Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Slowly, very slowly, getting things done.

Let's see. Today I finally finished and just sent off a grant application. I .pdf'ed more images. And I bought a place ticket to London---yes, the real London. I will be there for two weeks in February. Which means that between X-mas in Ottawa, January in DC, and my London trip, I will be all over the capitals of the Anglo-Atlantic world this winter. I haven't been to London as an adult, so I'm looking forward to it. That, and I will get to hang out with JDS and TC while I'm there! Awesome. Plus. I think EW will be there then too. Between my Toronto friends, the archives, and the sights of London, I'm sure the two weeks will go by extremely quickly.

I'm still looking for a place to stay in Washington, but I am hopeful that will get sorted out shortly-ish. DR---a DC native---gave me the run-down this evening on the areas to look for . . . and the places to avoid. I would not like to arrive and find myself staying in a sketchy part of town. Not cool. Not for me.

FN made a yummy dinner tonight (again). I am spoiled.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Staring at my computer.

I've done almost nothing except stare at my computer screen today. I spent hours going through finding aids from the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University, and then spent more hours turning .jpg files into .pdf's. This is mostly brainless work, and very tedious, but necessary. Sigh. There's nothing more exciting than this to report.

But perhaps I should apologize to some people for skipping out on the b-day party/concert tonight. It's just not in me, gals. A night club in Kensington Market is really not my scene. I am too old. I was always too old.

I am feeling slightly panicked at the moment. I have several things I need to get done ASAP, and now there's a bunch of microfilm waiting at the library for me to pick up, and I'm going to come home tomorrow evening with about 100 assignments to grade! Ack. Serves me right for not doing too much since I got back from my last research trip. Double sigh.

Our apartment is suddently over-run with large black flies. It's very annoying! We don't know where they are coming from . . . it's not from us. Let's blame the neighbours.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A day of new things.

On Friday I woke up early after a great time at HD's American Thanksgiving bash Thursday night with lots of awesome people, including AG and JC, PR, CLM, FN, EW and CW, DR, and JDS and TC. I had to get to school for a research/job talk. This was my first new thing. I am on a grad student search committee. Which means I go to each candidate's research talk, and then the three of us get to interview each candidate later on in the day. I'm not gonna say much about this, since it's confidential. But it was a learning experience, and I trust the next two candidates that come in will teach me things too (even if they aren't intending to).

After the talk, I hung out for a bit in the department before heading off to lunch at Massey with AG. She is very lovely, and it was great to spend time with her in my favourite mid-day surroundings (the sights and sounds of Ondaatje Hall). Awesome. I had to dash off for a meeting, followed by another meeting, and then the interview with the candidate. Ok, busy day. But, for dinner, I did my second new thing of the day: The Feast for the Founding Master. This Massey event was held in the Great Hall at Hart House. It was quite the event. There were tons of older people in evening wear, drinking wine and being served fancy food. I sat with my new(ish) Massey friend, TaV (because her name on my blog can't be "TV"), which was good. But I had to skip out before the brass band started playing and Colm Feore read a Robertson Davies ghost story.

Which leads me to my third new thing . . . "Casino Royale"! AT was right: I had a great time watching this movie. Very entertaining. And what I haven't mentioned yet is that the movie-watching was also a fourth new thing. But I'm feeling shy and won't tell you what I mean. (You can probably guess, though, if you ask yourself who I might have gone with. No, it wasn't FN.)

Today was slightly less busy. I had a very nice lunch with BB, a fellow historian whom I don't see too often, but with whom I always have a lovely time. Later on I got my hair cut. (It looks better now. Even FN thinks so, and she's hard to please!)

It's now after 11pm, and I have many things left to do this weekend. At the top of the list? Start looking for a place to stay in Washington for all of January.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

He'd have to fight FN for me.

To all those boys and men who think they have a chance with me, a Warning.

Here's the deal: I lead a rich and full life, and I quite like it. My roommate and best friend, FN, enriches my life in untold ways. She does the obvious: cooking, decorating. She does the more difficult: provide hours of entertainment and intellectual stimulation on any one day. She does the near impossible: Challenge me to rethink my fundamental assumptions about the world and humanity . . . and sometimes even succeeds in modifying my views! My life with her is significantly better than it was without. And that's saying something, because I was always a fairly happy person.

So, anyone whom I would actually, seriously date---and to my mind, any other kind of dating is a waste of time---would have to enrich my life enough to make up for taking me away from FN when I spend time with him. This doesn't mean he has to enrich it in the same ways as she does (of course not), but he'd have to be pretty special. I like having interesting friends, but an actual boyfriend? That's a different matter.

You have been warned.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Now I've been to the opera.

I went to the Elgin Theatre last night to see Opera Atelier's The Magic Flute. Since I had never been to an opera before, I figured it was good to go and see what it was all about. Although the production seemed quite good, this particular piece wasn't for me. It was just so silly and fluffy! I think I might enjoy a more robust, masculine opera better. Because, seriously, there wasn't much depth in this one. Which is fine, but I feel like there's more to be had in an operatic experience.

After the semi-entertaining entertainment, DS, EW, and I went for a late dinner downtown. This was the best part of the day by far! The second best part was probably catching up with historians at our departmental coffee hour in the afternoon. I really am all about the talking. I just can't help it. And so guess what I did more of today? Talk with historians! I went to school to support HD's charity event---and came home with a new pair of jeans---but kept running into people. Much fun. For lunch I met UO, a newly-minted PhD (as of last Friday), at Massey. That place might be a tad odd, but it's a great place to have lunch.

So, when am I gonna do work? Well, I have big plans for the rest of today and tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Busy, busy.

After my weekend of learning fun, I must now get down to the more regular business of being a PhD student. There are grant applications to write, lectures to attend, social events to appear at, and research to do!

I went to a Cuban-US relations conference today and heard 4 papers. It was okay, if not overly stimulating. But I'm now convinced of the sharpness of one of historians here, and think that I should go hear him speak more often. (It's not that I wasn't suitably impressed before; I had just never encountered him before this fall.) Good, good.

HD and I spent a long time grocery shopping this evening, stocking up on non-perishables. FN sent me off with strict instructions on what to buy, but of course I bought more stuff than that. She chided me for coming home with 20lbs of rice . . . but this way, we won't have to buy more of it for quite a while!

Tomorrow I must cross some things off my list before I head off to school in the afternoon. In the evening, I am going to the opera with VC and a bunch of historians. I've never been before, so am looking forward to it. Should be culturally educational, at the very least.

I suppose I should mention that yesterday's post was read by a great deal more people than was true of any of my previous postings. Cool. I think.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Learning a lot.

I came back this afternoon from a day-and-a-half Historica Council meeting. I'm not sure what I expected the thing to be like, but boy I did not expect what I experienced!

The Council is a large body which advises the foundation's Board of Directors, and is made up of a number of committees that do a bit of work each year. Council members come from across the country, and include teachers and historians as well as a large number of business/corporate types. At the meeting were also representatives of most of the provincial boards of education and a smattering of academics. The annual Council meeting is a chance for members to come together and deal with business, but primarily (to my mind at least) a chance for the foundation's staff and board to show what they've been up to and are planning. The event was well organized and expensive, with members and invited guests---including me!---brought in to Toronto, housed, and wined and dined on the foundation's tab.

So, I learned about the foundation, both from what I heard and what I gleaned from the discussions. But, what was most valuable and completely unexpected from the weekend was what I learned about different kinds of people. I have spent most of my recent life in the company of academic and intellectual types, engaging with them and learning from them. What this weekend afforded me a chance to do was learn something about how "bean counters" and others like them think. And, wow, what an experience!

These people are not intellectuals. Don't get me wrong: these are smart, accomplished, very successful people, highly respected in their fields and for their contributions to Canadian society. I have no quibble with any of these things (though for the most part I have to take this on faith, not knowing much about these people personally). They are also generally friendly, if not super chatty with outsiders (i.e. me). They have lead interesting lives, have good ideas, and are extremely capable, efficient people, able to make things happen in a relatively short amount of time.

All of this is great, of course. But what I came to realize the more I listened and interacted with them, is this: They have not been taught or encouraged to ask why. They are not critical thinkers in the way that many of my friends and colleagues are. We try not to essentialize or accept things as fact without analyzing our thought processes. Or, at least, this is what we are supposed to do. "Just because" is never a sufficient answer, and we struggle to teach our undergraduate students this. We understand the power of discourse---not only because language is a marketing tool, but because it creates reality.

The one lesson I take away from this weekend is that communication is crucial. If people from different backgrounds and worlds are to understand each other, we must try to speak each others languages from time to time. The "bean counters" recognized that they did not understand "academese," and quickly became frustrated by this. But who can blame them? The academics were on their turf, and it was thus up to the academics to translate their ways of communicating into the appropriate language. Of the two main "academic" speakers at the meeting, one did this more successfully than the other. At first, I interpreted his talk as less sophisticated than the other one. And although I was right, I also missed the point: He may have been grappling with less complex ideas, but he also managed to make himself understood very well. Incredibly well, in fact. What an accomplishment for a talk which was delivered without any visual aids coming right after a long visually- and orally-stimulating (if mentally unchallenging) presentation. Impressive, that.

The second academic speaker was eloquent, engaging, and just plain impressive. To my mind. But left most of the audience members cold. This was partly because they did not understand where he was coming from---a failure on the part of the foundation, I think, to communicate effectively ahead of time to Council members. But it was also because he simply was not speaking the right language. I'm sure Council members are certainly capable of grasping most of what he was talking about without too much difficulty. He took away from the weekend a very valuable lesson about communication, and the challenge ahead of him will be to translate the complexity of his ideas to people who aren't used to thinking critically. And this is a necessary task. If he---and the others involved---fails to communicate effectively to a "general audience," and especially to a group of people dedicated to history education in Canada, the project will likely fail. This would be a sad thing; the foundation is involved in creating an exciting set of tools for ministries of education, teachers, and all others interested in history education and "historical consciousness."

My weekend was clearly a learning experience for me, and I'm very grateful to the foundation for having a chance to participate in it. It was also interesting (for reasons both mundane and intellectual) to meet and see people whose names I have heard and books I have read. I shook hands with Charlotte Gray (whom former CTV head Trina McQueen thought was representing the Dominion Institute!), heard Denise Chong report on the work of her committee, had a little disagreement with Desmond Morton, questioned Irving Abella, met current and former commissioners of two of the northern territories---and heard one of them speak in Inuvialuit "to make a point." I also got caught up with a couple of my old profs from Carleton who are on the Council. And that was great; I missed them! I talked with a woman from the Manitoba Ministry of Education who is one of three people who are now coming up with the grade 11 history curriculum. She thinks about philosophy and history and deals with teachers and issues of pedagogy on a daily basis. How exciting. Former Senator Laurier LaPierre was there, vigorously and passionately opposing what he saw as the academic takeover of the foundation! A former chancellor of York University was similarly unimpressed, though less agitated. I could go on. (And see me if you want my personal assessments of these people.) Oh, and I should mention that I came home with a "swag bag." Nice, if a little silly.

Tomorrow, another conference!

Friday, November 17, 2006

A visitor from across the pond.

Yesterday was a good day. I met with my supervisor, which was nice and semi-helpful. I ran into UO, PhD in the department, and made tentative plans to have lunch with him at Massey next week. I had dinner at Massey with LG and the other fellows. We went to the fall orchestra concert at Hart House. I went to pub night to catch up with other historians. And then foreign friend CS came! CS and I then went back to my place to talk with FN. Fun times. Busy social day. She is too cool, that CS. Sad that she's back in Blightly this year.

Today has been a little slower, though I did take 4 historian-friends to Massey for lunch after our student association meeting. But the big news---sort of---is that I just spent nearly $400 on a plane ticket to Washington and back in January. Ouch! Now that I've decided to be gone the whole month, I need to find a place to stay. So, give me advice if you have any! Friends EB and DS will have some thoughts for me, I'm sure.

Tomorrow and Sunday I will be at the Historica council meeting. It should be fun, though I hope I don't feel out of place! I think I will need a vacation after the weekend. But I won't get it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


My supervisor's latest book came in the mail today---yay! Since I love reading acknowledgements, I did that first . . . and guess what? I'm in there. Check it:
Notice how I seem to have been outed as a trekkie? :-)

In other news, a Russian-language book also arrived for me. It's a novel about a story that's part of my dissertation, so it's good to have. But it's in Russian. Which means I may scan it at some point, but I can't possibly ever read it!

This afternoon, I was a good TA and met with a student. Afterwards, I went to the Christopher Hitchens talk at the Munk Centre. He wasn't as controversial as I'd expected. It was good to go, though, because it's always good to listen to "big picture" people.

And then tonight I listened to a prof. of mine on the radio! No, this time it wasn't my main supervisor---though she's been all over place recently. Historians are cool, methinks.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Organizing, recovering, celebrating.

I spent most of yesterday running errands: laundry, grocery shopping, opening mail, etc. Very exciting, I know. But salmon for dinner was yummy, and then I dashed off to the Green Room to celebrate AB passing his comps! It was much fun, and I must say that the U of T Russianists are way cooler and more entertaining than the UIUC ones . . . or, at least the ones that I met!

Yesterday was also election day here in Canada's largest city. FN and I voted at the nearby elementary school for mayor, city councillor, and school board trustee. Apparently the election officials asked her whether she was 18! Since she is, ahem, significantly older than that, she was mighty amused.

Nothing too interesting is on the agenda for today. Which I suppose is a good thing!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Back from the other Twin Cities.

I am now safely back in Toronto, after spending about 12 hours travelling yesterday. The University of Illinois was great, and I took literally thousands of pictures of archival documents---on Friday, I took 1,524 images at the University Archives. No joke. All that photographing is hard on the back, but good on the wallet. Some highlights of my trip include: hanging with KP; spending time with kitties and Lily, the lovely white dog; eating with Illinois Russianists; marvelling at the campus and the grounds; and doing some more marvelling at the residential areas. I didn't realize how flat Illinois is until I took the train back to Chicago. Every time I looked up from my laptop, there were more corn- and soy fields.

I decided not to spend any time in Chicago, staying Friday night in Champaign-Urbana. So yesterday I took the 10:15am train to Chicago's Union Station, and then got on the "el" to O'Hare. And, oh my, I am not a fan of that airport. It was very confusing, and I was particularly unhappy being lost with my heavy luggage. Although I bought my ticket from United, it turned out I was flying Air Canada. Grrr. But it worked out in the end. Pearson is the worst signed airport that I've been to; O'Hare is the busiest. Minneapolis is the best signed and the nicest. Apart from finally arriving at home last night, the best part of my day was seeing Canadians get off the Air Canada plane at the O'Hare gate where I was waiting: some of them had poppies pinned to their lapels! It made me smile.

Here's Lucy, one of the two cats. I am retarded and forgot to change the setting on my camera before snapping this, but there you have it.

FN, ST, and I went to a great little place in the 'hood for a late brunch today. Nice!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

College town, U.S.A.

This place is so cool! The university is completely out of a movie. Lots of the buildings are kinda nouveau plantation mansion style with columns, high wood-panelled ceilings, and ginormous chandeliers. Ok, I may be exaggerating about the interiors, but the exteriors are impressive. There's lots of green space and frat houses. Oh! And when I walked out of the archives, I heard music! The marching band was practicing. For the game on Saturday!! How cool is that?!

Anyways, I can't get over UIUC.

I took nearly 900 photos at the archives today. Yikes! It was good---really good---to get all those images. But my back was unhappy.

For dinner, KP and I met up with a couple other UIUC history grad students to talk shop and sample the local cuisine. Yummy, and much fun! Have I mentioned recently that I love history and historians? I really do!

Here's a quick pic I snapped while on the walk to school this morning. Pretty town, ain't it?

Election Day, Revolution Day . . . travelling day.

It's election day here in the United States. I am writing this on the train from Chicago to Champaign-Urbana. Which means I made it this far! BC drove me to the light rail station in Minneapolis this morning, and I took that to the airport. My flight was delayed about 45 minutes, so I read a few more pages of Poiger, which is good but very dense. [Side note: downtown Chicago looks ginormous from here. I must come back for a proper visit at some point. It's foggy now and there's lots of construction. I didn't know Chicago had a waterway going through it.] I got in to O'Hare no prob, and waded through the throngs of travellers to the train into the city. Also very easy! (HD: I couldn't find the transport pass you gave me, so I had to pay $2. Silly me. I must have it somewhere in my luggage.)

On the train (the "el"?) into the city, I chatted with a United minister. She sounded like she'd led an interesting life. The train took a long time to get into town, but at least once I got off, getting to the Amtrak station was fairly easy. Except for one thing: I can never, ever find an escalator/elevator when I need one. It's very annoying when I have a 50lb. suitcase with me!! But good for my muscles, I guess. Union Station is awesome. As in, the architecture is awesome. Wow. And with enormous American flags hanging from the ceiling.

[Side note: It's pitch black outside. Pity I can't enjoy the Illinois countryside. On the bright side, though, this train has plug-ins at every seat. Take that, Via!]

Later . . .

I arrived safely in Champaign, and am just getting ready for bed after a lovely dinner and extended conversation with my new historian friend KP. Tomorrow it's off to the archives again!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Best Research Trip Ever.

I felt the need to capitalize the title. It just seems appropriate. I have had a great time here in Minneapolis with BC, TT, and Kwill (AKA Terror Kitty). They are all super awesome. So sad to leave!

Today was my last day at the archives, and I finished all my research. Yay! There was a ton of stuff for me, and I've ordered many hundreds of dollars worth of photocopies. The YMCA was really up to a lot of interesting things in revolutionary and civil war Russia . . . and there's no way I can even begin to do justice to it all in my dissertation. Especially since the American Y is only a part of my project. Goodness. But I would love to come back in a few years and work some more on this stuff.

Minneapolis is a nice city. Very liveable. Yes, it's a little chilly (though the past few days have been nice), but, heck: we're used to the cold up in Canada! The "U" is also really nice with impressive buildings, and lots of people walking around in maroon and gold. The bus system is decent, though of course Toronto's subways are better. But Minneapolis is significantly smaller than Hogtown, so I can't complain too much.

Tomorrow I'm off to Chicago and then I'm taking the train to Champaign. Wish me luck! More YMCA-related research is coming up.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Well, I haven't been blogging because I haven't been home very much since, well, Thursday night. Friday after the archives I went to hang out with local historians, and we didn't get back until nearly 2am. Much fun! Saturday was a full day of outings, including the Mall of America and three of the city's lakes, and another home-cooked dinner out. And then today I went off by myself to check out some of the city's tourist/cultural offerings. I did the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Cowles Conservatory (actually a green house), and three churches, including the country's first basilica. Very impressive, if not nearly as old at the churches I saw in Charlottetown. I also walked through Loring Park, which is one of many large green spaces in town.

The Walker only has modern art (1960s+). It's a great facility, very nice and calming atmosphere, etc. But art is odd. Very odd. I just try and take it in without worrying about it too much. This is the best way, I think. The outdoor sculptures were nice, and the weather was good, which made all the difference.

As for the churches, I seem to have a thing for them. But at the basilica, I walked in just as a service was starting. I stayed for a few minutes, but then couldn't take it any more. Too much to handle, that.

I am tired and have some work to do before I can sleep. Tomorrow is my last day at the archives in Minneapolis, and I hope I can get everything done!


UPDATE: Here are a couple pics of the Basilica of Saint Mary.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Canadian in Minneapolis.

I forgot my lunch today, so when I got hungry I ventured out of the archive builing and over to the student centre. So far, this is not particularly interesting, But, when I sat down to eat, I noticed a flyer on the table announcing a campaign event taking place right then. And guess what? Al Gore was giving a speech about 200 feet away from me! After I ate---and had a bizarre encounter with a crazy woman---I ventured over to the Great Hall. But then I got distracted by men in uniforms. (You know how I like a man in uniform.) These guys were National Guard, and I chatted with one of them for a couple minutes. I forget his name (naturally). I had to dash, though, because I could hear the clapping and cheering from the next room! So, yes, I saw Al Gore. I stayed for about [aboot, my hosts claim I say] a minute . . . "What you want is an independent voice, someone who will stand up and vote for Minnesota!" Nifty lunch break, eh?

After work I took the bus downtown to have dinner with TT. We met up at the central branch of the MPLS public library---a very impressive building! [Here is a bad picture of the inside.] TT then gave me a mini tour of "the Mall," and some of the skyways that link the buildings. It's an interesting downtown because it combines shops (the Gap, Neiman Marcus, Macy's, etc.) with office towers. So of course I didn't make it to the art gallery, but I can go on Saturday if I'm up to it. It was just too cold out, and I was tired of lugging my laptop and other crap around with me. That, and I'd just eaten a ton of food. We went home and make chocolate cheesecake instead. (I am not kidding.)

Whatever shall I do for the rest of the evening? This is seriously the first time since I got here that I've had the chance to wonder such things at 9:15pm. Research trips are busy!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Working 9 to 5

Well, more like 8:45 to 5:15. Ouff. It makes for a long day. But good thing I didn't have much work to do tonight after I got home. There's very little to report. I am going to spend hundreds of dollars on photocopies, but it's ok. I mean, it's great that they have all this stuff for me! I just hope that I can get it all done in time. Pretty sure that I can.

The only un-archive thing I did while out today was buy a new winter hat. Which sounds boring, I know. But I bought one with a Minnesota gopher on it! (The university team is the Golden Gophers -- see the last pic of yesterday's post.) Plus, it's really cold outside.

Tomorrow it's back to the archives and then dinner with TT downtown. Should be fun!