Friday, November 30, 2007


I love how familiar Pendle Hill feels to me now. I love sitting in meeting and not needing to look up when someone starts to speak because I know everyone's voice by heart. I love being able to identify who made a loaf of bread - Sarah's loaves are big and high-risen, mine small and diagonally slashed. Kurt's are carved with letters so that all eight loaves in order spell something.

Yesterday I was walking towards the building where I live, talking under my breath. A woman popped her head out of her apartment door as I passed. "Are you talking to God?" she asked, smiling beatifically.
"I'm talking to myself," I said.
"It's the same thing!" she answered. "It's the same thing!"

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Best fashion advice ever

Carl, on the way to Quaker meeting this morning, to me (wearing a red shirt, blue striped skirt, purple socks, and bright pink rubber clogs): "You can't match too much or you'd look like a Muggle, anyway."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Love made visible

I'm now living and working at Pendle Hill, the Quaker center where I spent last summer. (Not going to Kazakhstan after all. Ask me if you want.)

One of the things I love about this place is the small objects that show great love put into them over the years. A decade ago when a 225-year-old oak came down, one of the maintenance workers saved some of the wood and made it into things like new seats for the stools in the craft studio. It probably would have been easier to just buy new stools, but I'm sure people were sad about losing the tree and were glad to have it preserved in some way.

The other bit of handiwork I found moving this week was the hotpads in the dining room. They're worn print cotton and corduroy, sewn into rectangles and stitched across with embroidery floss to keep the layers together. And where the fabric is shredding with age, you can see through to some previous layer of the hotpad from a previous generation, the cloth deemed too ragged but re-covered instead of thrown away. The potholders have certainly been around for longer than most of the people here, made and re-made by someone's careful hands.

At the top of the weekly chore chart here are the words Work is love made visible. These small objects made it particularly visible to me this week.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

My two newest favorite things

1. Flannel shirts on cool days.

2. The FWCC, or Friends World Committee on Consultation, because it sounds like a parody of a Quaker committee but is in fact real. I made food for them this weekend, as they came to Pendle Hill to, um, consult. It seems they're a gang of old Quakers getting together to talk about how their various branches of Quakerism should stop being so crabby with each other. Vies with FLGBTQC (Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns), which has its own song so that people can remember it, for best Quaker acronym.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Looking at vegetables

After half a summer of farming, I'm afraid the most profound thing I have to say is that vegetables are really beautiful. I'm not the first to notice that food can have visual appeal - the different colors of beans and grains in the bulk foods aisle, the way broccoli turns brighter green when you steam it, the oranges and reds of salsa with bell peppers. But I'd never enjoyed food like this until I was growing it.

I wish I had pictures of the rainbow chard with its red and yellow stems and vibrant green leaves, or the shine on the skin of strawberry still hot from the sun, or the deep purple stain of beets when you slice them. Organic farms produce plenty of weird and imperfect-looking vegetables, but the lettuces especially look so perfect nestled in the boxes when we've harvested them (especially compared with supermarket lettuce, which is inevitably starting to rot). I enjoy the vegetables at least as much visually as I do any other way.

So, today's lesson: look at your food.

Thursday, May 31, 2007


My sister's assortment of makeup jars at least make for interesting reading while I'm brushing my teeth. "Dream matte mousse foundation"? Who dreams about foundation?

Then again, last night I dreamed my environmental justice professor was dating the president of Haverford College. When I woke up I was really glad I wouldn't have to think of a polite way to ask if she knew he was already married.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What we carry with us

I've graduated from college and feel oddly homeless. The hardest part is leaving the co-op, knowing I'll never see most of my housemates again. What makes it easier is the feeling that I carry parts of them with me. There's some comfort in drinking from the cup Becky threw on the potter's wheel or wearing the sweater that belonged to Max. The way I spice the dinner came from Sissi; the way I think about art came from Jenny; the way I finger the penny whistle came from Jeff. I can't know what parts of myself the others are carrying to California and Austria and New Hampshire, but I trust that I do go with them.

If we were like the seeds of a dandelion that had grown gold and big and eventually turned white, this weekend was the puff of air that sent us scattering in the wind. I feel dizzy and lost now, but we'll land in new places and fill the field with new flowers.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A boat of one's own

People who teach nineteenth-century literature love to talk about homosocial spaces. Men had the military, the courts, the government, the businesses, the clubs, the bars, the Masons, most schools, you name it. Women basically had the home and eventually the beauty parlor.

Except now . . . there's Bryn Mawr. On Monday I was reminded this of how totally beautiful that can be and how old it can get. Part of the week before graduation is apparently the seniors and a bunch of professors going on a riverboat cruise, which ended with people dancing. If gyration-type dance is going to happen, I definitely like it better with all women. I've heard there are sketchy women, but I've never met any who hold a candle to your average sketchy man.

I looked out at the crowd of writhing women in little black dresses thought: we finally get our own. This is what Virginia Woolf wanted for women instead of getting chased off the grass at Oxbridge. We're eating sashimi instead of prunes and custard. And not only that, but there are hardly any male spaces left.

Then two of the professors (one male, one female) started ballroom dancing. And I would have swapped nearly everyone on that boat for a man with a decent lead. I guess I can't have things both ways.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Dear John Donne,

You know how you wrote the poem that's practically the anthem of long-distance relationships? You know, the one about how you're so pure and inter-assurèd of the mind that you care less eyes, lips and hands to miss?

I think it's total rubbish. I bet you missed her like crazy. Unless you and I have absolutely nothing in common.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Hurrah for the life of a country girl

My life is turning somersaults right now, but I'm beginning to think I can handle it.

In happier news, it's May! Up at dawn this morning dancing Morris in Belmont Park. When I was sneaking in to work (only 45 minutes late for my shift) a girl in the garden behind the library presented me with a sprig of some kind of white sweet-smelling flowers. We sang the Jean Ritchie maying song, making each of us the first person the other had ever met who could sing it.

So happy May Day. Or in America, so that no one mistakes this for an international labor holiday, happy Law Day and Loyalty Day. If that doesn't make you want to gag, I don't know what will.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Northern spring

Sometimes it's nicer to wait for something a long time and then fall into it all at once instead of getting it before you're ready. In the south spring comes by February, with daffodils and pink daphne all over the place before the snow is even gone in Philadelphia. I like being farther north because the spring is more precious when you have to wait for it.

I feel like I've been watching the buds on the trees for a long time, waiting to see if they'll ever open. It's been cold and grey this week, but on Tuesday there finally came ten minutes of spring with cherry trees and warm winds that made me wish summer would never come.

Monday, April 09, 2007


Scene: Night. Driving to the sketchiest train station in Delaware, listening to "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog". Specifically the line "If I were the king of the world."
Ricky and Julia, simultaneously: "Yes! He used the subjunctive correctly!"

Sunday, April 01, 2007


This morning when I walked into Quaker meeting, it was clear by the look on my friend Bill's face that his wife had died. Bill has a long white beard and a constant good humor, even last week when announcing that Lois Ann was back in the hospital. This was the first time I'd seen him look so exhausted.

We sat in silence for a long time. Surprisingly, the first person to speak didn't mention Lois Ann's death, but asked why the meeting hasn't done more work on peace and what we could be doing that we aren't. Over the course of the hour others stood and answered her: Lois Ann and Bill lived peace, because they embodied love. They were the kind of couple that makes me believe marriage as an institution really does work for some people despite all the people for whom it obviously doesn't work. Their love for each other and other people was clear wherever you saw them - in meeting, in the grocery store. He cared for her cheerfully during her last illness just as she waited cheerfully for him when he was imprisoned as a conscientious objector in World War II.

I think college activists and old Quakers could learn a lot from each other. Lois Ann may not have been agitating for social change at age 89, but her very presence in the world was a step in the right direction. Your politics can be as radical as you please, but if you're an unpleasant person and don't genuinely care about the people around you, everything you do feels hollow to me.

Balance and swing

The problem with contra dances is that afterwards, I'm still too excited to sleep very much. Eight hours is a long time to not be awake and excited, particularly this week.

Friday, March 23, 2007

This is fantastic

I've discovered one of the best things in life is social gatherings for things that most people don't think to have gatherings for: singing rounds, reading picture books.

A game of duck-duck-goose this morning involving five undergraduates, a sociology professor, and his three-year-old twin daughters gave me a brilliant idea. Sometime soon by the creek behind my house, there's going to be a stone-skipping, creek-wading, and duck-duck-goose party. Dear weather: please cooperate.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Here I go with the dead authors again

Hafiz, if you were here
You would probably wink and say
I should keep reading poetry
Instead of writing

If you weren't dead seven hundred years ago,
Tomorrow you could tell that to
My professor.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Librarian solidarity

Today's history nugget: I'm reading about Berkeley in the 1960s, which illuminates sides of academic life I hadn't even dreamed of. In 1969 a group of students held a strike that included storming the main library. The librarians, using a tactic they probably learned from protesters in the first place, linked arms around the card catalogue to protect it. Much as I sympathize with student protest in general, there's something very touching about this. If my card catalogue were threatened I probably would have done the same.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

It's time.

The problem with any theme for a blog or website is that I get tired of it after four or five years. Hopefully this one will last a good while?

The photo on the left is a Bryn Mawr lantern. Each student has one to light on special occasions like May Day. On the right is an object peculiar to Scandinavian churches - a lysglobe or light-globe, studded with candles. This one is from Vor Frue Kirke in Copenhagen, a block from where I went to school.

The Emma Goldman quote is from a time when she was dancing at a party and another anarchist told her to stop because her frivolity would damage the Cause. The best-known quote attributed to her, which she didn't actually say, is in the same vein: "If I can't dance, it's not my revolution."

Here's to living your ideals - and to dancing as you go!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


I've discovered that tax forms read like a really bad choose-your-own adventure novel.

"As you approach the door, you hear a scream on the other side!
If you go through the door anyway, enter a 0 and go to Line 14.
If you turn around and go back, attach Schedule D.
If you listen to hear more, add lines 2, 3, 4, and 5. Enter on Line 2 of your PA-40."

Once we've mailed them in, some poor tax employee gets to process them, which can't be fun. I wrote jokes on the envelopes this year to liven things up a little.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


There are times when nineteenth-century literature feels really distant, and times when it feels really relevent. I'm reading an 1844 tract on the rights of women that refers to "ludicrous pictures of ladies in hysterics at the polls, and senate chambers filled with cradles." I'm thinking the cradles wouldn't be be such a bad thing - when I have children I'm totally going to take them lobbying with me. It's such rubbish that there are these strict categories - you are In Politics or Not In Politics; you are a Professional or you are a Stay-At-Home, you have a public and a private life, your kids are at home or chucked in a daycare.

I'd rather gnaw my own arm off than be In Politics, but I still want to give my senators a piece of my mind. And if I'm going to be in their offices my kids might as well come too and learn about it.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Your soul like a message in a bottle to me

Dear Emma Goldman,

Even though I wish you hadn't spent quite so much time advocating assassination as a method of social change, I think you're super.


(Why are my best fan letters always to dead people?)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

All-female education 4, Julia 0.

Bryn Mawr has all kinds of curses - if you go up certain stairs or between certain trees you won't graduate, if you kiss someone on the Moon bench you'll break up. (If you kiss someone under Rock Arch you'll supposedly be together forever, which could well be a curse depending on who it is.) Tonight I discovered one they don't tell you about - walking down Senior Row alone realizing that you're likely to never have to worry about either of those later curses.

In my greatest act of cowardice in years, today I didn't talk to him again. I may be a fish, but do I ever want that bicycle.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A split knish in Philadelphia

O irony:
Opening night of Vagina Monologues
and mine spends the first act
awkwardly perched on the arm of a sofa
stage right
Complaining bitterly.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


I'm reading Heat Wave, about the deaths in Chicago in the summer of 1995. The argument is that people didn't die just because of the heat, but because they were old and isolated and living alone in stifling one-room flats without any friends or relatives for the morgue to even call after the bodies were found. More and more people are living alone now, and more are dying alone.

Last weekend one of my housemates slipped on the ice and broke her leg. Someone else was walking with her at the time, and her swim coach and I stayed with her all day in the hospital until she was out of surgery. Later her mother flew up from Florida. It scared me to think of what would have happened if she hadn't had those connections - how long might she have lain on the icy parking lot? After the surgery, how would she have gotten home from the hospital? How would she function for the months until she gets her cast off?

It's not just for disasters that it's nice to live with other people. It's a luxury to be able to walk into the kitchen and find Katharine making muffins, to walk into the living room and find Kristy and Kyla watching movies. Sissi's drinking hot chocolate and telling Evie about the time she almost got arrested in Germany, Jenny's riding her bike through the hallway. You can always find someone to drink or talk or eat popcorn with. There are other people in Philadelphia and around the world living this way, and I want to keep being one of them.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Valentine, anyone?

You may remember that I am a big fan of Valentine's Day as it is celebrated in elementary school - construction-paper cards for everyone. Having got my hands on an excess of red ribbon and other delightful things, I'm all set up to make some. If you'd like me to make you a valentine, email me your mailingaddress and I'll send it to you.

Friday, January 26, 2007


It's really sinking in now that in six months I'll be leaving, that my life here is ending soon. Two years on the other side of the world might as well be forever. It didn't take me long to figure out that the Peace Corps accomplishes much more in the way of transforming people personally than it does in improving third-world economies or quality of life, and I expect to come back significantly changed. Probably most of the things I own now I won't want anymore after two years without them. I'll move to the city and get a job. Everyone else I know will have spent those two years going to grad school or working or getting married or something, and we'll all be scattered from each other.

I'm looking forward to the changes, though. I'm longing for my own kitchen table, to live in a place for years at a time so I can plant a garden and join a Quaker meeting. In between here and there, though, is this big blurred gap labeled "Central Asia". For a person who loves planning, it's kind of exciting to have this blur ahead of me.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Slipping back

Today I stopped by the community center where I volunteered last summer. As soon as I walked into the room where the children's after-school program was going on, the supervisor embraced me and had me at the table helping the kids with their homework before I knew it. They were all writing essays on Martin Luther King, Jr. - at least in theory. The boy next to me was occupied in drawing pictures of a bear eating a mouse. "Come on," I asked him a dozen times, "Read the handout and write me something about him."

"I already know about him from school! I don't need to write about him again," he insisted. After some querying he put forth, "Martin Luther King made a law so the black kids and the white kids would go to the same school." I corrected him on the fact but looked around the room and wondered if he realized the irony of the statement. Every single child there was black, and I doubt the local schools are much different. Like other US schools, they're probably more segregated than they were twenty years ago. Slow progress would be easier to stomach than actual regression.

Monday, January 08, 2007

My camels! My retinue! My magic sword! My jellybeans! I leave at once for Samarkand!

Actually not, since Samarkand is in Uzbekistan, which is not a place the Peace Corps sends people. And not at once.

But a -stan is likely in my future, because if all goes well it's Central Asia for me in August. They haven't told me which country yet, but I'll be teaching English (and other projects on the side, maybe AIDS education) and using Russian. It seemed very bleak at first because I had no idea what was even there except a lot of grass and some mountains, but after doing my homework it seems they have some really beautiful grass and mountains, plus some people and horses and yurts. It's largely cold, which I like better than hot, and the weather is mostly beautiful due to it hardly ever raining. I'm looking forward to not getting malaria and other tropical diseases. A lot of the area is Muslim, which I'm excited about, but I won't have to stifle under a chador.

Also, the president of Turkmenistan who was doing stuff like outlawing recorded music and naming months of the year after himself died last month. My mother is pleased that if I go there it at least won't be with him.