Recipe: Salmon and Lentils (w/bonus leftover lentils)

 

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Ingredients:

  • About two cups of dried lentils (preferably French green ones)
  • One big carrot, diced
  • One small onion, diced
  • One medium-ish potato, peeled and diced
  • Two or so cloves of garlic
  • At least a tablespoon Herbes de Provence seasoning
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Two to four portions of salmon filet cooked how you prefer, about six to eight ounces per person (This amount of lentils would work well for four servings, or with enough leftover lentils to repurpose for a side dish, soup, etc.)
  • Lemon wedges, plus parsley to garnish

I’m not likely to ever open a restaurant, but if I did, it’d probably be some kind of riff on a “French bistro,” and if I did open Cafe La Steve, I’d probably have this dish on the menu. I can’t say I remember ever seeing this on a menu in a restaurant– French or otherwise– but it does feel like a good French bistro recipe to me.

This is a pretty basic approach, one based on the recipe in Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, which is kind of my “go to” cook book for finding basic recipes for, well, everything. You could definitely jazz up the lentils with some bacon or maybe chicken stock or some more fresh herbs or what have you. I keep it simple both because it then is a weeknight (when you have a little extra time) kind of meal, and also because it’s easier to repurpose the leftover lentils into different forms.

Steps:

  • Put the lentils into a Dutch oven or other large heavy pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, and cook them for 15-20 minutes, just until they are starting to soften. If you’re pretty quick about dicing up the vegetables, you can do that while the lentils cook. If you are slower (like me) about dicing vegetables and/or you’re trying to do more than one thing at a time in the kitchen (also like me), it’s probably a little less stressful and easier to dice the vegetables before you cook the lentils. Use your judgement on that.
  • After the lentils have cooked a while, set up a fine mesh strainer in the sink and carefully drain your hot lentils into this strainer. Rinse off the lentils and rinse out the pot. I should point out that this step is (probably) unnecessary and I’ve never seen it described in a cook book, but I do it this way because it makes the final version seem less “muddy” to me. I don’t know if that makes sense or not; so try this step if you want, or just skip it.
  • If you don’t drain the lentils, then just add the vegetables into the pot, and make sure there is enough water to cover. If you do drain the lentils, add a little olive oil to the bottom of the now drained and rinsed out pot and sauté the vegetables with a little salt and pepper for a few minutes, just to get them beginning to soften, stirring pretty much the whole time. If they are sticking a bit to the bottom, add a little water and stir to unstick them from the pot. Put the drained lentils back into the pot and add enough water to cover.
  • Stir in a heaping tablespoon of Herbes de Provence. I just use a mix I always have on hand– it’s a very handy seasoning– but if you don’t have that, you can just add some thyme, maybe a little rosemary, that sort of thing. There’s a lot of lentils there, so you can be aggressive with the amount of herbs you put in.
  • Cook the lentils and vegetables on medium heat, allowing them to just barely simmer and reduce to a thick consistency but without letting them dry out completely. Check on them and stir the pot about every five minutes or so. This takes around 20 minutes.
  • While that’s going on, this is a good time to slice a lemon into wedges (and get rid of the seeds) and chop up a bit of parsley.
  • When the lentils are almost done, taste them and add more salt and pepper as you see fit. I usually turn the pot down very low and then prepare the salmon. You could also easily do this ahead of time (up to several days ahead if you put the lentils in the fridge) and simply reheat the lentils and vegetables when ready to eat.
  • As far as the salmon goes: you can kind of cook that however you want. You could take your salmon filets– a bit of salt and pepper on top, with the skin still on– and put them skin-side down in a hot non-stick pan with just a bit of oil, allowing the skin to crisp up and the fat to render, and then flip them over to brown a bit and to finish cooking to your liking. I don’t do this because Annette doesn’t like the crispy fish skin and also because this kind of makes a splattering mess on the stove. So instead, I usually turn on the broiler and set up the oven rack so it’s not too close to the heat. Then  I put the seasoned salmon on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil (it just makes it a lot easier to clean), and then put the salmon under the broiler for just a few minutes, until the skin is crispy. Then I take them out, peel off the skin and discard it, flip over the salmon, maybe add a little olive oil to the top of the filet, and put it back in until the top of the salmon is just beginning to brown. This whole process takes maybe 10 minutes.
  • Plate by ladling a nice pile of lentils and vegetables in a nice shallow bowl, place a piece of salmon on top of those lentils, garnish with lemon wedges and parsley, and eat.

Bonus leftover lentils!

Inevitably, this recipe provides me with leftover lentils, which is actually a very good thing. I’m not much of a leftovers kind of person, but I think these leftover lentils are quite good. I’ll sometimes just heat them up in the microwave as a kind of “side dish” to a sandwich or something like that. Usually though, I’ll make them into soup simply by adding however many lentils I want with broth, either vegetable or chicken, and if I want to get really “fancy,” I’ll cook up a slice of bacon, cut that up, and add the crispy pieces to the soup.

The beginning of my basement gardening experiment

 

First of all, no, it is not weed. Though it’s now legal in Michigan to do so, I have no interest in growing marijuana. And besides, if I was actually interested in growing marijuana, do you think I’d be posting about it online? C’mon now….

No, this is my effort at a DIY indoor LED garden for herbs and such. Here’s the deal:

I usually buy a rosemary bush/tree in the spring because it’ll live just fine all the way into fall and with not a lot of care. The problem/challenge is it’s too cold in southeast Michigan for rosemary to live through the winter. In the past, I’ve tried covering it up under one of those styrofoam insulators that are for roses and I put a potted version in the garage a couple years ago. Neither approach worked. When it started getting too cold this year (and I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before), I put my potted rosemary in the basement and didn’t think about it much. It got at least a little sunlight through a tiny window for some of the day, and I managed to remember to water it once in a while too. It wasn’t exactly “thriving,” but it wasn’t dying either.

A couple months ago, I stumbled across an article about the growing (no pun intended) business of indoor farming thanks in part to advances in LED lighting, and that got me to thinking about helping out my little rosemary bush and beyond. I took a look on amazon both to find out how much these lights cost and also to find any sort of book/advice on indoor gardening. The price for the lights are all over the map, and I didn’t find any useful books. So, deciding to just wing it and I bought a couple of 50 watt LED grow bulbs. I stuck one bulb in an old clamp-on utility light shade-thing-a-ma-bob, clamped it on to something, and turned it on once in a while for my rosemary. Lo and behold, it started growing and bending toward that light.

So I decided over winter break to go a little more “all-in,” and that’s what’s in my Instagram photos. Besides that rosemary bush, I am trying to keep alive the Norfolk Pine we got as a stand-in for a Christmas tree– another plant that I’ve had a hard time keeping alive after the holidays in the past. I bought a storage tub, the kind of thing designed for clothes and to be kept under the bed, and filled that up with just normal potting soil. In that trough of dirt I’ve planted seeds for butter lettuce, arugula, basil, dill, cilantro, and parsley.

I have no idea if this is going to work. I’m kind of pessimistic about the seedlings, frankly. But what I think probably will work is to grow some herbs this summer in pots and then take them down to the basement in the winter, things like thyme and chives and tarragon and what-not.

Just how offended are you by the word…

… motherfucker?

I ask because of the dust-up over Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s statement about Trump that is in the news, “we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.”

To back up a step: here’s a link to an article and with a five minute or so video of the event. I think this was a Move On sponsored thing and it looks like it was in some kind of bar/party room filled with supporters. It was a fiery speech all about how her progressive and activist campaign worked, and how that strategy worked for other progressive candidates– notably many women and/or POC. It looks to me like everyone in the crowd had a cell phone recording the speech in one hand and a beer in the other. It was a private party. There was ton of cheering and whooping it up and she closed with that line “we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.”

This matters. A LOT. It’s not like Tlaib was on the floor of the house or on Meet the Press or whatever and said “we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.” And the sentence that is getting all the attention now wasn’t even the first time she said “fuck” in that five minutes.

As far as the politics go, I am in the same camp as Nancy Pelosi and the more moderate leadership in the House: it’s not time to call for impeachment and while Pelosi said she wouldn’t have made that choice in words, she’s not going to get into the censorship business. But Tlaib is not the first member of congress to say Trump should be impeached now, and, as I heard Tlaib say on the news the other night (this is a local story because her district is parts of Detroit, Wayne county, and “downriver”), fighting for impeachment was a campaign promise. So it makes sense that Tlaib would bring up that campaign issue/promise at a party celebrating being sworn in.

Anyway, while I do not like the phrase “clutch their pearls,” I cannot think of a more accurate metaphor in the reaction to this. Never mind Fox news; This tweet from The Washington Post called Tlaib’s choice of “motherfucker” a “slur,” though the article to which it links is all about civility and the moral problems of vulgarities. The moderately liberal Detroit Free Press (well, compared to the Detroit News) published a Mitch Albom screed/editorial where he condescendingly laments Tlaib’s sinking into a “new low in a cesspool of human relations we call politics,” she is merely sinking to Trump’s lows etc. My stars, I do declare!

All of which brings me back to my original question: just how offended are you by the word “motherfucker?” I’ll take Albom at his word and agree he is personally offended at the use of such salty language. This isn’t surprising since  Albom has made his nut from schmaltzy feel-good books (Tuesdays with Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Have a Little Faith, etc.) which end up as Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movies.

Of course, I also have to think that Albom and others wouldn’t have had any real reaction to the vulgarity at all if it had been uttered at a similar campaign event by a 60-something Republican white dude.  But I’ll just leave that right there.

I mean, I take it as a given that the kinds of conservatives who think Trump is doing a great job and who think liberals are evil and anyone non-Christian is suspicious object to Tlaib calling Trump a “motherfucker,” but these people probably would have been just as upset had she called him a poopy-head. But beyond that, I have to wonder how much of this is kind of generational, kind of a lack of familiarity with a certain strand of contemporary culture.

Take some of the movies I like, for example.

I probably watch The Big Lebowski three or four times a year. It’s a movie that is both comfortingly familiar and still full of surprises, and it’s the kind of thing Annette and I will sometimes put on as “background viewing,” something on the TV while we are each putzing around on our laptops doing other things (writing a blog post, for example). In The Big Lebowski, there is some variation of word “fuck” 260 times, at least according to Wikipedia.

Also according to Wikipedia: that 260 different fucks doesn’t even put The Big Lebowski in the top 25 of the most fucks in a movie (though I don’t know how accurate this list is, and who has the time to count all those fucks?) Interestingly, there are a lot movies on this list of 135 different titles that I’ve seen and liked a great deal– The Wolf of Wall Street, Casino, Goodfellas, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, True Romance, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Superbad, Monster, Bad Santa, Sorry to Bother You, etc., etc.

I mean, don’t get me wrong: for Tlaib to call Trump a “motherfucker” was insulting. But I don’t know, it sure seems like the Alboms of the world think that calling someone a motherfucker (at the end of a rally-styled speech in a bar full of supporters– don’t forget the context, folks) is a whole lot worse than I do. Maybe I watch too many movies with bad words in them. Maybe Albom et al don’t watch enough of these movies.

The year that was 2018 (according to Instagram)

‘Tis the season for thinking back on the year that was 2018. In looking back over my blog, I was surprised I wrote as much as I did last year. I posted a whole lot more on social media of course. I don’t think it’s worth the effort to look back at Facebook and Twitter both because there is too much there. But I found looking back at my 2018 Instagram posts kind of fun.

 

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Working windows.

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 Here’s a sort of an “action shot” of me working on the MOOC book manuscript, probably shortly before I sent the manuscript for review to Utah State University Press. I had kind of forgotten about how I spent a fair amount of 2018 working on this off and on, actually. But long story short: the book, which is now titled More than a Moment: Contextualizing the Past, Present, and Future of MOOCs, should come out some time in 2019, though I have no idea when. Stay tuned for more on that in the coming new year I am sure.

 

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Neon Museum. Awesome!

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Annette and I had a nice winter break trip to Las Vegas and one of the highlights for sure was the Neon Museum. As far as I can tell, most people I know think that Vegas is kind of a level of hell, but we think it’s fun– for about four nights/three days every few years. February was a pretty good time to go too.

 

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I baked a lot of bread again this past year. I’ve been making sourdoughs from a starter that’s been “living” in my fridge since about April 2017. I thought I kind of screwed up and killed off my starter at one point over the summer, but, as they say in Frankenstein, IT IS ALIVE!

 

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Alas, this was the last year my friend and colleague Derek Mueller was at EMU before moving on to the Chicago Maroon and Burnt Orange grassy fields of Virginia Tech. Happily, Chalice still is my local friend and colleague who sometimes comes to my office to eat candy and chips.

 

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Fuzzy, lonely Trump supporter.

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For “birthmonth” in 2018, Annette and I went to New York City for a long weekend. We did lots of fun stuff– saw Spongebob Squarepants the Musical (surprisingly good), went to see the David Bowie exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum with friends Troy and Lisa, and we also marched in/went to a gun control rally, one of the March for Our Lives pro-gun control rallies. It was an inspiring and even festive event– and I am pretty sure we walked about 10 miles that day. Here’s a photo while marching of one of the Trump people in front of one of the Trump buildings. Sad.

 

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Andy Warhol’s Amegia desktop computer circa mid 1980’s.

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I ended up for a weekend in Pittsburgh in April and, among other things, went to the Andy Warhol museum. Who knew Warhol was an Amegia fan?

 

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Found a few of morels growing in the backyard in May, and after perhaps too much research (because after all, who wants to end up dead or sick from some weird mushroom thing they found in their backyard?), I cooked these up in a little butter and Annette and Will and I ate them. Holy-moly, they were spectacular. Hope they come back this spring.

 

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The Computers and Writing Conference last year was at George Mason University. Bill HD and Steve Benninghoff and I drove out and stayed in the dorms– with (among many other people) Doug Walls. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with CWCON in the next couple of years. I won’t be able to go to it at all in 2019 (probably) even though it’s going to be at MSU because of some family plans, and I don’t know how confident I am that there will be one of these conferences in 2020. Stay tuned.

 

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Will and Annette ahead on the way down the climbing dune.

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Made the often enough trip “up north” in the summer, which of course was lovely as always….

 

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Annette and I made a point last summer of trying to make more trips into Detroit to do stuff, including a trip to the Hitsville, USA museum. I like all those Motown artists and songs, but I’m not really much of a fan, but I have to say the museum and tour was great.

 

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Will moved back into the dorms as a Resident Assistant for one more year– he’s set to graduate in May and then off to graduate school. Again, stay tuned.

 

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arch rock terror selfie

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Annette and I took a September trip to Mackinac Island to take advantage of one of these “discount” (still too expensive) deals at The Grand Hotel, and we lucked out with legitimately nice weather too. Not quite sure what this photo says about us though.

 

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My father’s little “man cave” Xmas tree.

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Pretty much the same patio view I had last year too.

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And finally, we once again are still in the midst of our typical too much travel over the Xmas break. Had a “quick trip” to Iowa for my side of the family (though I don’t know how accurate it is to call a three day trip that involves around 20 hours in a car particularly “quick”) and then down to Florida for Annette’s side of things, and here I am with almost exactly the same view I had about a year ago.

So that is pretty much that. I left out a lot because honestly, while I think 2018 had a lot of good stuff about it, there was also a lot of shitty stuff about it too. Here’s hoping 2019 has more (or at least as much) good and less bad.

Semi-annual end of the summer/beginning of the school year resolutions: Time passes, bends, repeats

Thirty years ago this week, (give or take a week or two), I was preparing to teach for the first time as a graduate assistant at Virginia Commonwealth University. I had moved to Richmond in May 1988, shortly after I had graduated from Iowa, and that summer wasn’t exactly great. I could only find work for a few weeks with Clean Water Action, which essentially involved going door to door in various subdivisions within about an hour’s drive from downtown Richmond and asking for donations . Let’s just say the premise of the operation seemed sketchy, the money was poor, I turned out to be not very good at canvasing, and I ate a lot of Cheerios that summer– though fortunately, my old friends Troy and Lisa had actually moved to Richmond too and they fed and entertained me once in a while. In any event, some time in August that summer, I was probably in a workshop for new teaching assistants.

Twenty years ago this week, (give or take a week or two), I was preparing for teaching and work at my second (and presumably final) tenure-track position at Eastern Michigan University. Annette and I left Ashland, Oregon where I had been an assistant professor for two years at Southern Oregon University. People in Ashland thought we were crazy to be moving to Michigan because Ashland and that whole area of Oregon is stunningly beautiful. But there is no way Annette would have ever gotten a tenure-track job at SOU, there are no other universities or colleges within 100 miles of there, and truth be told, SOU was (and still kind of is as I understand it) a basket case of an institution. So in the late summer of 1998, we hired a couple of dudes to do most of the loading up of a U-Haul truck we drove east for four or five days with Will (not yet a year old) in a car seat between us while we sang round after round of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” to keep him from being fussy. In any event, I was probably in some kind of faculty orientation thing some time in late August, a session where I remember meeting my fellow cohort hires, Annette Saddik and Jim Knapp, and where I spent a day I will never get back being “orientated” and learning about insurance. As I understand it, the new faculty orientation has expanded  to almost a week of these meetings.

And now here we are once again with another new (school) year’s resolution(s) sort of post. Time flies and repeats and bends. I visited Richmond (and my friend Dennis Danvers) for a day back in late May and had a lovely trip down memory lane, driving by old apartments and seeing the many ways VCU’s campus has changed. Troy and Lisa (saw them back in March) are now in Brooklyn, and before that they were in Chicago for almost 20 years (with a “stop” in-between for a year in California). I hear once in a while from people who were at SOU, but not much. Annette Saddik and Jim Knapp both left EMU a long time ago. Annette (as in my wife, not Saddik) has been a tenured professor in the department for a while now, and Will is starting his senior year of college with an eye toward PhD programs.

As I’ve written about previously, EMU is in the midst of what I will charitably call “challenges,” a combination of self-inflicted dumb administrative decisions, changing regional demographics impacting enrollments, and a lot of other problems happening all over the U.S. at similar universities. This is a time at EMU where faculty who are able move on to other positions at other universities ought to seriously think about doing so, or where faculty who can’t move on should have a strategy for riding out the storm.

I am in the latter category– not that that’s a bad thing.

I mean, the grass might be greener elsewhere (or it might not be), but Annette and I both have tenured positions and we live in a lovely community. I can’t complain about that. This fall, I’m not involved in any quasi-administrative duties for the first time since 2011, and I am looking forward to being “retired” from that work to focus more on teaching. I’m especially excited about the section of first year writing I’m going to teach where I’m planning on using as Bruce McComiskey’s Post-Truth Rhetoric and Composition and where students will research something in the theme(s) of post-truth and fake news. It’s the most politically charged version of the course I’ve ever taught, but at this stage of my career, I think I can handle/navigate it, and I think McComiskey makes a pretty compelling argument about how we live in a time where teaching students about this is incredibly important. So wish me luck on that front.

Scholarship-wise, I’m beginning the last stages of a book about MOOCs I’ve been working on pretty much since Invasion of the MOOCs. It’s revised title is More than a Moment: Contextualizing the Past, Present, and Future of MOOCs, it’s being published by Utah State University Press/University of Colorado Press, and it should come out some time in 2019. Knocking on wooden things. I had said before that this might very well be my last “hurrah” as far as scholarly writing goes because I want to take a turn toward the more “mainstream” in terms of trying to write and publish more commentary pieces (like this one from Inside Higher Ed from March), and/or some more “popular” non-fiction or even fiction. Then again, I am also going to start putting together the paperwork/legwork for a different project that has the working (and in my head) title “Classroom Laptop Bans are Bullshit.” Plus, with what seems to be an increasing number of proclamations that blogging is “over,” this might actually be the right time to research them again. Stay tuned.

Otherwise, my new school year resolutions are similar to the ones I had last year:

  • Finish the book. Well, “finish.” There will still be production issues and copy editing and indexing and who knows what else, which is to say that the book won’t really be done until it is actually produced. But you know what I mean.
  • Go to the gym more (and generally try to diet, exercise, be healthy, blah-blah-blah).
  • Let it go/stay out of it/unplug from it/let others take it over.
  • Start enough of some new projects so that I can apply for summer and/or fall research support.
  • Blog more, which I realize is at odds with the “blogs are dead now” trend and all of that. But just like everyone else I know, I’m increasingly disillusioned with social media, and I kind of liked when I was blogging “reviews” of scholarly things I had read, in part because it often feels like there is a whole lot more attention spent on making scholarship rather than consuming it/reading it.

Miscellaneous End of School Year Blog Post

I haven’t been writing here much lately (obviously). A lot of it has been I’ve been busy. A lot of it has been because I’ve had nothing I wanted to say– at least not here. A lot of it has been intensity of the school year.

The year started before the fall semester with me meditating over the realization (as the result of a “salary adjustment” promotion I earned after being a full professor for ten years) that I’m both getting old and I’m in all likelihood “stuck” at EMU. Also before fall got going, my former department head cancelled a graduate class in the writing program I was coordinating without bothering to tell me. Then this same department head took a different administrative position at EMU, further kicking up the mess of naming an interim department head, someone who is doing a decent enough job but who might also be “interim” for years and years. The faculty union and EMU administration continue to be embattled over various arguments, and, without going too deep into the weeds, I ended up to once again spending too much time trying to argue for courses counting as four credits rather than three, and increasingly, this all feels like it’s all going to shake out in a year or two so that we’re more or less still teaching a 3-3 schedule, which means that all of the arguing about this for the last two or three years will have just been a giant waste of time. My colleague and friend, Derek Mueller, is taking a new job at Virginia Tech, a career move that probably makes sense for him, but a move that will certainly leave a hole for those of us who remain, a hole that will probably take years to fill. More or less out of nowhere, the EMU administration announced in January budget cuts and staff layoffs, including of one of my department’s secretaries, a woman who had been at EMU for around 20 years. The administration also cut a few sports to save money, though there is some debate as to whether or not those savings will be realized, and, of course, the big sports remain untouched. Meanwhile, EMU hired a couple more assistant football coaches, presumably entry-level sports coaching positions that pay more than I make after 20 years and after a “salary adjustment” promotion I earned after being a full professor for the last decade. Oh, and EMU also sold its parking rights to a company with weird agreements in a variety of states, and the money that EMU has earned from this deal (I guess around $50 million?) is likely to be used in large part as collateral to borrow even more money to build sports facilities. I wasn’t teaching in the fall (more on that in a second) and I began the winter term of teaching more ill-prepared than I have been since I came to EMU, and it was unnerving to say the least. The department politics of the semester more or less concluded in another last crazy meeting of the school year, and my school year concluded without any summer teaching– a class I was scheduled to teach (which I am certain would have run) was cancelled before it could be offered.

So it’s been bad, one of the worse school years of my career, the hardest I can recall since my first year on the tenure-track way back when. On the other hand:

I was on a Faculty Research Fellowship in the fall, an award from EMU that bought me out of teaching. While I used (donated?) too much of my time back to EMU to do the quasi-administrative work of being program coordinator, I did “finish” a draft of a book manuscript about MOOCs (another reason I haven’t been writing as much here in the last year). The reviews came back earlier than expected, and while they did not recommend immediate publication without any changes (I assume that never happens), they did recommend publishing and they made constructive suggestions for the revisions I’m working on right now. Liz Losh’s edited collection on MOOCs came out in fall and I have a chapter in it. I quickly wrote and published a little commentary piece for Inside Higher Ed, “Why I Teach Online (Even Though I Don’t Have To),” which even includes a staged photo of me “teaching” “online” while wearing my bathrobe. The only downside to that piece is IHE has still not paid me, nor have they ever specified how much they’re going to pay me. Hmm. Despite a chaotic start, my teaching turned out well enough, I think. I tried to pull off an experiment of a collaborative writing assignment in the online version of Writing for the Web that ultimately (I think, at least) turned out to be not entirely successful but kind of interesting. Among other things, it resulted in this collection of readings and annotations from my students about social media. It is rough rough work, but I did learn a lot about what to do (or not do) the next time I try an assignment like this, and there is a lot here that will be useful for teaching next year. And as an important tangent: one of the things that’s really nice about being an increasingly old fart a senior and seasoned professor is I can try assignments like this and not really have to worry about what the student evaluations might mean to someone or my Rate My Professor ratings or whatever. I can get away with making things “break,” I can be a lot more honest with students now than when I started, and I also know better how to fix things when they break. So I have that going for me.

And just like that, I’m officially done with EMU things until late August (though of course I’m not really done). I would prefer to be teaching starting in May because, well, money. But I have to admit I do like the free time.

The first job (really, the only job) for the next month or so is to finish the revisions on the MOOC book, though I should probably say “finish.” I was talking with my father a couple weekends ago about nothing in particular and I mentioned I needed to finish my book, and he said “didn’t you say you finished that back in December?” I realized that yes, I had finished a draft, but now there is “finished” the revisions, and there will almost certainly be another stage of “finished” after the reviews on the revisions come back that will involve copyediting and Chicago Style (shudder) and indexing and…. Anyway, it really won’t be finished finished until it comes out in print, and that could be a while.

But once that gets off my desk, then I want to turn to other things. I had been saying for a long time that this MOOC book is the last scholarly bit of writing that I might ever do because I want to try to pivot to writing more “popular” things that people might actually read (commentaries on stuff I know about but for the mainstream press, maybe something pitched to a more popular audience, maybe something like the work Steven Johnson has done for years) and/or fiction (which I am under no illusions will find much of an audience) and/or more blogging. Derek and I were just talking about this the other day, that maybe it’s time to go back. Maybe blogging again– as opposed to just posting stuff on Facebook or Twitter or whatever other platform– is like the internet version of a new interest in vinyl.

On Baking Bread

Bread Baking (Fall 2017)

I baked bread again last weekend. That’s not all that unusual; I don’t think I’ve bought bread since March or April. It kind of came up on Instagram and Facebook because my long time friend and colleague (and fellow baker/cook-type) Bill Hart-Davidson commented that I should post some pictures. So I did. More than necessary. And now here I am writing about baking bread, also more than necessary.

Continue reading “On Baking Bread”

Will Richmond and Monument Avenue be next?

I lived in Richmond, Virginia from 1988 to 1993, while I was in the MFA program in creative writing at Virginia Commonwealth University and then while working at a “real job” for a few years before I entered the PhD program rhetoric and writing at Bowling Green State. I didn’t go to Charlottesville much and I don’t know anything more than what has been reported about the terrorism from various “White Power” groups this past weekend. The catalyst for the KKK/Nazi/etc. violence was  supposedly the removal of a statute of Robert E. Lee, though I’ve also heard commentators say that issue was merely an excuse for the Robert Spencers and David Dukes of the U.S. to bring their hate shows to what is otherwise a pretty left-leaning college town. Doesn’t hurt that Trump seems OK with these kinds of folks being part of their base.

Anyway, with all this talk of the removal of statues of Confederate “Heroes,” I have to assume that one of the next hot-spots is going to be in Richmond along Monument Avenue. Apparently, a “Confederate heritage organization” has asked for a permit to march around the Robert E. Lee statue there on September 16.

Let me back up a bit:

Growing up in Iowa, the Civil War, the Confederacy, and issues of race in general were mostly absent. The Civil War was a topic that was covered somewhere in Junior High history class and that was about it. The town I grew up in, Cedar Falls, was (and I think still pretty much is) very very white. I graduated from high school in 1984 from a school that I had about 1200 students, and I can remember exactly one black kid. This is not to say there were no African-Americans in the area– it’s just that they all lived in Waterloo, which was the larger and much more gritty factory town that Cedar Falls bordered. But Iowa as a whole is very white, and people of color in the state make up a disproportionally large percentage of poor and working class people.

When I decided to go to VCU and move to Richmond, I thought I was moving to the East Coast. After all, Richmond is only about a two and a half hour drive to DC. Little did I know that I was actually moving to “The South,” and (just to give you a sense of how clueless I was) I was moving to the capitol of the Confederate States of America no less!

Richmond oozes with the sort of history that was foreign to my midwestern and suburban upbringing. The joke always was “they fought all around here.” I remember going on a tour of the state capitol building when my parents were visiting and the tour guide pointing out that the statehouse had been both the capitol of the state of Virginia and also of the country of the Confederate States of America, and that we did not in fact fight a Civil War but rather it was The War Between the States. A lovely place to visit in Richmond is Hollywood Cemetery, which is the final resting place of Jefferson Davis and hundreds (thousands?) of Confederate soldiers buried near the Monument of the Confederate War Dead. The grave markers are stone squares stamped “CSA.” There is a ton of stuff like this in and around Richmond. They really did fight all around there.

The other big change for me was demographic. I moved from a town (Iowa City) that was about 80% white to a city four times as populous that was about 40% white and over 50% African-American. A “cultural shift,” to say the least. But while people of color also made up a disproportionate percentage of poor and working class people, there was (and still is) a large African-American middle class population in Richmond, not to mention the fact that the city council and mayor’s office has had an African-American majority for some time.

Monument Avenue is a wide and long boulevard that runs from near the VCU campus to the west, beyond the city limits and near to the University of Richmond. The most famous part is in a historic neighborhood called “The Fan District.” This ten or twelve or so block section of Monument is lined with enormous multimillion dollar mansions and (as wikipedia puts it) “punctuated by statues memorializing Virginian Confederate participants of the Civil War Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Jefferson Davis, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Matthew Fontaine Maury, as well as Arthur Ashe, a Richmond native and international tennis star.”

For the five years I was in Richmond, I lived in many different apartments within walking distance of this section of Monument Avenue. The statues on Monument vary in size and grandeur (the Robert E. Lee statue is 60 feet tall, including the pedestal) and I used to know all sorts of details about what it meant that different statues faced different ways and different horses had their feet up or not. Taken as a whole, the statues and the houses and churches that line Monument are stately, grand, and– well, “monumental.” I didn’t think a lot about how the statues honored the oppressive leaders of the oppressive and racist Confederacy– mostly because I just didn’t think a lot about such things at all back then. Rather, Monument Avenue was to me a good example of the strange contrasts and close proximity of things in “the big city,” because while Monument Avenue itself was home to the stately mansions paid for with old money, Grace Street (just a block away) used to be known for prostitution, drugs, drunks, and crime. I knew a couple of different people who were mugged within a block or two of Monument Avenue.

Though there was one time early in my years in Richmond where race and monuments met. Back in the late 1980s, the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday was just being adopted by all the states, and in Virginia during my first winter there in 1989, they celebrated “Lee Jackson King” day. Because I was an idiot, my thought was that there must have been some civil rights activists named “Lee” and “Jackson” that Virginia decided to honor along with King, or maybe even just one guy, the civil rights activist “Lee Jackson.” While wondering about this when out and about on my first “Lee Jackson King” day and I happened to see Confederate reenactment guys marching around the Lee statue. Aaahhh I said to myself.

Like I said, I didn’t think about this stuff a whole lot back then. I certainly think about it more now.

What’s next for Monument Avenue? There was a pretty good article that summed things up in Richmond’s weekly Style magazine, “Is Monument Avenue Set in Stone?” back in April. As this article points out, this has been an on-again/off-again issue for a while now. According to this article (also from Style), “Mayor Stoney Announces a Commission on Monument Avenue Statues.” Stoney’s position (at least based on this article published in late June 2017) seems to be that while the statues are bad and the commission ought to recommend ways of “adding context and correcting alternative facts,” moving the statues is not something “on the table.” Just last week (and before the tragedy in Charlottesville over the weekend), the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran an article about the first and apparently out of control meeting of the Monument Avenue Commission, “‘It’s theater of the absurd’: Monument Avenue Commission’s first public hearing borders on chaotic.”  If I could, I’d link to my friend Dennis Danvers’ post on Facebook about this because I agree with his argument– “It’s time to haul away the many Confederate monuments that litter the Commonwealth”– but as the comments suggest, this opinion is far from universal.

Anyway, I don’t know what should happen next with Monument Avenue. The statues should probably be taken down and replaced, but those are decisions that are going to have to be made by Richmonders and Virginians. I do worry that whatever happens on September 16 along Monument Avenue will more than simply intensify the debate though. Here’s hoping it’s not a repeat of this past weekend.

A few brief thoughts on high school, locker room showers, and transgender

On NPR’s “Morning Edition” this morning, I listened to this, “Ex-NC Gov Pat McCrory Offers His Take On Transgender Rights.”  NPR was talking to McCrory because he was the governor who oversaw the North Carolina “Bathroom Bill.”  McCrory basically said that the reason why this law was important was because of some variation of the dangers of the locker room. If you didn’t have a law like this, McCrory said again and again, how are boys going to feel with a girl who now thinks they are a boy in the same bathroom? What’s to stop a boy from saying he is a girl so he can shower in the girl’s locker room? When will the chaos end?

Obviously, all of McCrory’s fears are complete bullshit and along the lines of the argument about what would happen if we didn’t define marriage as between a man and a woman (“why, people might end up marrying their dogs or their cars!”). What this is really about is a lack of acceptance of difference, a lack of tolerance, some kind of overly rigorous religious code, bigotry, hatred, and/or just general ignorance.

However, this story this morning did bring back memories for me of high school and showers. I never– and I mean never– took a shower at my high school. Not once.

Now, that was over 30 years ago, and I really have no idea if my experiences/memories are typical or not. I have no idea what the common practice is nowadays. Also keep in mind I was very much the opposite of a jock–debate, extemporaneous speaking, and the student newspaper were my jams– which is to say I never had some kind of coach telling me and my teammates to “hit the showers.”

My high school back then had a gym class option where you could take a special before school started version that met several days a week (maybe every day? I don’t remember) for a lot less than the full term. This meant I didn’t have to have a gym class in the middle and I could take real classes instead– and also as a senior, I think I was done with classes by about lunchtime. The before school gym class was full of fellow nerds like me, and like the rest of these folks, we all just changed out of our gym clothes into regular clothes and went to class. It’s not like we worked up some kind of vigorous sweat playing dodgeball or whatever for an hour.

And nowadays, do they even make kids go to gym class?

I still am not all that comfortable with my own nakedness in quasi-public situations. In college the showers had curtains, so it meant bathrobe on in my room, to the shower room, close curtain, take off bathrobe, shower, and repeat in reverse. The gym I go to has a nice locker room and has showers with glass doors, so for those very rare times where I get cleaned up after a workout (mostly I come home afterwards), I’ll wrap up in a big towel and be sure to close the door.

I don’t think I’m alone in this behavior. Again, I don’t use the locker room at the gym a lot so my sample size is limited, but in my experience, almost all of the men in there follow a similar routine of covering up, turning away, and trying to keep the “parts” as private as possible. Though I will say that I have seen some men in the locker room who seem a little too comfortable with their bodies and nakedness, just strutting around in a pair of flip-flops and arguing loudly about sports.  Often, this proudly naked-type is an old dude who probably should grab a towel.

Anyway, my point is this: I cannot begin to imagine what it’s like to identify as a gender other than my own or to be transitioning in some way from female to male (or vice-versa). But I have to think that the vast majority of transgender teens have at least some of the same insecurities and nervousness about their own bodies as the cisgender teens. The scenarios of locker rooms gone wild that McCrory is trying to “protect” us from just does not square with any experience I’ve ever had. Though again, I wasn’t in a sport that required me to “shower up,” and for all I know, McCrory is that too proud to be naked older dude.

Trying to end on a positive note

I’m not one to usually think like this, but 2016 has been a pretty shitty year by almost any measure. It’s been shitty on several different levels– the world and the country, but it’s also been a shitty year at EMU and I’ve had some shitty things happen in my own life (which I won’t get into now). Shitty shitty shitty.

But I’m determined to end on a positive “always look on the bright side of life” note here. So here are some things that happened for me that were good.

  • I got the chance to participate in some interesting, cool, and difficult to explain and categorize consulting/curriculum development things with the NICERC which took me to places like Louisiana and Arkansas and where I got to meet/work with some cool people. (Dwelling on the negative would involve wondering about the future of this program, and I’m not going there).
  • In honor of my 50th birthday (which is neither good nor bad, really), Annette and I had a great trip to New York City. We went in February, which turns out to be a pretty cheap time to go, saw many fun and wondrous things, ate ridiculously expensive food, some fantastic pizza, and hung around with great friends.
  • I got the chance to do an invited talk at Creighton University to talk about MOOCs, which gave me a chance to catch up with Bob Whipple and also a chance to hang around Omaha for a day (which is neither a good thing or a bad thing, really).
  • I wasn’t going to go to the CCCCs this year in Houston, but Annette and I had a good time. Speaking of somewhat unplanned but still good conference travel: Computers and Writing was a pretty good time too. And even though this was the year I said to myself and others that I was getting kind of sick of going to conferences, I still ended up going to three in the winter/spring terms, and I helped run the latest version of the WIDE-EMU this last fall.
  • The three of us had a long spring trip/experiment “up North” in May, spending two weeks in a condo on working vacation in Glen Arbor. I’m not sure I would spend that long up there again that early in the season, but we got in some good hikes, some good work, some good food.
  • Annette was President of the Children’s Literature Association last year, which for me meant a long weekend in Columbus during the conference staying in a fancy-pants suite. That was fun.
  • Did lots of the usual stuff over the summer with friends and the like, too: did the Dexter-Ann Arbor “run,” did a fun “amazing race” thing with Steve and Michelle that was a fund-raiser for a local cancer support group, played some golf, had some picnics, went to the July 4 parade in Ypsilanti, my parents visited, Annette’s parents visited, etc.
  • Annette and I went to see Cyndi Lauper (of all people!) and Annette and Will and I went to see Louis CK at Joe Louis Arena. Both were good; Lauper was a bit of a trip down memory lane (though she was touring in support of a country album she had made), and Louis CK was great though the arena-sized space is probably not right for stand-up.
  • Right before the fall term began and hours after we moved Will into the dorms, Annette and I went to Italy. I was invited back to this conference about MOOCs at the University of Naples, an conference I went to in 2015 that I thought was a once in a lifetime kind of thing. And then it happened again. It was a fantastic trip.
  • And Will is doing great at the University of Michigan. In April, we went to see a poster session of him presenting on science stuff; he worked in his lab doing science stuff all summer and through now; and he is still doing even more science stuff. Yes, that’s vague, but it is just a little less than what I understand it to be. He is a much MUCH better student than I ever was.
  • I don’t know if this is good news exactly, but in October, we had the not to be forgotten incident of a chipmunk in our house.
  • And last but not least, I have a contract to write/finish a book about MOOCs. I don’t want to jinx it by saying any more than that.

So yeah, it’s been a shitty year, but there was some good stuff too. Now it’s time to brace ourselves for 2017…