To PhD or not to PhD, Part 1:

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From The Scribe, Boise State University, Department of History

May 2008, I graduated with a Master in Public Administration in a thrilling ceremony that began with my family gathered around and a breakfast of donuts. Once seated, bagpipes played, former NASA Astronaut Barbara Morgan spoke, and Gabriel’s Oboe performed for the closing music. I felt a surge of accomplishment, pride and had no doubt that I would pursue a PhD.

Several of my MPA colleagues planned to enjoy the year break and then apply to the PhD. in Public Policy and Administration program scheduled to begin fall 2010. We knew a strict and competitive application process existed. We remained optimistic and looked forward to the honor of being the first cohort through the program. The Boise State fall 2007 FOCUS magazine wrote a story about me as being a great candidate for the program. (p. 26)

However, circumstances beyond our control altered those plans. As the University, with the rest of the nation, navigated a rough economic crash and budgets cuts, the program went into hibernation. The years passed with attempts by dedicated faculty to reactivate the program. During that time, my friends and I lost momentum, and our drive to pursue a degree.

We questioned if we wanted a PhD with all the stress involved and potential debt. I investigated other educational pursuits that involved history, training to teach English as a second language, or a writing career through the MFA program at Goddard College in Port Townsend, Washington. One of the many rewards of working at the University is the tuition benefit. It may take longer to complete a degree working full-time, but employees avoid educational debt.

In 2012, the PhD program, rather suddenly, came out of hiding and ready to accept applications. Exciting news and I considered application to the program but decided to delay for the first year, fall 2013. I visited with a longtime friend and mentor whom I trusted and knew would ask me the tough questions that boiled down to a simple, “Are you sure?”

My area of interest is affordable housing policy. I spent a year investigating topics and research questions with various faculty, friends, and directors of programs involved with housing issues. I considered the impact on my life if accepted. I finally turned in my application for a fall 2014 start-up.

In early spring, I received a form letter in the mail – the answer was, “No.” Initially, I felt hurt hearing the news via an impersonal form letter, and nursed an insulted ego for several days, okay weeks – all right maybe a month. Yes, I still feel a tinge now!

Curiously, underneath it all, I noted a sense of relief. I struggle with health issues and had concerns about my stamina to complete the program. At 55, I deliberately ponder how to spend the next healthy years of life. In addition, when I stopped feeling sorry for myself, I had a terrific review session with the Department Chair. Congratulations to the program that had over 50 applications!

When I paused to reflect thoroughly on the ordeal, I realized a five-year journey ended. I spent the last five years thinking or talking about getting a PhD. – at least once a day. That turned into a fair amount of real estate property in the brain dedicated to the question, To PhD. or not to PhD.VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

To be continued……



Amtrak, Ferries and Wild Women of the Pacific Northwest, Part 2

 20140522_112945   Susan, thank you for the wonderful email.  It was a glorious time with everyone….   I loved all our crazy, wacky, peaceful, sleepy, sugar coma, Star Light theater moments and the cool weather.   I miss you all terribly as I am back in hot old Idaho….  I had a great drive to Wenatchee with Pat, excellent conversation, saw gorgeous mountains, a wild river, ate the best ever Indian food, got a terrific tour from Pat and Bill of the charming downtown and panoramic view of the city.  

I logged into my WordPress site and noted I had already started a draft blog chronicling my recent adventures.  The beginning here  is part of an email response I wrote to Port Townsend Susan.  I decided to back up a bit to write more on this trip.–

The Amtrak ride ended too soon, for me anyway as a person who rarely rides the trains. However, from the snippets of conversations on board, Amtrak was a way of travel life for many commuting between Portland, Seattle and beyond.

I got off the train at Edmonds, WA, walked the short route to the ferry and crossed-over to Kingston, where my dear friend Nancy offered curbside service, and off we went to begin the last visiting section of my trip. A reunion with the women of the Pacific Northwest whom I had bonded with on our Habitat build in Kauai.

Thursday morning began with work on a Habitat for Humanity home in Chimicum, Washington.

Nancy is working!

Nancy is working!


Ann, Kate (and guy in the background) are working!

Well, Nancy, Ann and Kate were productive. I got an attack of the lazy and dabbed slowly away on the exterior side, strolled around the lovely meadow and visited with others. Project Manager Kate noted the lackluster energy and graciously allowed an exit from work to go have fun in Port Townsend.


I am wandering, lollygagging around in the meadow  - not working.

I am wandering, lollygagging around in the meadow – not working.

Living in a state that has an abundance of sun and hot weather, I tried to temper my exuberant hope for rainy weather, as I realized I was surrounded by Pacific Northwest dwellers who cherish every ray of sunshine that graces their cloudy, moist world.

I have resided the last 37 years in the desert land of Boise, Idaho, which is a complicated place to live. Idaho is a diverse landscape of deserts, plains, wild rivers, gorges, stunning mountains and four distinct climate seasons. In fact on the plane ride to Portland, my seatmate was a longtime resident of Idaho and we spent the trip discussing the endless list of outdoor places to enjoy in Idaho and I felt a new gratitude for where I live. Yet, it is easy to feel landlocked in Boise particularly during the brutal summer heat. What I luxuriate in each time I flee to Port Townsend, Chimicum, or any location on the Oregon, Washington coast,  is the immediate proximity of the water, the lush greenery and mountain landscape. Eventually I will relocate and settle to the Pacific Northwest.

Meanwhile, back to the Wild Women of the Pacific Northwest HFH reunion.

A mixture of whirlwind activity began as we ate tasty clam chowder, pastries, drank delicious fresh roasted coffee, and strolled through the Saturday market. One of the highlights of the trip occurred when we went to the Rose Theater and watched a movie in the Starlight room. Located in an old building on the top floor, the theater consists of a collection of comfy chairs and couches. Movie time began with the heavy velvet curtains drawn over the windows, and introduced by one of the theater staff.  It was hard to decide which chair to sit in. I started the afternoon sitting with my friends, but halfway through the show, migrated back to a big, fluffy comfy chair. Tables are placed strategically around the furniture for moviegoers to eat dinner and some of the best popcorn this side of the Mississippi.

Wild Pacific Northwest Women (Susan L. is taking the photo)

Wild Pacific Northwest Women (Susan L. is taking the photo)


To be continued…..


Ocean, Conference, Amtrak, and Yellow Flowers, Part 1

20140521_161114   Riding Amtrak from Portland to Edmonds, Washington where I will then take the Kingston ferry to meet up with my Kauai Habitat for Humanity buddies for a rendezvous in  Port Townsend. Time on the train provides rocking space for daydreaming, reflection, surrounded by green landscape and the punctuation of the train soundings off its lonesome whistle.

I left home last Friday and spent the weekend in Cannon beach with my lovely daughter, Molly, who moved to Portland last winter. That ocean Zen experience was followed by a conference at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Portland, on the waterfront. Workshops, keynote speakers and conversation with interesting participants left me inspired and looking forward to a soothing four-hour train ride.

It is a bit strange because at times I nearly forget I have a life in Boise and consider simply remaining out here, in the Pacific Northwest, closer to the ocean and soak up the coastal climate. The train snaking its way through valleys and fields of brilliant green terrain with red barns occasionally peaking though the thick trees encourages me to stay.

Stunning flowering bushes splash their yellow brilliance along the route.  I don’t know what they are, but they line the rail path and spread themselves throughout vast meadows. I am making myself crazy trying to get a picture of the yellow carpets that unpredictably emerge between thickets of trees. A patch emerges, I grab my camera and the moment passes.  I refrain from lunging across the seats of other passengers to snap pictures on their sides, and finally decide to put my camera away.  Time to soak up the view, and attempt to paint a picture with words of the cheerful impact their abundance creates.20140521_16212820140521_170002



Memories of Valentine’s Day 2013 – The Grand Production


Ice Storm Photo by Molly Emerson

I have had this story in my WordPress Que left over from last year, Valentine’s Day 2013.  I thought it would be fun to share as I look forward to 2014 production day.

February 14, the infamous Valentine’s Day that evokes gushy expressions of love or cynical statements that the holiday is “all about the greeting card industry.”

It is an odd day, that resembles a play production.  If you are a cast member then you wholeheartedly embrace learning the dialogue, rehearse gift options with close friends, eagerly wait for the completion of the stage with the scenery and props in place.  The big day arrives, the curtain lifts, the production begins, all involved hope that lines are perfectly delivered, everyone stays in character, the lights and sound will function correctly, and the audience will enjoy the show.

Act one began quietly with frosted cookies and a nice note from our boss.  With greed and gusto we stuffed the pink sugary delights into our mouths.

Act two, one of my co-workers received flowers and tears flowed from her lovely eyes.

In the third act, several of the guys gathered in the cube to compare notes on what they had planned for their wives hoping they had made the right choice in gifts.  I eavesdropped to make sure the gifts were Valentine Day appropriate and sufficiently romantic.

Intermission was uneventful – no singing telegrams, chocolate or any other heartfelt delights.

Act four, the grand finale,  centered on me in a surly mood as I walked across campus.  I spied a gathering of students handing out something – not sure what.  Usually I take interest and love seeing the activism of young people.  Not today, I made plans to sidestep the gathering.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a young student head my way.  I reluctantly lifted my head, smiled as she approached me.  She grinned big and dropped a chocolate kiss in my hand, and gave me a slip of paper with an inspirational quote:

“A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.” – Ingrid Bergman

How simple and lovely.  On a chilly Valentine’s day a group of about 10 students took time out of their day to hand out chocolate kisses for  a bit of cheer.  As I walked away feeling the love from the young students – the curtains closed to a standing ovation.valentine cookies

Production day is again rapidly approaching and I have my tickets purchased for the grand event, do you?

Stuff, Things, Paper Trails and the Recycle Bin



At six am, the lumbering sound of the recycle truck interrupted the morning silence as it traveled through the neighborhood.  I heard it stop in front of my house, and empty the full contents of my recycle bin into its container.  No going back now with the choices made over the weekend to lighten my load, and get rid of things.

Since my daughters left the nest, a new-found energy to downsize infused my life.  I feel ready to move to a smaller home.  I do not want to manage stuff, and desire a smaller living place so that time, money, and energy are with friends, traveling or visiting my girls.

I sifted through boxes of things, and more things – stuff, papers.  The last 30 years I kept magazines, newspaper articles, and old school papers from my college days and from my daughters’ school years – elementary through high school!    I have boxes of cards celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, get well, bereavement, cheer up, friendship and thinking of you expressions given to me throughout my life.   Not only cards mailed to me but  I managed to secure and store cards sent to other members of my family.

The cards document our journey through life.   Sentimental evidence difficult to discard because it is proof I was here, went to college, had a family, and belonged to a community of friends.  Occasionally I need visual, written evidence that I loved deeply, cherished my daughters, and enjoyed incredible friendships over the years.Image (11)

While working on my undergraduate degree, I enjoyed social history research.   Before Facebook and email correspondence, I cherished the excitement of sifting through primary resources such as letters or cards.  For example, a love letter between a famous writer and her partner provided a unique historical glimpse of issues that impacted their lives.

As I picked through the stacks, I thought that my daughters might be interested in reading through old letters, journals, or greeting cards for a bit of family history.  I also came across letters from a childhood friend who recently died of cancer and wondered if her children or grandchildren would want to read the news and thoughts she wrote about her beloved family to others.

My mom condensed my childhood collection of schoolwork and pictures into a box.   Throughout my life during difficult decisions and tumultuous times, it helped to read stories I wrote as a child or comments that teachers made on my report cards.  Not to drown in memories or the horrible quicksand of would have, could have, should have – rather to gain glimpses of reference points into characteristics that distinctly belong to me and light a path for future endeavors.


More Stuff

For the time being, I downsized from five boxes to three, and that is not a bad beginning.  As for schoolwork from the girls’ collection of stuff, I saved selected artwork and all of their writing.  I think they will one day enjoy reviewing the poems, journals, and essays they wrote from elementary to high school.

Empty Nest, Adventures and Soaring Eagles

imagesIt finally happened, rather quickly too I might add.  Both my girls are gone for Christmas.  Jen is in New Zealand and Molly moved out of Idaho the early part of December.  I knew for weeks that Jen would not be home for Christmas.  Molly had been contemplating relocating for quite some time, and her decision to make the move came quickly.

On a percentage scale, I estimate 90 percent sheer joy as they each step out into their own lives in a new way.  Each has seized the moment and opportunities, further detaching their anchors from mom and dad, and forging new paths.  The 10 percent is denial on my part that they in fact left the dock and sailed out. photo(6) Those little toads ventured out, and I miss them, yet am joyously delighted for them – complicated, these feelings!

Why not join them?  I experienced a fantastic year of travel in 2013 as I visited Ireland, the mid-west and participated in a Habitat for Humanity Build in Kauai.  I used most of my vacation time and finances and for now I am temporarily grounded in Idaho.

I also started a new job working with the BSU Research Team working on grants centered on high performance computing and cyberinfrastructure; a fantastic career opportunity. My daughters and I are deeply connected, as mothers and daughters are, and I find it interesting that we all three seized new adventures and opportunities at the same time.

In addition to the girls leaving, activities that our family traditionally engage in during the Holiday season changed due to other factors, such as illness, folks decided to attended other dinners, and  several of us entered the season simply tired and in need of rest – that includes me.

Christmas Eve day I ventured into Fred Meyer for a few items and enjoyed my leisurely stroll through the frenzy of shoppers. People look stressed trying to get those last-minute food and gift purchases, and I considered that the chaotic quest has become part of the holiday tradition.

Past years, our family deliberately plunged into the mall crowd madness because it seemed the festive zero hour Christmas shopping thing to do.  As I get older, an activity photo (24)like that plummets me quickly into overstimulated, wide, crazy eyed confused behavior and is not a very attractive look on me.

Instead, it is a relaxing holiday as I am exempt from the riotous last-minute preparation for this year.  Yet, I know that my turn will come around again, and I will host dinners and gatherings for friends, family and stray people during the Holidays.

Christmas morning I woke early to prepare delicious dark roast peaberry coffee from Kauai, and lounged in bed with fat cat Cleo, listening to music and blogging away.  While my girls fashion new experiences and traditions in their lives, I paused to consider a new level of empty nest and forge an innovative vision for my life.

My plan is to spend 2014 preparing to downsize by 2015 to something small where time and money is spent on  traveling, visiting with friends and most certainly going to where my lovely daughters reside.  If all goes well, I hope to be working on a PhD in Public Policy on the topic of affordable housing issues.   My chances will improve in this attempt if I get the application in on time for consideration.  The deadline in February is fast approaching!

Yesterday, when I stepped outside, I spotted the powerful grace of a bald eagle lazily circling right above me; the flying eaglefirst time I have observed an eagle flying in this neighborhood.  Of course, I thought it a significant message, quickly utilized the power of Google, and found the following that seemed fitting:

Great power, spiritual self is soaring.  Tremendous freedom to be used wisely, accepting responsibility, and taking care of own needs.

The vision they possess helps us learn to take a step back and view the bigger picture. We need to view the past and the present objectively, whilst looking towards the future.

zeldaeagleWe need to open our minds and hearts to see past old, restricting beliefs that are holding us back. Eagle teaches us to courageously face our fear of the unknown, so we are then able to fly as high as our heart’s joy can take us.   Soar away girls!

Return to Idaho and ongoing Kauai Reflections


Team Smidge, Susan, Joe, Ann, and Susan.
Trim work, sawing, caulking, painting, hanging doors, power nailing.

Last week at this time, I was enjoying the tropical climate of Kauai.  After dropping a couple of our teammates at the airport, the remaining few headed to the beach to snorkel, soak up the sun and take mental snapshots of the scenic ocean one more time.

My return home was pleasant and tinged with excitement about a new chapter in my career as I join the High Performance Computing research team writing grants at BSU.  I was also anxious to spend time with my daughters as Jen is on her way to New Zealand, and Molly starting a new life in Portland, Oregon

Yet, I miss my teammates and the daily interactions.  I miss walking out to the kitchen to see the early morning crew reading or working on their computers, and then at night hearing the laughter of the night owls playing cards.  I miss chasing the sunrises or sunsets with our team, particularly Pat, rating them on scale of 1-10 and discussing why we gave it a certain score.

There has been a nice flow of emails, reflections, thank you notes, and our team leader, Rick, sent a booklet of pictures with commentary that had me falling of the couch laughing.

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Jessica, volunteer coordinator; Bob, construction superintendent; Cynthia, ReStore manager.

Daily I recall sparkly moments, such as:

  • Jessica’s lively laugh and knowledge of the island, learning about the Hawaiian culture and people.
  • The Rooster Chorus.
  • Bob the builder’s broad smile and humor.
  • Mara and I nailing hurricane straps on the work-site.
  •  Introducing Mara, Paul, Pat, Maria,and Nancy to spiritual face poses.

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    Maria, Susan, Nancy, an infamous spiritual face pose

  • The ukulele jam concert with Nancy, Paul, Drew and me on the banjo.
  • Kate and I talked about breaking difficult moments in our lives to write “little glimmers” of our stories.
  •  Hauling our rain-soaked bodies in and out of the van during our tour of Waimea Canyon.
  • Hanapepe Friday Night Art Festival, strolling, eating at least 6 inch high mango pie, excellent music and art.
  • The cute young couple who bought a chilled coconut for us to try during a lunch break.

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    Charming young couple that bought us a chilled coconut to sample.

  • A ride with volunteers in their convertible red mustang with the top down to lunch on the beach.
  • Nancy’s quest to buy a mighty fine ukulele and multiple visits to the Kauai coffee plantation.
  • Working with Joe, Susan, and Ann as we fine-tuned our smidge technique to install floor molding.

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    Ukulele gal, Nancy

Before going to Kauai, I told my friends that I felt it might be my last build.  One reason based on a concern that still plagues me, even after over 20 years of time with Habitat.  My building skills are still limited; can I really make a dent and be useful on the work-site?  Yet, I have already committed to joining Rick and Stephanie for a build in Taos, New Mexico next fall.  I also would like to return to Kauai and specifically volunteer in the ReStore.

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Part of the Best Team Ever!

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Rick and Stephanie, the best leaders ever!

Habitat Global Villages include people who enjoy travel, want to experience a country beyond that of a tourist, and give something back.   Our outward focused goals always take a distinct turn, as the gift of what we receive from the host country and each other is greater than what we give.

We become recipients of grace, hope, and humor as we share stories about our families, friends, jobs, successes and dark moments in our lives.  Each Habitat build has unique occurrences, and the team-members are fascinating with interesting stories and lives.  Kauai Habitat was special and the team extraordinary.