Thursday, December 24, 2009

You're the Historian: News and Views

The guest post today on "News and Views: The History of Science in America" blog is a tidbit from some of my research! I'm really excited go get to contribute to that awesome venture, and I hope that this guest post can encourage me to pick this blog back up.

What sorts of topics would be most interesting or useful for other graduate students or young scholars for me to write about or raise here? I'd love any input...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

You're the Historian: ABD

Today, I had my dissertation proposal defense.

Which basically just means I had a (somewhat intense) conversation with my committee members (three historians, of science, environment, and public health) about my 20-page proposal that I sent to them a week ago.

And it went well! I passed! I got lots of feedback about questions that still need answering and problems that still need addresssing, so the work is only beginning, but it feels wonderful to have jumped through this penultimate hoop. And one of my committee members even said, "I think this is a great project. I love it! I can't wait to read the book." So that's good news.

So, now I'm ABD (All But Dissertation). And I'm a dissertator. All these new titles to make my own.

Now I just have to figure out where to go from here, how to go from a life filled with concrete assignments and deadlines to one wide open and free. Any sage scholars out there have any good advice for me? I sure would appreciate it...

Winter in Madison

Last week, we got something like 14 inches of snow in the course of one night here in Madison. The next day, the university was closed and we all had a snow day! We stayed home all day, and were able to avoid this sort of situation:
We did get to build a little snow-woman, have a snowball fight with our seven-year-old neighbor Cedric, and clear off the huge accumulation of snow on our car:

Later, over the weekend, we went on a retreat for one of Justin's classes to a 4H camp an hour north of Madison and got to go tobogganing, down a real toboggan ramp! It was pretty awesome, even though I was (a teeny tiny bit) scared and resisted going at first.
Sometimes, winter isn't so bad after all. (Even though it is 3 degrees F right now).


Today, I had my dissertation proposal defense.

Which basically just means I had a (somewhat intense) conversation with my committee members (three historians, of science, environment, and public health) about my 20-page proposal that I sent to them a week ago.

And it went well! I passed! I got lots of feedback about questions that still need answering and problems that still need addresssing, so the work is only beginning, but it feels wonderful to have jumped through this penultimate hoop. And one of my committee members even said, "I think this is a great project. I love it! I can't wait to read the book." So that's good news.

So, now I'm ABD (All But Dissertation). And I'm a dissertator. All these new titles to make my own.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


And just in case someone didn't make it all the way to the bottom of my last post, I'm trying to get a sense of readership, so leave your name or comments in the comments section and I will deliver a tasty surprise to a randomly chosen person from among those. Thanks!

Community and Contest!

So I've been thinking a lot about the purpose of blogging lately (and have been talking about it with my office-mate AS), for a variety of reasons:

(1) I've been trying to take my Twitter account from being a class assignment related to the film festival to something I actually use for networking and becoming part of this larger community of online food/agriculture/environment commentators. I like the idea of connecting with strangers half way across the world who care about the same issues that I do.

(2) I got a really nice comment on my Facebook profile: "I basically need to read the "Anna Times" everyday. Giving the FB world a reality check. THANK YOU! Keep it up. And when you go on missions to put the world back together take me with you! :)" This comment made me reflect on the random stuff I post to my Facebook wall simply because I come across something interesting and feel like sharing it with people and don't want to bother Justin yet again. (Topics ranging from historical tidbits about food to Bhopal to Jonathan Safran Foer and back). The idea that someone actually reads these things and finds them useful made me feel really happy and purposeful. Given that I get half of my news from links people post on Facebook, I know how meaningful this little act of social media can be, and I'd like to think that my blog can serve some of the same purpose.

(3) I first began this blog because I wanted all my friends to read it, and I wanted them to know what was going on in my life in the spaces between our monthly phone calls. When we did talk on the phone, I wanted them to ask questions like "How's your composting going?" (Thanks, AMM!) and wanted them to know what I spent my time doing even if we didn't talk all the time. I wanted them to see the blog as a weekly update on my life. But the problem is that I don't know how many of my friends actually read this blog, and I'm not sure that people are inclined to keep up with blogs if they don't use Google Reader as obsessively as I do. So now when I talk to people, I have no idea if they're already aware of my life through my blog, or if I have to fill them in on my quest for a winter coat or on the film festival or on those delicious savory pies that I baked. The only way I know anyone reads this (and my current reader count that I'm aware of is up to 5) is if he/she leaves comments (BadgerBear and Mike!) or is my Mama.

So, I'd like to hear from you who sometimes read this. What purpose can this blog serve? Do you like reading it? What can I do to make it better?

To add some incentive to all this, I'm going to deliver a tasty surprise to the first five people who leave comments (except maybe not to Mike in India) and to a randomly chosen person from among the remaining comments. Even if you don't have a concrete comments, just leave your name and you'll still be eligible for tasty treats!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Savory pies

...because pretty food pictures are always easiest to post.

Mini vegan pot pie, savory pumpkin pie, and collard quiche:

And the big versions:

All delicious, all perfectly freeze-able for later enjoyment!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

'Tis the season, Pt. I

As some of you may know, I hate(d) Christmas. Perhaps I hate it because it was something the other kids had when I was growing up. Perhaps it's because it's so nauseatingly omnipresent for a full three months of every year (the Madison oldies station has already been playing Christmas music for three weeks! And not just Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman, but songs like Christmas Shoes [with the line I want her to look beautiful/If mama meets Jesus tonight] and Destiny's Child 8 Days of Christmas [which holds up "a pair of Chloe shades and a diamond belly ring, a crop jacket with dirty Denim jeans, and the keys to a CLK Mercedes" among the ultimate perfect gifts]). And especially because it promotes (not just promotes--forces!) the worst kind of deep-down, dirty consumerism that I hate most.

In any case, I have much more to say about Christmas, and with "the holidays" coming on, it's probably a safe bet that I'll keep writing about it, but the initial topic I intended to write about in the first place was the impact of our consumer choices, and how hard it is to reconcile all the different forces that go into the purchase of a single winter coat (at least for me). Now, I'll just admit upfront that I'm one of those environmentalists who focuses on consumption, even as I know that the decisions made by corporations and huge entities like universities have so much more impact than whether or not I put a brick in my toilet tank (to use the analogy Bill Cronon uses in his environmental history lectures) or do any of the other 50 things I can do to save the earth. And the end of the day, I do think our culture stems from the actions each individual takes and the impact that individual has in setting an example for her friends, her children, her classmates, her students, and the people around her (along with, of course, the lobbying and editorial-writing and organizing [and blogging!] that she does).

But I'm the kind of person who gets totally amped by Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff

And the kind of person who can't stop talking about The Better World Shopping Guide, which helps rank lots of different companies and products based on their records with Human Rights, The Environment, Animal Protection, Community Involvement, and Social Justice.

I'm just the kind of person who believes that every individual choice matters, and that change has to start with me, and with you, and with my mother, and with my friends.

But that does not make it easy to buy a winter coat.

To be continued...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tales from Planet Earth, Pt III

And here's a video from the weekend itself, and the event that I planned, involving beautiful images from the Troy Kids' Garden, a sing-along of "Dirt Made My Lunch" (lyrics below), and a cooking demo of farmers' market spring rolls with Madison's premier chef Tory Miller:

Dirt made my lunch,
Dirt made my lunch.
Thank you Dirt, thanks a bunch,
For my salad, my sandwich
My milk and my munch 'cause
Dirt, you made my lunch.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tales from Planet Earth, Pt II

Just because Tales from Planet Earth was such a big part of my life during the past few months, it seems fit to describe it in somewhat more detail (whether for posterity or for those few of my friends who actually read this blog...). The entire event and activities leading up to it were a crucial balancing force on the lopsided academic thing that is sometimes my life. I have felt grounded and sane this semester largely because of this opportunity to reach outside the academy, to find inspiration in community and children and people's goodness and their hope for change.

First the background:

Two years ago, when we (that is, my academic home, the Center for Culture, History and Environment, or CHE) put on the first Tales from Planet Earth, the film festival was a huge success and left many people excited and inspired. But this time around, it seemed like it was worth filling in what had seemed like the only missing piece last time: How do we make it so that this film festival can have a lasting impact on the larger Madison community? How do we leverage the films and people's excitement into action and activism? How do we create a direction for people to turn, a place for them to funnel the energy coursing through a theater as the lights come up? So, out of the collaboration between Gregg Mitman (my advisor) and Judith Helfand (an amazing filmmaker and activist who organized a group called Working Films) was born this class called Community Engagement through Film. Now, I was finished with all my course requirements and would've otherwise just spent the semester working on my dissertation proposal, but I was so excited about the idea of this class, and the idea that we could positively shape this film festival, that I couldn't resist signing up.

Through this class, and my own interests, I've spent the last semester working with a local organization Community GroundWorks at Troy Gardens (where I also worked last summer as a garden educator) to link their goals and projects with one of the festival's amazing films, What's On Your Plate? This outreach work has taken many forms, from organizing and fundraising to writing press releases and planning events. You can read more about this partnership here, or by looking at my Twitter account, or by visiting the website I built for one of our projects.

One of the goals of our partnership was to find local businesses to be festival sponsors. But instead of the usual model of sponsorships where businesses give money to the festival itself and get positive publicity in return, we encouraged them to donate specific materials to our community organizations instead. So I (with the help of one of my classmates when I was down with the flu!) pitched my project and this outdoor kids' kitchen that we're hoping to build to a bunch of local businesses a month or so ago, and ended up getting three who were willing to help out! A local home building company, Marling HomeWorks, offered to donate $500 in building supplies for the kitchen; our favorite brewpub in Madison, The Great Dane, gave $300 toward mosaic glass and tiles that are going to provide the foundation of the kitchen; and our awesome local grocery, the Willy St. Co-op gave $200 in store credit for use in buying items for cooking that we can't grow in the kitchen. So I raised all this money for Community GroundWorks, and it felt awesome. Just awesome. We still need more, though, so please visit our gift registry, if you're so inclined, to help stock the Kids' Kitchen!

In short, I've found this sort of community work so exciting and rewarding and the perfect balance to the rest of my life. I need to remind myself, again and again, that I have to be proactive about keeping this sort of element present and central to who I am. Otherwise, I wither away...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tales from Planet Earth!

For the last few months, one of two projects that has absorbed me most has been in preparation for this film festival Tales from Planet Earth that just came to a close this weekend. It was such an overflowing-ly impressive weekend, full of awesome films and community building and a real sense of what makes Madison and the UW and CHE so great. I'd like to write more about the whole weekend soon, because there was so much to it, but for now I'll share some trailers for some of my favorite films that I saw this weekend. For the full roster (aka "movies to watch" list), see the Tales website. Check them out!

Two I couldn't find trailers for, but which I was astonished by and think everyone should go seek out (now!)







Monday, October 26, 2009

A brief look inside the life of Felis domesticus...

Who knew that under that striped orange fur and those adorable big-pupil-ed human eyes, there could be such ferocity?

Captured on the 6th Anniversary (old anniversary?) of Anna and Justin...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Our new roommates

During the pre-wedding festivities, we played a round of The Newlywed Game, and among the questions was: "What item off your registry is Anna most excited about receiving?" We both answered, with confidence, "A Composter!"

And although our great friends knew us well enough that we actually got TWO whole composters for our wedding, both had stood idly in our basement the last three months, as we first tried to decide which one to use, and then tried to find the time to actually set them up and shift our habits of compostables-collection enough to make it all happen.

But then, a week or so ago, I finally got to hear Will Allen, of Milwaukee's Growing Power fame, come speak in Madison. As his MacArthur genius grant blurb puts it, "Will is an urban farmer who is transforming the cultivation, production, and delivery of healthy foods to underserved, urban populations." The NYTimes has done some great pieces on him in the last year: here and here. His presentation was a thoroughly inspiring one, from his description of the ways that they're growing food in the middle of a Wisconsin winter by heating greenhouses with compost to the aquaponics systems they've set up to grow fish right in the city, from the ways he's recreating their projects all over the country and all over the world to the way his system of farming and gardening has been taken up by the Milwaukee City Hall and by the Milwaukee School District. It was all so exciting. At one point he mentioned that Growing Power has 35 employees working for them. Later, though, when describing the amazing system of vermicomposting they've set up, he said, "Actually, I should take back what I said earlier, we don't have 35 employees, we have 35 million employees: all our worms!"

Here is Will with his worms:

So after listening to a talk like that, how could I go home and ignore our empty worm bin?

A few days later, I biked over to our local bait shop and picked up four containers of red wiggler worms--they're the most voracious eaters, I learned. A few hours and one dinner preparation full of vegetable peelings later, our little worm roommates had found a new, and hopefully happy, home:

Hooray for composting! More stories on this adventure to follow...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Our own Hungry Planet photo!

At our dear friend Kroy's request, we've made our own Hungry Planet photo, displaying a week's worth of what we eat around here in the Zeide-Horn-Vedder household. (Inspired by the photos discussed in my High Price of Cheap Food post). It's a really interesing exercise to put this together, so we encourage you all to try and share your photos with us!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Carrots have a history

In my two day streak of posting garden-related videos, here's an inspiring video about Michelle Obama's White House garden:

"Just like people, carrots have a history."


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Growing School Gardens

The Madison Metropolitan School District, in partnership with Community GroundWorks at Troy Gardens (where I worked this summer), produced this video that outlines the 'Growing School Gardens' initiative, a local organization dedicated to helping schools create and sustain gardens that will serve as outdoor classrooms and provide children who live in an increasingly urban landscape with a direct connection to their food and the earth.

It's a great video, and you get to see footage of the kids' garden where I worked; Nathan Larson, my boss; and some of the wonderful kids our program serves! Check it out, eh?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Food for Thought

Every year for the past few years, Madison's REAP Food Group (Research, Education, Action, and Policy) puts on this Food for Thought Festival, in which it brings in speakers and chefs and food demonstrations and activities in order to help the town "explore and celebrate our many opportunities to eat more pleasurably, healthfully and sustainably." This year, my muse Michael Pollan will be giving the keynote address. And, the opening act before the big guy comes on will be readings of the winners of the Food for Thought's writing contest, in the areas of fiction, poetry, and memoir. Well, I couldn't pass up the chance to open for Michael Pollan, and so I threw my writing into the mix. I guess this one goes in the category of memoir, but only because they don't have a creative nonfiction category. This also helps to sum up what my work in the kids' garden was like this summer (in one word: inspiring):

“Taking Back the Table: Real Food Connections”

September 2, 2009

The path from bus to basil plants to outdoor kitchen was clear. June and July had passed, leaving behind a trail stamped flat by Martell's colorful and dusty sneakers. His mornings at the garden were always spent in the kitchen, no matter how pet-able the chickens were nor how sweet the mulberries tasted. Martell's feet always remained firmly planted under the yellow tent, where he directed the food preparations, serving as head chef to his sous chef classmates. Black eyes sparkling with the inspiration of a thousand artists, he sawed away at the basil leaves with the (ever child-friendly) butter knife.

“Put those in here!” he directed, as he held the handle of the hand-crank blender tight. “Just a little more olive oil,” he might add, even as the other kids snuck in some lettuce, perhaps a raspberry or two, expanding the range of pesto flavors. On the brightly-colored plastic cutting boards, the other kids hacked away, chopping garlic scapes in June, obliterating hefty garlic cloves in July, producing a pungent mash with little clods of northside Madison dirt mixed in for good measure. LaTia pooh-poohed the metal garlic press, showing me and the other kids the proper way of smashing garlic--pressing on the top of the clove with the flat side of the knife--as her dad had once shown her. Into the hand-crank blender it all went, swirling around in a sea of green. The kids each took their turn, cranking the handle faster and faster, turning to me only when the rickety plastic handle flew off and needed re-attaching.

Martell directed his friends in laying each cracker just so upon the cutting board “serving trays,” so that the pesto could be spooned atop.

Kids become chefs. Kids become waiters. Kids become experts.

Toward the end of summer, when the budget allowed for it and the grocery store run just had to be made for non-garden supplemental items, a container of pine nuts appeared in the outdoor kitchen. When I picked them up and brought them near the blender, Martell immediately eyed them with a look of suspicion.

Pine nuts? In pesto?

“There are no nuts in pesto,” Martell assured me.

“But…” I began, as his black eyes flashed with conviction. “Ok,” I said, as I backed away.

I know that he is right. There are no pine nuts in kid's garden pesto. At least not on Thursday mornings when Martell's group comes to the garden. Instead, there are mulberries and broccoli leaves and the occasional green tomato. There are haphazardly chopped basil leaves, garlic cloves that the kids themselves planted, sometimes hastily grated parmesan cheese. Pesto is as the kids make it, a culinary creation imbued with the authority and expertise of this particular brand of children's garden freedom.

And so the appropriately pine-nut-less pesto was blended. Round and round the hand crank went. And out came the savory delight. The kids eagerly reached in with their butter knives, scooped up clumps of dark green pesto, and brought the knives from blender to cracker, dripping basil juice and olive oil all the way. They spread the crackers with the utmost care (or the utmost-est care that ten-year-olds can offer), beaming, and tripping over each other with “Ooh! I want to carry this one!” and “I'll take this pesto over to the music machine!”

The kid waiters spread out around the garden, offering their wares to the kids planting flowers, to those chasing Oreo the black-and-white chicken*, to the ones running around with butterfly net in hand, to their friends banging on old pots and pans and overturned plastic buckets, to the girls already munching unripened grapes (a part of their cultural cuisine). And the kids ate, finding joy in this hand-made spread, this synergistic product of the garden's goodness. They ate, appreciating the handiwork of their culinary classmates, silently acknowledging--perhaps?--the power that the homemade and homegrown can bring.

Martell hung back in the kitchen with me, putting the used dishes through the garden dishwasher--a bucket of soapy water, a tub of rinse water, and a final splash in the clean water bath--and quietly approving of the work he and his friends had done, the work that now came so naturally, that felt to him like an extension of any normal eight-year-old activity.

Now, when I eat pesto, it tastes, more than ever, like summer. It tastes like accomplishment and knowledge and authority. Pesto, when spread thick, even tastes a little like childhood glee. And it doesn't even need the pine nuts.

* May she rest in peace. (The day before this memoir was written, Oreo--after 6 or so happy years at the Troy Kids' Garden--met her gruesome end at the claws of a watchful hawk, who circled round and round before targeting its prey, leaving Oreo's bunkmates, Pearl, Regina Marie, and Carmella, squawking with fear and, possibly, grief, as their fallen sister lay dead beside them).

Friday, August 28, 2009

High Price of Cheap Food

There's a pretty good article in last week's Time about some of the stuff I care about most in the world: Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food. Although it simplifies a lot of the issues, as it has to do, to describe the whole picture in five pages, it captures much of what is so terrifying and soul-less about the state of America's industrial food system today, and also a little bit about what is hopeful in the current interest in alternative, sustainable methods of food production (even if it is small and limited to certain strata of society, for now). As the article writes, "Not all costs can be measured by a price tag. Once you factor in crop subsidies, ecological damage and what we pay in health-care bills after our fatty, sugary diet makes us sick, conventionally produced food looks a lot pricier." This is a key point to remember when we go to the grocery store, I think. We must be able to look beyond the price tag to see everything that lies beneath what we hand over to the cashier.

Also, in the article, there's a link to a photo essay based on this book called Hungry Planet, which shows photos of what families all over the world eat in one week's time. If you haven't seen these photos yet, they're really worth a look. Here's a small sampling, along with the cost, in US dollars spent on food in a typical week (click on the images to see larger versions):

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The first married Southern tour...

Last week, we got to take a little trip to visit both of our families in Georgia and Oklahoma, stopping in each for 3ish days, and it was a pretty ideal trip. We got to:

Play with Jeremy:
Eat Mama's delicious food:

Celebrate Justin's and Aaron's birthdays:

Visit Justin's great-aunt Estelle:

Participate in Justin's Mom's Relay for Life Survivors team:

Enjoy ourselves!

Closure and renewal

The long days of summer are coming to an end, and there's a tangible sense of the next chapter starting once more. The air has an autumnal chill, campus is bustling with fresh faces once again, summer frisbee is over, we've made our new excel schedule spreadsheets, and I've almost begun to yearn for hoodies and down blankets.

This has been one hell of a summer. The sort of summer that makes me reach out and hold on to every moment, soaking up what it means to be free, but understanding that freedom is only sweet when held up against the grueling days of the semester. The schedule of an academic is so unlike the regular 9 to 5 worker, with 9 months of overwhelming busy-ness and frantic anxiety, followed by 3 months of sweet, sweet time off. This summer was so full of love and creativity and passion. I managed to get married, celebrate an incredible weekend with (almost) all my favorite people in the world, have one of my best friends visit, work a fulfilling and enriching job at Troy Gardens, play frisbee, watch Justin enjoy his session at CTY, complete over 3/4 of the items on my "project human" document, work on my Madison friendships, grow delicious vegetables in my first successful independent garden, cook delicious meals from my garden and our Harmony Valley CSA, and have a successful and wonderful trip to visit our families in Georgia and Oklahoma.

But now that it's pretty much over, I'm trying my hardest to be inspired by the sense of renewal that comes with a new school year. As one of my favorite bloggers, Sharon Astyk, wrote in this post, Judaism's celebration of the new year in autumn with Rosh Hashanah makes so much sense because of the harvest, the shifting seasons, and the chance for starting anew as summer comes to a close. Yesterday, I served on a panel that the graduate school put on, in which I shared my funding experiences with first year fellows. Being up there in front of the room, having all these new graduate students see me as some sort of expert, was such a good feeling and reminder of the ways in which I've grown since I was in their place. And after the session, I sat on the terrace with three of the first year students in my department and talked with them about questions and anxieties they had. Through all this, I soaked up some of their excitement and began to feel it myself.

As I begin this fourth year of my PhD program, and the first in which I am a "dissertator," I just hope that I can find joy in my academic work, can figure out how to strike the right balance between work and play and rest, and can begin to imagine a future around all this that I'm doing. Here's hopin'...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Recaps continue: Saturday Night Dinner

I’d had such a grand plan of writing up the details of the whole wedding process, bit by bit, more to document it for our own purposes, for posterity, than anything else. But now I’m feeling like that’s going to be boring and take way too much time (time that, although I might technically have in these long days of summer, still feels too precious and limited).

So, instead, perhaps I’ll just recaps some key elements of the weekend, along with some photos and links and videos. And I don't think it's going to be in any good sort of order.

Saturday Night Dinner

Although we weren’t able to have every single wedding guest come to the dinner the night before the wedding because of the perceived limits of our venue, we were at least able to have all the out-of-town guests come to the dinner. It took place at the Wisconsin Historical Museum in downtown Madison, a fitting venue given my academic leanings and our desire to have our friend Genya cater the dinner—many other places we looked required us to use their appointed caterer. Genya started Slow Food UW on campus, and shares our sensibilities about how important it is to eat delicious, local, sustainable food. Furthermore, she insisted that we not pay her directly, but that any money we gave her would be a donation to the Slow Food café she’s planning on opening on campus in the fall. So we were all in.

Her food turned out to be delicious, and it was so exciting to see the menu we’d prepared materialize before our eyes (and stomachs!) There were appetizers of roasted nuts, cheese curds, and crostini, some with apple butter and blue cheese, others with tomato and mozzarella. There was fresh sliced avocado, tabouli, green salad, sourdough bread, wild rice salad, raw veggies with homemade hummus, cabbage and potato pirogies, and quinoa salad (in addition to the roasted rosemary chicken and spanakopita we got from the co-op). And for dessert, fresh fruit and an amazing assortment of baked goods—from poppy seed and cinnamon cookies to fruit strudels and rich chocolate balls. It was all so good, and we were so grateful to have access to Genya, because she made it possible for us to feed our families and friends yummy food which showcased our love of creative vegetarian food (and we offered the compromise of the baked chicken, but I don’t even think it was necessary, except as a token to appease the parents).

Unfortunately, the only photo anyone seems to have captured is of the appetizers (if anyone happens to have other photos of the food--or of anything else!--that you haven't shared yet on our snapfish account, please do!):

After dinner, the even more delicious course began (if you can believe it): that of the speeches and songs and poems and performances that our insanely talented and thoughtful family (I’m just going to use that word inclusively from now on, to include everyone who was at our wedding, who are all family in the broad sense of the word) put together for us. It was pretty much two solid hours of tears and laughter and me visibly shaking with delight and emotion.

My brother and our good friends Mike and Deepani videotaped all the speeches from this portion of the evening, so I’ll try to upload them eventually, but for now, I’ll just say that among the presentations were a Dream Street-inspired skit by my oldest friends, heartfelt speeches galore, a little embarrassment from our parents and high school friends, an extended limerick, a beautiful song based off of Such Great Heights, a rap to the tune of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a Christopher Walken cameo, and hugs and love and raw expression. It was all dream-like, and I floated around the rest of the night (and really the last month since then) on a cloud of support and ecstasy. Thank you.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Chuppah...

  1. Pieces of a quilt from Justin's (great?) grandmother
  2. From our old friend Stacey
  3. From Justin’s Aunt Sue and Uncle Ralph
  4. From fabric our college friend Deepani got in Malawi
  5. From our college friend Ben Schatz
  6. From my high school friend Abigail’s wedding dress fabric
  7. From our Madison friends, the Barkers
  8. From napkins sent by our friends Bob and Julie Ullman, who have hosted us for several Wisconsin Thanksgiving
  9. From a t-shirt from the happiest place on earth
  10. From our nephew Jeremy's baby blanket
  11. From our college friend Michelle's self-dyed tank top
  12. From our college friend's Brad's tie-dyed t-shirt
  13. From Justin's cousin Susan
  14. From our Madison friend's Rachel's Team Hot Stuff (our ultimate frisbee team!) jersey from Summer 2008
  15. From my high school friend Casey, a piece of the sheet that divided her "bedroom" from my living room when she crashed with me for a semester in St. Louis after Hurricane Katrina ran her out of New Orleans
  16. From one of my old favorite t-shirts, which displays Justin's favorite dinosaur (stegosaurus), my favorite US city (New Orleans), and our colors (green and yellow)
  17. From a baby blanket scrap from Baby James
  18. From our college friend Sarah, a piece of a beautiful dress made by her grandmother
  19. From a bandana from Intelorlochen Arts Camp, where I spent a wonderful summer in 2002
(all the other pieces, as well as the light yellow cloth that is the backing, were supplied by my talented mama)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Week Before the Wedding (Part 1)

Although we’d really kicked our wedding preparations into high gear after about May 22, when I’d returned from my place-based workshop to Chicago and Justin had finished his semester, the last week before the wedding was definitely major crunch time. Sometime before that, I’d made this calendar on a big piece of poster paper for the last two weeks, so that we could keep all our to-dos organized in one place. It’s not the most beautiful organizing tool, but it sure was convenient:

The week before the wedding, our lovely Madison friend Rachel came over to help assemble centerpieces. The beauty of the 100+ paper flowers and dried lemons I ended up making was that we could assemble all the centerpieces in advance and have them ready to just plop down on a table right before the wedding.

We’d previously thought about having one living element in our centerpieces, that being long green grasses from our front garden. But after Rachel and I spent way too much time trying to make the grass look pretty, two things happened that made us think we should probably just nix the grass in favor of all-previously-prepared items: (1) we realized it was really hard to make the grass look pretty, and (2) Eddie ate all the grass:

So we settled for a bundle of green Spanish moss inside the small glass vases, with home-dried lemons around the outside of the vase, and 11-13 yellow paper roses stuck into the moss, cut to emerge just outside the top of the vase.

While we assembled centerpieces, our friend Joelle (who you’ll remember from the amazing picnic she prepared for me during my prelims process), came over to display the latest version of the jewelry she was helping to make for me and for some of the wedding party. It was all so gorgeous that it made me giddy with excitement to wear it and see it worn on the big day. The jewelry was made from these beautiful green jade beads, modeled after this inspiration piece I found on Etsy :

On Monday, four days before the wedding weekend began, my parents arrived in town. It was so lovely to see them, and to realize how excited they were—like us—for the weekend to come. Mama brought with her the wedding chuppah cloth that she’d been working on for the past few months. From assorted scraps of cloth that our friends and family sent, she’d assembled this beauty:

(I'll post soon about each piece of fabric and who/where it came from.)

After we picked up the chuppah poles we were borrowing from the local Reconstructionist Jewish congregation and set the whole thing up in our backyard to test it out, we realized the chuppah would hold best if it had little loops in each corner, so Mama dutifully sewed them on. In addition, she took her sewing skills to my dress, as she altered it a little here and a little there, brought up the hem and readjusted the side pleats, removed some beads and made sure it all looked just so. Papa was no slacker either, though, as he set to cutting yellow circles of cloth for the centerpieces.

My lovely parents also helped to put together the hospitality bags, which, after some haggling, we decided to make for our guests, even though it sometimes seems like they’re more wasteful and more trouble than they’re worth. After I ordered a bunch of paper gift bags of ebay, we stuffed them with delicious Russian chocolates my parents had bought in a Russian store in Atlanta, with other snacks, and with a map, schedule, and welcome letter that I had put together. A copy of the letter can be found here.

In addition to our parents, our good friend from college Mike Roy (or, Our Kroy, as we call him) was around in Madison the week before the wedding, and helped out with lots of odds and ends that needed to get done, like writing notes in our guestbook, cutting the slips of paper for our one-year anniversary wishes, helping to shop for hospitality suite snacks, and helping us to find music for our reception, like this Korean gem, which--as some of you may remember--we later danced ridiculously to at the reception (just the background music in this video):

Sunday, July 12, 2009

And so the recaps begin...

Before all the wedding weekend memories run away from me, I'd like to make some posts documenting the joy that was our wedding, as well as the thoughts we've had about the whole thing upon reflection. In order to actually make this happen in a reasonable manner and schedule, I think I need to make myself an outline to follow. Perhaps it'll look something like this:

1. The week before the wedding
2. Friday night: Scavenger Hunt!
3. Friday night: Frida's dinner
4. Friday night: Sex-segregated activities
5. Saturday market and picnic
6. Saturday rehearsal and dinner
7. Sunday morning
8. Ceremony
9. Reception
10. Monday morning

I'll try to include lots of photos in these posts, along with capturing as much of the feeling of the whole thing as possible. If there's anyone who reads this (sorely un-updated) blog out there and who was at the wedding (two groups that I imagine are pretty much coextensive), and who has any particular thoughts or memories to share or to encourage me to highlight, please do so!

Although we haven't seen our professional photos yet, here's one we did get as a sneak preview (it's exciting to see, even if the smiles seem a bit fake--the joy was real!)...

Friday, June 19, 2009

We'll be havin' some fun...

Life sure does feel good here, as we sip our mead to celebrate our recent nuptials, during this lunar cycle. The sand is white, the water is blue, the accents are thick, the fruit baskets are plentiful, and we are in the ultimate state of relaxation and love.

All hands on deck...

The wedding happened!

And now I'm a married lady!

But it was only possible because everyone among our loves threw their hands in--either literally, like in this photo, or metaphorically, like every single person who contributed so much love and energy to make the weekend happen.

I can't imagine a more inspiring or overwhelming or loving weekend.

More soon...

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mom's birthday!

Also on May 27, my wonderful mom-to-be (Justin's Mom, that is), celebrated a birthday. And though we're far away for now, we celebrated with her, via youtube.

We wrote her a little song, with Justin on guitar and vocals, and me on ukelele:

And Eddie Vedder got his own verse as well:

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The trip to City Hall

A few days ago, on Wednesday May 27, Justin and I traveled down to City Hall to make this whole upcoming marriage thing legal. Along the way, we had adventures in municipal bureaucracy, feeling like adults, and pristine chocolate shops. But now the papers have been signed and we've entered into history, just like that. Although we won't officially be married until our officiant signs the papers at our ceremony, we're definitely already on file in City Hall. I was reflecting on how interesting that is--how this marriage license, along with our birth and death certificates, is one of the few pieces of recorded history that will be filed away in official municipal archives, for future historians to find. This privilege of marriage (the one reinforced so harshly by the lines I slightly guiltily signed that so starkly and discriminatingly read "Bride: Female" and "Groom: Male") extends not only to to hospital visitation rights and shared property rights, but also to the right to be remembered by history, at least for something other than being born and dying.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Place-based workshop: The State of Nature's Metropolis

Sorry for the long hiatus. I've been trying to write this blog post for about a week now, but it keeps just getting saved in my drafts. It's been a real pleasure to spend most of my days away from the computer in the last couple of weeks, but it has left me sorely behind on emails and blog posts and my own blog reading. But I don't want these exciting vibrant days of my life to slip away undocumented, so a few brief posts are definitely in order.

First up, the four-day trip I took to Chicago and its hinterland last week, with my academic home away from home, CHE (the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies's Center for Culture, History, and Environment). Although my official department is the History of Science, I spend way more time with CHE--my office is located there, I've served as a Project Assistant and Graduate Representative for the program, and most of my friends and intellectual colleagues are there. So, every year for the past three year's CHE takes a trip, or "place-based workshop" to somewhere not far from Madison and spends a few days really trying to get to know the place from the perspective of environmental history. We try to "read the landscape," or, in other words, to understand the histories of the places we live, work, and play through the interpreation of clues laid down by history, culture, and natural forces. The first year, the workshop was in the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior, last year it was in the agricultural landscapes of Southwest Wisconsin's Kickapoo River Valley and driftless area (I helped to plan that one), and this year, the trip visited Chicago and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

The trip was four days: (Day 1) learning about the history of ecology and of modern environmentalism at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore--much of the work my advisor writes about in The State of Nature; (Day 2) a day of learning about environmental justice in the Southside neighborhoods of Little Village and Englewood, and about Packingtown; (Day 3) learning about downtown Chicago's urban infrastructure through a downtown walking tour, about the relationship of Chicago with its Western hinterland (the topic of another of my advisor's most foundational books, Nature's Metropolis), and about the Chicago History Museum; and (Day 4) learning about issues of class in the North Shore suburbs.

The whole thing was such an enormous treat. The intellectual conversation and stimulation was incredibly lively--especially because we had access to the foremost experts in environmental history and urban history leading us through the city. The social interactions were just the thing I needed after a semester of being deprived of people and friendship--so many good bus conversations, so many interesting new people. And the sense of being part of a larger community was just unparalleled--it made me feel at home in this academic niche.

I also got to write our names in the sand:

Watch kids in Little Village play that awesome parachute game from elementary school (remember that?):

Learn about how really tall skyscrapers can stably stand on the marshy ground of Chicago:

Turn myself into a Chicago-style hot dog:

And pull a tick out of my head:

Hooray for place-based workshops, and feeling alive again!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Great Big Sigh

After a couple of days of unwinding and regaining some semblance of calm, I can happily announce that I'm through with my prelims...and I didn't even fail! So, all that I've been preparing for for the last six months culminated in this two-hour session, this oral defense in front of my three prelim advisors. And I came out of victorious, and smiling from ear to ear, and back again. I can't believe it's all over. (And I really was worried that I wouldn't do well, even if everyone else somehow knew that I'd pass. I think there was real concern. Which then yields real relief.)

Hooray! I'm just now getting to the point where I don't feel compelled to jump up and down repeatedly, for hours on end.

Now, for a Chicago place-based workshop and wedding planning...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A perfect spring picnic

Speaking of food and friendship, as I always seem to be doing on this blog, I just returned from a most lovely surprise lunch. One of my closest friends, Joelle, who I went to high school with, has now joined me in Madison, where she also started grad school last semester. Here we are at our friend Abigail's wedding reception in 2005:

Although the academically-grueling and asocial nature of my year has kept me from enjoying her presence as much as I'd like, it's been wonderful to have someone who knows me so well in Madison. And today she proved once again just how well she knows me, coming to surprise me in the middle of my stressful day with a beautiful picnic lunch! It couldn't have been more perfect--sharing food outside on a beautiful day with a good friend. And the food wasn't just any food but fresh baby carrots and sweet mini peppers and Persian cucumbers with Sabra hummus; kiwi and mango and tangerine slices; deviled eggs; rice and adzuki bean chips; avocado pico de gallo; no pudge fudge brownie bites (my favorite); soft cheese triangles; chili lemongrass mixed nuts; and pomegranate soda.

Thank you, Joelle! Friends are awesome.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The culinary adventures begin...

After a full day's work on Sunday, I decided it was time to dig into the yumminess of that CSA box. So, I went downstairs to the kitchen with an open mind and some stocked-up creativity. Out of those two ingredients, along with the help of Harmony Valley, I came up with this:

Although the photo doesn't fully capture the excitement of this plate, our dinner included roasted root vegetables (burdock, sunchokes, parsnips, sweet potato, onions); a sorrel, ramps, and sunchoke gratin; sauteed asparagus with lemon and garlic; a quinoa, black radish, carrot, jalapeno, and apple salad (a slight modification of the recipe in this post) and an overwintered spinach salad with cranberry walnut dressing. The new vegetables took a little bit of adjusting to, along with a little research into cooking times and so on, but I would say everything turned out yummily! I'd love to share more specific recipes if anyone wants them (and I'd be really happy if anyone wanted them)...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

Growing up, my brother always said that Mother's Day was a stupid holiday invented by people too lazy to make their mothers feel special everyday. Of course, I think he said this because he, himself, was too lazy on the holiday, and every other day, to do something especially nice for our Mama. (Don't worry, he's doing his best to make up for it now). So it always fell to me to make the homemade cards and take my Mama out for lunch and tell her she was the best mother in the world (or at least my very favorite). Although I'm too far away to take her out for lunch today, I can send her a little e-love by way of this blog post. My Mama--as anyone who's met her can attest--is the kind of person who makes everyone feel instantly at ease, who is so sweet she's practically made out of sugar (but not of the saccharin variety), who has devoted her life to making me and my brother feel strong, safe, supported, and loved. And for all this, I thank her and send my deepest love and respect. On this day and every day.

I can't wait to share her with Justin, to let her be his mom as well. And perhaps the best part is that after June 14, I'll have a second best mom in the world (Justin's Mom, Nancy, that is), and will be surrounded by the winning-est mothers around. Yay for Moms near and far!

Happy Mother's Day!

P.S. If you haven't seen it, the new "dick in a box"