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"

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Return of the vegetables

After a long, long winter, fresh local vegetables are now back in my life! Our CSA (community supported agriculture) share started today, so for the rest of the summer and fall, every other Saturday, we'll be picking up a box full of delicious organic vegetables from a local farm, along with recipes and information about the Wisconsin agricultural scene. I can't wait to try out all this exciting stuff. Today's box included: red sunchokes, rhubarb, sweet overwintered parsnips (all seen in first photo), and chives, ramps, sorrel, burdock, and a black radish (all in second photo), along with some decorative willow branches and overwintered spinach.

As soon as we find some time to cook, culinary adventures are ours! If anyone has any good recipes to share, please do pass them along!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Loving This American Life

For the past couple of years or so, I've been a pretty diehard fan of This American Life on NPR (along with, apparently, all other "white people"). A few months ago, Ira Glass (the show's host) announced on the weekly show that they were going to be doing a live taping in New York City and were going to broadcast it via satellite to theaters all across the country. On one day only. And what one day might that be, you ask? None other than April 23, my very own birthday. So, although it would've been an ideal birthday event, we happen to live in one of the most happening-est cities (and most filled with "white people") in the country, so the show was sold out weeks in advance, and we didn't get tickets in time. Ira felt our pain, apparently, because he scheduled an encore showing for two weeks later.

So, last night, we got to go watch Ira Glass (along with Mike Birbiglia, Starlee Kine, Dan Savage, Joss Whedon, and others) on the big screen. It was awesome. It brought laugh-aloud laughs and real tears and respectful awe--everything one would want from a top-notch episode of This American Life. You can listen to most of the show here.

But this whole evening also made me want to finally write a blog post about another TAL segment that I listened to a few weeks ago and wanted to share. In this six-minute segment, Starlee Kine, one of the producers of the show, talks about how hard it is to become close friends with people as you get older, and about one solution a coworker of hers came up with. Listen to it here:



What do you all think about this? The reason it made such an impression on me, I guess, is just because it's so honest about this problem of making friends as an adult. And it's something I think about a whole lot, but not something other people seem to talk about all that much. As I move farther away from the late night talks of dorm hallways, I wonder how people find the time and energy to get to know each other--to really get to know each other--well enough that essential properties get conveyed? How can I be close with someone if they don't know where I've been, who I am, who my family is, what I need from others, etc.? This tape thing really seems to have something going for it. And yet, I can't imagine actually doing it with that many people. What can be our stand-in for the tape? How to build friendship, from the beginning?

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Although free time doesn't come easily these days, sometimes for fifteen minutes after dinner, Justin and I sneak away to play some music. I'm trying to raise my musical stock in his eyes, so after failed guitar and piano attempts, I've picked up the ukulele. And I have to say, the little stringed instrument and I are hitting it off quite nicely. Justin's grandpa Morley bought the ukulele for Justin a few years ago, before he passed away, because its sound reminded him of the time he was stationed in Hawaii with the Navy during World War II. Although the music we're playing isn't exactly Hawaiian, it's still pretty exciting. So far the set list includes My Name is Jonas by Weezer, Mr. Brightside by the Killers, Run by Collective Soul (a high school classic), and Mr. Jones by Counting Crows. (Somewhere in the old repertoire are Bye Bye Love and You Are My Sunshine). I can't wait until I actually have some time to work on this more assiduously. Any requests from you music fans out there?

Friday, May 1, 2009

You're the Historian: A taste of what excites me

One of my prelim advisors, in preparing to give me a question for my prelim essay, asked me to write a page or so on the themes that most interest me within environmental history. This is what I came up with:

Although many of the traditional tales of environmental history focus on production—of national parks, of industrial wastes, and of scientific knowledge—I find myself particularly drawn to the other side of the balance, to issues of consumption. I read production-based accounts and want to know about the people going to those national parks, and their reasons for doing so; about the consumers who create the demand for goods whose production leads to industrial waste; and about the lay audiences who take in scientific statements of expertise and interpret, modify, and apply them to their own lives.

A closer look at consumption also makes room for the study of gender in environmental history, another category that I find exciting. Because women in the early twentieth century had more power within the private, domestic sphere of the home than within the larger public stage of conservation and policy-making, thinking about women’s (and their families’) consumption practices invites us into that sphere. Further, analyzing the different (or not) ways that men and women responded to new scientific and environmental currents in dominant culture often seems to illuminate the variety of factors that contributed to the dissemination of expert opinion among lay audiences.

My intellectual interest in food also stems, at least in part, from this engagement with the linkages between production and consumption. Food, conceived both as an agricultural product and as a marker of cultural identity, provides a perfect lens through which to understand how a material good, produced from interactions between soil and human labor, becomes an intimate part of people’s daily lives and personal understandings. Some of the books I’ve read begin the work of writing food histories, but often without much attention to environmental history. There is still so much thinking to do about the agricultural, material, and ecological underpinnings of our diets and food practices.

Food also serves as the binder between the health of the physical environment and of human bodies. This connection—between environmental history and human health—is another theme that fascinates me. I’m convinced by arguments which suggest that looking at these two fields in juxtaposition can help us find a place for humans within nature. I’m also interested in the ways in which studying environmental history within the context of health can make our discipline seem more relevant and attentive to human needs than a (now increasingly-outdated) traditional view of the environment as something out there, disconnected from daily human lives.

Finally, this attention to food, human health, and consumption speaks to one of the last themes that I enjoy reading and thinking about: the relevance and application of our historical knowledge to issues of import in the present. Without losing historical nuance or the ability to study the past for its own sake, I believe (or would like to believe) that our studies can offer something to those with contemporary concerns about the environment, human health, or dietary practices. Authors I’ve been reading take up this problem variously, usually in a few lines in the epilogue or at the end of an introduction, but often in ways that feel rather shallow. If we are to see our environmental histories as having relevance in today’s world, I’d like to think more deeply about how historians create these connections and communicate across disciplinary boundaries.

Oh to be unencumbered and creative!

Stop motion animation is one of the coolest things ever.

Maybe if this had been our wedding invitation, we would have gotten everyone to RSVP on time? (What joy it brings me to move someone from the "Maybe" column to the "Yes" [or "No"] column in my Excel spreadsheet! The sense of completion and order is so satisfying.)

I'm adding "create a stop-motion animation short film" to my Project Human document that I'm keeping on my desktop to note all the things I want to do with my life once I'm human again, after my prelims are over. You should all hold me to it.

But, for now, enjoy this way cool video: