The Summer Cottage

"Decor tends to out-of-date calendars, mismatched crockery, paintings of bears in the forest, and lace curtains hanging in doorways to defend against mosquitoes."

 

I read this description several times, in a perfectly-timed National Geographic article about the Russian dacha, which is a fully Russian cultural element, and is basically the little plot of land where a family escapes the drudgery of their urban dwelling during the brief Russian summer. It is a place where gardens are kept, which the article points out was crucial during the days of food shortages, when people relied on these part-time homesteads as sources for food.

 

The dacha has a fascinating history, within Russian culture, as the land that was parceled out to courtiers during the reign of Peter the Great, as the gifts presented to political and cultural elites during Stalin's rule as one mechanism tool to assist in  "keeping writers under control" by keeping an eye on them in one particular neighborhood of dachas outside a city. In the modern age, the McMansion versions owned by nouveau riche Russians, called kottedzhy (cottages), are their own cultural entity, with different meaning and use entirely. And the article points to the changing larger meaning and use of these tiny summer homes, as places of refuge from stark, urban apartment buildings and the bustle of weekday life and work, rather than as pieces essential to survival, and certainly lacking finer amenities like indoor plumbing and electricity. Some full-time dacha dwellers resent the fancier interpretations of their neighbors who come in from the city.

 

I can see the resentment that might lie underneath these tiny cottages and their crop-growing plots of land, and the voices from these dachas make for perfect summer reading. Because, all cultural arguments aside, it made me fully nostalgic and absolutely homesick for the dacha of my own family and childhood.

 

"Everyone in Russia has a dacha story. It may be a trace of childhood memory like playing ball late into evening by grace of a sun that won't set, gathering pine-cones to perfume the samovar fire, or swimming in an icy pond rimmed by green spires of spruce," the article waxes.

 

My aunt and uncle have owned their tiny cottage on Moon Lake in Iron Mountain, Michigan at least as long as my lifetime. It is our automatic location for family picnics and events during the few months of summer weather they get in the Upper Peninsula of the state. A short season means that crescent-shaped Moon Lake, like those Russian bodies of water, never really gets "warm," but it is the most refreshing kind of clean, clear, deep-water northern lake, and I adore it. Various boats haven pulled me and cousins and the occasional friend behind behind it, in inter-tubes, our bodies bouncing and our hands gripped for dear life on the handles, until we give in and disappear behind the wake of our vessels. We played 'King of the Raft" on the old wooden raft my uncle constructed and anchored just offshore, sometimes with so many of us on it that it disappeared below the surface of the water, leaving us standing on the glittering blue-black top of the lake.

 

All the odds and ends of our lake days are stored inside the tiny cottage on the property, which for as long as I've known it has not had any room devoted to actual habitation. There is one bedroom, and it is filled to the ceiling with wetsuits, inter-tubes, water skiis, beach towels, extra clothing, blankets, and floating devices. Each room is filled with the kind of old furniture that has retired from full-time use in primary dwellings, and now resides in the cottage, so each is a relic of the  eras past. The whole place feels like the 1970s, underlined by the dark orange shag carpet with decades of dirt, grass, and beachy foot debris sunken in--but somehow it is still soft and comforting after the chilly outside air and water. Their are several 100-piece puzzles in tiny square boxes, the same ones have been there my entire life, and I always choose the one that is a big bowl of strawberries. This is the only one I even remember, and I loved to sit inside and let my swimsuit dry while I worked on that puzzle.

 

The best thing about these nostalgic bits of their cottage is that my aunt has changednothingsince. That carpet, the strawberry puzzle, the room full of lake supplies, the kitchen and dining room areas strewn with clutter, sale items, assorted kitchenware, piles of cases of pop (not soda, this is the U.P.), the old blow-up doll we used to dress in real clothes, even the apple cinnamon air freshener for the singular little bathroom: the same.

 

This is the place I envisioned in my mind as I read about the Russian dacha; it is the place of a thousand summer memories, of enjoying the short months of warm sunshine, a break from the winter cold. As I got older, obviously, I moved to Georgia, with its own excess of heat. But I remember one summer, when we were back visiting for a few weeks, one aunt remarked that my skin had grown considerably darker there than it was when I had arrived. The Michigan sun was just the right strength, where you can survive outside all day, laying along the dock on your old, faded towel, sitting in the swing beneath the pine trees. This time of year in Georgia, all I really want to do is sit inside, in the air conditioning. Pools are okay, as a source of cooling off, but I never was much of an ocean, saltwater girl. Give me those glorious Michigan lakes any day. And a scoop of Blue Moon ice cream, which only those from the Midwest/Wisconsin/Michigan zone will ever have tried (unless you know someone from the area, who has let you in on the secret).

 

I haven't lived in Michigan since 1998, but every year around this time, I long for the lake, a day or two or three at that cottage, k-bars and sub sandwiches and pop at the picnic table and a visit to that strawberry puzzle. To me, a little cottage on a tiny lake in Upper Michigan is the most ideal summer hideaway I can imagine. I only hope I will continue to have access to a place like that, and the means to get there every now and then. There are plenty of jet-setting locales and beautiful, cultural, otherworldly places I also want to visit, too. But there is something engrained in my being that will always hold clear, Michigan lakes and tiny, cozy cottages as special. It's a lot like the daughter who arrived at her father's dacha in the article:

 

"She travels everywhere," Boris says. "Egypt, Italy, Turkey." This time, Vladislava, who works in advertising in St. Petersburg, had gone to comfortable, orderly Switzerland. But Vladislava had had her fill of Swiss perfection. Now she longed for the familiar warmth of cobbled-together, unruly Nertsy [the dacha community where her father lives]. She sat on the deck of the family dacha and gazed at the calm, green oval of Lake Nertsy. Sunbathers stretched out on half-sunken docks splintered by winter ice. Water lilies floated like tiny yellow coronets. "Lake Geneva," she said airily. "It's just a pond."

 

This is the perfect sentiment to describe the feeling of comfort in a place like this; it goes beyond aesthetic or appearance--in fact, it is a place often filled with kitsch. But it is also a place of memory, of freedom, and of little carefree moments, added up over time.

 

On babies

The average age of an American woman when she has her first child is 24.9. I am 24.

I am in the midst of many women--my age, younger, older, all of us in our twenties--who have had children already, or are having them soon, or are planning, or coping with issues, illnesses, miscarriages, fertility questions, and anywhere in between. But, babies. It is a hot topic, to say the least, and one I am a part of even though I fall into none of the above listed categories.

One of my grad school friends in due in September, and though she has only told family (and a former employer out of necessity), she told me about it very early on, and I have happily kept her secret and excitedly shared in her joy as she prepares. She and her husband have a very pragmatic perspective, and she is an amazingly honest and straightforward person. (Example: When she told be about her pregnancy, she opened with "I'm knocked up!")

"Well," she explained to me, "we want a kid but we're young and broke. But then we figured, we'll probably be broke again once we have the kid, so we might as well just have a baby and continue to be broke and happy." I am incredibly excited for her, and she is already so beautiful, she is going to be the most drop-dead stunning pregnant lady as she begins to show. I am almost done with my gift for her, a baby quilt whose pattern I made up, using some things that inspired me and working in improvisational piecing. My second effort in modern quilting. I have adored thinking about her and her husband and new baby while planning and stitching.

But I have none of those urges myself. Honestly, not one lick. The main reason I can come up with for having a child now is that I'm pretty sure my Dad is well-past-due to be a grandfather. He is at that old-man-at-the-table-over-who's-goo-gooing-to-your-baby phase, at age 61, and I know he would adore a grandchild. By the way, that's not a good enough reason. And my three brothers are probably closer to becoming gay and adopting a baby than they are to having one with a lady. (Sorry, Dad. You'll have to wait a bit longer.)

Actually, I feel no great sadness at the thought of never becoming pregnant or giving birth. This sounds extreme, and I know someone will read this and think, but Jessie, you just feel that way now, think what you'd be missing, you have no idea. I am fine with you thinking this, and even telling me. I can't say how I'll feel in five or ten years. I genuinely do want children, I know someday I will be ready to take on that responsibility, and raise some precious beings to grow into thoughtful, compassionate, intelligent, curious human adults. I love imagining them, and I often think about them. This is the silly, girly truth. But I also genuinely do not feel they need to come from my uterus. This is hard to explain, I feel like it needs more sentences than the one. But there are none. It just doesn't matter to me at all how they came into this earth, just that I am allowed to love him or her, and raise them.

I do think about it, often, surrounded by friends who consciously, purposely get pregnant (yes, we're at that age it seems), about whether or not I'd feel sad, like I'd missed something excellent. Surely, it is an experience I will have missed. But there are an infinite amount of experiences I will miss during my life as well, like being able to see all the places I desire to see, learn the languages, fluently, I wish I could speak. Write every single book I know I have in me. Help all the people I wish and long to help. Work for many of the organizations and places I love and admire so much. Motherhood is something I know I cannot miss, am called to experience. But I also feel, very strongly--almost to a foolish extent--that I really, really, must adopt my children. I feel it deeply, in my bones, and I think it shakes off any fear or concern I might have otherwise had over maybe missing pregnancy, or a biological child.

I've been engrossed, in these last few months, in the lives of families who've built themselves through adoption. Mothers who've battled infertility, been through endless IVF treatments, countless tears, serious conversations, and sad nights. Other mothers who've known from the start of their families that they wanted to adopt. Some with only one child, adopted; others with several adopted kids; and others with biological and adopted kids together. And what I've witnessed, truly seen in their lives and their stories, is that the love is the same. They are raising American kids in a complicated world, and that their daughters (and sons) are Chinese American is only benefitting--increasing the joy of--their experience as a family. Women have cried as they've explained the love they have for their adopted daughter or daughters. I want this. This is what I dream about when I daydream about my future kids.

The paper pregnancy, as it's called, is tiring, comprehensive, painful, scary, intimidating. It's all kinds of emotional things to the people who go through it. And it often takes longer than nine months. And the joyful day when they receive the photo of their child, and mull over their beauty as they head out for some wine and dinner to celebrate, has been recounted to me more than a dozen times already. They talk about how much work it all is, and how sure they have to be that they want to become parents before anyone signs off on their dossier. Oh, bring it on, I think. I know how much I want kids. This is honestly what is going through my head when I hear the tales of social workers and county clerks and government officials and notaries public. And those moments, in China, when they meet their children, are my favorite. How extraordinary that you walk into a room and suddenly, you are a parent. I know I want children, absolutely and unwaveringly, and I know I want to go through all this. It is exhilarating to think about beginning this whole process.

I know I want kids. I know the way I want to have them is not the "normal" way. I've also explored more about myself, through the work on my graduate capstone project, and how I feel about pregnancy, children, motherhood, infertility, childrearing practices and theories. We're each individuals on this planet, with our own approaches and theories on every thing we do. And for my kids, they will have lives beyond the years they spend with me, and lives before I will have known them, too. My children will not be mine to "have," but will be little bundles of potential--good and bad, yes--for me to explore the world with, once we meet.

I love imagining where and when we will meet one another. Who will those little people be? Not of my blood, but of my heart.

Sneak peek: Dublin loft living

Last week, I took a day trip down to Dublin, Georgia, where my parents have lived for almost ten years. I went to spend some time with my Mom, leading up to her 55th birthday, but also to got through some things they still have in storage that need to be whittled down as they continue downsizing. I took some photos of where they live now, because I think that in a few years, they will have wanted to have a bit of documentation of this phase in their lives, and where they worked through big shifts and took on different commitments, now that their children have grown and moved out. I love this one-bedroom loft. I love the tall ceilings, the old floors, the way the whole unit is a bit tilted--literally, furniture tilts forward slightly. And my Mom has it stylishly understated, which she can keep in order far more easily than when multiple kids and multiple friends tore through the living room and kitchen constantly. She says, oh, there's so much sewing stuff around, so many dresses (it's prom and pageant season) hanging and flopped over everywhere. But that's part of their moment right now too. It's life, right now.

My mom is often giddy when she talks about no longer having a mortgage. Freedom. 

Visiting the AIDS Memorial Quilt

The squares are bigger than you could even imagine. They command the room, the space. What a powerful source of memory, of honoring those who we have lost to AIDS.

As I have written about a few times already , I have been exploring the many squares on the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and have been remembering especially two men who were important to my Mom, to our community, and to my perception and experience with the death tolls from AIDS. Almost as soon as I learned, via their website, that the Quilt is stored and the foundation headquartered here in Atlanta, I called, left a message, and asked to visit--especially to see the two squares I had been pouring over, Craig's and Parnell's.

Richie, a veteran of the NAMES Project Foundation, called me back after the MLK holiday weekend, and I planned a visit for today. This morning I spent some time crying, touching the quilt, reading the many lovely words, poems, thoughts contributed to each of their squares, and learned more about these two men via the wonderful memorial that this Quilt provides. It provides a way to remember, in a very communal and large-scale way, yet allowing for quite private and personal time with those who are being remembered. Richie pulled up the information on these two squares, 2744 (Parnell's) and 5508 (Craig's), so I could see where they had traveled, where they had been requested, and where and when they were each on display.

I learned that the demographic who has been contributing the most new squares--they receive on average about 400 new squares each year--are nieces. Girls my age, who have memories, however clear or unclear, of their uncles who died while we were young, and who have now reached the age in which remembering them properly has been an important part of grieving, or becoming an adult, of understanding how this illness has devastated families. I am exactly that generation, that demographic, though I have to consider myself an honorary niece only.

I made a donation in honor of my parents, who have been caring, compassionate examples for my brothers and me, and in honor of Craig and Parnell, obviously, and for each of their families. The wonderful (small) staff gave me a book of some quilt squares, and a calendar I have already poured over several times. I felt so welcomed, and depending on how much longer I am in Atlanta, I want to help quilt squares together as they need me. Seeing a modest and hard-working organization and staff like that also reminds me that I am in the right field; non-profits, working to educate and engage the public, and ensuring that life has been well-spent by taking care of the issues that matter most.

Take a moment to drink in how enormous each panel of this quilt is. Each square is intentionally 3 feet by 6 feet, about the size of a human grave. I was not prepared for the commanding presence, and for how much more meaningful seeing each component up-close truly is.

Michigan

I just returned from a week in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where both sides of my family have their roots, and where I was raised. There are lots of lovely things I'd like to share, but for now, I just want to share this stunning bit of cold, bright, beauty.

And Carl is 18 today

The youngest in our family, Carl turns 18 today, finally graduating us to four adult children. He has just started school at the University of Georgia, where he finished his freshman summer term last week. Very proud of this "little" brother too.

Neil turns 20 today

My brother Neil, the third of four and the middle boy in our family, turns 20 today. He is stationed at Guantanamo Bay, where he works as a dental assistant. So proud of this grown-up guy.

This was back in his "light bulb head" days.

Adoption series: Jim & Kristen Weathersby, and adopting from Guatemala

Click below to here just a snippet of the experience the Weathersby family had bringing their daughter Katie into their hearts and home. [audio:http://betheink.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Adoption-and-Guatemala.mp3|titles=Adoption and Guatemala]

**Please note** This is a rough-cut, sample pilot episode, constructed in a very short period of time, so as to exhibit some sample content for my HIST 7040 final project. This will not be the only piece on the Weathersby family, nor does it begin to cover entirely the many things we discussed in recording their experience. Over the summer, I intend to build more of the components of this project, including its own web site, a working title for the project, and an intro for each podcast episode. Please forgive the brevity of what I have now.

 

Podcast pilot episode: transcript

Jim and Kristen Weathersby on adopting their daughter Katie

Jim and Kristen Weathersby adopted their daughter Katie from Guatemala in 2008, bringing her home at the ripe age of seven months and one week old. In the case of their international adoption experience, the timing was everything, as, by the time they had invested over a year in the process, a legal complication between the United States and Guatemala immediately halted what had formerly been a popular program for Americans adopting abroad.

The Weathersbys had wanted at least one child and, after a long and morally challenging trek down the fertility path, determined they wanted to adopt. The nature of international adoption appealed to them over the domestic option, and Guatemala offered a short wait time upon submitting an application—about six to twelve months, relative to countries like China—which can run upwards of two years. For Jim and Kristen, their age was also a factor, and Guatemala was one nation that did allowed couples over thirty-eight to adopt infant children, rather than an older child.

The couple began the application process—itself reams and reams of paper, red tape, and bureaucracy—in December of 2006. Katie was born August 23, 2007. A few weeks later, after months of waiting, they got word that they had a daughter.

 

Kristen: In September, they said OK, we have a child. And they sent us a videotape, and a bunch of pictures of Katie at seven days old.

While the initial U.S. side of the adoption was behind them, they now embarked upon completing the requirements for the Guatemalan end of the process. They soon realized, with events that were taking place on the global stage, that they were about to be caught up in an international event.

Kristen: So the first half was the U.S. side of the adoption. From September on was the Guatemalan side of the adoption. And so at that time, the laws have changed since then, but since that time, there was a whole slew of government agencies that you had to get through and approvals you had to get through. And then they announced, mostly because the United States government insisted, there’s a Hague Treaty that involves our—the United States’ relationship with other countries and adoption, and it has more than adoption, but it also involves adoption. And, we were non-compliant.

 

Jim: The United States.

 

Kristen: The United States was non-compliant. Because one of the requirements of the United States, the Hague Treaty is, to do adoptions internationally, you can only do with other countries—with countries that control the adoptions centrally from a government, ok?

 

Jessie: I see.

 

Kristen: Now, Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Central America, and they have an incredibly poor and corrupt government. So to bring a governmental agency into it is, I could talk for days about that. But, at the time that we did it, it was still a private process.

When the Hague Treaty violation rose to the surface of international relations, the long-successful connection between adoptive families in the U.S. and orphan children in Guatemala was abruptly halted. For months after getting those first photos and video footage of their daughter, the Weathersbys did not know if they would be allowed permission to go and get her before the tiny window that remained open was shuttered entirely. As it turns out, they made it through with only days to spare, in the last weeks of 2007.

 

Kristen: So we got in December sixteenth, they closed on December thirty-first. December fifteenth.

 

Jim: Yeah. Fifteenth or sixteenth. Yeah but still.

 

Kristen: They closed on the—we were told at that point in time, that, on December fifteenth-ish, that it may be August, July or August, before we were going to get her, even though it had closed, so we were preparing for that.

I spoke with the Weathersbys about the reaction they received during their two visits to Guatemala, and some of the perceptions of adoption that existed in the country at that time, in 2007 and 2008—partially as a result of very same governmental trouble that had almost left them waiting months, or even years, to bring Katie home.

 

Jessie: What were some of the responses, did you, I don’t know how long you were in Guatemala, but, um, you [Jim] were kind of saying before that there was this sort of—

 

Kristen:  Guatemala is a tough country. Um, they aren’t one hundred percent—OK. Guatemala as a culture only has two classes, lower class and upper class [indicated with hands]. And um, lower class typically is the native population, the Mayans, and, uh, the twain don’t meet, very much. So, they don’t adopt. Their culture does not, you will not find a upper-class family adopting a Mayan kid, that doesn’t happen. So, at some point in time, there was, there’s plenty of rhetoric, especially as they were changing the laws and going through the change from—

 

So I don’t know of we did this, let me back up. So, PGN is the, was the part that you had to get through, to know that you were going to get to adopt.

 

Jim: The equivalent of their attorney general’s office.

 

Kristen: Under the old laws. And you had until December 31st [2007]. If you made it through PGN by December 31st, you would officially have adopted your child and you could—otherwise you had to start all over again, your adoption, and all that process that you’d gone through for the last year meant nothing. And you had to go restart under the new laws. Well they, after that, they closed for a whole year. So even the restarting process, you couldn’t do for a whole year, because they had to figure out how to have the infrastructure of an adoption program—

 

Jim: From nothing—

 

Kristen: From nothing. With no money. Zero money. And a corrupt government. So, part of the rhetoric during this whole process was that Americans were stealing babies. That rich Americans came down and they stole all the children. So there was this assumption, um, that everyone was down there stealing babies. It’s already—one of my, my former head of security was with the secret service, and he was stationed in Guatemala for seven years—it’s already, like adoption, no adoption—it’s a gun state. You have any money down there, you have a bodyguard. Locals have a bodyguard. We stayed in the nicest section of Guatemala city, and the restaurant next to our hotel had been sprayed with gunfire. Um, because there had been an attempted robbery, right there. The Intercontinental Hotel, there were armed—like rifle-armed—armed guards posted all the way across the sidewalk. You know, we, because we were adopting, were taught, kind of, to fear. Now I have friends who go to Guatemala on vacation and they’re not afraid, and that’s not—but, there was this kind of, culture of—

 

Jessie: With the connotation.

 

Jim: They told us not to leave the hotel, basically.

 

Kristen: Mm-hmm. And when we did leave—

 

Jessie: That was because of the changing... ?

 

Kristen: Well one thing, you’re assumed as Americans to have a lot of money.

 

Jessie: That’s true.

 

Kristen: You’re assumed to be stealing a baby. So, we had armed guards pretty much with us at all times.

Katie’s adoption story, and the experience with international politics within that story, highlights one of the many complications involved in adopting across national borders.  Cultural perceptions affect the host country’s citizens’ willingness to adopt, which means some cultures, like Guatemala’s, are left with larger numbers of orphaned children who will not be adopted in their country of origin. For Jim and Kristen, this opened up the world to them, as their daughter is the admitted light of their lives.

Jim: You know, I mean, it was a long process, but in the end, and I’m not, I’m not the first one to say this, because I’ve heard several people do this already who did the same thing—it’s well worth it. I mean, it definitely well worth it. Um, she, you know, she’s just the light of our life.

 

Muammar: A note on my mother's nickname

My mom's name has been in the news a LOT lately. About six or seven years ago, at some point, she began referring to herself as "Muammar," a take on Muammar Ghaddafi's name, but we would most often spell it simply "Momar." If you hadn't guessed, this is more than anything a play on the word Mom, nabbed from a popular culture and global reference--my parents having been around during the '80s, the last time we had a serious confrontation with the rather loony man.

We are a family of nicknames, indeed. My parents have adopted several alternative names over the years, which always end up on their birthday cards and Christmas gift tags. My dad has been Clark, after Clark Griswold in the National Lampoon's films, for many years--it's a name my Mom really started many years ago (I was either young or not born yet). His actual name is Mark. And due to the operatic stylings she has been known to bust out, we dubbed my Mom "Blanche Munchnick," after Madeline Kahn's similar-singing character in one of our family's favorite movies, Mixed Nuts. As if you needed to shorten a one-syllable name, my brother Neil has become simply "Ne." Paul has been "Paulio" ever since his days of addiction to the Paulio string cheese brand. I began calling Carl "Carola" I think partly because of the Toyota Corolla, and that has caught on as well. Much of this playfulness comes from my Mom, who uses "Ralphie" as an interchangeable name to refer to or call any of the men in our family.

But Ghaddafi might be the one we've giggled about the most over the years, as an almost absurd title that wasn't supposed to stick quite as well as it has. I mean, there are many days when my Dad might answer the phone and say he's "passing me over to The Colonel," or simply to "Ghaddafi." Yes, we've adopted all forms of the wacky human-rights violator's name as a set of endearing names to call our matriarch.

Grotesque? I don't think so at all, because Muammar, as I have referred to for many years, has a separate persona entirely from, a handy nickname that fits and has detached long ago from an conjuring up of the face, or the history, even. That has obviously changed vastly in the last few months, and I do not mean to make light of an extremely grave situation in Libya, but it does give me a smile sometimes to think of how often it's in the news, this name I have used for many years in a very personal, loving way.

When we first began calling her that, I remember her having to explain who he was to me--that's how young I was when the name caught on. Then, for a long time, I imagined this far-flung African figure as someone who must surely have long-died, a tyrant the sort of which did not exist anymore, someone who maybe struggled for independence throughout the World Wars but had since become part of those sagas gone by.

So until recently, with him being largely out of the news for at least a decade, the name really didn't bring about thoughts of destruction and death, and crimes against humanity.

But for me, it rarely does this. His voice and his face and his actions create far more vivid a picture, of a man who has too much pride and confidence that he is what Libya needs to thrive. For me, the name belongs to someone else entirely.

I tell my mom nowadays, it looks like very soon she will be the only Ghaddafi left, and that sounds nice.

Please excuse my protracted silences

It is unbelievable the kind of things that are unfolding right now in the world. We've started air strikes in Libya, and uprisings continue all across the Middle East and North Africa, most recently becoming violent in Syria. (It is rather jarring to think that the tipping point--or rather, the catalyst--for all of this was a fruit vendor in Tunisia.) There was a devastating earthquake--the largest in Japan's recorded history--followed by a resultant tsunami and a nuclear disaster that continues now, though it has stabilized considerably. In the United States, a political drama played out in Wisconsin over government employee's collective bargaining rights. Remember just three months ago when Senator Gabriel Giffords was shot in Tucson? The ravages of a rough and tumble, war-torn, disaster-torn planet have made me feel I've aged a few years in the span of three months. For the first time in my adult life, the news on the radio really does sometimes overwhelm me, I turn it off. Or, the opposite, I listen to it so much that my brain is swimming with thoughts, emotions--things I want to remember, write down, repeat, blog about, research more deeply, share with a friend, not forget. I wrote a few weeks ago on how even though I empathize deeply with people in other parts of the world who are struggling with recent events, I feel so removed, I can't hug the man in the story who is walking his dog amidst what was once his city and is now a disaster site. I continue to feel that way, while also knowing I am not, ultimately, immune from anything. I am human just the same, living this life, and at any moment it could change forever. I live under no airs that I am somehow different. I live somewhere more stable than Libya, maybe, but that does not protect me from the fragility of the world, except that I live farther away from what is now a warzone. Don't get me wrong, I am very thankful for at least that security; in this place, I do not live each day with the worry of a bomb striking my home or my family.

In my own life, there are a thousand things on my mind each day as well. As I said, there are simply so many things happening right now, I think of about ten things I want to get home and start writing about, and when I get home at night, what little energy I have left needs to go to homework--finishing readings, papers, projects, for my classes. It feels like months have passed since I last wrote something down and posted it on the internet. I now have two jobs, one in the history department at Georgia State (which I've had since August) and the other at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) southeast regional records center. We hold any federal bureau's records that they may want kept, until they want them destroyed--and then we do that. We serve the ten southeastern states. It's not a glamorous job by any stretch of the imagination, but it is good extra money and does relate to several big historical and archival issues in my field. I thought I was crazy for taking two jobs, that occupy four full workdays and leaving me far less time for my schoolwork, and I still think I am crazy. I get less sleep, and can literally only find time for the gym two days a week (three if I'm really creative), but now I know I can do it.

Being so busy does make the weeks go by so fast, which is why I feel like it's been years since 2011 began. I've planned a trip to Cuba (my history department job), spoke at my first history conference, read about ten books, started a new job, bought an iPhone--and I really enjoy my life. But it feels like I have been working at the records center for at least six months, when it has really been six weeks. My parents have been working hard to sell nearly everything in their home, including the home itself, and are moving out now, hoping to be done by the end of the month. They will be empty nesters in a few months, when my youngest brother starts the summer program at University of Georgia, and they have downsized considerably into a brand new loft in a converted downtown building in Dublin, Georgia, where they live. My brother Neil (one of two brothers in the Navy) assumed his station at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base a week ago today, where he'll remain for eighteen months. Paul is still on hold up in New London, Connecticut, but he seems happy and content. We have all been so engrossed in our lives, in all the things happening, and also happening across the world.

I think what I wanted to say today is that I have a hundred things I can and want to blog about, put my take on it down in writing, but there is SO MUCH, that it cancels itself out. I don't know where to start, when I get home, and then I think about all the other things I need to get done and how much I really want to just go to sleep. (Or watch Parks and Recreation, the best show on TV.) Especially in this stretch to finals, the next four weeks, I fear an extended absence from this website, but it will certainly, absolutely, not be from a lack of things going on in my mind or in my life. Or in the world, as we have seen.

A break from the regular, for a personal reminiscence: my Klingelhutz family

When I was thirteen years old, I drove a four-wheeler into one of the drainage waterways running through a series of farm fields in Annandale, Minnesota. The fields were behind the Klingelhutz's house, where my Uncle Rick, Auntie Sally, and their three kids lived in a small, cul-de-sac neighborhood; the four-wheeler was theirs. To this day I cannot live that down, and it was one of my Uncle Rick's favorite stories to recount.

I had had very little experience on four-wheelers, or any engine-powered mode of transport--being a thirteen-year-old girl, after all--and Jake, who is my age, gave me a quick lesson before I took off. Jeana, who is a few years younger, held on tight behind me and we took off into the fields, getting a thrill out of the high speeds and quick turns. It ended pretty quickly as I came around a corner of the field; picture one end closed in by high bushes and the adjacent side bordered by a narrow waterway, probably about six feet wide. As soon as I went to turn to drive alongside the water, I realized we were going too fast to turn quickly enough-- we were going to flip or I was going to have to veer dangerously close to the bank. (In retrospect, everyone asked why I didn't use the brake--I can only say that a person without a driver's license and who has all of ten minutes' knowledge on four-wheel usage does not think of such things.) So I chose the lesser of two bad situations, and we dove front-first into the the mucky, dark brown waters, coming instantly to a silent stop. Jeana climbed up on the bank and began to cry a loud, hysterical wail, so that I was quite sure she was injured. But really, that is very much a classic Jeana reaction. I could feel two gigantic bruises surfacing on my thighs, where the handlebars had held me in my seat as we nose-dived, but it was the least of my worries.

Back at the house, Jeana ran to her mom's arms and began to moan that she felt that she was "dreaming." My aunt interpreted this to mean she and I had had in mind a scheme to try to jump the water, making it across into the next field--something she had warned us explicitly not to do. What Jeana meant was that she felt like she was having a nightmare, the kind that give you a cold sweat even on a hot day; her erroneous wording nearly had us both slated for trouble, but I think I earned my punishment in sheer embarrassment and humility. I had to then climb back into the muck and push the four-wheeler out while Jake and his friends begrudgingly pulled from the bank, certainly laughing (at me) while they did. I threw away the powder blue shorts and trusty sneakers I'd had on, as they were both darkest brown, and basked in the family laughter and loving ridicule of my mishap; in the meantime, the engine was dead and would not start back up, and each of my the thighs had its own dark purple stripe.

A decade later, my Uncle Rick laughed about that summer with my dad, just days before he passed away; he loved that story, and he never did fix the four-wheeler, because as soon as he did, he would have less rationale to tease me about it. And while the Klingelhutz kids and the Edens kids are now fully entering their adult lives, my memories of the Annandale house and the times we spent there remain important to me. They sold the house and moved closer to our extended family around the time I started high school, so it's a place that now exists in memories and home videos--which are certainly plentiful, if today impossible to watch (anyone have a VCR?).

I founded and ran the Edens-Klingelhutz Kids Club, or the EKKC, and in my business-like manner gathered all seven of us for "meetings"-- on what, I cannot recall. There was our version of Who's Line Is It Anyway, where we dressed up in clothes from our grandparents' storage closet and performed ridiculous skits in their Michigan garage, all in front of a clunky camcorder. And in the grand tradition of playing "house," we played "Baby Joe," in which Joe, the eldest of us all, played a goofy kid who was scared of "rhino-sissies," and his "parents" and "uncle" and "siblings" trailed after him.

I was thinking about all this tonight, as I watched my cousin Joe, now 25, play bass with the band Banner Pilot at the 529 Club in East Atlanta. My dad went to visit baby Joey and his sister Sally and brother-in-law Rick back in November 1985, when they adopted him and joined him forever to our family and our hearts. His younger brother Jake plays football for Michigan Tech now, and his games are easier for family to attend, and certainly appeal to a wider range of people. So I felt especially joyful to stand there tonight and watch him perform and do what he loves, along with my mom and dad, who drove up from their home a few hours south of town, all of us making sure he knows--in case he forgot--how much we love him.

My dad proudly purchased a t-shirt and donned it right then and there.

The Klingelhutz family is responsible for sharing a lot of love and goofiness with me over the years, and every single member of that family has contributed in some way to both rich family memories and the personality I have today. I admired Joe in the way a younger cousin does; I found in Jake an equal, a friend, and a good laugh; in Jeana, I never had a worry of being judged or criticized for being as silly or as ridiculous as I wanted; in many ways, their parents embodied all these elements, in my mind, as I was growing up. Last month at our mutual cousins' wedding, I was struck again how deeply their family embraces life, laughter, and each others' individual spirits. I am so blessed to have them in my life, and to have the memories they have conferred in my head and heart.