Sunday, October 19, 2014

Writing, Hosting, and Living….

Birthday Hike on Mt Zircon, October 12, 2014.
Click on photo to enlarge. 
Part of hosting "Foreigns," a.k.a., exchange students, forces me out of my day-to-day. For the past two years I've been pretty much been wading through the same routine every day: writing from 6:30am to noon, lunch, email, a hike or workout, reruns of The West Wing, more email, and bed. In time, that routine bogged me down. Not only did my writing feel bland, but life felt unbalanced. Add two teenagers to the mix ("Rich, I know you don't want us to fall in love while we're here, but is it OK to make-out with a girl?"), and life changes dramatically.

Lea Maurer

I'm finishing another Writing on the Bus companion book. The Swim Team Notebook is coauthored with Lea Maurer of Stanford University. What a privilege to work with Lea. She's down-to-earth, self deprecating, playful, and smart. An Olympic gold and bronze medalist--and a 1998 World Champion--Lea coached Stanford's swim team from 2005 - 2012; now, she's taking time off to raise her two boys. Currently, she volunteers with the men's water polo team at Stanford helping with stroke technique and conditioning.

Writing these team notebooks demands a level of organization and discipline; working with a variety of coauthors has been challenging in good ways. These extraordinary coaches are out of their elements as writers, but they love the idea of the team notebooks. Beyond their coaching expertise, these top professionals bring organizational skills, unique ideas, and a level of discipline and organization that effective writers have. My job has been to make the book project doable for each and to lead them through the book in small, manageable steps. It's been a lot like teaching.

For me, the writer, the team notebook projects don't push my writing skills or satisfy the writer I hope to be. I enjoy the projects and my coauthors, but I don't feel stretched.  Now, with two teenagers in the house for 8 more months replete with their laundry, dinners, school lunches, homework, love lives, sports, Blog, the time they need and deserve, the writer I am has to find balance. Does this mean I am right back to where I started without foreign teenagers? 

This balance needs to include a writing project that inspires. And that's where I sit today… thinking through the possibilities.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The English Journal (39/60)

The English Journal is one of the crown jewels in my field. Some folks may argue this, but I don't care. For me, landing an article in this periodical has been a professional goal.

Click on page to enlarge. 


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Coming up for air….

Tubing on Lake Webb with my nephews at the controls. 
Hosting international students sure does force me out of my element. Rasmus and Felix have been here for 2 weeks and a day. They're exhausted; I'm pooped; Bailey's up for more activity. Up at 5:30 a.m. this morning, I took the boys to the bus for a soccer tournament in Lisbon. They were dragging. "We leave in 16 minutes!" No sign of either of them. "Twelve minutes!" We made the bus but not without some anxiety-ridden moments.

I received an email yesterday from the boys' organization, Youth for Understanding. They're still trying to place 49 kids. Wow… I can't imagine how those kids feel sitting at home without an American family.

As usual, I'm keeping a blog of the boys' experiences for their families and friends. Scroll through their website/blog to get a sense of what we've been up to the past few weeks.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Growing the family, yet again… 38/60

Jose, Bar Harbor, 1985
This coming Monday, Jose, Noemi, Sofia, and Felipe Ytuarte will arrive in Weld for a weeklong holiday. I hosted Jose as an exchange student when Allen Jr. lived with me in the 1980s. Now, 30 years later, this lifelong friendship is as easy and fulfilling as family.

Over the years I have welcomed many international students into my home. These kids have helped expand a part of my life in ways that teaching and coaching have. But welcoming teenagers into your home on a 24/7 basis goes well beyond a teachers' life. Ha! Talk about understatement.

Sofia, Felipe, Jose, and Noemi c. 2011

After a couple of years away from hosting, I've jumped back in… and happily so. Meet Rasmus and Felix from Denmark and Germany. Involved, smart, and athletic kids, these boys are taking a year away from family and friends to explore the American way of life, to better their English, and to have a good time.  Bailey and I--and the Rumford community--will do our best to make this a terrific year in the USA for both young men.

Felix, Bailey Tuckerman, and Rasmus, August 15, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A life of contemplation

One with the carpet… click to enlarge. 
I wonder what he's thinking about, not that dogs think. I wonder if this pose is one of expectation as he waits for the next treat, scratch, pat, bowl of food, soft words, brush, walk, hike, ride….

Perhaps he's sniffing his back paw and all the great smells he came upon this morning on our walk. Maybe there's leftover peanut butter from yesterday's Kong, stuffed with cookies and smeared with Jiff. 

Or maybe he's thinking about the long gentle road up Red Hill or the pool on top of the Parker Ridge Trail where he rested after summiting on a hot August day. Maybe he remembers last night's belly rub or the long strokes of the brush down the middle of his back.

Top of Parker Ridge with Tumbledown Mt and Crater Lake in the background.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Hiking up to think back: Whitecap with Darren Miller

"Treats galore!" Darren & Bailey
on Whitecap's western summit.
Click photo to enlarge.  
What a terrific summer for meeting up with former student-athletes. Today, Darren Miller and I hiked Whitecap Mountain's main trail and trucked over to the Connector Trail near tree line. Darren played on the Rumford High School varsity soccer team and skied for the RHS varsity ski team back in the 1980s. He also reminded me that he attended the Rumford Learning Center as a first-year student when I ran that little school out of my home.

Darren: Whitecap's west summit
Click to enlarge photo.   
An officer in the US Air Force, Darren is stationed in Germany where he met his wife Margit ("Hi, Margit! I look forward to meeting you some day!"). This November, Darren will retire from active duty after 20 years of service to his country and create a new professional life. "Such things to be!"

I love reconnecting with former students so many years later. It's interesting to hear about their lives. I remember Darren as a bright-eyed teenager filled with positive energy–he always wore a smile. Darren had a slew of active friends and loved soccer, skiing, and tennis.  It's fascinating to come to know the adult version of former student-colleagues. Their stories of days gone by spark many memories… what a great way to hike a mountain.

See you again, Darren!

Click to enlarge. 
The old guy and his hiking partner. 

Toward Concord Pond. 

Western View Toward Sunday River and the Presidential Range. 

Toward the Androscoggin River Valley

Monday, August 4, 2014

Exploring the Black Mountain Glades

Aurele Legere Ski Jump, Black Mountain, c. 1981
Click on pictures to enlarge. 
On a hike up the glades of Black Mountain today, I discovered the old take off for the Aurele Legere 55 meter Ski Jump. The remains are all twisted metal and boards. Jeff Knight, the former ski area manager, told me the porcupines had gotten to the jump's wooden support columns.

As I stared at the pile of debris on my hike, I remembered sitting up on top of the jump during the summer of 1981. The wind blew and rocked the tower back and forth while I drafted my poem, "Summer Jump."

The rest of the hike through several glades and main trails sucked the wind out of us because the temperature and humidity were both fairly high. Nonetheless, a good hike with interesting memories.

Bailey in the glades

Western Mountains of Maine

Cooling mechanism in full swing! 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Papers for Full Professor… 37/60

July has been focused on two classes, several writing projects, and paperwork to advance to full professor (plus as many afternoon hikes as I could arrange). I've called my bid for full professor the "last hoop" of my academic career.

If you're not familiar with academic rankings, most universities follow a similar hierarchy:

–Adjunct, a part-time instructor
–Clinical instructor, lecturer, research associate, or research professor (non-tenure track positions that are often fixed termed like 3 years in length)
–Assistant professor (tenure track, full time)
–Associate professor (with tenure)
–Full professor

I've held all of these posts, except "full," starting as an adjunct lecturer with at University of Maine at Farmington in 1986. I taught 3-4 courses per semester in the English department for 3 1/2 years. These jobs pay around $2000 per course with no benefits. Universities now hire many adjunct instructors to keep costs low.

Generally, it takes 6 years of work to move from assistant professor to associate. Beyond being hired for a tenure-track position, reaching associate professor with tenure is the big prize. If you're not familiar with tenure, check out this explanation online. Advancement to associate happens once you've conducted research studies and published, received reasonable teaching evaluations, and provided service to your department, college, university, and beyond.

During each of those 6 years, a professor puts together an overview of work accomplished and that collection is reviewed and written about by the peer committee, associate dean, and dean of the college. Next, the dean makes a recommendation to the provost (vice president of the university and chief academic officer) for rehiring (or not) and the provost  makes a recommendation to the president. Each year, an assistant professor receives a letter from the university president saying "upon the recommendation of the Provost…"

To advance from assistant professor to associate professor with tenure, the hoop gets bigger –or– perhaps I should say tighter! If you're doing poorly at year 4, the powers-that-be tell you and either give you a year to find a new job or provide you a mentor if they think you're worth salvaging. (No pressure, professor. No pressure.)

Selected books to be sent to my 3 external reviewers
with about 9 articles, a cover letter, and my CV 
To move on to full professor, a person needs to be a recognized expert in the field. At Research I universities like the University of Maine, UCLA, or University of Vermont, a professor must be well published and have a well-rounded CV. The first step in moving to "full" is to find three outside experts in your field to review and write about your academic materials. These external reviewers must be full professors or well qualified university administrators. I've spent a month organizing my cover letter, CV, and publications for the external reviewers. I also had to buy some of my own books to ship off to them. Education books are expensive even with a 40% author's discount.  

Th next step... the associate professor follows a standard protocol and presents papers to the college/department peer committee. Those papers go up the line to the president, and if she approves, the papers go to the Board of Trustees. (No pressure, professor.)

For me, this process is happening June 2014 through March 2015. Tuesday, my materials go to my external reviewers. In October, my papers go to the peer committee and start their journey through the university hierarchy.

I remember my first day at UMaine, September 2003. I was walking across campus and happened to see our college's associate dean, Anne Pooler. She had been a career academic after a stint as a high school social studies teacher. With her always present smile, Anne called out across the quad, "Good morning, professor!" The pressure was on.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hiking with Mike

Mike, middle standing, 1983
Click to enlarge photos
Mike Phelps played soccer on my Rumford High School team back in the early 1980s. Hard to believe it has been 30 years. Since then, he and his wife Karen have been terrific community people. They have two wonderful sons… not surprisingly, both play soccer. Mike spent many years volunteering as the Greater Rumford Community Center soccer coach. He'd have scores of kids down at the fields; often, he worked with the littlest kids. Big Mike and all those rug rats and ankle biters.

Mike and I hiked Whitecap Mountain the other day with our dogs, Fergie and Bailey. They know each other from their time at Sharon's daycare, so they had a terrific time wandering and sniffing the mountain trail. We went up the main trail, crossed over onto the Connector, and looped back down crossing the bridge with its water falls back to the main.

We didn't get into any deep conversations during this hike. We told dog stories and "Remember when's" about soccer and former players. It was an easy-going couple of hours--the kind of time old friends spend with silences that surface and linger like memories unspoken.

Mike & Fergie
    For the full album, click here.

Fergie in a Blueberry Field atop Whitecap.
Click to enlarge photo!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mt Zircon (again)

We headed up Mt Zircon yet again today. The road to the trail head is now one lane after the micro burst we had on July 3rd. On the way down, Bailey ran into a porcupine and decided to nose it. He ended up with 8-10 quills in his nose and lips. I yanked them out right on the trail. He didn't like it, flinching when I pulled them out, but he was happy to eat a treat after the surgery was complete. To see the full album (taken with my el cheapo TracPhone) just click Album from Zircon summit. 

Looking west from the summit of Mt Zircon.
Click to enlarge.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sam's Journals, part II

Sam and some of his many years of journals and workbooks. 
"Sam's Journals," my recent article about US Ski Team member Sam Morse and his writing, prompted another article by Mike Lowe, sports writer for the Portland Press Herald. Lowe's article, "Journal for the Journey," landed on the front page of the sports page. The online version of the article includes most of the manuscript and photos, though it has a different title found here. This ongoing promotion of my work is helpful on may levels… and I'll admit it's kind of fun.

Sam made the US ki Team's develop squad this spring. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why We Run

Click on book cover 
Currently, I'm reading Why We Run: A Natural History by Bernd Heinrich, a retired professor of biology from the University of Vermont who lives in Weld.  This book is a fascinating piece of writing for its glimpses into the author's youth, his wonder of the natural world, and his love of running. I've read several of his other books, including A Year in the Maine Woods.

While researching material for a nature writing class I'm teaching this summer, I found this short video featuring Dr. Heinrich and why he runs. It's shot in the woods of Weld and offers several quick views of Lake Webb and the Tumbledown Mountain range. If you're a runner, you might enjoy it.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Fly fishing Weld

I had friends from the university at Weld for the weekend. Hamish, a biologist and fly fisherman from New Zealand, enjoyed the lake. He caught a large small-mouthed bass and worked at perfecting his paddle boarding while casting. Here's a link to a video of his balancing act and casting. There's something about sharing Weld with friends. It's like sharing a hike or a long car ride or a life struggle. The place offers a common reference point, a common experience.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hiking Mount Will (37/60)

We hiked Mount Will today for the first time. Parking is just across from the Bethel recycling center. The 3.2 mile loop took us about 1:40 of steady hiking. The views up the River Valley give an interesting perspective; North Ledges' vista offers a terrific view, as if from a plane. Near the top of the loop there's a 5-minute detour that takes hikers to the Gray Memorial, a bronze plaque marking the area a plane crashed in 1992 (2 killed, 1 survivor). A small piece of the plane rests next to the plaque. There's a water source near the bottom for dogs, but nothing higher up. For most of the hike I could hear the traffic on Route 2--I found the din of weekend traffic a distraction.  For the full photo album, click here.

River Valley toward Rumford… Click picture to enlarge
Bailey waiting for the cameraman. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Onward, Victoria!

Bailey's GodDogMum graduated joining her parents as alumni from the UCLA (University of California Los Angeles). I remember the day I met Victoria, a tiny two-month old with a pink bow wrapped around her head. Now… she's all grown up. Congratulations, Ms. Vic!
Lots of Love,
Uncle Richie

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Flashing the hardware…

At our final college meeting of the year, I received the 2014 Research & Creative Achievement Award. This award, focused on my work studying athletes' writing, should help me move toward full professor, the final hoop in academia. Ready… jump!

The Dean & me


When I start writing an article or book, I fuss with perspective (point of view), audience, voice, structure. These issues of style can be confounding because most times I think they should happen automatically. If I'm writing for athletes or coaches, teachers or teenagers, I feel like I know the audience and therefore should have a sense of my approach with diction, voice, and other stylistic issues. But for me, adapting a style as a writer is not an automatic. Almost always, I have to write my way in to a manuscript.

Rumford at -30 degrees F … click to enlarge photo
When folks from away drive through a mill town like Rumford, especially if they hail from more privileged areas, they notice the vacant buildings, get a whiff of the mill smoke, and catch parts of town that are in disrepair. Some of those travelers make judgements about the town and its people with a simple drive-through. But, travel on Route 2 on a cold winter's day with a fresh layer of snow and a pristine blue sky… the town can look like a winter wonderland.

Or fly up the River Valley along the Androscoggin River in midsummer, the town looks like the quaint Bedford Falls from the movie, It's a Wonderful Life. 

Rumford from above
(click photo to enlarge)
In the 1980s and 1990s, we invited teams of teenaged soccer players and their coaches from Chorelywood, England to spend 2 weeks in Rumford. The exchange allowed our players to play "up" with the skillful British kids. Another byproduct of the exchange proved to be the English kids' enthusiastic perspective on our town. It's a point of view that escaped many of our kids.

The English city kids loved what the small-town American kids enjoyed: lakes and ponds, mountain trails and ATVs. "Blimey, you have your ski area in town?" And wonder of wonders, most of the Rumford kids had the ultimate freedom of a driving license and a car.

Beyond the trappings of an active rural life, the English kids enjoyed the family atmosphere and the welcoming ways of the Rumford/Mexico community. Wherever they went, the English boys had townspeople saying "hello" and asking, "Are you enjoying yourselves?" "Drop by to use our pool." The welcoming way left a lasting impression on these boys. It's a perspective that those driving through our town on a stark November day would rarely get.

In an earlier blog post, I spoke about writing my way into a manuscript that tells the story of taking 30 Maine soccer teams of 500 players to England over a 13-year period. I'm not there yet with the manuscript because I'm unsure of my audience (coaches or players?) and whether the manuscript should be chronological or episodic. I've even played with fictionalizing the experience in a novel. I'm not interested in being the central player in this piece, so as I write and experiment with being narrator, I search for perspective.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Planting the writing seed

I remember her words as if they were spoken yesterday.
Rich @ 18 years old

The faculty at my high school here in Rumford offered short, 8-week courses on selected topics. These innovative offerings gave students a chance to jump into a topic of interest and give it a ride. For the late 1960s and early 1970s, these mini courses proved to be very popular among the long-haired, bell-bottomed student body.

I'm guessing my friend and then assistant principal Ken Nye had a lot to do with the courses. Ken had just finished a PhD in educational leadership at Northwestern and ended up here in Rumford. He also introduced independent study week (I studied law!) and a decade later, he approved the soccer club I proposed.

For one of my mini courses, I selected creative writing with Mrs. Catherine Puiia. In this class we played with lots of approaches and there was no such thing as wrong. Although I was not an "A" student, I received a lot of "As" on my papers from Mrs. Puiia. That's not why I loved this class.

For all its innovation, Rumford High School couldn't quite get rid of labeling kids. I floated in the B and occasional A or C "division" known as "A-2." A-1's were the brains of the school. A-2's and A-3's were destined for college. B-1's to B-3's and vocational kids found their labels took them straight to the service or better yet to the paper mill or the woods to earn good livings in the middle class.

(I may be wrong in this, but I believe kids in different divisions were allowed to choose any of the mini courses. I hope that's true because mixed or heterogeneously-grouped classes are what we now know to be the most effective in 21st century schools.)

In creative writing class one day, Mrs. Puiia walked through the classroom passing back papers. I received--oh-hum--yet another A. But something else was about to happen that, in my mind today, changed my life. Up until that moment, no teacher had ever spoken about  my future to me. But Mrs. Puiia did. She placed the paper on my desk and said, "Richard, you could be a professional writer some day." I'm sure I blushed--heck, I spent half my teenaged life red faced with my eyes averted.

Obviously, I've never forgotten those words, and I suspect it's why as an English teacher at that same school nearly 20 years later I spent a lot of my time helping kids think about their futures: "Man, you could be a (insert terrific job)." "You really think so, Mr. Kent?"

In 1971-72, my plan included college and becoming a police office with a law degree. Don't ask… I have no idea. I probably watched too many episodes of TV police shows like "One-Adam-12" and lawyer dramas like "Perry Mason" or "Ironsides." Funny thing is, I did become a police office while in college for 2.5 years at Old Orchard Beach, but eventually bailed on policing and law school to take a job in Indianapolis. After another mind-expanding creative writing class, this time with Walt Whitman Award-winning poet Jared Carter at Indiana University, I quit my job and moved back to Maine to devote time to writing and piecemeal a living by coaching, subbing, and odd jobbing.

One of the first people I saw when I went back home and visited the high school was Mrs. Puiia. Now an assistant principal, Mrs. Puiia introduced me to a new faculty member saying, "Here's one of our most successful graduates!" Bless her… I'd just quit a three-piece-suit position, with a secretary and 2-hour lunches, to substitute teach, coach skiing, and write.

Fortunately, Mrs. Puiia never stopped seeing the better me.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Search

I took Bailey out for a walk yesterday morning. While hoofing around Sunnyside Terrace, a woman pulled up beside us. "I'm searching for my dog," she said, handing me a flyer. A lump filled my throat. I could see she'd been crying.

Bailey has taken off only once when we went running with Simon last summer. Simon shot ahead of us on the trail, and Bailey went with him… then 5 minutes later he came back to check on me. Once he saw that I was still coming, Bailey took off up the trail to be with Simon. The next 45 minutes of not knowing if Bailey took the right trails drove me crazy. (Naturally, Bailey's sense of smell had him on Simon's track, but I didn't know that!)

Joe Pond & Glass Face
The woman's Basset-Hound/ Beagle mix had run off the day before chasing a rabbit. She lives on the other side of Glass Face Mountain. When we got back to the house, I stared at the little dog's picture on the flyer and that was enough for me. I posted the Lost Dog announcement on Facebook for my Rumford friends and then packed up the Subaru and headed off to Red Hill Road to spend a few hours looking for "Brady," the Basset Hound / Beagle. We had no luck, but it felt right to head off looking for the little pup. I'm hopeful we'll hear that Brady has been found. If not, I think we'll try again tomorrow.
Red Hill Road

New books in the works.

Lea Maurer
I've had great luck in connecting with two more top-notch coaches and former athletes. We've been discussing team notebooks. First, US Olympic medalist Lea Maurer, a swim coach who is taking time off from her work at Stanford University to raise her two boys. Lea and I have started working through drafts of a Swim Team Notebook. I loved when she wrote to say she had a "cartoon of a life."  Man, can I relate. Lea is unassuming and thoughtful… I admire that she has taken the time to be with her boys.
Ben Guite
This past week I met up with Ben Guite, hockey coach at the University of Maine. An assistant captain of the  University of Maine's NCAA National Championship team in 1999, Ben went on to play 13 seasons of professional hockey. I enjoyed having coffee with Ben. A Montreal native, Ben took a BA in English at Maine and recently completed an MBA. Ben has two young ones at home. He and his wife, a UMaine graduate, are excited to be back on campus for the community it offers.  

What a great time it is to work with such interesting and accomplished professionals. Ha! Lea just sent along some revisions, so it's time to get to work. Thanks, Lea!