2019 was quite the year around here

I wasn’t going to do the usual “end of the year” blog post this year (kind of clichéd, isn’t it?), plus with Trump and impeachment and guns and climate change and global crisis and with the whole world feeling like it’s on fucking fire most of the time, it doesn’t exactly feel like a time to be celebrating anything– despite the admittedly good points in the big picture of things Nicholas Kristof makes in this column.

But as I was looking over my Instagram account, I was reminded that A LOT of stuff happened for me and the family this year, and most of it was good.

So, more or less in order:

After some of the typical January/February events (our annual Mardi Gras party, for example), Annette and I took our first of what would turn out to be three (well, two and a half) trips to New York and, among other things, I managed to order a cocktail brought to me on fire.

I went to the CCCCs in Pittsburgh in March— probably the most unpleasant version of that conference I’ve ever attended, frankly. My 8 am Friday morning panel– which included the completely pleasant and always interesting Alex Reid— had a total of three people at it: myself, Alex, and an audience of one, though it happened to be the also pleasant and interesting John Gallagher. So we chatted for a while, Alex and I went off to have breakfast together, and after a bit of wondering around the halls, I actually went back to my room, packed my things, and left a night early. I’m going to the CCCCs in Milwaukee this year; I’m definitely not going to the CCCCs in Spokane in 2021; and we’ll see what happens after that.

Probably the biggest bit of family news of the year– at least the first part of the biggest news– is Will graduated from the University of Michigan and various graduation hijinks were had with both sets of grandparents. Originally, Will wanted to just do the small group graduation event for his major, and that was nice in and of itself:

 

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Probably my favorite graduation weekend moment: “oh! William Krau-Z!”

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But in the end we went to the “Big House” commencement too, and I’m glad we did.

 

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Oh yeah, then we went to freakin’ China, which I blogged about here. Amazing trip, got a chance to cross some stuff off of my list, and it introduced us to Gate 1 for travel stuff.

After a summer that included many of the usual things (a Krause family get-together in a weirdo house in Wisconsin on the Minnesota border, a quick anniversary trip to Traverse City, front-yard gardening, a little golf, no more summer teaching, etc.), we packed Will up and moved him out to New Haven, Connecticut, which brings me to the second part of the biggest family news of the year: Will began a PhD program at Yale in a version of biology I don’t really understand. Needless to say, we’re incredibly proud of him. We went out to visit him in October– this was the first part of the “half” trip to New York because we flew into LaGuardia and then rented a car to drive to New Haven– and got a chance to tour around campus and the town a bit. My personal favorite highlight was the Cushing Center (aka the brain room).

But I’m getting ahead of myself: after we got Will all moved in, Annette and I went to Sweden, Norway, and Amsterdam (aka continent #2 of the year). I’m not quite sure why I didn’t blog about that trip, but the very short version: Annette had a conference in Stockholm to go to plus Annette and I both were on research fellowships this past fall, which meant neither of us had to spend time in August preparing to teach and our schedules were a lot more flexible, so we decided to make it a longer trip. After Stockholm (I had some solo tourist time there while Annette conferenced), we took a cruise along the Norway coast basically because I had heard or read someplace a long time ago that a cruise is one of the best ways to see it all. And then, because we could, we spent a week in Amsterdam in a lovely apartment at the top of the steepest stairs I have ever seen. We hung out in the apartment and read and wrote, went to lots of art museums, wandered around the groovy streets, ate good food, etc. Here’s a bunch of pictures.

Meanwhile and/or around the same time as all this, we both worked on our research projects (I’ve blogged about mine a fair amount over the year) and I also had the time to review proofs and such for More Than A Moment: Contextualizing the Past, Present, and Future of MOOCs. I guess that too is an event from 2019 because that’s the copyright date and all, but I basically finished my work on the book back in 2018 and it’s not going to be for sale until 2020 (next week, I think), so it kind of doesn’t feel like 2019 to me. Still, my first and only single-authored book; like I said, a lot of stuff happened around here this year.

And then, after a typical Krause family combined Thanksgiving-Christmas and before a typical Wannamaker family holiday that included a visit to the beach on Christmas day, Annette and I went to Morocco (continent #3 for the year), with a stop before and after in New York. I just blogged about that a couple of weeks ago.

Inevitably, there will be less on 2020– I’m guessing fewer continents. And hopefully less Trump come November or before.

Morocco (and NYC), December 2019

“Why (and how did you) go to Morocco in December?” Well, when Annette and I found out we were getting research releases for the fall term, we knew we wanted to take a trip someplace in early December because that tends to be an inexpensive time to travel. A friend of ours had gone on a tour to Morocco and said good things, and then we found a tour through Gate 1 (the “how”) with a great price and that fit our schedule. Plus going to Morocco would mean that (counting home) we would have been to four continents this year. So off we went.

A slight tangent: while we went when we did because we didn’t have any teaching or things to worry about, I do think we could have gotten away with this trip during a regular semester if we didn’t keep blabbing about it on social media. This trip would have taken some planning while teaching, but we had regular and robust wifi and we both easily handled minor work email and similar work things. So maybe next year….

Here’s a link to a while bunch of pictures; here are some thoughts and memories:

  • Once again, Gate 1 was great. Here’s a link to the trip we took to Morocco. Once again, it was a very diverse group in terms of age (but no kids on this trip), race, careers, etc., etc., though this group wasn’t as “tightly knit” as the group for our trip to China. I think that’s because it was a big group– 41 people– and also because this tour didn’t include as many group meals and activities. But again, a great deal. It’s not luxury travel, but the hotels we stayed at were solid (sort of the equivalent of Hampton Inn kinds of places), the optional things (we signed up for all of them) were all great and worth it, and the tour manager and guides were excellent– especially the tour manager and the local guide in Fes.
  • We went to Rabat (the capital of the country), Fes, Marrakesh, and Casablanca. Rabat had some cool stuff, but the heart of the tour was Fes and Marrakesh (Casablanca is mostly a business center with an international airport). The tour was technically eight days but the first and last days were flying, so really six days, plus one of those days was mostly a bus ride between Fes and Marrakesh (not ideal, but it was kind of an interesting way to see the countryside).
  • I was expecting more desert and camels and stuff like that, but that’s a different tour. This was more the central and Atlantic coastal region of the country, and the geography felt to me a lot like rural places in Northern California/Southern Oregon or Italy. Marrakesh is on the north side of part of the Atlas Mountains range (snow-capped peaks in the distance, and apparently ski resorts opened for a few months in the winter), and on the other side of the mountains is the Sahara. That’s where we would probably have ridden a camel. There’s a region in the southwest on the coast (we heard about because our guide lived there) that’s popular with Europeans in the winter, and there’s a northern region with Tangier and right across the straits to Gibraltar. But again, different trips.
  • Oh, and Morocco is a much more touristy place than China, especially Marrakesh. Heck, we even went to a casino there! It was easy to find people who spoke English, and almost everyone speaks French as well as Arabic. If we went on vacation in Spain, I’d want to include a trip to Gibraltar, Tangier, and probably the “blue city” of Chefcaouen, and depending on the options, I’d be comfortable doing those arrangements without a tour company. In contrast, there’s no way I’d go back to China without a company or some other kind of local “fixer.”
  • I don’t know if I’d call Morocco “second world” or “developing world” or what, but it’s a study in contrasts for sure. It’s a Muslim country, but it’s also an extremely moderate and tolerant country, and it had a large Jewish population at one point. Morocco didn’t give anyone up to the Nazis in World War II, though after the war, most Moroccan Jews migrated to the new state of Israel. It’s a post-colonial country that seems to maintain good relations with its colonizers. There were lots of French and Spanish influences in the food and language, not to mention a lot of French and Spanish people. It’s a “constitutional monarchy,” but I got the impression that the king of Morocco is a lot more involved in the day-to-day running of the government than say the Queen of England. It’s a country with lots of the same modern features of countries in Europe (and, unlike China, the Internet wasn’t blocked or slow), but also one where a lot of the people still live simple lives. On our drive from Fes to Marrakesh, we went by lots of big and presumably corporate farms, and we also saw lots of shepherds tending to small flocks (inevitably while on their cell phone) and farmers planting fields by tossing seeds from a bag. There was a large shopping mall near our hotel in Fes, and we went in there a couple of times to look around and to buy hotel room snacks and wine– oh, and while Morocco is an Islamic country, it does grow grapes for wine, most of the restaurants we went to served beer and wine, the hotels we stayed in had bars, and there was a liquor store in this mall. Anyway, it was a big and modern and busy shopping mall, but at least twice, I saw locals getting on the escalator in front of me in a way that suggested that this person did not go on escalators often– for all I know, ever. I mean, I don’t want to get all clichéd and suggest “the highs and lows,” “the best of times, the worst of times,” and all that, but there were a lot of things I expected and didn’t.
  • Two things I learned about Islamic (or at least Arab/North African) culture I didn’t know before. First, we saw several “blind houses,” which means they look like pretty much nothing at all on the outside (they usually have no or only a few small windows) but are quite lavishly tiled on the inside, usually with a big courtyard in the middle. This was certainly the case with the “fancy meal” we had in Marrakech at place called Lotus Privilege. Our tour guides lead the group down what looked like an alley perfect for getting mugged and we entered into an opulent courtyard with a pool and lemon trees. Second (and I guess I should have known this before), you don’t wear shoes in a Mosque, which kind of explains to me why slippers are extremely popular footwear.
  • On the last day, our guide/tour manager asked the group “what was your favorite part,” and pretty much everyone said Fes. The sites and sounds and smells of the Medina were intense, navigating down “streets” not much wider than a hallway with guys leading loaded down mules going the other direction. In the food market, the way you bought chicken was you picked out one of the live ones in the crate in the back and the guy killed and dressed it for you. And then there was the Chouara Tannery, which has been in operation for about 1,000 years, the process still about the same. The smell of the vats of pigeon shit they used to treat the leather, that was intense.
  • And then there was the haggling for stuff. I don’t particularly enjoy this kind of shopping, but I kind of got into it by the end of the trip and I did have a pretty memorable moment in a shop on the last night in Casablanca. I was looking over a box for sale for 450 Dirhams, which is about $45. I knew that was too much, so I said “200.” The sales guy fakes outrage, and says “for you my friend, 350.” “Hmm, that’s still too much,” I said, “How about 325?” “Okay, 300!” And all the other sales guys in the shop looking on to this crack up laughing. “Wait, wait! He said 300!” But I ended up giving him 325– no point in cheating the dude out of $2.50.
  • Oh, and New York: we went a day early to go see Moulin Rouge The Musical, which was great and as a bonus, Hillary Clinton was in the crowd. On the way back, our flight from Morocco got into JFK too late to get a flight home, so we decided to splurge a little bit and got a room at the TWA HotelThat was a hoot.

Don’t want a manicured front lawn? Perhaps you should move

 

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A week or so ago, I came across this New York Times Sunday column, “I’m Done Mowing My Lawn” by Ronda Kaysen. It’s a pretty good “pushing back against convention” piece and why obsessing over lawns is bad for all kinds of different reasons. I nodded along as I finally got around to reading it today. Then I got to this paragraph:

Every summer, I imagine a different landscape, one that I do not have to mow. My sunny front lawn would be a great place to grow a vegetable garden: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and maybe some chard. But if my dandelions raise eyebrows, imagine the reaction I would get to a raised garden bed just a few feet from the sidewalk.

Seven years ago, we decided to tear up about half of our front yard to plant flowers and vegetables. It wasn’t because I had some kind of problem with a lawn; if anything, I am a product of my upbringing in suburbia and my admiration of well-manicured golf courses. We did it mainly because we were tired of seeing the front yard– the only part of our lot that gets full sun all day long– go to waste. I remember at the time hearing a few stories of affluent Detroit suburbs where growing vegetables in the front yard was some kind of code violation, and I also remember my mother worrying it would be tacky.

It’s never been a problem. At all. If anything, it’s been a great opportunity to informally chat with neighbors walking by while Annette and I are out their weeding or something. People always compliment us. Little kids look for the dragon Annette put out there and sometimes pick cherry tomatoes. It’s a cheery exchange, which I think also says a lot about my neighborhood, too.

This year’s version of the garden is going to be a bit more modest because of a busy summer. The ideal/generally agreed upon time when we’re safe from frost is the week after Mother’s Day, but we’ll be gone that week (China, of all places– more on that later I am sure). Plus we have some other travel plans and getting Will ready for the next post-UM steps in his life. So this year, I’m keeping it to a few tomatoes, some pole beans (along with some creeping flowers that I think might not make it), kale, and sunflowers. I planted a flat of marigolds with the (probably misguided) thought that maybe it’ll deter the critters a bit. After we get back, I’ll plant some basil, maybe some other things, some more flowers. perhaps some more herbs.

We were thinking about a move to Ann Arbor in the next year or two; we decided last summer to not do that for a variety of different reasons, and one of those reasons is I don’t think I’d want to move to a neighborhood where it was against the rules to plant a few tomatoes and such in the front yard.

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”