My Year Away. Again.

First, I went on Sabbatical. Now, I'm beginning My Year Away again as I start my first year of Retirement!


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Christmas. The Most Saddest Time of the Year.

Okay, so I love Christmas just as much as the other happy “Hey, let’s make this the merriest one ever” jolly spend-til-we-drop Memory Makers.  I have lovely memories of Christmas morning with our twins, Grace and Graham, and their look of awe as they surveyed the mountains of presents under the tree.  I inherited this “find the perfect gift” mentality from my parents who spared no expense to buy my sister and me every conceivable thing we ever wanted (and things we hadn’t even dreamed that we wanted) on Christmas morning.  Christmas was the day that we tucked in, marveling at our good fortune for having such a perfect family.  Presents, stolen (without the yucky dried fruit), hot chocolate with too many marshmallows.  Just us.  Just lovely.  Just peaceful.

Except, that’s not real life.

Real life is heart wrenching.  At Christmas time, the wounds burst open and if you spend even a second thinking about the world, you’ll have to fight the urge to crawl into a fetal position, praying for a New and Better Year.

I noticed my attitude toward Christmas starting to change once our kids were adults, long out of the house, and we had become Anglicans.  Anglicans are flat out weird about Christmas.  First, the holiday doesn’t even really start until Christmas Day.  And then you have to go on and on until Epiphany.  Finally, the season ends and you ride the train to Easter.

There are decorations in the church, but they are sparse.  We have a lovely gigantic fir near the front of the sanctuary.  As of today, it only has white lights on it.  It makes me want to cry every time I walk by it as the Altos head down that side of the aisle during the processional hymn.

During this time of Advent, I’ve heard sermons about the Baby Jesus—but always in the context of the Crucifixion.  (Is there anything more brutal than that?)  And I’ve practiced and practiced our choir songs for this season.  Some of the songs are glorious and upbeat.  (Think Handel’s “And the Glory of the Lord,” which we are singing tomorrow for the Third Sunday in Advent.)

But tonight, for Lessons and Carols, we are singing some doozies.  I just finished practicing “Come, Renew Us” and I can’t stop the tears.  Here are the words:

Come, Lord, come to us, enter our darkness with your light.

Fill our emptiness with your presence.

Come, refresh, restore, renew us.

In our sadness, come as joy.

In our troubles, come as peace.

In our fearfulness, come as hope.

In our darkness, come as light. 

In our frailty, come as strength.

In our loneliness, come as love.

My sister in law is a new widow, getting ready to navigate her first Christmas without her husband.  My daughter’s sister in law is getting ready to face the holiday as both a new widow and a heartbroken mother who has lost two children because of a horrific small plane crash this week in Alaska.

Life forever shattered.

How do humans work through that?  Honestly, I don’t know how those suffering handle the pain.  But the only thing I do know is that in our darkness, Jesus comes as hope.

This Christmas season, I’m singing about emptiness, fearfulness, sadness, frailty.  This is how I’m celebrating.  Come, Lord, come to us, enter our darkness.


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For the first time in my life, I spent Thanksgiving by myself.

For the first time in my life, I spent Thanksgiving by myself.

And it was surprisingly okay.  Those who know me know I am absolutely obsessive about Thanksgiving.  I always make the food myself because I simply can’t trust another human being to make everything in the true New England manner into which I was indoctrinated (for Thanksgiving, anyway).  That means absolutely no giblets in the gravy, stuffing outside the bird (and please don’t even think about putting raisons or oysters in the stuffing!), and a minimum of four pies with all-butter crusts.  There are always traditional apple, pecan and pumpkin pies.  Then there is the Roving Pie.  And sometimes there is the Decoy Pie.  About a week before Thanksgiving, people around the country start asking me what the Roving Pie for the year will be.

But this year they were met with silence.  No Roving Pie—or any pie for that matter. Heartbreakingly, my sister-in-law’s husband, Kevin, passed away a few days before Thanksgiving, so my husband, of course, had to rush to Wisconsin to be with his sister, his mother, and all the many, many people who knew and loved Kevin.

We quickly contacted our dinner guests to say we would have to cancel the long-anticipated meal and that was that.  So these days that I have been alone at the beach, I have had plenty of time to think about life and the joys and pains that come along with the basic fact of living.  What did I conclude?

First, Gary and I have had a rough 2016. My dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January and died August 30.  About that same time, I was diagnosed with achalasia, a bizarre and very rare swallowing disorder (more about this in a future post).  About the same time as that (seriously, these all happened in the course of four days), Gary’s mom fell and broke her hip and had to have emergency surgery.  Then, in early October, our beach island was slammed with Hurricane Matthew.  Our car was totaled as was our golf cart.  Gary’s beloved workshop and tools were heavily damaged or destroyed.  And, now, Kevin’s passing.

But here is what I thought about these last several days.  I have so much to be thankful for, it’s hard to feel blue just because I’m alone for Thanksgiving.  Even when I’m sad, thinking about the heartbreak of losing people we love, I am still thankful.  Here’s just a snippet of my many blessings:

Even though both of my mom and dad are gone, their lives continue to influence mine.  They were wonderful parents and during the holidays, all I have are sweet memories of the great times we shared.  From the time my mom dropped the turkey and it slid across the kitchen floor while everyone was waiting in the dining room (“I’m carving the turkey now” she called out as she picked up the smooshed bird and we both could hardly breathe for laughing so hard) to the time my dad bought my sister and me skis and everything that went with them even though none of us knew how to ski, Christmas and Thanksgiving provide anchors of memories that will last for a lifetime.  My parents travelled the world and ingrained that curiosity for life into me.

As soon as anyone found out I was going to be alone for Thanksgiving, they invited me to their home to share their meal.  Even though I declined all invitations, it was wonderful to be reminded that I have many friends who care and lots and lots of people around me who I can call on if I have need.

Even though achalasia makes swallowing a challenge, for some reason I have no difficultly singing in the choir.  In fact, I tend to have about a two-hour window after singing when I can eat almost normally (if you call eating soft foods normal).

While we suffered some loss with the hurricane, it is nothing compared to what so many others experienced.  And while Matthew was devastating to property, no one in South Carolina died from the storm.

And, finally, while it’s sad that my brother-in-law is gone, he impacted untold lives during his 59 years.  He leaves behind a great wife (my sister-in-law, Barbara), three terrific adult kids (Zach, Peter and Andrew), their beautiful wives, and their quiver full of children.  Around 300 people came to the funeral during a holiday weekend to express their thankfulness for Kevin’s life.

No one ever said life would be easy.  I used to tell my daughter, Grace, “Be careful what you whine about because life can always get worse.”  And even when it does, it’s still good.

But just in case you were wondering, this is why I didn’t make pies.


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Well done, Dad. But, I’m Sure Going to Miss You.

It’s tough to lose a parent.  But, it’s a part of life.  And I’m fortunate that my dad lived a long and fulfilling life.  As my sister and I prepare for his memorial service on Monday, we’ve been talking a lot about what great childhoods we’ve had.  Thanks, Dad, for a life well lived.  (Here’s his obituary that will run in tomorrow’s paper.)

Robert Allan Richter, 90, of Carolina Village, Hendersonville, NC, died August 30, 2016, after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. Bob was born in New Britain, CT, on July 11, 1926, to Paul and Helen Richter. He attended New Britain High School, graduating at 16 in 1943. His teenage years were spent on Bassett Street where he was a member of the Bassett Street Bone Crushers, a vagabond group of kids who regularly played a rough and tumble version of street hockey. After graduating from high school, Bob worked as a Pepsi truck driver where he earned the nickname “Pepsi Pete.” Hearing the call of duty, Bob joined the Army, and became a staff sergeant of the military police, mostly in the Chicago area. He often spent his off-duty hours at the legendary Aragon ballroom, jitterbugging the night away to the Big Bands. His 6’7” lanky uniformed frame drew many dance partners.

Dad loved driving his Pepsi truck.

Dad loved driving his Pepsi truck.

After the war, Bob attended the University of Maine at Orono where he graduated fourth in his engineering class in 1950. He was a member of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society. He also was president of Sigma Phi Epsilon, a fraternity that provided many life-long friends. To earn extra money in college, Bob became the campus photographer, which gained him access to all sorts of events on campus. Toward the end of his college career, Bob met Nancy Richter, a nursing student, on a blind date. In short time, the two were engaged and married on July 7, 1950, in Fort Kent, ME, Nancy’s hometown. After a short stint at a small engineering firm, Bob joined General Electric as a civil engineer, where he worked until his retirement in 1988. Bob’s career at GE took him and Nancy all over the world. Wherever they moved, they made a home for their family. When Bob retired, he asked Nancy where she wanted to live and without hesitation, she said “Hendersonville, NC,” a place they had visited and loved. Settling into an active retirement life, Bob and his golfing buddies played courses all over North Carolina. After 52 years of marriage, Nancy lost her heroic battle with cancer, on June 8, 2004.

Bob is survived by his second wife, Elna, whom he married in 2005.  Elna’s five children, multiple grandchildren and great grandchildren all welcomed Bob into their family.  Also surviving are Bob’s children Helen (Stephen) Gammon of Coventry, RI, Carol (Gary) Pardun of Columbia, SC, grandchildren Carl Gammon of Brainerd, MN, Amy (Joey) Hatcher of Wasilla, AK, Jonathan (Jackie) Gammon of Savannah, TX, and twins Grace (Jim) Alworth and Graham (Sonia) Pardun, both of Minneapolis, MN.  Bob also is survived by four great-grandsons:  Levi and Luca Hatcher, Jack Pardun, and Archer Gammon.  He is predeceased by his first wife, Nancy, and his brother Donald of Manchester, CT.

A memorial service celebrating the life of Bob Richter and the comforting joy of the Lord Jesus Christ will be held on Monday, September 5, 10:00 a.m. in the Village Hall at Carolina Village. The Reverend Dr. Stephen G. Gammon, Bob’s son-in-law, will lead the service. Shuler Funeral Home, Hendersonville, is assisting with the arrangements. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that gifts be made to Four Seasons Hospice, Hendersonville, NC. Bob’s ashes will be spread in the memorial garden at Hendersonville Presbyterian Church, a courtyard of quiet remembrance where members and friends of the church are able to reflect on those who have already joined the great heavenly chorus.


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Vote How You Want. But Let’s Be Nicer About It.

I am a Christian.  I will not be voting for Trump.  Even though I am “unaffiliated” to any particular party, I also will not be voting third party.  Nor will I be staying home on election day.  I am voting for Hillary Clinton.

While I don’t like to post political messages, I am compelled to state who I am voting for.  Not because I am a huge fan of Clinton’s (although I think she is absolutely ready to become president)—or even because I think Trump is the least qualified candidate the country has ever seen.  Rather, I am compelled to clearly state who I am voting for as a plea to my friends and colleagues who do not know Jesus to understand that not every Christian supports Trump.

As a Christian, I am uncomfortable with many planks of Clinton’s platform.  I struggle with same-sex marriage.  I hate the concept of abortion.  But I absolutely believe that all Americans should enjoy equal civil rights.  I believe that rather than argue over whether life begins at conception, we should create a society where no one feels compelled to have an abortion. I believe we should treat refugees with respect and compassion.  I believe that the Second Amendment has nothing to do with owning assault weapons.  And, I believe in science.

To my fellow Christians, I beg you to stop the vitriol against Obama and Clinton.  If you don’t want to vote for Hillary, that’s your prerogative.  But, she is not the Devil.  Spewing hatred like I’ve seen on Facebook hurts my heart.  And if you are not a Christian, please, I beg you not to judge the entire Evangelical community by the support so many have pledged to Trump.  Believe me, I am as flummoxed as you are.

It’s a long time until November.  Let’s agree to disagree.  Or if we can’t, let’s at least treat each other with civility.  As the wise sage Mark Twain once said, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”


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Raucous Rowing Camp

As you’ve read elsewhere, I’m rather enthusiastic when it comes to rowing. So it should be no surprise that one of the goals on my sabbatical “to do” list was to go to rowing camp. This would be my fourth time to attend. The schedule is simple—but grueling.

7 a.m: First row (coffee only).

9 a.m: Breakfast (lots of food; it’s the most joyous eating experience ever).

11 a.m: Video review of the morning’s row (always revealing).

Noon: Mid-day row (painful. Hot. Tortuous.).

2 p.m: Lunch (starving! Pass me another!!!).

3 p.m: Nap (Glorious.).

5 p.m: Evening row. (I can do this).

7 p.m: Dinner.

9 p.m: Crash.

We do this for four days. While I work on my whole stroke during camp, I was particularly interested in improving my oar handling this time, which meant I focused on how my fingers rolled the oars up to the catch (the point at which you gently unweight them, grab the water, and then push!). With about 27,000 meters of rowing each day, it wasn’t long before my hands were a bloody mess.

And this was just Day 2 of Rowing Camp!

And this was just Day 2 of Rowing Camp!

I went to camp with seven other of my Beaufort Rowing friends. One is my age but the rest are between 10 and 15 years older than me. I am competitive enough to know that I wanted to make sure I did more than the older rowers—and complained less. This was harder than I expected. More than once I was ready to throw in the towel and sit out a row.

But my friends wouldn’t give up. They did everything the coaches said. They listened. They laughed. They tried new things. They encouraged others. And, they also got better at rowing. Simply put, they were amazing.

I’m back at home in Columbia now, savoring the last days before the semester begins (in a matter of hours, actually!). I rowed yesterday morning with these rowing friends. They were all a little sad when they realized that this was my last mid-week row at the beach. It’s back to the lonely sculling life in Columbia during the week with only Saturday morning for Beaufort rows. I was touched my friends were sad. I was sad, too.

Aristophanes said, “Why, I’d like nothing better than to achieve some bold adventure, worthy of our trip.” I’ve been on a lot of bold adventures during My Year Away. (I mean, I did go ziplining through the rain forest.) I’ve travelled the world and I’ve seen a lot of mind-boggling sites. But one of the very best experiences I’ve had this year was to spend four days with my rowing buddies.

I am fortunate to have great rowing friends, a couple of best girl friends, a fantastic husband, terrific choir friends. And wonderful colleagues at the University of South Carolina. As FDR once said, “I’m not the smartest fellow in the world, but I can sure pick smart colleagues.” I agree.

It may be sad to bid my beach life adieu, but I’m excited about greeting my colleagues when I return to work on Monday. And if I get too nostalgic about my rowing days at camp, I can look at my hands. There’s a blister or two to remind me that my class schedule might not be so bad, after all.


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My Biggest Sabbatical Surprise? I’m Ready to Return to Reality.

It’s July 14. I report back to work on August 16. One month remains to think my own thoughts, do my own thing, dig in the dirt, row.

Except I don’t have one month. In order to be ready for the fall semester, I have to work now. This puts me in a quandary. I want to squeeze every last drop out of My Year Away—except I’m being drawn back into the “real world.” Sort of like the time traveller who is content to wander around a different century and then makes the mistake of touching a coin from the present day mistakenly left in his pocket, and wham! Yanked into the present.

I’m teaching two new classes in the fall. So I’m reading all sorts of books, determined to make these classes current, cutting edge, challenging and fun. Heck, I’m shooting for life altering. This takes time. Lots and lots of time and all of a sudden, I’m finding myself short on time. My beach office is a mess, with books strewn across my desk, barely started syllabi on my desktop, links to potential articles bookmarked.

I’ll also be the chair of our tenure and promotion committee this year, which means I have to usher through the process anyone who is going up for tenure. I’m currently soliciting external reviewers for the candidate’s dossier, which is due August 1. (If I contact you, please say yes!) All this takes time. Time away from my sabbatical.

But here’s the thing. I’m excited about the semester. I’m enjoying getting ready for the fall. We have moved into a renovated space in the historic part of campus—really, the soul of the university. As the former head of the school, I was deeply involved in the design of our building and it’s gratifying to see the results of all those meetings. I love our new building. And I love my new office. I have windows(!) with a beautiful view. I have everything arranged perfectly thanks to my friend Marcie, a fellow academic also known as the Design Whisperer.

Here's my new office.

Here’s my new office.

As I look back over the past year, I am grateful for the once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’ve loved my travel, I’ve loved seeing friends, I’ve loved my garden, I’ve loved cooking for my husband, I’ve loved being able to row more.

And I’ve loved doing research. In other posts, I’ve written about the need to “fill the pipeline.” I might not have accomplished as much as I set out to do (who ever does?), but I’ve worked hard and am starting to reap the effort. Since beginning my sabbatical, I have had one journal article published, two more accepted for publication, two in review at top journals, two in early writing stages, and a couple in the “we should work on this” stage.

I’ve improved my technology skills, my social media savvy, my statistics ability. I’ve even continued trying to learn R programming (which makes my right brain throb).

What I haven’t done, however, is work on my administrative skills. Oh, I’ve kept up with the Chronicle of Higher Education. And I even read a lengthy article about what’s wrong with journalism education (I can tell you, there is a lot wrong with J-education, but this article didn’t tell me a single thing that I–and just about everyone else—didn’t already know.)

Personally, I’d much rather spend my time learning from those excited about the future of communications. Like Faris Yakob. I discovered Faris’ book Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World and then contacted him via Twitter. This book just came out and is making quite the splash in advertising circles. As of today, Faris has 27,000 followers on Twitter. Yet, when I tweeted him, he replied in about 30 seconds. And get this! He has agreed to Skype in to one of my class sessions. Woo hoo!

As my family and friends know, I love to move. I can thank my dad for this. He moved our family around the country during his heyday as a General Electric poobah. (Sometimes multiple times in one year.) Nothing like packing boxes to get a girl’s juices flowing!  However, this year, I’ve learned that there might be something even better than moving: Getting a fresh start in the very same place. I’ve got a new building, a new office, new classes, some new colleagues, new students, new committee assignments.

As Malcolm X once said, “The future belongs to those who prepare for it.” My sabbatical is coming to an end. I’ve spent the year preparing for the future. I am ready. In the immortal words of the Pointer Sisters, “I’m so excited. And I just can’t hide it.


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Sailing. Sunshine. And Surprises.

My husband and I just returned from a sailing trip through the British Virgin Islands (another sabbatical voyage!). We chartered a 45-foot monohull, invited friends Jack and Kathy to come along, and headed out for island hopping. It was an adventure, that’s for sure.

Taken from our boat moored at Anegada Island, an island which never exceeds 28 feet above sea level.

Taken from our boat moored at Anegada Island, an island which never exceeds 28 feet above sea level.

The sailing was spectacular, weather cooperative, water inviting. But, the real surprises were the people we encountered. Here are a few of the highlights:

  1. Katie. We met Katie early in our week. We had picked up a mooring ball at the Cooper Island Beach Resort, a small restaurant/hotel on a teeny private island. We hopped in our dinghy (a small rubber raft that you have to drag behind your sailboat all week if you plan to get off your boat) and putt-putted to the dinghy dock. We tied up, scooted through the sand and found ourselves seated at a lovely little open-air eatery. Katie was our waitress and while this sounds incredibly corny, she truly was a beam of sunshine. Katie is Welsh, thrilled to be working on a remote island and beside herself with the culinary offerings from which we would choose. Mahi Mahi? “Oooh, my second favorite thing ever!” The tuna? “Yes, that’s even better!” “The carrot soup is delectable! It’s so simple! You’ll love it!” She might be the most optimistic person ever and the four of us were clearly smitten. We ate our way through the menu, oohing and ahhing through it all—I think, in part, to please Katie. Even though a service charge was included (the food, like everything in the BVI, is expensive), we all agreed that Katie deserved more. We talked about Katie all week long. How would she like her job a month from now? How long will she last on the island? Will she stay with her boyfriend?   Will people be nice to her? While this is far-fetched, you have to believe me when I say we almost returned to Cooper Island on the sail back to Tortola just to check on Katie. We were invested.
  2. Barry. We came across Barry about 30 seconds after running aground at Anegada Island. It wasn’t our fault. Some dorkhead decided that the bay could take another round of mooring balls. Trouble was there was only about 5 feet of water there. Our boat required at least 6. We just barely got stuck and quick as a wink, Barry pushed with his dinghy and helped us get free and find deeper water. Then he charged us for the mooring—and handed us a menu from his beachfront restaurant. Opportunist? Or just a really nice and helpful islander? We discussed this at length. But the bottom line was Barry was so happy, it was impossible not to go along. He was thrilled to be living on a remote island. And he really wanted us to eat at his restaurant. Of course we did. We sat outside, in plastic chairs on the beach, which sunk a few inches into the sand every time we squiggled. We watched the sun set, the moon rise (it was a full moon and spectacular), we listened to music (apparently every island in the BVI has the perfect music list for 50-60 year olds. Wherever we went, it was Aretha, Beatles, and Ronstadt.) Barry was in no hurry and neither were we, but we were also hungry. We eventually got our food. We listened to him sing (not all that well). We watched him dance (better). This guy was just plain content with his lot in life. And he was determined to share his contentment with us.
  3. Thomas. Thomas was one of the last people we met on our trip. He was part of the family that was trying to make a go of a small hotel on St. Thomas where we stayed the night before heading back to South Carolina. Thomas fixed our clogged sink, explained why the chef had decided not to come to work that day, brought us a corkscrew, walked with us through the winding streets to explain how to get to a restaurant. He was confident, had ideas, and was clearly working hard to improve the hotel. Turns out he had spent most of his life stateside and had graduated from Georgia Tech with a computer degree. His dad died so he needed to come home to help with the family hotel. And he did. Clearly this was not an easy life for Thomas, but he didn’t show an inch of resentment.

When you go on a weeklong sailing trip, you have to be over-prepared—but ready to throw out your plans and go with Plan B. Or C. Or D. Sailing is fun, but it’s not easy. It takes muscle to raise the sails on a 45-foot boat. (I never thought I would admit this, but I actually quite enjoyed the electric winch for the mainsail that came with this model!) It takes balance to hang over the side, trying to retrieve a mooring ball or letting out anchor rode. You have to be willing to do math and know the difference between longitude and latitude. It’s helpful if you can tie a few appropriate knots. (After sailing for over a decade, I’m still barely squeaking by with my bowline knot.) And you have to be willing to obey the captain (in this case aka my husband). Always. Not always intuitive for this independent woman.

A sailing adventure like we took is a break from the world. It’s difficult to remember what day it is, let alone what time of the day it is.   Since I’m on sabbatical and already fairly rested up from administrative mayhem (after all, I’ve been away for almost a year now!), I began the week raring to go. Maybe that’s why I was more observant of the people we encountered on this trip. Or maybe I was ready to think about my life in relation to theirs. Or maybe I was just more interested in others for a change because I’ve gotten my head out of the administrative sand long enough to look around and see the delights around me. Who knows? But one thing I do know is that I loved my week in the BVI. We got in some terrific sailing, I got to spend a solid week with my husband (all my other sabbatical trips have been without him). And, I crossed paths with some incredible people who call the British Virgin Islands home. Just ordinary, joyful, calm, self-assured people. Plenty to think about as the new academic year looms around the corner. Jibe, ho!


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Ancient Ruins, Mile-High Pie, and South Rim Explorations. Oh My!

As I head toward the final stretch of My Year Away, I find myself looking forward to the new academic year and at the same time desperately trying to fit in just one more adventure before my care-free life comes to a screeching halt.

Thus, when I found myself with the opportunity to visit Greece, Turkey and the Grand Canyon all within a few days of each other, it seemed the only logical thing to do.

First up: A pilgrimage of sorts following in the steps of St. Paul’s second missionary journey. Due to a cancellation at the last minute, my friend Kathy invited me to tag along with 35 of her church friends. Given that I have always considered myself adverse to organized tours, the thought of 10 hours on a plane left me squirmy, and I typically get motion sick on buses (of which the majority of this tour would take place), I was a little surprised that I agreed to go.

I did, indeed, get motion sick. The hairpin turns creeping up the mountains to reach the Meteora region where a handful of monasteries were nestled atop precarious mountainous cliffs was worth the bellyaching drive.

Can you see the monastery way up high?

Can you see the monastery way up high?

But what really got to me were the ruins. Particularly Ephesus. Amidst the demise, it was easy to imagine the hustle-bustle of the ancient seaside (now about six miles inland) city. It was amazing to learn about the sophisticated building practices (running water and air-conditioning!). And it was sobering to think of St. Paul facing hostile crowds in the marketplace.

Here's the library at Ephesus.

Here’s the library at Ephesus.

This trip was not what I would call relaxing. We were in a different hotel just about every night. We had at least two major stops each day (with separate tour guides at each site); you had to pay attention. But if you want to see a lot and learn a lot, well, a guided tour is the way to go. I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed the experience.

It's hard to capture how big Ephesus is.

It’s hard to capture how big Ephesus is.

Next: just a brief respite at home: And I’m talking brief here. I barely had time to do my laundry and repack in order to head to Phoenix for an accrediting council meeting and then on to the Grand Canyon. Considering my I’m-not-really-connecting-with-the-academic-world-right-now mindset of my sabbatical, I was flabbergasted by how much I enjoyed the council meeting. (I’m an elected member of the council, which oversees the accrediting process of our 119 accredited journalism and mass communications programs.) Maybe it’s a sign that I’m getting ready to re-enter Academia Land. After a day and a half of meetings and record temperatures in Phoenix (101 degrees to be exact), it was time to drive four hours north to the Grand Canyon.

But first: a stop at a pie shop: Sure, some people wouldn’t stop. But, when it comes to pie, I’m not “some people.” Anyone who knows me knows I’m rather obsessive about pies. And, more particularly, I’m quite snobbish about pies. I’ve been making pies for nearly 40 years (and eating them for far longer!) and I continue to marvel at how few people can make a decent pie. So when I learned there was a “best pie in the universe” hole in the wall off the highway heading toward the Grand Canyon, the only question for me was, “Which pie will I choose?” I discussed this predicament with my waitress and there was no simple answer, but I ultimately decided on the lemon merengue. It was good. The lemon filling nicely tart.

The pie was good.  But it wasn't up to the Pie Poobah's standards!

The pie was good. But it wasn’t up to the Pie Poobah’s standards!

The merengue was piled high. But the crust was average. Simply put, a pie is not life changing without a flaky piecrust. Of all the pie eating and pie making I have done, in my humble (okay, not so humble) opinion, only Grace Alworth (my daughter), Marcie Hinton (the friend with whom I am able to cook), and Emily Wert (a master pie baker and gingerbread house maker) can make a mouth-watering pie.

I’ve spent a lot of hours trying to figure out why so few people can make a memorable pie—and also why so few people know what a truly lovely pie tastes like. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, most people have not had fresh-from-the boat shrimp either. Or handpicked strawberries. (I’ve had both just this week.) I just plain feel sorry for the human race.

And, last: on to the Grand Canyon. I contemplated the sorry state of our gastronomical world all the rest of the way to the Grand Canyon.   Finally, I got to the park, found my room at the Yavapai Lodge (easier said than done) and hit the sack, wanting to be ready for my big day hiking the South Rim.

Here’s what you need to know about my day hiking the Grand Canyon. I am scared of heights. And I get kind of lonely when I spend a lot of time by myself.   I’m not sure that the day changed either of those things for me, but I do know that something fairly profound happened to me that day.

I started the morning by taking the shuttle to the Bright Angel Trailhead stop. This is about in the middle of the South Rim Trails. I figured I’d walk west in the morning, hop the shuttle back, break for lunch, return to the middle and hike east in the afternoon.

The first big surprise to me was finding the canyon. It didn’t seem appropriate to ask for directions. I mean, seriously, I was in the Grand Canyon National Park. The canyon had to be somewhere close by! I still couldn’t see it when I got off the shuttle. But I dutifully walked up what looked like a legitimate trail and, WHOA, there it was. Now, I’ve seen a lot of incredible sites this year. After all, I had just returned from Greece for cryin’ out loud. But this was different. First, it’s humongous. But, it’s also beautiful. Stark. Peaceful. And ever changing. I’m not kidding. It seemed like every time I stopped on the trail to have a look, the view had dramatically changed. I had to force myself not to take pictures every 30 seconds. More than once, I found myself let out a little gasp at the wonder of it all.

The South Rim trail itself was also a sight to behold. I started out on a nicely paved path, thinking about what a lovely trek this would be. I had considered hiking down into the canyon until I read about the provisions I was supposed to have. Other than one bottle of water, I was empty handed. I also figured if I fell, it might be a long time before anyone found me. (Someone had fallen and died the day before so I wasn’t being a total wimp.) I opted for the safe route. But a few miles in, even the safe route was a bit of a challenge. First off, the nice paved path ends and is replaced with an uneven, rocky and crazy-close-to-the-edge trail. There was more than one time when I couldn’t look down for fear of falling. But with each mile, I felt more peaceful, more alive, more connected, and more in awe. I occasionally passed fellow hikers, but for the most part, I was alone. I rather enjoyed myself. But, several hours in, I had to start telling people about what I was seeing. I started posting pictures to Facebook about every 15 minutes. I started calling my husband, trying to describe what I was seeing. Then I started sending him pictures with messages like “This is where I am right now!” Then I called him to make sure he got the text.Grand Canyon

I knew millions of people visit the Grand Canyon every year. But until I was there, I didn’t really understand why.

I’ve had a few days to contemplate my recent crazy travelling schedule, trying to figure out how it has helped me reflect on administration and how it has helped renew my tired administrative spirit, and here’s what I’ve concluded.

This whole trip freed me to be who I am right now, not who I was. I met all sorts of people during my travels. When they asked me what I do, I usually said, “I’m a professor.” Sometimes they would want to know more and then I would tell them about my research or what I’m teaching in the fall. I hardly ever told them about my administrative past. It felt good. And it felt right.

I’m finally over jet lag. (Travelling seven hours ahead and then a few days of “normal time” and then travelling three hours behind can do something to a body!) I’m back at my desk now, contemplating Third Person Effect and crunching statistics. But I find that I still scroll through the pictures stored on my IPhone. They’re all there. The Acropolis. The Corinth Canal. The Sanctuary of Apollo. And the Grand Canyon. And pie.

Life is good.


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Here’s What I Learned During My Second Sabbatical Cruise.

I agree that two cruises within four months is kind of extravagant—and not the typical sabbatical outing. But this trip to the Panama Canal was altogether different—and beneficial in a completely different way to my sabbatical than my first cruise for two reasons:

  1. I went with my sister. While this might not seem like a big deal, for me, it was. I haven’t spent any significant time with my sister since we were both in high school. Let’s just say that that was a long, long time ago.   Thanks to my dad who helped finance this trip, we spent 12 days together—and we even got along the whole time.

    My sister and me when we were little.

    My sister and me when we were little.

  2. I have wanted to see the Panama Canal for about forever and, really, the only way to do that, is by boat.

So how was it? In a word, epic.

We travelled on Holland America’s Zuiderdam, either a “good old boat,” or a “needs to be in dry-dock boat,” depending on your perspective. I found I kind of liked her creaks and moans. I could relate!

To the first point: my sister.

Those who know me well know that I am actually a bit of an introvert—or as I like to remind people, I’m an introvert stuck in an extrovert’s body. My sister is both a chaplain’s wife and a social worker. She helps people. So, of course, she talks to them. I, however, am a professor. On sabbatical, no less. So I’m alone a good bit.   Give me a comfy chair and a book and I’m good to go.   On this cruise, however, I decided that it was time to strike out and play the extrovert. I’m glad I did because in the process, my sister and I had dinner with at least 50 different—and mostly interesting—people. Our dinners typically lasted two hours in which we would savor our lovely four-course meals.

Time for the first course.

Time for the first course.

My sister and I were quite adept at bringing people out of their shells. Between her social work skills and my curiosity, we were both able to work the crowd fairly well. Most of the people we met were retired—and thrilled to have more free time, even though they all seemed to have enjoyed their careers. Most were eager to chat. We met a former editor of the Boston Globe; a retired soprano with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus; a doctor who had climbed Kilimanjaro; another doctor who weekly travelled up to North Dakota from Minnesota to practice medicine in an area that desperately needed doctors.   We met couples who had been married over 50 years. We met people who were traveling alone. We even met another set of sisters. In the process, my sister and I also learned quite a bit about each other.

Now to the second point: The Panama Canal.

To get to the canal, you have to travel a long, long way. Lots of days at sea. And the seas were something during this trip. We had near gale force winds more than one day hitting F7 on the Beaufort scale. (Even if you don’t know what that is, it sounds terrifying, doesn’t it?)

It was a lot of rocking and rolling on our ship.

It was a lot of rocking and rolling on our ship.

One morning during our daily 7a.m. “stretch and exercise” class, we had to do all the moves sitting down because it was too difficult with the movement of the ship. So it felt like I was on a voyage, which, somehow seemed appropriate for my sabbatical.

Once we got to the canal, we entered the first set of locks (Gatun Locks) early in the morning. Each section is about 1,000 feet long. Interesting because it is also the length of the ship. It was a tight fit and quite exciting to go up 87 feet (over the three locks that make up Gatun Locks). Once we got into Gatun Lake, the real fun began. Here’s what I did: got into a lifeboat (really!), and traversed the high winds to the shore; got into a not-great bus for a 90-minute trip across not-great roads listening to a not-great guide spew political opinions (of which I disagreed) about the canal. I can sum up his viewpoint by saying he was not a fan of Jimmy Carter. Then I got into a not-great ferry boat for a very hot ride through the rest of the canal, including the San Pedro and Mira Flores locks. Then another 90-minute ride back with the same (but even more annoying by this time) guide. I was glad to get back on the big ship and was sound asleep by 8.

But the point is this. I saw the Panama Canal. Just about every inch of it. It wasn’t necessarily the most fun way to spend the day, but it was one of the most interesting days I’ve had in a long, long time.

On the canal heading toward the Bridge of the Americas.

On the canal heading toward the Bridge of the Americas.

The next morning after the ship docked in Limon, Costa Rica, I was refreshed enough to head out with my sister to the rain forest to zip line. Did I ever think I would zip line anywhere (let alone the rain forest of Costa Rica and let alone with my sister???)? Uh. No. No. No. No.

I had hoped that my sabbatical would provide a combination recovery period from a decade of administrative work and a platform for (re)launching my scholarly life. It has done that. And more. I’m looking forward to returning to campus. But, not quite yet. I still have a lot of rest, recovery and research to do!


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I Just Got a Big Dose of Administration—and I Was Ready to Run Pell-Mell Back Home to Curl up with my Statistics Book!

Although my yearlong sabbatical is all about reinvigorating my scholarly life, periodically I have a few administrative duties that call, forcing me out of my flip-flops and reluctantly into a business suit. One of those duties is going on schools of journalism site accreditation visits. I sit on the national ACEJMC Accreditation Council, the group of academics and professionals who oversee accreditation for our J-Schools so I didn’t think it was right for me to bow out of visits this year.

Normally, I love going on these visits. They usually come at a time in the semester when I’m ready for a break from my own university. It’s always fun to see a different school. I usually come back with at least one great idea to think about—and even more thankful for my own university.

Going on these visits while on sabbatical is a different beast altogether. It’s a bit jarring. First, you receive a ginormous box of reading material that the unit sends to convince the accrediting team that it’s at the top of its game. Then you have to get on a plane and travel to the school for three days of intense inspection and report writing. For some reason, I always seem to get the cold schools so I leave the comforts of the south and head into weather. Always.

This visit was no different. I arrived at Kent State University just in time for a snowstorm. My husband thought it would be helpful to text me a picture of the weather report while I was gone. A balmy 70 degrees at the beach.

Part of the beautiful (but snowy) Kent State University

Part of the beautiful (but snowy) Kent State University

I was the only non-administrator on the recent visit. All the other team members know me as a fellow administrator so I had to remind them a few times that that wasn’t my life any longer. My fellow teammates had to have conference calls back at their universities, had to keep up with emails, had to check in with their administrative assistants. They were giving close attention to our task at hand—but they had to keep one eye on things at home.

I did not. In fact, I hardly even know what’s happening at my own university these days. It’s taken me a number of months to unplug from (most of) the academic gossip, but I am deep, deep, deep into life now as a sabbatican (I think I’ve made up that word; don’t you think it should be accepted into the lexicon?). As I’ve written before, one of the frustrating things for me as an administrator was the amount of space it took up in my brain. But now, as a regular professor, I can think long, deep thoughts without interruption.

Currently, what I’m thinking about is how to run a MANOVA with two independent variables and three dependent variables while trying to show the interaction between each level of each independent variable simultaneously. My stats ability remains rusty, but I have spent considerable amount of time this year trying to master statistics. I’ve taken MOOCs, I’ve read books, I’ve run everything there is to run on SPSS, I’ve read what other scholars have done in similar situations. In short, I’m thinking deep and hard about statistics.

On the plane out to Ohio, I sat with the accreditation self study, reviewing the report again making sure I would be ready to hit the ground running when I got there (of course, there was no real running since I had to do everything I could to stay upright on the slippery sidewalks).

On the plane out of Ohio, I sat hunkered over, huddled with my most recently purchased stats book. I was determined to get to the end of this multivariate conundrum.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.” Who knows if that is true, but I’d like to think it is. I’ll tell you. I nearly cried when I finally got the model to run and watched all those beautiful statistical significant results scroll down my computer. Hey, I’m a numbers nerd. And that makes me happy.