BouckFamilyFB-45(1)Hi there friend, and welcome to my blog. I started writing on the internet more than ten years ago, first anonymously as “pilgrimgirl” and later under my own name.  I began as pilgrimgirl because at the time I was studying journey narratives and had a feeling as though I was starting on a new path with an unknown destination. Since I began writing online I’ve started and finished a PhD program, left the Mormon church and became a Quaker, got divorced, started a history podcast, found full-time work in academia, took up rock climbing and outrigger canoeing, and traveled across the globe (China! Belgium! Italy! Chicago! Montana! Portland! Gettysburg! and oh-so-many points in-between).  For my 38th birthday and 25th anniversary of my bone cancer diagnosis,  we (meaning me and you) bought legs for a young double-amputee from China.

You might have happened upon this blog because you’ve heard of my work in the digital humanities or because you are curious about living with a disability or because you are also in the midst of a faith transition.  Click on any of the links above to find my posts about those particular topics (or use the dropdown links in the nav bar on the blog header).  Or, feel free to read a little bit of anything and everything by using the archive links on the right sidebar.

This blog is eclectic and random–it has poetry and cooking and books.  And cats.  And flowers.  And the ocean (my ocean).  But in that sense it’s a good reflection of me and my wide-ranging, far-reaching, magpie curiosity.

but there’s a lot of math…

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In a recent casual conversation with a friend, when I expressed interest in studying a particular topic, his reply was:

“But there’s a lot of math…”

And I realized that this reply was intended to tell me (a hapless not-mathematical female) that this would not be a topic of interest to me.  It’s quite possible that he was right, but it got me thinking about math and my own personal math-history.

When I was in 5th grade I received a C- in Math on my report card.  My parents were shocked and angry, as was I.  It turns out, it was a typo and my grade was a B (whew), but it scarred me for a long time–because I felt insecure in a numbers world and at some level I thought that I probably did deserve that lower grade.

My undergraduate degree in Biology required two years of Calculus, which was torture for me, as had been my years of high school math (the only exception: geometry–I loved writing proofs).  I suspect that my aversion to math was a combination of two things:  sheer hatred for rote homework problems and some lingering cognitive issues caused from the chemotherapy that I’d undergone just prior to high school.  To pass my Calculus courses I ended up memorizing the problem sets for the exams, because I could not grasp the concepts.  I’m still disappointed in myself for doing that, but I was so desperate to graduate…

And then I didn’t think much about math again (other than simple household calculations like doubling recipes and measuring fabric) for more than a decade.

And then I took the GRE for graduate school, without even reviewing the math portion, knowing that it didn’t “count” for someone entering the Humanities.

And then I got a higher score on the math section of the GRE than I did on the Verbal section.


And since then I’ve come to realize the elegance of numbers, and to learn that I’m actually pretty good at math.  For me, quantitative data is slowly edging out my attraction to qualitative, which is certainly why I’m so drawn to the digital humanities, which tend to combine both approaches to research questions.  Numbers, number patterns, number visualizations…they all fascinate me (and statistics–I love statistics!).  They aren’t a chore, they don’t swim around meaninglessly in my mind.  Instead, they have a beauty and an order that is quite appealing.

And…I suspect that if I were to do things over and be back in my undergraduate years again, that those Calculus classes would hold attraction for me.  Perhaps they would even be fun.


the basics

(Cross-posted from my Academic Technology blog at Chapman University)

I’ve made many mistakes with technology.  I’ve lost files due to not backing them up, I’ve edited the wrong versions of my articles because I didn’t have a good strategy for saving iterations of files, and I’ve had those awful moments where my printer ink runs out (which only ever happens when time is of the essence, of course).

Because of these failures, I’ve developed a set of backup practices and I always keep several of spare printer cartridges.  Of course technology still fails sometimes (like my server crashing during the middle of a technology talk–ugh), but I think I’m generally prepared for that now.

In that vein, one of my colleagues created a list of helpful links for those who want to become more tech savvy about backing up their files and learning computer shortcuts.  It seems worth sharing here, for those of you who are also eager to learn better tech practices.

View “Basic Technology Advice for Faculty

Download “Basic Technology Advice for Faculty” as a PDF

I have never felt the need..

12066103805_e7bd078edcPhoto taken in Tongeren, Belgium.


Loved this thought, on being satisfied with this world, and not needing an afterlife (or a God)…

You see, I have never felt the need to invent a world beyond this world, for this world has always seemed large and beautiful enough for me.  I have wondered why it is not large and beautiful enough for others–why they must dream up new and marvelous spheres, or long to live elsewhere, beyond this dominion…but that is not my business.  We are all different, I suppose.  All I ever wanted to know was this world.  I can say now, as I reach my end, that I know quite a bit more of it than when I arrived.  Moreover, my little bit of knowledge has been added to all the other accumulated knowledge of history–added to the great library, as it were.  That is no small feat, sir.  Anyone who can say such a thing has lived a fortunate life.

~Alma Whittaker in _The Signature of All Things_

Having students write an NEH grant proposal as a course assignment

In teaching my “Intro to DH” class last semester to Chapman’s MA/MFA graduate students, I spent a lot of time discussing professionalization and a significant part of that discussion focused on how funding agencies (like the NEH-ODH) make DH projects do-able.  As the culmination of this conversation, for the final project in the course I had the students compose mock applications for an NEH-ODH startup grant.

I designed the course in this manner for three primary reasons:

1) The first time I had to write a grant proposal for external funding, I found it incredibly daunting to describe what I aimed to do with my project when I wasn’t even yet sure myself what I would find once the project got underway.  Doing the legwork and the guesswork involved in that process  and then writing coherently about it, was much more difficult than I expected.  Thus, I felt that it would be a great learning experience for the students to do this before they had actual money at stake.

2) Crafting a mock NEH-ODH application reinforced many of the concepts that we’d discussed in class, and brought them together in such a way that it showed me that the students understood the filed of DH better than if they’d simply written a traditional end-of-the-semester paper.  In their proposal they had to discuss other similar projects, outline their technical requirements, include descriptions of team members’ skills, craft a budget, and create a plan for the sustainability of their project.  From their proposals I had a strong sense of what they’d learned throughout the semester since when the class started the students had only the foggiest notion of what a DH project entailed.

3) Writing a grant application is a portable skill that could serve the students in a wide-variety of ways after they graduate, even if they don’t continue in academia.  Learning to communicate their research ideas to a general audience could serve them in many ways, including a future in technical writing, project management, journalism, or in a non-profit job.

The success of the students in their proposals far exceeded my expectations.  As each student gave a lightning talk description of what they aimed to do, I realized that nearly every one of them was worthy of funding.  And not only that, since December several of the students have moved forward with their projects on their own (sans funding), based on the proposals that they outlined in our class.

At the end of the semester I tweeted about our project and caught the attention of Brett Bobley (the CIO of the NEH and the director of the ODH).  That exchange:

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on my nightstand…

This week’s books-in-progress (click on the book covers to connect to the titles on amazon):

Highly recommended for those of us who are struggling to keep writing academic articles amidst our other busy-nesses.

Enjoying this historical-fiction book immensely. It’s got a bit of everything that I love: ocean explorers, early America, science, feminism, and engaging characters. Nothing like that other book that Gilbert is so famous for writing.

And speaking of Elizabeth Gilbert, here she is again on my nightstand. I haven’t yet started this one, but I aim to later this week.

I’m skimming this one as part of my resolution to worry less about money. I’d prefer to enjoy money rather than fret about it obsessively.

sycamore canyon, in tent

on NOT getting things done…

I’m a sucker for productivity tips, and was just reading yet-another article in this vein, when it hit me: almost all of my “resolves” for 2014 are really about decreasing my productivity.

I want to:

-sleep more

-cook most of my meals at home

-plant a bigger veggie garden

-fret less about money

-read more books

-take long walks

-write for pleasure

-own less stuff

-do yoga, daily

-go camping, monthly

-be a better friend/neighbor/colleague/family member

-live closer to where I work