December 4th, 2013
I have to say, I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself right now. Yesterday morning before our workshop began, I spent a couple of hours working with a classmate on our early-modern handwriting assignment, then I spent the remainder of yesterday doing workshop stuff, including a raucous night out with a bunch of fun people. I came back to my room late and inebriated, but I was out the door at 7:15 this morning for a full twelve hours of workshop activity, then came back and spent a couple more hours completing and submitting my handwriting assignment, though I could have left it until later. Not only that, but I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on my thesis ideas and work and, best of all, my alarm won’t go off for nine more hours.
November 28th, 2013
While sitting at the bus stop this morning, I was struck by how good — how skillful — I feel in my life down here in Uppsala. I get on the right buses, go to the right places, say mostly the right sorts of things in my seminars, and generally get the right kind of feedback. I rather enjoy my life at home as well, but I can’t claim that a terrific amount of skill goes into my work there, and as any parent will tell you, the feedback there is definitely of the mixed-bag variety.
I always hesitate a little to say this, but I’m sure most of my readers will understand what I mean in saying that probably my favorite thing about being here is that it’s all about me. For the first time in a very long time, I am evaluated and appreciated — not least by myself — for things that have nothing to do with my identities as mother and wife. Along with that enjoyment comes a sizable helping of guilt, you can be assured, but I’m hardly ever away from home for a very long stretch and when I am at home, my full attention is nearly always on my family.
I’d like to claim that I’m a better mother for “doing my own thing” apart from child-rearing, but I’m not convinced that’s the case. I’ve never been a big believer in the idea of “quality time,” as it’s always seemed to me that time, period, is what’s important. So much of what matters, I think, is just in actually, physically being at hand. That’s probably why what makes this bearable for me and the kids is that when I’m not at home, Olof is, pretty much every minute. He and I went into this family-building enterprise both committed to the idea of hands-on parenting, and we’ve worked hard at making it work.
Of course, all of this makes me think about what comes next, after I complete my master’s program in the spring. I don’t want to stop studying — a big part of me feels like I can’t stop — but a doctoral program would require an even bigger time and energy commitment from all of us. The kids are getting older, sure, but they’re still pretty little and I’m not sure I could bear to spend much more time away from them than I’m already doing.
Life, it’s full of hard choices, huh?
November 27th, 2013
We had our Thanksgiving celebration at our house on Sunday, so it keeps catching me out of the blue that “real” Thanksgiving hasn’t even happened yet. Ordinarily we have ours on the Saturday after, but this year things worked out better with our schedules the weekend before. While we were getting dinner ready and on the table, Debbie reminded me that it was our ten-year anniversary of celebrating the holiday together, and that the first time we’d done it had also been at my house. Though back then there were only two kids in attendance and these days we’ve got eight between us!
I am thankful every day for very many things, but on Sunday I was especially thankful for Debbie, who not only provided half of a delicious feast, but stayed after and almost single-handedly cleaned my kitchen! I am positive that is the only time in my life that my kitchen has been cleaner after guests left than it was when they arrived!
Sunday night and Monday I devoted almost entirely to school work, and I actually managed to get everything on my list completed. Admittedly, none of it super high quality work, but it’s submitted, and that’s at least half the battle.
Right now I’m in Uppsala, having arrived a couple of hours ago and with a couple of hours left before my meeting/seminar starts. My classes on Thursday and Friday don’t start until one o’clock in the afternoon, and I’m very much looking forward to not having early mornings those days. I probably should get up early anyway and get some work done, but I’m laughing even as I type that, knowing it will never happen. I love very few things as much as I love sleep.
November 22nd, 2013
I’m feeling a little panic-stricken at the thought of all the things I have to do in the coming weeks. I’ve been away from home for three days and won’t pull into my own driveway until close to bedtime tonight. In the next few days, I’ve got at least three moderately time-consuming assignments to complete and nearly no time free to work on them. The weekend will be largely taken up with Thanksgiving preparations and festivities, not to mention out-of-school kids, and Monday the most pressing of the assignments is due. Tuesday I’ve got to leave for Umeå at the ungodly hour of 5:45 for some sort of appointment before my ear operation on December 11, and I expect that will take up most of the day, leaving me little opportunity to work on the two other assignments, which are due that day. In theory, I could turn one of the assignments in on Wednesday morning, but I’ll be traveling back down to Uppsala then, and really won’t have time to mess with it before my meeting that afternoon.
The following week isn’t looking any easier, with a four-day joint workshop between my master research class and a visiting group from London added to my regular schedule. I know it will be both fun and valuable to my work, but those will be some hectic days. After that’s done I won’t have to go to Uppsala until mid-January, but I will have to be in Umeå at least two or three days — with a trip home in between — the second week of December, for more ear stuff. My surgery is the 11th, as I said, and there will be at least a short period of recovery time until I’m ready to jump back into everything with both feet.
As if all this weren’t enough (don’t dare even mention Christmas to me), the kids have concerts and dance recitals and arts-and-crafts days and holiday bazaars and all manner of things going on that I can hardly bear to think about. I fear I’m going to miss most of their events, for one reason or another, and that’s only adding to the stress. As much as I love being back in school and having something of my very own again, I sometimes can’t help thinking back wistfully to my at-home mom days. Things were so much simpler then.
November 15th, 2013
I’m in a bit of a tattoo frenzy lately, as you may have noticed. I’ve gotten four new ones in the past five months, the most recent a few days ago. I posted a very bad picture on Facebook right after I had it done, but here’s a better one:
I’d been thinking about this one for at least a couple of months, and I’m very pleased with the way it turned out. I think it looks fine here, but it looks even better in person. It’s on my left upper back, and with the contours of skin and muscle it’s hard to get a good sense in a photograph of the straightness and evenness of it. Every time I look at it in the mirror, though — which is often — I’m impressed again by how nice it looks. The kids are mighty pleased with it as well, as you might expect.
November 9th, 2013
In July I learned that one of my favorite bands, Biffy Clyro, were scheduled to play Stockholm this November. With all the traveling I’m doing this fall, I probably wouldn’t have made a special trip down for this concert, but the date coincided with a time I was to be in Uppsala — less than an hour’s train ride from Stockholm — so I bought a ticket.
The show was this past Wednesday and after seeing them live, I will assuredly make a special trip to see them next time they’re in Sweden. In a repeat of my experience when I saw the Pet Shop Boys in June, I was able to situate myself in the front row, this time only slightly to the right of center stage, and I could scarcely tear my eyes away from Simon Neil. His stage presence is simply electric (and that Scots accent doesn’t hurt a bit, either).
Probably the only real downside was the drunk guy and his equally drunken date who decided late in the show to muscle their way up to the front to bellow out a request. Security fairly quickly got on top of the situation and removed them, but not before they’d managed to shove a number of us around a bit. I noticed the next morning that I have a big bruise on my elbow from where I was pushed against the metal fence, but it’s nothing major. It’s maybe also a little fitting, seeing that one of the lines from what is probably Biffy’s most well-known song is “I’ll take a bruise, I know you’re worth it.”
Worth it, indeed.
November 3rd, 2013
As such things are wont to do, my master’s thesis has evolved quite considerably over the past year into something rather far removed from what it was originally. I went into the program knowing that I wanted to write about religion, in one way or another, but my ideas were no more concrete than that. A couple of months in, I had decided to write about the religious aspects of the Reformation in Sweden, but that turned out to be next to impossible due to a significant lack of source material. I moved then to an idea about priest recruitment in the post-Reformation period, but that seemed somewhat dry and maybe a little difficult to work into a cohesive paper. Finally early in the spring, I settled, with some encouragement from my professors, on a study of consumer practices among clergy and their families.
I had initially hoped to put particular emphasis on vicars’ wives, but these women proved to be nearly invisible in the primary sources. It’s not uncommon for them not even to be listed by their given names, but rather as “vicar so-and-so’s wife.” Again, all but impossible.
I decided in June that a case study might be the thing for me, and what little attention I paid my thesis work over the summer involved finding a suitable parish for my study. I wanted a parish in the Uppland region of Sweden, due mostly to the good availability of source material. I also wanted a poorer parish, with the idea in mind that the tensions between limited financial means and upper-class status consumption might be more readily apparent. I then went through the database of estate inventories for the region, making a list of those that had a number of inventories available from the 18th century. From that list of a dozen or so, I picked, mostly at random, a small parish called Teda.
I don’t quite know if I’d call it serendipity, but from where I sit now, it seems that I couldn’t have chosen better. I’ve got a fascinating “main character” in a vicar whose spending was out of control, particularly considering that he came from a small, fairly insignificant parish. I’ve got a lovely medieval church with a number of additions and improvements that were made during my priest’s tenure as vicar. And I’ve got a wealth of knowledge and information available to me from current locals who are more than willing to help me in my research.
It was one of these locals — a priest in the parish who is also a Ph.D. in theological history — who offered to take me for a tour around the place this fall, and last Wednesday was the day. I took the bus out there from Uppsala and arrived at ten in the morning. We met up, had a little fika and chatted some, then set out for Teda.
We visited quite a while at the church, which is truly spectacular. Nearly all of the interior is the same as it was when “my” priest was vicar there, and it gave me such a thrill to stand at the pulpit from which he preached, looking down on the very same pews that his parishioners had filled. Outside the church is a bell tower that was erected during his time as vicar, and it was used for the first time at his ten-year-old daughter’s funeral. To stand next to it after having read of it in my research was both exhilarating and humbling. Sometimes I get so caught up in my research that I lose sight of the fact that the names in the documents represent actual people. This visit served as a powerful reminder.
After seeing the church and the surrounding area, we went back to town for lunch, then I was on my own at the public library for about an hour while my host went to a meeting of the church sewing society. I uncovered a few more tidbits there, then at three o’clock we were back on the road, as we’d been invited out to Strömsta estate, where my priest had been a private chaplain before becoming vicar at Teda. The current owners of the estate — “newcomers” whose family have been in residence for a scant one hundred years — were welcoming and gracious. We were served coffee and cake, and had a long discussion about the history of the place. Afterward we were given a little tour of the house and left with an open invitation to return ringing in our ears. Again I was humbled.
I am so excited about my research and my head is fairly spinning with the possibilities. I only hope that I’m able to do justice to this inviting little place.
November 1st, 2013
I’ll write a longer post about this in the next day or two, but for now I wanted to share a couple of pictures that I took on Wednesday, when I visited the parish I’m researching now. This is the church, which was built in 1200 (seriously, my mind just boggles). I took the interior shot standing just inside the church, facing toward the altar. It’s a gorgeous little building.
October 25th, 2013
I’m nearly finished with my course for this half of the term, with just a paper to write this weekend and one last seminar on Tuesday afternoon. After that, I can focus on my thesis, which is starting to take shape (if only in my head, and not quite on paper yet). I’ve got a good amount of material to work with, and next week I’m going to spend a day on a guided tour around the parish I’m studying, which I’m sure will give me even more. I’m certain there are days of doubt and despair ahead of me before it’s all said and done, but right now I’m still feeling confident and excited about the project.
I do have one more course to complete, but that one will be immediately useful and an important part of my thesis work. It’s a class on reading early modern handwriting, and I’m looking forward to learning more. As it is now, I’m able to read only a small part of the source material I’m looking at, and this course should help immeasurably. If I’d been smart, I’d have taken it last fall, but I was new to this whole game and didn’t want to add another class to my schedule. Rookie mistake.