Friday, December 25, 2015

Holiday Presents

When I was little, my mother used a numbering (or lettering) system to label Christmas presents.  Apparently, at some point she got tired of her many children shaking presents with their names on them and guessing what they’d been given. If she numbered them, she figured, she would thwart her children’s tendency to spoil the surprises she had planned for them.  I should note here that my mother also thought she would conserve cake from my siblings’ voracious teen-aged appetites by freezing it.  This ploy failed when my brothers and sisters discovered the frozen cake is still tasty and ate it anyway.  Similarly, her present numbering system didn’t always turn out quite as she had planned.  One particularly memorable year my mother lost her list altogether and couldn’t remember whose present was whose.  So, she had each of us open a present with a different number so that she could figure out what her system had been.  It was a typical Mum kind of moment: her own scheme backfiring on her, with much laughter ensuing—and all wrapped up (or unwrapped, as it were) with a pragmatic solution.  It was interesting, though, that first round of presents: whenever you opened something, you knew that you were likely uncovering a surprise for someone other than yourself.   

My mother’s desire to protect secrecy in the holiday season was almost certainly related to the fact that money was tight.  My father worked as a machinist for Gorton’s seafood, and there wasn’t much wiggle room in the household budget.  This required that my mother work creatively with limited resources to make Christmas morning special for all eight of her children.  She was good at that, as she was with so many of the challenges of raising children on a shoestring (while still making all of us feel loved).  One of her talents was, simply, that she paid attention

I’m not sure if I ever gave my mother a list of things that I wanted for Christmas, or for my birthday. But she knew, and more often than not the thing/s I wanted the most were there. She just always noticed and remembered the things that we all liked, and she could tell what we wanted most. Even when we wanted something that stretched her financially, she usually found a way. There are pictures of my sister Chris with a guitar in hand when she was about 15 or 16. Guitars weren’t cheap, but she wanted one so badly—and my mother simply couldn’t resist the chance to make her happy.  Something similar happened when I was in high school.  There was a leather goods store in town, and I coveted a leather backpack.  But, it was pricey. I can’t recall now how much it cost, exactly, but I know it was more than I thought my parents could afford. Yet somehow, it ended up in a box under the Christmas tree. I had that backpack until about 5 or 6 years ago, when it finally gave out altogether.  More than the bag itself, it was the memory of my mother finding a way to afford it, just to make me happy, that made it special to me. 

My Dad had his moments, too.  One year—mind you, this was back in the 1980s (otherwise the story doesn’t make sense)—Dad copied my favorite Christmas movie, which at the time was “It’s a Wonderful Life,” onto a VHS tape for me. But he didn’t want to leave the commercials in, so he borrowed my brother Steve’s VCR for a day, connected it with his, and then went through the whole movie and cut every commercial.  Then, of course, he put it into my stocking as nonchalantly as possible…because, you know, Dad didn’t admit to feelings very well.

When I had kids, I remembered how all this felt…but I also knew that we are fortunate enough that my kids would not have to think “Oh, my parents can’t afford that.”  I’m grateful for that, but wanted to instill in them the wonder of giving that I learned growing up.  Thus Home-made Present Night of Hanukkah was born.  And every year, it is the home-made presents that my kids give the most time to thinking about, especially in giving to others.

I guess I did something right along the way, then. 

(me, probably when I was not quite 2 years old?)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Days of the Week

My life is falling into daily patterns of late: 

  • Many Meetings Mondays (How can a day without classes be that busy?)
  • Focused on Classes Tuesdays
  • Bad Language Wednesdays (coined with Martina)
  • Truly Tired Thursdays (typically without time to breathe, and all too often finding me on the late train home)
  • Full of Hope Fridays (hoping I won't have to go to campus, hoping to get enough work done to take the weekend off...)
  • Domestic Saturdays (cleaning, shopping, cooking)
  • Seeking Balance Sundays (taking them off if I can, getting ready for the work week if I must)

My family life is falling into some of these patterns too.  We have:
  • Dr. Who Sundays
  • I don't want to go to school Mondays.
  • Taco Tuesdays (but only on occasion)
  • Pasta Wednesdays (Every Wednesday. Remember Anthony?)
  • There is no Thursday theme, even on occasion. (Or, I don't think there is. I might be too tired to notice. See above.)
  • Friday Family Movie Nights
  • And back to Domestic Saturdays
I think that these patterns either reveal my coping mechanisms in a life that's too full...or just that I've finally lost my senses altogether.  

Now, if I can just get that damned conference paper revised...oh, wait: that can't happen until after finals...
(Note that I am allowed to say "damned" because it's Bad Language Wednesday.)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

On the Eve of Hanukkah

This weekend--in order:
1) Anya brought home an eyeball on a stick. I thought it was inspired.

2) The barbie-type dolls hung out with a Dalek. I found it interesting that the Dalek seemed to be playing therapist to one of them.

3) As long as I had my camera in the girl child's room, I took a few pictures of one of the Lego Twin Cities. They've grown over time. (Pretend you can't see the dust in that second city photo...)

4) She looked at the Josefina doll in the catalog and exclaimed "My name is Josefina Montoya. You killed my father--prepare to die."  I couldn't be more proud.  (Do you know the scene from this movie?)

5) I cooked some meals for freezing from this workshop.  I thought I could never enjoy it with this timing--we're at the end of the semester and everything is crazy.  As it turns out, the workshop has given me something to be excited about even before all the exams and papers are graded.  (Mind you, I am still living for the end of the semester, but at least I can think about something other than that once in a while.)

6) Hanukkah began tonight!  First up: Smart Phones for all. Yes, I've entered the 21st century, albeit somewhat reluctantly. (I am excited about the photos I can take with this camera, though...)

Happy Hanukkah!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

November Rain

So, I did get a few work monkeys off my back on this rainy day. But this afternoon? I took a 1.5 hour bath instead of grading response papers.

Monday, October 26, 2015

She's At It Again

Anya has a book of reversible poems that she enjoys perusing from time to time. This weekend, while sitting in the kitchen listening to the Moth Radio Hour--I had it on while cooking dinner--she doodled a few reversible poems of her own.

Her other doodles made reference to a $2,000,000 poker jackpot.

Word of the moment: juxtaposition.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

October Weekends

As usual, October is whizzing by far too fast.  I want to spend my time lingering over tea and going out for long walks in crisp air and then coming home to curl up in the living room in front of fires or movies with my family and cooking and knitting up a storm...

That's my ideal October. My actual October is filled with blue books and meetings and classes and commuting and hassles.  It includes Saturday morning cleaning and grocery shopping and kid anxiety over assignments and ripping out a knitted gift project in order to start over. Again. 

But somehow, on the weekends, I do manage to squeeze a little bit of that October magic into my life.  Even if I do have to fit it around grading blue books.

Fall in New England just might be an argument for heaven.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Facing the Tidal Wave

Today at work was nonstop: a meeting about a new grant, followed by my 100-level class, followed by an office hour trying to find answers for a student planning to study abroad next semester, followed by an upper-division colloquium, followed by a department meeting, followed by work on the train. All "free" moments were spent checking on, answering, and organizing emails. Somewhere in there I ate soup.

Until 6:30, when I moved my laptop off the dining room table and put on Julia Nunes while throwing together my part of "leftovers for dinner" and waited for my son to get back from karate.  We settled down to a candle-lit, un-fussy meal and I heard about the kids' days. At one point, I leaned on my husband and soaked in the goodness of life--this family that I come home to at the end of a long day, meeting together around the table my brother made with his own hands.

I am fortunate to have (mostly) interesting and meaningful work. But in October--that most beautiful of months in New England--that work gets really busy, really fast.  It's this crazy little family that keeps me from losing it altogether. They sustain me.

And so tonight I will relax with them. Tomorrow, again, I will put forth my best effort to make our little corner of public higher ed meaningful for both students and faculty alike. 

There are worse ways I could spend my time at 50. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Then and Now

Anya, at about 10 months and then at 10 years...both times in Dad-inspired AC/DC t-shirts. (Her dad just went to the concert in August. She wore her the t-shirt to her first day of school.)

They just get better all the time. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

In the News

The only thing more important than teaching my daughter to keep herself safe in a world like this... teaching my son how important it is not to tolerate actions and attitudes like this, let alone participate in them. 

There is a great blog post here dissecting these kinds of messages and how they treat women as merely a means of exchange between (or among) men.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Unexpected Change

Honestly, I was happy with how my dining room looked.  Ever since we changed it a few years ago, it felt like it all went together well.  I had no plans to do any painting or redecorating in the house this summer. brother Tim called me at my mother's house on July 4 to see if we were interested in buying a table he just made. Like, with his own hands, from re-purposed wood.  Ummmm....yeah. Ever since I saw the stuff Tim makes, I've wanted him to make us a dining table.

But then, of course, the dining table didn't work with the rest of the room.  And so--as I had, in fairness, warned my husband might happen if we bought this table--I had to change almost everything else. Wall color. Shelving. Artwork. Curtains. We even replaced the drawer pulls on the secretary (though I didn't think to take a specific picture of that). Only the chairs remain from the room's previous incarnation, and thank heavens that worked (chairs are expensive, even at Ikea). The resulting room looks like this:

It's hard to tell in the pictures, but I went with grey again (gull wing grey, which seemed appropriate for a table from Rockport, MA). The sideboard, shelf, and curtains are from Ikea, and the mostly stuff I had around, some of it used in new ways. 

I love the table, and I think I am pretty good with the rest of the room.  I'll have to see how it makes it through winter. I never used to like the dining room in winter until its last incarnation.  At any rate, this is it for me with dining tables. I now have one that is sustainable and has character, a story, and a personal connection.  It's not quite as big as the old one (which could seat up to 12 if I put in all the leaves), but I can still fit 8 comfortably, and that's good enough for me.  The room now feels less polished, but the dialed down, less fancy look does a better job of reflecting my casual nature.

Thanks, Tim! 
(And, um, thank you Howard--for putting up with my need to change everything right away.  I am working on that patience thing, but don't quite have it figured out yet.)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Let's All Be a Little More Curious, Shall We?

Today, a lengthy, food-for-thought quote from a favorite gender scholar.  I want to work toward making curiosity more central in my life and actions:

"The moment when one becomes newly curious about something is also a good time to think about what created one's previous lack of curiosity. So many power structures--inside households, within institutions, in societies, in international affairs--are dependent on our continuing lack of curiosity. 'Natural,' 'tradition,' 'always': each has served as a cultural pillar to prop up familial, community, national, and international power structures, imbuing them with legitimacy, with timelessness, with inevitability. Any power arrangement that is imagined to be legitimate, timeless, and inevitable is pretty well fortified. Thus we need to stop and scrutinize our lack of curiosity. We also need to be genuinely curious about others' lack of curiosity--not for the sake of feeling self-satisfied, but for the sake of meaningfully engaging with those who take any power structure as unproblematic.

Why is a state of uncuriosity about what it takes to produce a pair of fashionable sneakers so comfortable? What is there about being uncurious about how the military base affects the civilians living in base towns that seems so reasonable? I've come to think that making and keeping us uncurious must serve somebody's political purpose. I also have become convinced that I am deeply complicit in my own lack of curiosity."

Cynthia Enloe, The Curious Feminist: Searching for Women in a New Age of Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), pp. 2-3.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Today's Gift

Today had many gifts, of course--a generous colleague who will mail me a reading I need, children who are full of life and love, a devoted spouse, my very breath. But, one thing in particular stands out today...

Howard and I were out for our weekly coffee when a young-ish man walked up to us. He reminded me that he was in one of my upper-division history classes a few years ago. He told me that he wanted me to know that I--and more precisely my passion in the classroom--am the reason that he is a teacher.

I'm not sure that I deserve such high praise.  He, after all, teaches middle-school kids in a not-very-wealthy district. He does more important work than I ever will do.  But his statement was definitely the greatest gift of my day.

Friday, June 19, 2015

On leaving

(One last trip to the library of the Ministerio de la Cultura, a tea with Ximena, and then back to pack and prepare for the trip home)

It's always so weird to be at the end of a trip to Quito.  As much as I've floundered for focus these two weeks, it's hard to leave without really having gotten to go through more of the newspapers I've been reading. I hate just getting a "taste" of things like this and then letting it go.  I gathered a lot, but there is always so much more to be had. And even though I don't particularly like living in Quito (it's too big for me--and those buses, spewing black smoke and actively trying to run me over--blech), this city, nestled in mountains, does have its grandeur.  And of course I will miss lunches with Ximena.

But I love coming home.  I love home. I love Howard and the kids. I love sleeping in my own bed.  I love cooking in my own kitchen and working in my own office space and taking a bath whenever I want rather than waiting two hours for the water to heat.  And the ocean is just as grand as those mountains.  I love Friday Family Movie Night and listening about the kids' days at dinner each night. I love listening to NPR while I putter around the house. I occasionally even love having the cat around.  And I have a sense of community and purpose at my university that I lack when I work here.

I've sometimes found myself nostalgic on this trip for the days when I came to Quito and could stay a while, on my own.  When I didn't have responsibilities. When I didn't simply "collect" documents to read back home, but actually took close notes while in the archives (even when I took a photocopy).  I miss the days when the Biblioteca Ecuatoriana--set in a lovely old monastery out in Cotocollao--used to have cats roaming all around the building, including into the stacks (though I was warned not to pet them: fleas).  When the Mariscal area of Quito was safe rather than dangerous. 

But my life has moved on from those days. I have responsibilities now, lots of them.  And while the juggle of my varied duties is sometimes overwhelming, I wouldn't trade this richness of life for the freedom of 20 years ago.  

And so goodbye to Quito.  I will, for the present, continue to come and go from here.  But home is in New England, with that crazy family of mine.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Back for a Spell


A pounding headache that woke me at 4:00 a.m. Tall buildings out my living room window with just a touch of mountain green in the background, filthy hands, a dinner with queso fresco and avocados that are beyond heavenly...and a stack of newly bought second-hand books (thus, the filthy hands).  Oh, and llapingachos for lunch. 

Yup, I'm in Quito.  

Missing my family terribly and just hoping for a productive trip that will make the two weeks feel not quite so long.  Not even the best avocados on earth (which these just might be) keep me from missing home and family.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Anya and I played hooky today.  We baked a cake.  We snuggled and talked. We listened to The Unicorn (which was a regular Sunday-morning-after-church thing when I was a kid; this stands in contrast to our kids listening to the Clash in the car as toddlers).  We watched The Princess Bride (which her brother always refuses to watch for Friday Family Movie).  

In short, we did nothing extraordinary...and yet, it was an extraordinary day.  We needed this, my girl and I.  It was a long semester, and now I'm off to Quito on Sunday for a two-week stint in the archives.  A slow, rainy day to hang out and do silly little things was just the right call.  

Sadly, I can't have the same with Sam. He's off for a three-day class trip to NYC tomorrow, then all day Saturday he goes to the state-level science fair competition. I'm happy for him that he has both of these opportunities. I know that I need to get used to being away from him more, now that he is about to enter his high school years...but I'll miss him so much.

But maybe he and I can play hooky when I return. I think there may be Thai food in our future...

Do your soul a little hooky sometime soon.