Tuesday, September 7, 2021

A Month-Long Vacation: The Well-Deserved Break

Monkeying around at Fort Sewell, Marblehead

Ah, September ... what a marvelous month! Halloween goodies are starting to make their way into stores and pumpkin spice everything is on the menu at Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. The temperatures are much more comfortable here in Salem, ranging from the upper 70s during the day and mid-50s at night. My garden is just about done. The tomatoes and cucumbers have already been cut down and there's a ton of basil and Thai basil that needs to be picked and processed: dried, frozen, or made into pesto. We're heading out tonight to get some mums for the deck and to do a little grocery shopping. Maybe we'll also score an early pumpkin or two! 

The 159 Derby Street History Project

I decided to take August for myself. After all, it started off with an unexpected, but pleasant, research project for the Salem Arts Association. I was asked to be part of the ongoing research of the building where the SAA is located and the folks who occupied the building and property. Most of what I did was interpret records the Association already had, researched online sources, wrote the historical summaries, and selected the various maps. This research is ongoing and will piggyback on my new research project: 18th and 19th century Salem artists and art collections. I had to take a break from St. Nicholas Magazine because I'm just too burnt out from my PhD and dissertation. I'll return to it ... when? I don't know. Anyway, the photo above shows the exhibition currently located at the SAA. This exhibition will change as more information is found.

Salty kids driving home from Fort Beach, Marblehead.

Besides research and writing, Ed and I filled our August with outdoor adventures, Halloween hunting, and afternoons relaxing on the couch with Bijou. We had some really hot weather here in Salem! 90 degree temperatures call for frequent swims at Fort Beach. Like most apartments and houses in the area, ours doesn't have central air. When the temperatures climb into the upper 80s and 90s it gets unbearable in our apartment ... yes, even with the window ACs going. There's nothing better than swimming in the ocean or sitting by the water to cool you off. Needless to say, we did our fair share of swimming this Summer!

On the hunt at HomeGoods.

Our Halloween Hunting has been slow this year, mostly because the chain stores have been really slow to get their Halloween merchandise on the shelves. Associates in various stores told us that the delay is caused by a combination of shipping issues and the lack of staff because of COVID-19. One manager told me that Christmas is going to be worse and to do whatever Holiday shopping now. Eesh. With that said, Ed and I managed to buy a few cute things like the goblin that he's holding in the photo above. I also bought a Polish Stoneware pumpkin from HomeGoods and some mats for the kitchen, my office, and the front door. Photos to come later.

Roll your sanity check, Ed!!!

Ed celebrated his 50th birthday this August! Like last year, we stayed local and had our celebration at home and outside away from crowds. We spent time wandering around Marblehead and Ipswich, picnicking, and celebrating with lots of presents and a classic cake from Coffee Time Bake Shop. Coffee Time is special to us. Not only do they have awesome baked goods, they made our wedding cake!  I told you we have a deep and meaningful connection to Salem!

On our way to Maine.

The weekend of Ed's birthday we packed our bags, bought a bunch of Bismarks from Coffee Time, made my potato salad and coleslaw, and headed up to our friends' cabin in Maine. We're all vaccinated and testing constantly, so we felt very safe to spend a few days with them. Besides, we haven't seen them in real life since we moved to Salem! We spent a wonderful few days paddling around the lake, swimming, and chatting. I would normally have photos of a trip like this, but our friends are private people. You'll just have to imagine an amazingly beautiful few days on a lake in Maine. 

The first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season.

The first pumpkin beer of the season.

Of course, we had our first Pumpkin Spiced Latte and pumpkin beer of the season! It's an August tradition!

Geez, I'm so damned tan!

It's been an absolutely wonderful summer! Although we weren't able to camp or travel much because of COVID-19, we had a relaxing and fabulous time here in Salem. I dare say, it was probably one of the best summers I've had in a long, long time. We spent our time walking ... a lot, swimming, exploring our new home and surrounding areas, and just living -- things we didn't get to do last year because we were trapped in a two bedroom apartment in Staten Island. 

Masks, lots and lots of masks.

Oh don't get me wrong, we're still being very cautious and vigilant because of COVID-19. We're still wearing masks indoors and in crowds even though we've been vaccinated. We will eat outside at a restaurant when it's not crowded, but we refuse to eat indoors and we're not going to indoor events like movies, shows, or clubs. We're shopping during hours when it's not crowded, visiting museums in the mornings during the week, and avoiding Downtown during the weekends when the tourists flock to Salem. With October and Haunted Happenings quickly approaching, we need to reevaluate how we will navigate Salem and if we'll even spend time Downtown during the month of October. 

As for me, I'm commuting to Boston for school. I was able to buy some N95s during the Summer when the supply caught up with the demand. I'll be wearing those during my commute and will be double masking (surgical and cloth masks) while in class. I'm grateful that Simmons requires students, faculty, and staff to be vaccinated and to test every week. I feel safe there and that's HUGE. Commuting ... meh. Like I said, I have N95s to wear on my commute and my glasses act like a barrier for my eyes. 

At least I have this adorable fluff to come home to ...

One relaxed kitty!

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Go with the Flow: Thoughts on Productivity Culture


The natural flow of the tides, Salem, MA.

I remember my first planner. I was a Sophomore in college and bought a small, portable calendar from the school's bookstore. I was a full-time student and working 20-25 hours a week at a retail job in the mall. I was good at remembering when my schoolwork was due and when my classes were; however, since my weekly work schedule changed, I was having a hard time juggling everything. Plotting due dates and my school and work schedules in the calendar allowed me to get an idea of when I could study, research and write papers, do homework, and see my friends. It was a very simple system: whenever I wasn't in class or work, I did everything else. I used my commuting time and work breaks to read or work on homework. I got really good at scheduling all of my classes into 2-3 days so that I could work and see my friends. And let's face it, my younger self had tremendous amounts of energy! I was literally non-stop and I loved every minute of it because it never felt like work.

A big part of why I loved how I lived my life then is that I was able to effortless focus on a task. If I only had a hour or two to read or study, that's all I did. I made art all the time. I went to museums. I saw the people I loved and spent meaningful time with them. I was able to "get into the zone," or as Ed calls it, I "grooved," without much thought or effort. Everything I did felt natural and it fulfilled me to no end. I got pure joy out of sitting in class or researching for a paper. I loved writing those papers! I often wrote papers in longhand before I edited and typed everything using Word Perfect or Word. I never "digitally" wrote anything because I enjoyed the slowness of the writing process. I always used pencil and a yellow legal pad. I loved the sound of the pencil scratching on the page and the smell of the eraser rubbing out my mistakes. 

Studying always consisted of lots of writing. I wrote reading notes and flashcards. I copied my class notes, adding information from my reading. I diagrammed everything. My study methods and notes were legendary. My meticulous methodology is what made me an A student. It's what earned me Summa Cum Laude. I continued these methods in graduate school with the same results. Again, it never felt like work. It was an utterly pleasurable task -- like a puzzle.

Slow living means learning how to live slowly.

Then something changed. I always kept a "to do" list with due dates. In grad school, that "to do" list grew as I started teaching, presenting at conferences, and juggling adulthood. When my Mom got sick and stopped working, I became her sole caretaker, adding an extra household to manage and another person to shop for. My simple calendar turned into a timed planner and my working methods became more and more compartmentalized. I scheduled time to write, time to take breaks, time to spend with my Mom, time to commute. This was the only way I could survive. 

After grad school, I became obsessed with productivity methods -- the Eisenhower Matrix, daily habit building, goal planning, task scheduling. I read books on productivity, experimented with Kanban boards, Agile planning, and the Pomodoro method. I spent hours planning my year, month, weeks, and days. I was convinced that the only way to achieve my goals was to carefully plan out my days in order to maximize my time and energy. I forced myself to stick to a writing, reading, and research schedule. I blocked out time to shower, commute, and workout. I even attempted to reset my internal clock so that I could wake up before 5:00 AM like every other "successful person." 

Bijou is Flow.

I bought into the whole toxic productivity culture ... and I was miserable. I hated what I was doing. I hated who I became. I hated everything I researched and studied. And I hated the people who pushed this kind of mentality. Colleagues, "influencers," and productivity coaches all said the same thing: I need discipline. I need to set out a schedule. I need to define my goals. Some "influencers" like Lavendaire, added a veneer of "mindfulness" and "holistic" living to all of this as they pushed their ever growing number of followers to make time for meditation and self-care. As if we needed something else to schedule and feel guilty about if we didn't do it!

I bought into it much in the same way I bought into Intermittent Fasting and Hello Fresh -- I honestly thought the process would be a magic fix for a life that constantly feels out of control. Boy, was I wrong! These processes, much like a fad diet, left me hungry and angry. I resented the processes and my over-scheduled life to the point of quitting everything. 

And this is where I am now. I left academia because I couldn't tolerate the high-level of toxic productivity and competition. I stopped teaching because I couldn't deal with my students' needs and an uncompromising administration taking over my entire life. I put away St. Nicholas and my research because I've grown to hate it. I over-thought, over-scheduled, and over-goaled it to death! I simply stopped and walked away. 

I spent this summer reading about Ganesh, chakras, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. I've spent hours meditating, doing yoga, and reciting mantras. Most importantly, I picked up my pencils and drew ... and drew ... and drew. 

Something magical happened ... I remembered what it felt like to enter a state of "flow." Flow is when you are completely and utterly absorbed in a task that time doesn't exist. It's more than just sustained focus. Flow is when you do something that you enjoy and that uses your skills, but is still somewhat challenging yet attainable. It's that moment when you lose track of your physical needs like eating because you are absorbed in what you are doing. It's that moment when you are completely serene in what you are doing because it's a natural part of your being.

Flow is associated with Taoist teachings. It is the path between action and non-action, between anxiety and boredom. In Tao this path is like that of a river -- when you are in flow, you quite literally "go with the flow." You navigate the river as it leads you along. You do not go against the river or try to control the river. Western productivity methods try to control the river. They go against the flow because they are concerned with the end result -- that of achieving a goal. Western methods focus on hard work and discipline, compartmentalized tasks and goal-setting. Flow focuses on the series of actions that lead you to those goals. It's flexible. It understands that we don't have control of the outside world, which inevitably destroys a well-planned day. Flow just is.

I recently realized that my "lack of productivity" and focus have nothing to do with social media, or a lack of will-power, or some fault. I realized that productivity in itself is the problem. I never needed help "getting things done." I always knew The Way. I have always worked best when I stopped trying to control everything. I always created best when I just created. No planner or productivity method can teach you this; matter-of-fact, all they can do is inhibit flow. Flow is natural and organic, it's the state that you strive to be in because it's enjoyable and fulfilling. The act of doing is its own reward.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Hitting Pause to Enjoy Life

Me and the most adorable, handsome, lovable human being in the universe!

After months of struggling to focus on my academic writing, I just stopped. I stopped planning. I stopped breaking down each goal. I stopped obsessing over my calendar. I stopped sitting in front of my computer pretending to work. I put St. Nick and art education away ... for now ... forever? Who knows. 

I don't know what the future will bring. No one does. So, I stopped pretending to know what I'll be doing and where I'll be working. I stopped planning for a future that anchors me in an academic past that isn't a present reality. Heck, I'm not sure how much of a reality it will ever be. I'm not willing to sacrifice my whole life to the "quest for knowledge" and the "pursuit of tenure." I'm just not that hungry for it anymore, at least not the trappings of "being an academic" ... so, I stopped defining myself as a professional scholar and academic.

I hit the pause button. I took a breath and turned my attention to slower, more enjoyable tasks. Ed and I have been spending our evenings walking around Salem. Sometimes we stop for coffees to drink while we sit in the Adirondack chairs on the wharf. Sometimes we sit on the steps of the Custom House and watch the world go by. Most times you'll find us standing in front of a house and discussing original windows, dormers, and architectural details. I always forget a notebook or my historical architecture book, but it doesn't matter. It's best to keep my bag light. You never know when our walks will quickly turn into a nature watch as we follow a momma skunk and her babies into the kitchen garden behind the Derby House. We've unplugged from the world and it's been glorious.

I started drawing again. I haven't held a pencil in my hand in years and yes, it's hard. I'm having a really difficult time connecting my eyes to my hand. My new progressive lens and arthritis in my hands aren't helping. However, there's nothing more glorious than sitting outside sketching eggplant flowers while the bumblebees buzz around the cucumber flowers. I don't think of anything else but what's in front of me when I draw; so, in a way, making art is meditation. I'm trying not to get frustrated by how rusty I am. Instead, I am cherishing this time being creative. At one point in time, I would have told you that I am an artist above all else. The PhD and my time spent being an "academic" killed that definition of myself. 

Eggplant flower. First drawing in years.

Seashell from Ireland.

I've being spending a lot of time reading about Ganesh and chakras. I've also rekindled my yoga practice and started to meditate and practice morning mantras. This is all linked to rebooting my spiritual practice, something else I stopped doing while writing my dissertation and mourning my Mom. In retrospect, I definitely could have used this kind of structured spiritual practice while going through that horrible and stressful time. 

Full moon over Derby Wharf and the Friendship, Salem, MA.

This summer has been a really good, introspective, and joyful summer. Sure, we didn't go camping or "do" anything special ... but we most certainly have been enjoying it. I, personally, needed a summer like this one. I needed to stop and press pause so that I could think and breath. Like Ed said, this might be the last summer that I have off as an academic. I could have spent it researching and writing, which was the original plan. Or, I could have spent it taking care of myself and healing old wounds. I chose the later and BOY! was that the best decision I've ever made.

Full moon over Derby Wharf, Salem, MA.

For the first time in over 20 years I took the time to nourish my heart and soul. I took the time to allow myself to feel all of the repressed emotions that have been haunting me since Mom's death. I took the time to just be me and get to know that me. Did you know I'm 49? I became very aware of my age this summer. The skin around my eyes is getting "crepey" and my joints are creaky. My taste in clothing is shifting to more artsy styles without all of the Goth or edgy trappings. Classic lines, sorbet colors or deep autumnal colors, and nautical themes have made their way into my wardrobe. 

I cut my hair again to start the growing process over. 

I'm losing my taste for blunt bangs and black hair. I wonder what I would look like with an updated style in my natural dark brown and grey. For the first time in my life I'm considering if I should change my makeup palette and if I should use a different highlighter. Hell, should I put the highlighter under my eyes or across my check bones? Is my foundation moisturizing enough? Should I switch blush colors? Ladies, this aging process is really a thing!!! Navigating it with grace and humor is the goal.

As we're heading into August, the last month of my summer of self-healing, I am both excited and sad. I'm excited that school will be starting soon and, in turn, a new career path. Sad, because this luxurious, unstructured time will soon be over. Ah well. So the Wheel of the Year turns.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

And So It Begins

Every July, right after Independence Day, it begins. First Michael's, At Home Stores, Jo-Ann's, and Home Goods put out their "scouts," and then Bath and Body Works, Yankee Candle, and the others follow. By the beginning of September, Michael's will have everything on sale and Target will just start putting everything out. Every year it's the same schedule. Every year the excitement starts to build on-line in June. Once my birthday is over, I start counting the days. 

Christmas in July? NOOOOOOO!!!! Our yearly Halloween Hunt, you silly Ghoul! This year is going to be a little different for us. Not only will we be shopping in the big retail stores, we'll also be shopping in the small, Mom-and-Pop shops here in Salem. Witch City Wicks has been posting teasers on social media about their Halloween collection release dates and Modern Millie is already stocking Halloween and Fall themed dresses and accessories. And let's not forget the wonderful Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie. They announced on social media that they are celebrating "Halloween in July" since so many people missed it last year because of COVID. 

Goodies from Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie, Salem MA
The good folks at Ye Old Pepper decorated the entire Salem shop for Halloween and started selling a limited release of Halloween candy, including their delicious candy corn. The Halloween release is in store only for the time being. A recent post stated that they will be launching the Halloween page on their website in August and will be populating it with deliciousness in September. Yes, you can order their candy!

Ed and I were already out-and-about in Downtown Salem when I saw the post on Instagram. Halloween candy in July! How could we resist?!? I didn't take photos inside the shop, but I can tell you that they certainly went all out decorating. It's wonderful!

Palmful of Heaven: the best candy corn ever.
For those Summer people mumbling, "but Summer just began! Don't rush it ..." don't worry, they still have their Summer-themed candies. You'll just have to deal with buying them surrounded by Halloween decorations. Ahem. If you are mumbling that, you must be new here. Hi! Um, you might want to avoid the posts with the tags "Halloween Hunt" until you're ready for the season. It's kind of a thing with me and Ed. 

Spotted at Michael's on July 4, 2021
Yes, I am thrilled and excited to be living in Salem during this glorious time of year. It isn't be my first season here, but it sure is going to be wonderful, especially since COVID canceled so many events last year. *crosses fingers* Let's just hope this year is safe enough for events to take place.

Michael's, July 4, 2021
Besides local shops, the big retail stores are starting to put Fall and Halloween merchandise on their shelves. Michael's is clearing away huge portions of the store to make room for their Halloween, Fall, and Back-to-School merchandise. As of July 4th, they started to put out the seasonal "picks" and decorative pumpkins. 

Michael's, July 4, 2021
We stopped by Michael's this past Sunday and there wasn't much else out. I'll keep you posted here and on Instagram. Target, of course, is in Back-to-School mode. That's exciting for a whole different reason -- notebooks!!! However, their Halloween website is up and running! It looks like they just started to populate it with their own merchandise, though you can order from their "partners." 

I've seen a number of posts on Facebook and Instagram showing Halloween goodies at Bath and Body Works and At Home Stores. Can anyone confirm? Someone posted that Bath and Body had their in-store Halloween preview this weekend. We haven't been to our local store yet, but I'll report back soon.

Are you going to participate in the yearly Halloween Hunt? Are the stores near you putting anything out? Are you shopping online this year?

Friday, July 9, 2021

Rainy Day Brain Dump


Rainy Day View from My Office
Like many on the East Coast, tropical storm Elsa is dumping buckets of rain on Salem today. The storm warning predicted heavy winds with gusts up to 60 mph. So far we've only gotten an occasional gust that's nowhere near their prediction. As for flooding, we're not close to the water and we're a bit higher than other parts of Salem, so we're dry. From the photos I've seen on social media, others have not been so lucky.

In preparation for high winds, we brought our container garden into my office for the day. As you can see, there are plenty of tomatoes and flowers on the plants. The cucumber, zucchini, eggplant, and pepper plants all have flowers. There was no way I was going to lose everything to a tropical storm! Besides, these pots would have surely become projectiles if we got the winds they were predicting.

BOY! does my office smell glorious. This has given me the incentive to bring my herbs indoors before the frost. I'm going to get a plant stand so that I can put them by the deck door during the fall and winter months. How nice would it be to have basil, Thai basil, and cilantro during the winter? sigh ... and lots of growing things in my office. I'd love to fill this room with tons of plants. I need to buy some African violets for my desk. My Mom always had African violets in the dining room. I used to have a few, but had to give them away when we moved to Texas. It's time to bring them back into the house and my life. As my Mom always said, "Grow African violets for luck and love." Me, I just like the variety of flowers.

New glasses.
Today's weather has caused a welcomed respite in my normally busy schedule. I just don't feel like "making progress" or "being productive." All I feel like doing is reading, flipping through magazines, and drawing. Actually, that's all I really feel like doing all weekend, especially since I'm at the midway point between semesters. 

I start my MS LIS classes on September 1. I'm excited, but pretty nervous about being a student again. I've been having a difficult time focusing on anything, including reading for long periods of time or any kind of writing that takes concentration. I just can't seem to sit still or stay on one task for extended periods of time. 

There's a lot of left over baggage from my PhD and early post-doc time attached to these activities. And there's certainly a lot of personal insecurity, especially when it comes to my writing. I think the main problem for me is the amount of criticism, often no nonsense and sometimes cutting, heaped on academic writing. Sure, I'm supposed to roll with the criticism and see it as helpful. I'm supposed to grow from it. I'm supposed to be clinical when it comes to criticism and editing. And yet, after 20 years of graduate school and 6 years post-doc, I still can't be clinical and unfeeling when it comes to academic work. I still ruffle at criticism. Not all criticism, just that which tends to be overly negative and destructive. The last time I received good criticism was in 2016 when I submitted my essay on Mary Beth Edelson to American Studies. Good criticism is when the reader or reviewer points out the issues with the essay and where the essay could be improved, while giving concrete suggestions on how to do so. Good criticism also points out the good stuff -- where the writing is clear, where the author makes a solid argument, etc. My last essay was shredded by the reviewers and none of them gave me any good, constructive feedback. Hell, my experience writing my dissertation was somewhat the same; though, I did receive good, constructive feedback during my defense. It's exhausting to only be told what sucks and what needs improvement.

Reviewers and professors forget that criticism needs to be helpful and constructive. It should provide examples of where the essay is strong, and it should clearly and objectively ... but in a pleasant tone ... point out where the essay needs work. I'm not saying sugarcoat it. I'm saying be mindful that overly acerbic criticism could turn someone off from writing and research forever. This is especially true for first generation students. We don't have the same background as many of our colleagues. I honestly don't know when my writing is good because I wasn't constantly told how brilliant I am or how good my writing is. Instead, I was told that "I'm a diamond in the rough" and that I need help. Pffttt ... I didn't really need help with my writing. I needed help with time management. I still do. I need help falling in love with the process. I still do. 

Both of my parents didn't go to college. I had to figure out a lot of things on my own or seek out help, which wasn't always easy to do in graduate school because of the competition and desire to "weed out" the bad or unpromising students. The only reason why I finished my PhD is because I was a stubborn jerk who refused to be pushed out of a program that I had the right to be in.

What's wrong, Mommy?

I've been doing a lot of meditating and internal work this summer. It's been difficult to deal with some of the issues that are surfacing. But, I'm dealing with them. Thankfully, I have Ed and Bijou to help me through this. There's nothing better that cuddling with Ed or playing "mousy" and "pancake" with our cutie, fuzzy Noodle. 

As for teaching, we'll see. The enrollment is down at City Tech and one of my classes only has four people registered. The other class met the registration requirement. If my classes aren't canceled, I will be teaching two classes, starting on August 26. I've been applying to all sorts of GLAM or cultural jobs, mostly part-time, just to get some experience in my future career. No bites yet. It's kind of frustrating to have all of this experience, but none in the field where you want to be. All I want is for someone to give me a chance! 

Other than that, COVID-19 has really forced us to focus on our health. We both have underlying conditions that may or may not be a problem if we get the virus. We've really stepped up our physical activity and made some major changes to our diets because we want to survive the virus if we do get it. Sure, we're both fully vaccinated and still wear masks inside, especially now with the delta variant. We're doing everything we can to stay healthy and alive.

We walk 6,000-15,000 steps almost every day, and I've added yoga and weight training to my daily activity. Ed's been watching what he eats and has cut down on snacking at night. I'm doing a combination of intermittent fasting and volumetrics, which works very well for me. I'm down 15 pounds and have about 30-35 more to go before I'm at my optimal weight. I'm anxious to see what my blood pressure and blood sugar numbers look like. Alas, I need to wait until the end of August to meet my new doctors. 

How are you coping with this new COVID threat? What's it like where you live? East Coast friends, how did you fare with Elsa? 

Most importantly, stay tuned ....

Monday, June 28, 2021

The Briny Deep at Fort Sewall and Fort Beach


Fort Beach, Marblehead, MA
Photo by Dr. Mary F. Zawadzki

Hello everyone! Happy Monday! Boy, oh boy! Is it hot out there! Granted, it's not West Coast hot ... or Texas hot ... but, for us, it's pretty brutal. Ed and I have been beating the heat by swimming in the ice cold waters of Fort Beach. It's a rocky beach that is somewhat protected by a rock barrier and the harbor. The beach is frequented mostly by locals. During high tide the entire beach is under water, making it perfect for open water laps and serious swimming. During low tide, it's wonderful for families with small children or for searching for ocean critters like crabs and starfish. Its rocky barrier makes it manageable for inexperienced swimmers. You just need to get into the water first .... brrrrr .....

The ebb and flow of the tide at Fort Beach.
Photo by Dr. Mary F. Zawadzki

I've featured photos of this beach on my Instagram and various blogs throughout the years. It's one of our favorite spots in Marblehead and one that holds very special meaning for us. 

Plaque honoring General Casimir Pulaski, Fort Sewall, Marblehead
Photo by Dr. Mary F. Zawadzki

The beach flanks Fort Sewall. The fort was stablished in 1644 as "a defensive breastwork on Gale's Head" (Fort Sewall: Essex National Heritage Area) and was expanded twice throughout the 18th century. Fort Sewall was named after Chief Justice Samuel Sewall in 1814. For more than 150 years, the fort provided the community of Marblehead and the surrounding areas with protection from invasion and attack.

On July 23, 1777, General Casimir Pulaski landed at Fort Sewall. Upon arrival, Pulaski wrote to George Washington, "I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it." As a Polish-American, General Pulaski holds a very special place in my heart. Fort Sewall's cannons also provided protection to the USS Constitution as it fled from two British frigates on April 3, 1814 during the War of 1812.  

Fort Sewall Stockade, Marblehead, MA
Photo by Fletcher 6, 5/1/2010

Much of the fort and underground bunkers are still there, but aren't open to the public. I am happy to report that the site is getting the well-needed love that it deserves. The upper walkway is open to the public, but the area around the fort is closed for restoration

Kitchen room inside the fort, Fort Sewall, Marblehead, MA
Image Source: Salem Evening News, 11/14/2014

The plans for the restoration includes a summer Park Intern who will oversee the site, answer questions, and lead tours. The part of the plan that I'm most excited for is that the project organizers plan to open the inside areas of the fort to the public, at least for guided tours. I can't wait to see what the renovated site looks like!!!

These days the fort and its elevation is used by site-seers, historical reenactors, dog walkers, and marriage proposers looking for a romantic spot to pop the question. Ok, the last one was Ed and me. Ed proposed to me at Fort Sewall under a most glorious full moon the weekend before Halloween in 1999. The fort and beach will always have a deep connection to our relationship, making our afternoon swims even more special.

Works Cited:
Bode, Kelsey. "Committee Launches $1.1M Campaign to Restore Fort Sewall," Salem Evening News, 14 November, 2014, https://www.salemnews.com/news/local_news/committee-launches-1-1m-campaign-to-restore-fort-sewall/article_acfccf6d-9b27-5df1-9f73-42200ba2c0f5.html
"Fort Sewall." Essex National Heritage Areahttps://essexheritage.org/attractions/fort-sewall

Monday, June 21, 2021

Celebrating Another Year Around the Sun: Updates and Musings


The Birthday Girl
To say that I'm grateful would be an understatement. Ed and I managed to stay alive and healthy long enough to get both doses of our vaccinations. I am acutely aware that the pandemic is far from over and that we have no idea what to expect from the new variants. However, as I celebrated my 49th birthday last week, I felt incredibly blessed and overwhelmingly grateful to be living my best life in the place we've wanted to come back to the moment we left over 20 years ago: Salem, MA. 

Essex Walking Mall and Derby Square
Ed and I spent my birthday week on a "Staycation." I'm sure a lot of you are sick and tired of staying home, especially after a year of lock downs and closures. I'd probably feel the same way if we were still living in Staten Island, NYC. We hated our apartment. We hated our neighbors. We felt trapped in a two bedroom apartment surrounded by people who didn't -- and don't -- take COVID seriously. We felt like we were suffocating. 

But here in Salem, things are very different. We've been walking every night since the weather has gotten nice and we've met some wonderful people just by exploring our new home town. Our community has taken this pandemic seriously and, up until very recently when of governor dropped the mask mandate, everyone wore a mask and gave each other space. Even now some folks are wearing masks inside stores. It's made us feel safe.

Private Home in Salem, in Celebration of Pride. 
What? You didn't know we moved to Salem? Yup, after a particularly horrible weekend of dealing with inconsiderate Staten Island neighbors, Ed and I had a long talk ... we made plans. The original goal was to move to Salem in Spring 2021. That changed in October 2020 when we found the apartment we are currently renting. We packed up our Staten Island apartment, hired movers, and moved to Salem in December. It was the best thing we've done in a long, long time. 

The Eastern Glow from the Sunset: Derby Wharf
We had been talking about moving back to Salem for years. Most long time readers of this blog will recall the multiple trips we took every year. I've referred to Salem and Boston as my "second home towns" for over 20 years. The pandemic made us focus on what's important to us. It made us come to terms with where we were and where we wanted to be; with who we are ... and who we wanted to become. The move back "home" to Salem has given us the quality of life that we sorely missed in NYC or Texas. 

Sunset in Salem, the Day Before My Birthday
Our life here is simple. We both work at home, at least for the time being. Ed is still at his old job and I'm teaching online. After work we have a very early dinner and then we go for our walk down to Derby Wharf. We weave up and down the streets to look at the old houses. These June days we've been stopping to smell the roses, literally. Salem residents love roses! Sometimes we grab a coffee and sit on the Wharf. Sometimes we sit in the Common. And we talk. We talk about our plans and our dreams. We talk about history and magic. We talk about us. 

The Evening Sky After the Rain
We talk about the upcoming school year. I'm going to be a student again! I applied to Simmons University for a MS LIS in Cultural Heritage Informatics. Not only did I get accepted, they gave me a pretty good merit scholarship! They're going to transfer six credits from the Queens MLIS program. Most importantly, they waived the core classes. YAY! That means I get to start with the "meat" of the program! HURRAY! 

I started to look for GLAM (gallery, library, archives, and museum) positions in collections management,  curatorial research, and education; and I've started to look for local adjuncting opportunities. CUNY is moving to in person instruction starting this Fall, and that means my City Tech gig will probably end soon. It's ok. It's time to firmly plant my roots here.

First Time Eating at a Restaurant Since March 2020! (Yes, we were outside)
While this year has been challenging and awful, it brought unexpected revelations and opportunities. I'm not sure we would have moved back to Salem if it wasn't for the pandemic. I don't think I would have applied to Simmons. Teaching online during a pandemic took everything out of me. It also showed me that there are multiple ways to teach to multiple audiences. The pandemic and the Trump presidency demonstrated the importance of good, accessible public education and the necessity of information literacy education for everyone. As the GLAMs shut down in the pandemic, many figured out new and inventive ways to reach their public. I want to be part of this new digital era of GLAM collection access.

Happy Birthday!
This birthday was special in so many ways. I'm alive, healthy, and vaccinated. That's worth a celebration in of itself. I'm embracing this new Path and new me. I'm counting my blessings and creating a life that I want to live. Moving to Salem with my Ed is only the beginning of this awesome journey. Change is happening and it's good.