Easton’s Heritage Day 2019

My daughter and the Weiner-mobile

I normally don’t enjoy street fairs and community celebrations unless they have a theme that interests me. Carnivals and municipal anniversaries don’t do it for me.

I love the history of Easton’s Heritage Day, especially since I am a history nerd.

When the “founding fathers” signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, it took several days for the messenger to arrive in Easton. He got to town on a Sunday and read the Declaration of Independence on the town circle. Now, for 200 plus years, the town officials plan a community fair downtown and re-enactors read the Declaration of Independence on the circle on the first Sunday after July 4.

My daughter works downtown for Book and Puppet Company, a fun bookstore and let’s just say she helps with “character visits.”

Like when Paddington Bear visited today:

Naughty Paddington

I had also heard that the Grave Cellar at Saint John’s Lutheran Church would be open, so that was enough to entice me out of my anti-Street fair attitude.

Parking at meters would be free for the day or $5 (cash only) at the garage. I found a spot very close to the book store.

And my daughter mocked me for asking the police officer if there was a geographic boundary on the free parking. My use of geographic apparently highlights my nerdness.

The Grave Cellar and Parsons-Taylor House

When St. John’s Church expanded quite some years ago, they moved the graveyard to another local cemetery but some of the graves still exist under the church. Not as creepy as the Paris Catacombs but pretty unusual.

From there we went to the tiny Parsons-Taylor house. George Taylor, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, lived and died there.

My daughter looked in great detail at the craftsmanship of the house and furniture.

And the grazing begins…

We started exploring nearby shops, and we felt a little hungry but didn’t want to eat until we’d seen all the offerings so we shared a slice of buffalo chicken pizza from a new restaurant in town. Then we shared a lavender lemonade from Green Marketplace.

Lavender lemonade

Then we looked at classic cars and city construction equipment and I got a hard hat.

We also saw how the wind twine into sisal braided rope.

Then we meandered down another street and watched some of the kiddie activities and I found the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile. I was very excited.

Donating Blood

And then I saw a sign that a local church was hosting a blood drive. So I registered. The last time I tried to donate blood was 25 years ago, and can you believe they had my address on file from that time period? I didn’t give then because my blood pressure was too high.

I haven’t given since then because tattoos, piercings, anemia and travels to exotic third world countries.

But I’m O-negative when it comes to blood type so I should give. And I did. For the first time.

Then we went to my daughter’s “office” and Paddington Bear came to visit.

Shopping and more food

After work, an artist drew her and she bought a vintage Monarch train case at Salvage Goods.

We also explored the dollar store on the circle. That might have been the only disappointment of the day.

And the teen had some bacon nachos from Porter’s Pub and I had one chicken and one steak taco from the restaurant at 645 Northampton Street that has really good food.

Our last stop was Easton Public Market again for a watermelon lime slush from Modern Crumb.

When your writing career carries on without you…

 

So today I got an unexpected email from the folks at SAGE Academic Publishing. About four years ago, I wanted to write some short encyclopedia entries for them and they said no because I didn’t have a Ph.D. It was one of the things that made me consider graduate school.

They advised me that if I could find someone to co-author who had the necessary credentials, I could write for them.

I enlisted my college era friend Annette Varcoe, a brilliant scholar in American history and Women’s studies who had a freshly-minted Ph.D. after her name. She allowed me the pleasure of helping her edit her final dissertation.

The topic at hand was one of my favorite places in the world, Djibouti, and the article was based on a capstone project for my international affairs degree I had just completed. She knew nothing about Djibouti but her critical eye brought life to my dream and she got hooked on this region of the world and conditions there. Our first article was on poverty in Djibouti. She approached me a few months later and asked if I would consider doing another on security.

We did. Both pieces were submitted fairly close to each other. We probably wrote them both in 2014. The poverty piece was published in July 2015. I got the email that the second has now been published. March 2018. My career looks current even if I have stalled a bit!

This refreshed my memory that I never actually saw a book review I submitted to Global Studies South. Since my husband is home from work today using up his vacation, I asked him to look me up in the academic databases to which the Lafayette College libraries subscribe.

And here I am!

Forward events happening 

I’ve been meaning to post something for a while, even had a list of potential topics (such as my thoughts on medical dramas on television, nothing deep or philosophical). But I didn’t.

I especially thought it on Saturday when my daughter texted me photos from her Girl Scout trip into NewYork City. Between her and my friend Gayle, a chaperone on the trip who updated Instagram regularly, I got an idea what it must be like to see my social media travel posts. And I liked it.


And then I found out that I received a three-credit graduate assistantship from West Chester University for fall which heightens the sense that I really am working towards my master’s.

And with that news, I overlooked the textbook list the professor emailed for our summer class that starts at the end of the month. The class is something about nationalism and democracy in nineteenth century Europe.

Required Textbooks:

1) 19-Century Europe: A Cultural History, Hannu Salmi (978-0-7456-4360-1)

2) Schnitzler’s Century: The Making of Middle-Class Culture 1815-1914, Peter Gay (978-0-3933-2363-4)

3) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Benedict Anderson (ISBN 978-1-8446-7086-4)

4) Nations and Nationalism, Ernest Gellner (ISBN 978-0-8014-7500-9)

5) Peasants into Frenchmen, Eugen Weber (ISBN 978-0-8047-1013-8)

6)Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe (ISBN 978-0-3854-7454-2)

This gets me ridiculously excited because I base all my concepts of what it means to be French post-nationalism on Weber. I should have this book memorized. Now I have an excuse to buy a copy.

And my ideas of community come from Benedict Anderson. How can they not?

And the lit major in me is glad to see Chinua Achebe on the list…

I am trembling.

Seeking perspective: the story behind my travels

This is the rough draft of a presentation I have been asked to give to a class of my graduate school peers at West Chester University next week. My faculty advisor asked me to give a talk about my recent travels in Somalia. We’re all working on master’s degrees in history or genocide/holocaust studies. 

In my case, I’ve recently discovered I’m not the European History MA candidate I thought I was but apparently I’ll be studying World History, with an emphasis with Africa, followed by minor fields in the Middle East and China. 
My true interest is post colonial Francophone Africa, and how the ramifications of European colonialism have an impact on contemporary issues regarding the overlap of Africa, the Middle East, and terrorism. Islam has become the new communism as the dangerous ideology the West must destroy.

Life circumstances have forced me to move away from a successful 15-year career in local print journalism. But my interest in information, sharing information and researching perspectives on the world has led me toward an eventual Ph.D. 

My career in journalism featured a variety of restructurings and lay-offs. When perpetually faced with a shifting marketplace you are forced to face your fears and your complacency. Every small event in life can lead to an unforeseen path. For me, I turned my focus toward my daughter and part-time professional work. A friend steered me toward hosting a French exchange student which led to me enrolling in an undergraduate French class to see if I still had the language I once majored in rolling around in my head.

I did.

That class opened my eyes to my love of academia. It also exposed me to the “Muslim problem” in France. And I made new friends. 

Although I had a bachelor’s degree in English/French from Moravian College, I enrolled for a second bachelor’s in International Affairs from Lafayette College. It would be the perfect way to see if I could balance life, school, work and child. Plus it would give me academic credentials in fields I knew about from my journalism experience: politics and economics. I just never anticipated that I would develop an affinity for history.

Up until this point, I was a total French whore. I visited France for a month in 1995 and fantasized about a return to Paris. It was 2010.

My part-time professional job imploded. I developed severe anemia that left me lying on the living room floor at three in the afternoon until my five-year-old could make a cup of coffee for Mommy. I got a job in retail, because I didn’t have the strength for professional work. I wanted to punch a time clock and go home.

Around this time an old friend from college the first time reconnected with me via Facebook. He offered to take me to Paris. He felt sorry for the rough patch I had hit in life and he had the ability to make my return-to-Paris dream a reality. We went to Paris for the weekend between my orientation for my new job and my first day of training. There were twelve of us in that group at orientation, and we had to introduce ourselves. We were asked to share something random about ourselves. I remember saying, “I’m Angel and I leave for Paris tomorrow.”

M and I had a great time on that trip. I was in a history seminar on 20th Century French Identity and the Muslim problem and religious history in France was a key component. My travels in Paris had included a visit to public Muslim prayer in the streets. I went to ethnically diverse neighborhoods where the European Paris I remembered did not exist. What I found was a multicultural Paris swimming with Africans, Asians, Indians, gypsies and Arabs. I recently had a poem published in StepAway magazine about this revelation.

My studies kept leading me to Algeria, and I became convinced that the complex issue of religion in France should not be one of the French against Islam, but the French addressing their stereotypes of Muslims created during the colonization of Algeria. The no headscarves in schools law and later the anti-niqab law focused on visible Islam, but the issue was French perpetuation of the 19th century prejudice that Muslims were inferior people. These stereotypes came from the Algerian colonial project. This became my honors project.

I am typically afraid of my own shadow. But it was around this time that M suggested a research trip to Algeria. His visa never came through. Mine did. 

  
So we did an immigrant’s journey instead. We started in Paris, fly to Tunis (visited the ancient ruins of Carthage) and finished the voyage with a few days in Marseille soI could see the Arab influence. It opened my eyes. 

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for France, after all I have read the 1905 law on the separation of church and state and the constitution of the Fifth Republic in the original French. But setting foot in North Africa changed me. There was such a crazy blend of European influence and African beauty. From fresh baguettes covered with flies and soup made of lamb sausage and harissa (known as ojja) to the diversity of the architecture… We had arrived in Tunisia on the one-year-anniversary of the abdication of President Ben Ali and the initiation of the Arab Spring. And we had done that by accident. The streets were teaming with people, citizens shot fireworks off balconies, and a random North African guy grabbed my ass.

I had certainly gone beyond my comfort zone. And I started to realize that sometimes the thing that scares you most is the thing you most need to do.

My next academic interest became Djibouti. After the Algerian War for Independence (which ended in 1952, an abrupt and tragic decolonization that led to the more-or-less overnight displacement of a million French people and caused, in my opinion, the psychological issue that has further exploded into the contemporary “Muslim problem” in France), the French moved their primary military presence in Africa to the horn, to the small colony of Djibouti, a strategic point between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.

France had a conscript army until 1999. This means that when the French left Algeria, a multitude of the next couple generations of men served their military service in Djibouti. M had visited Djibouti just prior to the original trip to Paris he and I took. I begged him to take me to Djibouti. He did. In April 2014. During the beginning of the hot season. When I had a broken right hand in a brace. For a side trip, we did Yemen. Old Sana’a. Where I discovered they love to climb to roofs.

I loved it. We went to Moscow and Siberia in 2015. The Siberia trip was a one day visit for pizza. (Stories about all these trips can be found on this web site.) I have literally walked through what felt like good-block, bad-block, reminiscent of communist era Russia. And ridden some amazing old subways that are more than 100 years old. 

This year we returned to Djibouti. A war has since broke out in Yemen so while the State Department may frown upon my visit there, I am so glad I saw it when I could. (And for the record, I technically did an internship for the State Department. I worked in communications at USAID.)

Somewhere along the line, I said I would visit Somalia. So we did Mogadishu during our January trip. It’s strange to visit places where you become the one who doesn’t speak the language or have no ability to read. It’s surreal to be escorted everywhere by men with machine guns. But it also teaches you how much of the world lives and why knowing what happens around us— knowing our history— is so important.

The plane on which we traveled between Djibouti and Mogadishu was the same exact plane where a suicide bomber killed himself and blew a hole in the plane. That happened less than two weeks after we left. A week after we left there was a hostage situation at Lido Beach, our first destination when we arrived in Mogadishu. 

But look at what’s happened recently in Paris, Turkey, Brussels. A house caught fire in the middle of my block and took out three neighboring homes. The weekend before I left for Africa, I rescued someone from a heroin overdose in my own house. I broke my ankle in August walking down the street to buy a salad. Safety is an illusion. 

M handles the arrangements for our trips. He’s headed to Syria next week and while he invited me to join him, I declined. Safety is one of the reasons, but not the most important to me. I have faith in his research and contacts. He’s been doing this a long time. You can’t be careless, but “adventure tourism” is a real thing. As historians and academics, we have to remember where our perspective comes from and that we can’t rely on the media for our viewpoints. If you aren’t sure of your sources, sometimes you need to tackle it yourself.

Holiday Upheaval

The events of the last few months have rendered my life unrecognizable, even to me.I have a suspicion that 2016 may come together in ways I never imagined or be the year that leaves me bankrupt, homeless and destitute in more ways than one.

So far I’m leaning toward and working for the former, but the worrier in me can’t help but fear the latter.

Between my broken ankle and the medical bills I incurred (who knew physical therapy was THAT expensive?) and the fact that I paid for graduate school, car repairs and a euphonium on my American Express, I was forced to ponder refinancing the house. The appraiser comes Sunday, but, again, I’m nervous because the appraisers are never generous in my experience. Last time I did this, they wanted to loan me exactly what I need now. So we’ll see. This new mortgage would shorten the length of our current loan, pay off the car and the American Express AND not add to the cost of our monthly payments.

With this and winter and travel looming, I have decided to defer enrollment at West Chester until next semester. I won’t have to commute in the snow. I can get my finances in order and proceed responsibly and not worry about classes interfering with my travel schedule.

Speaking of travel: January 7 I leave for France; I believe it’s January 8 I leave for Djibouti and January 12 I arrive in Mogadishu. Plus a trip to Lebanon may be in the works for spring.

I’m also working on some book reviews in some World War II era memoirs for Hippocampus.

Now the good news…

My poem “This Paris” has been accepted by StepAway magazine. I don’t consider myself a poet, so it’s a tad funny that I’ve placed a poem.

I believe I got an A in my grad school history class and my professor would like to see me continue some of my work, specifically on the Horn of Africa. That’s the topic, not that she wants me to go far, far away.

Oops! I think I start grad school next week

  
As a former journalist, I have a passion for research, current events and packaging information. 

When I earned my second bachelors degree, I did it to show my daughter the value of education. I wanted to start grad school, but I didn’t know how feasible that would be with a job, a child, a household and several volunteer commitments. So I committed to a new undergraduate career instead. Cheaper & faster than grad school. A way to test the water. A way to increase my academic credentials to better match my professional experience.

But I do really want my Ph.D. I applied to a prestigious program last year and did not get in. The whole process taught me a lot and when I reviewed it this winter I talked more in depth with my former advisers.

Here’s the thing about advisers: you have to consider their advice within a framework of who they think you will be. I’ve discovered that my former professors have visions for me that don’t necessarily match my goals. Frankly, some of their plans are quite flattering and sometimes overwhelming.

One adviser had suggested the MA program in history at West Chester University. At first I didn’t take him seriously because they don’t have a Ph.D. program.

They sent me an email, coincidentally, advertising a grad school open house. Here’s the kicker… If you attended, they waived your application fee. 

 And then I reviewed their faculty. I noted at least five professors whose interests intersect with mine. The program was flexible, part-time or full-time, affordable and has some scholarship/graduate assistantship available.

At the same time, I was trying to contact another prestigious school about taking a class in their African studies department this fall. They had a professor who might have an interest in East Africa that might suit me.

It took two weeks to get an email that told me to call them or come to one of their “walk-in” events. The email merely asked if the class I wanted to take could be enrolled in as a non-matriculated student. 

Frustrated by the prestigious school, I emailed West Chester. I received a delightful response the next day that encouraged me to contact anyone in the department. I also got an email from the person who would be hosting for the history department at the open house.

And then the open house happened. Wednesday August 12. The graduate coordinator was enthusiastic and portrayed the strengths and weaknesses of her department. She thought I might like a class they were offering this fall, suggesting the professor would be a good fit, and indeed it was one of the people who intrigued me originally.

I came home. Thought. Chatted with friends. Worked. On Monday I entered my name into the system as a potential non-degree student in the history graduate department.

Monday night I received a student number. I also received an invitation to the history meet-and-greet today. I declined. It’s a 90-minute drive one way.

Tuesday morning I initiated my account and went into the registration system to see what I needed to do to gain approval for the class.

Nothing. Just click. So I did.

Turns out classes start next week.

I have gone from floundering to enrolled in a graduate level class in less than a week. Provided this works out, and I suppose paying tuition is the main next step, I will go from undecided about my next step to sitting in class in less than two weeks.

What have I done? Grad school sneaked up and bit me! Gulp.

Gettysburg Road Trip

I work retail. This means I rarely get predictable patterns in my schedule, several days off in a row or a regular weekend off with my family. My husband works at a local college. He never has an easy time with vacations in the summer or January because there’s always a new semester around the corner.

My daughter has reached her preteen years and we only have a certain amount of time before she won’t want to spend time with her parents.

After our very successfully trip to Barnegat solo Monday, I thought a family road trip could be a great way to spend this weekend as it may be the only weekend left in the summer where no one in the family has commitments.

We ended up in Gettysburg, using TripAdvisor to book our hotel at more or less the last minute.

The drive went smoothly. We arrived at the Gettysburg YWCA around 1 pm and (after using the restroom) retrieved the directions for the local Volkssport walks. Gettysburg has 3. We took directions for all three. Even signed up for one of the award patches since daughter has decided she would like to collect them.

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We immediately embarked upon Walk 1. We knew we needed to find lunch. We walked to the armory, through a residential neighborhood and into town. Gettysburg was having a town wide yard sale today so that made the initial walk very colorful.

My friend Gayle had recommended eating at the blue building in the center of town. We departed from the 5k directions to view our dining options (especially since “the blue building” had a twenty minute wait at 2 in the afternoon). We had narrowed it down to Eddie’s Texas Lunch or Thai. The family agreed on Thai, Thai Classic IV to be precise.

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Very tasty food. Child had cashew chicken. I had panang curry. Darrell had something with noodles and broccoli. And very delicious shrimp cakes and dumplings to share.

We also picked through the merchandise at the army goods store. We followed a military convoy on the way down and enjoyed seeing the various trucks and equipment in various camo patterns. At one point, child said, “there are a lot of hot guys in those trucks.”

Yup. That’s my girl.

By the end of our meal, child was very anxious to see the hotel. She’d only every stayed in a hotel once before with her girl scout troop. So, armed with cupcakes from Jimmy Cuomo’s we finished our first 5k of the weekend.

My husband and I decided to share our cupcakes, one caramel latte and one Boston creme pie. Similar to the people walking around in Civil War costume, we had our own reenactment. We repeated a scene from our wedding. But I look so much more “badass” now.

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My daughter can’t believe the luxury here at our two-star America’s Best Value Inn. A hairdryer. A bathtub. A closet. Extra pillows. An ice machine. A pool. She thinks this is the best place ever.

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As soon as I can extract her from the pool, we have a candlelight ghost tour scheduled for tonight.