The Ferguson grand jury verdict was made public last night.  Like many others, I am having many reactions to this event and am unhappy with the lack of indictment.  I am hopeful that we, as a country, and as humanity, use this as a catalyst for change.  Yet, I am not yet able to give voice to my entire reaction.

I saw a quote today which has stuck with me throughout the day:

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Additionally, our chaplain (who is amazing) shared a prayer at our vigil for peace earlier today which continues to bounce around in my head of which I want to take note:

May our eyes remain open even in the face of tragedy.
May we not become disheartened.
May we find in the dissolution of our apathy and denial, the cup of the broken heart.
May we discover the gift of the fire burning in the inner chamber of our being — burning great and bright enough to transform any poison.
May we offer the power of our sorrow to the service of something greater than ourselves.
May our guilt not rise up to form yet another defensive wall.
May the suffering purify and not paralyze us.
May we endure; may sorrow bond us and not separate us.
May we realize the greatness of our sorrow and not run from its touch or its flame.
May clarity be our ally and wisdom our support.
May our wrath be cleansing, cutting through the confusion of denial and greed.
May we not be afraid to see or speak our truth.
May the bleakness of the wasteland be dispelled.
May the soul’s journey be revealed and the true hunger fed.
May we be forgiven for what we have forgotten and blessed with the remembrance of who we really are.
–The Terma Collective


When we lose a student

Tonight we had a celebration of life service for a first year student who was in an accident four weeks ago.  As a member of our programming board, I was asked to speak on behalf of staff and faculty.

I wanted to share my remarks.  They don’t seem like enough, and yet, they were.

I can hardly believe that four weeks ago this afternoon we received the news that Connor had passed away.  I know that each of us received the news in different ways and have spent the last four weeks trying to understand it.  I was driving back from visiting family and was at a gas station in Illinois when I received a phone call.  John shared the name of the student who had passed away and it took me a minute to think about the different Connors within the first year class before I realized that this was the Connor I was hearing about in PAAC meetings and from Jackson.  I shared the information I had with John, hung up the phone, called my mom and started crying.

Like many of in the room, I didn’t know Connor very well.  He was just starting to make his mark on campus and we were just learning who he was going to be on our campus and beyond.  On move in day, I remember Jackson sharing that someone from his high school was coming here and he was going to help him get involved with PAAC.  At one point, I saw them talking for fifteen minutes or so and I told Jackson there would be plenty of time to get to chat moving forward; translation: talk with some other new students as well.  And, yet, now I’m sure several of us are thinking back to moments when we wish we had been able to start or finish a conversation with Connor.

When someone like Connor is lost in our community, the impact is real and profound.  It’s in these moments that we think back to what could have been and question why it happens.  And, unfortunately, there are no answers.  I have spoken with some of Connor’s faculty from his short time here and what was shared over and over was Connor’s potential.  And, I think for those of us who had the opportunity to get to know him even a little, this was evident.  We are reminded of this thinking back to the stories we’ve heard already and the stories we will hear throughout this evening’s service.  We are further reminded of this as we look at the photos on the front of this program.  Connor’s wit, sass, and vibrance are present even within the photographs.  Whether appointing himself with a position, co-emceeing events during Homecoming Week, or sharing in other meetings, Connor was starting to make his mark on our community.

And, that’s why this is even more of a challenge.  It makes this loss less understandable.  When we lose someone who is a member of our campus community, the loss is hard to measure.  It’s expressed in so many different ways.  For some of us, we’ve lost too many people who are close to us and this loss reminds us of others who are no longer with us.  For others, this is the first time we’ve lost someone who we knew, had class with, or passed on the sidewalk.  Our levels of comfort and discomfort vary.  We don’t always know what to do with the reactions we are having.  Yet, this is okay.  As hard as it is to know this, we each get to react in the ways we need to react.

These are the moments that we remember that as much as the campus is a series of buildings and snow and sunshine, it’s also a community.  It’s made up of each of us individually.  We cannot deny the fact that each member of the campus community is vital.  I know we are here to celebrate Connor and the impact he made on our campus, but I would be somewhat remiss if I neglected to be at least a little bit academic.  My research looks at the ways in which we create a sense of space and place on campus.  As I was working on a literature review this weekend, I came across some research which indicates that as much as we want the campus to be the physical spaces, each person provides an opportunity to interact, challenge our beliefs, assumptions, and represents how we understand our community.  Our humanity is recognized by our relationships with one another.  In class.  In the dining hall.  In this space, in meetings, in residence halls.  We cannot ignore the importance of our relationship with one another in this experience of our campus.  As we look around this chapel and move through our days, there will be so many moments when we are reminded of Connor and look around to tell him something.  And in those moments, we will remember that he’s missing.  We’ll take note of that absence and the way that this space has changed for those of us still here.

A loss like this one is hard to understand.  In these four weeks, so much has happened.  We’ve finished and begun another block.  We’ve had events.  We’ve ended relationships and started others.  Perhaps we’ve met someone we didn’t know before and our lives have been profoundly changed.  Even the weather has changed.  This reminds me of this quote from Anne Lamott, “You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved.  But this is also the good news.  They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up.  And you come through.  It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

As we take this time to remember Connor and think about how we continue to move forward, I encourage us to think about the ways that individuals create our Cornell experience and that we acknowledge those who create our sense of place.  And, as the weather gets cold, let us learn to dance.

Chai Banana Cake

Are you noticing a banana theme?  I obviously had some bananas in the freezer that needed to be used up and rather than the usual banana bread or banana bars, which are delicious, I wanted to experiment and find ways to use other items in the cupboards.

I was looking for a banana something and came across this cake recipe from the spoon, fork, bacon site.  It looked like the recipe I knew I wanted to make, so I decided to go for it.  I was using a chai mix that I had received as a fit, and in hindsight, wish that I had used the chai tea from the store instead.  But, I’ll try this again in the future.  Another reason I loved it?  It gave me a chance to use the great oval dish I bought last spring at an antique store!

Chai Banana Cake

2 1/4 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 c whole milk (I used fat free half and half that was in the refrigerator)
1 Tbsp chai
3 medium ripe bananas
1/2 c butter, softened
1 c light brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325.  Pour milk and chai into a saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Remove from heat and steep for 20 minutes, later discarding the chai.  In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  Add eggs, one at a time.  Stir in vanilla and other spices.  Add the milk, bananas, and flour and stir together until combined.
Grease an 8×8 baking dish, oval baking dish, or bread pan and pour in the batter.  Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted.
At this point, I used some pre-made cream cheese frosting that had come with cinnamon rolls a few weeks ago and spread it across the top.   This was a nice addition to the recipe.

The post about nicknames…

At some point, when I was in grad school, I learned an activity where a person introduces themselves and shares their full name, how they got their name, nicknames, etc.  It’s one that I’ve continued to use throughout my working life when I’m forming a group — most frequently with my orientation staff.  Some folks approach the activity with great fervor.  Their name has a lot of meaning behind it and they embrace it.  Others get up and share, but are rather timid in their approach, showing a little bit of a lack of pride in their name.  It’s never easy to predict who will take which approach, but there are always several who take each approach.  I always feel it gives me some insight into the person’s history and the way in which she or he views herself or himself.

When I share my name, I have a lot of pride with it.  My name comes from my mother and an aunt.  My name has a 9-8-7 in number of letters from first name to last name.  I also share several nicknames that I have had throughout my life, starting with Gwenny Benny Static (2nd grade) and moving all the way to Face (grad school).  Most of my nicknames are a spin off of Gwen, i.e. Gwennifer, Gwenjamin, G-dubs, etc.  However, by and large, throughout my life I’ve been known as Gwen.

I know nicknames are a form of endearment and might reflect something specific about my relationship with folks.  One of my sisters and I refer to each other by our relationship.  It’s not uncommon that when we call each other, our greeting is “Hey Sister,” in the same way our mom and dad are referred to as that.

In the last several years, as I’ve entered my professional life, I’ve noted some interesting aspects of the nickname.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the students with whom I work almost always attach themselves to Face, because it’s pretty amusing, and when I share how that nickname came to be, I like to think it reminds them of their close friends as well.  However, for my colleagues, many of them have attached themselves to Gwenny or Gwennie (depending on how they spell it).  Of the several nicknames I’ve had, it’s intriguing to me that this didn’t come about until my professional life.  A lot of people lose the “y/ie” at the end of their name as they move into professional life and mine has just now come about.

For the first couple of years, I wondered whether this was an age-thing.  A way to reinforce that I was younger.  As someone who has incredibly high amounts of respect for authority and hierarchy, I now question whether these nicknames are sometimes used to subtly remind folks of their place.  I’m not bothered when my doctoral colleagues call me Gwenny.  For several members of the cohort, we have a variety of nicknames, and it seems like it’s a way to support each other and recognize our community.  But,most of the time, nicknames demonstrate a level of affection or a level of appreciation for the relationship between two people.  However, it is also noteworthy to recognize the ways in which and the individuals with whom we are invited to use a nickname.

All of this is to say that language is important.  And names are tied to identity.

Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes

It shouldn’t be a surprise that I am a fan of goat cheese.  And all cheese, really.  So when I saw this recipe for goat cheese mashed potatoes and saw that I still had a nice number of baby yellow and baby red potatoes from my CSA this summer, I knew I had to try this out.  I’ll be honest, I liked the potatoes, but since I was doing some testing for things to potentially make for Thanksgiving, I don’t think I’d make these for Thanksgiving.  There’s just too much flavor for what our more traditional Thanksgiving will include.  Nonetheless, they were a great accompaniment to the meatballs I took out of the freezer.Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes


Ina Garten’s Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes

3-4 lbs Yukon Gold and red potatoes
5 large garlic cloves
10 oz goat cheese
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 c sour cream
1/2 c half and half
1/2 grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place the potatoes, garlic, and salt in a large pot with enough water to cover the potatoes.  Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 20-25 minutes, until tender.

Drain the potatoes and garlic and start to whip them.  While they are still hot, stir in the goat cheese, butter, sour cream, half and half, salt, and pepper, until smooth.

Pour into a baking dish, smoothing the top.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese on top and bake 30-40 minutes, until lightly browned.

Banana Raspberry Muffins

Remember how I mentioned trying to use up some things that are in my house?  Over the weekend I looked at my pantry and my freezer to decide what I should make to bring to campus on Monday for the students with whom I work.  With our being on a one course at a time curriculum, students have finals every four weeks, and this week happens to be one of those weeks.  When I can, I like to bring in a special treat to help recognize the fourth week with some snacks and treats in the office.

Back to my freezer.  I almost always purchase bananas with the intention of eating one each day and do a fairly good job, but end up getting a couple past the point of eating, so into the freezer they go.  So, I knew I needed to use up some bananas from my freezer.  I was also almost out of sugar, and was happy to get rid of white sugar in my cupboard.  I also had some left over sour cream, and raspberries in my refrigerator.  So, it seemed like an opportunity to put it all together.

I started with this recipe from the What’s Cooking, Love? blog.  I made a few edits to the recipe based on what I had in the house.  I also decided to make it into muffins, instead of a loaf of bread, so a few differences occurred.

Banana Raspberry Muffins

Raspberry Banana Muffins

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 c sour cream
2 mashed bananas
3/4 c raspberries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Beat together sugars and butter.  Add vanilla, eggs, and beat in baking soda.  Slowly add the flour.  Mix in sour cream.  Then mix in bananas; then fold in raspberries.
Scoop into muffin cups (I was able to get 18 muffins out of the recipe) and bake for 30 minutes.

I was so happy with how they turned out and even more happy when I was able to take them to work to share with the students!

She’s a feminist…and she quilts, too!

This one is a bit of a ramble.  Apologies in advance.

On a recent weekend, I found myself getting out my sewing machine, finding some unfinished quilt squares, and deciding it was time to once again focus on decluttering.  I feel like I’m doing that in a lot of areas of my life right now: decluttering.  Over the course of the last couple of months, as stress at work has increased in some ways, I find myself wanting to take back control of some aspect of my life.  And for now, that seems to be reducing the “extras.”  So, I saw the piles of fabric and the quilt that I think I love that has been gnawing at the back of my mind, and decided that I’d get back to making some progress in this area.  I find a lot of peace of mind in quilting.  It’s similar to the peace of mind and positivity that comes from cooking.  There’s a process.  Sometimes, there isn’t a right or a wrong, but there are some steps that need to be taken in order to achieve success.

In all actuality, five years ago when I was applying to my doctoral program, I wrote my admissions essay about this.  About the process of quilting.  About how in my last position, I came to appreciate my process orientation and recognize the ways in which process was important to me.  It’s also one of the ways I recognize I can leave a project half finished or rush through the end of it, although I usually get frustrated afterwards.

In the intersection of my academic life and my quilting life, I often think about what a contradiction it is that I love quilting so much.  I’m a feminist, through and through.  It’s a part of who I am.  In a lot of ways, through the definition that feminists are folks who think all folks should have some equality, I’ve always been a feminist.  It’s a little disappointing to see the number of young women celebrities who are asked about being a feminist and who are not willing to own the term, even when they clearly celebrate feminist ideals.  Similar to my discussion a few days ago about privilege, I think the label of feminist can be a political label to assume, which is unfortunate, but is where society stands at the moment.

Perhaps, on the other hand, these women are afraid to assume the label because it sometimes seems as though feminism does not allow for all aspects of one’s identity to play out.  Yet, if that were the case, I doubt I would be such a fan of spending some free time on domestic areas of my life on occasion.  Instead, I’d be insisting on living in the academic or advancing womanhood.  Does feminism allow for several forms of one’s identity to intersect?  Is it an identity or a political stance?

For me, I guess, feminism is an identity, and a political stance.  As Carol Hanisch stated, “The personal is political.”  Does this mean that I agree with every stance that the feminist movement (whatever that is at the point)?  No.  But, where do I agree with anything without also questioning it?

So, I guess, I need feminism to allow me to be domestic.  To allow me to enjoy quilting and cooking and being all of the things that I am.  But, as a quilter and a cook, I also need to believe that there is importance in being a feminist.