Word Girls

Being someone who makes a living with words, I’m very happy to see that my girls are word-lovers and lovers of manipulating words, too. Tonight was classic: I spent a half hour quizzing Julia for the middle-school spelling bee tomorrow night (she’s so nervous! so excited!) – infrastructure, esoteric, boycott, kaftan – and later fifteen minutes giving Vivi “hard words” to look up in the dictionary she got for Christmas: hibernal, speculative, theoretical, paschal, vernal

School’s Out Forever

Tonight I filed my final grades for the online history course I taught this fall at Metropolitan State University, a public commuter school based in St. Paul, Minnesota. Owing to their administrative chaos and budget cuts and to my own lack of time (energy, interest…), this is probably the last course I’ll teach for them, and thus probably the last course I’ll ever teach.

I can’t say that I’ll miss teaching, really, but it’s been a good run. I started my history-teaching career in 1999 by serving as a teaching assistant while in grad school at Northwestern. Altogether, I served as a TA in three courses and taught one of my own in 1999 and 2000. No “teaching” I’ve ever done was more terrifying than that first lecture delivered as a TA to a giant auditorium full of undergrads.

After Shannon and I moved back to Minnesota for her first post-grad school job, I taught at least four classes (or was it six?) at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul in 2001-2002, while simultaneously working on my dissertation. The first meeting of my first class at St. Thomas was postponed because of 9/11. I commuted to that job from our apartment in the western suburbs – my only real experience with hard-core car commuting. (#hatedit)

When my one-year contract at St. Thomas ended, I signed on to teach history courses with Metro State – always only one per term, and always one of two or three U.S. history survey courses. I was by then working full-time in an academic support job at a different university in Minneapolis while finishing my dissertation. At first I taught “bricks and mortar” courses in the evening at Metro State’s branch campus in Minneapolis – four courses from fall 2003 to summer 2005. I remember waiting amidst the bar-hoppers on Hennepin for my bus back home – first a late express (or was it a ride from Shannon?) out to the ‘burbs, then, after we moved into the city, a local to our new house.

When I took my new job at Carleton in 2005, we saw that we (Shannon and baby Julia and I) would need to move to Northfield, so I volunteered to help launch the department’s online courses. I developed online versions of two of my courses: a global history of World War II and U.S. history since 1865 through the lens of science and technology.

These, I’ve been teaching in rotation ever since – spring, summer, and fall, year in and year out, with the occasional term off. All together, I’ve taught them 25 times: 12 editions of the World War II course (which I really liked) and 13 editions of the U.S. survey (which no). Though I never learned to love the online format, and never had the time to master it, I think I did some good teaching – as good as I could while also adjusting to and getting good at a new full-time job, starting and adding to a family, moving to and getting settled in a new community, and getting hooked on bikes.

My Metro State students were fascinating. About half of each course’s enrollees were “traditional age” undergrads – say, 18 to 25. The other half were adults who were “finishing their degrees,” often years after starting them. Once, I taught someone who had served in the Korean War, and I had numerous Baby Boomers who offered their first-hand perspectives on the historical events, people, and trends we were studying.

Though most of my students lived in the Twin Cities or at least in Minnesota, a few every term were doing the course from elsewhere in the country or the world, including a few soldiers in some very remote locations. True to Minnesota, I had a lot of Andersons, Olson, Carlsons, and Larsons as well as many Hmong and Somali students – though, interestingly, very few Latino/a students. In one course, I had three Hmong women with exactly the same names – first and last (They were unrelated.) Regardless of background, virtually all of my students were working full-time while engaged with the courses, so we had that in common.

Figuring 30 students per course, I’d estimate I’ve taught about a thousand undergrads since my first course at St. Thomas in fall 2001. Yeah, it’s been a good run. I’m not sad to be at the finish line.


Dad-Bod Positivity

We’re eating dinner. I tell the girls that I put up their school pictures in my office and that I love them both. Each girl says she doesn’t really like her photo. I say that’s too bad because they’re great shots.


I ask whether they like the way they look in real life. They both say they do, and I add that I like the way I look too. Julia looks at me incredulously and says, “Well, you obviously have bad judgment there.”

The State of Superior

I was probably in elementary school when I first heard people talking about how the area where we lived, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – a.k.a. Upper Michigan, the U.P., or now, “da Yoop,” – could or even should be a separate state.

This state – North Michigan or perhaps Superior – ought to be separate, the thinking went, due to the stark geographical and demographic differences between the U.P. and the Lower Peninsula – a.k.a. the L.P., “the Mitten,” or just “Michigan.” Anyhow, the only reason “we” were part of Michigan was the stupid compromise with Ohio over Toledo.

I didn’t know then, but was fascinated to learn later, that (as Wikipedia says in its article on Superior) Yoopers had agitated for the area’s statehood in the years just before I was born in the U.P.’s southermost city. This agitation in fact reached a high point just after I was born, with an unsuccessful effort to pull the U.P. and the northerly parts of Wisconsin out of their respective states and combine them into a new state, something like this, which I saw recently on the amazing Lost States blog:

Possible new state of "Superior"

I loved the idea then and I love the idea now, even as I recognize that a state of Superior would probably be unfeasible, if not terrible, as a political or economic entity. (Recent-ish news coverage of the idea says as much here in the Detroit Free Press  and here in the New Republic.)

One of the reasons that Superior would not be a great state is it’s big and empty – Wyoming, but all forests; Alaska, but no tundra. Wikipedia says in its entry on the U.P. (the actual place, not the imaginary state) that “the Upper Peninsula remains a predominantly rural region. As of the 2010 census, the region had a population of 311,361,” of whom only a third live in one of the twelve towns that have populations greater than 4,000 people.

Even if Superior included both all of the current U.P. and the Wisconsin counties that (or almost) border da Yoop*, you’d only get a total population (if you believe those lying liars at the U.S. Census) of 410,340. This scattering of humans over almost 22,000 square miles would make Superior – as of the 2010 census – the state with the smallest population, well behind Wyoming’s throng of 563,626. (The numbers would rise a little, but not much, if you included the several other Wisconsin counties that the Lost States map above include within Superior.)

For comparison’s sake, Wyoming’s capital, Cheyenne, had a population of 92,000 in 2010 – a third bigger than Marquette County, the most populous county in Superior, and 425% bigger than Marquette city, which, with a population of 21,355 in 2010, is the most populous city in the U.P. Superior. Marquette – as the putative capital of Superior – would be the fourth-smallest state capital, bigger only than teeny-tiny Montpelier (just 7,855 people lived there in 2010!), Pierre, and Augusta.

And like many a rural, underpopulated state full of white people and public lands and almost wholly dependent on tourism and natural resources (in the U.P., lumbering and mining), Superior would probably be a blood-red state. In 2012, all but two U.P.’s counties went for Romney in 2012, and all but one supported the (horrifyingly bad) Republican governor. The U.P.’s fifteen counties – grouped in Michigan’s first congressional district – have elected Republican and Tea Partier Dan Benishek to the House of Representatives in 2010, 2012, and 2014.

So yes, Superior is a terrible idea.

But still, we can have some fun with the idea, right? A few facts, ideas, and guesses about what Superior would be like:

  • Capital: Marquette (see above)
  • Electoral votes: 3
  • Industries: lumber, mining (maybe), tourism (including lots of outdoor sports in all four seasons)
  • Coastline: about 2,000 miles on three Great Lakes (more than any other state – even post-Superior Michigan, which would only have about 1,500 miles)
  • Flag: a white pine tree, green against a blue background
  • Metal: Iron! Copper! Iron! Copper! How about cunife, the little-known alloy of iron and copper (and that non-U.P. metal, nickel)? Nah, let’s go with iron, since there are dozens of places whose names include “iron” (e.g., Ironwood) but only a few named for copper. (Copper Harbor is pretty awesome, though.)
  • Animal: moose or wolf
  • Bird: Canada goose or maybe the chickadee
  • Good: the pasty!
  • Drink: coffee, eh, and maybe som’dat beer (the U.P. has fifteen breweries and brewpubs!)
  • Mystery: the Paulding Light (which isn’t much of a mystery anymore)
  • Interstate highways: one, the stretch of I-75 running from St. Ignace to the Soo
  • National parks: one, Isle Royale, though the U.P. also contains other amazing spots such as
  • State university: Northern Michigan University, or rather, Superior State U. (hell yes to that name, amirite?)
  • Rivals: Trolls – those who live “below the bridge” in the Lower Peninsula (the bridge being the mighty Mackinac – five miles long, the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world.
  • Holidays: St. Urho’s Day and the first day of deer season
  • Sports teams:
    • baseball: Milwaukee Brewers or Detroit Tigers, though leaning toward Detroit
    • hockey: Detroit Red Wings
    • basketball: Detroit Pistons
    • football: Green Bay Packers
      • Titletown is only about 175 miles from Marquette, versus about 400 miles to Minneapolis and 450 to Detroit, so it’s definitely not even a question don’t get me started. GO PACK GO!



* Running west to east, Ashland, Iron, Vilas, Forest, Florence, and Marinette. The latter is the most populous in the group, and would be the second-most populous county in the state, after Marquette County in Michigan Superior.

Thoughts on a Rock Shuffle

Driving up to see a friend on Sunday night, my iPhone served me a nice mix of tunes off my favorite playlist, “Rock Goodness.” My thoughts on the tunes:

  • AC/DC, “Money Talks” – A great song marred by a crappy guitar solo.
  • The White Stripes, “Seven Nation Army” – A so-so song improved by an insanely great solo. Or series of solos.
  • Art Brut, “I Will Survive” – Great lyrics with a superb solo.
  • R.E.M., “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth” – Incomprehensible but awesome.
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Fortunate Son” – A pretty freaking apt summary of 2015 America.
  • Springsteen, “Glory Days” – I’m glad this isn’t a summary of my life.
  • Guns N’ Roses, “Sweet Child o’ Mine” – As great in 2015 when it seems to apply (partly?) to my actual daughters as it was in 1987 when it seemed to apply (partly?) to imaginary girlfriends. (Is that creepy?)
  • Kanye, “Power” – Maybe the best rock song of the ’00s.
  • Jay-Z and Danger Mouse, “99 Problems” (off The Gray Album) – The Beatles’ zipper guitars never sounded better.
  • The Who, “Seeker” – The best name-dropping of any rock song.
  • The Hold Steady, “Massive Nights” – A color-by-numbers party song that is so much more.
  • Phosphorescent, “Ride On/Right On” – I’d love this song even if it weren’t about sex and bicycling.
  • Wild Flag, “Racehorse” – You are rock ‘n’ roll fun.

Spring Thursday

Today was just one of those days that went right. Perfect weather. Lots, but not too much, to do at work – including doing off a few to-dos that had been to for too long. A hard workout at noon. Some Carleton silliness: free root-beer floats at the library.

Root Beer Float Line
Root Beer Float Line

A task at the end of the day that turned out to be easier than I thought. Wonderful floral smells in the humid spring air. A great bike ride home, seeing a half-dozen friends and acquaintances and met a new fatbike. A gorgeous sunset. A pleasant few minutes with the girls when they got home, jazzed up, from tae kwon do. Now, a good new book to read and a delicious beer…


Like you do, Vivi spent a good half hour the other night writing fortunes for fortune cookies. Her cursive script is excellent, and her sense of cookie fortune absurdity is top notch.

Be an advertiser that constantly says, “50% Fewer calories.”

Salt and/or pepper will invade your life.

Grow up to be like Aunt Jemima.

Make a dent in a dead bird’s beak.

Chip your tooth on a barb wire.

Develop a sack-racing obsession.

Pinocchio will take you to Kokaki land.

Work in a factory that makes butter.

An evil magicians will steal your hairbrush.

Smash a tulip.



Old Cat’s New Tricks

This is what I see whenever I sit down to eat something from a bowl.


Grandma Cat can tell the difference between the clinking sounds made in bowls or on plates. If she detects food being consumed from a bowl, she comes begging, hoping that it’s cereal, so she can have the leftover milk, or ice cream, so she can slurp the melt.

Tonight, despite a solid 15 minutes of begging, she got nothing, since I was eating some chicken chili. When I let her sniff them empty bowl, she gave me a look of equal parts disappointment and hurt, then padded away to the sis.

Imbolc and Cailleach

A tardy note on the Gaelic holiday of Imbolc, traditionally held on February 1 and associated with the onset of spring – or a prolonged winter.

From Wikipedia:

Imbolc was believed to be when the Cailleach—the divine hag of Gaelic tradition—gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she wishes to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people would be relieved if Imbolc is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over. At Imbolc on the Isle of Man, where she is known as Caillagh ny Groamagh, the Cailleach is said to take the form of a gigantic bird carrying sticks in her beak.

Cailleach would be a great name.

Will Time Travel 4 Clothes

I’ve been thinking a little bit about time travel since I read William Gibson’s superb new science fiction novel The Peripheral, which offers a very cool take on the idea of moving back and forth through time.

If I could travel through time, though, I wouldn’t bother with bullshit like hunting dinosaurs or assassinating Hitler or making a killing on the stock market. No sir: I would go back in time to buy items of clothing that I loved and now have lost, like the full-zip fleece sweaters that I bought from Eddie Bauer in 2003, or the Smartwool socks that long outlasted their insane $5-a-pair price, or these great Duofold longjohns that I got on clearance years ago but that will soon go to the rag bin.
yes, those are my underwear.

Yes, I’ve now published a picture of my underwear on the Internet.