January 28th, 2016
It’s been a terrific couple of days at work. Robert Darnton, a big-time name for us history types, is being awarded an honorary doctorate by Uppsala University and in connection with that award gave two open lectures, one yesterday and one today. I attended both, of course, as Darnton has been something of a hero of mine since I first encountered his work as an undergraduate more than two decades ago.
Both lectures were informative and entertaining, and I can only hope to one day be as erudite an academic as he is. Apart from his impressive and wonderful professional contributions, he is a very kind and friendly man, as I was fortunate enough to learn at the reception after his lecture last night and in our continuing conversation over beers at a local pub later on. When we got our drinks, I noticed that a colleague had brought the legendary Mr. Darnton a beer from Norrland, and after reading the label I remarked to him that it came from a brewery about two hours’ drive from where I live. He asked if it was good and I confessed that I hadn’t tasted it, so he offered me a sip of his. I accepted, laughingly admitting to him that taking a drink from Robert Darnton’s glass was almost more than I could bear. I was that star-struck, but I do think I mostly managed not to embarrass myself. And the beer was all right, too.
A bit later in the evening, I found myself sitting next to Robert’s wife, Susan, and Astrid and I (and another colleague from Canada) had a good long chat with her about all and sundry. She was fun and funny and a very good sport about all of my gushing about her husband. (She had a bottle of her own of the Norrländsk beer, and also appeared to approve). She seemed truly interested in our lives, both professional and otherwise, and she told us some great stories about her own life and experiences (her husband may be a legend, but she’s no slouch in the brains department herself). It was something of an early night, as all of us had to work this morning, but there was more on offer at this afternoon’s lecture.
I had taken my copy of Robert’s book, The Case for Books with me to the lecture, and seeing an opportunity as people were making their way out of the hall, I made a detour past the lectern so I could talk with him again. He greeted me warmly, thanking me (thanking me; as if) for last night’s chat and generously agreeing to sign my book. So, not only did I have a taste of his beer and monopolize his gracious wife’s time, I now am also the owner of a book with a personal inscription from Robert Darnton to me. My twenty-year-old self would never have believed this is what the future had in store for her.
January 17th, 2016
I know I kind of left you all hanging with the report of Asbjørn’s mysterious illness, and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get around to updating. After my last post, he continued to improve and I felt (almost) no anxiety at all about traveling to England a few days later. Olof made sure to keep me filled in on how he was doing, and the reports were always encouraging. I admit, however, that I didn’t fully believe that he was doing so well until I saw him with my own eyes upon my return home a week ago. The improvement is amazing, really. He’s putting on weight and acting very spry; in fact, he seems entirely rejuvenated. I took this video yesterday of him hamming it up in hopes of getting a treat (the only treats he’s allowed these days are his special hepatic dog food or raw carrots, but he’s still willing to perform).
January 1st, 2016
My dog, Asbjørn, will be 13 next month. It may have escaped the notice of some, but I love that dog like nobody’s business. He’s just a great, wonderful companion and my life is so much richer for having him in it. We’ve been lucky with his health and he’s been in pretty good shape, especially considering his age, but this ain’t my first rodeo and I know that, time marching on the way it does, our days together are not going to last forever. He’s been showing his age more in the last year or so, but he’s mostly been his normal self — easy-going, funny, and a glutton for just about anything resembling food.
I was quite unprepared, then, for him taking suddenly ill yesterday morning. Everything had been perfectly fine the day before and into the night, but at around nine in the morning yesterday he started throwing up. In the first go-’round something bulky came up, but I didn’t investigate too closely, assuming it was bread or something of the kind. He vomited another four or five times over the next couple of hours, as dogs are wont to do, but it was just liquid and bile. Not fun, but nothing we haven’t seen before.
When we went to take him outside, however, something was very clearly wrong. He sort of staggered out of the chair where he’d been lying and could hardly stay on his feet. Once out on the porch, he couldn’t even make it down the two steps to the yard and just managed his business from a pitiful half-squat on the porch.
As soon as we were inside I put in a call to the emergency vet, who said that she could see us in two hours. We packed the kids and the other dog off to Olof’s parents’ house, got ourselves ready, and made our way to town. By that time, Asbjørn was so weak that Olof carried him out to the car. At the vet’s waiting room he seemed a little better, standing and walking on his own, but I think that was mostly because he just wanted to get the hell out of there. Nothing makes a dog perk up like a trip to the vet.
When it was his turn to be examined, the vet expressed some concern over the paleness of his gums and the white of his eyes. His body temperature was also slightly low, and since he had been throwing up she recommended an ultrasound of his abdomen. We got him up on the table and Olof and I held him on his back while the doctor shaved his belly and fired up the ultrasound machine. She didn’t find anything of particular concern, apart from thinking that his liver might be a little enlarged. She then took some blood for testing, gave him a bag of IV fluid, and sent all of us home. She said she would call later with the test results, but at that point she felt it could go either way.
When she called, the news was not encouraging. His liver enzymes were startlingly high, and he was slightly anemic — the two things in combination didn’t bode particularly well and she said that there wasn’t any point in treating the liver issues as long as his red blood cell count was down. We were left, then, to wait and see. All of the stress and urgency of this situation was/is compounded by the fact that I’m due to fly to England on Tuesday for a three-day conference, and will be away from home until next Sunday. She suggested that we wait out the weekend, and that if he wasn’t substantially better by Monday, that we should strongly consider having him put down before I left, because chances were high that he would crash while I was away, and I couldn’t bear that.
Last night was rough. He was lethargic and extremely shaky when standing. In order to get him outside to pee, I had to pull/lift him to his feet, and he barely made it out and in again. He wasn’t at all interested in food or water, and just looked BAD. He remained responsive and tail-waggy when I talked to him, but otherwise he was so unlike himself. Olof and I talked and decided that if he was in the same condition today, we would let him go. It was just so hard to see him like that.
Then … today … he was better. A lot better. Not 100% better, but definitely what I would call substantially better. He’s eating and drinking and going up and down the stairs, albeit a little shakily. He’s got some more color in his gums and the whites of his eyes are pinkish instead of the dead white that they were yesterday. In fact, he’s acting totally like his usual self, begging for treats (which he is emphatically NOT getting), and even going so far as rolling over when I made that a condition for a handful of dog food. What. the. hell.
We talked to the vet this afternoon, and she was pleased (but surprised!) by his progress. She said that we can come in on Monday and get some food that’s good for the liver, but she doesn’t even want to see him again until after he’s eaten that food for a month or so. Apparently the deciding factor on that was that his color has pinked up (that seems to have been the most worrisome factor for her). Of course, we still need to keep a good eye on him, and he is still nearly 13 years old, but this time yesterday I thought his hours were numbered, which doesn’t at all seem to be the case now. I am just completely emotionally overwhelmed.
This picture that I took last summer puts me on the verge of tears, and I can’t tell if they’re of the happy or sad variety. Probably a combination of the two
December 25th, 2015
December 22nd, 2015
Last month I was hired by a research project at the history department to translate eighteen pages of text from Swedish for the English version of their website. I agreed to have it done no later than the end of the year, but last week I promised the professor who hired me to have it done before Christmas, which gives me tomorrow to finish it (in Sweden, “Christmas” means “Christmas Eve”). I’ve got the work nearly done now, so it will be no problem to get it in to her on time, but after spending most of today working on it, my brain is all wibbly-wobbly with words. The text covers everything from reaping grain with a scythe to building a web platform, and I feel as though I’ve personally spanned centuries in the course of this relatively small job.
I don’t think I’d want to be a translator full-time, but this bit of work has given me a new appreciation for the advantages of having a discrete task to perform in a set period of time. It’s quite unlike my “real” work, for which the task is, essentially, “Write a book within the next three-ish years”. I suppose I should probably get busy doing that.
December 15th, 2015
Tomorrow morning I make my last trip to Uppsala for the year. I’m staying only one night, returning home late Thursday evening, then I’ll be home for nearly three weeks. I can’t tell you how much I–and my family–have been looking forward to that. It won’t be all rest and relaxation, of course, as I’ve got plenty to do in those weeks, but I am so very ready to have a break from all the travel. My next trip is the first week of January, to Oxford for a conference, and then I’ll start back in the swing of Uppsala things on January 18. That feels like a long time to be away, but I suspect it will fly by.
During the upcoming spring term I’m planning (hoping) to cut back on my travel quite a bit and go down to Uppsala every other week rather than every week. Even if I stay a day or two longer on the weeks I’m away, I’ll still be home much more than I have been this fall. Since I started working on my Ph.D. almost a year ago, I’ve taken nearly all of the required courses for my degree, so from here out I can focus much more on my dissertation work. There’s still plenty of reason for me to be in Uppsala regularly, but I’m all for spending longer periods of time at home between trips.
December 1st, 2015
So I’m just going to hop over that long absence like it didn’t happen.
Tomorrow it’s off to Uppsala again, this time with Lydia in tow. She’s been wanting to make the trip with me for a while now, and it turned out that this week worked well enough for both of us. I’ve got a lot to do, as usual, but I’m sure I’ll be able to free up at least a little time for some shopping and stuff. I think she’s got her heart set on a trip to IKEA, so I’ll have to steel myself for that. That place is always a bit on the crazy side, but around Christmas it’s absolute madness.
After this trip, I’ll be going down only twice more before a long break at home from mid-December until the first week of January. It will be nice not to be traveling for a little while, but I do have plenty of work to do in those three weeks. The most daunting of that work is the writing of a paper I’m set to present at a conference in Oxford on January 6. I really want to be excited and proud about having a paper accepted, but mostly I’m just terrified and the way the weeks are flying by isn’t doing a thing to calm my nerves.
November 13th, 2015
When I’m lying in bed at night, trying to fall asleep, I have a few tricks to help me relax and get sleepy. Usually they involve word games of some sort, but sometimes I play with numbers and set myself some math problems. It was in this way that I discovered, some years ago, that there is the exact same age difference–to the day, with leap years accounted for–between Brynja and Yrsa as between Tage and Petra. This means, of course, that there is also the same difference between Tage and Brynja as there is between Petra and Yrsa. Kind of cool, I think.
Last night was another math problem night, but the results were less cool. I calculated how much time I’m away from home for my work. Most weeks I come down to Uppsala on Wednesday morning after the kids go to school and return home around 11:00 on Friday nights. That comes out to 62 hours per week that I’m not at home. Occasionally I’m away for longer stretches, but at other times I’m home for longer periods, so I think it mostly balances out. 62 hours is 37% of all the hours in a week, which really seems like a whole hell of a lot. I try to tell myself that it’s not much more time than I’d be away if I worked full-time closer to home, without the long commute, and I remind myself that I’m home with the kids to get them off to school three out of five days of the week. I further point out to myself that Olof works from home whenever I’m in Uppsala, so that our kids always, always have a parent available, even during those hours when they’re at school, and there are plenty of kids who don’t have that.
You know what, though? All those reminders don’t really help; they feel more like rationalizations than anything else. In my heart of hearts, I can’t help feeling that what I’m doing is not good for my family. What makes it worse, somehow, is that I really love my job. In the long, dark moments of the night I have sometimes wondered if I should quit, if it wouldn’t be better for everyone if I were home again, but it would absolutely do me in to give up my work. I’m not sure that I could physically make myself do it. So then, of course, I’m left with the realization that I’m putting my work and my personal satisfaction ahead of my family, something that I never thought I’d do.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the nature of mother guilt, all of this angst is coming from me, myself. My husband is entirely supportive, and when I’ve asked him from time to time if he thinks I should quit, he always reacts strongly against the idea. He sees the value to all of us in what I’m doing in ways that I’m not able to do. As for the kids, they’re fine. I’ve been doing this for so long now that it feels normal to them. I don’t doubt that they’d like it if I were home more, but they don’t seem to miss me unbearably or agonize over my absence when I’m away. I still have a hard time convincing myself, though–not in convincing myself to keep working; that’s a given–but in convincing myself that I’m not being outrageously selfish.
So yeah, that’s the kind of thing I think about when I can’t sleep.
November 9th, 2015
Almost three years ago Petra got her first pair of glasses. She’d been having fairly frequent headaches, which is what prompted the visit to the eye doctor, but she never was very consistent about wearing the glasses. The headaches went away and her eye checks at school were fine, so we all just more or less forgot about the glasses.
A couple of months ago, though, she started complaining about headaches again and her teacher mentioned that she’d been having a little trouble concentrating for long stretches on her school-work, so I took her in for another eye check. Her vision was actually better this time than it was when she was seven, but because of the headaches the optician recommended glasses anyway, at least for reading. So she chose some frames and we placed an order, and today I picked up her new specs.
I noticed when I took them out of the case that the new glasses were almost exactly the same as mine–the same brand and same style, only in black instead of blue. I hadn’t noticed that they were so similar when she chose them, probably because I was kind of in a hurry and just wanting her to pick some already. I did try a little to get her to choose a less expensive pair, but after trying on nearly every pair in the store she settled on the ones she just had to have and would not be dissuaded.
I have a little theory about this. People have always said that she looks very much like me, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the only ones that looked right to her on her face were the ones that she’s used to seeing on my face. See if you think I’m right:
October 31st, 2015
Prompted by a thread on Reddit, Olof asked me a few minutes ago, “What’s the best thing you ever heard a kid say?”. Without a moment’s hesitation, I told him it was this. I’ve heard a lot of kids say a lot of great things, but nothing else will ever compare to this.