Thursday, November 27

Thanksgiving & the Arrival of Jeffery Alexander

Eric and I had quite a busy Thanksgiving at the Wells house, although not as busy as others. A morning phone call found both of us lounging around--me with a cup of coffee in front of the t.v. and Eric still in bed. In the small hours of Thanksgiving morning, Eric's sister, Heather, made an unexpectedly early trip to the hospital to give birth to a baby boy, Jeffery Alexander. Preparing a Thanksgiving dinner is always a lot of work, but this meant we would be short-handed. It was a busy day of cooking, but everyone pitched in and helped out. Even our friend George (seen below) got involved and prepared one of the turkeys the way it's sometimes done in England, stuffing it with sausage meatballs and covering the outside with strips of bacon. Sure, the English aren't exactly well-known for their cooking talents, but the turkey was very tasty.

By six o'clock everyone was properly stuffed, and once we could be persuaded to move again we headed for the hospital to visit Heather and the baby. Jeffery Alexander was born six pounds and a bit, and much earlier than his planned mid-December arrival. He's doing just fine, so I guess he was the better judge as to when he wanted to be born.

Uncle Eric, of course, was eager to hold his new nephew.

He was even persuaded once or twice to give Aunt Amber a turn as well, as you can see. Babies are cute and sweet when they just lay around and sleep, which is all Jeffery felt like doing at the time. I'll be watching to see how eager Uncle Eric is when he's around for the fussiness and dirty diapers. :-) His talents for diaper dodging from the infant days of Jeffery's big sister Genna are legendary, so we'll see how this time around goes.

Monday, November 17

When Lion's Eyes Are Smiling

Not long ago my colleagues and I were once more in the galleries, engaged in a discussion of an object in the collection. This particular object, a marble sarcophagus with a wine-making scene, is one I feel I'm intimately familiar with. I have two focus tours, one featuring a discussion of death and the afterlife, and one that specifically concentrates on sarcophagi, and this sarcophagus is included in both. So, I often find myself standing next to it, breaking down the scene and talking with visitors about what they're seeing. Still, there is always something more to think about or learn, and I was reminded of that when one of my fellow educators commented on the lion's eyes. Sure enough, I took a step closer, and this is what I saw:

Both pairs of lion eyes were smiling back at me! Could it be? Here before me was evidence that it was actually the Romans who invented that ubiquitous symbol of cheer, the Smiley Face! ...Just kidding. As many times as such archaeological leaps of logic are made, I think it's pretty obvious in this case that it was a graffiti artist much later than any ancient Roman that added smiles to the lions' eyes. I don't remember the curators or conservators ever bringing this feature of the sarcophagus up during our briefing on this object when it was first put on display earlier this year. I'm sure they're aware of it--they go over possible acquisitions with painstaking thoroughness--so I find it interesting the smiley faces weren't mentioned.

In any case, it's an entertaining new detail to add to my picture of what this object's modern life has been like since it was removed from it's archaeological context.

Sunday, November 16

Virtual Spotlight

This week I had a performance evaluation, part of which was a video observation. As a result, one of my "spotlight" talks on the mummy of Herakleides was recorded. Since there are several friends and family who have mentioned they would like to see some of what I do, I've uploaded the video here. The whole talk is around twenty-three minutes long, so I had to break it into three parts in order to upload it. You can't really see the mummy very well in the video, but keep in mind the idea of recording it was to allow me to see and evaluate myself. While not a true gallery experience, it does at least give you a virtual idea of the public part of my job.

Monday, November 10

Good Stuff

Sunday Eric was out of town visiting a friend, so I went with some friends in search of a little autumn fun. We found our way to Riley's apple orchard in Oak Glen. It was overcast and a cherry-red nose, see-your-breath chilly day, but we had fun in spite of the cold. It was just the sort of activity I was looking for to really get into the fall season. To start things off we grabbed a bag and a picking pole so we could pick our own apples.

With it being the height of the fall season, the only apples that were left were pretty much on the very top branches of the trees. Luckily we had one of the longer picking poles, so we were able to reach just about everything we could see. After picking a bagful of apples, it was time to satisfy our appetites. They had plenty of great homemade dishes to choose from for lunch. I went with the BBQ tri-tip sandwich, potato salad, and cowboy beans. And, ahem, an apple pie to go. Fortunately the food was piping hot, because the tables inside were completely full and we had to eat outside in the cold. At one point, the temperature had dropped so much the light drizzle turned to hail for a few minutes. That was a bit of a surreal moment. It was definitely the first time I've seen hail in California. The tri-tip was really, really good. After lunch we took some time to check out the country store, perusing all of the goodies it had to offer. I ended up with a gallon of cider, an apple pie, and some blackberry preserves--plus some of the apples we picked.
By the time we were getting ready to leave the clouds were darkening to a forbidding steely gray. I don't know if you can see it well in this picture, but if you take a look toward the tops of the mountains, you can see the snow starting to dust the trees up there. It was a beautiful view. As fun as my day outside of the city was, my favorite part of it was getting home and settling under a blanket with a warm piece of that apple pie topped with a generous helping of vanilla ice cream. Now that is good stuff.

Saturday, November 8

Helping Hands

Today I helped build a house. I was up with the sun and on the 405 shortly thereafter in order to be at the job site in Pacoima by 8 o'clock. Along with my friends Carla and Nicole, I'd volunteered to work for Habitat for Humanity for the day. There were several other volunteers--many from UCLA (Go Bruins!)--and we had a blast all day sweeping, moving windows, and painting. I genuinely enjoyed getting dusty and dirty doing some physical work. Museums are all well and good, but nothing makes you feel like you've put in a good day's work than going home sweaty and dirty with a backache. (Check, check, and check.) There's nothing better than having fun and knowing you're doing something good for someone else at the same time.

Carla, Nicole, and I at the job site.

We even met one of the future home owners. Gregorio is a little over halfway through his 300 hours of service to Habitat, and pride and excitement was apparent on his face as he spoke of the prospect of owning his own home. "It's a good dream," he said.

That it is.

Tuesday, November 4

Witness to History

America made history tonight. For me the night was anxiety and excitement and goose bumps and misty eyes and an overall feeling of the awesomeness of this moment. It has been a night to remember.

As someone who is--mostly--prone to idealism rather than cynicism, my favorite line of President Elect Obama's speech was this:

" all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope."

Election Day '08

One nice thing about living in the city is that my polling place is within walking distance of my apartment. I was there by 6:50 a.m., and already the line extended down the block. It was a beautiful sunny rainy morning, with the sun shining brightly in spite of the dark steely rain clouds filling the sky. (That's right, in California the sun still shines even when it's raining.) In spite of the ever-growing line snaking out the door of the school auditorium, every one I saw had a smile on their face, amiably chatting with others in line. Maybe they were happy to be casting a ballot, but I suspect a lot of people were as happy as I was that today means the beginning of the end of this incredibly long election process. No one was complaining about the line, and no one was leaving until their ballot was cast.

Once I finally got into the school auditorium it didn't take long to vote and hand my ballot to the smiling elderly man who fed it into the balloting machine and watched the light turn green. I got my "I voted" sticker, and was out the door. All told, the whole thing took me only an hour or so. Even though I'm fully aware of how desperately our country needs to update and reform the voting system, I enjoy Election Day. I like standing up and participating in democracy. I am also proud to do so, knowing that I am part of a segment of the population that was for so much of this country's history denied this basic right of citizenship.

With my most important task of the day completed, I can kick back and watch it all play out with the excitement and anticipation of a true history geek. Studying history is a passion of mine, but living history is way more cool.

Right now I'm at work attempting to get something done while listening to online election coverage. This afternoon I'll head home, tune into my favorite cable news channel, order a pizza, and settle in to watch the returns.