Category Archives: personal

Picture Me This

It’s midterm now and – eep! – my how times flies! I’m working through grading in all three of my courses, always a worrisome sign as I endeavour to stagger the workload as much as possible. But I’m making progress, so I can’t really complain too much.

What’s making it possible to work through all of this is the counter-intuitive promise I’ve made to myself of taking time off. I’m not getting the crafting time I’d hoped to eke out – I’m a bit too tired and disconnected most evenings to pull out my stitching and work on that. It’s also not super-easy on my eyes to focus on tiny stitches late at night! But I’m endeavouring to get a little fun reading in every week along with the daily dog walks and the weekly gym workouts (Zumba is our latest experiment). It’s vital to have something besides work, work, work if I’m to be usefully productive all year long.

Lately, it’s a colouring book that’s given me the most fun, even as it’s challenged my vision some evenings. Those teeny little lines! Those swirling organic shapes! Those pencils that need to be sharpened again and again! But how could I resist? Colouring Pages, Horses And the subject matter is just so “me” – I’ve always loved horses, more than is healthy. These are intricate and interesting but also well-done. So after I mark the next essay, I’ll take a break and either read, do some more colouring or maybe play a game. Maybe all three!

What helps you keep balance in your life?

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Too Many Books?

Do Books Bought in 2008 any of you have advice on how to manage an out-of-control book collection? I’m afraid that I have too many books!

When I moved into my current office several years ago, I regarded three walls of bookshelves with some satisfaction. Certainly there was room here for all of my books and room for many more! I arranged my shelves in thematic cluster: one massive medieval section, an even larger early modern British area that runs from one wall to another, primary source (in chronological order), and so forth. I even left room here and there for new acquisitions while also leaving the perilous and unreachable top shelves empty.

Fast forward several years and almost all the bookshelves are full. Yet I still keep buying books. While I personally prefer ebooks for pleasure reading and as teaching texts, I can’t lend those to students – one of the major reasons behind my academic book buying! – so I keep an eye out for sales at my favourite presses while also buying must-have books for my many teaching subjects. The result is overfull bookshelves and I’m still a good fifteen years away from retirement.

I essayed a little shelf-cleaning and clearing the other week between class time and a department meeting. I could, with some further work, clear out about four linear feet of books, perhaps six feet, from the office. I’d be culling the books that students won’t really need like 1950s editions of Renaissance texts or that I’m never going to cite in my own research like collections of economic history analyses from the eighties. I’d have to be wildly unsentimental in the process, something with which I usually have no troubles but with books, well, it’s tough. Books Bought, May 2013 They bring back all the memories, especially if they were a gift or a hand-me-down but even those books chance-gotten at thrift sales or from a pile of discards can become familiar friends just by my seeing their spine on the shelves many years after they were first acquired and read.

We have a bench by the department with a perpetual sign pasted over it: “Free Books!” Usually some prof lays down a few or a few dozen in any given week and they’re all instantly snapped up. I need to remind myself that any books I discard will be soon snatched up by someone else and get to the work of winnowing my collection. Wish me luck!

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My Friend, the Fitbit

Over at 11D, Laura asked, Do you Fitbit? My answer could be summed up as “heck, yeah!” I received a Fitbit for my birthday in the spring and promptly fell in love with what it could do for me. Not only did it replace my rather generic watch in functionality and the annoyance of carrying my phone as a step counter, but it does so much more that I find useful.

Who needs an alarm clock when you can program your Fitbit to buzz you awake in the morning as you need? I haven’t used this for naps but this would also be a great way to ensure that if I do fall asleep on the sofa, I don’t let it go on too long!

My Fitbit alerts me to appointments and texts with a buzz followed by a scrolling short text description when I cock my wrist to see what’s up. So if a text comes through while I’m cleaning the kitchen, I don’t have to have my phone on me to know what’s happening. This is helpful as my phone is almost always muted and vibrations are my only alerts to incoming messages. But it’s also great for all of my Google calendar reminders to come through on my Fitbit.

I also love the Fitbit’s reminders to get up and get active every hour. I don’t always make the goals, especially during seminar classes or writing sprints, but my reminders run from 10-6 and I usually achieve at least six hours out of ten.

I know that the Fitbit isn’t a magic tool but it keeps exercise as a priority by giving me the reminders and incentives. It may seem silly to be motivated by a small piece of technology but when it does so much, it works for me!

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I’m Ba-ack!: A Report on My Blogging Break

Wow. How long has it been? Ten months or close enough that this blog has been quiescent. Now with the new academic term just around the corner, why am I reckless enough to start my blog back up?

Maybe it will help if I explore a bit about why it dried up. I think there are two reasons: the first is that I’ve been blogging for more than fifteen years on one platform or another. I have blogged about fandom, about parenthood, about history teaching and research, feminism and so much more. I’ve blogged a little bit of everything in my life for a very long time and it’s become a bit unclear where the blogging stops and the living starts.

Steady blogging also takes a steady bit of time out of your life, doesn’t it? So this past year, when I started up a gym membership to accompany our younger daughter during her personal training, I let blogging go out of all of the other things in my life. The upside? My fitness levels have greatly improved and I’ve found several podcasts that I adore to liven the time on the treadmill, the elliptical or the weight machines including Dan Snow’s HISTORY HIT (On which I appeared last December), Smart Podcast, Trashy Books (for the romance reader in me), Ben Franklin’s World (for wide-ranging coverage on American history & historical research topics), and Teaching in Higher Ed (which inspires me to be a better teacher). I’ve also used podcasts to work on my French fluency (aha-aha, but it has improved this year) and to occupy my mind while engaged on daily dog-walks with Xena. But woman cannot live by podcast alone, so here I am.

The second reason is that before I could blog again, I needed to think about what I wanted to blog about here. I don’t think it will become a very fannish blog or a place full of personal introspection, although I probably will share some fun reads from time to time! No, it’s going to be rededicated to my life in history as an educator, researcher and explorer. This doesn’t rule out the personal – far from it! – but expect more history, whether it’s notes from the classroom, my early modern women or something out of the pop culture projects!

I’ll finish this post with the bemused observation that this year we watch younger daughter take up the life of the university undergraduate and that I celebrate my twenty-fifth anniversary in the Laurentian University Department of History. My how time flies! How has yours been bowling along? Leave a comment and let me know.

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True Patriot What Ifs

What really differentiates Americans from Canadians? We celebrate our grand national holidays almost simultaneously in early July. We share the better part of a continent and that very long, under-defended border. We watch much of the same TV shows (albeit with the annoyances of geo-location denials on websites) and movies. Wind, rain and snow crosses back and forth across the border with abandon and it’s often hard to tell where one country begins and the other ends if you’re crossing the wooded eastern reaches or trekking through the prairies.

A recent article by Dylan Matthews offered Three Reasons the American Revolution was a Mistake, zeroing in on the weaknesses of presidential democracy, the likelihood of an earlier end to slavery under British law and the slightly less awful Canadian record of First Nations abuses as ways in which an America without the revolution would be a better place. Over at Historiann’s, she’s taken up Matthews’ points and added a few other accolades of her own.

So is Canada the very picture of oppression? Far from it! In fact, Canada is a nation that offered its citizens national health insurance nearly seventy years ago; they had a woman Prime Minister more than twenty years ago; and while rates of gun ownership are high (they’re #13 vs. the U.S., which is #1 in the world), the risk of gun homicide (let alone random mass-murder) is quite low. Furthermore, equality before the law is guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including sex and disability, two categories of people–more than half the population–not included in the U.S. Constitution and its amendments.

What reasonable person wouldn’t prefer Canada to the U.S.?

Aw, shucks, Historiann. You’ll put us all to blush and you know how apologetic Canadians can be in any case. Consider it doubled or double-double (I’ll spring for you at Tim’s).

Seriously, I have to agree that Canada is awesome. Otherwise, why would I have come north almost thirty years ago (this coming Labour Day weekend) and taken up Canadian citizenship early in this millennium? Okay, well, obviously, love for my dear spouse factored in mightily, but also love for this slightly more peaceful part of North America.

That said, I’d have to take issue with some of Matthew’s claims about the benefits of avoiding the American Revolution because, well, counterfactuals don’t work that way. You can’t be certain that because the British abolished slavery in the 1830s America would have been freed of slavery a generation ahead of the Civil War. Some scholars suggest that slavery was the most significant root cause of the Revolution in the 1770s. Others have pointed out that the British both supported slaves against their masters and held out hopes of retaining the southern, slave-dependent states during the course of the colonial contretemps.

Against Matthews’ rosy suggestions of a Canadianized USA, the picture becomes much more hazy. For instance, I have difficulty dismissing the southern states as an impotent rump within British imperial politics in the 1830s in our counterfactual Revolutionless timeline. To keep the colonials within the empire in 1776 wouldn’t have been without cost. Concessions and new connections might have shifted the balance of power in significant ways, possibly strengthening the southern hand within imperial politics. Might this have served to embolden them to armed rebellion at the whisper of legislation of abolition in London in the following decades? Or maybe we would see the change coming from the enslaved multitudes, perhaps rising out of a Caribbean context where, unmediated by American and French revolutionary exemplars, uprisings could have skipped across the sea to those slave states and inspired a real crisis not just in the colonies but back in Britain?

You know that I love counterfactual history something seriously. “What if” makes for interesting thought experiments that historians need in their toolboxes but it’s not either/or. We aren’t faced with the choice of either our current USA or our current Canadian situation if something in the past had gone differently. If history had zigged rather than zagged in 1776, we’d be living with the long range consequences playing out in ways that casual contrast just doesn’t cover. And who knows whether or not we’d have our Tim Hortons?

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Not Much, How ‘Bout You?

It’s been a crazily busy end of the year here. I’m buried in marking at the same time that I have to wrangle a mountain of course preps. Two new on-campus courses and the first run of the ancient Near East survey ready to run as an online course. Oh, and research and writing. In and around there I have to get everything ready to host the annual holiday celebrations that will only start to feel real once Eldest returns from university next week.

I feel as if I’ve become a very boring person in terms of my own life precisely when my research and teaching have become their most interesting and exciting. After all, this year I’ve published or presented on hobbits and historical wizards and science fiction and Westerosi folk and badass early modern women like Margaret Pole!

But I’m boring in that I don’t do that much besides work and personal maintenance. I don’t find the time for cross-stitch or any other art – activities that used to keep me balanced during my undergraduate and grad school years. I walk the younger dog every day and sometimes let the older dog tag along if she’s up for it. But that’s hardly an exciting exercise regime. I’ve read a lot of books, certainly, but far more for work than for pleasure. I cook a lot more than I had, but that’s more the necessities of a new and healthier diet, but I don’t really feel inspired to turning the kitchen into my personal hobby central.

I’ll put my mind to it but for now, I have that whackload of marking still to manage. I’d love to hear how you’re doing, though!

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Feed the Soul

Summer is well and truly underway. I know this because I’ve planted some flowers in my front yard. The roses that survived the winter (four of five) won’t bloom for a few more weeks so I fed my colour craving with a swathe of begonias and violas. Red, orange, yellow: the cheery colours please me and feed my soul.

My summer work schedule is going pretty well. I’m only behind by a day and a half from my original plan which isn’t bad. To-do lists of particular tasks combined with long-range plans do the trick of keeping me from panic. Tomorrow I have to purchase more canned cat food, book a check-up for the older dog and get rolling on a RESP maturity application as well as finish the unit on Achaemenid Persia for the correspondence course I’m writing. I’ll try to get more read in the M.A. essay I’m supervising which appears decent so far. Lurking ahead on the horizon is the task I really want to tangle with: more Old Bailey writing, and that is up next. All of those tasks are on the plan. All of that work will get done. But they’re not exactly deeply nourishing in a personal sense.

Teaching preparation has an appeal, but I’ve found, over the years, that it’s not the best use of my time at the start of the summer so I’m resisting the urge to dive into my new course prep readings. I have an alluring stack of books on ancient, medieval and Renaissance occult topics, including Deborah Harkness’s study of John Dee’s angelic conversations. These all need to sit and wait until after the Old Bailey article is in good shape because an article for publication trumps reading for teaching. In any case, it will be better for my teaching to complete the reading closer to the time I’m refining all of the course plans and better know what I need to know and teach. Right? Right!

It’s funny but the prospect of my next research writing project just ahead feeds my soul as much as the begonias and violas in the flower bed. It may be a cliche that academics can’t tear themselves away from their research. I can and frequently do, but when a research topic gets me energized, I don’t want to wait! Soon, I won’t be waiting any more.

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