Category: college

Research: method not madness

Knowing how to do research is a real-life skill. It’s something kids should be taught early and continue to practice throughout their 12 to 16 years of education to keep their skills honed. The best news about this is that research is uber-simple in our internet-driven society.

Most kids these days don’t even know what an encyclopedia is or how to use one. “Unless you mean Wikipedia?” No, I mean a large, hard-bound volume with subject matter alphabetized that used to be sold door-to-door and required updating every fifth year (if not sooner).

You can be certain every person under the age of 16 is looking at me like I’m speaking a  foreign tongue. They can’t imagine a world in which information wasn’t a mouse-click away. And I’m glad they can access this database with such ease.

Of course, to me, this makes them even more responsible for knowledge. After all, with information at their fingertips, they have no reasonable justification for ignorance. And yet…

Every person on the planet will research something at some point. Perhaps it will be how to buy a home or make the perfect roasted turkey. Maybe it will be to check out how to treat colic or what sort of things to do on a vacation in Mexico.

I’m a fan of research when I have a question and I’m seeking an answer. To complete a paper on the topic of symbolism and literary theory? Not so much.

In either case, research methods in the 21st Century are nothing like they were as little as 20 years ago (in the 20th Century). With all the information available on the World Wide Web, ignorance should be a fading phenomenon. Or not.

questions1This is what I do when I’m performing personal research (meaning I have a specific question I want answered):

  1. I open my web browser (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, etc.)
  2. I type my question into the Google search box
  3. My first stop is generally Wikipedia (more on this later)
  4. Using the sources at the bottom of the Wikipedia article, I narrow my search to a more defined and reliable set of sources.
  5. I will likely return to Google and type my much more specific search terms into the search box
  6. I start clicking on the articles based on which sound the most authoritative (given their source) and applicable
  7. I have never had to go past the third page of a Google search to find as much information as I need

I know every scholar shuns Wikipedia. It’s an open source database and anyone can modify the articles within it. Citing it as a source on any paper you write for school or work will destroy your credibility.

I avoided it when I first began my college degree coursework in 2010. Imagine my surprise when more than a year later, I had a professor (of psychology I believe) advise her students to begin their research with Wikipedia.

You can shut your mouth now. Yes, it’s hanging open just like mine was upon hearing this advice. From a woman with a doctorate no less! Insanity.

Her logic involved finding the specific information needed for your project in a condensed version. Once you found the general facts, she advised scrolling to the end of the Wikipedia article and using the sources listed for the information you want.  Real research and note-taking could begin with those resources.

Let me tell you this was so much quicker than searching through the library database of scholarly journals. Many times, a journal article would be cited in Wikipedia, and I could just search for the specific journal and have the source at my fingertips in minutes.


I’m still not a fan of doing research unless I have a specific question to answer. For this reason, I generally won’t research things for my novels or stories until I’m in the middle of the project and need the information or after the first draft is done.

Does this make tons of extra work? Not really. There are plenty of things that will need clarification and additional description during the rewrite. Why not put a big highlighted note in the manuscript and let the story flow rather than being side-tracked by the jumble of information you’ll find once you start researching?

Another reason I prefer this method is to avoid the dreaded “information dump.” Have you ever read a book and felt like the author was trying to make you an expert on a subject? They included so many facts and figures your head mimicked a carousel.

If you’re like me, skimming the text commences at this point. If I wanted a lecture, I would have opened something other than a fiction novel. Further, it smacks of “talking down” to the reader when you give them more information that what is necessary for the story.

But once I get a plethora of cool facts in my head, I want to share them. If this is you, I have some advice. Tell your spouse (they’re used to tuning you out when you talk) and save yourself the agony of having your editor red-line a paragraph or more of hard-won words.

No one likes to see that, do they?

Do you think the ability to effectively research is an important life skill? If you’re a writer, do you research before, during or after the first draft of you fiction novel? (Nonfiction is a different sport altogether.) What’s your research method?

When Chicks Fly from the Nest – Literally

Our world is shrinking. We’re part of a “global community.” But does that really mean we have to let our children fly thousands of miles away from us?

Today, my youngest son boards a plane with two stops before arriving in the Middle East for a three-week educational tour. I’m excited for him – thrilled that he’s enjoying opportunities I’ve never had in my own life.

This is the appropriate response from a mature and caring mother, right?

Before you stand in awe of my perceived awesomeness, let me tell you this isn’t my first experience with sending my son on an international trip.

Rewind eight years. The boy is not even 13 yet, but one of his friends went to Europe as a People-to-People ambassador and when he was nominated, he could focus on nothing else. He’d endured a few tough years with medical problems, and it warmed our hearts to see him lively again.

But 16 days in Japan? Really? This is what a mother must allow her baby boy to do in order to recharge his enthusiasm for life?

I’ve never been one of those mothers who hovers over her children. I had two boys. When they fell down and cried, I picked them up, checked out the injury and kissed it better. Never made a big deal.

The day my four-year-old baby boy plunged from our second floor window was a different story. Not a day I ever hope to relive. Recalling it makes me sympathize with parents who have seriously ill or injured young children. He fell. I could do nothing.

Back to Japan. My husband and I planned a trip during five days of my son’s international adventure. I figured distraction might help me cope with any separation anxiety.

We send him off with a wing and a prayer. News flash. Earthquake rocks Japan.

God has such an incredible sense of humor, doesn’t he? My son didn’t feel said earthquake but he did have to remain on his plane away from the terminal buildings for an hour or more. Safety first and all that.

After an earthquake, I figured nothing else could shake me.

Juniors at the college he attends are invited to travel internationally as soon as school ends for the year. It’s a huge deal. Sophomores set up tents in the quad to be first in line at the booths hosting the trip they want to take.

My son’s first choice: Israel and Jordan.

Excellent choice. I’m slightly jealous because I’ve always wanted to go to Israel. In fact, I could use the firsthand experience of the Holy Lands for the book I’m writing set in first century Palestine. What a great opportunity for him.

Mom, Israel and Jordan. You know, where SCUD missiles are fired with regularity and terrorist bombings are too commonplace to make the news.

Right. No worries. Remember the earthquake?

The truth I learned that summer day when this same son flew from the window and broke his leg remains unchanged:

I can’t protect my children. I believe in a God who can, so I entrust my precious sons into the omnipotent and omnipresent care of the Almighty.

In fact, I hope my youngest nestling brings back some pictures that will help me visualize the setting of the book I’m writing. He will come home – in one piece – with stories to last a lifetime.

What experiences have made you anxious? Any advice for alleviating that worry?

What do you want to do when you grow up?

When I first started school I wanted to be a teacher. Who wouldn’t want to boss everyone around? By fourth grade, I loved making up stories, so I decided I wanted to be a novelist. Later…solving mysteries seemed exciting, so how about becoming an FBI agent?

Like most kids, my thoughts about the future vacillated from one end of the realistic spectrum to the other end of unrealistic. Dreams are grand. Dreams inspire us to reach higher.

Dreams are dreams. Expectations are a 1000-pound weight on a tired swimmers back. Throw them into the sea of swarming high school students who think they know everything. Is it any wonder kids drown?

When you know your purpose

I wrote my first “book” when I was nine years old. I filled dozens of spiral notebooks with short stories, longer stories, poetry and general musings from that time until after I graduated from high school.

Writing has always helped me express my emotions and sort out my problems. It’s safer to bleed your secrets on a sheet of paper than divulge them to people. A pen ranting on notebook paper gets a person in much less trouble than a verbal confrontation.

My yearning has always been to write. I used that yearning to write copy for a non-profit newsletter, lessons for classes I taught at church, and plays and skits for the youth group to perform.

I submitted a few stories to contests when I was younger. Tried my hand at writing articles and even wrote a novel. Rejection letters deterred me. My family needed me to be present in the moment rather than rattling around my make-believe worlds.

Most people don’t know what they want to do until they’re at least in high school. Some people don’t discover their “calling” until the age of 40, 50 or beyond.

If you’re 18 and don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, big deal. Don’t decide you won’t grow up until you do know. Follow a path. Experiment with different things. Purposelessness has a purpose when you’re using it as a barometer.

How to find your purpose

Some people volunteer at the animal shelter and they know they want to be a veterinarian. Others volunteer at the veterinarian office and decide they love animals, but doctoring the four-legged creatures isn’t how to express it.

The only way to find your niche is by doing. Try sports. Try theater. Try writing for the school newspaper (I did). Sing in the choir. Play in the band. Sell lemonade and deliver newspapers.

My oldest son found out he didn’t want a manual labor job after he worked at one for the summer. It inspired him to work hard in school so he could go to college. How did he know he wanted to be a computer programmer? You’ll have to ask him. His dad is and he always wanted to follow that path. Go figure.

My husband went to college to be an electrician. Yep and he ended up as a computer engineer. Electrical engineer or computer engineer. Slight difference, right? He’s been happy with the choice.

Some people like to do many different things. That could mean they would be happy in multiple fields. It might involve tons of experimentation before they find the right fit. Don’t give up. Keep trying.

You never know until you try. Words to live by – just saying.

What stands in the way

Let’s face it, when you’re a teenager, plenty of things stand in the way of finding out your genuine heart’s calling.

A short list:

  • Teachers: you know the one’s I’m talking about “You’re the best artist I’ve had in years”
  • Parents: “Writing? But what will your day job be?” “You’re going to take over the family business, right?”
  • Friends: “You should go to Western because I’m going there.”
  • Money: You either have it or you don’t. Don’t let that limit your vision.
  • Locale: If you live a million miles from nowhere, it’s hard to know if you’d like a career in the city or some other more urbanized setting.
  • Other nay-sayers: “What can you do with a degree in history?” “If you don’t go to college, you’ll never amount to anything.”

What other things have you heard that made it difficult to find your true calling? If you have advice or experience, please share it in the comments.

Expecting Your Kid to Go to College could be the Wrong Idea

Image from
Image from

College. Everyone needs to go to college. This is what the media, the president, and most teachers tell young people.

In grade school, they start talking to you about college. What college are you considering? What do you want to be when you grow up? Yes, you need a college degree to be a fireman. Yes, you need a college degree to be a doctor.

Everyone should want to go to college. Wrong. False expectation. All America is doing by putting this expectation on their children is damaging them. Especially at a super-young (pre-teen) age.

Do I think it’s wrong to talk about college to seventh and eighth grade students? Of course not! It’s time for them to think about it. They are old enough and mature enough (sometimes) to consider the future.

When you get to high school, you have some control over your class schedule. Knowing what  you think you want to do later in life will help you make decisions about that.

Know what? A huge percentage of high school students have no idea what they want to be when they grow up or what they’re going to do after high school. Some forty-year-olds have neither grown up nor figured out their future plans.

Yet, this pressure for them to make a decision exists. Don’t they have enough stress? Give them a few years to figure it out. This expectation that young people need to know what they’re going to do with their lives by the time they’re 12 so they can be shaped into that pathway often defeats the underlying purpose.

When we force this issue, here’s what happens: Kid: “I like skateboarding. I like riding my bike and doing tricks. I’m going to be the next Tony Hawk.” (I have actually heard seventh-grade boys say this.) Adult: “No, you’re not. Less than one percent of people can go pro in that field.” (Kid effectively discouraged from dreaming but not even a millimeter closer to discovering the true ambition for his future.) Read more

CLEP Exam Pros & Cons

Since it’s nearing the end of the year and I’m more interested in spending time with family than coming up with new content – sorry- I’m going to run some of my older blog posts again. This post netted me more views than anything I’ve ever put on my page. Why?

If you think college tuition is outrageous ($1,000 for one class!), you’ll probably be interested to learn about CLEP Examinations. Many colleges and universities (2900 according to accept these exams as credit in place of many basic knowledge or entry level classes.

What is CLEP?


CLEP is an acronym for College Level Examination Program. It’s a way to earn college credit by taking an examination to prove your proficiency in a subject. The length and format of the exams differ depending on the subject. The information I have lists 33 different tests ranging from Biology to Business and Calculus to Composition.


In my case, I’m taking the “History of the United States 1: Early Colonization to 1877” exam on August 23. If I pass the test, I will earn three credits and get to skip the 100 level history class required for my degree.


Where can I learn about CLEP?


To learn the basics about CLEP, visit They offer study guides and listings for testing centers. I downloaded an iBook with a sample test and the list of topics covered on my test for $5.99.


Before you invest in the test, you’ll want to check in with your college advisor to be sure your college is one of the 2900 that accepts these examinations for credit. Even though taking tests is loads of fun, it isn’t free, so you won’t want to waste the money if it won’t shorten your college course list.




The major benefit to taking a CLEP exam is the money I will save. To take the exam, I will pay $80 for the test and $15 to the testing center (since I test at University of Phoenix and am not a student there, I have to pay a testing fee). To get the same credit by taking the college course, I would spend $966 for the class and then another $80 to $120 for the textbook. That’s savings of nearly $950!


It also means one less class I have to take. This translates into finishing up my degree requirements in less time.


According to The College Board, the test I’m taking is a relatively easy one (a 2, on a scale of 1 to 5, where a 5 is hard and 1 is easy). Their study sites say I should be ready for the test with a week of study. So one week of study versus eight weeks? I’d say that’s another big benefit.




The major drawback for CLEP is that preparing for the test is an independent endeavor. I won’t have an instructor to seek guidance from. There are no interactive discussions to help me understand difficult concepts. In fact, I don’t even have a textbook to study.


I am using for my study sessions. This website has a topical list of articles written by expert historians. I also have my sample test and there are online sample tests, as well. I’m hoping that my skills for reading and retaining information have been honed sufficiently from the past two years of online classes, so that I will be able to absorb the information needed before the test.


If you don’t pass the test, you can retake it in six months and still save over $800 (if your college credits cost the same as mine).


As far as I can see, the pros are heavily outweighing the cons on this list. I’m glad I made the decision to pursue credit through the CLEP. If you’ve taken a CLEP exam, I’d love to have you weigh in on the subject below. Was it worth the money and time savings? Do you have any tips to share with future exam takers?

Graduation Celebration

When you arrive at a fork in the road, take it” – Yogi Berra

One journey culminates with a gathering of people whose support made the journey bearable.

I’m proud to display my outstanding graduate award and as soon as my diploma arrives in the mail, I’ll be putting it in a place of honor as well.

My motto: Don't just do it, do it best
My motto: Don’t just do it, do it best

Unfortunately, the end of this road means the beginning of another one. There is no standing still in life – only moving forward.

I’ve already laid out my writing schedule (along with my summer list of projects that need to be completed around the house). For more on this, come back in two weeks.

Today, however, my son, my niece and I will celebrate our accomplishment with family and friends. Feasting on homemade food, the three of us will bask in the glory of this moment.

Then, we’ll begin again. A job hunt for my son will eventually yield him a paid position, the first of many in his working life. Beginning a Master’s program is up next for my niece.

Fortunately, all of you will get to join me as my quest for completing a young adult fantasy novel becomes central. I’ll throw my name into a few hats for paid gigs. But mostly, I’ll do the work in order to reap the benefits of my perseverance.

In fact, completing my Bachelor of Arts degree only reaffirms that I am capable of climbing the mountain named Publishing and leaving my flag atop it.

Graduation Day

High school graduation - 2009
High school graduation – 2009

June 15 at 10:00 am, the commencement ceremony begins at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls. The stadium teems with parents, grandparents and friends.

I have a tissue (or four) ready.

My oldest son sits on the field below us. Since I didn’t attend my graduation ceremony (traveling to New Hampshire wasn’t as important as going to Germany), I’m living vicariously through him once more.

Even while the speaker gives motivational and inspirational advice, I know Tanner is thinking ahead. The younger we are, the less we live in the moment.

After an interminable amount of time and a seemingly endless list of names, he shakes the President’s hand and grasps his diploma (not really; they pick those up later, but symbolically he got that certificate). His four-year journey through higher education is ending.

Now real life begins.

After Graduation

This time of year, people all over America are asking the question, “What happens after graduation?”

Does this middle-aged coed have an original question?

Well, no, but my answer comes more quickly to my lips than what a high school graduate might flippantly toss into conversation. I might even have a more definitive plan than many college graduates.

Unfortunately, I’m not one of those who have a job waiting for me on the other side of graduation. Of course, I don’t really want one, either.

I’ve halfheartedly sent out a few resumes and responded to a few jobs that interested me on LinkedIn. My heart screams, “No! I’m going to write.”

My mind cajoles, “It’s a trap! How will you live without a regular paycheck?”

It’s nice that my son’s roommates have jobs waiting for them. They had been interning at this company over the past summer (or two). My son hoped he might be able to find employment there and just continue his comfortable living arrangements after graduation.

No regular jobs are available, but they’re looking for interns.

I wonder if he’s been submitting resumes and cover letters with more enthusiasm than I’m displaying. After all, he really is just starting out. He needs to get a job so he can become completely independent of his parents and be ready to pay back those thousands of dollars he borrowed in student loans.

I have a husband. My husband is an engineer. He makes good money. I have a small amount of debt from my degree, half of which was accrued so I could contribute cash to our youngest son’s education.

What happens after graduation?

I’m getting on a plane and flying to Boston, MA. After a few days there, I board a transatlantic flight to Amsterdam and then Munich. While my husband works, I will soak in the German culture. I plan to see a few museums, gardens and castles.

When I get back to the United States, I’m going to go to a friend’s wedding. The day after that, my friends and family will celebrate the multi-graduation occasions at a barbecue.

Two weeks after that, I will co-host a large garage sale with my sister. Hopefully, my house will be garnering much attention from interested buyers. If that’s the case, it may not be many weeks after the sale that I’ll be packing up my house and moving.

Amidst all of this, I will finish my WIP. I will edit the manuscript and get a copy ready for the classroom of beta readers I’ve been promised at the middle school where I will no longer work.

What are your plans for after graduation? Or perhaps you just have summer plans you’d like to share. I love hearing from my readers.

Still Learning at Every Age

This is borrowed from Carla Foote the blog manager for Weekly Refill.

“Apparently when Michelangelo (painter, sculptor, architect, poet – original Renaissance man) was 87 years old he said, “Ancora imparo” – I am still learning.

Reasons to stop learning (most of us won’t articulate these, but they are in the back of our minds when we step back rather than forward towards a learning opportunity):

  • Fear – of what others will think, of looking stupid, of being wrong, of not being able to accomplish whatever we want to learn
  • Time – to accomplish something new, we need to set aside time, make it a priority and stop doing activities that are less meaningful
  • Settling – the comfort and safety of the known can cause us to settle for staying stuck, rather than trying new things
  • Lack of      imagination – we have never pictured ourselves doing the new thing – being a lifeguard, writing a book, climbing a mountain, speaking in front of a crowd, telling our story

Reasons to keep on learning:

  • Stretching – it’s as good for our minds as it is for our muscles
  • Stewarding – we have gifts and influence we can invest for the kingdom, in every season of life
  • Serving – the lifeguard learns so she can save a life – I learn so I can serve my community in some way”

What are the reasons you give for either backing away from new experiences or embracing them with gusto?

As a middle-aged college student, I’ve obviously decided that I have more to learn. In fact, when I graduate next month *cheesy grin* I will still want to keep learning.

If I stop learning, I believe I’ll shrivel up and die. My brain craves new information and experiences. I don’t want to ever say, “I’m too old for that.”

This old dog is happy to learn new tricks.

The End is in Sight

From UO News Bureau

It’s finally here. I thought I’d be so much more excited, but the exhaustion seeping from every pore chains my exuberance.

This is my last term as an undergraduate student.

As usual, I have two classes. Both of these classes were my top picks and I hope they’ll end up being as enlightening and enjoyable as I imagined. Read more