Archive for the 'memories' Category


Mourning the loss of a friend


Last week, my friend Nancy Abelmann died. I am feeling this loss keenly and have wanted to write about but for a while wasn’t sure what to say or how to say.

Nancy was my advisor in graduate school and the first person who made me feel that I was a scholar with something important to say. She was an incredibly generous scholar and mentor who spent countless hours helping me hone my grant proposals to the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation, encouraged me during the dissertation-writing process (even after I moved far away), and was totally supportive of my decision not to finish my Ph.D. (and would have been equally supportive if I’d decided to complete it). As both a friend and a mentor, she was a huge influence in my life, and I’m sure I would not be the person I am today if I hadn’t known her.

I last saw Nancy in person right before I moved to Pennsylvania about a decade and a half ago. We kept in touch, though, especially during the past four years as first Bill (my friend and one of my committee members, and one of Nancy’s closest friends) and then she were struck by cancer. This past fall, she did not have much energy for extensive communication, so we exchanged haiku.

She had been very forthcoming about her illness and treatment, sending out updates via e-mail and Caring Bridge, so this final event in her journey doesn’t really come as a surprise. One small consolation is that she knew how much she was loved: she was incredibly supported by local friends and family, and her far-flung connections, too, reached out with whatever support they could offer from afar. (One former student—and friend and former colleague of mine—even flew in from Korea for three days to be with her at the end.)

But it’s still hard to accept that she’s no longer here. She was (as many people have described her) “a force of nature,” and I’m sure she will be long (and fondly) remembered both professionally and personally.

It has been amazing to read the tributes about her over the past week, from all corners of the world—universities, former students, colleagues, academic units, publishers, neighbors, friends.  She had a direct positive impact on so many people! She truly made the world a better place.

(This video was made by Nancy’s daughters and posted a few days ago.)


Childhood toys

It’s interesting what parents save of their children’s things. My husband’s mom saved books; she was both an author and an editor of children’s books, so there are many interesting/rare/meaningful items in the collection that my daughter now enjoys.

My parents saved all of my (and my brother’s) Fisher-Price toys. There’s a wind-up television set that plays “Three Blind Mice,” has a rolling scene of drawn mice running across the front (think of a player piano’s roll), and has “Made in Japan” stamped on the back. (When did mass-produced American toys stop being made in Japan, anyway? At some point they moved to Taiwan, and thence to China, where most of them remain today.) And there are lots of Original Little People and their playsets (including the airport, the camper, the village, and parts of the farm).

pb275125fppeopleftf.jpgSylvia delights in playing with them when we visit. (The airplane has come home with us, but the rest of the toys remain at my parents’ house.) As we were planning our most recent trip out there, she was eager to play with “the people” again, especially “the woman in the purple dress” (which she hadn’t seen in over a year). It’s fascinating to see her childhood overlap with parts of mine.

Let me own up to two things:

1. I watched a lot of MTV in the ’80s and was especially fond of a-ha’s “Take on Me.” (I own Hunting High and Low—and Scoundrel Days, too. On vinyl, even.)

2. Butt-related humor cracks me up.

So you can see why I think this (via John Scalzi) is just awesome:



Fifteen years

Fifteen years ago this month, I decided to become a vegetarian. My reasons then and now are varied and rooted in ethical, environmental, social, and health concerns. I had been thinking about vegetarianism for a while at that point, and the proverbial straw for me was an article in the January 1993 issue of Outside about an athlete and fitness trainer named Steve Ilg (and later I read his book, The Outdoor Athlete, which is somewhere in the book storage room in my basement).

He advocated vegetarianism partly out of compassion for animals but also out of the belief that eating meat negatively affects your body and makes it hard to reach your fullest potential when rock climbing, kayaking, cross-country skiing, etc. (In the early 1990s he also advocated—well, for himself, at least—wearing a Kajagoogoo-esque hairstyle. Fortunately, he no longer seems to be riding that trend.)

Aside from infrequent longings for seafood (for which vegetarian substitutes are few and far between), I haven’t missed meat. I never was a steak lover, pork chops didn’t thrill me, and even Thanksgiving turkey never appealed to me much. I’m still pleased with my decision—and delighted to have married a vegetarian (Jan’s coming up on twenty years this fall, I believe) and happy to be raising a vegetarian daughter.

So it seems only fitting that I recently had an urge to return to an old culinary favorite. Yes, I love Deborah Madison’s cookbooks (and Madhur Jaffrey’s and lots of other people’s), but when I am looking for vegetarian food that can be described as “homestyle” or “down home” or “comforting” or “basic,” I turn to something like Laurel’s Kitchen or the Moosewood cookbooks—both the ones by the Moosewood Collective and the ones by Mollie Katzen.

p1269103broccoli126.jpgOne of the first cookbooks I ever bought was Katzen’s Enchanted Broccoli Forest. I bought it during my first semester of graduate school, when I was responsible for cooking all of my own food (since I no longer lived in campus housing) and worked in a local health-food store.

I loved this book—I still do. My copy is food stained and well worn, and my favorite recipe in it is the one that give the book its title. Rooted in a bed of herbed brown rice held together with eggs and cheese is a forest made up of broccoli trees. I hadn’t made this dish in at least nine years, and I’d forgotten just how good it is. So had Jan, who remarked, “I didn’t remember that this dish was so good.” Sylvia wasn’t terribly impressed (she’s in a food phase now, and it seems there are only about three or four things she’ll deign to eat these days), though she did love the “magic broccoli forest.”



p1179056snow1.jpgYesterday afternoon, shortly after Sylvia went upstairs for her nap, it started to snow here. At first the snow accumulated only on the grass and bushes, but after half an hour it started to stick to the roads and driveways, too. I stepped outside to take a few photos and breathed in the silence.

The snowfall reminded me of the winter I spent in a small town in Switzerland. I rode the bus to the university in the nearby city 12km away, and my local bus stop was in the center of the town where I lived. Actually, it was the only bus stop in the town. (Yes, it was a pretty small town.) The center of town was about a fifteen-minute walk to the farm where I lived—well, fifteen minutes in the morning (when I had to contend with a 16% grade hill) and half that time in the evening.

On Wednesdays I had an evening class, which meant I didn’t get home until well after dark. One winter Wednesday evening, another snowfall started to cover the white blanket that already lay on the ground. As I walked alone down the road toward my farm, I became acutely aware of the silence. All of the animals in the fields around me were silent, and there was this peaceful heaviness in the air. It was as if the cows knew that the snow and the dark and the cold made for a magical moment.

p1179057snow2.jpgI live in a far more (sub)urban environment these days, but yesterday’s late-afternoon snowfall—cold and quiet—was like a Proustian madeleine taking me back to that winter in Switzerland. When Sylvia woke up and Jan came home, the three of us went into the front yard to create “a girl snowman” (at Sylvia’s insistence), snow angels, a castle, and footprints. The snow didn’t last long, though: by midday today, nearly all of it had already melted away.


Memories of my childhood

Not long after my daughter was born, my parents started opening up boxes in their basement. Their contents: toys that had belonged to my brother and me.

The first one, a three-foot-tall stuffed dog, arrived with my parents, when they drove out from Illinois to meet their one-week-old granddaughter. At the same time, they also brought my white wooden rocking chair.

Most of my old toys joined our household bit by bit, either on the times when my parents drove here, when they shipped a box of stuff, or when we visited them in Illinois and carried some small things home in our suitcases.

pa087816tos.jpgDuring my visit to Illinois earlier this month, my parents really outdid themselves: as we walked through the door, we saw arrayed across the family room floor a whole collection of Fisher Price Little People toys. Now, these aren’t the Little People of today–all round and cherubic. These have far more simplistic forms and are made of hard plastic, not rubber. (You can read about the history of Little People–and see photos, at the top, of the old-school figures I’m talking about–here.)

My parents saved the schoolhouse, the town, the airport (the airplane has been at my home already for several months), and the way-cool camper. I loved seeing those toys again. I remembered every single piece and how my brother and I used to play with them together. Jan was astonished at the very fine condition all of these thirty-year-old pieces were in. And Sylvia–she just went nuts playing with them.

(The toys stayed at my parents’ house after we left–something for Sylvia to play with whenever she’s there.)


I love tea*

I’ve long been a fan of tea–real tea, not so much the herbal stuff (there was a time in college and graduate school when I tried really, really hard to like herbal teas, but they just didn’t thrill me). And since the release of a major study last year that demonstrated a correlation between drinking tea and having a decreased risk of ovarian cancer, I’ve been fairly diligent about drinking some every day. Jan and I often like to brew a pot (no tea bags here) after dinner, usually of Darjeeling.

p7305768.jpgWe like tea so much that we have–and use–three teapots. The one of the left is a Crown Dorset pot that was given to me by Dolores, who was my landlady when I did my doctoral fieldwork in Oregon. I rented the top floor of the house she owned, which was directly across the street from the Pacific Ocean. At the time she was in her late 70s, lived alone with two Dobermans, and was one of the fiestiest, most independent women I’d ever met. (She still is!) She and I became good friends and often drank tea together in her kitchen, sitting next to the wood stove (yes, she split her own firewood) that warmed her home during Oregon’s chilly-damp winter.

The teapot on the right is a Wedgwood pot in the Conway pattern (which, according to the company website, looks like it’s no longer in production). I don’t know how old it is, but it’s seen a lot of use (and been patched) and was given to Jan by his mother.

The third pot, the one in the middle, is the one that Jan and I bought together. It’s from Wedgwood, too. When we got married, we registered for fine china partly because we loved this pattern (Oberon) and partly because we thought some “traditional-minded” relatives might prefer to give us a very “traditional” gift. (And really, what is more traditional than china, right?) As it turns out, the only china we received as wedding gifts was a sugar bowl and a creamer. So we decided to build the collection ourselves, and every once in a while we buy another place setting (we’re now up to four, enough to have friends over for a nice dinner!) or, in one purchase, the teapot.

p7305769.jpgYou can tell by the brownish interiors that these teapots are well loved. (We do soak the insides with denture cleaner, and although that does help a great deal it doesn’t remove all the stains, especially those in the spout.) As summer’s end approaches and fall and winter are on the horizon, I’m looking forward to drinking more tea (it’s especially nice when accompanied by homemade raisin-and-walnut-studded pumpernickel bread and Stilton…).

And I’ve been reflecting on the intersection of knitting and tea: lots of knitters I know love tea, there are knitting tea swaps online, and of course there are knitted tea cozies. I am generally not a fan of any type of cozy. (Cell-phone cozies, iPod cozies, laptop cozies, beer-bottle cozies…they all seem ridiculous to me.) But I have to admit being tempted to make a knitted cover for my beloved teapots. There’s a pattern for one in Knit 2 Together, but it’s got some frilly tutu rings on it. Not my cup of tea (so to speak). So I’m on the lookout now for a good pattern for a teapot cover. Suggestions?

(*Oh, don’t get me wrong–I love coffee, too. I’m an equal-opportunity hot-beverage-drinker.)



This is a real trip down memory lane. Jan sent this link to me recently, and as soon as I heard “Ed Gruberman” I was back in high school, listening to the Dr. Demento Show on the radio. “Boot to the head!” indeed.

He also sent me a link to a short film called Balance that won the 1989 Academy Award for Best Animated Short and was shown in art-house theaters in the early 90s (that’s where I first saw it). Then and now it’s a striking commentary on the absurdity of greed.