Sunday, January 30, 2011


Dear Frank,

I'm loving this sweater on you. Frankly, Frank, I think it does fabulous things with your hair. Some people may think it a bit too feminine, but I say, let them think what they want. Just be frank about it. I have another one of these EZ February sweaters on the needles right now because everyone, I dare say, should knit one in February.

Anyway Frank, enjoy it. And let's hope the snow melts one of these days and you can get outside before you turn two.

much love,

Saturday, January 29, 2011

happy birthday

To this guy, the one with whom i share life, a life at a distance, but a life nonetheless. He doesn't always look this serious, but he does often have his nose in a book, like he did at this very moment. I won't say how old he is today, but rest assured, he's younger than he looks. He's a well-preserved man.


Friday, January 28, 2011

{This Moment}

{This Moment}:: yesterday's storm against my own space with a certain slant of snowy light

Thursday, January 27, 2011

a winter's morn

on the way to work


Okay, so they're really called wheatberries, but I much prefer winterberries. After all, I've discovered them in winter and they're hearty and rugged, the kind of grain that can stand up against a blustery January afternoon.

I first happened upon them during one of my jury duty wandering breaks. I found them in a delicious salad with butternut squash and raisins. My palate, of course, is so naive that I couldn't discern if they were tossed with cumin or coriander, curry or cardamom. Okay, that's a lie; I knew I it wasn't cardamom. But you get the idea. I felt immediately drawn to their crunchiness.

I found some in the bulk section of whole foods last Sunday and decided to give them a try. I couldn't find a recipe that represented the other contents of my fridge and pantry and so I just went with what I had and mixed together:

a cup of cooked winterberries (you boil them for about an hour)
a chopped up red onion (next time I'll leave it out or roast it first with the squash)
a smallish roasted butternut squash (cut into cubes)
one can of chick peas (well rinsed)
the juice from one lemon
a couple tablespoons of olive oil
salt and pepper
some curry powder
a desire for cilantro, but alas, it's absence

It's really rather delicious and here it is Thursday and I'm still eating off that salad. I think they may become a staple around these parts.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

coming round the bend

The snow is falling fast and heavy. I’m scrambling to write a mini-lecture on Republican Motherhood and Benjamin Rush. I need to send off my readings (Whitman’s “There was a Child Went Forth” and “A Death in the School-Room”) for my on-campus interview next week. But I feel compelled to pause, if only for a minute. Something is definitely afoot. Something is changing. Something is, dare I say it, growing.

Oh rats, that sounds prenatal. And this is decidedly not that. Instead, it’s a shifting in my own head over the last few weeks. With the start of the semester has come this wonderful sense of peacefulness, this perfectly clear reminder that I’m so much happier when I’m teaching. The chocolate letters went over well on Monday, but so did the 17th-century hornbook I dug up in Special Collections and brought to class. Don’t tell anyone, but I even let everyone hold it and imagine themselves as Puritan children with the little wooden paddle attached to their belts. I asked my students to write about these technologies of learning and in fifteen minutes, they reminded me why I work on the questions that I do.

My exuberance after Monday’s class compelled me to dash off a proposal for ASA in the fall. Instead of feeling tortured by this process, plagued by doubt, and desperate for J’s help, I just wrote up a proposal about something that has long interested about my hometown and sent it off immediately. Done and done. And then this morning I got news of its acceptance. After so many years of feeling utterly without hope about my work, I’m starting to—though I don’t want to jinx it—take the possibility of my own ability seriously. This is a sea-change.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to develop an ego. I’m not going to become one of those academics who believes that their microscopic slice of research rules the world. But I’m trying on the idea that I might just become an a truly-honest-to-god-teacher-scholar. For once it doesn’t feel utterly impossible.

All of this could change. It probably will. But for now, I’m going to ride it out...and enjoy that ride. Things are afoot and I’m headed out for a jog.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Tomorrow is the first substantive day of my course on literature and learning. Today it's back to the whole scramble-the-day before routine. This class broadly comes out of my dissertation--which is good--and it's giving me a chance to retrace my steps and rethink my project, or at least that's the hope. I'm realizing how much I didn't think about educational historiography, how what I was trying to do with learning outside the classroom (in literature and other imaginative forms) had been in vogue in history of education at least since the 1950s. Talk about coming too late to the party. I'm not sure how I missed this or even if I really did miss it (I may just be forgetting it now), but it helps explain why folks in history of education show relatively little interest in my project. What I'm doing just isn't news to them. It might not even be news to folks in literary studies, which is why the project needs so much more thinking and rethinking. But I won't bore you with those details here.

Instead, I'll tempt you with a puritanical treat. Tomorrow we're talking about The New England Primer, not a real crowd-pleaser, I fear. But it got me thinking about the ways in which children learn, or rather, consume letters in the process of becoming literate. In my own preliterate days, we learned letters through "alphabet people," colorful cartoon images printed on card-stock. I can't recall if they were tied to reading per se. I think, instead, their purpose was to acquaint us with the idea that letters were special kinds of signs with affiliated meanings. And we wanted to possess those signs, certainly more than we wanted to understand their meanings. We hung them from the chalkboard, from our desks, from the doorways, not unlike the way 17th-century children hung hornbooks from their waists. We developed, I guess you could say, a certain intimacy with letters.

Tomorrow I want to talk about this becoming familiar with the strangeness of letters. And so today I baked letters themselves. Chocolate letters, to be exact. I hope that it might help begin our first real conversation of the semester, one that's slated to be about alphabetization, the process of internalizing the alphabet and becoming literate in colonial america.

I used the smittenkitchen's recipe for brownie roll-out cookies. They have a rich chocolate taste from the generous 2/3 cup of cocoa. They're easy and quick. I'm just hoping that they have the power to get this class talking.

p.s. In true alphabetic dorkiness, I left out the "j" and the "u" because they, of course, weren't added until later.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Is there anything worse than frigid days without snow or sun? It's just bitterly cold in Philadelphia, the kind of cold that freezes the pissed-on newspapers in dirty sculptures along the sidewalks. It sounds artistic and interesting, but it's just gross. I keep wishing that it were more snowy and that I could step out my door onto a pair of old cross-country skis. It must be in my blood, this longing for snow and skis. All winter I've been thinking about the white days Arlo and I spent while I was teaching in the northwest corner of connecticut. We used to strap on the skis (well, I did at least) and quietly float around the lake on campus. When I think about the moments when I've been most at peace in this world, those afternoons would be at the top of my list. This is why I'm feeling the need to get back to a snowy climate. It just seems that my heart pulls north even as my brain--and my marriage--is cajoling me south.

But enough about my meteorologic desires. It's just plain cold. So I've hunkered down inside with pot after pot of herbal tea; The New England Primer , which I'm teaching this week and about which I'm not sure what exactly to say; with a stack of books on Whitman, whom I plan to teach at my interview next week in Arkansas; with plans for a wheat berry salad that I keep calling "winterberry" in my mind; with a fresh idea for this blessed yarn.

Finally, thank you all for your thoughts here and in emails about my recent employment anxieties. I feel so lucky to have friends--old and new--that will tell me what to do.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Two years ago, J and I faced a difficult decision. He had recently finished and defended his dissertation. I was in the process of finishing mine. He was on the job market. I applied for a single postdoc. We planned to move together wherever he got a job. But the gods of timing weren’t with us. I got offered my postdoc a couple months before he expected to hear anything about his prospects. And so we had to make each of our decisions piecemeal. The market was tanking and it seemed unwise to pass up a single opportunity. I feared being homeless, and so we ended up divided by 800 miles.

Fast forward to the present. J has a terrific tenure-track job at a college he adores and I’m finishing my postdoc at the end of this semester. Once again, we planned for me to move to his town and take up whatever work I could find. (I fantasized about opening a pottery studio or knitting “full-time”; I dreamed about starting a school or becoming a midwife). After all, the market is still lousy. But I applied to two dozen or so jobs just in case one of them happened to want to give us two jobs in the same place. An unlikely prospect these days. I also happily accepted a nomination for a fancy fellowship at one of any number of fancy schools, knowing that there was no way that I’d end up with it. You know where this is headed, right?

J calls it a Mexican stand-off. I think that might be racist, but I’m not sure.

As of today we have one tenure-track job (his), one on-campus interview for a tenure-track job (mine), one offer of a one-year sabbatical replacement job (mine at J’s college), and one fancy two-year fellowship that precludes all of the other options (mine). I suppose this is point at which I make myself into an object of scorn. We have, it seems, an embarrassment of underpaid academic riches. But only one of them puts us in the same place at the same time. Crudely speaking, that one is my least-best option. We are, in all its glory, the two-body problem.

And so it begins.

I have to learn compromise. I have to learn to think as a two instead of as a one. I have to sort what’s best for us from what’s best for me. Without J in the mix, I’d take the fellowship without question. But with J and my rapid-aging body, I have to think in new ways about our future. Am I the only one that finds this difficult to do?

We aren’t going to continue our commuter marriage. We are going to reside in the same house (a goal that any number of people have told me is “unrealistic” for two academics today). So I toss and turn at night imagining myself at one of several bucolic New England SLACs for the next two years, at the kind of place I stopped dreaming about in graduate school because the prospects were so dim. But then I stop myself with the reminder that I committed to something else altogether, that my academic work has never been the most important thing in my life. It may be the thing I spend the most time worrying about, but it’s not the thing that gives me the greatest pleasure. I mean, the teaching does, but the writing is often so painful that it makes me sick. And there are a million other things that I love and can love.

I feel like this is one of those key moments in life. Like it’s a test of sorts. But I also feel like any decision we make is going to feel only sort of right. The next few weeks will reveal more and I’m hoping that all of the crass details will add up to some compelling sum, that we’ll be able to mathematically calculate our decision, that we’ll develop some kind of proof for ourselves. That we’ll know what to do. And that we’ll do it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

a rose in bloom

Dear Rose,

First off, I love your name (though I might have to call you Rosy, if you don't mind). And secondly, thank you for your letter and for your picture. I love that you're enjoying your sweater, though I think we both might have to admit that you've just about outgrown it. I know, I know, I'm sad about it too, but that's what happens when you get bigger. It's a good a thing; really, it is. I was thinking that you could put that little sweater on your sister's favorite doll. She does like dolls, doesn't she? I mean, she certainly doesn't have to. I didn't much like them, and I don't really think your mother did either, though I vaguely remember a cabbage patch doll somewhere in her past.

I'm really sorry that we didn't get a chance to meet over Christmas. Your grandparents, though, told me all about your charms. I'm planning to visit again before too long and we'll have to make a play date, so that I can pinch your cheeks and squeal with delight over your sweet cooing.

Until then, I'll be thinking of you and hoping that your parents keep you bundled all winter long.


Saturday, January 15, 2011


I think I might have a problem. I worried a month ago that I'd have no desire to knit. It turns out that there's really no concern in that department. In fact, it seems to be the only thing I feel like doing. I might indeed be developing a problem. I live in a shoebox and everywhere I turn, I run into another project. In bed. In the kitchen. On the couch. Dare I say, in the loo?

There's this jury duty baby sweater that just needs a final arm and a bit of gentle coaxing. Oh and it could use a perfect button as well. It's a quick, easy knit, but it lacks the charm (is it too much to say the revelation?) of an Elizabeth Zimmerman pattern. Nevertheless, it's in superwash DK wool and will hopefully find a good home with a yet-to-be-born babe in Northern California.

Then there's this. It's a "surprise." So I shouldn't say more.

This is the beloved Shalom . It's my second edition in the same colorway. My niece Felicity loved the one that I made her for Christmas (or she did a good job lying about it) and I'm eager to have a matching one for myself. I mean I don't want to be all matchy-matchy, but come on. It'd be pretty cute.

Then there's this Stephen West little colonnade. It's my first official foray into the world of shawls. I've realized that I have three--or maybe six--balls of sock yarn that need to be used up. I loathe sock knitting (it's just not my thing) and so shawls seem to be the perfect outlet for these lovely and lonely single skeins.

The real problem is that I have work to do and my eyes keep falling upon these projects everywhere. And so I make deals with myself. One hour of work = 30 minutes of knitting. 30 minutes of work = 7 minutes of knitting. 7 minutes of work = two rows of the nearest knit. It's pathetic. There are interviews to prepare for, syllabi to finish, lectures to write, a dissertation to pull from under the bed and dust off (oh the horror), conferences to feign an interest in attending.

I think I need to find a local meeting of KA. That or I need to start one.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

duty calls

Today is day four.

Each of the last four mornings, I’ve woken up (much later than normal) and relished the walking commute to the courthouse. There I’ve joined 13 other members of a jury. A real live intercity jury.

I think that’s all I can tell you. I think I’ve been sworn to secrecy. I say “I think” because I’m not actually sure that I swore to absolute secrecy. I’m not even sure that I know what absolute secrecy entails.

I’m pretty sure that the code of silence doesn’t include my knitting disclosures: I’ve knit nearly an entire baby sweater over the last three days and I’m not even allowed to knit during the proceedings (I did indeed learn that the hard way). So all this is just pure waiting-time-knitting. That should tell you how much time is we spend waiting each day. Waiting for the players to gather. Waiting to be taken from the second floor to the eighth floor. Waiting for everyone to use the bathroom. Waiting for rulings and orders, commands and changes. I’m just the lady for knits in the corner. That lady.

I probably should be reading for the coming semester. I tried this the first day, but we were explicitly told not to bring books and magazines into one of the courtroom areas and so I desisted. It’s also never quiet. All of the other jurors seem to have established some kind of strange, jury-induced rapport. They seem to be the kind of people who can make friends on a city bus. They crack jokes and they laugh. They eat lunch together and report back on the broken soda machine at Burger King and the turkey sub at Quiznos. I knit and listen, eavesdrop, really. I’ve learn a lot about Philadelphia in the last few days, a city that exists for miles and miles beyond the twenty-block radius that I rarely venture beyond.

Maybe once this is all over, I can tell you about it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

catching up

I’m not sure where the last month has gone.

I can’t find my brown striped knee socks, the ones that I’ve been wearing for the last three years. I can’t find my moisturizer. The good stuff that comes in the little glass pod. I can’t find my panic, that shadowy ghost that’s haunted me for the last couple years. It seems to have fled as soon as I had an actual reason to be nervous.

I can’t find my rhythm either. It was a rush to get to Michigan, to be with family, to shepherd Dad through the diagnostic process, to take notes on complications, on risks and benefits, and to enjoy some time together. Like, you know, on skis and snowshoes, in front of fires and gobbling down popovers. Then it was a rush to get to L.A., to get through two days of a post-doc meetings, to write and give a paper at MLA, to interview for next year, to see J’s family--and to cuddle sweet Jonas--, to have quick visits with other friends, and oh, to develop a cold turned cough turned stomach virus. Oh and to get bangs.

I decided that I needed to mark this period of rapid change with a change of my own. Most people seem not to have noticed. I take this as a sign that I've always seemed to have bangs, even when I didn't. And I haven't, at least not since I was 16 and deemed them hopeless uncool, midwestern, dowdy. But now I do again. Maybe no one has noticed because I blend into the background. Or maybe people know that I have bigger fish to fry and they best not bother about my coiffure. But sometimes you need to fry some small fish alongside that big one.

My bangs weren't what I was going to write about this morning. I was going to tell you--in strictly veiled terms--about my tenure on a Philadelphia jury this week. I've taken so long to clear my throat, though, that you'll have to wait another day.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Yesterday was our real anniversary here at 550. But I was busy traversing the continent, overeating with the in-laws, and imitating a duck with my nephew. I had in mind that I'd do some in-flight reflection about this space and what it's been for the last year, but alas, my mind has been a fog these last several weeks in Michigan. I'm hoping the fog may soon lift; until then, images will have to suffice:



march (oh the horror)