90 Years Ago, Today

By strange coincidence, while trying to find out the answers to some family history mysteries, I ran across the record of my great-grandmother’s entry to the US just the other day.  Today happens to the be 90th anniversary of her arrival through Ellis Island.

Not really a world-events type thing, but still, a strange coincidence.

She came alone on a ship out of Hamburg.  The family story was that her step-father drove her in a wagon to Hamburg, but that’s over 300 miles from where they lived so I kinda suspect he just drove her to the train station.  She apparently knew people on the boat, but after she got off in New York she had to take a train to North Dakota.  As far as I know she did that part all on her own.

She was the last over-seas arrival for my family.



Stairs Interrupted

I love my family dearly, but they might drive me to beat my head against the wall soon if they don’t stop interrupting me.

The over-all interruption of having them back in the house for a visit is one thing–this is a welcome interruption.

It’s all the little things that come in between.  The worst being Mom’s habit of telling me to do one thing, then interrupting me before I can do it.  Prime example from this afternoon.  I have been home all of 10 minutes….

Mom: “Go take this laundry up to the linen closet.”

Me: “Okay.”

Half-way up the stairs…..

Mom [yelling from the laundry room] : “Cammy!”

Me [paused on the stairs] “Yeah?”

Mom [still yelling from the laundry room] :”Come here!”

Me: [attempting to continue up the stairs] “I’m just going to finish putting this stuff up.”

Mom: I want to show you where I put the carpet cleaner!

Me:  I’ll be down in a minute.

Mom:  It will only take a second!

So, I give in, go back down the stairs, stuff still in my arms.  Mom proceeds to show me every detail of how she arranged the shelves in the laundry room.  During this 10 minute presentation, I have put the stack of towels and sheets on top of the drier.

Mom:  “I thought you were going to put those away.”

Me [rolling eyes]: “I was trying to.”

Mom:  “Well, you don’t have to have an attitude about it!”

For the record, it took me four (4), yes FOUR (4) attempts before I made it up the stairs without being called back for something else.  And that final time, I essentially played stealth and when she called me, I pretended not to hear.

I’m SO looking forward to the men in white coats coming to take me to a nice padded cell.

Family Stories

I just got back from my family reunion and I’m running on about three hours’ sleep so this will be a short one.  My extended family has never been particularly close—I only have three first cousins and we have only seen each other a handful of times.  I didn’t meet my own godmother (my father’s cousin) until I was 23.  We do this family reunion every so often and it’s the only contact many of us have.  But I’m glad we do it.

Everyone’s always trying to arrange these things so they involve activities—trips to theme parks, shopping facilities, landmarks.  Me?  I wish we’d just sit around the whole time and talk.  Not only do I like getting to know them all, I like hearing the stories.  My grandmother’s generation are not getting younger and because I haven’t spent time with them I don’t know their stories.

Tonight I learned about how my great grandfather left home because he knew if he stayed he’d kill his step-father.  About how a great, great uncle finished a war with the local minister by tying said minister’s horse outside a notorious dance hall (so people would think he’d gone dancing).  About my great, great grandmother who loved to hunt but was so tiny her husband had to have a sawed off shotgun specially made for her (she also did beautiful needlework).  I also learned the truth about what happened at Roswell.  But no, I’m not telling.

I just wish I got to hear these stories more often.  It makes me kind of sad that I’m a folklorist, someone who spends her whole life studying stories, and I know so few of my own family’s stories.

Happy Birthday, Kristy!

Okay, gentle readers, join me in wishing a happy birthday to Kristy!  The appointed day is actually tomorrow, but every now and then I manage not to miss a deadline around here–not often, mind you, but birthday celebrations are important things–they often have better-than-average food, drink and activities.

However, given that our intrepid co-poster is currently in a location surrounded by family, she might not be experiencing any of the above-mentioned boons of one’s birthday.  Which makes me sad.  Your birthday should be the one day you should get to be as bossy and demanding as you want with zero guilt.  The rest of the world should be so lucky to bask in your presence, bow at your feet, let you pick the activities, give you total control of the remote, and bring you tasty food!

So, my fellow blogger, may you have a fabulous day, and feel free to put your foot down should anyone suggest anything not to your liking.  Make your demands!  You deserve them!

Not-so-Kodak Moments

I’m currently on vacation with my entire family.  That means five children between the ages of three and twelve.  Anyone who knows me knows I’m not someone who loves hanging out with children.  I never babysat (okay, a couple times I got roped into it when I was a tween, but I hated it).  I don’t want kids of my own.  I love my nieces and nephews, but I have a tolerance level which is quickly reached.

I have, however, found something which seems to entertain and tame small children for enough time to wait in line, wait for a table, or wait for food.  (No one wants to be with antsy children at restaurants.)  Most adults in my family will hand the children their cell phone and allow them to play Angry Birds or some similar game.  I have a smart phone, but I don’t have any of those games.  What I do have is a camera.

I simply hold it up and tell the bored child to make a crazy face.  When you have kids who are constantly being told not to act silly in pictures and (in my nephews’ cases) being punished for making faces in photos, the opportunity to deliberately look like a goofball is a picture is apparently thrilling.  And all it costs me is battery power and I’m saved the aggravation of obnoxious children.  And everyone else around us is spared the aggravation of obnoxious children they aren’t related to.  Victory for all.

Yo Mamma’s a Time Vampire

My mother is constantly asking where all her time goes.  She’s decreased her work schedule to two 12 hour shifts per week and no longer has any kids at home, so it does seem like she should have some amount of free time, but it doesn’t.  So staying with her this summer I’ve paid attention, and I’ve come up with a few ideas of the things that are sucking my mother’s time away.

1.  My father.  My mother likes to say she’s from the generation of women who thought they had to do it all.  The women who were encouraged to get jobs outside the home, but who didn’t realize that meant they could ask the men in their lives to help around the house.  My father’s a good old boy who thinks that house work makes you girly.  When us kids moved out she finally convinced him to vacuum (though he complains and procrastinates about it).  Add to that he’s constantly tracking mud and saw dust into the house and gets highly offended if asked to wipe his feet.  If he could do that alone I think it would give her at least a couple hours a week.

2.  Laundry.  Yes, laundry is a necessary evil, but I strongly feel like she does a lot more of it than she needs to.  Yes, I have a tendency to not wash as often as I need to because I have to go to a Laundromat to do it.  I can understand not wearing the same pajamas for a week like I do, but I’m not sure they need to be washed every day either.  She does the same with hand towels, wash clothes, kitchen towels, etc, etc.  The end result is that nearly every day off she does a minimum of two loads of laundry.  If she’d let the hand towels go three days instead of one or two I think she could buy herself at least two or three hours a week.

3.  Grocery shopping.  Now let me give this to my mom: she can get in and out of a store with astounding speed.  Cammy once went shopping with her and was stunned by this.  But no matter how fast you are, every trip to the store takes about half an hour travel time, five minutes to park, five minutes to walk to and from the car…  So it’s easy for each trip to the grocery store to take at least an hour.  And my mother can’t just go to one store.  She goes to Wal-Mart (often twice a week), Trader Joe’s, Costco, Sam’s Club, and sometimes more.  I realize she goes to all these stores based on who has the best prices on what, but given her crazy schedule if she would just consolidate, or make one or two of those trips a bi-weekly thing she could save a lot of time.

Of course, this is probably one of those things that is much easier to see from the outside.  Maybe it’s easier to see other people’s time vampires than our own because our own seem so essential while other people’s seem silly.

The Mystery of Food

In one of my most dastardly schemes yet, I convinced my mother to buy my father an ice cream maker as a Father’s Day present.  Well, I convinced her to buy it (in my defense, it was a fantastic price for the model in question), she was the one who decided to make it a Father’s Day present.  This is absurd mostly because my father is never going to make ice cream.  But, as my mother pointed out, he’ll get to reap the benefits when we do.  For me, this means I can make frozen treats when I’m here visiting.  Score!

We stewed a little over what to make first and finally settled on raspberry sorbet.  So today I was getting the batter ready (sorbet won’t be made till tomorrow since I neglected to tell my Mom it needed to be put in the freezer ahead of time).  My father walked in and asked me what I was making and I told him.  He asked me what sorbet was.

I managed not to laugh.  I suppose it’s a valid question.  Except that I know he’s had sorbet because I made him sorbet the last time they visited me.  So I reminded him of that occasion, thinking it had slipped his mind.  He said he remembered, but he still didn’t know what the heck it was.

At first that made the whole thing seem even more absurd until it occurred to me I’m sure he’s not alone.  I’m fairly confident there are loads of people who eat foods every day without having the first idea what they’re eating.  I know that there was a British study done about five years ago where they discovered that most school children had no concept of what animals their meat came from.  (This perhaps says something about British cooking as well as modern ignorance)  It’s horrible, but perhaps not unexpected.  I know where my meat comes from, but I make a conscious effort not to think about that as I eat it.

My father’s a farm boy, so he knows where his meat comes from.  But that’s probably where his knowledge of food ends.  He got married in college (where he lived in places that provided his meals) so aside from a two year stint in Korea for which my family did not join him the man has never been responsible for preparing his own meals.  (And I suspect he ate out a LOT in Korea.)  He’s a fairly typical man of his generation in that he does everything possible to stay out of the kitchen and therefore does not know what goes on in that mystical world.  He once stated that he really loved my brownie recipe.  Wanna know my brownie recipe?  Buy Ghirardelli brownie mix.  Follow directions on box.  But I can give them to him and tell them they were from scratch and he’d never be the wiser.  I could have probably just given him the sorbet and called it ice cream and he’d have never questioned why it didn’t seem creamy.

In 18th Century Virginia cooking was considered a life skill.  Rich, poor, male, female, free slave all children were essentially kitchen staff.  Everyone grew up watching food prepared until they gained a working knowledge of it.  Enough that if responsible for their own meals, in a world with no instant prepared meals, they could do so.  How many people today could say the same? I’m never one that advocates reverting to the old way of doing things except some times when it comes to food.  Maybe we could pull the kids away from the game system and make them carry water in the kitchen for a while until they know sorbet from sherbet from ice cream.

To My Nephew, Growing Up

We’ve previously mentioned that I adore being a cool aunt.  As a refresher I have three nephews and two nieces, all of whom I love to pieces (even though I’m really glad to see them go home at the end of the day) (even though they have all at their own moments served as walking birth control).  Last night we celebrated my oldest nephew’s twelfth birthday.


I can still remember so vividly holding him for the first time.  He started hiccupping.  Since I’ve made it a point throughout my life to not hold babies I didn’t know if this was okay or not.  I’ve heard stories of adults having damage to their esophagus caused by hiccups, so I was imagining what it could do to a baby.  And when I asked if it was okay no one responded.  Over and over they just smiled and ignored me till I was nearly in a panic.

Yeah… don’t trust me with your children.

This week he and I had the following discussion:

Mom:  What do you want for your birthday?

J:  I dunno.

Kristy:  I know you really want it, but I’m not buying you a small nuclear device.

J:  That’s fine.  I’ll just make one out of legos.

Kristy:  See, that’s the thing.  It’s not that I don’t want you to have one, it’s that I feel like you should have to work for it.  If global domination comes too easily you’ll never appreciate it.

J:  That’s cool.  I totally understand.  So when I take over the world, what kind of job do you want?

Kristy:  One that pays well and doesn’t require too much actual work.

J:  Sweet.  I think that can be arranged.

Could I love this kid more?  Well yes, because he also came over in a “Many Moods of Darth Vader” t-shirt.  And he makes jokes involving Baba Yaga and Norse Mythology.  He plays the viola because “it’s much more manly” than the violin.  Kid is awesome.

So the whole point of this post is to say that my little hiccupping baby is nearly grown up in some socio-cultural traditions, and I couldn’t be prouder of him.

Why No One (meaning my family) Respects my Job

For years now, I’ve had the type of jobs were most of the actual “work” does not take place at “the office.”  I’ve either worked entirely from home or had jobs where I had to do a lot of work at home.  Over all, I really like this.  It gives me added flexibility.  It means I can run my errands while people with normal jobs are sequestered in office buildings.  It means I don’t have to be around people very much.  (Yes, hello, I’m an introvert).

The one thing I hate about this kind of job is that people with “normal” jobs don’t get it.  They don’t respect that the work you do at home is work.  It’s just as important and essential as the stuff that they do in their offices.  People think it’s perfectly acceptable to strike up a conversation with you while you’re doing said work.  They don’t understand why constant phone calls might be inappropriate.  At least now I’m salaried, but at one point I was working from home and being paid by the hour.  My mother would call and ask what I was doing.  If I answered, “Working,” she would continue talking.  I’d have to make note of the time she called and the time I got her off the damn phone (usually at least an hour later).  She would never call either of my siblings at their offices and think it’s appropriate to have an hour long personal conversation with them.

Right now I’m on an extended visit to my parents.  In order to do this, I brought a lot of work with me.  Admittedly I haven’t been accomplishing as much of it as I should have, but I’ve been setting aside a certain amount of time each day to do it.  Last week my father decided it was a good idea to lecture me about being a workaholic.  Since I know I’m anything but I asked him how he would know I’m a workaholic.  He explained it was because I was doing work while “on vacation.”  I asked him when the last time he took a two month vacation was. (Note:  If my father takes an extended weekend he takes work with him)  His response?  “Well I can’t.  I have a real job.” Thanks, Dad.  You know what would really help here?  Belittle my occupation a little more.

And yes, it’s true that my parents don’t really “get” or respect my career in general, but honestly, if I was doing the exact same job but doing all of my work in an office somewhere they would respect it a lot more.  It just seems a little absurd in this world of increasing telecommuters and such that working from home still doesn’t rate as work.

A Little Familial Venting

Before our hiatus last month I mentioned that my parents had an internet connection so slow it made me want to rip my hair out by the handfuls.  It would have been one thing if they were simply cheap and paying for dial up.  But they have DSL.  They’re paying for DSL.  And it takes five minutes to get a freaking email (one without images I note) to open.  That’s if it doesn’t time out before opening.

But the most frustrating thing about this problem?  My father refused to admit it existed. Why would he do such a thing?  Because I was the one who pointed it out to him.  Actually, my mother had mentioned it before I even got home.  And then my aunt also pointed it out.  Why would he disregard all of our voices?  Because there is no way we could possibly know anything about computers.  Not a single one of us has a penis.

Yes, for my father the women’s equality movement was largely something that happened to other people.

I don’t mean to imply that my father is a bad person.  He isn’t.  He’s simply the product of a small Texas town in the fifties. Then he spent twenty years as a pilot in the US Air Force.  I think the combination of these two environments simply conspired to indoctrinate him with attitudes about gender roles and aptitudes which are a couple hundred (thousand?) years old.

He’s the same way with cars.  In high school I once told him there was a problem with my car’s transmission.  He drove it one day and pronounced that it was absolutely fine—I was imagining things.  I was a seventeen year old girl and there is no way I could have possibly known anything about cars.  To heck with the fact that I drove it every day and drove it quite a bit since I had to drive twenty-five miles to work.  No, no.  In the fifteen minutes that he drove it he determined that I was just a silly woman who was overreacting to nothing.  The problem is that, of course, I was right.  There was a crack in my transmission and by the time I finally convinced my father it needed to be looked at the transmission problem had caused a radiator problem and I had to pay $1000 to get it all repaired.

But cars are one thing.  By my own admission I really don’t know anything about cars.  (He doesn’t either, for the record).  But in all honesty, I probably know more about computers than he does.  And my aunt works with computer networks for a living.  It is just possible that we know something about the speed at which a website should load.  Possibly.

Now as far as my father is concerned, I’m doubly stupid, because I’m a woman and I’m in a field of study that borders the humanities.  Which is why I was so annoyed when my brother told me that I needed to nudge my father towards getting a hearing aid.  My brother is (or at least should be) completely aware that my father thinks I’m an idiot.  My brother, on the other hand, being a male who studied computers (and nearly flunked out of college.  Twice) is clearly a genius.  But he’s not going to bring it up, because my brother is a champion avoider and if he pretends like my father isn’t deaf, his hearing will magically come back.

In all fairness to my father, I have to confess that my mother bears part of the blame for this.  My mother, an incredibly strong willed woman, decided that marital peace was best achieved by ignoring my father when he goes into chauvinist mode.  Which is not to say she lets him push her around—she simply rolls her eyes and does whatever she wants and he usually doesn’t notice.  I understand why she does this.  It’s probably much easier than fighting him on every little thing.  But what she doesn’t think about is all the other women that have to put up with him from time to time whose lives would be easier if she had beaten the archaic attitudes out of him years ago.