Archive for the 'Family' Category


It was gorgeous out today, and I had the camera out. I totally should have snapped some pictures of the garden, and posted a little update. Perhaps tomorrow (even though it’s supposed to rain).

Instead, I took pictures of haybales. Round haybales, to be precise.

A normal person might ask me “why?” Why indeed.  Well, it’s a long story. Let me shorten it.

My mother asked for one thing for Christmas. A picture of a haybale, preferably black and white, to go above the fireplace.  The catch(es)? I had to take the picture, and it had to be a round haybale.  I’ll cut the drama and just tell you than I failed miserably.  My mother was not thrilled.

Tomorrow is her birthday.  51. I was not home for 50. I think I may have failed pretty miserably at whatever gift I gave her for 50. So I spent my afternoon searching out round haybales. I found them.  The results are below.

My question for you, then, dear readers (of which I think I can count on three. You know who you are.) is: Which photo should I get printed, all nice and professional-like at Foto-One, for my mother’s birthday? Keep in mind these things: 1) she will mat it and frame it so that it is square, 2) it will go above a stone fireplace mantel, 3) the frame will be wide and black (she and I have similar aesthetic senses when it comes to framing), and 4) she requested black and white (but i kinda like the tri-color one). Respond in the comments section, plz.

Oh, I’ve been digging the Flash-Animation Gallery builder on Lightroom lately, ever since I re-did my portfolio for a grant. Hence, the Flash-Animation gallery of the haybales.  When voting, plz use their number (i.e. 1/4, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4). Thx!!!

Also note: if you’re typing in the following URL, it’s case-sensitive.


Home vs. home

I have been Home (parents’ house) for a whole week now, and am headed home (my house) in two more days.  Things at Home are pretty much as they were when I was a kid, which is to say, rather different from how home is. But also oddly the same.  For starters, here are some things that I have been up to while Home:

1. Eating.  My roommates emailed me (three ways) to tell me that they are having a “sugar party” at their respective homes.  While I do indulge in chocolate a bit more when I’m Home, my family goes in more for the “cholesterol party.” Over the past week, we have had eggs with pork sausage, cheese, and fried potatoes for breakfast; pork tenderloin for dinner; pizza with pork sausage last night; and assorted frozen (fried) appetizer dishes for another dinner. On the docket is a beef stir-fry, beef chili, and leftover pork.  In other words, more meat than I have eaten in a long time.

Granted, we do have veggies too… my mom made a great broccoli- carrot- spinach soup that would have been vegan had I not added some cheddar cheese to the top 🙂

2. Watching Television.  My parents watch a very average amount of television– perhaps even a bit below the amount that the average American watches.  I watch some TV occasionally at home, downloaded from iTunes, but that doesn’t have any commercials, so the commercials are a real novelty for me.  I like to see what is being advertised (and how); that said, after a couple of shows the ads are all pretty redundant.  My stepdad hates (hates, HATES) ads, so he mutes the TV during the commercial breaks.  We all take that opportunity to creatively reinterpret the ads, speaking in place of the characters and making up what product they might be selling before they actually announce it.  Hilarity ensues.

3. Catching up. I met up with the two guys I dated in high school (oy vey) and one of my good friends from middle/high school.  Ex #1 is in his second year of med school at Rush and seems to be doing really well with research and everything. We planned a meeting downtown Chicago, as we hadn’t seen each other in 4 or so years, and had parted on (more or less) amicable terms.

I inadvertently ran into Ex#2 in Starbucks.  Quite honestly, I had hoped that his family had moved out of town and that I would never have to see him again. Alas, no such luck.  As it turns out, he tried to start a theater company in Chicago with no success, and then moved home to study for the LSATs.  His LSAT scores were less than stellar, and he did not get in to law school.  He’s living at home and working at the Starbucks where I ran into him. I’m trying really, really hard not to take so much glee in this. But really, he was a jerk. (As far as I know, he doesn’t know what I’m up to, since he didn’t ask… but it’s a small town and news travels).

My friend is still super cool and is living in Madison.  We just did our yearly catch-up (apart from birthday greetings).

4. Exercise. My mom is an amazingly fit 50-year-old woman. Seriously.  You read what we ate this week– if you saw my mom, you wouldn’t believe it. She looks like she lives on some macrobiotic vegan fare, or something.  In truth, she is super-disciplined (hopefully it comes with age… I’m trying, at least) and gets up at 6 am almost every day to go to this exercise class accross town.  When I’m Home, she drags me (almost literally) with her. Its usually pretty fun, though over T-giving when I went I wanted to kill myself. This time it was great, and I felt really energized afterwards. Woo!

5. [Not] Reading. I brought Home a whole pile of books (mostly ethnographies that my advisor had told me in so many words that I should read over break), but have read only one, a novel by my favorite-author-of-the-moment: Birds Without Wings by Louis de Berniéres (that should be an accent grave, but I couldn’t find the right key).  I started it a couple of months ago at a conference, but haven’t had much time to read until now. Unfortunately, I left my glasses at home (stupid! stupid!) and after a little while my vision is too blurry to read very much.

6. Detox. My mom and I decided that we both drink too much caffeine.  Granted, I drink an entire French press before noon (followed by at least a half of another before 4 pm), and she drinks one cup of regular in the morning, followed by half-caf or decaf later on.  In any case, we both quit cold turkey. We’ve been making decaf in the morning (which is maybe cheating a little bit, since there’s a trace amount of caffeine in it still… maybe even a tiny bit more than “trace” amount).  This might also account for my blurry vision, come to think of it. And some random aches and pains. Miraculously, I have not yet had the debilitating “caffeine headache” that I’ve gotten in the past. Maybe that’s because I’ve been getting 10+ hours of sleep a night, too.

That about sums up what I’ve done at Home.  Here’s the plan for when I get home:

1. V.E.G.E.T.A.B.L.E.S. A lot of ’em.  Mmm, kale and collard greens and spinach and broccoli and cabbage and carrots and squash.  I plan to make a veggie pizza for New Year’s Eve (maybe with some chicken sausage too), and there are a variety of veggie soups I want to try.

2. Reading (for real). I need to get those ethnographies read. Or at least skimmed.

3. Bike maintenance. I bought some fenders for my single speed 29’er to commute on, and plan to make some tire chains to help out with the ice/ snow. I want to get my two road bikes tuned, as well, and do a once-over on the 26’er mountain bike.  Ideally, I would get the old parts ripped off of my Schwinn single speed- to- be, but that might be a bit of wishful thinking.

4. Organization. I want to clean out the garage to the point that I can pull my car in (makes for easier shoveling of the driveway).  I also want to organize the part of the basement where I keep all of my tools (yes, I have tools)– I have peg board and the pegs, I just need to, uh, synthesize them.  How great it will be to know exactly where a hammer/ screwdriver/ particular- sized nail is.

5. More oranization. I am about 1/4 of the way through electronically cataloging all of my articles.  I’m through the “G’s. My goal is to get them all entered into EndNote, along with their PDF versions. Makes for much easier biliography-writing.

6. Devise some realistic New Year’s Resolutions. How ’bout some more exercise?

Research Proposal: Trash Day


When I exited the highway at the sprawl preceding the residential area of my hometown this weekend, one thing was immediately apparent. It was “Spring Cleaning Trash Day.” Why else would the citizens of my fair town commence to piling up perfectly good pieces of furniture, tools, clothing, and household miscellanea on the curbs in front of their homes? And why else would otherwise respectable people spend hours careening around town in minivans and pickup trucks, picking up other peoples’ trash? My project seeks to analyze the interactions between social strata in my otherwise homogeneous town, as evidenced in the the performances of tossing and scavenging that take place on Spring Cleaning Trash Day.


I grew up in a small town in the suburbs of Chicago, IL. It’s a nice place. Really. I wouldn’t ever move back there, nor would I want to raise my [strictly hypothetical, future] children in a place like it, but it was a nice place to grow up.

It’s pretty homogeneous. Or at least, very segregated. Very, very segregated. I think we had maybe three non-white students in the honors classes at my high school. I couldn’t tell you about the other classes, because they kept us pretty well divided from non-honors classes after freshman year (not being snobby, just telling you why I can’t describe the rest of the school).

When my family first moved here, I was 5 years old. Our street had a mix of house sizes and economic classes. Our house was pretty big for our street (four bedrooms, three baths– we had three kids in the family, at least off and on), but by the time I was 10 the other houses had been bought up and torn down. The re-builds were very large, about 5 bedrooms in each house. Mostly young families moved in with kids under the age of 3 and more on the way. Everyone had at least two cars.

In the past 5 years or so, there has been further economic segregation, a reflection of several social processes. Poorer families either moved out or moved up the ladder with rising property taxes (and values). Wealthier, younger families moved in. Sprawl… sprawled. Minimalls abounded, complete with Chipotles, Starbucks, and gourmet grocery shops. On this one hand, you have the homogenization of “the middle class.”

There was also an increase in low-income housing, Hispanic grocery marts, and enrollment in English as a Second Language courses.  Many people are recent arrivals in the United States, both legally and otherwise. On this other hand, you have the arrival of a new, ethnically and culturally different lower economic class. Tension builds.

Spring Cleaning Trash Day is a day when the city (er… Village) allows its fair citizens to throw out an unlimited amount of trash. Anything and everything may be placed on the curb for pickup by the Village’s trash collectors, at no extra cost. Perfectly functioning furniture, games, televisions, kitchen appliances, toilets, and yes, even the kitchen sink gets tossed to the curb. As I type, this paraphernalia of the middle class is sitting in the rain and getting soggy.


I propose to analyze the interactions between the relatively homogeneous middle class trash-tossers, and the “otherized” lower economic class trash-scavengers, as evidenced on Spring Cleaning Trash Day. Who are the people throwing out entire dining room sets? How long have they lived in the town? Why do they choose to place their items on the curb, rather than deliver them to the Salvation Army, hold a garage sale, or give them to a friend? What is their motivation for throwing them out in the first place? Where do they think they will end up?

Who are the trash scavengers? Where do they come from, what languages do they speak, where do they work, live, and go to school? How do they feel about picking up the trash left out by the tossers? What will they do with a single faucet broken off of a kitchen sink? A broken plastic rake?

Keeping in mind that identity as we conceptualize it is a nebulous assemblage (c.f. Puar 2008), through what interactions are the ‘identities’ of the middle-class trash tossers and the lower-class trash scavengers performed? Do the trash tossers become trash scavengers? Do the trash scavengers become trash tossers?


In order to study the interactions taking place on Spring Cleaning Trash Day, I will move home. And by move “home” I mean… really. Home. I.e.; my parents’ house. Because there’s no way I could afford to live in this town otherwise. Unless I were able to receive a $150,000-per-year research grant, which I don’t think exists. At least, not in Anthropology. For a graduate student.

I will conduct participant-observation, tossing my own trash and scavenging other peoples’ trash. I will interview other trash tossers and trash scavengers. I will interview village officials and the village’s garbage collectors. I will inventory the trash getting tossed, scavenged, and left behind on the heap.

Maybe after grad school. I would consider doing this project sooner, but I don’t think I could handle living here again just yet. Just not enough distance to feign “objectivity”… though it might make a really interesting native anthropology project 🙂 Any other takers? You could live with my parents while you do research!

Home Again

I went home for my brother’s 21st birthday this weekend… the next couple of posts are all reflections on visiting my hometown.


For some reason, I kept thinking today was Sunday. I’m really glad it was Saturday, and I have a whole other day to work.

Got up early and went for a lovely hike in the woods out in Dexter.  Cohortmate and roomie went with.

I deliberately didn’t bring my camera, though, because I knew if I did it would take me twice as long. The idea was just to go for a quick hike (1 hr) and then come home and work. That said, I found myself framing shots in my head… perhaps I’ll go back tomorrow with my camera.

I was planning to go to the “Curator’s Ball” tonight (Archaeology party), but have lost motivation. My excuses? 1) I don’t have a space-cowgirl costume, 2) I didn’t read nearly enough today, and 3) …. I don’t really have a third reason. I’m tired? I went out last night?

So, in closing, a gem from my mother.  I share this knowing that she meant it with the best of intentions:

Mom to my grandma, after telling her about the fellowship: “So I guess that stuff she babbles on about maybe isn’t all bullshit after all!”

Thank you, mom.

Up North (highlights)

The cats and I met my Mom and her dogs Up North for the first part of Spring Break*. “Up North” is the all-encompassing term for parts of Michigan and Wisconsin north of, say, Midland… or Milwaukee. Sometimes includes parts more southerly such as Saugatuck or even “Michiana,” that tourist haven on the border of Michigan and Indiana. (my friend who actually grew up in Michiana corrected me on this point– only FILPs call Michiana “Up North” and they actually say “Michigan.” Ask me in person what a FILP is. Heh).

To me, Up North refers to the pinkie finger of Michigan. To understand what I’m referring to, hold your right hand in front of you, palm facing you. That’s the state of Michigan. Point to your pinkie finger. That’s where I am right now. Clever? Yes.

My ‘Up North’ conjures the feel of sand dunes between your toes, the smell of pine forest, and the taste of ripe sweet cherries. When I was a kid, my family simply referred to this magical place as “Michigan,” as if the entire state had these same characteristics (give us a break, I grew up in Chicago).

When I started school at another entity referred to simply as “Michigan,” we had to clarify so that people wouldn’t get the impression that I spent every day on an idyllic beach in perpetual summertime. And so, we adopted the term used by all Michiganders and Wisonsionites to talk about their ‘summer cabins’: Up North.

Maybe I’m lying. All of my family probably still just say “Michigan” to refer to the dunes, forest, lake, and cherries and then quickly correct themselves if I’m in earshot. For the first two years at UM, I found myself facing looks of ridicule when I made the very same mistake. I still have to explain my nostalgia for the State of Michigan to people. I grew up with “Michigan” referring to Childhood Summer, not just some location on a map (or a school).

I digress.

Now that I own a car, and live a mere 5 hours from “Michigan” (my family seems to think that I live much closer than I previously did, which is false. Chicago is 6 hours from Up North. The way I drive + traffic in Flint means I now live about 5 hours away) I go Up North more frequently. Mostly because I have a car now. Plus, there are fewer tourists in the non-summer, making everything that much more peaceful.

People ask ‘what do you do Up North?’ Well… mostly, lately, it’s just relaxing. And of course, it depends on the season. In the summertime, my activities are completely different. I present here some of the highlights of this (wintry) trip:

1) Red Wine. My mom brought red wine that is not 3-buck-Chuck, thus making it “good” in my mind. Occasionally, she brings real Good red wine, though I still cannot differentiate between it and “good” red wine… I suppose I need to drink more. Sadly, the local wineries are closed during the weeks in the winter, otherwise we’d go local.

I am drinking a glass now, which is why it is the first item to occur to me.

2) Brie. Let me be more specific: warm brie with blueberry preserves and crackers. This is consumed with “good” red wine. Also, currently being consumed.

3) Molten Chocolate Cake. I hadn’t made these in a while, and we ate them warm with vanilla ice cream. Mmmm. (substitute cake flour for regular, and SIFT!)

4) Mindless television. The above (3) were eaten while watching the Oscars. I had actually seen two of the movies up for Best Picture, and heard of one other! I think I will see another later this week… I am trying to be positive about the mindless TV. It reminds me of why I am glad I don’t have a TV… and I guess it is nice to space out for a little bit every once in a while.

5) Novels. I am currently reading Inés of My Soul and have been since I bought it over Winter (semester, holiday) break. My attention span is getting shorter and shorter, and it’s taking me longer and longer to read even fiction. I will finish it this week! Dammit.

My mom usually brings an art project to work on, but this time she is also reading 🙂 I brought my camera, but it has stayed in its case the whole time. I am, however, thinking about projects.

6) Cauliflower soup. A friend of mine happened to have an orange cauliflower, and gave it to me because she was going out of town and didn’t have time to eat it. So, I made it into this soup. I didn’t have basil, or cilantro, sadly. But I threw in two tablespoons of white vinegar, which really rounded out the flavors. 🙂

7) Sleeping late. Really late. 10 am. Woo!

8 ) Baked oatmeal. Sorry, no recipe for this one… my mom got it from a friend of hers, and it has become our official Special Occasion breakfast. We had it for Christmas Morning too, and it is very tasty. Basically, you soak some oatmeal in a milky-brown sugary-buttery mixture overnight (in a casserole dish) and then bake it in the morning. She threw in some granola this time, along with the oats. Mmmm.

9) Window shopping. We went into Traverse City today and did a brisk walk-by of most of the stores, stopping briefly in two. One was a gallery, which had work by this artist that I had seen before but never really appreciated. My parents have two of his prints in their bathroom. Basically, he has these quirky-abstract wood cutout people (or printed people) painted in bright-ish colors, with a little saying. Three of the sayings really struck me this time.

This one got me choked up for some reason, and I felt really silly, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. Perhaps it’s just a nice thought, or perhaps it made me sentimental:

I once read that the ancient Egyptians had 50 words for sand, and that the Eskimos have 100 words for snow[**]. I wish that there were a thousand words for love, but all that comes to mind is the way you move against me while you sleep. And there are no words for that.”

This one’s perhaps not so optimistic:

He loved her for almost everything she was. And she decided that was enough, and let him stay for a very long time.”

But this one is happy again 🙂 :

Sometimes we do things because they feel right & they make no sense & they make no money & maybe that’s the reason we’re here: to love each other & eat each other’s cooking and to say that it’s good.”

Then we went to lunch (split a chicken-spinach salad and each had a cup of asparagus- Parmesan soup) and sat and read in Borders for a while. Like I said, relaxation 🙂

10) Coffee. As much as I want, without really needing it. Which means I actually enjoy it, rather than just settling for burned, weak, cheap swill that is really just caffeinated water. In particular, this coffee is delicious and locally-roasted. We walk into town with our books and sit and drink coffee for a while, then walk home. Today we walked in with the dogs, so didn’t stick around to read. Still delicious coffee.

And that is how I spent the first half of my Spring Break*. There are other highlights to, like hiking/snowshoeing, taking pictures, not showering, more hiking… but I thought I should keep it to an even 10.

The second half will involve much less relaxation, and much more cleaning, organizing, and catching up on work I should have managed during the first half of the semester. But that’s okay.
*Excuse me, I meant “Winter Break.” To stave off complaints from the U community, the administration reminds us that we are, in fact, in the midst of winter semester, not “spring” semester. Therefore, we are on Winter Break. This somehow explains having our weeklong vacation at the end of February, long before the snow melts and the sun appears in Michigan. Not that I’m complaining that we have a week-long break in the middle of the semester! If we didn’t, I’d be petitioning for mental health leave, let me tell you.

**Yes, I know the thing about Eskimo words for snow is a misconception. It’s still a nice thought, and I liked it.

Now that’s what I call ‘patriotism’

Those would be the über-patriotic red velvet and vanilla cupcakes my mom made for the Fourth of July. Like the firework and flag action? They’re even tastier in my stomach (and I’ve eaten no fewer than five so far). C’mon, what’s more ‘American’ than red, white, and blue sugar-laced butter-filled cakes coated with more sugar and butter?!

Yesterday being the fourth of July, we engaged in all sorts of patriotic acts… like walking in to town for coffee, and leaving ten minutes before the start of the parade. And laughing at the people dressed in gaudy red, white, and blue on the way home. And laughing at my uncle for spending $1400 on fireworks to set off on the dock. And making red and white cupcakes (oh, Canada– we added the red and blue sparklers and American flags just to clear up any confusion). And gorging ourselves on ribs, chicken, cheesey potatoes, brownies, fudge sauce, cup cakes, and ice cream. Oh, and sangria. Don’t forget the booze.