The Bored and Brilliant Challenge

One of the many things I like about sabbatical is that it allows for some mental clarity, time to figure things out, to get organized, to think. It is no coincidence that I went vegan on my first sabbatical. I think I’d been moving in that direction for a while, but having the time to think about it, plan for it, learn to cook from vegan cookbooks, etc. certainly helped the process along!

I’m hoping that the mental space that sabbatical provides will also help me develop some better habits. On that note, I’ve signed up for the “Bored and Brilliant” challenge this week. Essentially, this challenge asks participants to think about how much time we spend on our smartphones each day, how automatic it has become to whip out our phones at the first sign of a lull. Standing in line at the grocery store? Check your phone! Commercial on TV? Pull out that phone! Waiting for a friend to show up? Squeeze in a game of Two Dots. The organizers of this challenge argue that by rushing to fill any downtime with whatever app catches our fancy, we are forgetting how to daydream, we aren’t taking advantage of the imaginative potential of those duller moments in life.

This challenge has certainly helped me to think about my daily habits, and in just a few short days I’m quite a bit more mindful about my screen time. Will these habits last? Only time will tell!

Digital Archives

In my academic work I focus on a range of topics, but, in general, the historical period that interests me the most is the end of the 19th century and the first few decades of the 20th. I often find myself in archives, reading letters and diaries of historical figures who are significant to whatever research project I am working on at the time. This process of discovery through the day-to-day writings of my research subjects is, perhaps, one of my favourite things about doing academic work. These brittle and stained pages contain so much information and tell stories in a way that official history textbooks can not.

I wonder what will become of our day-to-day archives. It is rare that I sit down and compose a letter on paper (with a pen!) these days. Correspondence happens by email or by IM. Sure, we can save copies of emails in folders, but what happens when the current software and operating systems we use become obsolete? How many personal stories will be lost from our generation? What kind of archive will we leave for those curious about the world in the early decades of the 21st century?

The Happy Bird Tree

This year is the first year since I was a kid that I have had a real Solstice/Christmas tree. When we were little we’d get lovely small trees for our bedrooms (usually the top of a larger tree) and I just loved it! I would cry and cry when it was time for it to be taken down. My poor parents! They compromised by letting the trees sit in the backyard for a few days so we could still play with them and enjoy them.

I haven’t really bothered much with festive trees in my adult life though. Somewhere along the line I got one of those fake plastic trees that I put up a few times, but I stopped doing that a while ago. It seemed like a lot of bother and I have to admit that I find the plastic trees a little disappointing in terms of ambiance.

So, this year’s tree is very special. It is a beautiful fir tree, small enough that it fit in my Honda Accord, but big enough to be festive and lovely. Because I am currently sharing my house with my sister’s insane kitten we decided that it wouldn’t be very much fun to put the tree in the house. (I’m sure that there are only so many times a person can pick up a Christmas tree off the floor before going crazy!) We decided to put the tree in the backyard and decorate it with treats for the birds and the squirrels. We’ve decorated it with suet cakes, bird seed, popcorn, nuts and cranberries, and my friend Linda has nicknamed it the “happy bird tree.” Part of the fun is that we keep having to add more “decorations” as the old ones get munched away.



Back from a Blogging Hiatus

This has been a bit of a crazy summer — lots of goings on and life changes (nothing I feel like blogging about, but I am ok). In the midst of all of this I’ve been on a bit of an unintentional blog hiatus. I’ve missed blogging and catching up with friends via their blogs, so I’m looking forward to getting back into the blogosphere.

In addition to dealing with the above-mentioned “life stuff” this summer, I did manage to present a conference paper at the Science and the Public conference in Manchester. The conference was held at the Victoria Baths at the end of June. It was a really neat conference — very interesting venue and many wonderful papers over the two days. Below is one of the photos I took inside the building — there was so much character and history, a very interesting space to be in!

While in the UK I travelled down to London to do some research at the British Library (one of my favourite places on earth). I also popped into Kew Gardens a couple of times (another one of my favourite places on earth). I was especially excited to visit Kew this year as the new Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art is now open. The first exhibition held in this space (an exhibition calledTreasures of Botanical Art) is an exquisite show and well worth the wait. My only disappointment was that the Marianne North Gallery, which is physically linked to the new gallery, was closed for renovations. I absolutely understand the need for the renovations, but I think that being able to see both galleries at the same time would have been breath-taking. I guess I’ll just have to go back when the renovations are complete!

So, now we are nearing the halfway point of August and it is time, once again, to turn my thoughts to the new academic year. I feel I didn’t get nearly enough done this summer. I know that is the familiar refrain that all academics sing this time of year, but I felt that this was, quite possibly, the most unproductive summer I’ve had in my academic life. I’m not going to dwell on it and I know I can’t go back in time and change things, but the next few weeks are going to necessarily be super-duper busy as I attempt to get organized and get back on track. In some funny way I feel like returning to blogging is part of that process.

Wanted: a new bike!

I really, really, really want a new bike. Really. We used to have a pair of bicycles (nothing fancy, but they did the trick), however they didn’t fit into the moving van on one of the cross-country moves we’ve done so they got donated to the Yellow Bike Action Project in Kingston a few years ago. Now that we are done moving for a while I’m thinking about getting a new bike and have no idea where to begin. There are some amazing bike shops in the Niagara region, but they seem to cater to the very serious biker who has a lot of spare cash and time — I’ve got neither. At the other end of the scale are shops like Canadian Tire. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Canadian Tire and make several trips a week there (sadly, I’m not kidding!), but in the bike department they leave much to be desired. For starters, I’m not at all interested in mountain bikes and this seems to be all these sorts of stores carry. I’m not sure exactly where I’ll be cycling, but I can assure you that there will be no “off-roading” involved. I’m looking for something a little less aggressive-looking than a mountain bike, something that can be adorned with a cheery basket and something that doesn’t scream “sporty”! (Nothing wrong with a sporty look if you are the sporty sort, but I’m far more “bookish” than “buff”!) The Amsterdam bike from Electra is simply gorgeous, but a little out of my price range at the moment (still reeling from the cost of buying a house and two international trips within the span of a month…yikes!). I found a fantastic-looking vintage bike on Kijiji tonight, but someone else beat me to it. I’m not sure if it is worth my time to look on Ebay — how does shipping work for something large like a bicycle?