Saturday, December 22, 2012

An Alternative Christmas

Merry Christmas, y'all!
It occurs to me that among holidays, Christmas requires even more advanced preparation in order to be able to celebrate as we are accustomed to on the day itself than some of the others. One could come home from work on October 31 and ransack one's closet for a costume to wear to a Halloween party that night. As long as the turkey isn't frozen, one could pick it up from the grocery store the day-of, along with some fixin's, and enjoy the day with friends and football with a minimum of fuss. (Generally speaking, fuss is directly proportional to the length of the guest list and the size of the meal.) But Christmas? To carry on as usual and then drop everything for 1-2.5 days (or 12, depending on country and tradition) would be...weird. Insufficient. Sudden. I guess that's why Advent is the season of waiting and preparation, huh? Christmas seems to require a holiday meal and baked goodies, presents that have to purchased and wrapped (and sometimes shipped) ahead of time, greeting cards with a newsletter to family and friends we may have been ignoring the rest of the year, and of course decorations around the house: fresh-chopped fir tree and nativity scenes inside, lights on the eaves and bushes outside. It wouldn't be Christmas without those things--would it?

I find myself particularly crunched for time this year, because I am trying to finish a semester of teaching (that means grading), and a dissertation chapter (personal deadline: Dec. 31), and a lot of paperwork. The paperwork is for various financial aid and fellowships for next academic year (August 2012-May 2013) and is due to my department by Feb. 1, but instead of using January for a "break" (and applications), I'm flying to Germany for research instead. That has required quite of a bit of preparation, too! Thankfully I have been able to make time for "Christmas" this Advent season. Here are some of the slightly... "alternative" ways I've been celebrating.

If Rainbow Brite celebrated Christmas, this is what the lights
on the bushes in her front yard would look like. Also: snow!

Seculo-Religious Party
At my department's annual holiday party, it has recently become a tradition, once most of the guests have left, for Dear Husband to play the host's piano while the rest of us sing. My one adviser is German by extraction and not otherwise religious but insists that we only sing proper Christmas songs. However, he left early this year with his young children, so the rest of us mixed "O Come All Ye Faithful" with "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." And ended the night belting out Beatles tunes and "Born to Be Wild."

Deconstructed Christmas
Every year one of the pastors at church writes "an alternative" Christmas play. This isn't your traditional pageant with the oldest boy and girl playing Joseph and Mary, three kings, some shepherds, and a gaggle of kindergartners as angels. Rather, it's a "deconstructed" drama set some time in modern history (usually "the present," but last year it was set in the 1950s). And it grapples with "the true meaning of Christmas," what Joseph might have said to Mary, or how Christians can best practice discipleship in the world today. It's an all-church production involving the praise band, chancel choir, children's choirs, teen band, and youth and adult actors. Of all the Christmas dramas I've seen here, I thought this year's was the best. "Stealing Christmas" tackled church hospitality, pastoral burn-out, vandalism, homelessness, and illegal immigration.

Road-Trip Christmas, Part 1
A member of our congregation is living 1.5 hours away at a facility with the nursing staff to accommodate her respirator, which she uses because of advanced ALS. One of her friends organized a bunch of us to go caroling there last Sunday afternoon. We caravaned over, sang for her and some of the other residents, and then drove on back. I'd like to think that the elderly woman who held my hand and cried was moved to tears by the gesture rather than the poor quality of our singing, as our renditions of "Joy to the World" and "Frosty the Snowman" were more heartfelt than tuneful.

Christmas by Proxy
Our Bible study group has a tradition of shopping at the local Toys R Us for the Marines' Toys For Tots charity. We get to wander around the store, reliving our childhoods and critiquing the current taste in playthings. After purchasing some Legos, board games, stuffed animals, outdoor toys, and plastic dinosaurs, we go next door to the Barnes & Noble for Starbucks hot drinks and conversation until they kick us out at closing time. One of my brothers requested a donation to charity this year instead of presents, so DE, these are "for you"!

DIY Christmas
Dear Husband recorded a Christmas CD of organ music earlier this year. I recently created the cover art for the jewel cases by cutting down old Christmas cards. This was a waaay more satisfying way to spend a morning than slogging through some dull scientific text in German. (Yes, those exist!) Some of these CDs are gifts for family, and the rest are going to elderly churchfolk for whom the holiday will be especially tough. I like the orange one on the far right, the only one we haven't given away yet.

Road-Trip Christmas, Part 2
DH and I live away from family, so the second part of our road-trip Christmas will be driving to his parents' house on Christmas Day. We will eat a family dinner and open presents with the kids that night. I hear there's also a trip to the aquarium in the works. We'll drive back home in time to go to the big city for New Year's Eve--I'll try to post an entry about that quick trip before I fly off to Germany. Fröhliche Weihnachten!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Twelve Days of Christmas Tree Ornaments

For my first but hopefully not only Advent/Christmas post this year, I decided to do a holiday mash-up: Advent calendar meets Catholic catechism disguised as the second-most-annoying Christmas song.* Each "window" on the Christmas tree opens to reveal a story about that ornament. You can sing along to the final verse at the bottom.

1--This clear glass ball filled with orange confetti and adorned with an Orioles logo is one of several tokens harkening back to our years in Charm City. (Another is the metal silhouette of the downtown skyline you can see next to the number "1" on the tree.) Both were gifts my father picked out.

2--When DH and I got married, good friends JS and DS gave us a beautiful boxed set of wedding-themed glass ornaments. Every year I make sure at least the bride and groom make it onto the tree.

3--Cookies, crafts, camping, songs--all things I associate with Girl Scouts. As a small reminder of those experiences, here is a beaded wreath I made in Juniors.

4--Wanting to do something different than the stereotypical angel tree topper (and secretly knowing I would not be able to find an angel I liked better than the one my parents have), I purchased this beaten-aluminum star made in Mexico from our local Ten Thousand Villages shop the first year we got a tree for our apartment.

5--Last Christmas DH's parents gave him a Klingon Bird of Prey ornament. You plug it into the socket of one of the lights on the tree, and it shoots photon torpedoes. Or at least that's what the manual that came with it claims.

6--Candy canes. Because every multi-media collage should have an edible component, and the apples the local farmers market sells are too big to tie onto the branches. Plus, I would eat all the apples. Every year DH says he will eat the candy canes, but he always forgets. So I will try to pawn half of these off on friends and end up throwing away the rest, since I discovered the hard way that rodents can smell pure sugary goodness through a sealed plastic bag. The year I tried to store a perfectly good box of unopened candy canes in the garage for the next Christmas I came back to a pure, sugary mess.

7--A German tradition is to hang a green glass pickle among the branches of the Christmas tree. Whoever finds it first will receive good luck (and an extra present!). With just the two of us, we take turns hiding the pickle. DH didn't do a very good job this time...

8--This is a ceramic snow hare perched on a long icicle. My grandparents brought me and my brothers one each as a souvenir after their cruise along the coast of Alaska. DH--channeling one of our pastors!--told me it looked like "a bunny sh*tting an icicle." I...I got nuthin' on that.

9--Being a musician and a music teacher, DH frequently receives music-themed gifts. Our tree boasts two of them this year: the metal eighth note you see here and an O-gauge wooden grand piano deeper in the branches. (On a related note, DH probably owns enough music-themed neckties to open his own kiosk at the mall. Our future children will be prohibited from taking this easy way out on Father's Day!)

10--I made this ornament out of a clam shell I found at the beach when we got engaged. It hangs from a rustic-looking piece of hemp with the tag "I can see what is important." TheKnot has taken down our website, or I would link you to that to read our story. Basically, in the morning DH lost his glasses in the surf, and while walking on the beach as the sun set that night, he proposed. While discussing our future together he uttered that line. Thankfully, I believed him.

11--This is a hand-made, cross-stitched Chrismon like the ones used to decorate the Christmas trees in the sanctuary of the church where I grew up (and met DH). The ladies of the church made them. Each one had a different symbol, like a crown, a sheep and shepherd's crook, or a fish. This one is a Star of David. I would guess it was purchased at the annual bazaar (or "bizarre," as the signs read one year).

12--This is a bear sitting in a wreath cross-stitched into an oval and fringed with white lace. My name and "1990" are written on the back, so I suspect it was a gift from my next-door neighbor or another of the elderly women who acted as "in-town grandparents" while we were growing up.

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for,

"On the twelfth day of Christmas we decorate the tree (with) twelve kinds of cross-stitch, eleven cryptic Chrismons, ten smelly sea shells, nine nods to music, eight souvenirs, seven green glass pickles, six candy canes, fiiiiive Klingon birds-of-preeeeey, fo-ur metal stars, three beaded wreaths, two sparkly lovers, a-and o-one Or-i-oles ball!" Plus three strands of plastic beads and a string of white lights. Apologies about the scansion--I numbered the rectangles before I got around to writing the lyrics.

What's on your tree?

* Dear Husband is of the opinion that "Sleigh Ride" is the most annoying Christmas song. You are welcome to disagree with him in the comments.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Real Housewife of Champaign County

Chatting with Dear Husband from the ladder while installing aluminum covers over the gutters of our house on Saturday afternoon, I jokingly asked whether he thought my life would be worth a reality television show. The last week had been momentous, and with my needle-nosed pliers in hand, I was feeling particularly accomplished. He replied that we may have been to two parties in as many days, but I would have to bad-mouth the neighbors while hanging out the laundry if I expected to be (in)famous. So my turn on the celebrity D-list seems to have ended before it ever began. Nevertheless, I would like to remember what happened over the last week of November 2012--when the TA and GA union managed to avoid a second strike in as many contract cycles--so I present it here to you in sketch form.

Monday: Having finished drafting her fourth dissertation chapter (of six) more than a month ahead of schedule, Frau Doktor Doctor went back to Chapter 1 to begin the editing process. She spent the early afternoon observing contract negotiations at the University and the late afternoon teaching her undergraduate students about NGOs engaged in treating and curing tuberculosis in countries like South Africa and Peru. Fell asleep reading a colleague's diss chapter after dinner and therefore had the energy to join a minor act of civil disobedience on campus: a "work-in" at the Union that lasted all night (the building officially closed at midnight). Did some committee work while others played cards, edited the union's history for its webpage,  "slept" on a couch.

Graduate students "occupy the union" to demand a fair contract.
Tuesday: Worked from home until early afternoon when it became evident that major decisions were being made in caucus, so took the bus to campus to participate. Witnessed the tentative agreement signing that forestalled a possible strike. Ran the sound board for the union meeting. Kept a Skype date with a friend. Fell asleep during Bible Study.

Wednesday: Dissertated all morning, taught in the afternoon, joined the colloquium to discuss her colleague's chapter (which she had since finished reading). Had drinks briefly before attending a teaching seminar on "how to hold effective group discussions." Went to choir practice to rehearse Sunday's liturgical dance.

Thursday: Dissertated an impressive 8 hours in and around chatting up the neighbor who decided to hire a tree-removal service to cut down all the branches of the two large trees growing in our yard that extend over the property line into her yard. Apparently she had discussed this with the previous home owners (i.e. at least 5 years ago) and had recently decided something absolutely had to be done about it and as soon as possible so she never got around to asking/telling us about it. Hung wet laundry on her lines because the arborists were working in our yard.

Help out! Donate for
(Switzerland, 1956)
Friday: More dissertating in the morning, financial aid meeting at noon, and then teaching prep. Frau Doktor Doctor considered the day's lesson a complete success: two pairs of teams debated whether it was ethical, socially responsible, cost-effective, and/or medically necessary to (in)voluntarily isolate individuals infected with either active tuberculosis or with HIV. The two cases are not entirely equivalent, but that was the point: does it matter whether the infection is curable or life-long? The students seemed really taken with utilitarian arguments about the good of the many out-weighing the good of the few. Even though the current international standard of public health practice is community-base, out-patient care of TB (via DOTS)--because most patients are not infectious after two weeks of treatment--the students in the audience voted unanimously that the team arguing for (in)voluntary isolation had made the better arguments. This may be because the team fudged a little on the length of treatment in closing statements (leaning toward 2 weeks instead of the 6 months required for treatment and outlined in the debate guidelines). The second vote was much closer: 5 to 4 in favor of allowing individuals infected with HIV their freedom. This may be because the student delivering the closing statement for the "con" team made a slippery-slope argument about human rights and even played the "Hitler" card. Frau Doktor Doctor tried not to laugh at the audaciousness of the move but did not disqualify it.

She was able to slip in to hear most of the job talk by a fellow historian of medicine before taking the bus home and prepping for a potluck dinner. After some mulled wine that was strong enough to get someone drunk just from the smell of it, she and Dear Husband slipped out early to go home but fell asleep before getting around to the movie they were going to watch (GATTACA).

After seven years of marriage and four Christmases in this house, we decided we were ready to graduate to nets of colored lights on the bushes out front. Because we're running out of replacement bulbs, half of each strand of white lights blinks, as the photo demonstrates. Don't the gutter covers look nice?
Saturday: After a trip to the farmers/holiday market, Frau Doktor Doctor decided to make the most of the unseasonably warm weather to hang another load of laundry, the Christmas lights, and some new gutter covers. No one was bad-mouthed. The evening was spent at another holiday party: she attended as a "sexy elf" (green dress, red scarf, and fishnets); DH went as a "sexy dreidel" (navy Dockers, blue-striped sweater, and blue sports coat).

Sunday: Attended the contemporary worship service to practice sign language. Danced with the children at the main service to an inspiring rendition of "Kumbaya" (really!). Did committee work all afternoon and evening while "watching" football at a friend's place. Much sleep. Being a real housewife of Champaign County is exhausting! But sometimes satisfying.

Friday, November 30, 2012

His Castle Was His Home

Editor's note: This is another of the posts I'm clearing out of the Draft pile.

One of the neat things we did this year was to visit the Chateau Laroche, the lifetime project of one man, who built it by hand with cement and river rocks. This American castle is a very imaginative structure, complete with great hall, dungeon, chapel, battlements, and garden. While serving as a medic in Europe during World War I, Harry Andrews decided he hated war but loved castles. He gave up women and took up architecture instead. He also founded an order of "knights" based on the principles of chivalry, Christianity, and patriotism. (The order has since started admitting women, to deal with dwindling membership.) Today, those volunteers takes care of the property. The public can visit for a small donation, Scout troops hold activities there, and it is a popular place for a small weddings. If we lived in the area, I would volunteer to work in the garden, which has a lot of unrealized potential.

spiral staircase
great hall
"spy hole"
lovers' lane
terraced gardens

Monday, November 26, 2012

County Fair

Editor's note: This post had been languishing in draft mode for several months, and since I tried to avoid work over Thanksgiving, I was able to rescue it from my list of "to do" tasks and remember a fun time from the summer.

This was finally the year Dear Husband and I made it to the County Fair, and we decided to have the whole experience. We met a friend inside among the food booths; he was buying Culler's fries: oily, salty, and hot. Then it was on to the main course. DH chose steak on a stick and  a fresh-squeezed lemonade, while I opted for a corn dog with a ridiculous amount of ketchup. We ate under the grandstand, listening to the roar of the demolition derby and shooed away some very persistent flies. Dessert was homemade strawberry ice cream for him, pineapple ice cream for me. There was nary a vegetable to be seen. Do calories fly away if you spin around fast enough?

Having filled up our bellies, it was time to buy ride tickets. DH watched our bags and took photos while A.S. and I rode all the "big" rides (3 and 4 tickets). Here's a picture of us on the Predator (we're the two figures in the lower left corner). I usually laugh (or scream) on rides like that, but this one had such high Gs from the centrifugal force that it was all I could do to keep breathing. I think my face was frozen in a grin until we got down. We rode the rocking boat, too, but my favorite was the ferris wheel with the enclosed metal cages and the little steering wheel so you can rotate while you're orbiting. A.S. is stronger than me, so he "drove." Boy, that was a ton of fun. Afterwards, to settle our stomachs, we walked through the small exhibit hall. There were the requisite prizes for quilts, clothing, crops, flower arrangements, paintings, garden vegetables, and baked goods. (Our state representative won first prize in the cookie category, if I remember correctly.) We were surprised and delighted to discover that kids can submit Lego creations in their own category--and disappointed that a commercial design for Falling Water took first prize.


We still had a few ride tickets left, so DH and I got on the bumper cars and released some pent-up aggression at each other. Just kidding. Maybe. By 9pm or so the temperature had settled into the 70s, and the three of us shared a little funnel cake with powdered sugar and cinnamon in the pleasant night before heading home, happy. Now we can say we've been to the county fair. Next year, the state fair?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thankgs-Giving 2012

There haven't been any posts lately, because I've been studiously working. Having completed a draft of the fourth chapter of my dissertation earlier this week (it's actually going be the second chapter, when all is said and done), I am studiously avoiding work over the holiday. To celebrate, I am completing blog posts that have been languishing as drafts. Today's is a potpourri of experiences I've had with my family and friends over the last several months; there will be two more next week. I am truly grateful that I have enough health, money, and free time to enjoy life like this.

Memorial Day Weekend: Dear Husband and I drove down to the airport to welcome home a group of WWII veterans who were flown to Washington DC to visit the war memorial there. Unfortunately, their plane had mechanical trouble and took off hours later, and we couldn't wait that long. These are some of the 1000 flags lining the drive to the airport.
Later that weekend: DH and I drove a couple hours to see the Old Time Piano Playing Contest. Players are required to wear a period costume, choose music composed no later than 1929, and acknowledge the audience's applause while they play. There is apparently a whole group of people who know each other and cultivate this art form. Click the link to see short videos of some of the contestants. Maybe next year we'll go on their Mississippi River cruise.
July: I got another year older. Some people got together in wacky outfits and celebrated. 
Early October: I re-created my dance from Europe for The Chorale's fall concert. As I explained in the previous post, I borrowed some motifs from an earlier liturgical dance. Because I didn't want to offend anyone with jumps or leg kicks (and the music wasn't right for them anyway), most of the dance was in the arms. However, because the venue was a Protestant church this time, I tweaked the ending a little: rather than making my final supplication toward the cross (as in the Catholic churches in Vienna and Prague), I turned at the end to include the congregation, too.
Election Night Party: making soup for the local men's shelter
Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, giblet gravy, cranberry sauce with walnuts and clove, stuffing with vegetables (under the foil), mashed  potatoes, sweet potatoes roasted in olive oil and rosemary, and broccoli sauteed in butter and oregano. Also wine, and for dessert, French vanilla ice cream topped with a warm chutney of green apples, dried cranberries, cinnamon, onion, and brown sugar. Our guests were My Awesome Parents and two Korean graduate students, who were experiencing their first Thanksgiving dinner. To top it all off, we taught them how to play Mexican Train dominoes, of course!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Terror-full Halloween

Dear Husband and I like Halloween. We're not fanatics who start planning our costumes months in advance, and we don't even get around to carving a jack-o-lantern every year. But we enjoy a good scare, creative decorations, and watching Charlie Brown's Great Pumpkin special with some candy pumpkins.

Six years ago the church and faith-based student center where we go to Bible study started a food pantry. Four or five years ago someone got the bright idea of hosting a haunted house in the big old building to raise money for the pantry. The students build sets, recruit make-up artists and actors (to play zombies, of course), and turn the whole place into a dark and bloody scene of terror. It's great. Me, I'm stingy with my time, so I just show up one night out of the three or four to do make-up and act as a hostess or tour guide. This year I decided to dress up as a murdered doll, complete with Kewpie face and latex slash on my throat. For half the night I lay crumpled in a chair before coming to life and leading the groups outside to the stairway and slide that served as the entrance to the haunted house, which began in the church's basement and boiler room. The second half of the night I crazily and creepily delivered the introduction about the food pantry (1,300 served in the month of October) and the safety rules (no cell phones, watch your pretty little head, etc.). I think the best scare on Friday was the group of middle-school boys who collectively freaked out when they came around my chair and saw me lying there.

The monster rutabaga I bought at the farmers
market last Saturday; we'll have mashed turnip
with our pork chops and steamed broccoli this
week. It was as big as my entire hand in dia-
meter and made eight servings. I find the taste
 of turnips more interesting than that of potatoes.
The next night, DH and I met some friends for spooky storytelling concert at a museum on campus. (We had wanted to hear "Grimm's Grimmest" the weekend before, but we were in Indy for DH's race.) Instead, we heard an international mix of stories, from England, Thailand, the US, and Vietnam. All the storytellers are members of a local storytelling guild. My favorite story, "The Buried Moon," sounded like it had Celtic roots. I said afterward that in another life I would like to be a storyteller. Between my lectures and children's messages, I guess I sort of am, already. The experience reminded me of how my brothers and I would sometimes make ourselves beds on the floor and huddle together to read Scary Stories to Read in the Dark, collected by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated in gory detail by Stephen Gammell. Despite repeated readings, we still scared ourselves silly! I'm tickled the above link replicates some of the stories and illustrations.

Sunday evening I joined another friend at her house for a viewing of The Exorcist, which I had not seen before. It's her all-time favorite movie, one that gets better every time she watches it, because she notices some new detail or foreshadowing. I thought it started slowly but otherwise was a good watch--better than a slasher film. We're talking about watching Rosemary's Baby for our next movie night!

I finally got around to decorating the house on Monday. It had been rainy and windy here, and I figured decorating too soon was just asking for trouble. I put up the last of the glow-in-the-dark cotton for spider webs by the front door and hung a large hairy spider with some fishing line from the storm over over a hook in the eaves. When we open the door to hand out candy, the spider descends about a foot to the height of a child's head.

Speaking of decorating the house, on Saturday I helped a friend build his Lego Haunted House. I should have been working on fellowship applications or on teaching prep or on search committee business, but instead I was poring over book 3 of directions and scrounging around on cookie trays for little plastic pieces. He brought the finished house to the election-watching party we attended to show it off: complete with moving fireplace, trap door to the attic, glow-in-the-dark ghosts, and body parts under "glass" domes.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hither, Thither & Yon

Dear Husband and I have been on a the road the last couple of weekends. Here are some pictures of where we went and what we did:

Last weekend we drove west to Hither, where we celebrated the life of the pastor of my home church where DH and I met. HON was appointed there my second year in high school and left a few years ago. A friend and I took over the Children's Sermons when he arrived, and when there weren't any children anymore, HON encouraged me to give these little messages anyway. We called them "Youth Speaks." Sometime after that I took over the position of regular Sunday liturgist. I learned to sightread from that lectern. Tongue-twisting passages from Paul's epistles? Bring'em on. Words to an unfamiliar reading scrolling up a screen and quickly out of sight? I've done that too! HON encouraged me to be a confident, out-spoken young Christian leader. I will always remember him for that. And his wit, his loathing of hypocrisy, his commitment to social justice, and yummy curry on New Year's. At the memorial service, DH played a piece he had composed, and I read a poem the organizers had picked out. We're very glad we made the trek hither.

This weekend we drove in the opposite direction to Thither, where Dear Husband ran his first half marathon. It being mid-October, the weather was characteristically cool and wet. You can see him and some other runners huddled around one of three fire pits they had going before and during the races. He certainly looks ready to run 13.1 miles, doesn't he? Well he was, minus three or four layers of clothing. Unfortunately, this is the only picture I have from the trip. When we arrived, DH asked whether I brought my camera, since he had left his at home. I asked him what kind of wife and Girl Scout he thought I was, if I was going to drive him all the way thither without my camera? But I had forgotten about the flashing battery light while we were filming my action figure post, and the battery promptly died. Even without photographic proof, DH was able to beat his goal time with a personal best of 1 hour and 54 minutes. Way to go!

Finally, it turns out that Yon is pretty close to home. For lunch we went to a local burger joint, which offered to donate 10% of today's net proceeds to a local family struggling with advanced ALS. A large portion of our church showed up to consume burgers, shakes, and fries for the cause. You can't see them because of the reflection on the glass, but the line extended to the door and was like that the whole time we were there. There was a nice coincidence, too. I chose and presented a special reading during the service this morning that turned out not to have anything to do with the sermon (whoops); it was about finding Christ in the eyes of the person across the table with whom you are breaking bread (e.g. eating together). Today, the servant church was at this restaurant. Soon, it will be donating meals and gas cards for the affected family to go for visits to the nearest care facility (a shocking 2 hours away). But today, it was yon.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Who Are We?

This past Friday, the student newspaper published an open letter I researched and wrote with two fellow graduate students. We are asking the new chancellor, who just started her second year here, to change the atmosphere between the administration and the labor unions on campus. This University talks a lot about “inclusivity” and how “great” we are, but their policy stands toward graduate student employees suggest exclusivity, a desire to turn us into yet another source of revenue, and a short-sightedness that will hamper research and learning. In honor of this occasion, we have released the second doll in our line of student action figures.


NEW! Now you can purchase the Graduate Student as a card-carrying member of the Graduate Employees Union (IFT/AFT Local 6300 AFL/CIO). She wears a bright red t-shirt that declares “healthcare is a right” and boots for stomping on injustice. The pockets of her cargo pants are stuffed with a contract and her membership card. One arm is movable so she can raise her fist at rallies, and if you press the button on her back, she yells one of three slogans:

“The University works because we do!”
“No contract, no peace!”
And one slogan that you can record yourself! 

Doll comes with poster, pin, contract, and membership card. Real working toy megaphone and companion union members sold separately.


One of our union rally cries starts with the leader yelling, "Who are we?" The crowd answers, "GEO!" It's short and to the point, good for making noise outside the windows of administrators. But it is also a question that we see being asked and answered in the bargaining room. The administration seems to see "us" (the University) as a world-class institution...hobbled by the state's financial crisis. We see an institution that has successfully collected record private donations...and that refuses to pay a living wage for all graduate employees. (And that hires yet more administrators while threatening employees lower on the pyramid with furloughs.) This administration sees a homogeneous graduate student population (think: single, white, middle-class, male)...we see parents, international students, veterans, LGBTQ individuals, and an over-whelming majority of bright, dedicated individuals who would not be here without tuition waivers. We would be at other institutions, or we would not be in graduate school. This is an R1 research university that refuses to guarantee full tuition waivers, the standard practice at institutions of higher learning of this caliber. Without full tuition waivers, only the wealthy or the desperate will come here for graduate education anymore. Who are we?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Adventures in New Haven

Image courtesy of the Yale Medical Library website.

This past weekend I completed my (near) annual pilgrimage to the East Coast for the Joint Atlantic Seminar for the History of Medicine, affectionately known as JasMed. This conference run by and for graduate students is one of two chances I have every year to get together with other junior scholars who are weird in the same ways that I am weird (the other is the large national meeting of the American Association of the History of Medicine in the spring, or AAHM).

This year we were at Yale University, where the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library provided an appropriate setting for papers on the history of bloodletting, of touch and sight in gynecology, the connections between psychiatry and politics, and of the smallpox eradication campaign in Cameroon. My abstract about closing the reception loop between nutritionists and lay people in early twentieth-century Germany was not accepted, but the quality of the papers that were taken was so high that I don't mind. I find it fun and educational to hear what my colleagues are doing at their various institutions, and there is always plenty of time scheduled for socializing. Bless their hearts: the conference organizers made sure we ate every two hours or so, so I didn't go hungry!

Our early afternoon session discussing a pre-circulated paper about tuberculosis in Cuba got out early, so a few of us took a walk from the medical campus to the main campus, where we searched out the rare book building, home to 500,000 rare books and "several million manuscripts." It's a bibliophile's dream. Built in 1960-1963, this "jewel box" of modernist architecture contrasts greatly with the surrounding neo-Gothic buildings. From the outside, the Beinecke Library looks like a white block of concrete, but inside the marble "windows" let in amber-colored light. In the center, a glassed-in tower displays part of the stacks in spectacular fashion. I might have had a bibliorgasm. Click here for photos.

Back at the hotel room I shared with a friend from college, one thing made me laugh, and another made me shake my head. On the right, members of one side of my family can probably guess what hotel chain we were at: that's right, a Marriott. I don't doubt that the protection and warning on the sprinkler head are the result of a certain favorite uncle's accident with a sprinkler, a hanger, and a fire alarm during the Slet in Fort Worth two years ago...

In the shower I made the mistake of reading the promotional text on the little Paul Mitchell shampoo and conditioner bottles that came with the room. Are you ready for this? The shampoo read,

"Go native with the lush lather and moisturizing goodness of Hawaiian Awapuhi. Brightens all hair types by removing dulling buildup. Color Safe."

::sigh:: The advertising major who dreamed that up must have slept through the distribution-requirement Anthro 101 s/he took in college. But it gets worse. The conditioner read, "Triumph over tangles with this super rich conditioner." That's right, once your hair has "gone native," you can force it into submission with your colonialist conditioner. Happy Columbus Day.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Toadstools & Technology

Today's image is courtesy of our neighbor down the street, who had three of these enormous mushrooms growing in her yard. The scale may be hard to judge, but this one was easily 6-8 inches tall, and the cap was bigger than the spread of my hand from pinkie to thumb (i.e. the size of a small dinner plate)! These invaders were probably occasioned by our recent wet weather, but they are gone today, as the weather was so nice this weekend that everyone was out doing yard work. I've paired the image with a classic poem about a rain-related technology that seemed to fit the situation.

~Oliver Herford (1863-1935)

Under a toadstool crept a wee Elf, 
Out of the rain to shelter himself.

Under the toadstool, sound asleep, 
Sat a big Dormouse all in a heap.

Trembled the wee Elf, frightened and yet
Fearing to fly away lest he get wet.

To the next shelter—maybe a mile! 
Sudden the wee Elf smiled a wee smile.

Tugged till the toadstool toppled in two. 
Holding it over him, gaily he flew.

Soon he was safe home, dry as could be. 
Soon woke the Dormouse—"Good gracious me!

"Where is my toadstool?" loud he lamented. 
—And that's how umbrellas first were invented.

Monday, September 3, 2012

First comes love

Me: I don't love you for your ability to throw a frisbee.
Him: Clearly.

I've been thinking a lot about love and marriage over the past month or so. If you've read any of my recent posts, you know that Dear Husband and I just celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. Having reached that magic (hexed?) number, we've gotten a lot of jibes about itching and straying. We've all seen the movie, right? All I have to say to that is that the last time we reached the seven-year mark...we got hitched. We no longer qualify as newlyweds, moony and head-over-heels in love, but thanks to my educational program changing every year, we haven't gotten into any kind of routine that could be shaken up by scratching an itch. Instead, the fact that the other is there (wherever "there" happens to be that year) has been the constant that has driven us closer together. We are comfortable with each other but not yet bored. For instance, today I learned that DH didn't know how to throw a frisbee.

To celebrate our birthdays, we went to The Art Theater to see  Moonrise Kingdom,
the awkward fantasy about pre-teen love. Is our story any more believable?
I've been giving love and marriage extra thought recently, because the last thing I read before we headed out the door for our anniversary trip to Madison was that a friend's marriage is breaking up. One of them is moving out, they're trying to figure out custody of their child, their car, their house. The one said, I don't know who this person is anymore, but I still love him.

It got me to thinking about how much emphasis our culture puts on "love" in marriage. The ideal is a couple falls madly in love with each other, stages a fairy-tale wedding, and lives happily ever after. The problem is that "happily ever after" lasts a lot longer than wooing and marrying does. Then come the dirty dishes, the dirty socks, the dirty bathroom, the dirty car, the mowing and raking, trips to the vet, deadlines at work, classes at school, committees at church, and oh yeah, and try to have some couple time, too. Heaven forbid the couple have any problems with sex or disagreements about raising the children, the two things that most obviously bring them together. I don't think "love" as we usually define it can sustain a marriage through all of that; I think it takes a kind of commitment that our culture does not acknowledge or support enough.

(For instance, we recently attended a family wedding, and the pastor mentioned many times the couples' love for each other. That's great, but it seemed somewhat cliched. At a wedding you have a captive audience! Then is the time to remind everyone about the hard work it takes to sustain a committed relationship through job changes, various phases of life, losses of loved ones, decisions to move, and especially the busyness that is everyday life.)

I don't know why my friend's marriage didn't make it and don't presume to judge their situation. I have to believe they know what is best for themselves. But I mourned their loss in the car as we were driving up to Madison. As someone who believes in the institutions of marriage (civil and religious), I take marriage vows seriously, and when friends or family feel they can no longer honor the things they promised when they were still so much in love, it does make me sad. Divorce should obviously be allowed, but surely not every marriage that ends that way needs to.

I mentioned my concerns about the relative weight placed on love versus commitment to DH. He told me that he had come to a realization early in our relationship.  He found that when we had a conflict, if he sought to resolve the conflict first, no matter how he felt about me beforehand, afterward he loved me more. It was a question of choosing to act first rather than waiting to feel good ("in love") and then acting on it. I was moved, especially considering how often a hot-head like me can push someone's buttons. For a moment, it was the most intimate we could be going 65 miles an hour along an interstate highway.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Vacation Day 4

Whew! The lead-up to and start of the new school year has left me with no time to write the last post about our trip to Madison until now.

Friday night we went to the local minor league baseball stadium, Warner Park, where the Madison Mallards play. Amateur teams from around Madison had sent 1-2 players each for the Home Town All-Star Game. We struck up a conversation with the elderly gentleman in front of us, grandfather to one of the second basemen, so we rooted for his team. It was a decent ballgame that only got ridiculous in one of the middle innings, when the pitcher couldn't find the catcher's glove, much less the strike zone. I think he loaded the bases and let two runs score on wild pitches. All told, there was one homerun and a couple of errors. The game was tied into the bottom of the ninth, when someone hit a walk-off double. Even though we had no emotional stake in the outcome, the night was nice, and we enjoyed this little slice of Americana. I remember that the woman who sang the anthem had a beautiful voice.

Of course we had to sample the ballpark fare. Dear Husband paid a major-league price for a minor-league hot dog, soda, and fresh fruit cup (!). I opted for a veggie burger. I look so thrilled in the photo because of the thick layer of (iceberg) lettuce I got to add, in addition to the usual ketchup, mustard, relish, and onions.

Saturday morning was all about the condiments--or rather, a particular condiment: mustard. August 4 was the 21st Annual National Mustard Day. What? Weren't you celebrating?

First we met up for brunch with a historian of science friend of mine, then we all trooped over to the National Mustard Museum. This private collecting project has been Barry Levenson's hobby since the Red Sox disappointed him in the post-season in 1986. Hundreds of mustards and mustard containers are on display in the basement of the building in downtown Middleton, WI. There are even some real facts about the condiment sprinkled among the facetious news stories and curiosity pieces! A visit is supposed to be only marginally educational, and entrance to the museum is free, because the main floor is the shop, where you can sample every one of the hundreds of mustards for sale as well as purchase mustard/food-themed kitsch or swag from Poupon U. Basically, they're capitalizing on the novelty of the idea of a mustard museum.

The four mustards above are the ones we we tried at the tasting bar, from most (L) to least (R) favorite. Actually, we had already made up our minds to buy a jar of 3 Monkeys Mustard, a spicy-sweet spread concocted by a dad and his kids in their garage. It won the 2012 grand prize in the taste testing competition.

Outside, there was a stage for live music, games for the kids, the Oscar Meyer Wiener Mobile, various mustard vendors, and of course food. One tent was giving away free hotdogs with unlimited mustard; it was $10 if you wanted ketchup! Culver's was selling mustard ice cream, which we tasted. It's better than it sounds: the vanilla and caramel were sweet, with a kick of hot mustard after-taste. We also got our photo taken with the French's mustard bottle (above). DH wondered that we were received in such a friendly manner, although both of us had unwittingly dressed in the opposing colors that day!

Soon enough, it was time to hop back in the car and drive home again. We had a few other small adventures and interesting conversations this summer, and I hope to find the time to tell you a little about each of them soon.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Vacation Day 3: Taliesin

Hillside School
On the third day of our anniversary vacation, we took a day trip out of Madison to Frank Lloyd Wright's first estate, Taliesin, just south of Spring Green. It was a beautiful hour’s drive west along a mostly two-lane highway that cut through small towns and wound past farm nestled between wooded hills. The scenery was everything I wanted it to be, until we encountered the reality of farming nowadays. Some operations had irrigation systems and were weathering the drought fairly well, but we passed one farm whose corn stood stunted and yellow in the field. A few farms had “for sale” signs along the road, and one offered a building permit. “What would you build out here?” I asked Dear Husband. I dreaded the thought of a Big Box Store. Maybe bedroom communities for the small towns. There was at least one large industrial building with solar panels out front—hopefully that was a job creator.

We used some of my birthday money for the four-hour Estate Tour, which involved a shuttle ride and a lot of walking with a tour guide and about 15 other people. It was totally worth the expense: not only does that money go toward preservation efforts, but we got to visit most of the important structures on the 600-acre estate (Unity Chapel, Hillside School & Theater, the Windmill Tower, Tan-y-deri [a house for his sister], Midway Barns, and Taliesin house itself).

To the left is Wright's grave marker at the family chapel. Behind it stands the tree at the foot of which his mistress was buried after an estate worker "went postal" when she dismissed him for his erratic behavior while Wright was away. The worker hacked six other people to death with an axe after setting fire to the residential wing of the big house. He attempted to poison himself, survived, and eventually starved himself to death in jail.

Wright is not actually buried there, however. He died in 1959 during surgery for intestinal obstruction. When his third wife, Olgivanna, died in 1985, it was discovered that her will instructed that he, she, and her daughter from an earlier marriage (who died in a car accident) be cremated and interred together at Taliesin West, Wright's estate near Scottsdale, Arizona. Many people close to Wright objected, but apparently a crew came in the middle of the night, dug him up, and carted him off.

To the right is "Romeo & Juliet," the windmill Wright designed for his teacher-aunts to provide water for their residential school. Romeo is the skinny quadrilateral at the back, designed to "cut into" the wind. Juliet is the hexagon that actually held the workings. The children of the school sometimes used the structure as a play house.

DH had read a biography of Wright about a decade ago, but I knew next to nothing about him, so I found the tour very interesting. This is me on the crown of the hill behind the house, which is perched on "the brow" of the hill. (Taliesin means "shining brow.")

Afterward we ate lunch at the restaurant at the Visitors' Center overlooking the Wisconsin River. That's DH enjoying a slice of strawberry shortcake pie in honor of our anniversary. (We had strawberry shortcake as the cake at our wedding reception.) Then we started on the drive back to Madison. We considered detouring south to see the Cave of the Mounds, but our feet were tired and we figured we had maxed out our budget for the day, so we just stopped off at a local park with a scenic point overlooking the valley. We got back to the hotel in time for a brief rest before heading out for our evening entertainment, which I will describe in the next post. Any Frank Lloyd Wright fans out there? Have a favorite building or design you want to share with us?

Editor's Note: Dear Husband and I later visited Wright's house and studio in Oak Park, IL, as well as his famous Fallingwater vacation house and the nearby Polymath Park trio.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Vacation Days 1 & 2

Dear Husband and I recently celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary much in the way we’ve celebrated the others: with a road trip to a city in the Midwest. We honeymooned in Denver with a botanical garden, an art museum, hiking (in Estes Park), good eats, and a baseball game. We’ve pretty much kept to that itinerary in the years since, as we’ve visited Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and now Madison. 

I am my grandmother’s granddaughter and my father’s daughter, and I love planning our trips. I always try to include something unique for the places we travel to. In Chicago we went to the Navy Pier. In Indy we visited a private super hero museum and the race track. In Kansas City we saw the Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. In Milwaukee, we rollerbladed along Lake Michigan. On our Cincy trip, DH played the pianos that had been decorated and placed around the city.

In Madison, we rented a tandem kayak on Lake Wingra. I had hoped they might let us use a small sailboat, but the lake has had such large growths of seaweed recently that you have to take a special class before they’ll let you sail. As we paddled back and forth across the lake, I suddenly didn’t feel so guilty for missing PiYo class while our car was in the shop earlier in the week: it was quite the upper-arm workout! We saw gulls, ducks, a heron, and a very large fish that jumped near the boat. It was a hot day, so we even braved the seaweed and got out of the kayak to “swim” in the middle. I don’t like it when I can’t see my feet in the water, so actually I worked out my abs by holding a pike position so my toes stuck up out of the water while we rested in/on our life jackets and let the underwater current carry us.

I don't think a marriage is legal in Madison unless
the bride takes photographs at this gazebo.
After rinsing off under a hose, we drove into the center of town. We were too late for an official tour of the capitol building, but we ogled the marble and the cupola for ourselves. This was the site of the famous anti-Walker sit-in in 2011. On the mezzanine level was an exhibition of beautiful oil paintings by and about Falun Gong (Dafa) practitioners in China and the discrimination and torture many have suffered at the hands of the Communist regime. Unfortunately, my camera battery had died when we got to the lake, so I don’t have any pictures of this first day.

We were also there to meet a friend for the last Concert on the Square of the summer. From humble beginnings a few years ago, this free event has become a Madison staple. At 3pm you are allowed to leave a blanket on the grass around the capitol building to mark your spot. People start arriving at 5:30 or 6 o’clock with coolers, camp chairs, and folding tables, and food vendors line closed-off stretches of street. We bought some really yummy mint chocolate chip ice cream cones, DH had a hot meal that reminded him of Tafelspitz, and I ate cheese, crackers, and fruit. DH listened to the music/napped while the ladies chatted—apparently too loudly for the music snob behind us, who was shushing everyone around him. Then it was back to the hotel to watch some Olympics before bed.

The weather on the second day was supposed to be a doozy, so I had planned for the botanical garden in the morning and the art museum in the afternoon. The Olbrich Botanical Garden (free) is smaller than some of the others we have visited, but it is well maintained, and there was still plenty to see. The Thai temple and garden were particularly interesting. They've incorporated various cultural and artistic symbols, like water, topiary, lotus blossoms, and the Naga serpent. The temple (sala) was built in Thailand, taken apart, shipped here, and then reconstructed without nails or screws. The artisans happen to have been flying on September 11, 2001, and were on one of the last flights to land at O'Hare. You can't touch the gold leaf or else the oils on your skin can damage it. Then we paid for tickets to enter the conservatory to see the butterfly exhibit. Once a year they order hundreds of cocoons and hatch the butterflies in the tropical environment. You can see them up close, as well as enjoy orchids, banana trees, bamboo, canaries, and adorable little quail running around.

We ate lunch at the famous vegetarian/vegan restaurant, The Green Owl. Dear Husband had fake chicken with real parmesan cheese, while I ordered a filling BBQ jackfruit sandwich and kale chips. An...interesting culinary creation, kale chips: I tasted mostly oil, while DH tasted mostly kale. Go figure.

Kale chips!
Rather than continue our itinerary around Lake Monona, we repaired to the hotel for reading/naps due to tired legs. The Chazen Art Museum (also free) is open until 9pm on Thursdays, so I knew we weren’t trying to get everything in by 5pm and had plenty of time to see the exhibits.

The big draw was the current temporary exhibition of studio art glass. Apparently a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin Madison is single-handedly responsible for establishing the discipline, in that he made a workshop of all the different kilns and tools available to local artists, as well as training students. I love glass because of its versatility: it can be transparent, translucent, or opaque. It can be rough or smooth. It can be drawn out into delicate threads or cast in impressive hunks. It can be colored, have bubbles, and be made into a seemingly infinite variety of shapes. The display was impressive in its scope, and there was also a series of demonstration videos on various technique and on making tumblers, wine glasses, and other things.

No green owls, but I did find a green frog.
We spent so much time there that we were ready for dinner, so we headed down University Avenue toward the restaurant quarter. I had looked up a few places beforehand, and we quickly decided on Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry, which is only the best burger joint in Madison and no small irony, considering where we went to lunch! We shared a strawberry milkshake, a burger, fries, and a spinach salad. We thought the burger wasn’t done enough, but the salad came with bleu cheese, which made me think of my maternal grandfather, who could eat an inordinate amount of the stuff.

We returned to the Chazen for the second temporary exhibit, on the fan in Japanese prints. I would have liked more thorough descriptions of the historical or literary backgrounds for the images, but then maybe that’s just me. We finished off our visit with the room dedicated to twentieth-century African artwork. Then it was back to the hotel for—you guessed it—more Olympics. (Hey, people, don’t judge: it was gymnastics!)

Next time: a cultured day trip and a wacky museum.

DH: "Look where her hand is. I know why he's giving her a high five!"