Friday, November 28, 2008

My first Thanksgiving

So, technically, this was not the first Thanksgiving away from home for me. That honor belongs to the dinner in Bath in 2005 which was great except, I mean, what do the English know about Thanksgiving? The stuffing came out in little balls. They tried and I was grateful. But my first Thanksgiving that I was in control of was going to go perfectly.

Oh come now. I'm not that naive. It wouldn't be Thanksgiving if there were not scares and hiccups and moments when you think the whole thing might blow up in your face. It started out early, before the parade even came on, one of my roommates started the turkey. We couldn't find the packet of giblets but we carried on, thinking perhaps they'd forgotten them. Seanna put all sorts of stuff in the bird, rubbed it down with miracle whip and successfully had it into the oven before 9 AM. Ahead of schedule. I liked this. However, the parade never started. Apparently, Detroit's Thanksgiving Parade is more important than the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Michigan. I was confused and found some sort of coverage on CBS. My parents later helped me figure out the problem and I flipped out. One tradition shot to dust. Luckily, my paper arrived on time and I plotted out my attack for the next morning. Yes, I am one of those nutters who leaves the house at the crack of dawn on Black Friday.

Anyhoo, we're swimming along just fine and then Julie appears. Our turkey is probably done. Three hours before planned. Me, the person who checks, double checks and triple checks anything to do with cooking hadn't looked up cooking times again after we decided to cook the turkey unstuffed...House thrown into frenzy, people running around, stuffing being thrown into oven, potatoes boiling. In the grand scheme of things, of course it worked out. In fact, the turkey ended up only being done an hour earlier than planned (our oven takes forever to do anything).

So, Thanksgiving was delightful in the end. We ate ourselves into food comas, recovered to have pumpkin pie and whipped cream and generally enjoyed a day with friends and less guilt for not working on papers.

And in the end, we found our packet of giblets. The take home message of the day? A turkey has two holes. Check both before cooking.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Marmalade


I wish I had a better memory on days like this. I wish I could remember why I obsessively started asking for a cat or why I decided on a Maine Coon. Dad had started dragging me to cat shows I know was a part of it and I knew asking for another dog was getting me no where so I went with the biggest cat breed I could find. Marm didn’t let me down. Smaller than her champion brothers got, she was still at 20 pounds most of her adult life. I marvel at how little she once was. Sadly, I don’t have any of her kitten photos digitized – they’re all at home in Marm’s album on my shelf. There are the early pictures, before she grew into her ears and when she would still chase her cat toys around the house. Then there are the middle years, Marm at her best, finding all sorts of interesting places to sleep. It was one of the things she was best at, along with eating, getting into things she shouldn’t and whining constantly to my mother. She also had a knack for choosing the most inconvenient times to want attention. She was my study buddy in high school. Call me crazy but I swear she knew French for a while there. She listened as I read aloud Le Petit Prince or tried out sentences for my latest sujet. She was my companion while I stayed up working on projects that should have been done long before the night before it was due. She laid with me when I was sick and always seemed to know when I was down. She watched movies with me, sharing popcorn with me and never failed to be there when I needed her. As long as it was convenient for her of course. She was queen of all she surveyed. We all danced to her tune.

There were certain things you could always count on with Marm around. One, it wouldn’t be quiet. She had a voice and she knew how to use it. Mom always said she was whining – I think she just had one of those voices and was a bit of a chatterbox. Two, if there was paper on the floor, on the couch, on the table, she would be on it. Three, if you recently got up from the couch or the easy chair, she would be in it when you got back. The incredible thing was, you just sat somewhere else then. To move her was unthinkable. Four, she had the look of distain ready at all times. No one could look haughtier than my cat could. I swear she had it down to an art. Five, if I was planning to give her a bath, she would mysteriously disappear. I am so sad I never took a picture of her looking like a drowned rat in the tub but I could never seem to do such an injustice to her. Six, if I had a book in my hands, she was in my lap. I think she heard a lot of stories because of that (I like to think Austen was her favorite but I think am projecting). I like to read aloud anyway and she seemed to like to listen. Seven, for a house cat, she loved our back porch. It was her outdoors and her goal was to become as dirty as she could in as little time possible. Eight, she couldn’t hold a grudge to save her soul. She was never very welcoming when I’d come back from being away at school. She’d ignore me when I first came in, wouldn’t look at me when I’d scoop her up but she’d saunter in as I unpacked, getting into trouble as usual and then, the second I sat down, she’d be on top of me. Nine, Miss Priss she was, no matter what. Looking like a drowned rat after her baths, she’d still sit up and glare at me as I dried her. Even a soaking wet Marm had her dignity. Ten, she wasn’t perfect but she was Marm and she was one of my best friends who was always there when I needed her to be, no matter what. She has been one of the things I have missed most when I am away from home and it never occurred to think one day she wouldn’t be there.

Marm left us on Wednesday of this past week very suddenly. She had cancer and we didn't know until it was too late. My little Marmalade Blaze of Big Tree Cattery is gone and my last memory of her is sitting at the top of Grammy’s staircase, front paws crossed, looking all the world like a queen surveying her kingdom. And so she was, because for eleven years, she ruled our house and I know the next time I go home, there will be a something missing because we’ve lost our queen.

Daddy has done such a beautiful job of taking her picture over the years but I wanted to share one of my favorites. She had a knack for mischief especially on Christmas morning. I hope, wherever she is, she hasn’t lost it. Goodbye Baby Girl, I'll miss you.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Questions to Answer in the End

(last reflective paper for class)

As I wrap up my summer internship, everyone at work has been asking me what I liked best, what I did not like, do you still want to be an archivist after this? In turn, in order to answer, I have been doing a lot of thinking about what exactly it is that I like about the work. I will admit, sitting in a windowless room, staring at a computer screen day in and day out would have driven me insane two months ago. So one perk to the job is the variety. Because we had a schedule of some sorts at SIA, I knew what building and what I would be working on every day. My supervisors did not always have that luxury. The variety of their work excited me – some days they worked on digital materials, another day they would be processing, the next they would be out at an appraisal or doing outreach with another office in the Smithsonian. I like a job that gives me variety and a sense of adventure. Being an intern there to work on a single project, I did not always get that variety myself but I see the possibility of it in the profession.
I also answer to the “what did you like” question, the feeling of discovery. True, a lot of the collections I worked on outside of my scanning room were not the most riveting of materials – a lot of administration paperwork and so on but a few of the collections were truly interesting and I was never sure what I was going to find next. One collection, from the National Air and Space Museum had video footage of planes being flown into Dulles airport for the NASM Hazy Center Annex at the airport. How often to get to see a space shuttle piggy backing on a 747? Or another collection from the National Museum for Natural History was entirely correspondence between a geologist and professors, collectors, and experts in the field with some fun dirt samples and weird leaves thrown in for good measure. I like wondering also who will use this collection next and what will they discover in it?
I am hard pressed to answer the question “what did you not like.” One thing I did not care of was the isolation from the archives department. Because of the location of the scanning room, I rarely saw my other interns or, often, my supervisor simply because of my location. That is no fault of the profession, more poor office planning. While I like having a space to work in alone and be able to organize everything “my” way, I would like to see other people from time to time…I also did not like getting frustrated with the work which would happen every so often. I would find whole groups of photos with no names or find ruined pictures that no one bothered to remove the first time the collection was looked over. However, my supervisor assures me that that is simply a part of the work. There will be boxes of unknowns and silly people who do not understand what happens to rubber bands thirty years down the road (they harden and stain and crumble…not good). It is a frustrating job I have been forewarned by everyone in the office but also a rewarding job. I have only been able to observe the reference desk a few times but the look on people’s faces when we have that obscure document from the National Museum of American History or we have that photo of the old National Air and Space Museum is worth it.
As for the last question, “do I still want to be an archivist”, the answer is a resounding yes. It took me so long to find a career that was challenging and rewarding enough to keep my interest and fit into what I am personally interested in outside of work. Now I just need to work on the inevitable next question: “what kind of archive do you think you would like to work in?” I am still deciding this one. I really enjoyed my time at the Smithsonian and I would definitely apply if they decide they want to hire in the spring but I want to keep my options open and I have been lucky enough to have co-workers this summer who have experiences in just about every type of archive you can find so they have given me a lot to think about. It’s a question I am still working on but I feel this summer has given me a taste of an institution and an environment that I would be very happy to work in long term any time in the future.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Phillips Collection

OK, while the best art museum in this town will remain the National Gallery of Art, the Phillips Collection gets the prize for the best atmosphere of an art museum. While I especially felt under dressed here (though I usually do in this town), The Phillips Collection is comprised of two buildings, one a modern building and the other, an old house off of Dupont Circle. So, for part of your walk through the museum, you're in a typical "museum" setting with perfect lighting and few windows. For the other part, you wander into the old Victorian house and feel like someone has let you wander their house, enjoying their art collection. It created a very intimate feeling to the museum which I enjoyed. Don't get me wrong, I love my Louvre but the small setting of feeling like I stepped into some one's parlor to comment on their O'Keefe was a unique and special experience.

And then there is the painting that I went to see. I turned a corner and there it was, so much bigger than I expected. Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party. It literally took my breath away and I had to sit on the bench in front of it and stare (around the two men who insisted on discussing the painting for what felt like eons directly in front of it). Renoir has always been my second favorite (not being a tortured enough artist for me to love as much as my Van Gogh). To see this painting, arguably not his best, but his best-known, work was a joy. It ranks up there with turning the corner to see Starry Night at MOMA or finding down in the basement Crows with Wheatfield in Amsterdam. I will admit, I thought it was smaller because of the film Amelie. The canvas in the movie is smaller that the painting actually is but I admit I also stared at the girl with the glass and smiled. The colors also blew me away. The flowers on the girl's hat with the dog were so vivid and textured, I would have sworn they were just painted yesterday. Also, this painting has such movement. You expect to see the next moments at any second, as if you were watching a film instead of looking at a painting. I have said it before, but I'll say it again, I wish I could see the world the way the Impressionists saw it. We all should be so lucky.

learning goal check

(reflective report for school)

I thought this week since I only have about three weeks left I should reflect a little on how I am doing with my project and my learning goals for the summer. For one, I am realizing now that I was unrealistic in thinking I could complete the project this summer. It was never the intention of my supervisor that I should finish however; I thought to myself I could get the main boxes scanned over the course of the summer. I started on the letter H. I am just now rounding the corner of the letter L. It sounds like I have not gotten far at all. But looking at the numbers, I have scanned over 1770 photos into the database. Sadly, I am never going to see the final steps of the project personally at SIA. The refining of the metadata, the linking of the actual photo file to the database entry and the launch of the database into SIRIS, the Smithsonian Institute database on-line where it would be searchable by the user will take place long after I am back at school or even out in the work force. I am just starting to realize the massive amount of time and resources it takes to make a project like this get off the ground and to finally see it completed.

My supervisor took time to explain to me this week about the SIRIS protocol and what the collection will need to go through still after the scanning is done. She was very interested in using flickr as a resource to help identify people we know little or nothing about in the Science Service photos. The Smithsonian Institute and the Library of Congress have both already utilized flickr to not only give better access to their users but to tap into their users’ information. It is amazing to me the network of resources outside of an institution that are available if we only have the tools to use them. I will be interested to see if flickr or a site like it will be used with my collection in the future. This fit well into one of my learning goals for the summer which was to understand how a digitization project comes together from start to finish, what an institution needs to know or learn to make a project of this magnitude a worth-while endeavor that will ultimately help the user of an archives to better access and understand a collection. What I find interesting in this case, with the Science Service photos, is we have a lot of blanks. Photos with only initials and a last name or, worst-case scenario, simply a last name. No university, no area of science to go off on. I have googled many and come up with full names for few. It is another project in itself and one that digitization of the photos could help complete if SIA decides to go the ‘flickr route.’

Along with the start to finish of a digitization project, I have learned a lot about processing collections: when to toss, when to keep, when a finding aid is “good enough” to work for the moment. Something the classroom and the real world have both agreed on whole heartedly is there is never enough time, people, or money to do everything you want to do with a collection and its finding aid. Sometimes, one simply has to say that it is as good as it is going to get for the moment and move on. A perfectionist would die a slow and painful death in the archives. You are perpetually leaving everything half done with the idea that some day you will come back and finish that finding aid to perfection, list other collections that link to it in the archives and elsewhere, come back and digitize everything. In reality, the collections I put back on the shelf today at Fullerton will probably never be returned to – they will live with a simple listing of folders and a brief summary of where the papers come from and what they may pertain to during the dates listed. A user could use them easily, true, but we could do better…if we had time.

So, my learning goals are there. I feel I have gleaned a lot from my digitization project as well as the time I have spent processing collections. I learned patience certainly but from discussing the big picture, I see that it is hard work and lives you often with the feeling that if you only had a little more time, it could be done that much better. It is a problem found in many lines of work. However, I often find myself wondering, as I work on a collection, which will use it next and what can I add to a finding aid to help them in their scavenger hunt. So I add a few lines to a summary, a few lines after a folder name to say something interesting I have found in my perusal of the collection over a few hours of processing. It is not much but the user is something SI has made me very aware of and I feel that one of my lessons, even if it was not in my learning goals or even something my supervisor has pointed out to me, is that the user is always there in the back of my mind and I am working to make the user’s quest in the archives go that much smoother. If it takes me five extra minutes at my computer, in the end, I think it is worth it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A weekend of cemeteries

It was actually more cheerful than it sounds for the most part. Work last week went quickly. Having Monday off helped a lot. I scanned for three days and was out at Fullerton again on Friday where I finished the collection I had started the week before so that was good. I also finally got a chance to meet with my supervisor for a bit and got a lot of questions cleared up I had lingering from the appraisal I had tagged along to plus some questions I had about the scanning project I was working on. Friday night I stayed over at Mackenzie's since we planned on leaving at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning.

Actually, it wasn't even dawn yet. We left DC at 4:30 AM and arrived in Gettysburg a little before 6 AM. We headed up to Little Round Top to have a view of the battlefields before the sun rose. I have to admit, seeing the misty fields and the sky lighten purply red was beautiful. I lived there for four years and didn't see it. Funny the things you never get around to doing just because you assume you have all the time in the world to do them in. We continued on down into the park afterwards, watching the sun come up before we had breakfast at LD's after a brief side trip onto campus to get to the ATM. Campus is a bit torn up at the moment. They're building the new athletic center but the new child care center they opened last year looks beautiful even if it was weird to see a building where Stone Lot used to be. After breakfast, we walked the National Cemetery all the way down to the Lincoln Memorial Wall at the back with the Gettysburg Address engraved next to a bust of Lincoln. We then drove up to the Peace Light and did a lot of the Auto Tour. We also climbed to the top of Big Round Top - not that you can tell from the pictures - not much a view through all the trees up there.

We stopped at the new Visitor's Center on the way out of Gettysburg and it is HUGE! I think the new store is bigger than the entire old building. I didn't like that the old buildings were just sitting there crumbling though - they need to tear them down or find a use for them - they look awful. The new center is beautiful though and huge and fits the needs of the area much better so kudos to the designer. We headed over to Lancaster next and explored Amish Country. We just drove around, picking a few side roads to explore down, to see off the "real" Amish, not the tourist displays. Their farms are simply beautiful - so big and in perfect condition. A lot of farms were bringing in their hay so they had these beautiful Belgian work teams out in the fields. It was different to see work horses actually "working" instead of the hitch classes I loved watching at the state fair. I have a lot of respect for their way of life but I don't think I'm signing up for it any time soon. I wouldn't last long anyway. What would they do with a girl who can't sew or cook to save her life? I might not be such a hopeless case with baking...hmmm....something to think about. Maybe I could do a vacation to Amish Country and stay on a farm for a week. I think that would be enough time for me to miss my computer and air conditioning sufficiently enough.

We made one more stop in PA - Harrisburg. We visited the Capital building which is very ornate and decorated within an inch of its life. It also looked very rich - something tells me Albany would not be this impressive. One of these days I should visit my home state's capital though...add that to my list. We got back to DC around 6 PM and I had a quiet night after that.

I didn't start as early the next morning as I had wanted to so it was already blazing when I got to Arlington National Cemetery. Visiting a place with little shade in a Code Red Heat Advisory is a bad idea - I advise against it. I especially advise against climbing hills and stairs to visit graves in this heat. Just some friendly advise. However, I liked seeing the Kennedy graves again - they are beautifully presented on the hill overlooking DC. I then walked up to Arlington House and saw the house (not much there currently) and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers from the Civil War. I started the trek then to the Tomb of the Unknowns. Made it there in time to see the Changing of the Guard which was great - such ceremony to a little thing. Must be the British left in us. I felt bad for those guys though in full outfit under than sun. It must have been 100 by then.

After the Changing, I walked over to the Challenger memorial. I was pleased to see a memorial had been added for the Columbia crew as well. Not a tear shed yet which was impressive as I'd even listened to John Denver's tribute to the Challenger crew (They Were Flying For Me) before I came (I swear my iPod is psychic - what song does she most not want to hear on the way to Arlington?) which never fails to tear me up on its own. Lastly, I walked up to the mast of the USS Maine, the ship sunk off the coast of Cuba during the Spanish-American War. After that, I had to hike all the way back to the start of the cemetery. At that point, the $15 tour bus looked like money well spent but I stuck it out. Luckily, all of Kathy's reminders of sun screen and water had been remembered before I left the house so I didn't melt.

Once back on the Metro, I had some time to kill so I found a bookstore off Metro Center and succeeded in only spending $10 - this is impressive people, look impressed - before I headed over to Chinatown to see Mamma Mia! In not spoiling the movie for anyone, I was pleasantly surprised by the film. They stayed very close to the musical's original plot - always keeps me happy - and even kept a lot of the fun dances I remember from the stage show. My one gripe is that, I am sorry, but Pierce Brosnan cannot sing. It was painful at times. This is why James Bond does not sing people and he shouldn't have too. Even Meryl Streep, a woman who I didn't think had a musical bone in her body, sounded better than him. In fact, I was very surprised by Meryl's performance. She had me won over by the end (although, I would have staged The Winner Takes It All a bit different but that's just me). Other than that, it gets three stars from me.

This week is looking fairly standard. I have another report due on Friday so I need to come up with a topic for it here soon. I also am hoping to go see The Phillips Collection on Thursday night and then I think my museum/gallery list is complete - I may have a few stragglers to finish up. I'm actually not down here for much longer which is blowing my mind - I'm not quite sure where the summer went to be honest. However, I have a full couple of weeks left so I'm making the most of it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Family Times

When family comes to visit, I have time for nothing else. Last week was fairly quiet at work. I finished another box on Thursday and was out at Fullerton in Virginia all day on Friday. My parents and Ally got here on Saturday afternoon. I went with them to their hotel over in Georgetown. It was a very nice hotel - I was impressed. After they settled in, we walked down to Foggy Bottom to get them metro cards for the next two days. We'd made plans to meet Kathy and Scott on the waterfront from dinner so we were going to head to Georgetown. We took the bus over to Kennedy Center and walked down past Watergate and the waterfront into downtown Georgetown and the shopping district. I got a a great deal in H&M and we wondered the Shops at Georgetown (a mall) before we headed back to the waterfront. We ate at Tony and Joe's, a seafood restaurant right on the docks - it was a beautiful night.

The next day we did the Smithsonian Zoo in the morning. Mom got to see her pandas. Her and Daddy went early so Mom actually got to see them moving. All I saw them doing was sleep - lol. The sea lions were the best to watch though and they had tons of a personal favorite, the golden lion tamerin. It got pretty crowded by the beginning of the afternoon so we headed out. We had planned to do the monuments this night but it started to pour just after we got off the metro at L'Enfant. So we headed back to Union Station so Dad could take pictures somewhere. :-)

The next morning, Ally and I did the Holocaust Memorial Museum while Mom and Dad did the Air & Space Museum. It was my third time doing the Holocaust Museum and I got through it this time without crying once - I am making progress. After we met up with Mom and Dad, we went and ate at the Natural History Museum and then went and visited the new Jim Henson exhibit at the International Gallery. I am in love with this exhibit - it has some of Henson's earliest artwork along with lots of video footage throughout. Not too mention, puppets of Kermit, the Fraggles, Bert and Ernie, Rowlf and more. I am totally going back several times. Its open until October so anyone coming down - you must go!

After that, we went back to the hotel for a bit before driving back down to eat dinner. We ate at an Italian restaurant at the Ronald Reagan building - I had this fabulous Primavera dish. Afterwards, we walked over to see the White House so Ally could see it before she left again. From there, we drove over to the Capitol building and Dad took pictures forever. Thankfully, there was a band playing on the Capitol Steps so I did some swing dancing on the lawn of the Capitol to entertain myself. We did a family picture too - our first since Ally could talk. It's been awhile...Next was the Lincoln Memorial and we got to meet up with Aunt Michele, Uncle Joe and Joey here so that was great. We then walked down to the World War II memorial. This is very close to my favorite one - it was beautiful to see at night with all the lights in the water.

The next morning, the family took off for Atlantic City, Ally shoved into the backseat (luckily, I managed to get my stuff on the route home - not much leg room because of it though - sorry!). I got to meet Aunt Michele, Uncle Joe and Joey for lunch yesterday luckily. I had them meet me at the food court at the NMAI - the best food court of the Smithsonian which they loved so I was glad we got to eat together then :-)

The rest of this week is shaping up. I'm back at Fullerton on Friday. The new Batman movie comes out this weekend and I'm off to Gettysburg of all places on Sunday. First time back since I graduated so it's going to be weird but good. I'm excited for some Rita's and dinner at LD's again though :-)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Work Culture at SIA

(reflective report for school)

For this week’s report, I wanted to reflect a little on the work culture and management of the archives at the Smithsonian. The other archive I had worked in prior to this internship was my undergraduate college’s archive. While the students there were allowed to dress casually, for the most part, it was a formal environment to work in with a hands-on management style. The Smithsonian archives takes a much more casual, hands-off approach to management that creates a very casual, very relaxed work culture where there is little difference between the manager and the intern in how you interact.

In terms of management, which in turn creates the work culture, there is very little “intense” management. My supervisor works on the opposite side of the building from where the scanning room, where I spend most of my time, is located. She comes over to see me maybe twice a day if she is even in the office. Often much of the staff is out of the office at other archive locations or involved in work at other museums for the Smithsonian. Because of this, I am in charge of my time management and project advancement. I have no manager breathing down my neck if I get a bit behind on a box because there were more pictures in some of the folders than usual. I have no deadline except what I myself set. For my work style, this type of management is perfect. I have a lot of independence in how I structure my days. On certain days that I am out of the scanning room and either out at the Fullerton warehouse or working on a different collection at Capital Gallery, I am always given instructions first and ask any questions before I am set loose and once again, I set my own pace. This works very well for me, as I stated before. I do not hesitate to ask questions if I get stuck or confused but I am not left feeling like my supervisor will be constantly looking over my shoulder either. For me, this means I enjoy the work more, learn more and work harder. I am my hardest taskmaster. A more controlling management style would get me nervous and flustered and I would enjoy the work less.

That said I found having my work checked over is a good thing for me. A fellow intern is doing quality control on my work in the scanning room, making sure my entries in the database are filled out correctly and match up to the digital image. Being my own taskmaster so often means I can get a little sloppy. I think I tend to get into a zone of repetition and stop paying as much attention as I need to the details. Having my work checked this past week reminded me that, while I enjoy my independence at work, I also need to police myself a bit better in general. I am trying to check over my entries at the end of the day to make sure I did not forget something silly like changing a folder name or not putting a “dr.” before someone’s name where it belongs. If I take the time to do this, most of the mistakes my fellow intern is finding would disappear.

Because of this management system, the work culture at SIA is very casual and informal. The director of the archives is approachable by everyone and anyone in her office. All have an open-door policy. I joke and laugh with my supervisor a lot and they encourage all the interns to discuss our projects but also just to talk in general. We have the Internet radio playing when I am over in the archives offices, working on a collection. We share fun or weird discoveries in our collections with each other and our supervisors. The dress code is very casual so I personally am even more in a comfort zone at work. The Records management side tends to be a bit more formal so I am definitely more comfortable in the archives offices even if I spend the most time on the records management side in the scanning room. It is an interesting office because of the physical split in where the archives have their offices and workspace and where the records management teams have offices. However, while more formal in dress, the records management people are just as casual in manner and also add their own radio and stories to the atmosphere of the office. Overall, I find it a very comfortable and relaxing place to work. I like being able to set my pace and be my own manager for the most part around people who are encouraging and helpful as well as genuinely interested in sharing their experiences and learning mine.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Happy Fourth of July!

I hope everyone had a safe and happy 4th of July holiday. Mine started a bit early as we were let out of work on Thursday at lunch time. I took the opportunity to wander the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival on the Mall. I had fun wondering the tents with artisans from Bhutan but I really enjoyed the NASA tents. I got to speak with several astronauts and scientists about the International Space Station and NASA's plan to get man back to the moon by 2020.

After I wandered, I keep walking to see some of the monuments as I hadn't really done that yet since I got down here. I walked past the Washington Monument and on to the World War II Monument which I had not seen yet. It was beautifully done - very open and lots of water fountains and falls. The two sides represent the Atlantic and Pacific theaters with a separate pillar for each state and territory that sent men and women to fight during the war. A lot of the area was blocked off however I think this was because of the fourth of July - they launch the fireworks from the reflecting pool, only a short walk away from the monument. I continued on and walked through the Vietnam Memorial next. This memorial always makes me slightly uncomfortable but always in awe. There are always people taking rubbings and this time an entire family had come to place flowers under what I gathered was a son's/uncle's name. It's a very emotional memorial to walk through.

I next hiked on to the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool. This whole area was a bit of a mess - it was fenced off for the fireworks and also they are doing some sort of road work it looks like in front of the monument so it's less than aesthetically pleasing currently. I climbed up all the stairs to the inside of the monument to see the statue of Lincoln and to read the Gettysburg Address on one wall, the other had his second inaugural speech on it. I also ducked into the exhibit under the monument (mostly to cool off to be honest) but it displayed quotes of Lincolns as well as video of the more momentous occasions that have happened on the steps of the Monument.

At this point, I could go no further so TJ's monument gets put off for another day. I started my way back up Constitution and when looking for a metro station, I found the Corcoran Gallery which was on my list of museums to visit. This is the first museum I've had to pay for since I came. For me, it was worth it though. I liked this museum's collections of American art a lot and I also liked the special exhibition of photography and film taken by several journalists in countries hit particularly hard with HIV/AIDS. It was thought-provoking exhibit. I also liked the Treasures of European Decorative Art and Sculpture rooms - including a completely transferred salon from 18th century Paris, The Salon Dore. I felt like I'd stepped back into Versailles for a moment. I made my way home after this.

On Friday, I took Kathy out to the Folklife Festival. We got caught in the parade since it starts late for a parade, at 11 AM. Once we got through one of the Mall's security checkpoints, it wasn't as crowded as we'd feared. We had fun exploring and I tried some Bhutanese cuisine (very tasty - I had momos, pork-filled dumplings with salsa) and we both downed Lime Fizzes (so good!). After that, we headed back home. We went and watched the fireworks at Kathy and Scott's friend's apartment building. His roof was the perfect place to watch - they were stunning though I like music with my fireworks, my only complaint. They should pipe a soundtrack through the city during the 4th of July fireworks, just a suggestion ;-)

Yesterday, I didn't do much. I got my phone fixed (yay) so I can do texting and get voicemail messages again. I watched a couple of movies and went grocery shopping. Today, I went and did the National Museum of Women in the Arts as it is free the first Sunday of every month. It's a good thing too - I would have been angry if I'd paid for this museum. It was just not worth it to me. First of all, it felt like a highly disorganized museum, there seemed to be no natural flow to see everything by. Also, the lighting was not the best at times. I don't mind when it means I can't take a picture, but at times, the natural lighting combined with the chandeliers meant I couldn't see the painting itself very well. This may be because, unlike many museums, this one had all the pictures with glass over them. However, I was glad for it when several unsupervised kids were reaching up and touching to see if they would get in trouble. Ugh - children in museums is fast becoming a pet peeve of mine. They always look bored and so they try to amuse themselves by annoying everyone around them. The only museum they seem to like, that I've noticed, is the NMNH which makes sense, dinosaur bones and rocks they can climb on are more kids' styles.

Overall, I was also unimpressed with the NMWA's collection in general. There were a few pieces I liked but most were uninteresting to me. I understand it is a small museum so they rotate what is on display a lot - maybe I caught a bad rotation? I am certainly glad I took advantage of the free Sunday to visit though. This week I probably won't be doing too much. My family is in town this coming weekend so I need to do laundry and get things organized for that. I may try to sneak the Phillips Collection in on Thursday since it's open late but if I get pressed for time as I have a report due this week, that may be moved again to a different week. Hope everyone has a great week!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Visiting the Libraries

Luckily, I have only during the day on Saturday to write about and then this week and I am all caught up!

Saturday, I did the two libraries in my neighborhood. I started at the Folger Shakespeare Library, home of the largest collection of Shakespeare scholarship on this side of the Atlantic. It is quite small, most of it is only open to researchers but the current exhibit is on Armor and Shakespeare which was interesting to look through. My main reason for coming though was right inside the door of the Gallery. One of the First Folios. I had seen one in Stratford of course but I loved this one because it is encased with a touchscreen system which lets you digitally browse through the book as they have digitalized the first part of it. It was fun to look through and see the spellings and find my favorite lines. Like I was looking through Romeo and Juliet and found "I bite my thumb at thee sir!" It took me back to eighth grade and my first experience with Shakespeare (which I will admit, he's grown on me over the years). I also looked into the theater they have at the library. Their season is already done for the year which is a same, I would have liked to have seen a production there. Though it was sort of a poor substitute after seeing the Globe and the Royal Shakespeare Company theaters in Stratford, it was still faithful to the intimate and country feeling to the theaters of Shakespeare's time. I picked up a copy of Much Ado about Nothing while I was here. Now I am quoting my favorite Shakespeare heroine non-stop; I need a Benedick to burn my library for ;-)

After I finished at the Folger, I crossed the street to the Library of Congress. It seriously is one of my favorite buildings in DC. It has the unassuming green dome terraced, with the fabulous fountain out front and Minerva everywhere (they insist on the Roman names here so I will grudgingly use them - the Greek ones are prettier). I wondered in and just missed the start of the tour but since I couldn't see the Main Reading Room without a tour, I nonchalantly joined one in front of the Guttenburg Bible. I really enjoyed my tour actually. The tour guide was this adorable old woman who knew everything about every mural, stone bust and painting in the place. The Main Reading Room is sadly under refurbishment at the moment so sections of it are covered in scaffolding and sheets. But it was beautiful to finally see it in person after seeing it in the movies for so long. After the tour disbursed, I wondered Creating the United States which had drafts of the Declaration and Constitution on display along with countless letters and journals. I then found Thomas Jefferson's Library. It is a reconstruction of Jefferson's original library that he sold to Congress to start their library. It was a nice tie-in to my visit to Monticello last weekend though I wonder were exactly all those books fit at Monticello... I then walked through an exhibit on the Exploring Early America - lots of maps and arguments over who gets what land in the New World. There was a very neat case on pirating in the New World though. After this, I wondered downstairs and into the Bob Hope Gallery, focusing on Bob Hope but also looking at Vaudeville and Hollywood in general during his time. I saw yet another Oscar - seen a lot of those lately. I then shopped (of course - they had a book store people...) and picked up a great read on the presence of American Women in the Library. I then went and got my Reader's Card for the Library in the Madison Building so I can actually go and use the Library now if I want to which I am excited to do. I just need to figure out when exactly I am doing that and what I want to look at. The woman who did my application for the card gave me the name of a fabulous woman's history librarian so I hope to get a hold of her and look at some of their woman's collections. Maybe store up an idea for a thesis for when I get back to school for my woman's history masters....

This week has been fairly standard at work - I've been scanning all week with the new resolutions the Smithsonian just approved so my pictures take twice as long to scan now but I did the Kennedy files this week which were fascinating to look through and read all the newspaper clippings (like, FYI, did you know the Kennedys had a child die 20 hours after birth while in the White House? I didn't even know little Patrick Bouvier Kennedy ever existed...that family really is cursed.) We did have our staff picnic yesterday. They shut down the Folklife Festival to the public for the day and give us the run of the place. This year the tents are Texas, Bhutan and NASA (as it's their 50th anniversary this year). We ate at Texas - Taquitos but I want to try Bhutan when I go this weekend. Hopefully I don't murder any tourists before then. I cannot wait for the Fourth of July to be over and done with - too many Americans around for my taste. Most of the time I've noticed, the tourists come from outside the States. One day, eating lunch in my favorite spot, I didn't hear English anywhere around me. I like it that way - ugh, Americans.

I will report on the Fourth of July next. I cannot wait for this fireworks show!!!!!

A brief ode to Disney

I am going to take a moment out of my current thread of DC topics to give a brief ode to my favorite company/entity/state of mind. This past weekend I not only saw yet another reason to love the marriage between Pixar and Disney in Wall-E, I was able to attend the opening weekend of The Lion King at Kennedy Center. It was like a brief visit into a world I usually have to fly to Orlando to get to.

In all my attempts to explain my love of the Mouse, I always get that blank look with a vague idea that the person is laughing at me behind their eyes. Why would someone who has gone to Walt Disney World ten times at last count long to go again? Haven't you seen it all yet? How many more pictures of the Castle does one really need? To which, any Disney fan worth their salt replies, just one more of course. Since being forced to grow up and go off to college and now graduate school, I don't get to go nearly as much as I used to (at least it feels that way - I think the truth is Mom and Daddy just go more now that my sister and I aren't home). So any little way I can bring Disney to me, I jump on it. I read the blogs faithfully and download the podcasts to listen to at work while haunting the discussion boards. Every new Disney movie, every time I can watch the Disney Channel for a little while, each time Samantha Brown is on the Travel Channel with a Disney special, I savor it.

So, a weekend where I get a movie and a musical, I am in heaven. Let us begin with Wall-E. I have been watching the trailer for this eons ago it seems and I knew I was already in love with the little guy before I sat down in the theater. For those of you who saw my facebook status later on Friday after I saw it, you know I found my soul mate. It is characters like Wall-E that cements my love for this entity that is Disney. Not too mention, they gave props to one of my all-time favorite musicals, Hello Dolly! How could I not love this?! Yet another reason I have to agree with many of the Disney Bloggers when they say Lasseter is the second coming of Disney.

Next up this past weekend was possible through a stroke of luck that must of used my luck quota up through next year. But it was worth it. My supervisor at work came in on Friday with a single ticket to see The Lion King, just opened at Kennedy Center this past week. I think it was the fact I practically jumped onto my knees for the ticket that got me the ticket - I must have looked pathetic but put Disney and Broadway together for me and that is near nirvana. So, I ventured off Saturday night to Kennedy Center, a place in and of itself amazing to see a production. The Opera House is massive with an absolutely beautiful ceiling fixture. It was lots of little chandeliers making up the design of a snowflake. I had seen The Lion King before in Rochester, NY, aka on a small stage and from several levels up. This night, I sat second row, three seats in from the aisle. The drummer was right next to me as well and was interesting in himself to watch at times. The first time I took in the spectacle that is the stage show, this time I got to revel in it. To see the facial expressions and to enjoy which was a better cast than my first experience. The opening sequence (recently just played on the Tony broadcast as it celebrating 10 years on Broadway) simply takes your breath away. It was a fabulous production and had that touch of something extra that I can only find from a Disney story - especially one hailing from the second golden age of Disney animation.

So, I just needed to get out an ode to a love of my life. I will now return the regularly scheduled programming of my DC summer.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Week in Review

OK, a few big things to report. Work continues smoothly - nothing new to report there. We went to an Intern Ice Cream Social yesterday (free ice cream - I am there). That was fun and plus, we got out of work early. It was in the National Portrait Gallery so after we were done, I started that museum. I got most of the Portrait Gallery done. I will have to go back and finish the American Art side of the museum. I really enjoyed the portrait gallery. I saw a great exhibit on Katherine Hepburn, saw the Presidents' portraits (which jived well with my White House tour this afternoon. I also enjoyed a poster portrait exhibit they have at the moment. Who knew a cutout of Captain Jack Sparrow could be considered good enough for the National Portrait Gallery?!

Today, I left work early to go to my White House Tour. I got a bit turned around and ended up running a block to be on time. They checked my name off the list and I went through security. A few things - one, it's a self-guided tour which was a bit disappointing. Two, you don't see that much these days. Three rooms on the map are no longer open for viewing, two are open door only and so you just peek in. The President gets jipped in the library department though. My first act as presidnet would be to convert the East Room ( the biggest room in the house) to my library. I was jealous of his garden and his views. From the Blue Room, he is lined up with the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument is just to the side. Those are some of the rooms you get to walk through - the East, Red, Blue, Green and the State Dining Room. There were guards in each room who, I was surprised to find, were very knowledgeable about the rooms. You walk out the cross halls and then you're done. However, you get to exit out the Front door of the White House so I felt important. I liked seeing all the portraits in the house after just going to the Portrait Gallery the night before. However, the White House has the best portrait of JFK (the one you think of, with his arms crossed and looking down). And it was interesting to note, the most prominent first lady portrait was of Hillary Clinton in the downstairs hallway. It was fun to see and I'm glad I did it but it isn't something you need to feel bad about missing if you visit.

Afterwards, I went to see Wall-E - who is my soulmate. FYI. ;-)

Visiting TJ's crib and my weekend last week

Last weekend, I ventured out of DC on a road trip of sorts with two of my fellow interns. We went down to Charlottesville to see Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's homestead and to see the campus of the University of Virginia, TJ's brainchild in his later years. First off, we took the scenic route to get there. We were so involved in looking out for southern fast food joints that we need to try, we missed our first exit. No big though, after a stop so Matt and I could try our first Chik-fil-A sandwiches (which was delicious but I am not a sweet tea fan), we went the long way to Charlottesville. It was a picture perfect day. After being complete tourists and stopping at a "scenic view" stop on the highway for our first good look at the Blue Ridge Mountains, we arrived at Monticello. We got our tickets for the house tour and then took the bus up to the house. First off, TJ knew how to pick a spot. He had a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and more land than he knew what to do with. We started out with the Plantation walking tour. Bob, our guide, was very knowledgeable about the daily life on the plantation in Jefferson's time. He mainly discussed the lives of the slaves on the plantation and focused a lot on the Hemings family. I did like that they were very upfront on the fact that Jefferson definitely fathered at least one, if not all of Sally Hemings' children. DNA cannot lie of course. But that wasn't the focus of the tour, it was a walk down Mulberry Row and where the nailery and joinery would have been located. I liked the storytelling aspect of the tour but Bob was a bit long winded.

After the tour, we headed down to the graveyard and saw Jefferson's grave. Very different from the tomb of the Washingtons. It was sort of a mini-Washington monument. After taking our pictures of the headstone, we walked back up the hill and wondered about for awhile. I love the look of the house. Jefferson was an amateur architect and designed Monticello himself. All his travel in Europe meant he tried a lot of things at Monticello that hadn't been seen in the States yet at the time. The all-weather tunnel running under the house, the design on vents from the cellar into the house as a sort of pre-electricity air conditioning system. We chilled in the garden for a bit and then went to get in line for our house tour.

This was the best part of the day for me. If I ever design a house, I want Monticello. First off, his library was an extension of his "study" which led into his bedroom with a very cool alcove bed that was a running theme in the house. Best use of space was Jefferson's goal for the entire house so he came up or brought back from Europe all these "space saving" elements. Like, in his bedroom, his bed is between his study and the room but his closet is above his bed, accessible only by a ladder. A lot of his doors folded into the walls so they didn't take up space in the room. He had a fabulous "tea room" that I would have gladly lived in and the guest bedroom had another alcove bed for best use of space. Overall, I loved the house tour. Our tour guide (who's name I have sadly forgotten) was amazing - telling all the great stories but not being over-tedious. After the tour, we walked back down to our car (all down hill) and headed back towards Charlottesville to find food.

We found the main downtown district which is chock full of used bookstores - great and bad at the same time. I escaped with only one book so I was impressed with myself. After a quick dinner, we hopped on the free trolley and rode over to UVA. It is a good thing I never came to look at this campus, I would have had to come to a school that is huge but has the most beautiful campus I have ever seen. Seriously, I would live on it now. We got caught in a storm however so we cut our tour of campus short and headed back toward the car. Once back, the rain had stopped so we took a driving tour of campus instead. We found the stadium to take pictures as well. Heading back to Washington, we were treated to a fabulous sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Breaking what I am sure was quite a few laws, we pulled over to take picture which I think are my best yet this summer. It was a great trip though, full of lots of fun. I really enjoyed seeing the house at Monticello and UVA.

That was Saturday. On Sunday, I did a mini-museum marathon. I started at the Freer Gallery (Asian art with Whistler thrown in for good measure), the Sackler Gallery (more Asian art) and the Hirshorn Museum (Modern art). All three are lesser knowns in the Smithsonian family. I really enjoyed the Hirshorn actually which surprised me - I am not much of a modern art fan but they have a fabulous exhibit right now, temporary, on cinema art which was very interesting to walk through and take all the different films in and what they are trying to convey. After the museums, I walked through the Castle (now a visitor's center) and paid my respects to Smithson's tomb before I headed over to the National Botanical Gardens. I had done the outside gardens earlier in the week but the Conservatory closed too early for me to go after work. I liked this a lot - the big greenhouses host different areas of the world - jungle, desert, forest, endangered species. In the jungle greenhouse, they have a canopy walk which was a lot of fun to go through with the mist going off every few minutes, making you think you're actually in the jungle (for about a second, but hey, atmosphere is everything). That was pretty much my Sunday. Next post, this week and my weekend plans...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Appraisal in the Real World

(second report for summer class)

The suggestion for this week’s report was uncannily like a topic I had been playing around with writing on anyway. I did a little blog post on it for the blog as well but I wanted to use my reflective report to share my first actual appraisal experience and to compare it to SI 632, Appraisal of Archives, a class I just took this past semester. For the most part, I found that while we can be taught the theory in a classroom, there is no greater teacher than experience.

For my first appraisal, I accompanied my supervisor to the National Museum of Natural History. The paleobiology department had contacted Tammy about looking through several filing cabinets to see if it was anything the archives were interested in or if they should just get rid of everything. Loaded down with acid-free boxes, as we had no idea how much stuff could be in the filing cabinets, we drove over to the museum. We then proceeded through a maze of hallways into a massive basement room, full from top to bottom of specially made fossil cabinets with regular filing cabinets interspersed. After being shown the way through the maze to the filing cabinets we were concerned with, Tammy dove into the first cabinet. Immediately I saw that experience was the key factor here. She knew the types of forms in the drawer and where copies of them would be and how long they would be kept. She quickly recognized maps that were published, paper drafts that should be kept and any correspondence was an automatic keeper. However, she also had difficultly with the subject matter. The papers could have common paleobiology knowledge on them or some research that never got around to being published. It was a tricky balance that she was trying to find between keeping and tossing.
In the end, we took four and a half boxes full of papers back to the archives, the bulk of which was correspondence. The rest Tammy suggested the department at least glance through before tossing as they may catch important research she did not recognize. Compared to the amount of papers Tammy looked through we kept about 10-15% for the archives. Tammy talked me through what she was doing the whole time. She kept a list of everything she found and the reasons why she either did or did not take it to explain both to the department head as well as to put in the appraisal log back at the office. She stressed the archives was most interested in correspondence between the Institution and “everybody else.” Why however, she never said and I was too busy lugging boxes to ask. I will ask when she gets back from vacation though.

So, How did this compare to class? One thing I noticed, and just mentioned, was the reasoning behind what Tammy was taking. She wrote down the reasons why she was not taking things – mostly because it was either published or located elsewhere. In SI 632, we discussed collection policies and their importance in appraisal as it helps an archives say ‘no’ when it needs to. I have not seen SIA’s collection policy nor do I know if they have a formal policy in writing. I have noticed things at SIA tend to be very loose and laid back. An environment I enjoy but it does not jive always with the formal atmosphere I sense in class at times. Professor Hedstrom stressed the imperfectness of appraisal and how the best teacher would be experience. However, my first experience here had no rhyme or reason to it. There was no method Tammy used, no theory we discussed in class that seemed to guide her. It was pure “I have done this a million times before so I can do it this time too.” I was both impressed and terrified. I want to talk to Tammy more about this however she has been on vacation since so my weekly meeting has been pushed to early next week this time around. I am interested to hear her opinion on how she approaches appraisal in general and see if that links to a theory in a more subtle way.

In terms of class vs. reality, it comes back to what I discussed in my last report. The classroom can prepare us, give us the mental tools we need to approach a task in the archives but there is no substitute to the actual work itself. That observation seems to be my major take-home message of the summer so far. I need to soak up all the background work, all the theories and experiments and use that to approach the real-life tasks. I may have been overwhelmed by my first real appraisal experience but I feel, armed with the SIA collection policy, I could have done a good job just working from the basics I learned from SI 632. The class is a good jumping off point for the real-life work involved in appraisal and I was glad I had that under my belt for this first time out.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Imaginary Invalid and I

I am super behind on posting to the blog - I know. So we need to rewind a bit to last Thursday and my first venture into DC's Theater scene. I had planned on seeing Julius Caesar with a fellow intern but the half price tickets that you can get an hour before the show only work if the show isn't sold out before hand. We were directed to the Company's other theater were Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid was playing that evening and tickets were still available. Sometimes being a student has more to it than lots of loans. With our student discount, we got box seats for 25 bucks. First time in a box for me - luckily, we ended up having the box to ourselves so we moved down a bit and lost the obstructed view we'd had in our original seats.

The play, of course, was genius. I do so love Moliere's wit in his writing and all his asides he gives to his characters. The casting was great for this particular play. Rene Auberjonois was Argan, the Imaginary Invalid. You might know him as Odo from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or from the original MASH movie as Father McCauley. However, the woman playing his maid Toinette was by far the funniest of them all. Her asides were brilliant - half in the action and half only to the audience which is what an aside should be (if I'm remembering B.Haze correctly). The whole production was so enjoyable and funny! Being in a box, and looking out over the audience, I felt every time I laughed, the whole auditorium could hear me! The play was making fun of doctors mostly and how they make money of gullible folks and those prone to hypochondria. I recommended it to my cousins when I got home. Both being doctors, I thought they'd get the joke more than me.

PS - I survived my first cab ride solo on my way home from the play. It was too late to walk from Union Station so I took a cab. It was six blocks...but hey, I survived it ;-)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

DC Adventures

So, update on my life. I have been walking a lot around the Capitol Hill and Mall area since our weather finally broke and it's bearable to be outside and one doesn't feel like dying. I love the area I live in - it's so walkable and beautiful to explore. This past week/weekend I finished going through both the NMNH and NGA. I have decided I don't particularly like the NMNH - I like the gemstones and the dinosaur bones but all the stuffed animals were too eerie - give me a zoo any day. The NGA however, is my kind of museum. I love to look at artwork and really take my time to look at the brush strokes and the way an artist may have gone about the work. The areas I hadn't gotten to yet included the museum's Rembrandts as well as the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in the United States. It looked a lot like the Mona Lisa to be honest and it was even smaller. Yet another painting to go, "huh" and walk along.

After I finished the NGA, I walked home via the Capitol (after walking through the festival happening on Pennsylvania Avenue - very interesting group of people). I have decided I really love the Capitol Building. It is absolutely beautiful. I just wish the steps were open more so I could get a view of the city from the top. I imagine it's breath-taking. I then walked around the building to the actual front of the Capitol where inauguration takes place in January. It's a big mess right now as they are constructing a new underground visitors center. Walking around, I found the Library of Congress (which I'm visiting this weekend - so excited!!) and the Supreme Court building. Turning up towards home, I found the Sewall-Belmont House near Stanton Park which I was more excited about than anyone else probably would be. It was a house where Alice Paul lived so I now need to add that to my list of things to visit. I might try to get it in this coming weekend.

This week I haven't done too much. With the weather being so nice, I have walked home from work and watched the Representatives queue up for taxis at the end of the day at their office buildings. Yesterday, walking back from the Botanical Gardens where I ate lunch, I go caught up in a motorcade. It was unmarked but with the amount of firepower in the SUVs around it, I figured it was the president which it was, I found out later. The whole city gets put on hold, all the traffic stopped - cars pulled over etc. I didn't take pictures though. I thought reaching into my purse to dig out my camera might be misconstrued by the military contingent surrounding his car.

Work continues to go well. I was appraising in the NMNH today in the paleobiology department - it was like a dungeon in there and the office was everything you would expect - furniture that was ancient, piles of paper everywhere, more bones, shells and unidentified "dirt" then I think I've ever seen (including the Paris catacombs which is saying something). After we finished taking what we wanted, I worked on a collection of correspondence to and from Julia Anna Gardner, a geologist with the museum and the USGS from the 1920s until her death in 1961. It's amazing how many people spend their lives identifying fossilized mollusks - but some of the letters are fun. They were so formal - "thank you for the specimen you sent. It was beautifully packaged and arrived unharmed" and etc. Tomorrow it is back to scanning.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Dirt and Discovery

(my first report for my class this summer)

My first impression of this work is that I cannot be afraid to get down and dirty, to put it bluntly. In the classroom, when we discussed appraisal or re-housing collections for preservation purposes, we never discussed the dirt. I have been at my internship at the Smithsonian Institute Archives (SIA) for two weeks now and I have ruined a pristine pair of white gloves, covered a t-shirt (not to mention my hands, face, and hair) in red rot and found some interesting newsprint stains on a pair of jeans. In theory, and in the classroom, this job did not seem quite so…undignified. However, I find the practice is much more to my liking than the theory. In class, it was always hard to picture “well, I would do this in this situation…” Now, being in the actual situation, I find I work better in the grime.

The pair of white gloves is my companion for my main project this summer – a digitization and re-housing of a collection of photos in the Science Service collection. These file folders contain photos, newspaper clippings, press releases and various other materials from the 1920s to about the end of the 1960s. The Science Service aimed at popularizing science – Think of it as the AP for science enthusiasts. These folders tend to be disorganized, grimy, and filled with bits of paper and rot. My gloves did not stand a chance. However, I love looking through these files. The actual project itself is very repetitive. I find a photo, place it under acid-free paper, add it to the database, scan it and move onto the next. If the folders themselves were not fascinating, I would be a robot by 10 AM. As it is, I have already scanned in over 450 photos in two weeks. Something has to keep me involved in the work and I found quickly with these files the element of dirt goes well with discovery. I am looking at files that have not been used much, if at all, since the 1960s. There are newspaper clippings about the dropping of the atomic bomb, pictures chronicling women in the lab before women were suppose to be there, and press releases about new discoveries I took for granted in high school chemistry class. It is the artifacts themselves that I have come to enjoy and because of that, I enjoy the work. I often wonder who will find these photos useful – what will them do with them? What I can add to the database entry that will help them?

Another aspect of my internship involves helping with a moving project at a warehouse in Virginia at Fullerton. SIA has to be out of this space by the end of the summer but they are using this opportunity to take stock of these collections and to do preservation and re-housing on most collections before removing them either to the Capital Gallery collections ( the building in DC where I work most days) or sending them out to Iron Mountain for storage. It is clear that this move needs to be made. I could see the list from introduction to Archives and Record Management about a good location for archives and Fullerton meets very few of them. It is also just plain dirty. A lot of the collections have not been touched in decades. I re-housed two collections out at Fullerton to date and both left me with dust and dirt everywhere. I especially enjoyed a collection of 19th century ledger books that left me with “red rot” all over my hands, face and t-shirt. Strangely though, that made me feel I accomplished something. I put that collection into a better environment so when a researcher needs to know how much the Smithsonian paid the zookeeper in 1888, that ledger will be preserved and ready for him/her.

So, my first impression of the work is that it is not easy – it is hot, dirty, tiring work some days. However, it is also very rewarding. I like the feeling that I am preserving that picture or that letter for someone down the road who will appreciate it more than I ever could. It was a feeling I knew I should get from my classes but practice is a much better way from me to understand what my professors were saying to me

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hello from DC!

OK - this is a bit late (only a week late but late none the less) but be happy you're getting it ;-) I arrived in DC last Sunday for my summer internship at the Smithsonian Institute Archives. I am lucky enough to be staying with family in the beautiful Capitol Hill neighborhood.

First off, I am loving this city. Minus the extreme heat that makes me feel like I am hitting a wall when I step outside the door, it is an absolutely beautiful place to live. One of my new loves is the Metro system. Seriously, why doesn't every city have one of these?? It is so easy and fast to get anywhere. It works great for me, car-less as ever, especially. Plus, I am in a city with a million museums - what is a girl like me not to love?

I've visited two of the Smithsonian Museums so far and I need to go back to both to finish them. I ran out of time at the Museum of Natural History (NMNH) as I went after work one night and couldn't get everything done before it closed. My main highlight there was the Gemstones and Minerals. I think I looked at rocks for a good hour and half. I didn't even drool at the Hope Diamond that long either. I did sigh longingly over some of the emeralds and sapphires though. Sadly, my gem of choice isn't even a gem according to the Smithsonian. I was quite put out to find my amethyst classified as quartz and stuck in with all the minerals. I guess I have cheap tastes then!

The other museum I've been to is the National Gallery of Art (NGA) which I was very excited to see. My only other foray at the Mall was in 8th grade, before I developed my love of art museums. This museum was fabulous and I'm looking forward to going back. I went with my fellow interns and we skipped a wing in favor of modern art. However, I dreamed my way through another collection of the Impressionists. I do so adore them. If only I could see the world like that. NGA's Van Gogh collection was slim but they had some fabulous Renoirs and Monets so I forgive them for now. It is a massive museum though - we spent all day there and skipped a wing so I definitely will take another morning or afternoon to finish my visit there. (FYI - I did buy two books at this museum but let's face it - the only other place I might by a book at is the National Archives so I feel entirely justified in my purchases). After we did the museum, we walked for a bit in the fabulous 100 degree heat. We found the Navy Memorial that way and made our way along East and Pennsylvania for a bit. However, I was seriously gross when I got back to the house. I am not accustomed to heat - I am from CNY people!

So, I suppose I should discuss my job a little? I have to keep a blog and write reports for my class on my internship so I'll probably post those on this blog as well for my family to read (it will be riveting, have no fear!). The Smithsonian Institute Archives (SIA) is in Capital Gallery, a block south from the National Air and Space Museum (NASM). The facility is superb and the staff so nice and friendly. My supervisor, Tammy, has been great. I have spent the majority of my time so far on my major summer project, digitizing photos from the Science Service morgue files. The files have been interesting to go through. The Science Services was like AP for scientists and the files I'm working with are from the 1920s to the late 1960s. Some of the cool things I've found deal with atomic energy and weaponry research so far as well as the occasional woman scientist who existed in the early years of the files. I have been surprised how long it takes me to entirely process a folder to be honest but I think I have found the best system for me so I just keep plugging away at them.

Last week, on Friday, they did let me out of my windowless scanning room. I worked on accessioning and arranging the papers of Donald Lopaz, the former deputy director of NASM. He seemed like a very cool guy - he was a fighter pilot with the Flying Tigers in China during WWII and worked with NASA on the Saturn rocket design. His papers weren't bad to go through at all which is always a good thing. Organization was not his strong point however - I pulled a stack of papers from a box inside another box...ugh. I don't know when I'll get a chance to finish his papers. I had a bunch of electronic records to get through yet. However, I have scanning tomorrow, I'm out at the Fullerton warehouse on Wednesday, more scanning on Thursday (I'm assuming, we have a calendar but it changes frequently so one never knows...) and then Friday I'm at the NMNH with Tammy to look through four filing cabinets in Paleobiology. Fun times ahead for me :-)

I am enjoying it though, a lot. I was wary of coming to be honest. I'm not much of a city person but I have found if I can find my cute little neighborhood, residential pocket in a city, I seem to do just fine. Good thing to know for down the road.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My one attempt at poetry

Back in 11th grade, we had to write a "collection of poems" - my normally cheerful self suddenly became the cynically depressed poet over night. I maintain it is impossible to write happy poetry and not sound like a tool. So here, I share with you my first masterpiece in that collection. This one sounds like a bad pop song - can't you see some American Idol murdering this poor thing? However, you will see why I avoid poetry like the plague after a sampling of my poetry...

I Don't Love You

I don't love you, I'm sorry to say
I thought you would like to know
Before you come to me
Through the blistering snow

I don't love you, I'm sorry to say
I stopped a long time ago
But I tried to hide it from you
And just go along with the flow

I don't love you, I'm sorry to say
I realize I never did
Yet I thought it had blossomed in summer
In the treehouse where we'd hid

Or perhaps I thought it occurred in the winter
Upon the snow bank where we'd played
Yet I see now I never did
Quite love you in that way

The way the storybooks describe
All starry eyes and such
You never were Prince Charming
I had just dreamed you as that much

Forgive me, but I want the fairy tale
Not some fling that will fade
Forgive me but I have my dreams
Of which you haven't made

Friday, May 23, 2008

Open-minded

Continuing on with my journal, this is an undated entry that I think comes from high school, around senior year. The question was: Are you open-minded to other people’s opinions? Do you listen to all sides before you respond? Are you slow or quick to make a decision? Are you flexible?

I like to think I’m open minded and I am most of the time. I always listen to all sides of a story if they’re available so I can get a good handle on the situation and make an informed decision. Not only that, it’s very cool to look at a problem or situation from another perspective. You learn so much about yourself and the situation when you take an idea and flip it around to see what you get. As for how slow or quick I make decisions, usually more quick than slow but I like to research so my first impression/decision can change a lot once I have the facts under my belt. I am flexible. It’s not my way or the high way with any of my opinions or ideas and compromises are a wonderful thing – as is the ability to be able to agree to disagree. Variety of opinion is a good thing and keeps people on their toes and up to date or would ideally if our society was one to participate more.

I look back on my high school entries and don't know whether to be proud or worried about how much I have stayed the same. I have always prided myself on my open-mindedness and my willingness to accept and try to understand. I have found it is a talent which has landed me a lot of great friends and experiences over the years. Yes, I was that girl anyone could talk to about anything and I would help you out as best I could. I still am and I figure, there are worse things to be in this world of today than someone willing to meet anyone half way. I think maybe we could use a few one like that around. My one thing I have figured out and that I can take pride in.

I have found my high school entries written much better (thank goodness!), less moody and more interesting to me. I recognize myself in them more. The only thing I seem to be very moody about still is a lack of a guy. Still moody about that too...excellent.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

trip down memory lane for the next few weeks

In looking for an old wicker desk I knew was in my room somewhere, I stumbled upon an old journal I got years ago as a Christmas present. I went through my phase of journaling as most of my friends did. This journal, as all my other ones, remains unfinished. However, the cool thing about this journal is that it gave prompts for the writer to respond to. Reading through them, I am astonished by how much I have changed....and how much I haven't. The next few weeks, before I head South for the summer, I thought I would share a few. My first one is from April 1999 - I was fourteen years old. The prompt was "What are the things that MATTER most to you in your life right now?"

The things that matter most to me now are school, my family and my friends. Seems pretty self-centered I know but when you're a 14 year old growing up in a small town in Central New York, what else is there to matter? Good grades are your ticket out of here so school is top most. Your family is there 24 hours a day and you love them so of course they matter a lot. My friends are there all the time my family isn't there so they also matter because almost as much as your family, they shape what you will be when you're older.

On reading this over today, I was struck with a few things. One, my briefness. I don't think I have written anything that short since then, or something with so few commas. Sadly, it sounds like an essay for a Regents exam. I hope my writing has improved. Secondly, my discontent on being in a small town. It was an attitude I carried until the minute I left for college. Then all of the sudden, where I came from was an integral part of who I was and my missing pride when I was growing up came in droves. The importance of school has shifted over the years - in grad school they tell me grades don't count - yet, my insistence on the importance of my education has only grown stronger as I get older. One thing that has not changed is my emphasis on family and friends. They were a major shaping force in who I am today and I thank heavens every night for who I was blessed with to help me this far. Overall, I was almost mad at my fourteen year old self for being moody it seemed. I vaguely remember writing in this journal, lamenting my boring, safe, privileged life. It's laughable now but I guess that's how you're supposed to sound at fourteen.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Clearly I forgot something...

Happy Dance Three occurred with little fanfare two weeks ago now, as after I finished the last paper I had to pack up all my stuff yet again to be moved into storage for the summer. My gypsy ways are starting to get old. I cannot wait to put down roots somewhere for a few years. I must be getting old...

I'm officially home now for the month of May. A month that is already filling up with activities so I'm not sure how much of a break it is going to be in the long run. But, I figure it will be the last time I get a whole month of nothingness. I plan on enjoying it! This coming week I have to get my paperwork straightened around for my internship this summer and I want to work in our basement too. It needs some serious organizing. Plus, Iron Man is out. Need to go see that. The beginning of my summer movie fun :-)

I did finish Becoming Jane Austen today. The first of my summer reads. I liked this exploration of Jane's Life (yes, we are on a first name basis....deal with it). Being the English major I was (and still wish I was most of the time), I liked how this biography approached her work as an extension of what was happening in her life. True, only one, if any arguably are, of her novels is slightly autobiographical, but her emotional state while writing is often easily linked to events in her life. I know this book took a lot of criticism for the emphasis it put on Jane's relationship with Tom Lefroy (and inspired the movie which I could have done without in the end). Yet, I think Jon Spence raised some very interesting points and did a very thoughtful examination of Jane's work and correspondence. I'll have to sit on it a few days to really form an opinion of it. A part of me wants to think she had her one great love affair that didn't work out but the other part of me claims she was far too practical and prosaic to spend her life alone for the sake of a few meetings and flirtations at assemblies one season. But then again, I love Jane best because I'm fairly certain she was like me: a realistic hopeless romantic with a bit of cynicism thrown in for good measure. We always want to believe in the happy ending but we're too aware of human nature in the end to have faith in it lasting.

On that happy note, let my vacation begin!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Happy Dance Two

Woohoo!!! One paper down, one to go and sadly, I'm no where near as prepared for this one as I was for the first one....ugh....

Still, movie night this evening so I have motivation...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Happy Dance One

I'm stealing the Disney Boards "happy dance" theme for something other than a vacation countdown...

Final Exam #1 is handed in....oh yeah....go me... ;-)

Two more to go...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

in keeping with a reading theme

In my class on the history of books and printing, we've discussed why we keep reading when we have a visual culture which is inundated with TV shows, music, film, live attractions. As my sister often implies about books, she'll wait for the movie before she'll pick up the book and read. Here's an interesting article at a newly found blog I am in love with, lifehack.org. It's discussing the need for fiction reading to keep ideas flowing for problem solving, a tool everyone needs every day. I'm still up in the air about eBooks though...

How To Fuel Your Idea Machine

Friday, April 11, 2008

I shared my lunch with a squirrel today

I perhaps should start with an explanation of the squirrels on UM's campus. They are large and unafraid. Blame it on the Squirrel Club I suppose. It's a club that once a week and gives out peanuts to the squirrels on campus. It's become quite the tradition on our campus - it's also pretty funny to see people spreading out over the Diag trying to find squirrels who will take the peanut right from their hand. However, I think perhaps that hunt shouldn't be too hard these days.

It's is beautiful out today - sunny and in the 70s so I naturally decided to eat my lunch outside. I grabbed Wendy's from the League and sat myself down outside across from the Bell Tower and the League. I was eating away and then a girl who was walking by warned me that I had two squirrels coming up behind me. My first thought was I was about to get jumped by gangster squirrels. Gangsters they were not but they were certainly getting ready to jump into my Wendy's bag and make off with my fries. I put the bag between my legs and thought that would be the end of it. Oh no, they jumped down onto the sidewalk and crept closer and closer. So I shooed them and it seemed to work. Off they bounced into the shrubs where I heard squeaks and squeals a few minutes later. Once I finished my sandwich and focused on my fries, one of them crept back up along side of me. Maybe they were gangsters as this one seemed to have off'ed his buddy - I never saw him again.

So, this little guy (and he was pretty little by UM standards to be honest - meaning he could definitely beat the squirrels at home and back at GBurg to a pulp) came up and sat along side of me and just looked at me and of course, I am a sap and figured, he's already corrupted by other stupid people so how could one little fry hurt? To my credit, I did try a bit of onion left from my sandwich first thinking that would be a bit better for him but to no avail (in fact, he looked at me like I had tried to offer him rat poison) so I handed out a fry. He took it from me easily and settled right down next to me and started to eat. We proceeded in this fashion, each time he kept getting a little closer to me, coming up over my jacket and even reaching onto my leg for his next fry. I know this was bad - I know - the environmentalist in me was up in arms but he was so adorable and like I said, I don't think this is the first time he's shared a medium fry before. So, I ate lunch with a squirrel today. One more experience to cross off my list of life to do's.

Oh, and PS, you know how there is that joke that you give a man a dog or a baby, every female in a five block radius descends upon him? Apparently, if you give a girl a squirrel a similar phenomenon happens. However, note to self, the guys attracted by squirrels are not quite what I am looking for. What woodland creature should I try next?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

It's that time of year again

I do this every spring when school is starting to get hectic. I have presentations, papers, research and a million other things going on that I need to be worried about. It is then that I, all of the sudden, decide to become eight years old again.

Those of you who have been lucky enough to be around me for any length of time know I would have preferred to remain eight years old. Don't ask why I ever decided on eight - as far as I know the year 1993 wasn't anything special - it wasn't even a Disney year, either in trip (we went in '92 and '94) or movie (we were between Beauty and the Beast and the arrival of The Lion King). But eight has always been my number and at this time of year, I have an adult temper tantrum and revert to childhood comforts.

Take my recent movie choices - I recently purchased Enchanted (i.e. the day it came out on DVD I happened to be at Borders and it was a good price...I couldn't just walk away...). No, it's not only that I purchased it and watched it. It's that I've watched it four times since then. That's about eight hours of my life - eight hours when I should have been researching the authority of the written word, discovering what exactly the Library of Congress's metadata scheme actually is as well as reading for my classes in general and overall, being more productive than laughing hysterically yet again when Prince Edward gets creamed by bikers in Central Park. Next, we'll add Nim's Island, a delightful adventure romp with an agoraphobic writer and Abagail Breslin as adorable as always. I may also have shared a bucket of popcorn with peanut M&M's at that movie...Lastly, what did I do last night? Instead of finishing my reading for my classes on Wednesday? Oh right, I rented Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. iTunes rentals will not help my future productivity. Not only did I watch a loopy Dustin Hoffman and his toy store (a store I would still frequent at my age if it actually existed), I watched it with a massive bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream while giggling like a school girl at the escaping bouncy balls.

Leaving aside the fact that this time of year is not good for my very slow metabolism, what makes me throw my temper tantrum against being an adult every year at the same time? Firstly, I think I need to admit to myself it's not a random temper tantrum. I am always game for a good "kids" movie (hence my love affair with Nanny McPhee but that's another story entirely...). And to be honest, I love acting like a kid. I think I need to send Walt Disney World a thank you card for that. Somewhere along the way, trips to a place where grown adults are encouraged to act eight years old again, coupled with a healthy dose of childhood delight and a death grip on childhood culture, I actually managed to preserve the kid in me this far. And she's not happy at this time of year because, let's face it, she has to act like a grown up constantly. Not that I'm complaining, I've always enjoyed school and it is the one thing I have always been really good at. But, this time of year, I have to let the kid in me have her temper tantrum, take one for the team, and eat copious amounts of junk food while watching movies that remind me of the joy and freedom I felt as a kid. Some days, I think I cherish those moments more than any of the adult ones I've ever had.

So, if you're like me, and heading in for the finals collision in the distance, take a moment and let that eight year old who made it this far, buried maybe beneath layers of responsibility, due dates and stress, out for a run. Giggle with friends and buy out a candy store, play hopscotch, swing, walk proudly into the G-rated movie loaded down with food you'll be sweating off at the gym for the next month. We give ourselves so little carefree time these days - why not let out the eight year old before the temper tantrum hits?

Friday, April 4, 2008

is reading going the way of the dinosaurs?



A few weeks ago, my History of Books and Printing class put forth the idea of reading as a topic. We read tons of articles from contemporary sources, ranging from the New Yorker to Roald Dahl's Matilda. It is also telling that we looked at covers from the New Yorker as well. The cover below is the Thanksgiving 2006 New Yorker cover and to the right, the Summer 2007 fiction cover. I thought I would share my response. Enjoy!

Having read Roald Dahl's Matilda long ago and finding a kindred spirit in an under appreciated bookworm, I decided to examine the excerpts from Matilda with the two New Yorker covers and Bob Thompson’s “A Troubling Case of Readers’ Block.” In all the examples, the idea of reading is interpreted as a gauge for intellectual powers and ultimately a kind of power in how you approach the world and those around you. Matilda is the story of a girl who reads insatiably but is considered “weird” by her family of couch potatoes. The New Yorker summer 2007 cover (image at http://www.sparehed.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/06/tominenyr_resize.jpg) presents the lone girl reading Salinger and disdaining to ask like a mindless tourist. The Thanksgiving cover (image at http://laughingsquid.com/the-new-yorker-thanksgiving-covers-by-chris-ware/) juxtaposes Matilda’s dream family with her reality and Thompson is lamenting the loss of a culture that can be competitive and economically successful, a direct contradiction to the world as the Wormwoods see it. While it is clear what side Dahl comes down on in this tension between the readers and the non-readers, the Wormwoods are distressingly becoming the norm according to the current literature and studies.

When Matilda asks her father for a book to read, his answer is telling: “What’s wrong with the telly, for heaven’s sake? We’ve got a lovely telly with a twelve-inch screen and now you come asking for a book!” (12). Clearly, Mr. Wormwood’s values do not mix well with his curious and brilliant daughter’s. However, it has become a cultural norm to sit your child in front of a television set from birth under the guise it will make them smarter. The Wormwoods’ had no best interests at heart but today’s parents supposedly do according to studies. Have we come to devalue the written word so much? Thompson makes that apparent – we have created a general cultural norm of visual overloads and information chaos that they are pulled away from “traditional” reading. This in turn leads to them reading less well and also doing less well once out in the real world, especially professionally. “In an increasingly competitive world, the consequences of doing it [reading] badly include ‘economic decline’” (qtd. in Thompson). One of the most striking moments in Matilda is when Miss Honey comes to discuss Matilda with her parents. Her parents clearly devalue their daughter’s brains and her chances at succeeding in life. Mrs. Wormwood smugly points out to Miss Honey, “You chose books. I chose looks” (98). It is this mentality Thompson and another article by Susan Jacoby ("The Dumbing of America" washingtonpost.com) laments as prevalent in today’s society. Not only are we ignorant, we are arrogant and happy in ignorance.

The New Yorker covers to fit well into the discussion Matilda brings forth on the value of reading. The summer 2007 cover features a small teenage girl reading what is clearly a cheap Salinger paperback to herself on a tour bus as the rest of the onlookers crowd to take photos of Radio City Music Hall. One would see Matilda doing the same thing. As her crazy consumer-driven family shoots photo after photo of the Big Apple, she immerses herself into the New York of Holden Caulfield. The cover illustrates well the tension between the ideas of the visual versus the text. Why should she read about New York when she is there? What can she get out of one author’s interpretation of the city that she herself cannot find by paying attention on her tour? The implication is that there is something in the text that reality can never give her and that she is the wiser for it seems to be the message of picture. The Thanksgiving 2006 cover creates a juxtaposition of two families. Leaving aside the obvious class issues for now, you fit the Wormwoods into the bottom and the family Matilda would long for at the top. They are quietly conversing; seeming to enjoy each other’s company while the child has been excused to read (what looks like comic strips but still valid cultural items). The family below is silent; riveted to what you know is a blaring television they couldn’t hear each other over. The requisite teenage daughter sits off to the side, deep in a cell phone conversation. The cover clearly is asking ‘which Thanksgiving would you rather be at?’

Matilda
, Thompson and the New Yorker covers all are lamenting the loss of reading as a cultural value, of discussion and time spent outside of technology’s grasp. Clearly, this is something to be marveled at rather than considered the norm. Thompson mentions at one point in his article reading as a minority activity. The idea sends a chill down my spine. Have we reached a social moment where that is true? I know it is not true for me but am I the exception and not the norm? However, my examination of Matilda and the New Yorker covers shows there is an awareness of the failing value of reading and I think, a realization that we need to admit it and deal with it.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

saving the planet...one light switch at a time

So I participated in my first Earth Hour today. I dutifully turned all the lights off and dug out the flashlight my dad made me buy freshman year of undergrad "in case of emergency." I then proceeded to read chapters on the evolution on the printing press for class with my flashlight before I got a headache and just sat in the dark for the rest of the hour. But hey, my heart was in the right place. We'll ignore the fact that while I sat in the dark, one of my roommates proceeded to turn and then leave on every other light in the house. I will try to coordinate that better next year....