Friday, December 17

Smiles and a Purple Heffalump

As hard as it is to believe, Liam is already six weeks old. There's no doubt he's growing fast, and is rapidly becoming more interactive with his parents and his environment, smiling and cooing with heart-melting sweetness.  Just yesterday I laid him in his crib after a warm sponge bath, and he suddenly discovered the large stuffed purple heffalump that has occupied the corner of his crib since we brought him home.  It was so fun to watch him and really get to play with him for the first time.  I also managed to get a little video (please excuse the dim lighting and the baby talk...) :

The past few days when he wakes up in the morning he greets me with a smile that I know is for me.  That cute greeting goes a long way to helping me feel less sleep deprived and more grateful that I have such a sweet little boy to wake up to every morning.  Even though both Eric and I are kept very busy these days, we still managed to get our Christmas tree up and decorate the apartment. I wasn't at all sure this was going to happen, but we succeeded.  It's not been easy for me to get into the Christmas spirit this year.  Out here it's been unseasonably warm for this time of year.  As much as my Illinois friends and family will hate me for saying this, it's not as easy to enjoy Christmastime when it's 80 degrees and sunny outside! However, today is a nice chilly rainy day in L.A., and I'm enjoying the coziness of being at home with my little boy sleeping on my chest and a cup of mint hot chocolate (topped with whipped cream, of course) next to me. No doubt it's moments like this I'll miss when my leave is over and I return to work.

Friday, December 10

The First Month

Well, I survived the first month of motherhood.  Caring for a newborn is just as intense and exhausting a job as promised. It makes the twelve hour shifts I worked six days a week at the factory over summers during college seem downright relaxing--at least when I got home from work I knew I'd get some sleep.  The kicker is, I know I've got it pretty easy.  Liam is a good baby.  He's as easy going as you could hope an infant to be.  He takes everything in stride and seems not to mind having two parents who aren't yet finely skilled in the arts of diapering, dressing, bathing , or anything else to do with infant care.  He's also a good traveler.  We've gone out to run errands, go to doctors appointments, get Christmas pictures taken, and so on and he has yet to suffer a complete meltdown.  In short, he's a sweet, even tempered baby.  I can't wait to see how he grows as the weeks go by and we get to know more of his personality.

Aside from juggling the constant care a newborn demands, the hardest lesson of parenthood for me thus far is coming to terms with what I can't do.  I can't keep the apartment as neat and clean as I'd like, or easily prepare a meal, or take time to do any number of things I'd like to do most days.  Letting it go and telling myself this is all okay hasn't been easy.  When the frustration mounts, I sit in the rocker with Liam and try to take a step back and keep some perspective about the situation.  He isn't going to be a little baby forever, and other mothers have assured me there will come a day when I'll wish I had spent less time worrying about when I'm going to find time to dust the living room and more time holding my little boy.  So, while baby Liam learns the difference between night and day and that he can rely on his parents to keep him fed and warm, his mom is coming to terms with all she can't do and is learning to be content in the moment.  I say "learning" because I haven't quite mastered the lesson yet--but I'm working on it.

Last week we had our first family portrait taken.  Liam took being posed and having bright lights flashed in his eyes very well.  He held it together for a couple of family and individual poses before he expressed his displeasure with the situation.  I was just happy we managed to get a few pictures of him with his eyes open!

Monday, November 29

Life with Liam: A New Reality

As anticipated, November 2010 has been an eventful month for Eric and I.  Our son, Liam Ryan, was born on November 5th at 4:15 p.m.  He weighed 8 lbs. 6.4 oz. and was 22.5 in. long.  Thankfully he has thrived from the beginning.  He was a fast learner when it came to nursing, and even though he is just over three weeks, he already weighs a bit over 10 lbs.  My recovery from the (unplanned) c-section is going well--Mom was in town long enough to help me get through the first two weeks when I was in most need of help, and now I'm operating at almost normal capacity.  My biggest challenge now is adjusting to the lack of sleep and constant care a newborn requires.  As challenging, stressful, and overwhelming as it can be at times adjusting to the new reality of life as a mom, I have to admit that Liam is a very good baby, so it's not been as challenging it might be otherwise.  So far in my experience as a parent I've found a lot of the generalizations about having a new baby are true:  sleep deprivation, going through more diapers than you thought humanly possible, doing laundry every other day, and believing absolutely that it's all worth it--have proven as true to my situation as for any other parent.

In short, there's a whole new reality settling on the Wells household.  I intend to post updates and pictures here as often as I can--that is to say, as often as Liam allows me the time to do so!

Liam and Mommy
Liam with Mommy and Daddy
His favorite sleeping position

Tuesday, October 26

One Week to Go

Well, I'm almost there.  It's Week 39, and I'm just one week from my due date.  The finish line is coming into sight, but we're not there quite yet.  Unfortunately, time has also started to feel like it's slowing down--as my friends who have been through pregnancy warned me it would.  Physicists say that if you move fast enough--faster than the speed of light--you actually travel into the future.  That said, maybe time does slow down for pregnant women at the end of their pregnancies because the bigger they get the slower they move.  Ha!  Okay...bad joke.  Entertaining as that image is, I'm sure the feel of a time lag has more to do with the waiting and anticipation than with physics.  I had quite a list of things to do before the baby arrives, but (curse my efficiency) I blew threw it in the first week of my maternity leave.  I've found the great irony that strikes at the end of pregnancy is that just when you most want to keep going and get more accomplished, you are most incapable of doing it.  I can't even begin to describe how it irks me to see something I want to do but having to wait for help to do it.  That reality is something I'm not accustomed to and it frustrates me to no end.  Thankfully the baby will be here soon.  I am very much looking forward to losing this big, heavy belly!

For now, the wait continues...

The baby room is ready!

Friday, September 17

How Do You Look at Art?

These days with summer ending and school starting up again, it has been a little slower around the museum.  Last week I was giving a gallery talk to two visitors (yes, just two), and one of them commented that they were about to take a trip to Italy and asked, "Can you give us any tips about how to look at ancient art?"  It was an excellent question, given that not all museums have the kind of in-gallery educational programming you find at the Villa, and these visitors wanted to be prepared to get the most out of their experience on their own.

It just so happens that over the summer we educators at the museum had just had a discussion amongst ourselves on just that topic--how do you look at art?  We divided forces and each group came up with a "top ten" list of tips on how to look at art in a museum setting.  The list below, which I shared with those visitors that day, is the result of my group's efforts.  Naturally, every museum professional will likely have a different take on the subject, but I think the list below is direct and simple and therefore easily used.
  1. Remember to read the label LAST.
  2. Do not enter a museum or gallery with the intention to see everything.
  3. Go to an artwork that interests you or attracts you.
  4. Find the best vantage point (try different ones).
  5. Take your time and challenge yourself to look longer.
  6. How does it fit into the surroundings?  (Take a look at the gallery installation and what other artworks are on display in the same gallery.)
  7. What details draw you in?
  8. What is it made of?
  9. What do you understand and what don't you understand about it?
  10. Be open to silence and conversation--balance your own reflection and sharing your thoughts with others.
Keep in mind that these are just suggestions, not hard and fast rules, but they will get you off to a good start if you're interested in getting a little something more from your next museum visit.

    Saturday, September 11

    A Week of Anniversaries

    This has been a week of anniversaries for me.   Thursday marked my third year at the Villa, and today is my L.A. anniversary--eight years ago today I signed my first lease and moved into my apartment in West L.A.  It's difficult for me to believe I've lived in L.A. for eight years.  Maybe that's because in many ways it took a few years for me to adjust and feel comfortable in the city.  Even though I've been out here awhile it's only been in the past three years or so that I've felt I've really mastered L.A. and gotten used to it.  Usually on this day I reflect on how ending up in L.A. was probably the most unexpected event of my life thus far, but this year is different.  Because I'm about to become a parent, the thought on my mind this year is of how very different my son's early childhood is going to be from mine because he will be born, not in a small Midwestern town, but in one of the largest metropolises in the U.S.  Of course, in all of the important ways it will be the same--he'll grow up being loved and supported by his parents and family--but there is no doubt that a babyhood in Los Angeles, California is going to be a far different experience than one in Neoga, Illinois.  Now, I could choose to judge this city versus country issue as a good or a bad thing, but I prefer to simply see it for what it is:  Just one of many experiences that will make him into the unique individual that he will become.

    Wednesday, September 1

    Making Room

    Since my last post I have exited my twenties and entered my thirties.  On one hand, it's difficult for me to believe it could be so, but on the other hand, I feel like it's just the right fit:  I'm still pretty young, but I have earned enough stripes to no longer be considered a complete rookie.  Admittedly I wish I could have done something new and memorable to mark my third decade, but your options for celebration are decidedly limited when you're thirty weeks pregnant.  Still, Eric and I managed to get out for a day trip to San Diego and spent the day at SeaWorld.  I hadn't been to SeaWorld since a family vacation to Florida as a kid, so it was fun to revisit it as an adult.  Eric made sure I got a break from the heat and walking around when I needed it, which was a very good thing since it was a very hot day.

    In other news...Eric finally tackled the job of clearing out the babyroom-to-be!  He was very tricksy about it, too.  He told me yesterday that he was going to be working for his dad all day, but he was really at home working furiously on the room.  For one day's work he made huge progress, cleaning all four of his bookshelves and moving them into our bedroom and shifting other furniture around to make room for the baby furniture that we'll have to accommodate soon.  Besides all that, he assembled the glider and ottoman that was our joint birthday present from his parents (and also, ultimately, for the baby too).  Suffice it to say he was a busy, busy boy on Saturday and his wife was very pleased with all of his hard work.  There is still plenty to do, but it is no longer a dauntingly monstrous, anxiety-inducing task.

    I look forward to completing the room's baby makeover once we've acquired the necessary baby gear.  It will be a fun project and satisfy my "nesting" instincts quite nicely.  At the moment my nesting activities are mainly centered around throwing a lot of stuff out in an effort to make room for our tiny new occupant who, despite his wee size, will require a heck of a lot of space.  I can already see that Eric and I will soon become mere boarders who happen to live in his space, rather than the other way around.  After a couple of weeks of sorting through things and determining what should stay and what has to go, I feel confident in saying I think we'll have room enough for the baby--albeit just enough.

    As of today, I have nine weeks left (six weeks until the baby is term, nine weeks until the due date).  Nine weeks sounds like an awful short period of time compared to the thirty-one weeks that have already passed, but I can already sense that these final weeks are going to pass far more slowly.  I have nothing to complain about aside from the typical aches, pains, and frustrations expected during pregnancy, but as my discomfort level rises, I have no illusions about what these final weeks will be like.  My current frustration is finding something to wear every day.  Given the torpedo-like trajectory of my belly, I've very nearly outgrown a lot of my maternity shirts.  This development is both irritating and depressing.  I've even raided Eric's t-shirts for loose, comfy sleeping attire and--perhaps even more depressingly--am finding I now have no problem filling his shirts out!

    What really gives me pause is knowing that at the moment the baby only weighs a little over three pounds, so he has A LOT of growing left to do.  Perhaps I should skip the maternity stores and just go looking for a nice set of curtains to satisfy my wardrobe needs over the coming weeks...

    Friday, August 20

    Erin & Ethan's Wedding

    Last week I did my last bit of traveling before the baby is due and went home to Illinois for my little sister's wedding.  It was a hectic few days from start to finish, but everything came off wonderfully, which is a credit to Erin since she did most of the planning herself.  Over the wedding weekend everyone pitched in to help out with arrangements, decorating, and anything else that needed done.  One of those who stepped up admirably was my husband--sweetheart that he is, he was there to help wherever and whenever he was needed and proved to be our invaluable go-to guy all weekend.  All of the hustle and bustle aside, the important thing was that by Sunday morning Erin and Ethan had become Mr. and Mrs. Steinacher and had both enjoyed a wonderful wedding day.  In many ways it's difficult to believe that my little sister is married...but then it's also hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that I'm going to be a parent in a little over two months!

    Me, Erin, Dad, and Mom before the ceremony.
    Eric, me, and the baby belly.
    Erin and I after the ceremony in the gardens at SIUE.
    The seven month belly picture.
    The newlyweds: Erin and Ethan.

    Wednesday, August 11

    Entering the Home Stretch

    Well, we've finally entered the home stretch.  Today marks the beginning of the third trimester--approximately 84 days to go!  Without question, this pregnancy has gone extremely well up to this point...which is why the start of the final trimester has me feeling a bit trepidacious.  Since things have gone so well so far, I figure that must mean I'm in for it in the last twelve weeks.  Thanks to my increasingly heavy belly and regular backaches, my nights have been more restless in the past week than they have for most of the second trimester.  On top of that, I've been noticing subtle signs that the fatigue I experienced in the first trimester is gradually making a comeback.  Considering how energetic I've felt in the past few months, I'm in a bit of denial about it, but in this case I don't think mind is ultimately going to win out over matter.

    As for the baby, all indications are that he's doing very well.  On my last visit the doctor seemed pleased to hear that the little guy is very active.  The baby has his quiet times throughout the day and night, but he spends a lot of time rockin' and rollin' around in there.  It's amazing how quickly I got used to seeing my belly quivering and twitching.  He's even getting big enough now that--depending which side he occupies at the time--you can see a subtle lopsidedness in my belly.  So far he seems to prefer the right side, which probably explains why that's the side of my lower back which aches the most...

    This week Eric and I are off to my home state of Illinois for my sister's wedding.  Erin and Ethan's big event is planned for Saturday, so last-minute preparations are in full swing.  I'm sure with everybody pitching in here and there everything will come off well.  The main point of suspense from my perspective is this:  Will my bridesmaid dress still fit by Saturday?  I waited as long as I could to get the alterations done so that the dress could be fitted as well as possible.  Really, it seems I did a good job all those months ago predicting my size at around seven months pregnant, and although the dress isn't a maternity dress, the style and length of it are about as flattering to a pregnant body as you could hope for.  The only part that has me worried is the bust.  My bust line, jacked up on hormones, has expanded with eye-popping speed the past few months.  Every time I think it has stabilized for the time being, I'm proven wrong.  So, here's hoping that I can get through the next few days without bursting the bust of my bridesmaid dress!

    Concerns about bridesmaid dresses and bust lines aside, I am looking forward to spending some time back home in Illinois.  Since so many people will be coming together for the wedding, it will be a chance for me to see a lot more family than I usually get a chance to see on an ordinary visit.  With only three months left before the baby is born, this will be my last trip home for awhile, so I plan to have a good visit and enjoy my time away from work and the city.

    Wednesday, August 4

    Teaching Philosophy

    Recently I was asked to write a teaching philosophy for a staff ed. session on teaching theory at work.  "Staff ed." sessions are the museum's version of internal professional development exercises.  While I'm all for professional development, I confess that interminable discussions on museum education theory are, for me, the professional equivalent of eating my brussels sprouts.  Maybe it's my Midwestern no-nonsense practicality, but I find that you improve your skills at a task by doing it, not by talking about doing it.  Theory has its place, of course, and can be used as a tool to improve an educator's teaching skills, but I see many educators fall in love with theory, discussing theory, and listening to themselves discuss theory.  When this love affair with theory takes over, these discussions quickly descend into intellectualizing theoretical sessions that are ultimately of little or no practical use.  

    My view on the matter is that, at best, education theory is plain common sense, and often is not all that helpful to me when I'm in the trenches teaching everyday.  In any case, I don't think of myself primarily as an educator--I think of myself as an historian who makes history accessible to people and enjoys sharing it with them.  So, having no formal training in the field of education, and having absolutely no idea how to go about writing a personal "teaching philosophy," you can imagine with what wild ecstasy I greeted the assignment.  However, rather than take the assignment as an instruction to clumsily try and pretend to an education background I don't have, I decided to sit down and just bang out my opinion of what it is I set out to do when I get up in front of a group of people in the museum.  To my surprise, I knocked out a document that I rather like, so I thought I would share it with you.  

    Whether it would meet the approval of someone with professional training in education, I don't know--but it spells out my genuine take on how and why I approach talking to the public about ancient history the way I do.  Not art, mind you--history.  I am firmly in the camp that ancient artifacts are first and foremost historical and archaeological evidence.  Thinking of them as "art" prioritizes aesthetics over history and archaeology, and when you get down to is really just us re-appropriating these objects for our own purposes in our modern culture and society.


    The core of my teaching philosophy is this:  to make the ancient world meaningful to my audience by demonstrating how the distant past is relevant to our world today.  And, in making the past relevant to contemporary society, to create a genuine appreciation of ancient history in people and provide them with a new perspective on the past.  Ultimately, when a person’s time with me is done, I want her to leave thinking about the past in some way that is different than the way she thought about it before.  For example, a key idea I always emphasize and try to help the public understand is that ancient “art” in many cases was not created as “art” but was created to be functional.  By bringing this important concept to their attention, I want to not only get them to understand the original functional nature of the artifacts we are discussing, but to open their eyes to the fact that the objects we spend so much time looking at and admiring on an aesthetic basis were often not created to be viewed as art or to be seen by mass audiences.

    Good teaching should have more to do with questions than with answers.  The value of a history teacher lies in her ability to engage her audience with the material and encourage them to develop their own questions about the objects, the way they have functioned through time and how we continue their stories by finding our own meaning in them, the past, and how museums such as the Getty Villa present the past to the public. When I stand in front of an audience, my goal is not to weigh their thinking down with names and dates that in themselves offer no thoughtful insight into the ancient world, but to provide a social and historical context for the objects around them and show them how to use factual information to understand history and ask questions about why and how things happened the way they did.  

    Yet teaching history must be more than just posing questions and encouraging the audience to pose them.  I must also use the artifacts and other historical evidence to show people how they can be used to support answers to our questions.  The public often approaches history with the idea that it is about learning the “truth” of what "really happened" in the past, but I set out to express to them the idea that history and archaeology are disciplines marked by contested theories and interpretations which are always open to reevaluation  and refinement based on new evidence, new perspectives, or new understandings of existing evidence. 

    As an historian, I also consider it my responsibility help the public learn how to think independently within the museum—discouraging them from floating through the galleries as a passive learner and instead encouraging them to actively engage educators, labels, and other didactic resources, whether by questioning or critical thinking.  This is a skill which must be developed through example and practice, and it is my hope that my teaching helps people to refine their existing skills in this vein, or to begin in that moment to develop them, and thus create visitors who are more alive to the possibilities of educational experiences in a museum.  In this way, I endeavor to teach visitors how to take ownership of their own learning experience.  Therefore, to transform a visitor’s learning experience in the museum from a passive to an active one is another key component of my teaching philosophy.

    Through formulating questions, articulating ideas, close looking, and discussion, the ultimate goal of my teaching is to create the framework for a rewarding intellectual exchange and a meaningful learning experience in the museum.  As is the case with so many aspects of the human experience, the ideal museum learning experience is something that escapes strict definition--but, like pornography, you know it when you see it:  that tell-tale spark of recognition, or discovery, or even revelation in the eyes of your audience.  For me, those moments when I have managed to share my love of ancient history in a meaningful way with others are the moments that motivate me in my teaching and make what I do a worthwhile professional pursuit.

    Friday, July 30

    Almost August

    On Tuesday I returned to work after a weekend getaway to Tucson, Arizona to visit my friend Laura and her family.  As you can imagine, Tucson in July is a heck of a lot hotter than L.A., but that didn't stop me from having a great time.  All of our 21st century technology makes keeping in touch much easier than in times past, but nothing beats a good old fashioned real life visit.  As parents of two with another on the way, both Laura and Keith had lots of parenting tips to share, which I duly noted like the diligent student I am.  I also enjoyed commiserating with Laura on the joys of pregnancy.  (And yes, I use the word "joys" with a certain amount of sarcasm.)  When I left for my return trip to L.A., I was happily loaded down with all sorts of baby boy clothes that Laura very generously passed on to me.

    Having all of this baby stuff slowly accumulating around the apartment is a constant reminder to me of the mission that must be accomplished by the end of next month:  Our second bedroom, which Eric has used as his personal catch-all room, must be cleared out and converted into the baby room by the end of August.  Otherwise, we will not have a place to put everything from the baby shower.  This project sounds simple enough, but the room is a total disaster area--just looking at it is enough to induce an anxiety attack in me--and it is a task that is almost entirely up to my husband to complete.  Sure, I could make it easy and just start filling trash bags, but I am pretty sure Eric would take offense at having his crap--I mean, his stuff--summarily tossed into the dumpster.  And so, I must wait patiently and encourage (he would say "incessantly nag") him to get started on this project.  It's almost August, so we'll see how things progress.  As I keep trying to tell him, the fall will be here before we know it...

    Friday, July 23

    Brain Drain

    The past few days at work have been hectic, since we try to get in all sorts of "staff ed" professional development sessions over the summer when we don't have school groups in the mornings. Busyness at work aside, everything continues to go well. My main task these days is to figure out ways to adjust to the expected and increasing discomforts associated with pregnancy, like figuring out how to manage a comfortable night's sleep, get my pants on in the morning without face planting, and so on. (That changed center of gravity thing in a person like me, who wasn't very coordinated to start with, is a killer...) One thing I have noticed more and more as the weeks go by is evidence of what some people call "pregnancy brain." I thought I had a tendency toward absentmindedness before, but pregnancy has brought it to an entirely new level. Most incidents are harmless and laughable, but it is somewhat disturbing at how they just keep adding up as the weeks go by. Below are some of the classic pregnancy brain moments I've enjoyed so far. Mind you, given my hormone-induced mental condition, I'm impressed that I was able to keep my thought train on track long enough to come up with this list.

    1. Searching the living room for my cell phone while talking I'm on it. To my credit, it only took me about two minutes or so to figure out where it was...

    2. Having an inner dialogue with myself and suddenly completely forgetting what it is I'm talking to myself about.

    3. Taking the elevator to the wrong floor at work. This one doesn't seem so bad, but it is somewhat awkward when you hit the button for a floor and you're the only person on the elevator going to that level, yet you stay on the elevator when it arrives and then hit the button for yet another floor. Trust me, people give you looks when you do this.

    4. Neglecting to fill out my timecard at work all week. Really. Who forgets to fill out the paperwork that gets you paid?

    5. Heading somewhere with a purpose and then completely forgetting why I went there in the first place. Truth be told, this type of thing was pretty typical before I got pregnant--the difference now is that I can't recall my purpose after a moment or two.

    I'm sure before this is all over I'll have plenty more of these blank-out moments. On the bright side, since I rely heavily on my memory and knowledge I've built up over time for my gallery talks at work, I'm thankful that pregnancy brain appears to only effect short-term rather than long-term memory. Hopefully, once I have the baby the brain drain will cease and I can go back to my normal, more acceptable rate of forgetfulness.

    Wednesday, July 14

    A Little Bigger Everyday

    It looks like summer has finally made it to Southern California. The "June gloom" hung around well into July, but looking ahead at this week's forecast, the gloom is in full retreat and summer is finally here. Like anyone else I prefer sunshine to gloom, but this year the summer heat is arriving just as my pregnant belly is really beginning to make itself felt. As any woman who has ever been pregnant can testify, one of the most common questions asked of you is, "How are you feeling?" Since I'm pretty sure most people I just being polite and really don't want to hear about heartburn, backaches, and my hatred of compression hose, I usually just smile and say, "A little bigger everyday."

    And how true it is! I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but sometime in the last week or so my feet disappeared. If I want to see them, I need to lean over my belly. Not that I need any such reminder--this belly makes its presence felt a little more everyday. Each little growth spurt brings with it a few more of those pregnancy aches and pains, and there's no doubt I feel frustrated already at how certain tasks like bending over to tie my shoes are becoming increasingly difficult. In spite of these little frustrations, I'm well aware that this is only the beginning and that soon I'll look back fondly on these latter second trimester days as "the easy time."

    At the Villa (24 Weeks).

    Wednesday, July 7

    Letters from Students

    I think most people would agree that it is always nice to get thank you notes. One of the most entertaining aspects of my job is getting to read the thank yous that sometimes come in from students I taught during their visit to the museum. Teachers tend to turn the project into an assignment that helps students with their letter writing skills, so many of the thank yous arrive grouped in packets of letters from students. I thought I would share some selected excerpts with you from the most recent packet of letters I received--reproduced here just as the students wrote them.

    "Dear Ms. Amber...When we were talking you just told us to be quiet and you didn't get mad at us even a little bit. All of the stuff was cool. I hope I could come again."

    "Dear Amber...My favorite thing was the beautiful garden and the pond with the fishes. I learned how to make mummys, and how Hercules restled the tiger and got his skin. The visit to the museum helped me because it reviewed the stuff that we learned in the classroom."

    "Dear Amber...Thank took us to see the culpture of the sirens. You showed us the shandalers with Mudusa next and after that you showed us the mummy. Finally you showed us that hallway were you let us sit down. I also learned how Mudusa and how see became that beast. This helped me understand some of my questions like do gods and goddesses have emotions. The answer was yes."

    "Dear Ms. Amber...Thank you for helping us out! Thank you for taking the time to read my letter, time being limited and there being so many other letters. Thanks again, and hopefully I'll be back soon!"

    This one, I think, is my favorite:

    "Dear Ms. Amber...Thank you so much for walking us threw the Getty Villa museum. I enjoyed going their very much. I hope you have a nice life."

    Wednesday, June 30

    126 Days to Go

    Today marks my twenty-second week of pregnancy. Up to this point things have gone like gangbusters, but I will say that as my belly expands I'm beginning to get a preview of the rougher road ahead. Aside from feeling like an anorexic (yet ever-swelling) version of the Venus of Willendorf, my only trouble has been with my allergies. Thankfully the sinus and respiratory irritations have been minor compared with what they have been in the past, but I will admit that the accompanying sinus headaches can hit me pretty hard and Tylenol just isn't up to the task. Given the woeful inadequacy of pregnancy-friendly solutions, it looks like my only option is to tough it out. Here's hoping the pollen count doesn't skyrocket and wreak real misery and havoc in the next four months!
    Venus of Willendorf (22,000-21,000 BCE)

    At work things are shifting into summer gear--a welcome change that means the end of school groups for a few months and, this year, the close of the Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire exhibition. As interesting and new as it has been to have Aztec art at the Villa, I am delighted to see it go. The public was especially anxious for tours of this exhibition, and that demand has made for a crazy few months. Plus, as much as I love history of all kinds, my true knowledge base lies in the ancient Mediterranean and that background is what allows me to add the nuance and analysis that takes my teaching to the next level.

    As things return to normal at work and downshift into summer mode, I'm hoping for a quiet summer at work and the opportunity to exploit what remains of my second trimester before the fall and all it will bring with it arrives. I plan to get out and make the most of summer and the ability to tie my sneakers by myself as long as I can.

    Friday, June 25

    What Do You See?

    Even before I started teaching at the Villa, this statue (pictured below) was always one of my favorite artifacts in the museum. Now I don't have any sort of attachment to the Neolithic period, but I do think the glimpses into the distant past that artifacts like this one offer are rather fascinating. It's also somewhat liberating to talk about artifacts from a time for which we have no written records. The lack of sources from these ancient people explaining or offering us insight as to who or what this object represents means there will always be a mystery about it. Given that freedom, I usually kick off my conversation with visitors by inviting them to take a thoughtful look at the piece and ask, "What do you see?" Frankly, I think the answer is pretty obvious--just show this to any junior high kid and see what kind of reaction you get--but in most cases people are shy about discussing sex with a group of strangers. They all want to have their curiosity satisfied, but no one wants to be the one to ask.

    So, what do I see? I see a hermaphroditic deity. The museum curators have chosen to identify this figure as a "fertility goddess"--an identification that focuses on the double entendre of breasts and vulva in the center of the statue and the squatting position of the legs. (Way back when, women squatted to give birth. Really, if you think about it, squatting makes much more sense--you want to work with gravity, not against it by laying on your back.) However, the curatorial explanation of the object as well as an academic article I found which specifically discusses this statue completely ignore what I consider to be the patently obvious phallic head and neck of the statue. If you take those features into consideration, I think it's a lot harder to think of this figure as simply female. Just taking into account what we can see, I think it's quite probable this deity was meant to represent both male and female. If it is the case that this statue is meant to represent, not just the creative power of the female, but the combined creative power of male and female, it likely would have made the image a much more potent and effective one from the perspective of its ancient worshipers.

    Of course my analysis of this prehistoric object is just as subject to debate as that of the curators, but at least it doesn't ignore the obvious!

    Cypriot fertility deity, 3000-2500 BCE

    Monday, June 21

    Meet Baby Wells

    Today was the mid-pregnancy anatomical ultrasound. The doctor checked out the baby from head to toe, and everything looks great--anatomy, size, and development are spot on for where we are in the pregnancy. The doctor was also able to determine the sex. There's no doubt in her mind, she said--we have a baby boy.

    As Sam Beckett would say...Oh, boy!

    Wednesday, June 16

    A New Post--Finally!

    Well, I'm back after a few months of a kind of cyber-hiatus. There were a variety of reasons for it, not the least of which being that the first few months of pregnancy are no picnic. During that time I lost all motivation for blogging, Facebooking, twittering, you name it. Unplugging for awhile actually proved to be restful, and I'm now ready to rejoin the 21st century (I think). Based on all of the inquiries I've received over the past months, it seems there are people who actually read my posts and have been especially anxious to hear how things are going now that Eric and I are parents-to-be.

    So, friends and family, allow me to bring you up to speed. At the moment I am five months along. If you do the math, that means I am halfway through. Baby Wells' expected arrival is sometime around November 3rd. All things considered, everything has gone extremely well. The doctor says the baby is doing great and so am I. All indications are that we will be welcoming a healthy baby into the world come November. We'll know more in the next week when we have the more detailed "anatomical" ultrasound, at which point we also may be able to determine the sex of the baby. So, check back again next week--I may have some notable news to report.

    Yesterday at Disneyland--five months and counting...

    Friday, January 22

    Another Rainy Day in L.A.

    Even those of you outside of the L.A. area have probably heard about the heavy rain and winter storms hitting the west coast right now. The rain in the last few days has been heavier than I've seen here in quite some time. I usually enjoy the rain--you start to miss weather when you don't really have it anymore--but southern California just isn't prepared for such heavy rainfall. Everyone is always fixated on the prospect of an earthquake, but SoCal is relatively prepared for that eventuality. If you really want to mess the place up, just dump more than five or six inches of rain on the place all at once. This week's storms have done just that, and things have gotten a little crazy. Yesterday two trees fell on the ranch house that sits behind the Villa. Luckily no one was injured and the damage was mostly cosmetic. Apparently the rain-saturated soil and incredibly high winds blowing around yesterday caused the trees to fall. As I understand it, those trees were planted in containers and hadn't developed a very deep root system yet, so they were particularly vulnerable to the wind and rain. This morning a huge crane was brought in to remove the debris before we opened. Thunder, wind, rain, hail, and tornado warnings--feels like home to me!

    One unforeseen benefit of the rain has been school group cancellations. Angelinos are so unaccustomed to rain that many of them just hunker down when it starts to pour, and many schools decided to cancel their scheduled visits to the museum. Fewer teaching assignments doesn't bother me at all, but it seems silly to make the kids miss out on a field trip just because it's raining. It's not like this is an open-air museum! Still, I think it's worked out for the best. In the past two weeks we've had half our teaching staff decimated by illness, so it's given those of us still standing a bit of a break this week.

    In spite of the fresh start to the new year I've not gotten back into a habit of posting here regularly. My delinquency is in part due to being busy both at work and at home, but also because things have been kind of boring around here lately! It seems like all I do is work, eat, and sleep. Things will be picking up in the coming weeks, though, so I'm hoping to get back to making at least one post a week. Next week Sabina (another teacher) and I will start to work with another sixth grade class through our multiple visit program. It's always an adventure to actually go out to a school and work with students on their own turf, so I'm looking forward to meeting the new class. The program consists of a classroom introductory visit, three lessons at the museum (separate visits), and then a final visit to the classroom when we give the kids a chance to handle some ancient artifacts. It sounds a little crazy, but it's a much less hair-raising experience than you would think. If you don't believe me, check out this post on our last artifact handling visit.

    That's all for now, but you'll hear from me again soon.

    Monday, January 4

    A New Year

    Well, the holidays are a thing of the past, the new year is here, and it's time to get back to a routine daily existence. My first order of business was to take down the Christmas tree, an annual ritual of carefully packing away ornaments and wrestling Christmas lights off of a dry, drooping tree and back into their boxes. As frustrating as dealing with a dead tree is, it did very well--it didn't start drooping until after the new year, and we've had it since early December. All that's left is for Eric to haul it away. He may get out of fighting with the lights, but there's no way I'm attempting to move an eight foot tree on my own!

    My new favorite pastime since Christmas morning is playing Super Mario Bros. Wii. It's an excellent compliment to Wii MarioKart, which I got last year for my birthday. Like MarioKart, it has a two player mode so Eric and I can play together, leaving him no excuse to deny me video game time. Learning to play this game together has been an eye-opening experience. With two players on screen, you must work together--no one can just run ahead and try to take the lead. We've successfully navigated our way into World 5, despite certain incidents that end in indignant accusations of "Hey, you just killed me!" "No way, you killed me!" The shouting is all in good fun, I promise--it's pretty funny to hear the back and forth as we struggle to free Mushroomland from the iron grip of the evil Bowser and set Princess Peach free. If things like work and productivity don't get in the way, we should bring liberty and peace to Mushroomland by the end of the month.