Q: What do your faculty peers ask you about, Heather? What do they think of your living arrangements?
A: Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. I can tell you what they say to my face, can only guess what they say behind my back, and can only imagine what they think in their own heads. Here’s what they say to my face — about 80% of them look at me and tell me, point blank, that they think I’m absolutely crazy and that they (and/or their spouse) “wouldn’t move onto campus even if somebody paid them a million bucks.” In other words, they think I (and/or Braydon and me) are raging lunatics and they would not touch this experience with a ten foot poll. You wouldn’t even believe some of the things people have said, right to my face, along these lines. My perspective on this is that at a place like Lehigh (a research university with a 2:2 teaching load and relatively high expectations/demands for scholarship), most professors, I think, don’t really want a lot of interaction with their students outside of class and/or the lab and/or their office hours. Most professors, I think, feel overwhelmed with how much they already have to accomplish, with the pressures they are under, and with the expectations for them to do “service.” The last thing they want is to do more non-scholarly work. The scholarly work, alone, requires much more time/energy/attention than most full time jobs. The rest (the teaching, the service) feels like two or three other full time jobs layered on top of the first (and foremost) one. So, they see what I’m doing and probably think I’m absolutely absurd for taking it on. Thus, I can only imagine what they say behind my back… perhaps insinuations that I’m not “serious enough” about my scholarship (their logic: ‘who in their right mind would do what I’m doing if they were “serious”/hard-core about their scholarship?’)… perhaps they discuss how I’m sabotaging my career and my chances at ever getting Full Professor (I have tenure, and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2007, but will be expected to get serious about going up for Full Professor in the not-too-distant-future)… perhaps they gossip about whatever would provoke Braydon and me to do this (OMG! Are they bankrupt?! OMG! What happened that would lead them to this?! OMG! What’s the real story as to why they’d be doing this? because they can’t possibly be doing it truly by choice, as they claim to be!?!). I think the bottom line is that for many, it is hard to believe we’d do this by choice, voluntarily, of our own free will. If we were doing it because something absolutely horrible happened to us (Braydon lost his job and we had to foreclose on our house, declare bankruptcy, etc…) then, maybe, they’d just be able to feel sorry for us. But as it stands, I think it is just hard for people to wrap their minds around why on earth we’d so dramatically downsize and move onto campus. On the other hand, about 20% of my faculty peers seem to really ‘get it.’ They immediately understand the positive ramifications for work, home, and self. I’d say this is especially true for younger women, particularly younger women with young children. And about 5-10% of them will often go so far as to ask me if Lehigh plans to expand the Residential Fellows Program, and will tell me overtly that if they could convince their spouses to do it, they’d jump at the opportunity. They ‘get’ the positives (the much more seamless and balanced work-home lifestyle, the ability to put the kids to bed then go out to a campus event, the luxury of being a 5-minute walk from your office, etc.). And there are definitely professors, like me, who — even at a school like Lehigh — truly enjoy students and would really like to find more ways to connect and engage with them outside the purely academic realm. So, there you have it… in a nutshell (I could talk for hours and hours about this question).
Q: Do you guys have a timetable of how long you’ll live at LU?
A: Yes. We have committed to two years, renewable for longer if we choose to stay after Year 2. Right now, we’re trying to get through Year 1. In September we’ll begin discussing the sustainability (or lack thereof) and potential future of this situation. I’m guessing we’ll stay for at least three years, but we shall have to see what happens.
Q: I’d be interested to hear how your cooking/meal times have changed. How much do you guys still cook in the scaled down kitchen verses eating on campus?
A: Breakfast and lunch have not changed for us at all. We eat at home for breakfast everyday. During the week we pack lunches for the kids’ school days. Braydon I do a combination of packed lunches and — mostly — working lunch meetings (I have lunch meetings at least 2-3 days/week, if not more). Weekend lunches are sort of just catch-as-catch can, and always have been like that for us. Dinners are really the main thing that have changed. We now eat dinner in the dining hall 1-2 times/week. We get take-out or eat out as a family about once a week. We have leftovers or something super simple (something like macaroni and cheese or tortellini and pesto for the kids, something like sandwiches or salads for Braydon and I) about once a week. And we eat a real full-blown homemade sit-down dinner 3-4 nights a week. I used to cook a full-blown homemade sit-down dinner at least 5 nights/week. So, that has changed a bit. Even though it isn’t a huge dramatic change, it feels very big for me. It has been a huge relief for me and has made my cooking-dinner-burden feel so much lighter. It feels like a weight off. Also, with a much smaller (TINY!) kitchen, I do feel limited. I don’t go quite as crazy as I often used to where dinner menus are concerned. This has been in part good, and in part bad, for me. I like having less pressure on myself to make grand meals. But I don’t like the lack of inspiration; I feel less inspired to be creative and try new recipes, etc.; It just isn’t as easy to whip up something fabulous. My tried-and-true dinners that my family loves are in full rotation. I still make the things they enjoy most, but often the meals are scaled down a bit. Our dinners at home are a bit more simple, but we are still eating very, very well. I am hoping to start back to my “Food Friday” posts on the blog soon. I miss that part of blogging a lot and am feeling ready to get back to that. (Photos below– top: Meera makes banana bread / bottom: our kids still eat a ton of fresh fruit and veggies daily.)
Q: Was it difficult to make the switch from LOTS of stuff to the necessities? What was it like to adopt such a new mindset? How did you decide what to keep?
A: It was difficult to make the decision to switch from LOTS of stuff to the necessities. That was years in the making for us. We had been pondering it for a long while, but we started thinking and talking very seriously about it in summer 2007, after getting home from the best trip of our lives and having stayed in a tiny simple bare-bones villa (the trip was to Virgin Gorda with Kyle and Owen when they were three years old; this was before Meera was born). It then took us four years of intensely deep (and ridiculously repetitive!) conversations and soul-searching (individually, and as a couple), before we were able to fully make the decision in a concrete way. All of that was very difficult for us. But then the rest came super easy. It was like once we had gone there in our minds, it was very easy to go there in a pragmatic way. It took a full year of process to actually do it (the sorting and ditching and giving away took a full 12 months). But we had — as you say in the question — “adopted the new mindset,” and it felt painless, good, cleansing, cathartic, and right. We decided what to get rid of and what to keep by simply just doing it. No way around it, over it, or under it: we just had to decide. When there are millions of decisions to be made, and a deadline looming, you simply cannot linger on very many of them. I did the huge bulk of it, and there were a couple of months there when I felt like I was making — literally — about 1,000 decisions a day (keep with us? save in storage? ditch? give? give to whom?). It was grueling, but not difficult. There were many moments (and even whole stretches of time) when it felt (and still does feel, even now) liberating, freeing, and sometimes almost ecstatic. I have felt all along, and continue to feel, that it was — for us and for our three kids — absolutely the right thing to do. I can’t explain it more than to say that I feel very much that what we are doing right now is exactly the right thing for us, and just what we are supposed to be doing. That is a really good feeling. Especially because for so many years we had a nagging feeling that we weren’t doing what we were supposed to be doing. Oh, and by the way— now that it has been six months, we’ve fully adjusted to this new lifestyle– so much so that, actually, I now (in the past month or so), often feel overwhelmed with how much we have. I look around and think of how excessive it is, and how we have so very much more than we need (or even want). Crazy! Once you get started on this road, it is a pretty incredible journey. I highly, highly recommend it!!!