Saturday, December 28, 2013

Home, Home on the Range, Part 3 of 3

Decorative kale at the Arboretum: about the only
kind I haven't tried feeding to Dear Husband.
One afternoon during our visit, "the girls" dressed up and went to tea at the Arboretum. This is one of Grandmother's favorite things to do. She first took me when I came on a solo visit when as a kid, and it was just as fancy as I remembered it. There were three courses (soup, sandwiches, dessert) and three kinds of tea. Afterwards we visited the special exhibition next door of every kind of angel: glass angels, metal angels, porcelain angels, fabric angels, shell angels, beaded angels, wooden angels, lace angels.... The restaurant and mansion were sumptuously decorated with green garlands, wide ribbons, large ornaments, and strings of crystal. What a treat!

First course: Tomato Basil Broth with Cheese Wafer. Served with Apple Spice Tea.

Second Course: Tea Sandwiches. Served with Peach Cinnamon Hibiscus Tea.
The Smoked Salmon Pinwheels and Open-Faced Chicken Salad were favorites around the table.
The china was Spode with a Christmas tree, which you can just see through the finger sandwiches.

Third Course: Desserts. Served with Darjeeling Tea.
On the left, Grandmother admires the sandwich pyramid. On the right, Mother and the desserts.
Cousin E liked the Chocolate-Covered Strawberries best. There were also cookies, truffles, and scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream ("sugar and fat" according to Aunt J ;-). We took the cellophane-wrapped Gingerbread House home with us.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Home, Home on the Range, Part 2 of 3

Photo credit: Brother #2

One day of our holiday trip was sunny and fine, so a group of us drove out to the shooting range. Dad had given the cousins a gun safety lesson at home, so after watching an introductory video at the shop, we were ready to hit the targets with a variety of handguns. The kids got pretty good from 5 yards. I was so proud of them for trying this new and intimidating activity. We might make recreational shooters out of them yet... I mostly shot my uncle's Czech police pistol at 25 yards. My best shot was the second one I took at this Ace of Hearts, direct to the right atrium. BAM! I also tried my aunt's 6-shooter revolver. Not sure if I actually hit the target with that one: it's got quite the kick, as you can see in the last photo.

Photo credit: Dear Old Dad

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Home, Home on the Range, Part 1 of 3

Dear Husband and I celebrated Christmas with my father's side of the family. We drove over the plains and flew over the woods to get to Grandmother's house. There we met cousins, aunts/uncles, my parents, and my younger brother. I had finished the chapter I was editing on Christmas Eve, so for the first time since September, I had no dissertation work that *had* to be done. Instead, I practiced both domestic and defensive arts, played cards, watched movies, talked, and ate, ate, ate.

With so many of us descending on Grandmother's house, I didn't want her to go out of her way getting cooking or baking. I mean, guests are cheap, indentured labor for the duration of their stay! So I volunteered to head the baking detail with my mother. She had offered to make her yeasty Christmas bread, so I suggested sugar cookies, figuring the cousins could decorate them together. Then somebody requested "something chocolate," and somebody mentioned the way rum balls help you survive family gatherings, and suddenly we had quite the list. In addition to 4 dozen sugar cookies, I decided to make cocoa rum balls (a two-fer!) and paleo snickerdoodles for my dad. One aunt and uncle provided the cookie cutters and decorating supplies, so we went to town.

Commenters on the online cocoa rum ball recipe said they tasted too strongly of alcohol, so I halved the light rum and added orange juice. The base is vanilla wafers moistened with syrup. For nuts I used Grandmother's immersion blender (above) to pulverize pecans for a true Texas delight. I rolled them in gold sprinkles to give them an expensive look (below). They were a big hit!

The paleo snickerdoodles were tricky. Made out of almond flour, coconut oil, and honey, they have no wheat, eggs, or butter. This batch turned out sweet but dry. Dad says he might have to tinker with the recipe to add some applesauce for moisture. (Photo: Mom using Grandmother's stand mixer.)

Photo credit for these two pics: Dear Old Dad
Finally, sugar cookies, which never fail to delight. In addition to the reindeer, snowmen, stars, and Christmas tree shapes, I showed my cousin how to roll out snakes of dough from the scraps and twist them into candy canes and wreaths. There are some at the bottom of second photo above. If you have food coloring, you can make them green or red as appropriate.

Photo credit: DOD
Meanwhile, the menfolk caught up on their shuteye...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013!

Merry Christmas, from Dear Husband, Frau Doktor Doctor, and The Cat

p.s.--I loved choosing and wrapping presents and couldn't resist sharing two of them with you.

That is one jolly Santa Claus! He's bringing my grandparents a flask of a delicious amber liquid. Wonder what it could be...?

And it looks like my Father-in-Law is getting that miniature Hadron Collider he asked for!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Advent 2013

I recently participated in a "lessons and carols"-type worship service at our church on the 2nd Sunday of Advent. In addition to choreographing and performing a dance, and liturgizing, I also did one special reading the compiler of the service had picked out. A theater professor, TM has a great ear for dramatic readings. I liked this one so much that I was surprised and sorry I hadn't come across Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-) while researching Bay-Area poets this spring.

Ferlinghetti is a Beat poet who wrote "wide-open" verses. He co-edited the City Lights magazine and ran the City Lights Pocket Book Shop, where Allen Ginsberg and other counter-culturalists met. Before settling in San Francisco, Ferlinghetti had a peripatetic life, from New York to France to Mount Hermon (!) to UNC to the US Navy to Columbia University. He earned a doctoral degree from the University of Paris in 1951.

"Christ Climbed Down" is from his extraordinarily successful 1968 volume, A Coney Island Life of the Mind. With the exception of the dated reference to "tinfoil Christmas trees" (remember the Charlie Brown Christmas special?!), it is still timely for us during Advent 2013.

~ * ~ * ~* ~

"Christ Climbed Down"

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down 
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit / and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagon sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
for everybody's imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carollers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary's womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody's anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings

Monday, November 25, 2013

Der Milch-Geier

Kennst Du den Spruch Solomons, «Gestohlenes Wasser ist süß und heimliches Brot ist angenehm!»? (Sprichwörter 9:17) So geht unsere Katze mit Milch um. Schau mal an:

Vati, ich habe Durst. Deine Milch riecht gut! Bitte, lass mich es probieren.

Aber nein, mein Kind. Milch darfst Du nur einmal pro Jahr haben, und zwar an Deinem Geburtstag. Wenn Milch Dir so gut schmeckst, warum trinkst Du sie denn nie? Deine Geburtstag-Schüssel steht immer voll am anderen Morgen.

Aber Vati, Deine Milch schmeckt mir am aller leckersten! Ich kann es Dir nicht erklären...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dance Marathon #15

Me with Laura, the Volunteer
Coordinator who was so
enthusiastic to see me!
This weekend I went back to my alma mater for Dance Marathon (DM), a fundraiser for the Children's Miracle Network (CMN). A "Dance Marathon" is a big, annual event at which (mostly college) students get together to raise money from friends and family in exchange for staying on their feet a ridiculous number of hours. The largest, longest, and longest-running Dance Marathon is the 'THON at Penn State, which was started in 1973, goes for 46 hours, and raised $12 million in 2013. That money goes to Penn State Hershey Medical Center Children's Hospital. In St. Louis, DM benefits both St. Louis Children's Hospital and Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. Dance Marathon began at Washington University in St. Louis in 1999/2000, and at St. Louis University in 2011. There have been 15 Dance Marathons at WashU since then, because there were two in one year as the event switched over from spring to fall semester so as not to compete for participants and dollars with Relay For Life, another worthy cause.

Dance Marathon is a complicated event requiring months of planning. There are sign-up and fundraising campaigns to run, equipment to rent, teams to form, entertainment to line up, t-shirts and posters to design, supplies to buy. After dancing as a freshman (on Team Yellow, which won the Spirit Competition in 200!), I sat on the Executive Board for three years when I was an undergrad, twice as Public Relations Co-Chair, and once as the Overall Chair. As PR chair I designed campus ads in the wee hours when I couldn't study any more and painted a TON of posters to hang in the student center. As Overall Chair I coordinated an Exec. Board of about 20 other students. And every year I asked for donations. I generally find asking for money hard, but this is such a good cause. Among other things, CMN funds go toward school and tutoring services for long-term patients at St. Louis Children's, both NICU/PICUs, and the Bob Costas Cancer Center at Cardinal Glennon. CMN hospitals treat their pediatric patients regardless of their parents' ability to pay, because who can put a price tag on a child's life?

Plus, this is the kind of patient population I am hoping to work with once I get my MD. Every year there are one or two Miracle Kid "Ambassadors" who are the faces of DM. This year it was Hayden (right), who needed a kidney transplant from his dad while still an infant, and Hannah, who--having overcome bone cancer in one leg with a partial amputation and rotationplasty--was diagnosed with leukemia this spring that required lung surgery. I checked the CMN website and was relieved to recognize one of the kids listed there: Armoni was Ambadassor for my first DM and is doing just fine after a bout with lymphoma. Some Miracle Families come to Dance Marathon so their kids can share their stories and bask in the attention of dancers who want to celebrate them.

My family knows how big a part of my undergraduate experience Dance Marathon was. I mean, my wardrobe essentially consisted of a rainbow of DM tshirts. (They have since settled on green and pink as the primary color scheme.) So I was excited to be invited back as an alumna for this anniversary event: #15 for the campus, #5 for me. Luckily, I'm on fellowship this semester and was able to spend the weekend, though I didn't think my old knees could handle 12 hours (2pm-2am). So I signed up to volunteer, jumping in to help with sign-in, signage, and other early-event stuff. I did take a break in the middle to get some work done and catch a three-hour nap before returning for the big finish--and the clean up of the athletic complex. I had a hard time powering down after all that excitement, and it was the first time I had seen the hours between 1 and 5am in a long time...

The Dance Marathon itself is basically a big crazy party. Each hour has theme, complete with music and costumes. There are games and performances from dance and singing groups. And food. The "it" thing this year appeared to be pretzels (hard, soft, with warm cheese dip). Every hour the dancers learn a new section of the Spirit Dance that they all dance together at the end of the night, right before the big reveal of the total amount raised:


That tops the $128,569.22 they raised last year by $23,000--truly impressive.

Watch the closing video to see what it was like. (Hint: I make a brief appearance in the conga line to the right of the frame around 1:27, I'm wearing a gray tshirt that says BELIEVE IN MIRACLES and the silvery halo of stars I acquired sometime during my last DM, in 2004.) The Chancellor and his wife have always been ardent supporters of this effort: she is the honorary chair, they make a generous donation each year, and they both come for the opening ceremonies. A more recent tradition involves them leading a dance on stage with faculty, staff, and their families. It's called "The Dancellor" (cufflinks, cufflinks, double-breasted suit), and I joined them this year for that and the conga line that followed. It was, alas, the only dancing I got to do, but it was worth it. FTK! (For The Kids!)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Happy Halloween!

The late Steve Irwin with a more peaceful wombat.
The blonde one is Steve Irwin,
Crocodile Hunter.

Vampire wombat:

Vampire wombat with friends Captain Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (Battlestar Galactica) and Aang (Avatar: The Last Airbender):
Athena Cat photo-bombed our portrait.

Did you have a good Halloween? On Thursday I helped some friends with a toddler and a pre-schooler go trick-or-treating and hand out candy, and over the weekend I went to a party with grad school friends. They threw a sexy-themed party (it's  ironic, don't you get it? they're so meta!), but I went as a vampire wombat. Those don't really exist, but I discovered these big furry marsupials earlier this year and for some now-forgotten reason decided that "vampire wombat" sounded like a great Halloween costume. Mine consisted of a brown turtleneck, brown long-johns, brown socks, and black gloves (all borrowed from Dear Husband), plus a mask I made from a template I found on the internet. Apparently Australian children can learn about these animals and "play wombat," complete with burrows made out of chairs and blankets, the saw way we did with prairie dogs or badgers. I also purchased a pair of fake plastic vampire fangs and some vials of fake blood to complete the look.

My favorite part of Halloween this year was when Aang asked me to put in my fangs, and then shrieked in terror. My second favorite part was when she held my hand while trick-or-treating. Unfortunately, the fangs kind of hurt, and I couldn't talk in them. And the vial of blood I brought to the grown-up party started leaking in the plastic bag I kept the fangs in when I wasn't wearing them. When I put the vial in my mouth to try to produce the effect for a photo, the blood just filled up the fangs: I could taste it, but nobody could see it. Blech. Maybe better used alone than together.

DH even came to the party. He had a big concert weekend and so hadn't thought of a costume. Since he was still dressed from the wedding he had played, I told him he should tell folks he was an undertaker--and would be happy to take care of any bodies that might be left over after the party. He was also offering "free trial embalming." Funnily enough, no one took him up on the offer.

Total haul this Halloween: 3 Reeses Peanut Butter Cups (for DH), 3 Three Muskateers, 1 York Peppermint Patty, 1 box purple Nerds, 1 Bubble Pop, 1 Tootsie-Roll Pop, 1 roll Smarties, 1 cup "punch," 1 M&M cookie, and 1 piece of pound cake. Yep, that's pretty good. I'm thinking of repurposing the wombat mask as a werewolf for next year. Until then, happy scaring!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bennington, Vermont

Bennington Battle Monument
After the Hancock Shaker Village, my Dissertation Advisor (DA) and I continued driving north to Williamstown, MA, home of Williams College (a top-tanked small liberal arts school). We stopped for lunch at Papa Charlie's Sandwich Deli, where the menu consists of a dizzying array of celebrity-named sandwiches. For instance, the Neil Patrick Harris consists of grilled chicken, pickles, coleslaw, mustard, and barbeque sauce on a toasted roll. Or you can go old-school with a Columbo: hot roast beef, hot provolone, onions, and barbeque sauce. Filled up with soup and sandwiches, we continued north to our destination: the picturesque New England town of Bennington, VT, site of an important battle during the American Revolutionary War.

On 16 August 1777, American forces defeated the advancing British, who needed the supplies stored in Bennington. Mostly poorly trained volunteers from New Hampshire, the rebels scored a decisive victory against the Red Coats, thanks to a rescue from some Green Mountain Boys. Due in part to their failure at Bennington, the British forces lost the Battles of Saratoga and surrendered on 7 October. The French and Spanish came to the Americans' aid, and the tide of the war turned to victory some six years later. 16 August is still celebrated in Vermont as Bennington Battle Day.

Plans for a Bennington Battle Monument were finally realized in the 1870s and 1880s, and the imposing stone tower was opened in time for Vermont's Centennial in 1891. (It had become the 14th state in 1791.) At 306 feet, 4.5 inches, the obelisk is the tallest structure in the state! Luckily for us, the elevator was out of order. So with a guide and a couple other visitors, we hiked the stairs up to the observation deck, 200 feet above ground. There's a pretty stunning vista in all directions. After descending, we visited the gift shop for the postcards sampled here. Passing over the maple leaf and moose memorabilia, I bought a little maple syrup, because who doesn't love them some pure liquid glucose?

Fence around the Old First Church Cemetery
There was plenty of daylight left, so we walked into the center of historic Bennington, where a big old white clapboard church stands next to a very old cemetery. It was closed that day, so we visited the grave of Robert Frost, whose poetry I sampled in my Poetry of the Pacific series earlier this year. It was a quiet drive back to Stockbridge while DA napped in the backseat. After dinner, I borrowed his car to head south to the larger town of Great Barrington, MA, to visit the Guthrie Center. It's in Alice's house!!! One night a week they have a "Hootenanny." Musicians get in for free, and the public can listen for a $5 donation. They performed a mix of blues and bluegrass acoustic music, some original. We ended with a rousing round of "This Land Is Your Land," of course. Afterwards I asked for a tour of the building, which has been modified from its original purpose as the Old Trinity Church. Awesome.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Vacation FAIL

On one day of my visit, my adviser and I agreed not to work at all (!) and to just drive around and see the sights. This was, of course, the day that our camera batteries decided to die, in tandem, 45 minutes from his apartment. Naturally the gift shop at the Hancock Shaker Village could have supplied all the wooden boxes, quilts, and rock candy we could have wanted--but not a disposable camera. Vacation FAIL. So these are my photographs of the postcards he bought there. I'll paint word pictures for the rest.

We started at Hancock Shaker Village, one of the earliest and longest-running such settlement, active between 1791 and 1960. The Shakers may be most famous today for a little ditty "Tis A Gift To Be Simple," but one or two hundred years ago they were infamous for their revolutionary beliefs. The sect was founded in England in 1748 by James and Jane Wardley. In 1770 a working-class woman by the name of Ann Lee (1736-1784) became their prophetess and leader. Lee came to believe that she was the female incarnation of Jesus Christ. She had taken the deaths of her four children very hard, and after much prayer and soul-searching blamed the sexual relations in her marriage. She became increasingly independent, eventually preaching gender equality, abstinence, and ecstatic cleansing by the Holy Spirit (the dancing in their open worship services that purportedly devolved into "shaking"). Others called them "Shaking Quakers," or "Shakers." They called themselves the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. Lee's little band of followers was heavily persecuted in Manchester, so they decided to set out for America in 1774. (Her husband came along but didn't last long.) The persecution wasn't any better there, even after they founded a secluded settlement at Niskayuna, NY. Among other things, they claimed absolute pacifism and refused to take a side during the American Revolution. Mother Ann died at age 48, probably helped along by the physical and mental stress of a beating and near-rape at the hands of unhappy colonialists in Shirley, MA.

Kitchen in the Brick Dwelling (built 1830)
(the biggest building in the postcard above)
The Hancock village in western Massachusetts was founded in 1783. At its height in the 1840s, it housed over 300 men (Brethren) and women (Sisters), as well as many children, mostly orphans. The children could decide at age 21 whether they wanted to stay; only 1/4 did. With fewer and fewer new members joining, the population of the village dwindled. By the early 1900s, there were only 50 inhabitants. The property was finally sold in 1960 to a preservation society.

While the settlement was active, the sexes lived in separate dormitories, ate at different tables, and entered the church from different doorways. But it was a complementarianism they practiced, rather than a hierarchy. There was always a female Eldress to travel with the male Elder to visit the different communities. Men and women had different chores, too. The women cooked, dairied, and taught school, while the men made shoes, chairs, and brooms. The Shakers were known for the industriousness and dedication to efficiency. Although their clothing was often simple and "old-fashioned" (like the Amish), they eagerly adopted time- and labor-saving devices like dumbwaiters and electricity. Because they cared for the environment, it is not out-of-place to find solar panels at the farm. But we were surprised to discover their love of color: they painted their wooden buildings bright, cheery pastels!

This is the famous Shaker Barn, built in 1826. It was designed to obviate the need to pitch hay up and down. On the back side, an earthen ramp allows wagons to be driven up and into the second floor of the building. The horses were led around in a circle while the hay was pitched down into the large racks pictured on the left. The postcard shows the central chute and chimney added to allow heat to escape, after the original barn burnt. On the first floor, the cattle were allowed up onto a short platform. When they stuck their heads through the wooden slats to reach the hay, a bar was titled that trapped them there while they ate and were milked. The platform was just a little short, so their hind legs (and waste-producing parts!) were on the lowest level, to keep the milk pails clean. There are even trap doors in the floor to make mucking that much easier. Clever of them Shakers. In the low side barn we visited the pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens, and I learned that if my adviser hadn't become a historian, he would have become a veterinarian. Whatever your job, I'll leave you with this Shaker saying:

"Put your hands to work and your heart to God."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

How quaint! Or was it? Visiting Norman Rockwell

View from the current position of Rockwell's studio.
One morning Dear Adviser (DA) and I visited the Norman Rockwell Museum. Rockwell moved to Stockbridge in 1953 so his second wife, Mary Barstow, could be treated at the Austen Riggs Center. Here Rockwell found the small-town America that made him so famous on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. He had trained in illustration at a couple different art schools and had even been hired at the tender age of 17 as art director of Boys' Life, the Boy Scout magazine. Rockwell was apparently so over-the-moon when he got his first commission with the Saturday Evening Post in 1916 that he proposed to his first wife, Irene O'Connor. They lived a socialite life in New Rochelle, New York, until his work made him so busy that the lack of foundation for their relationship broke up the marriage in 1930. While recuperating in California, Rockwell met Mary. They married and had three sons, Jarvis, Thomas, and Peter--all artists of various kinds now. After her early death in 1959, he married his third wife, Mary Punderson.

Rockwell prepared for a museum for his illustrations before his death. He even arranged to have his studio moved (in two pieces) from the lot next to his house down to the spot chosen for the future museum. The museum's administrative offices are located in the original dwelling on the property, the old Linwood House, a Berkshire "cottage" built in 1859 that looks like a Victorian mansion in light-colored stone with hunter-green shutters and a gray roof. That building is not open to the public. The museum built a new, two-story building set into a hillside for the rotating collection of paintings on the upper floor. On the lower floor you can watch a short film about Rockwell and see all 322 Saturday Evening Post covers he painted over 47 years.

That's Norman in the bottom row,
2nd and 3rd from the right.
DA and I were surprised to discover how much he relied on life studies, including costumes, props, and photographs (see right). I guess that makes sense, since he was an illustrator--that is, someone who illustrated or depicted what he saw in real life. We were also surprised to learn that it was Rockwell who ended his relationship with the Post: we had taken him for a conservative, a traditionalist out to preserve white small-town America, but in fact his politics were liberal and increasingly so over the late 1950s and into the 1960s. One of his unpublished Post covers, "The Marriage Counselor," depicts a (white, heterosexual) couple waiting on the couch outside the therapist's office: he has a black eye. Rockwell wanted to paint about the racial turmoil in the country, but the editors wanted him to do portraits of the famous men of the day. He probably would have been put out of business sooner or later by improved technology for publishing photographs.

One of Rockwell's most beloved pieces is his "Golden Rule" painting, which seems to sum up his worldview. Apparently he looked for models among the tourists who came through town in the summer, since Stockbridge was (and largely still is) mono-racial. I'd like to think he was hampered only by the material he had to work with and not by his ideas, that this is the world he wanted to illustrate but couldn't find.

Erik Erikson reputedly once told Rockwell during therapy that he painted the happiness he wasn't living, and a controversial new biography using his medical records reveals that Rockwell was psychologically troubled and even suggests he may have been a repressed homosexual. Does that make his paintings more or less optimistic? At any rate, they are extraordinarily popular. (In fact, one may have just been stolen from a warehouse in New York.) Maybe his most iconic images were never attainable. They certainly aren't at the prices expected at Sotheby's auction in December, when "Saying Grace" might command $24 million dollars.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Small Town, Foliage County, USA

This week I visited one of my dissertation advisers, who has a semester-long scholarly fellowship at the Erik Erikson Institute at the Austen Riggs Center, a US News & World Report Top Ten Hospital for psychiatry that specializes in a humanistic and psychoanalytic approach to "treatment resistant cases." These institutions are located in Stockbridge, Mass., a picturesque little town (pop. 1,900) at the heart of the Berkshires, the westernmost county in Massachusetts. "The Berks" are famous for Victorian/ Edwardian "cottages" (country estates), the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer music festival at Tanglewood, stunning foliage in the fall, and skiing during the winter at the higher elevations. Now a major tourist draw, this area was once home to Susan B. Anthony, Herman Melville, Edith Wharton, Norman Rockwell, and Arlo Gurhrie, among others. So there is a surprising number of things to do for such a sparsely populated area.

Click here to see an interactive map of the places we visited, plus some of the others that are available. Later I'll post more about what we saw.

The quintessential small American town = Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Norman Rockwell, Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas (1957-1967)
Image courtesy the Normal Rockwell Museum.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Many the Gifts

...for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.      ~ Galatians 3:26-28

Today at the traditional services at church we celebrated World Communion Sunday. This minor holiday was founded as World-wide Communion Sunday by Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr at Shadyside Presbyterian church outside Pittsburgh in 1933. DH and I visited it with the choir director from our church during a worship arts conference in July of this year. (I keep meaning to blog about that!) Here is the large circular plaque on the floor behind the altar commemorating the event.

The creative worship committee I chair put a lot of work into this service. SO and MD designed the altar decorations in North Sanctuary to represent our connectedness with Christians through time and space through the taking of communion. There are the usual bunches of plastic grapes and loaves of preserved bread (painted with lacquer over a decade ago!). The textiles on the altar are an embroidered suzani from Tajikistan and a small quilted piece by a former member of the church. But my favorite part is the "globe" of children cut out of old maps, not least because its shape mirrors the medallions on the large cloth.

I choreographed a dance for the first hymn, "One Bread, One Body." During the Children's Message, I taught the arm movements for the chorus to the kids/ congregation. Then, the choir led the singing while the three dancers led the dancing from the chancel. There were three themes to this morning's piece:

1) We danced in a triangle to reflect the Trinity. During each verse, we moved two spots along the line of the dance, such that a different dancer was in front for each chorus.

2) Twice in the chorus the arms made a circle ("the earth"), and once we spun this globe over our shoulders, like Atlas.

3) We have a fledgling Deaf Ministry, so I like to incorporate American Sign Language into my dances. For this one we used "Lord," "cup," and the open "5-hand" from "blessing."

Big thanks to the talented dancers
who joined me: RA and JL!
One bread, one body,
one Lord of all,
one cup of blessing, which we bless.
And we though many
throughout the earth
we are one body in this one Lord.

Gentile or Jew, servant or free,
woman or man, no more!

Many the gifts,
many the works,
one in the Lord of all!

Grain for the fields, 
scattered and grown,
gathered to one, for all!

It was really wonderful to look out at the congregation and see at least a third of them dancing along from their pews! For the anthem later, the choir sang a setting of Psalm 150 by Brazilian composer Emani Aguiar. AH had the clever idea of replacing the usual communion wafers with pieces of rice-, corn-, and wheat-based breads to represent the "loaves" that are used in other parts of the world. Finally, while the congregation partook, Dear Husband played a piece entitled simply "Communion," by Lithuanian organist and composer Vidas Pinkevičius.

p.s.--The beautiful rainbow silk stole I am wearing was custom made for me by Jeff Wunrow, a liturgical artist I met at that Pittsburgh conference. I splurged on it with birthday "mad money" from my parents-in-law, so thanks to him and them as well!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Write Stuff

What, don't you recline on the floor to work?
Or have you adopted those new-fangled contraptions they call "desk" and "chair"?

Monday, September 30, 2013

Little Ms. Brain Learns a Thing or Two

Little Miss Brainy
This is Little Miss Brainy,
credit Roger Hargreaves.
When I was about 12 years old, my uncle came out to me as gay. We were out rollerblading, and I nodded, knowingly. He asked me if I knew what that meant. Being a Little Ms. Brain, I said yes. I'm sure he smiled, skeptically. Nevertheless, growing up "my gay uncle" wasn't a hypothetical. It was my--quiet, otherwise undiscussed--normal.

Once, early in grad school, I had a heated conversation with a student from another university. It was lunchtime during a conference, and somehow we found ourselves talking about queer issues and teaching. I think we were discussing Jack Halberstam's In A Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, in which she argues that the primacy of lived, embodied experience is why we need more diversity in academia. I was insisting that despite being a heterosexual, married woman, I was open and welcoming of any of my future students who might identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. The other grad student--who outed herself in the course of the conversation (Me: "Okay.")--strongly denied that there was any way I could ever make my classroom "safe." Why not, I asked? I believed in the possibilities of a liberal arts education, meaning personal experience is not necessary to know something; rather, it is possible to learn things from books--even or especially if the author had a different embodied experience. We didn't resolve the issue of the classroom, but I tucked it away in the back of my brain.

I came out as a GLBT* ally sometime later in graduate school. I can't remember if it was because my immediate circumstances changed (I learned about queer theory, among other things) or if it was because national conversations about sexuality in politics and religion became that much more prominent. Most of my "activism" consisted of facebook posts and signing online petitions, but I also mentored a high schooler with an uncertain home situation and went to the local Pride Fest. As a medical student I attended a seminar on campus about queer issues in medicine and started wearing a rainbow flag button on my white jacket. (I wear a cross label pin, too, and figure patients will notice one or the other if they're looking for them.)

This past week I decided to "level up" by getting some formal training from the GLBT Resource Center on campus. Actually, this was the second time I had signed up for the ally training; the first time it had filled up super fast. The newly revamped training consisted of 3 hours jam-packed with definitions, testimonials, scenarios, and questions. One part of the training involved a panel of students who identify as gay. They told us their coming-out stories (two happy, one not) and shared some of their experiences on campus. When it was time for Q&A, my hand shot up: "As a classroom instructor, I already lay down ground rules at the beginning of the semester about appropriate language and things discussed in class not leaving the room. In your opinion, could I do anything else to make my classroom a safe space, or was that even a possibility?"

The general consensus was yes, this is possible. Instructors can design activities that are gender- and sexuality-neutral. To practice the future-probable tense in a foreign language class, for instance, students don't need to be broken up into boys and girls to discuss their ideal girl/boyfriend; let them talk about their ideal partner, job, house, or vacation instead. In addition, we should assign readings that include a variety of characters and family situations (i.e. two lesbian moms with kids).

And then there was what the one graduate-student panel member had described: in his first semester on campus, he felt uncomfortable submitting a paper to peer review that would likely out him to his classmates. The TA was very understanding, excused the student from class on those days, and did the review himself. Being open to my students' varying comfort levels--including the need to skip class sometimes--was held up as an example of how to make my classroom a safe space.

I didn't press the issue at the time, since there was so much more material to cover in the training, but upon later reflection, I realized that my original question had in fact been answered in the negative. The TA had removed the student from the situation precisely because he could not ensure that a room filled with other persons who think, talk, and act independently would be a safe space. While I should declare and police such boundaries, I have to realize that I lead the class, but I am not in control of the class.

This was a minor epiphany that my friends and family whose embodied "normals" include such uncertainties will probably laugh and roll their eyes at. Little Ms. Brain often thinks she knows what you mean, but she doesn't always, so she's trying to be a good ally by listening, reading, and watching all the time. After all, I still believe in the possibility of a classical liberal arts education, beginning with myself.

* GLBT = Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender. In college I remember a banner that was a veritable alphabet soup of an acronym: GLBTQQIA: Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Queer Questioning Intersex Ally. There may also have been another A for Asexual. You can see why GLBT or "queer" is simpler to use; but please do not forget the diversity that hides behind those 4-5 letters.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fast da! / Almost there!

Am Eingang zum Campus steht die von berühmten Plastiker Lorado Taft entworfen bronze Figur, die "Alma Mater." Sie steht vor ihrem Stuhl, ihre Arme ausgestreckt, um die StudentInnen wilkommen zu heissen. Hinter ihr stehen "Studium" (eine Frau) und "Arbeit" (ein Mann), die einander ihre Hände geben.

Die alte Mutter steht im Zentrum von Campus Town, und die Studenten machen Photos vor und auf ihr wann sie graduieren. Leider ist ihr Podest seit anderthalb Jahre leer, während die Figuren repariert werden. Hoffentlich kehren sie vor Mai zurück, wenn ich meine Doktorehre bekommen!

Bis dann habe ich meine "kleine" Verteidigung mit dieser Pose auf einem Dampfraster(?) gefeiert. 20. Spetember habe ich "das grüne Licht" bekommen, meine Doktorarbeit fertigzustellen!

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At the entrance to the campus stands the "Alma Mater," a bronze statue designed by famous sculptor Lorado Taft. She stands in front of her chair with her arms stretched out  to welcome the students. Behind her stand "Learning" (a woman) and "Labor" (a man), who are reaching their hands out to each other.

The old mother stands in the heart of Campus Town, and the students take pictures in front of and on her when they graduate. Unfortunately, her platform has been empty for a year and a half, while the figures are being repaired. Hopefully they will return before May, when I receive my doctorate!

Until then I celebrated my "little" defense with this pose on a steam grate (?). On Spetember 20th I got the "green light" to finish my dissertation!

Friday, September 13, 2013

SA: Two Parables

Being a good aunt, I dutifully made one last stop before leaving Johannesburg, for souvenirs at the African Craft Market at Rosebank Mall. It consists of two levels of small stalls in a primitive-looking "wooden" building sandwiched between the old mall (built in the 1990s) and the new mall that will be finished this year. Outside, young people in "traditional" costumes dance for tips from white tourists. I skipped the display of "authentic" African culture and made a beeline for the two stalls I had determined had the gifts I wanted to get.

I had cased the joint the previous weekend, on my first day in Jo-burg, wandering up and down the rows. The sellers cajoled and sweet talked me, offering special deals "just today" and "just for you, Sissy." I demurred, repeating over and and over again that I was just looking. There was a lot to look at: stone and wood carvings of animals and and people, masks, jewelry of various kinds, batik fabrics, and beaded doohickeys. Lots of elephants, giraffes, lions, rhinos, hippopotamuses, and zebras. It turns out not everything it made by the sellers; sometimes they source things from neighboring countries. One seller insisted I take a heart-shaped keychain of red beads, in the expectation that I would come back and buy something.

I liked the little wooden frog noise-makers, but I was afraid I didn't have any room in my luggage, as I had picked up a memoir during the conference. As it was, I had my eye on some little stone figurines for my niece and nephew, and a batik table runner for myself. Hopefully I didn't botch the haggling over the prices too badly.

After I got home, I made up little gift packages for the kids. Each one had a figurine, a few coins (Rand), and a short story I adapted from South-African Folk-Tales, collected and published by James A. Honeÿ, MD, in 1910. I want to share the parables with you:

There was just one "string" attached to the gifts: that they call
and tell me what they thought after opening their gifts, which they did.
The Man and the Snake
A Dutchman saw Snake lying under a large stone. Snake asked for his help, but once she was free, she said, "Now I shall eat you." The Man answered, "That is not right. Let us hear what Hare says." But Hare agreed with Snake.
So the Man asked Hyena, who also agreed with Snake.
In despair, the Man went to Jackal.
Now Jackal was very wise. He acted as if he did not believe the story and wanted to see whether the Man could really lift the stone. Snake lay down, and the Man put the stone again over her.
"Now leave her there," said Jackal.

Rooster and Jackal

It is said Jackal once chased Rooster and caught him. Rooster said, "Please, pray first before you kill me, as the missionaries do."

Jackal asked, "How do they pray? Tell me."

"They fold their hands when praying," said Rooster. Jackal folded his hands and prayed. But Rooster said, "You shouldn’t look around like that. You should close your eyes." So Jackal did; and Rooster flew away, laughing, "You rogue! Are you sure you know how to pray? "

There sat Jackal, speechless, because he had been outdone.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

SA: Touring the Neighborhood, 1 of 3

After my conference ended, I stayed in the neighborhood of Parktown. September 24 is Heritage Day in South Africa. A little bit ahead of schedule, a local heritage group was giving tours around Joburg one weekend. I figured this would be a cheap way to pack in a lot of sight-seeing. When the (black) hotel-shuttle bus driver dropped me off at the church-school complex (gated, of course) on Saturday morning, I almost said to him, "I know we're in the right spot: look at all those white people!"

Indeed, the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust is a nucleus of not just white but English-speaking South Africans of mostly English descent with a particular interest in the historical buildings of Parktown. These interesting old Victorian and Edwardian mansions also symbolise a time when whites ruled the area, and the few people who sweltered in period costumes made me wonder about what exactly they were trying to save from the much-needed highway expansion that is slated to run through some of the properties.

Saturday morning I joined a 3-hour walking tour that began at Emoyeni Estate, built by Rand Lord and Finance Minister Henry Hull in 1905 on top of the highest ridge above Joburg. The name means "Place in the Air" in Nguni, and the view really is spectacular. These days it is rented out for wedding receptions and the like (the chair in the parking lot above was part of preparations underway for a party later that day).

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Next stop was a dilapidated house with a small garden that is surely impressive in the summer. Hazeldene Hall was built in 1902 for a coal magnate with "brookie lace" ironwork along the balcony imported from New Orleans. It was undergoing extensive renovation at the time, but the stained-glass windows had been preserved.

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Last stop was The View, a big old mansion built in 1897 for Sir Thomas Cullinan, owner of the mine in which the world's largest diamond was found in 1905. Naturally he named it after himself: the Cullinan diamond was about 4 inches large and 3106.75 carats raw. It was cut into 9 diamonds (the Great Star of Africa, the Second Star of Africa, and the Lesser Stars of Africa) that have been incorporated into the Crown Jewels of England. Today The View houses the headquarters and memorabilia of the Transvaal Scottish Regiment, which explains the kilts and bagpipes. The plumbing still works, btw.

Editor's note: coming soon! Parts 2 and 3 of this series.