Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Wow...suddenly, it's starting

[First, I must add that I LOVE my wireless internet access throughout my house. I'm sitting in our family room, instead of being in the office/prison, with the laptop actually on my LAP for a change, typing away on this blog.]

OK, now to the topic in the subject line. I'm embarking on what's turning into a pilot study for my dissertation. And suddenly I'm starting interviews on Friday. Pretty exciting. I'm pulling out my dad's old mini-tape recorder and transcriber machine, testing it all out, getting questions ready, etc. Human Subjects approval is well behind me now, so it's time to get this baby going.

I presented my academic identity theory to my dissertation proposal class this morning. I think it went well: colleagues and my wonderful wise advisor asked some pointed, but helpful, questions. I explained about five times that the visual models I created that describe the theory were not models I was attempting to prove, just explanations of what happens in my brain! It was hard for a few folks to let go of that. Oh well...the questions were helpful. There is something about the energy it takes to argue a point that provides me with the tools to solidify an idea. In addition, I did take several of their suggestions into account, so it was a good experience. Tomorrow I meet with my student development theory professor who I will most likely ask to be the chair of my dissertation.

And today I led a discussion on educational technology for a class I'm helping to teach. It's good to be teaching again: I miss that a great deal. I taught for several years in my old administrative job...it was my favorite part of that job.

I dunno: sometimes I wonder if I should attempt a professorial lifestyle, but other times I get exhausted by thinking about going through the tenure process. Isn't that another doctorate? Ugh.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Musings on Playing Piano

Happy Easter. We've succeeded in actually wearing out Chester from having a few friends over for a nice Easter dinner. He now has assumed his typical evening position on the floor of my home office.

This morning I played the piano at the "sunrise" service at our church (8AM). I accompanied my Wife (a professional singer) on a simple call to worship piece, and then I played 6 hymns.

Again, this was done on a piano. Most hymns are written to be played on an organ. The bottom notes in the "left hand" are really supposed to be played with the organ's foot pedals; on a piano, even my fingers with a pretty long extension are unable to bridge the intervals between the bass and tenor lines.

It's so interesting...I'm a pretty good pianist. I've been playing since I was five, I have a BA in music where I studied at a well-known conservatory, and I often identify myself as a musician before I discuss things like my career or family. It's a pretty big part of my life. But playing church hymns is a totally different experience for me...I find it very difficult. What's so weird is that hymns are typically not as complex as the solo work I've done like Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, etc. The funny thing is that I never really learned how to sight-read. When I agreed to play the morning church service, I said to myself, "Sure - it will be a good excuse to practice a bit and get something ready to go for church." But man: I made mistakes all over the place. Something about the pressure I put on myself when helping others to make music. Solo piano is all about the soloist; if I make a mistake, I crash and burn myself and it's up to me to get myself out of the wreckage. With playing hymns, I think of all the people relying on the instrumentalist to get the notes and rhythm...it made me all nervous.

Couple that with the fact that I went out of town for five days during the week prior to Easter: it's no wonder I really didn't find much time to practice. Also...I muist admit I wasn't really motivated with practicing. Playing hymns with no singers around is BORING! I enjoy singing hymns a great deal (especially when there's a chance to harmonize), but playing them on the piano...YAWN.

In all honesty, once I got through the interlude to each piece and the congregation started singing, it really didn't matter. No one could hear the piano, and most of these folks knew all of the tunes. And more important, I do love Easter with the upbeat music and messages of starting over and renewal. It's truly one of my favorite times of year at church.

These musings on piano, they may relate to a notion I'm exploring in the theory section of my dissertation. As a decent pianist, and a quasi-composer too, it's hard to NOT play well in front of others and feel "out of my element" with something that is such an important, natural part of my personality. This notion of feeling "out of my element" with something I typically do well may arise in my research on Academic Identity. After all, I chose a different, non-musical, career path, partially for some of the reasons discussed in this post. And yet, how can it be that I still feel such a close connection and a have a relatively high level of skill for something that just doesn't sit entirely well with me? Something to ponder, I suppose.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Publicate [PUB-li-kayt]

This is a
new word created by accident during an absolutely hilarious discussion over a fantastic home-made Middle-Eastern dinner with some good friends. Perhaps too much wine was consumed.

Of or pertaining to the pursuit of landing one or more publications, usually through writing. One can publicate and not yet have any publications.

However, one cannot publish unless one has publicated.


"Are you publicating now?"
"Yes, but I do not yet have any publications."

The Societal Effects of Architecture's Bastardization

During recent trips to visit my family in the suburbs of Chicago, I have left very disturbed by the bastardization of fine residential architecture that is happening all over the place up there. My childhood neighborhood had family-sized (i.e. not mansions, but plenty of space), older (1920s-1940s), one-of-a-kind homes, most of which had decent-sized yards. Sounds perfect to me now, as a relatively new homeowner. However, people are buying these homes in the already over-priced suburban Chicago real estate market, tearing them down, and building McMansions (thank you for that term, Cousin Ellen) which neither fit into the size of the lots nor into the character of the neighborhoods.

It's sick.

And it makes me nervous, I suppose because it feels like I'm entering a community where the residents will never be satisfied with anything. They need to improve upon something that is already inherently "perfect" (well, not my idea of perfect, but perfect in the general sense). It's almost like they need to prove to the world that they can a) afford to buy a house there and b) make a statement by ripping down a beautiful older home and leaving their mark. I equate it to Chester's incessant need to mark every tree or shrub outside by peeing on it.


I don't know: there is just something very disturbing about driving down a residential street I have known all my life and no longer recognizing a good number of the homes. It just doesn't seem right. I mean, a renovation here, a new paint job there, some new plantings or a new fence...these are changes I'd expect to see in neighborhoods over time. But entirely new buildings that change the character of a TOWN?? Doesn't seem possible to me. Several years ago my now late father was elected a village trustee there because he knew the town backward and forward; today I think he probably wouldn't recognize the place.

My mother moved to a smaller ranch house in another suburb very near where I grew up. Her neighborhood has both ranches or 1960s split-level homes. It's a very nice, and relatively affordable, neighborhood with good schools, etc....a place that many people would like to live. Next door to my mom's place stood a home that was the mirror-image of hers. An older couple lived there, and they moved away last year. The home needed some updating, but in general it was in good shape as a smallish, sturdy, brick ranch home. Well, a realtor bought at a reduced price after telling the sellers it was for her daughter, supposedly a single mom living in the city. The realtor proceeded to tear it down and build a large two-and-a-half story house with a 3-car garage, and she is now attempting to sell it for about three times what she paid for the old house. Hmm...where's the daughter/single mom going to live?? She probably couldn't afford to purchase the home HER MOTHER decided to build.

How does this realtor sleep at night with such a warped sense of ethics? What's happening to our society if people who essentially have 'everything' are so dissatisfied with idyllic suburbia that they have to rip down decent homes and start over? Can people in the United States ever be satisfied with the good things they have?

Friday, March 25, 2005

Hiatus & Random Thoughts

I have been on a writing hiatus (yes, probably somewhere near Hyannis) this week because I traveled to my beloved city of Chicago for a conference. I conferred there. And it was well. I came back Wednesday night, and I've been working at my assistantship ever since.

I enjoyed the conference much of the time. Sometimes the sessions related to the infusion of technology into higher education, and other times they focused only on the technology itself. It got a little boring at times, but all in all it was time well-spent. And, I was able to pretend I lived on Chicago's Michigan Avenue for two nights, which in itself was much fun.

Busy Easter weekend coming up; and I have plenty of work to do as well. And then the lawn and yard are just itching to be tended to....hmm, I feel more procrastination coming on. Oh well. I think I'm just going to incorporate procrastination time into my routine and just live with the fact that this is part of my personality. Acceptance is easier and more natural than denial, I suppose.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Theory Application

I'm visiting my family in Chicago this weekend before heading to the regional EDUCAUSE conference Mon-Wed of this week. I've started telling the fam, reluctantly, about my new dissertation topic. Reluctant not because they are not supportive, rather because I am still searching for the words to describe the topic itself.

However, it was very helpful to sort of struggle through finding the words to describe things with my family over dinner last night. My mother is a fellow educator and seemed to quickly pick up on whatever I was blithering about. My brother-in-law and sister wanted a clearer explanation of things, and I'm grateful for their questioning. These are two intelligent individuals, both of whom have gone through the developmental process (I think) that I'm going to explore with this dissertation. I know that if I cannot explain it to them, then I'm not finding understandable wording. This was a good exercise.

In a later discussion with my mom, I was able to use the basic components of the theory I'm developing to describe my sister, brother-in-law, mother, friends, etc. That's kinda cool. I hope to keep finding opportunities to practice these types of applications and to work with the theory to "profect" out this idea some more.

Friday, March 18, 2005


Do you ever think about choices you've made and wonder what woulda coulda shoulda happened if things had turned out differently? Admittedly it's not a healthy exercise, and yet it's something I've been trying to wrap my brain around lately. It's the chain of events thing that I find mind-boggling. This decision in 1989 lead to attending this college and majoring in xyz which lead to meeting these & such people which later led to a job I took that allowed me to build skill 23 but made me forgo three other things...and what would have happened if I had gone to a different college and met other people who I would have...


Man it's random out, tonight.

Oh, I should explain that. It's kinda like "it's cold out, it's snowy out..." etc., but I tend to add other words like "it's hungry out" or "it's tired out." Those of you who know me...this is nothing new. I've been saying this sorta thing since college. Perhaps I should move on from it.

Hoo boy...who edits these blog postings anyhow? Oh yeah...that would be me. Better quit while I'm behind...way behind.

"Too much time on my hands..."

I'm singing that song this afternoon. It's spring break. I've had a couple of days to myself this week without work at the assistantship or family commitments. My goals were to finish up a couple of lingering papers (course revalidations to bring courses in from my Master's degree, completed NINE years ago) (NINE??), and get cranking on the dissertation proposal. Didn't really happen yet.

It's not like I've just sat around though...I did the stuff around the house that I don't have a chance to do when working, in classes, or being a husband and/or dad: I brought our lawn mower in for a tune-up; I changed the furnace filter; I cleaned up some clutter around the house (though the office is messy again...ACK!); I prepared for a conference I'm attending next week; and I did some reading for a class I'm teaching the week afterward. I guess it's not been entirely unproductive, but I haven't done nearly the amount I had set out to do. Typical for me, unfortunately. You'd think I'd have learned this by the 21st grade. Oh well.

The story of a doctoral student on spring break, I suppose.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Chester, the Entertainer

If a dog could be a clown, then here he is. Posted by Hello

Of course as I type this, he's resting on my feet, keeping them warm. Thank you, Chester.

This is a puppy picture from 1999 - I'm going to find another that's a little more up-to-date.

Happy Birthday, Chester!

Today is Chester's 6th birthday! He was born on a farm near Bedford, Virginia, about two-and-a-half hours west of Richmond. I'll post a picture.

Since this is my spring break week, Wife, Son, & I are planning a couple of birthday trips with Chester around town to a couple of parks here and there. The weather's cold for a March day (in fact March has been more winter-like than February), but at least nothing's falling from the sky. Yet.


Monday, March 14, 2005

Perhaps I've found it?

When I worked in a student activities office at a large research university in the Southeastern United States, I often wondered if I had found my home in higher education administration. I admit I was skeptical. Let me explain: first, let me express that student "activities," referring to social and educational (yet non-academic) activities usually planned by students, are essential to the college experience, in my opinion, because they provide ample opportunities for students to gain some 'real-life' experience or application of knowledge outside of the classroom, couched in a "safe" environment. What I mean is, the out-of-class experience is just as important as those experiences within the classroom.

However, I have always felt a pull more toward the academic side of the house. I found myself saying to Wife, is all this really important to these students? I thought it was mildly important, but the most important things were learning something marketable to get a job, making good friends, and learning about oneself. While there were certainly some connections to be made between student activities and these "important" things, I always felt a little disconnected from the real reasons why my students were attending college.

And then I moved over to working in new student orientation. I ran a small shop that helped over 4,000 students embark upon the college experience, from administering placement tests and setting up meetings with an academic advisor to scheduling their first semester of coursework and helping them to make friends. In general it was a very rewarding job, and I was able (along with dozens of others) to create some new programs that I believe improved upon the college experience for these students. Finally: doing what was "important."

About three years later I realized I wanted to learn about what made students tick: what made them make the decisions they would make, and how those decisions would affect their future. I wanted to use the energy I found in doing something "important" by finding out more about the core of the college experience. I decided to pursue the doctorate and do some of my own research on this stuff.

But then I experienced a loss of self-confidence upon entering the doctoral program. I guess I was working hard to find my footing as A Doc Student and started exploring other things that I thought I should explore, fighting the internal battles of studying what I think is practical, i.e. what will help me find a job, vs. what I actually am interested in studying, which I now realize will probably still help me find a job.

I'm back to square one now with wondering what makes students tick again. And I like it here much more. I'm studying something I've been interested in studying since 1994: college student development. Why I didn't move along this path earlier is beyond me, but sometimes a good kick in the ass from an advisor can help me remember why in the world I would choose to leave behind certain things: a decent salary/benefits package, a good reputation as an administrator, and a rather predictable though certainly not boring lifestyle. The fact of the matter is: this time of instability, self-consciousness, and poverty will probably lead me back toward becoming a good administrator again with the aforementioned benefits, but hopefully a scholarly door will open as well. I truly missed using the right side of my brain during my 6 years in administration; now I'm using it again and am able to combine skills and interests from the past without wondering if this is what I should be studying. Kind of a nice feeling.

So, perhaps I've found it? Perhaps I've finally figured out what I'm doing "with this one wild, precious life?" I dunno - feels like it, certainly, but we'll see.

(quoting Mary Oliver's "The Summer Day")

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Profect [pro-FEKT]

In the summer of 2002, Wife and I became homeowners for the first time. We heard from several friends and relatives about the gazilion papers that would need to be signed at closing, so it's not like we weren't expecting our hands to fall off from the numbers of times we signed our names.

I think I can speak accurately for the both of us when I say we like to question things we do not understand. We are both educators by career choice, so naturally we enjoy asking questions and learning. While learning usually comes easy to us, we learned this is not necessarily the case with things like mortgages and taxes and such. We endured learning the truth behind the "truth in lending" forms, which is neither truthful nor does it relate to lending. [DISCUSS!] And then the conversation turned to an even more weird subject:
"OK, this next form...this one profects the loan," Loan Officer said nervously, as if she dreaded yet another question from this inquisitive couple.

I said to Wife, "Oh, OK...this one is easy. It protects the loan."

"No," Loan Officer said. "It profects the loan," again with the nervous look as if to say, "I really need a cigarette...please do not ask another question."

Wife and I looked at each other, blinked twice, wondered what the hell the word profect actually means, and decided to just sign the damn form. And all was well. We got the house...

...and now, almost three years later, we use the word profect all the time. It's perfect for things like, "Sweetie, I just profected our taxes." Or, "I'm going to profect the lawn because it needs to be cut." Or even, "I need to profect this paper because it is due tomorrow." It's a random verb that is positive (perhaps one may find it a little obscene) (WHAT?), emotes progress, accomplishment, or presentation. I mean, it did something to our loan that enabled us to borrow the money, right?

Seriously, if anyone knows what in the world this term actually means, please feel free to comment here. I've not found anything like it in any dictionary, though admittedly I am not certain I'm spelling the word correctly.

OK, I'm off to grade papers that my students profected earlier this week.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Five Interview Questions

A few of the nearby Bloggers I know have asked me to respond to a few questions that appeared on Hugh's blog just shy of a week ago. Here goes:

1. You formerly lived in Chicago, what is your favorite restaurant in Chicago? What is your favorite landmark or place to visit in Chicago?

Hey, isn't this two questions? First off: I adore Chicago. It's hard for me to pick one "favorite" anything in this town because there is such a variety there. Second: I haven't lived there in about 13 years, so I may not be up-to-date in dining & attractions list.

Restaurant: well, let's call it a food category - CHICAGO STUFFED PIZZA. The kind with two layers of DOUGH [an aside: I actually made this for four friends of mine (2 couples) in a monthly routine of cooking "interesting" culinary fare for each other. Two of my married male friends asked for my hand in marriage when I carefully placed Dough Layer #2 on top]. In high school, the place to go was Carmen's. Nowadays, I prefer Lou Malnati's.

Landmark or place to visit: again, hard to pick one favorite spot. I am an architecture buff, particularly the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Plenty of his work still exists in the north & western suburbs. I love driving up Lake Shore Drive at night...just one of my favorite things. I have good memories of horse-drawn carriage rides on North Michigan Avenue during the winter holidays, along with seeing the animated windows at Marshall Field's & Carson Pirie Scott on State Street. But this doesn't even touch on the gazilion out-of-the-way neighborhoods with little theaters, cool restaurants, etc. that one gets to know when you either live there or know people who live there.

Hoo boy: long response.

2. Where were your born, and where did you grow up? Do you like or dislike this place? Do you return to visit?

I was born at Passavant Hospital, now Northwestern Memorial, in Chicago. I grew up in a North Shore suburb, and I have many happy childhood memories in our old drafty 1920s colonial house in what felt like a friendly small town. Unfortunately, the small-town-feel left in the mid 1980s when the place became snooty, in my opinion. I didn't fit into that scene very well, but fortunately I could ignore it when I went to the public township high school of 4,000 students. I felt like I could be myself in high school, probably because it was so big; there was no "popular" crowd there because everyone could find a niche. I do return to visit quite often as some of my family still lives in the area.

3. What are your 5 favorite rock bands?

ROCK bands? I never remember the names of rock bands, though I can hum along with a bunch of tunes. Recent CD purchases include Nickel Creek and Alicia Keys. I like the Indigo Girls (I saw them last fall in concert for the 3rd time), James Taylor, Bruce Hornsby (good pianist!), and of course the Beatles. I'm not good with questions like this. Onward, then.

4. You are a musician and classical music fan , what are your 5 favorite classical music pieces?

Easy question for me. Brahms piano quntet in F-minor; many of the later Mozart symphonies; Rachmaninoff Preludes (piano) from Op. 32; Chopin's Scherzo no 2, I think, in B-flat minor; and Debussy's "Jardins sous la pluie" (Gardens in the Rain) from "Estampes," which is one of the few college audition pieces I learned that I can still play pretty well. I like most anything written by Debussy, actually.

5. How and why did you get involved in writing a blog?

A colleague of mine an idea that a group of us could create blogs and dialogue about our doctoral student experiences. I considered doing this anyhow because I needed an outlet for my writing. I enjoy writing a great deal, but I was experiencing some angst when doing class papers. I wanted the practice, accountablility, external motivation, etc. to write something every few days and keep my chops up. It was extremely helpful when preparing for qualifying exams. Also, I like to tinker with technical things, so when I need a break I mess around with the small-level blog details like the template settings and what-not. It's a perfect combination for me of writing out thoughts and playing with a technical tool.

Wow - did you really read this entire response?? Thanks!

Monday, March 07, 2005

Dissertation Idea # 5,328,697

I exaggerate slightly. It's really only idea #4. You see...
  • I came here with idea #1 in the fall of 2002.
  • I changed to idea #2 in the spring of 2003.
  • I switched back to idea #1 the following fall 2003.
  • Then, idea #3 hit me last spring of 2004, and I carried that torch until two weeks prior to the end of the fall 2004 semester, at which point I switched back to topic #1.
  • And today, after a knock-down drag-out meeting with my advisor (a good meeting, though), I think I may go with idea #4.
One problem: Wife doesn't understand what the hell idea #4 is. She's a smart cookie with a master's degree and 10+ years of work experience, but the topic is a little esoteric. Now, you may think her understanding of it isn't important, and I should do what I want to do. However, spousal understanding and approval of the dissertation topic is crucial, in my view. I mean, if I'm going to live, eat, breathe, and sleep this topic for the next couple of years, then Wife better understand and approve of this proverbial "guest" that I'd be inviting into our home.

It's going to be an interesting couple of months as I work out the details of this new topic. OK, it kinda makes my brain itch, but it's exciting nonetheless. My advisor does a good job of helping me develop a dissertation topic that will show off analytical skills when looking for a job and also falls inside an area that I really care about.

I'm not quite ready to share the new idea yet...we'll see where things go with my intellectual activities this week.

Gotta get some reading done now...

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Where I've been...

This idea comes from my friend Hugh. I thought it was kinda cool.

My cousins (brother & sister to each other) are in a race to see who can "get" all 50 states first. "Get" means "go to." So even if it's just stepping foot in the place, they've "got" it. I bet their lists are much more BOLDED than mine, though I think I probably have them both beat with the number of underlines. Anyhow, here goes:

bold the states you've been to, underline the states you've lived in and italicize the state you're in now...

Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / Florida / Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana / Maine / Maryland / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey / New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennessee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming / Washington D.C /

Go HERE to have a form generate the HTML for you.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


I am in a class that meets once per week to prepare me for my dissertation proposal. With the end of these @#$% exams, the next steps are to finish up coursework & get cracking on the proposal so I can start collecting data next fall.

This class is a wonderful opportunity because the professor essentially argues with us about our topics (which helps me a great deal), and my colleauges and I can be generally supportive to each other. The class size is a little too big: there are 16 of us, plus the professor, but it's a good opportunity nonetheless.

Today I heard from a couple of friends who discussed their topics in the areas of college choice, social & cultural capital, and other factors in the undergraduate and graduate school experiences that shape our lives. Normally when I hear these topics I have flashbacks to my own college experience. Today I had a different flashback......it was to high school, my senior year to be exact. Some of my HS buddies had applied for early acceptance programs at a variety of schools (about 97.9999% of my high school went to college...it was practically an expectation there), but I did not because I was applying to music schools, and I had to audition. The auditions were not until February or March, so I was busy practicing piano for like 4 hours per day, preparing an audition tape, etc. when some others that I knew were mailing out applications hither & yon.

Anyhow, the five main songs I auditioned with were POUNDING through my head throughout class today, and I haven't thought about a couple of these pieces in years (do understand my auditions were in the spring of 1989, so it's been a little while). I'm not sure why I'm sharing this, other than to express that the funniest things can come into or out of our brains when we're in a class setting that helps us explore things as personal as our dissertation topics. I guess part of the graduate school experience involves some self-reflection...sometimes that's good, and sometimes it's difficult. Today it was good; that was a time in my life where I felt like I could play any piece I set my mind to playing.

I do miss playing regularly, though: I cannot say that I can play "anything" anymore, as I'm out of practice in comparison. However, I'm grateful to be going through this degree program with a piano in the house: sometimes that's been a saving grace from stress or general frustration with life. Piano has always been my greatest escape and self battery-recharger. I guess that's why I couldn't stand to go into music for my career.

More later, perhaps. Time to get Son ready for bed.


All done! Glad that hoop is over, finished, at the coda, the end, finis, derriere. Buh-bye.

I actually finished writing around 2PM. A couple of good buddies gave very helpful feedback, and I revised everything till just before 4PM. Then, the printer toner went out on my printer, and the new toner I purchased two weeks ago (in anticipation of this very thing) proceeded to not work. I put the old toner back in & shook it around for a while. That worked, though i had to print the last 7 pages about 3 times to get them to come out right. And then I had to deal with the slow Midwestern drivers again when delivering the question to campus.... ;)

My lovely wife has been such a big support for me through these past couple of weeks. We toyed with the idea of her and our son going out of town for a while to give me space; I'm glad we decided they should stay around. Each night during the exams I did my normal evening routine of eating dinner with the family, playing with Son, and then getting him ready for bed. I'm grateful for an evening family routine: always helps me get priorities into perspective. Poor Chester (the dog/namesake of the Blog)...he unfortunately has not been played with very much this week, and he doesn't understand why I've been home so much recently with my office door closed. We'll have to take a nice long walk within the next couple of days

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your comments during these past couple of weeks...those definitely kept me going.

Keeling over with sleep now...and I have a class in 7 hours? Sleep...who needs it? zzzz....