Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Lots going on

Sorry I haven't written in a while.  There's a lot going on.  I took 19 Middle Schoolers to New Mexico on a Spring Break trip.  It was great, but exhausting.  I'm working on a conference paper for June.  There's annoying health problems with just about everyone, nothing serious but it is time consuming.  I'm feeling the squeeze of being the sandwich generation.  There are troubles and highlights I can't really blog about (even I have limits it turns out). 

So instead, here is a picture of me pontificating. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

So this happened today, much to my surprise

Today, during the annual Cum Laude society assembly, when our best students are inducted into the school's honor society, a new tradtion began.  Senior members of the society chose a faculty person to be inducted.  I have won a few awards in my time, and been introduced a few times more.  Never have I been introduced so well, or had an award mean so much.  The student who inducted me made the following remarks:  
During my first class with the inductee, I walked in expecting a routine review of our summer assignment, but I instead found a lively discussion about the connection between our work and current events in a way that invited every student. I was struck by the passion that he holds for his subject and the practice of academic inquiry; and as his student, I witnessed firsthand the way he modeled the type of intellectual curiosity that teachers strive for us to have. This inductee answers every question with genuine interest, and he will grapple with a concept in his classroom until all of his students embrace it with the same passion and satisfaction he has. He always gives honest feedback and will share his own experiences from both inside and outside of the classroom in relation to helping students understand difficult truths. He values justice in the highest regard by expecting the best from each student in the classroom. He has an innate talent for weaving important life lessons throughout the teaching of his discipline and, through this, he shows a deep care for his students, and he strives for them to be honorable people in addition to excellent and just thinkers. SCH is a special place where faculty not only teach us to strive for honor, excellence, and justice, but it is a place where the faculty themselves model these qualities. Today, on behalf of the senior members of Cum Laude I am honored to recognize one of these faculty members. Doc Sal please come forward to join the SCH Chapter of the Cum Laude Society as an Honorary member.

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Night Before Ice Cream for Breakfast Day Redux

It's the night before ice cream for breakfast day.  A year ago I was not doing well.  A year later, more or less, I'm in a better place.  Still, after the party, I have a shrink appointment where I think I'm going to ask to be put on anti-depressants.  The pain is less stabby now, but it doesn't go away and it interferes with my ability to do my job and parent my children to the best of my abilities.  There's too many nights I don't want to go upstairs to an empty bed and so I stay up too late.  And any day I don't have to be at school is a day where I often don't get out of bed until far too late in the day.  Even the smallest tasks can sometimes seem totally onerous.  Doing the dishes, bill-paying, making appointments for the kids can sometimes seem like impossible tasks.  I know what this beast is; I want to tame it so badly.  I want to be a competent human being again.  I don't want to stop being sad.  I just want the sadness to not get in the way of everything else. 

Plus, nobody wants to date a guy whose major activities are Candy Crush and napping. 

Not that I know that.  I haven't actually started that process yet.  It's sort of terrifying.  My current task is to try find time to spend with adults in a non-work environment at least once every two weeks.   I haven't exactly pulled that off yet.  But it's a goal.  I'm trying. 

Eat ice cream for breakfast tomorrow, friends.   Lori would want you to. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019


Dear Lori,
          Today was trash day and I threw out a big garbage bag of your shoes.  Many of them were old and covered in cat hair.  I'm not sure if any of them matched.  Probably they should have all been thrown out back before the recent unpleasantness.  Probably you should have done it.  And that's probably why it took me so long to do it.  I just couldn't bring myself to do something you should have done.  This was your work, left incomplete, left for me to finish.  And I didn't want to do work you should be doing.
            I know it's been over a year, but sometimes when we get home from school, and the four of us come trouncing in, throwing bags and coats and squabbling, I half expect you to be in the kitchen putting away groceries and telling me what I'm making for dinner.  There are days that I am genuinely surprised you're not alive anymore. It's weird.  I wish it would stop.   
          I want to tell you about the girl.  She's been so great.  She got her permit and has been driving a little.  She made sure we all had a good Christmas and took on most of the Christmas shopping.  For some reason, I decided she needed real perfume and we headed to Bloomingdales (just like we did for her first bra, why do I think that all these important milestones are supposed to take place at Bloomingdales?  The counter women were not especially helpful.  At just the right moment, I said, "Maybe we should go home and I could let you dig through mom's old scents to see what you like."  And she replied, "That's a little creepy that you want me to smell like your dead wife."  Everything changed.  New scents came out.  She chose a woodsy one, of course, and the counter women's demeanor changed.  I wasn't divorced dad spoiling his kid, anymore. They threw in a bunch of extra stuff.  As we were leaving, I sidetalked a "way to #deadwife them" to Lenny.  "Hey," she said, "If this sucky thing happened, I guess it's okay to work it every now and then."  She does her best to take care of me.  She's helping in the kitchen.  She made all the Christmas cookies for the teachers just like you used to.  She boxed and tagged them.  I screwed up making the fudge.  I think she half wants to be in charge of the bills.  I'm tempted to let her be.
          At the same time, she's still a royal pain in the ass.  She wants things when she wants them.  She claims she's going to the robotics tournament the day after she gets home from her trip to India.  She's still stretching herself thin with crew and robots and eco-club, student guides, babysitting, and all honors - all As.  She wrote every area private school's Middle and Upper School Deans and Heads letters about Cottonwood Gulch's upcoming visit to Philly to recruit for the summer.  She's on track to apply to HMI for next fall's school by semester program.
         I learned something else over Christmas break.  I have to have adult contact outside of school.  My goal is to go out without the kids once every two weeks.  We'll see if I can keep it up. 
          This has been a rambl-y letter.  The threads of grief and mourning and rebuilding are fraying and less coherent.  There's so much to do just to keep up with the day to day.  The story I've been trying to build has entered the Ron, Harry, and Hermione wandering around the forest in Perkins' old tent phase.  Who knows how long we'll be here.  Or what the Snatchers are that we have to avoid.  Heck, not only do we not know where the Horcruxes are, we don't even know what they are or what they are for.  We just know that we have to keep moving forward, even if we don't know which way forward is.
       "What's up?"  my students ask me.  "The sky." I say.  Or, if I am ornery, "a preposition indicating direction in relation to the speaker."  But mostly, on the inside, I answer with my own question, in the voice only I can hear.  "Wrong question, don't ask 'what's up?' ask 'what's next?'" And oh, I wish I knew the answer. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018


Dear Lori,

It's been a year.

It's been a year since the recent unpleasantness.

It's been a year and I've accumulated so many debts I'll never pay back.  There's so many people to thank that I can't possibly name them all: my colleagues at school, my students current and former and their families, my people in New Mexico, my friends and family.  I am pretty good with words, but I cannot express my gratitude for everything you've done for me and mine.

It's an odd thing to say, "it's been a year."  The inflection matters, of course.  Said flat, it's a statement of fact.  With a heavy sigh, it turns into a statement of struggle but also of hope.  As in, (deep sigh) "It's been a year," (but next year will be better? silently unstated)

It's been a year and somehow here we are, celebrating birthdays, and taking trips, and doing homework, and food shopping as if nothing happened.  And then we turn around in unexpected moments and scream at each other only to share some "apology chocolate" later.  We had to coin a term for it, "apology chocolate."  I hate that this is a thing in my house.  I enjoy it when I eat it.  And then I fell guilty about enjoying it or even needing it in the first place.

It's been a year and now there are whole days that seem oddly normal.  Until a couple of weeks ago, I was actually sleeping through the night.   In the run up to today, I've been waking up at 4 am and unable to fall back asleep, but if I learned anything this year, it's that I can function on four or five hours sleep routinely.

It's been a year and the sky didn't fall and the earth didn't open even though it felt like it should have.

It's been a year and I took off my wedding ring this morning and put it your jewelry box in our bedroom next to your engagement ring and wedding band.  It is both an admission of defeat and a sign of hope.  It's the realization that this isn't all a bad dream and I'm going to wake up with you next to me and everything will go back to normal.  It's the realization that the next chapter begins now.

It's been a year and I don't miss you any less or love you any less.  And no matter what happens next, that will always be true.


May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

On Feminism, Food, Fun, and Scholarship

I was fortunate to attend the Western History Association in San Antonio, Texas this weekend.*  One of the panels I attended, "Tamale Making and Storytelling" was implicitly feminist (although nobody used the f word, but then again, nobody needed to).  I think many people perceived this as a fun  session, but I think it's worth the time to explicitly excavate both the work that went into the session and the work that took place at the session and how both those things informed both my scholarship and my teaching and made this one of the most productive, if not the most productive, panel I've ever attended and discuss why this may be the most feminist session I've ever attended at any conference ever. 

First, a bit of background.  I signed up for the panel, in part, because two women I admire very much, Dr. Mary E. Mendoza, a friend, and Dr. Maria Montoya, a mentor and friend (and a member of my dissertation committee) were two of the four organizers.  The other two were Dr. Lori Flores and Dr. Rachel St. John.**  I've also read Que Vivan Los Tamales by Jeffery Pilcher about the history of tamales in Mexico.  The book has stayed with me, especially the chapters about battles over corn vs. flour tortillas and the chapter on the introduction of commercial masa.  The first chapter was about how what turned out to be bad nutrition science was used to denigrate corn (perceived as indigenous, brown, bad) and promote flour (white, European, good).  The other chapter was about how women's embrace of commercial masa freed them from tedious masa making and allowed them to either pursue wage work or leisure time.  This also led to a backlash by men, particularly elite men,  who feared the consequences of either of these options. Plus, I've worked as a cook and I'm always looking for new tools for my cooking toolbox.  I've never made tamales and I wanted to know how it was done.  So you factor these three things:  friendship, intellectual curiosity, and  opportunities to learn technique and this was the first session I signed up for. 

The four scholars walked us through the tamale making process, each while providing a section on the history of the tamale and their own relationships with tamales.  As audience members, we made our own tamales with supplies that were on the round tables we sat at.

Tamales are intensely labor intensive.  Making the masa and the filling can take days.  Even though using commercial masa is a timesaver, it's still a laborious process.  So really, this panel on tamale making was just the last step.  And even though the ingredients were pre-made for us by teams of Mendoza women over the last several days (more on that in a moment), my first tamale took me over 20 minutes to make.  This included coating the pre-soaked corn husks with masa, inserting the filling, wrapping the tamale, and tying it up.

The tamales were placed in instapots to be cooked and then we had a catered lunch (including fantastic tamales from a local supplier).

So you can see why this was a popular session, but there was incredible intellectual depth to it.  I wasn't able to take notes as I went along (my gloved hands being covered in masa) but I wanted to note some important points.

1.  There isn't a single tamale making tradition.  This was especially evident when it came to questions over tying vs. not tying tamales.

2.  The story-telling part was extremely important to the session.  As each of our scholar-hosts told us about tamale history, she also located herself within that history.  Family histories and social networks were revealed.  Mary Mendoza's stories mostly revolved her extended kinship network, still very much in San Antonio and present at the session to help out.  Maria Montoya talked about creating new networks of tamale making as a way of creating community in places far distant from her childhood home.

3.  Support, support. support!  As the various tamale making experts on hand circulated around the room, they were amazingly supportive of the many novices, even as they provided gentle instruction and correction.

4.  Credit was generously shared.  It took a lot of people to do the prep work for this, and they were expressly and repeatedly named, acknowledged, and applauded.  Part of the point of the session was to make the gendered work behind tamale making visible.

5.  Food history and family history are both pretty important fields.  The intersection of the two leads to powerful scholarship (not just at this panel but see, fore example, Michael Twitty's The Cooking Gene).

6.  We need another term than cultural appropriation.  The session ended with Maria Montoya, who is an administrator at NYU Shanghai telling a story about a Chinese woman who dated a Mexican and learned to make tamales.  She ditched the guy but kept the recipes and runs a booming tamale making business in Shanghai.  One of her top clients is Dr. Montoya.

7.  This whole session was a metaphor for feminist scholarship.  It also was feminist scholarship.

8.  We didn't get to do the usual post-panel Q and A.  I'll leave my question here.   We heard a lot about family fights over tamale making.  Are fights over food proxies for other fights, or are they what they appear?

So that's that.  I think.  I'm really tired so I'm probably forgetting stuff.  But not as tired as the people who put in all the work before I ever set foot in the room where the panel took place.

Oh and postscript.  The ratio of men to women who attended the panel was around 1:9.

Postscript 2.  Which is to say all of this is a metaphor for what happens in the academy But especially for women professor's careers.  Lots of unseen labor.  Lots of care for others beyond the immediate job description and then other people get the bulk of the yummy stuff.

Post slightly modified to clarify the metaphor in Postscript 2

*Special thanks to Miriam Salmanson, Jon Salmanson, Michael Salmanson and Tobi Zemsky who cared for my children in various capacities while I was gone and various parents of my kids classmates who drove them places.  This made my trip possible.  Also making this trip possible was generous financial support from SCH Academy. 

**Normally, when we talk scholarship around here, we don't use the Dr. titles, but I'm using them here to emphasize that each of these women is a respected, dynamic, expert in her field. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Of Melons and Melancholy

I bought a melon today at the good produce store.  It reminded me of Lori.  Not because of the shape of the melon or it was her favorite kind or anything like that.  Rather, it reminded me of a whole series of experiences that we shared around food.  I suppose this is on my mind because my birthday is approaching and one of our first Philly dates was for my birthday.  We had just moved to Philly and had been married less than a year.  My brother Michael drove us to Fork so Lori and I could share a bottle of wine and take a cab home.   I ordered a beet salad as an appetizer.  Lori was disgusted.  Then the beets arrived.  There were sunburst beets and red beets.  They'd been grilled and then lightly marinated.  The colors popped catching her artist's eye. 

"What are those?" she asked.

"They're beets."  I said.

"I've never seen beets like that," she said somewhat mystified.

"Have you only ever had canned beets?"  I asked.  She nodded.  "Try one."

Beets became a staple part of our diet.  We roasted them at holidays and did them on the grill in the summer.  There were more food adventures.   She claimed she didn't like fruit, but had rarely had good, in-season ripe ones. "That's what a peach is supposed to taste like?"  "These are blueberries?"   Late summer, Jersey tomatoes ruined her on anything but cherry tomatoes for the rest of the year.  She sometimes had trouble laying off the wrong season fruits or picking out good melons.  "You can't buy clementines until Thanksgiving and they won't be good after President's Day."  I'd tell her.  Since she did the food shopping, this would come up a lot. 

Beyond food, I shared so much of myself with Lori.  She bought what she thought was a Native American rug at a yard sale (it was maybe Amish?) and so I taught her how to identify good Navajo rugs.  She designed her engagement and wedding rings, but I found the jeweler and the stones before hand, knowing that she would never want a diamond once she knew there were purple sapphires out there. 

And yet. 

There was so much from her I didn't learn.  I'm struggling with understanding how credit reports work (mine was good, than briefly bad, and is now good again?).  I'm terrible at hiring people to do work on the house.  I have no idea how to decorate or organize the kitchen.  I still struggle to understand art.  And so often when I asked her about these things, she gave me only surface details.  With every tricky real estate deal, I'd try to pry for information, not about the deal per se, but about the techniques she used to persuade someone to buy (or not to buy) a house.  She couldn't explain how she knew how to get to places from other places the fastest way (I often can only get to a place from a certain other place.  For example, there are some places I can only get to from home or from school so if I am someplace else I have to go to one of those places first before I can get to the place I want to go.) 

She usually picked out my clothes, but didn't teach me the principles of dressing.  So I'm starting to forget what the pre-approved outfit combinations were, and I'm thinking my clothing might be very interesting this year.  Conversely, I've gotten very good at getting help in stores now.  The downside is, I'm an easy mark.  Just ask the two(!) salespeople that helped me in Clark's over the weekend. 

There's so much Lori had to teach me and that I wanted to know about her.  These days, that's what I'm missing most.  I still miss the little things we did together.  But what pains me most is all the things we didn't get a chance to do, that we will never do.  That's when I miss her the most now.