06 September 2017

A goodbye for a kitty

Many of you will know that we said goodbye to our "firstborn" cat, Taffy, yesterday August 5th. When we adopted her in 2011, she was the subject of many pictures and much doting. Mater's arrival just a couple of weeks later only increased the photos, and while she was an adorable kitten and Taffy a full grown cat, their unique appearances made us love each of them for their quirks and unique qualities.
Taffy was always reluctant to cuddle with Mater, but the little grey kitty eventually figured out that if she bathed her "Momma's" head, she'd acquiesce, sometimes even for a quick nap.
Several weeks after we adopted her, we got a call from the shelter that had housed Taffy before she came home to us, saying that her paperwork had been switched with another cat up for adoption (and who was still available). It turned out that her "real" name was Smoochie, and that the other cat was the one actually called Taffy. We chose to keep her name. I'm sure that she earned the name "Smoochie" for the way she unabashedly walked up to any newcomer showing any sign of slight interest and would rub her head on their leg (or hand, or foot...really anything that would give a good rub).
RIP - September 5th, 2017

Michael and I once (or maybe several times...in any case, always the same result!) tried "walking" Taffy around our apartment complex in Georgia. She insisted on walking backwards, and eventually gave up in the confusion the harness set her to and laid down in the middle of the sidewalk. Here you can see me, fresh from the poolside, with her in a rare moment of uprightness on one such attempt at a promenade.

On a few occasions early on (and before Mater, I think), we took her for a ride in the car, where she enjoyed sitting on the armrest in the backseat.

Over the years, Taffy was a trooper through multiple moves and various living situations. Her and Mater rode with me across country in Michael's former Toyota 4Runner as he drove the moving van. They did well in the make-shift (but quite fancy!) "portapotty" that Michael and our friend Jason put together with a piece of particle board and an oversized travel carrier/crate meant for a dog...until the last day, we had a serious "accident" that resulted in some less-than-pleasant clean-up. At least we knew without a doubt that that had to be the day we got to Camano, despite the long 12-hour drive it entailed.

One of the fancier "pet friendly" hotels that we lodged at on our trip from GA to WA in February 2013.

Taffy and Mater looking out the window of our Ballard apartment on a moving box. They used to glare at a neighbor kitty that, ironically, was black and mischievous. Little did they know Mr. Larry would soon come along...

She always knew how to find a good "spot". (Here, in our closet in Ballard.)
It wasn't until Larry came along that Taffy finally got her "freedom". A third cat in our relatively small house in Lynnwood really stretched our patience, and finally Michael convinced me to let the cats outside. Eventually, Larry did get hit and we had to say goodbye to him, but in the meantime he forced Taffy to become more adventurous than ever. She loved sunning herself in the actual sun, not in an air-conditioned apartment in GA or a sunny window in Ballard. Her last weeks with us, she spend much of her time nestled under the hedge near our boat, and we buried her there as it seemed a fitting final resting place.

Until she started going outside, Taffy was my constant companion during study and time at my desk. She always wanted to get as close as she could for a nap. And, much of the time, that was just fine with me.

Taffy and Mater both (along with most cats, I assume) would go tummies-up as soon as the sun got warm enough. Here is one of the best photos I got of this "premium cooling" position:

The night before we put her to sleep, Taffy slept on me for several hours. She hadn't done this in a very long time, and later in the day I realized she had probably been saying goodbye and "I'm ready to go, Momma". Her favorite place to sit on me was my shoulder when I was lying on my side, but since I was never able to get a good photo of that (for obvious reasons), here is one of her and Mater one naptime a few years ago:

We miss this sweet, tiny cat terribly. The past year, she had been a bit of a pest and we were quite fed up with her at times, but I know that she loved her life coming in and out of the house and always having Mater to whip into shape. She was our first "baby", and will forever be in our hearts. Rest in peace, Taffy.

22 July 2017

A long July

This month will almost certainly be the busiest of Michael's and my year. While most of the scheduled events and activities were ones that I was involved in for my dissertation work and/or teaching, they necessarily involve additional care and organization from Michael, particularly given my being away from home for nearly two full weeks. He also had to end that time with a 4.5 hour flight with Jonathan from Seattle to Minneapolis, followed by a couple more days traveling with him. All in all, everything has gone off without a hitch. We are currently in our last day of "vacation" in Duluth, and I am struggling to feel relaxed and with whether this is just par for the course traveling with a very discombobulated toddler or whether it is because I struggle to keep an open mind and flexible attitude, even in circumstances that clearly require those things.

For the first week of my trip, I was in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, participating in a dissertation/article writing institute with 28 other participants from across the world and across the disciplines. We came from 6 countries and many more states, though many fun and more "local" connections were also discovered. I myself met a Professor from Whitman College in Walla Walla who had been at a conference hosted by the University of Washington just two months ago, and in which I also participated. The common thread that we all shared coming into this institute was a shared interest in the "field" of Animal Studies, or, within this specific context, Human-Animal Studies. For those of you not as well-versed in the academic world or academic categorizations like these two terms, we all work with some form of ethics and concern for animals, with varying degrees of political, social, and cultural implications that those words are able to encompass depending on their context. Our work ranged from social scientists researching the impact of our attitudes towards FRACKing on animals to those doing fieldwork in slaughterhouses in Israel to visual artists who spend much of their lives working with and living near a small cow farm, fully integrating these animals into their work, and many many scholarly projects inbetween and beyond. Each day, we spent three hours in the morning workshopping three individual projects, and in the afternoon usually had one or two plenary speakers (=lectures from various points in the field). There were several activities including a visit to a goat dairy farm 20 minutes outside of Urbana-Champaign, begun several years ago by two retired professors who had dreamed of living a different kind of life for decades. In many ways, it was a lower level of what many of us might dream of as our professional (or personal) "utopia". On the other hand, we were all exhausted and drained by the schedule and the subject matter that, by and large, is relentless in its ability to maintain a constant baseline of hopelessness and sadness into all discussions. Having said that, one does tend to find strength in numbers, and even though we weren't fighting a war or waging an active protest for social justice - the kind of place you might expect to find the term, as opposed to a week of writing workshops - and so we also found ourselves experiencing many moments of renewed strength and energy for the journey. Most of us, I believe, assume that the various journeys upon which we have each embarked for each project will likely last our lifetimes, and perhaps beyond. We established relationships that we all hope to continue and had conversations that revealed layers in our work and others' that we hadn't ever considered. I'm sure that we all feel we've come away with what many of us were referring to as a great "toolbox" for moving each of our projects forward, and that is something that you can't put a price on.

The day after the conference wrapped up, I headed back up to Chicago to spend a few days in my favorite city in the States. One of my housemates from the years I spent there still lives in the same house, and I was lucky enough to be able to stay there, in the neighborhood with which I remain surprisingly familiar. It was really fun to reconnect with a few of the faces and places with whom and in which I spent so much time. However, I found myself in a constant state of unrest and indecisiveness. With only two full days in town, things went fast. On Monday, I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time and received tickets on the field at Wrigley to see Bonnie Raitt and James Taylor live. It was a concert I never would have dreamed I'd get to attend, let alone with that good of seats. Really an amazing experience. I spend a day shopping, something that I have needed to do for various reasons for several months but have just not had the time to. Chicago is a fun city to shop in. I met up with a friend who I met as she finished her M.A. in the program I attended at UIC, and who is now an Assistant Professor and Director of French Studies at Depaul University after completing her PhD in 2016. It is both frightening and encouraging to visit with those who have walked the path we are on and are succeeding - these days, it seems that too often I have the experience of meeting those who are struggling to find a job in the field they worked so hard to train for.

During these first two legs of my trip, I missed Michael and Jonathan terribly. I only Facetimed with them once, and wasn't able to talk much on the phone with them since Jonathan gets upset when he can't hold the phone, but also isn't really talking much yet, himself. It was good in that it reminded me how special he is and how deeply rooted together the three of us are. The toddler stage is probably my favorite and the hardest thus far, and Jonathan is full in the "terrible twos", albeit a bit before the age of 2. We were all reunited on Wednesday in Duluth, Minnesota, where we will attend Jonathan's godfather's wedding later this afternoon.

The past few days, we have been welcomed into our friend's home. He is one of 9 kids, and several of them are married with kids. It has been a happy madhouse, and so different from the houses we grew up in and have been around in an area where 2 or 3 kids is much more common than the number of families over 5 we have encountered in our short time here in Minnesota. So it has been fun to watch Jonathan interact with the kids, who range from 4 months to 6 years old, and to get to know the family ourselves as they have welcomed us in as an extended addition to their sweet home. The challenge has been the hotel. Of course, we are all three in one room, and it's a very spacious room! But Jonathan is off in timezone and mind, following our reunion and being immersed suddenly in so many new faces and places. We have all struggled to get any sleep. Last night, Michael was fortunate to get to spend several hours with the guys and the groom as they gave him marital advice and enjoyed time together. Unfortunately, it meant a very late (or early, as it were) return to the room and that I was up worried when his phone had died and he was no longer responding to my texts. All in all, today I have not been a positive person and I have been wishing I was at the Halverson house instead of stuck here trying to pack my suitcase that seems to, strangely, have shrunk since my departure on July 8th. We'll have to leave tonight after the wedding, so I am pushing back anxiety about Jonathan having a class 5 meltdown and getting any sleep whatsoever.

Monday, my former French roommate and her boyfriend arrive at our home for 5 days of Seattle visiting, so the month isn't over, yet! Prayers are greatly appreciated...!

28 June 2017

Greetings from a butterfly

Yesterday marked 17 years since my godfather passed away. I didn't really celebrate or mark it in any particular way, other than sharing a post from last year that seemed to invoke the sentiments I always hope to in his memory. However, this morning, I realized that David was trying to say hello to me yesterday, despite my lack of acknowledgment of his passing.

When Dave passed, Kathy, my godmother, and myself began to share the idea that he had become a butterfly. His lifeless body was no longer and he was now a beautiful creation, the one he had been made for by God from the day he was born. Since 2000, she and I have exchanged various cards and tokens featuring butterflies, and each time I see one, I usually think of Dave and even say hello. Yesterday, Jonathan was literally fixated on one page in his book "I Am A Bunny". My mom and I assumed he was just worn out and getting obsessed because it was nearing bedtime. He begged to have us bring him his Hungry Caterpillar dinner plate to compare what he was looking at on the board book page with one of the pictures on the plate. Eventually, he had his bath, we read other books and sang, said our prayer, and he went to sleep peacefully.

This morning, I realized that he had been fixated on the butterflies. I sure miss you, David. And "hello" right back.

10 June 2017

How a John Mayer song led me to [a kind of] veganism

It seems that it is now 100% normal for me to go several months inbetween posts, and I think it's about time I am okay with that. I follow a couple of mostly-full-time bloggers on things like Instagram and Facebook, and am continually inspired by them, but the fact is, one massive writing project is pretty much all I think we're made to handle at once (at least until we've finished one successfully, then, who knows!). So I'm trying to allow that inspiration to come without jealousy, which is a hard thing to admit feeling when I have so many amazing people and circumstances in my own life.

Lately, I have been doing some changing and shifting. About two and a half months ago, John Mayer released "Wave 2" of his "The Search For Everything" album, now out in full on iTunes (not that he needs the promotion). I didn't pre-order, but did buy it the day it came out and proceeded to play it while getting Jonathan dressed that morning. Frankly, I didn't love all the songs on this new offering. I have warmed to some of them since I've seen him perform them in Vancouver in April and have allowed them to "seep in", as music is so wont to do in our selves and our souls. One song, however, hit me like a freight train at that moment, and I do believe inspired some of the shifts in thinking and living that I've undertaken since - though these had been percolating long before I heard it.

Called "Changing", this song speaks of how John (as I always assume an artist writes themselves in their music, though there are many songs that are not autobiographical, I'm sure) is still changing, and he isn't done changing yet. The lyrics are quite simple, and circulate around this simple word and its different formulations in a way that probably bores some listeners. For me, though, it spoke loudly and clearly.

I have listened to John Mayer's music since his first album hit stores and my dad bought it for me, thinking this artist might be something special. Room For Squares remains one of my favorite albums to this day, and as Mayer has continued to write, evolve, fail, and try again (many songs of his in those words, there!), I have watched and learned from his journey. While I can't say I'm an expert in his biography, it's quite public knowledge that, about 5 years ago, he suffered from the illness that I will in no technical terms describe as "losing one's voice"...literally from overworking and performing. Adele experienced the same thing around the same time. Basically, it seemed as though it might be the end, and as I listened to the album of his that came out around the same time, Born and Raised, I was deeply saddened both for him and the many who would miss his thoughtful songs and mellow, soothing voice. As I'm writing this out, I'm wondering if I have the time progression right here, and whether Born and Raised didn't come out immediately following his return...anyway, the facts remain the same. Apologies to those of you who are more avid fans that I reading this. Over the years, Mayer has been involved with several famous ladies and made a bit of a reputation as a "bad boy". His infamous interview with Rolling Stone (I still haven't read it, once again showing my lack of care to the details) was one that he would write about in a song, turning it into a pun and showing how he realized he'd said some things he shouldn't have. All of this to say: John Mayer's life journey is one that has had some very tangible and public ups and downs.

After he became ill, Mayer moved out to Montana, and disappeared from view of pretty much anyone in the media or who didn't have a personal invitation. Last year, he began releasing parts of this new album, the first in many years and one that was accompanied with much hype amidst his fans. The announcement of his first tour in ages was met with huge excitement and anticipation on social media, and I began to think about the possibility of seeing him perform again (the first time was following Heavier Things, also in Vancouver, when Maroon 5 opened for him - yes, you read that right, they opened). But nothing had as much impact, even his concert, as that song (which he also performed, much to my joy).

When I heard "Changing", I realized that it was time for some changes, and also time to acknowledge that we are ALL "still changing", and will continue to do until the day we leave this earth for the next.
Around the time of the concert this year in April, I started thinking about (and quickly decided that it was what I wanted) becoming vegan. Or, at least, for the most part. As many of you reading this will know, Michael has been doing more hunting as time has gone one the past few years. Thus far, he's gotten two deer. We have a good friend in Duvall who raises pigs each year, and we buy half of one for ourselves at a ridiculously good price for meat that is truly pasture raised, and even, I would say, "well loved". We crab each summer and Michael also loves fishing. All of this to say, my decision remained more complicated than I wanted it to be. I was firm, however, on my omission of dairy and eggs unless someday we were to raise our own cows and chickens (the latter is really the only one I'm open to, at this point...!). This really wasn't going to be a massive leap, as I already ate little meat and rarely drank milk outside of a coffee cup. The eggs, well, that would be hard. But I was mentally all in.

Loosely documented here on the blog is my journey in my academic work towards and into what is called Animal Studies. It has recently come to my attention that perhaps this is not something that most people - in or out of academia, to be frank - actually understand what that means. I usually follow up the statement, "I work in 19th Century French Literature and Animal Studies" with that of "It's essentially Animal Ethics". This, however, is likely not much clearer to those not already working in one of those fields. Some days, I'm not even 100% sure what it means. But suffice it to say, here, that by beginning work in this field I have learned much of the horrific ways in which our food is raised - produced, really - and as a Christian have felt deeply convicted of making changes in my life. This translates into what I eat and the products I use - so basically, almost everything I buy. Michael has been on-board with this transition, and we've worked together to try to avoid "bankrupcy" in these endeavors (not sure people our age or with as few major assets as ourselves can even use that term). We have grown and learned a lot together.

All of this is said to show why it seemed a pretty natural progression to go [mostly] vegan. Just like my decision, I pretty much went all in from Day 1. My grocery trips were both exciting and terrifying, as I attempted to transition myself without derailing Michael and Jonathan, neither of whom would be making the [full] journey with me. (Having said this, Michael has been gracious in trying all the new recipes, and humoring me on days when I forget to prepare a meat add-in and he's "stuck with" a meatless meal.) I confided in friends who I knew and trusted at school that were longtime vegans, admitting my angst about the new grocery game and the challenges of baking vegan (things don't turn out the same, nor are they meant to!). It was exhausting but I was generally enjoying it and feeling like it was doable.

Last Monday, I had a deadline and I planned to spend close to 8 hours at school by taking an early bus in, before coming back north to go to the gym before picking up Jonathan. Over the weekend, I'd experienced some gas and discomfort, but just thought it was normal stuff that would pass as I slept. Monday morning, however, I woke feeling fatigued and still nauseated off and on. I got myself to the bus and to campus, and was able to meet the deadline that I had that day. However, in the meantime I had chills and the fatigue persisted, along with the on-again, off-again nausea. While this was relieved periodically, I overall just felt crummy. The gym was off the table by 11am.

As the day progressed, I was confused. I had no idea what had caused this. The new veggie burgers I'd tried over the weekend had no ingredients that I could suspect being the origin of such an extreme reaction, and I'd eaten nothing else new. I got home in the afternoon and laid down. That was when I realized that I might know what was causing much of it: iron deficiency. Now, before you jump to the conclusion that I then realized that I needed to switch back to an all red-meat diet because no one can possibly get enough iron on a plant-based diet, let me just stop you there. Everything I have read that is current on veganism affirms that one can [relatively, depending on your lifestyle/free time] get the nutrients necessary via plants and the many plant-based products that are readily available (often, in great variety) at stores from Fred Meyer to Whole Foods to Trader Joe's. What I did realize was that, perhaps, this necessitated good planning ahead, and that my schedule, especially at the end of a quarter, does not always allow for that.

Today, I am in the midst of a short period of stepping-back and reassessing the best approach as I move back towards a vegan diet. I am, in some ways, deeply discouraged. As many people starting a new diet, I began this endeavor excited and enthusiastic, trying new recipe after new recipe. Now, it's hit home that the kinds of ingredients (largely beans and legumes) that are the main source of iron, etc. in a vegan diet are ones that many people's bodies are not accustomed to eating at all, let alone 3-4 times per week! So, I'm attempting to take things a little slower in order to eliminate those ingredients that might be problematic for me, personally.

I share all of this because it is a journey that I have largely undertaken privately, but that has impacted me heavily, even before last Monday's disappointments. My conviction about choosing to not eat meat that I know exactly where it has come from is connected to beliefs that have to do with loving my neighbor and doing and giving all that I can to help curb and end world hunger. In my opinion, these are issues that are intertwined, and that cannot be  objectively "prioritized". They all impact one another whether we like it or not, and the move towards this very prioritization is what has exacerbated elements of each over time. By ignoring one, we feel we are alleviating another.

Mainly, I want to say that, for me, human and animal "issues" are not ones that can be isolated from each other, as much as we try to do so in order to justify our abuse (in either direction, if we think about who works in places like factory farms, or in the pet industry). So I sit here, typing this ridiculously long post, to say that that belief in my life leads me into a transition to a dairy- and egg-free, mostly meat- and fish-free, way of eating. You may think I'm crazy, but hopefully after reading this, you at least understand a bit better why I'm doing it. And if you don't, I'd love to talk more about it with you sometime.

02 March 2017

Ready to be back to normal

So far, 2017 has been quite the struggle as I have been sick to some degree since around January 10th. Jonathan, too, has been battling colds, runny noses and coughs. This past week has hit me the hardest, and I haven't been able to care for him. If it weren't for my mom and my mother-in-law, I really am not sure how things would have played out. Michael was out of town until Wednesday morning, and while that is good in that he didn't also get sick, it makes the time alone at home with Jonathan harder when sick. Today I am struggling with what so many of the contestants on a show I enjoy, The Biggest Loser, do: letting someone else take care of the ones you love so that you can get back to 100%. I have hardly been able to sleep, and the coughing has rubbed my throat and mouth raw, making the process of recovery painful. I know many people out there are dealing with much more pain and illnesses more serious, but after 6 weeks of not feeling myself, 4 days out of 5 not being able to teach, and not being able to care for my son (who is also sick and miserable), I am ready to start moving forward to more positive moments.