and I ran with him.  I was so new to running at the time that I remember being quite anxious about my ability to go the distance.  One mile may not seem like much, but for someone like me that could make it at most a couple of laps around the track before stopping to walk, it counted as an extended outing.

This year Archer decided from the outset that he wanted to try for the 5K.  I knew I would have to step up my training to be able to do it with him.  And even though I've managed the 5K distance only once in my workouts over the past several months, I know that the 3 mile range is well within my capacities and feel confident that the extra distance can be covered on race day.

Having been through it once last year, I now know what to expect.  The whole school lines the start/finish chute to cheer on the runners.  While they're out on the course, the various grades do various dances like the Macarena and (new this year!) the Thriller.  The teachers all get together to do the Electric Slide.  Each grade makes signs encouraging specific runners.  When the competitors approach the finish line, they get a huge welcome.

Archer and I will be going all the way to the end of the course and back.  It's likely to take us 40 minutes, which is a long time for the other kids to stand around doing the Chicken Dance.  I imagine we'll stop for a water break halfway through, but I'm hoping that will be our only walking interval.  Nevertheless, I'm confident that we'll find our way to the finish line before the crowd dissipates.  We may be exhausted -- it's forecast to be the warmest day of the young spring, with temperatures in the lower eighties -- and we may be slow, but we'll meet our goals and Archer will get his well-earned reward.

What I like about the Viking Voyage is that everyone is treated as a winner.  It's not one of those "everybody gets a trophy day" deals where just existing is treated as a reason for praise.  No, the runners had to show dedication throughout the year to be eligible for the race, and they had to show their ability to go the distance to get approval to run the 5K.  Then they have to go out and perform -- not to beat their opponents, but to challenge themselves.  I think that's a great reason to celebrate every single one of them.  Having the whole school screaming their names as they cross the finish line is a tremendous high.

By making the race into a schoolwide event even though only a small subset of the students are running, the administration holds the runners up as examples for their classmates -- not for innate talent, but for committing themselves and following through.  It's a celebration of merit without pitting kids against each other competitively.  I love that Archer is a part of it, and I hope Cady Gray joins in her turn when she's old enough for running club.  The fact that it provides me with motivation to stay fit and keep my endurance up is a nice bonus, too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

They belong

My capstone seminar students have decided to mount an effort to protect the Jewel Moore Nature Reserve in perpetuity.


Building on the work of my second-semester freshman students in 2010, they are educating the campus about the Nature Reserve's benefits and its threatened status.


Publicity will focus on answering common questions and addressing skepticism about the Nature Reserve, with the goal being to help community members recognize the Reserve as a neighbor and fellow citizen of UCA. Our motto is "Nature Belongs," a play on the current marketing slogan for the university, "You Belong."


At today's kickoff event, part of UCA's "Green Day" sponsored by Student Government, we handed out braided bracelets. Wearers show their support with the symbolism of a green strand surrounded by the purple of UCA, the campus embracing the Nature Reserve.


A student signs a petition asking the Board of Trustees to permanently protect the Reserve. When the Biology Department brought a similar proposal last year, the Board opted to guarantee only the Reserve would not be encroached upon for the next five years. This is not enough protection to allow biology faculty to secure long-term grants for research in the Reserve. It is not enough protection to keep the Reserve as a central part of the curriculum in Biology and Environmental Sciences. It is not enough protection for the only remaining piece of unplowed prairie that once covered the Conway area, through which the Trail of Tears once ran.


Many students, staff, and faculty members believe that because the Reserve has a name, signage, boundaries, and official designated uses, it is permanently set aside and legally protected. Not true. The Reserve exists only because the trustees and administration of UCA continue to agree that it should exist. The moment a more compelling use for the property comes to the foreground, the Reserve could cease to exist. Once it is gone, its unique heritage and history are gone forever.


Over 700 signatures were collected today. The campus is mobilizing behind this effort. You can help by liking us on Facebook, by attending one of our future petition drives, by wearing our symbol, by talking to your student government representatives, by contacting members of the administration and trustees, and by spreading the word about the Jewel Moore Nature Reserve's essential role on campus.


Join us from near or far!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bracket busting

Am I participating in the great American pastime of filling out NCAA men's basketball tournament brackets?  You bet I am.  And so is everyone in this house.  As Noel and I agonize over our uninformed, gut-level picks disproportionately influenced by whatever mid-major tournaments we happened to tune into over the weekend, Cady Gray used the "I just picked whichever had the lower number" system and Archer   exhibited a system that frankly none of us can understand.

What I don't understand -- what hasn't been explained to my satisfaction -- is how we are supposed to deal with the four play-in games.  The field has been expanded by four teams which play each other for the privilege of meeting the overall first and second seeds.  But now the four overall lowest seeds also play each other, with the winners entering their respective brackets as number 11 or 12 seeds.

I was never fond of having to pretend that the winner of the previous single play-in game had no chance of victory, as symbolized by having to pick a bracket without an actual contestant on that number 16 line.  How can you evaluate the chances of success of a team you can't identify before your brackets are due?  And now the problem has compounded and gotten completely out of control.  Historically, number 12 seeds win over number 5 seeds more than one-third of the time.  Yet I am supposed to know whether to pick that line when I have no idea who will be on it?

Or maybe it's best treated as an invisible pre-pick.  You have to decide which of the two play-in teams will win, then pick according to that choice.  Then why don't I get a point for picking what is now officially termed "the first round"?

The tournament has changed, but bracket competitions haven't changed with it.  I hope somebody's working on a better system.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Stretching time

Over the last two weeks I've been knitting Jane Cochran's Hedgerow Socks as I've sat in airports, on planes, and in meeting after meeting.  On my way home from Atlanta on Friday I turned the heels.  And in the past day and a half I've picked up for the gusset and started decreasing down toward the foot circumference, creating those edge-on triangles that allow the pattern on top of the sock to slope gracefully over the top of the ankle.

At this stage of a sock I get focused.  I want to get those decreases done.  I need to get past the long held-breath transition of the heel and back to the basic shape of the sock.  I need to be in the home stretch, where the pattern marches without alteration toward the toe, where the only question is when to stop.  So I'm picking up these socks at every opportunity and knitting with determination to get past where I am to where I want to be.

Unfortunately, I can't work to get the next several days done any faster than the clock will tick.  We're interviewing our last fifty candidates tomorrow, then completing our final evaluations.  The dean and I have to huddle immediately afterward to to select the sixty-five students to whom we're going to make offers. Teaching assistants for next semester need to be selected before the end of the week; that's a day of reading and cogitating, and another meeting.  There are regular classes to prepare for, too, although I'm resigned to falling behind on reading student work (preparatory assignments for their research papers and revisions of service learning reflections have to be prioritized over daily journals).

Happily, I don't have to worry about finding time to exercise.  The 5K on Thursday is all I have to do, and my only workout will be to rest and stay limber.  And then like cresting a hill, it's spring break, and I can set my own agenda.  If I could stay up all night and knit my way through this spate of work, I would.  But there's nothing to do but wait as it rushes toward me, and paddle as hard as I can when it arrives.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A week of accomplishment

Today I went out with Archer for a run.  Partly because my crazy week hasn't allowed for me to run until today, and partly because we're both going to run a 5K next Thursday.

His elementary school has a running club in which Archer has participated for the past two years.  Last year he ran the one-mile option -- or rather, we ran together.  This year his goal from the start has been to run the 5K.

I've been working hard to make sure I can keep up with him, and at least on an indoor track I've been able to complete three mile runs fairly regularly (meaning when I have more than 30 minutes to squeeze in a workout).  We haven't been certain about whether Archer was up to that distance, and we've been cautious about encouraging him to push himself.  Turns out he does it without any prompting, so our role has been to remind him to know his limits.

Last week during the regular club meeting there was a practice run on the actual course; Archer told us he ran "4.5K."  That means he walked a bit in the middle, I suspect, having done the same thing today during our similar practice run on part of the course.  But we ran a solid 2.54 miles, meaning that it won't take too muh more to add on the segment from the starting line on school property down to the park through which the racecourse runs (and back).  Having done it with him today, and being just fine with a little bit of slowdown at water breaks, I have no doubt he'll complete the race.

That will cap a week that started yesterday with his top-10 finish in his first-ever chess tournament.  The four top students from his third- and fourth-grade chess club went to the city-wide tournament, which included students their age as well as fifth- and sixth-graders.  Being out of town, I checked frequently for Noel's Twitter updates.

Archer resigned the first game, which was not a good sign; he tends to resign if he's down on points during his chess club practices, because he gets to find a new opponent and start a new game (with a chance to win) right away.  But in the tournament, he has to wait until all the matches in the round are over, so resigning does him no good -- might as well play it out, since it's the same difference if he loses and there's still an outside chance for a win or draw.  Then he got a bye in the second round (one player didn't show up), which counted as a win.  Round three he won on points.  Ten minutes after the start of round four, he was walking out the door with a rook-roller mate under his belt.  Round five he battled to a stalemate, taking advantage of his opponent's blunder to survive even though he was reduced to a king only.  At the end of the day, he was ranked 9 out of the 43 contenders, and first among his schoolmates

I couldn't be prouder of my boy.  How very far he's come, and how well he has parlayed his challenges into venues for success.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A charmed day

Here are some things that never happen.

  1. The flight attendant says "We have a very full flight today," and warns people about overhead bin space three separate times, but the middle seat in my row remains unoccupied.
  2. A flight leaves 10 minutes early and arrives 20 minutes early.
Both things happened to me on the same flight from Atlanta to Dallas today.  I felt a bit like I'd accidentally crossed over into the Neverland Airport.

It was a welcome reward for a couple of days that were among the longest of the semester.  Flying in for 24 hours of meeting and then flying back feels like the mental equivalent of a four-day trip, just with all the downtime excised.  I completely forgot about e-mail until an hour before I was set to leave the hotel today, and when I checked on my phone, I had 158 unread.

Now I'm home, where magical things have been happening, like Archer coming in 9th (out of 43) in his first-ever chess tournament, and Cady Gray doing square dances.  It's a strange disconnect given the world news of natural disasters (text "REDCROSS" to 90999 to donate $10 on your phone bill, by the way) and the steady stream of tweets from my students and friends with Japanese connections.  It feels like a secret bonus to have a full -- well, fullish, because of Daylight Savings Time -- weekend with my kids after what amounts to working two jobs over the last 12 days.  I hope you have similar blessings, and that you count every one.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Just about done

After arising at 5 am, taking two flights, riding MARTA for the entire length of the Gold Line, grabbing a 20 minute nap before the afternoon session, wading through the legalese of an LLC agreement for two and a half hours, dinner with the committee members, and post-dinner drinks, I'm just about out of energy.

But I'm suddenly aware, as well, that the half-dozen people with which I've been riding this organizational roller-coaster for the past four years are about to break up, forever. We've begun from scratch asserting our distinctiveness, we've found common ground under new leadership, we've voted ourselves out of power, and we're about to leave a legacy of secure and clear legal status to our successors. And all these folks, whether they sought this job or were shanghaied into it at the last minute, have been through the entire process.

I have two more years, as does my closest counterpart in the group, the regional coordinator of the Southeast Region, with whom my organization has the most in common. But most of our compatriots are about to abandon us, many with a hearty "good riddance" to the wild mix of anxiety, responsibility, loneliness, and lack of real power that their positions represent. Still, it's a moment to be noticed, and mourned, no matter how little some will miss the job.

In reference to a concern that cropped up so much it become a joke -- the idea of a regionally-elected director going out of control and misusing her position -- I've conceived the idea of a "RED Gone Rogue" T-shirt we should all get. We've felt like rogues at times -- like the academy's underachievers at others -- and always underestimated and underappreciated in many quarters. Things will be different now that we've worked through our stubborn determination to be special snowflakes and submitted to some discipline that holds us accountable to our members and to the national organization whose work we do. But we'll always have the war stories from these few years of tumult that we experienced together.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

You can't get there from here

About six weeks ago a meeting was set up in Atlanta for a leadership group of the AAR to which I belong.  It's a 24-hour sort of affair -- fly in, meet, meet over dinner, sleep, meet, meet over lunch, meet, fly home.

As a result I had to book round-trip plane tickets from Little Rock to Atlanta and back.  I was shocked to discover that I had no non-stop options under $600.  I'm used to flying into Atlanta on Delta non-stop for a reasonable few hundred bucks.  But that was outside the realm of possibility for me (such an expensive flight is out of policy for the organization paying for the ticket).

So I had to get flights that go through Dallas.  Meaning that tomorrow morning I have to get up at 5 am to make a 6:45 am flight to get to Atlanta at noon.  And coming back I have to leave the meeting early to get to a 3:30 pm flight for my first leg back.

I don't know what to think about this not being as easy as it ought to be.  Whenever anything like this happens, my immediate worry is that it will never go back to being easy.  Are the days of non-stops to Atlanta (where I have to go a lot) over forever?

On the way back from Dallas last weekend, I had a chat with a Methodist minister turned church development consultant.  Among other things, we talked about air service in Little Rock, and he confirmed what I'd heard about the number of flights to Dallas daily being reduced.  But, he emphasized, in return for losing one flight per day, we get two of the flights changing from CR-Js to MD-80s, resulting in about 20% more seats total per day.

Delta taketh away, and American giveth.  I have to go to Dallas a lot, too.  Probably that's not the end of the changes, but in any cases they're ones I can live with.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Here's Cady Gray's report on our big snow week back in February, written for a first grade assignment.
A windy, snowy, afternoon.
I was leaveing playworld.  When I went out in the snow on Monday, I played at Tavin's house with Archer.  We had a snowball fight and built a snowfort with Tavin's sisters.  In the night, the snow was sparkleing.  There was a new layer of snow.  The moonlight made the snow sparkle.  It was snowing when we threw snowballs.  It was fun in the snow and I hope it snows again.

I also asked her to write a note from her erstwhile pet minnow, whom we released in Stone Dam Creek last summer, to support my senior seminar students' project to protect the Jewel Moore Nature Reserve.  Here's her plea:
I'm Minny the mino and I stay in the Jewel Morre nature reserve.  This place is my home.  Don't take it away!  I'm happy here, and so are my friends!  If you take this place away, you'll be taking away our home.  Keep our home! -- Cady Gray Murray

Monday, March 7, 2011

How have the mighty

While I was away this weekend, news came across the wire that my institution's former president (whose precipitous and contentious departure from power I discussed in this post) had abruptly resigned from the presidency of Palm Beach Atlantic University.  Today he appeared in federal court in Little Rock to plead guilty to wire fraud and money laundering.

Ever since the 2008 unpleasantness, the FBI has been investigating the matter, through records searches and through interviews with members of the Hardin administration.  There is no indication yet whether other charges will be filed against other parties, perhaps related to other misdeeds that have been widely reported from those years.

A plea agreement has been made, but the real possibility of jail time exists.  And that's the weirdness of it all, something that folks close to scandals experience all the time.  The guy whose hand you were shaking a few years ago, who was lauded in the papers as a great leader, whose face appeared in every TV ad for our school, is now a felon.  It's hard to wrap one's mind around the sudden redefinition.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Finally learning

This is the fourth year I've served as the secretary-treasurer of my scholarly organization's regional group.  And this is the first year where I really felt like I've learned the job.  A lot of these volunteer coordinating, record-keeping, planning, and checkbook-balancing positions take a few iterations before you get all the ins and outs figured out.

By the time you have it under your belt, your time in the position is almost up.  I'm fortunate to have two years left to practice what I've learned in putting on the regional meeting, and I'm finally ready to go beyond what was done when I took over.  Now it's time to experiment, spend some of our carefully-husbanded resources, and see what new traditions I can pass on to whoever comes after me.

One thing I know I have to be careful of, now that I'm on the downward slope of my service, is keeping my professional identity separate from this position.  Being at the center of things brings huge psychological rewards along with huge responsibility.  When you move to the periphery, you get back your time and your ability to exercise a smaller sphere of control.  But you lose the gratitude and regard of your colleagues.  If you have invested too much of your self-image in those compliments and that centrality, it can be difficult to pull back.

In many ways, I'm at a point in my career when I have to figure out where my identity as a scholar and professional lies.  Is it as an administrator?  A researcher?  A teacher?  A servant to my field?  I know that I can't be all of these equally for the next twenty years.  But I am not ready to give up on any of them for good right now.  Where is the balance now, and where will it be when this job ends?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Too much responsibility

I really like coming through.  I like pulling things off.  The high that comes from something that you planned, organized, and prayed would work happening, as good as or better than you imagined, is one of my favorite feelings in life.

But as I've proliferated the places in my life where I get to experience that feeling, I've started to become weary of the roller-coaster ride.  Time was that it happened a couple of times a year, with a conference program I worked on or a speaker I helped bring to campus.  Now I'm responsible for the success of an annual regional conference (four years and counting), a national organization's multi-million-dollar budget (two more years to go), a curriculum (two semesters' worth a year), assorted events on and off campus (too many to count), service learning projects (three a year), a high-profile recruiting operation (no end in sight), and so on and so on.

It's not that I'm worried about failing, not really.  There's just not enough of me to invest fully in all of these outcomes.  So when they come off, I feel more relief than elation for those that weren't deeply embedded in my identity.  In other words, I'm to the point of treating some of thing like jobs rather than passions.  I start to think I can pull them off without risking everything on them.  I begin to parcel myself out between them, calculating where I can pull back and save my sanity without undue effect on the outcome.

In a few years I'll be out of some of these positions.  I'd be very disappointed if I don't get to continue being involved in leadership conversations and consultations.  But I'm ready to get off the thrill ride of sole responsibility.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Listening to NASA

One of the many things I loved about Mary Roach's most recent book Packing For Mars was her ode to NASA TV.  I could watch it all day, and back when I was writing a dissertation or otherwise stuck in an empty house working for hours on end, I sometimes did.

What's so cool about NASA TV?  Luckily, a bit of afternoon downtime here in a Dallas airport hotel waiting for my conference meetings to begin has allowed me to enumerate them.

  • Transparency.  Man, if only the whole government worked like this.  Every communication transmitted, every camera available.  We can see the whole operation at work in real time.
  • Pinpoint planning.  Man, if only my life worked like this.  I'd love to have a Mission Control reading out the steps for me to do the tasks that need to get done, and working out alternate equally as detailed procedures on the fly when things don't work as planned.
  • Mind/body.  And I'd love to have a job that's as cerebral as astronaut but still have much of my day devoted to assembling stuff with tools.  The fact that the vastness of space, one of the most potent ideas and experiences the mind could ever come to grips with, is met directly with wrenches and foam and the material world -- stuff that has to fit and move right and hang together.
  • A place for everything.  Today's broadcast focused to an enormous extent on where different bits and bobs of things should be put.  An astronaut opens and bag and finds one more bracket than expected.  Where should that bracket go?  Ask Mission Control, they huddle, then fire back an answer: Bag 102-D in the airlock behind the close-out.  Why does it matter?  Because every single thing in space might turn out to be useful, and somebody's got to keep track of where it all is so when needed, it can be found.
  • Collaboration without guesswork.  The ground control folks work with the astronauts to come up with plans when the preset plans aren't quite sufficient, but it all has to be absolutely out in the open: We propose you do this, you counter-propose, we confirm and have you read it back.  Nothing left to chance.  Everybody knows what's been agreed to.  It's on record.  We can go back and replay it if there's any question about what we decided to do.
Wonder if there are any lessons in NASA TV for how we ought to work together down here?  Even if that's a stretch, it doesn't make NASA TV any less awesome.  I find myself trying to problem-solve and keep track of issues as I listen along with the crew and controllers.  When every piece has been picked up and put away, every question provided with an answer, I feel as satisfied as if I've just read a perfectly-plotted short story.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Recent writing

It's been a while since we checked in to see what Cady Gray and Archer are writing about these days.  Here's one of Cady Gray's pieces that made it to the school's Writer's Wall, despite a disturbing endorsement of cliqueishness.
A Play Delay
by Cady Gray Murray
It was sunny out.  I played with Charlotte.  Not too long after that, Charlotte as for Sidney the next day. 
Sidney hoped it would just be her, Cady Gray, and Charlotte.  But, Kensye joined in.  Sidney left.  Charlotte asked to invite Sidney tomorrow. 
We did not play with Sidney anymore until we found a secret time in a secret spot.  We play with Sidney now!  Yay!

And here's Archer's explanation of the water cycle.
The water cycle goes on forever and goes in a complete circle.  It all starts with energy from the Sun.  The warmth heats up the water from lakes and evaporates it into water vapor.  It then condenses to form clouds.  It turns back into water.  When the cloud gets too heavy, the droplets fall back to Earth as precipitation.  There are 4 kinds of precipitation: rain, snow, sleet, and ice.  To remember the stages of the water cycle, remember Enter Cloud Palace.  (That means Evaporation Condensation Precipitation.)  That is how the water cycle works!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Catching up and moving forward

In the press of raising small children, getting tenured and promoted, and taking on various leadership positions in scholarly organizations, I let a lot of things slide.  Last year I resolved to change my ways on some of those things.  I scheduled long-neglected checkups, updated our insurance coverage, and arranged for some badly-needed home improvements.

Much still remains to be done.  And my "be a better person" campaign (as I thought of it) would be pretty depressing if I focused on all the neglected things I failed to pick back up last year.  I'm the kind of person that can let the mountain of needs keep me from accomplishing anything at all.  I get overwhelmed and discouraged by the length of the to-do list, and it paralyzes me.

But it feels good to have a few of those items under my belt, especially the ones I felt guiltiest about.  I think, however, that it's important not just to try to get back to even (and I'm a long way from it), but also to start new endeavors.  Otherwise, the endless process of clawing towards basic respectability and responsibility would be too dispiriting.  So I enjoy the feeling of moving forward, learning something new, advancing in areas I've identified as personally fulfilling.

For some people, being an adult means keeping the bills paid and the taxman away from the door.  That's certainly part of it, but if it were all about plugging holes in the dike and shoveling back the encroaching sea, there'd be little to look forward to.  I couldn't be happier that at the same time I'm trying to keep up with the treadmill, I'm also actually trying to get better -- not just from the low standard I've set with my failures, but from the level of skill and accomplishment I've reach to this point.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Perception and reality

I don't spend a lot of time wondering about what other people think of me.  So when I find out, the surprise is sometimes pleasant and sometimes not so much.

Nothing's more wonderful than receiving an unsolicited compliment or praise.  In the past few days, I've had some nice experiences like that.  It is an incredibly buoying moment, unlooked-for, unexpected.  As you have gone about your daily business, someone has noticed what you are doing and let you know that you are doing it well.

On the flip side, few things are more disturbing or derailing than finding out other people have a problem with you.  When you are not focused on other's opinions of you as a matter of course, the revelation comes as quite a shock.  I think that's because the other option isn't not caring what people think, but simply taking the evidence at hand at face value.  The absence of conflict or the presence of productive cooperation is taken to be prima facie evidence that there are no barriers to the relationship.  So when you're informed to the contrary, it seems to come out of nowhere.

Time was that I invested a lot of my identity in being liked and being praised.  As a result, I was torn between trying to find out what people thought of me (because if their opinions were good, I got a huge ego boost) and avoiding the subject altogether (because if it were bad, I'd rather not know about it).  Now I'm just too busy to obsess about it.  I spend a lot more energy trying to be open about my motives and processes, to make my self an open book, and let the chips fall where they may.  Just about the only thing that can make me question that strategy is when it's completely misinterpreted as an effort to impose control or as a failure to listen.  The unexpected praise from other quarters, though, can be reassuring that such misinterpretation is not entirely my fault.  I have to listen to both unsolicited compliments and criticism, but can't make the mistake of believing that either represents the most important truth about me.