Renaissance Fun

Last Sunday we waded through a severe traffic jam and made our way to the Renaissance Festival in Shakopee. I’ve always loved renaissance festivals as a “liminal space” where weirdness is celebrated (or perhaps a two-month-long Ritual of Reversal).  The ancient, magical, and the downright strange can all be found in myriad permutations. My first couple RenFests were in Houston, although to tell the truth I don’t remember much except jousting and disgusting turkey legs, and the fact my band teacher played trumpet there
We knew one of the street performers and therefore went for many years in North Carolina. We enjoyed watching the juggling show “London Broil” and the irreverent comedy duo of “Hey Nunny Nunny.” At one London Broil I had the rare privilege of being called up on stage while they threw machetes around me.
We have attended the Minnesota RenFest for 4 of the last 5 years, once in the pouring rain. The Minnesota RenFest is different. The shows are more serious, the food is better, and there are dogs – a lot of dogs. We toyed with idea of bringing ours but we didn’t want our arms jerked out of our sockets as they enjoyed the plethora of smells. Also, I was a little concerned that they would chase down one of the little tortoises pulling a cart (donations benefit the herpetological association!) and try to eat it.  So, dog-less, we enjoyed mead and hair-braiding, looked at snakes and turtles, watched people play chess, watch a sheep -herding demonstration, and generally enjoyed being away from Roch for a day.
We wanted a picture, and naturally you can’t take a picture at a Renaissance Festival without a photo bomb. I thought it was icing on the cake personally 🙂
Can’t wait for next year!!!

Dog Days of Summer

Minnesota has taken a turn for the miserably hot. The last week has been toasty for us – 80’s, 90’s, humid, full sun, the kind of day you stay inside to stay cool. The Romans associated this sultry time of year with Sirius, the dog star, leading to the term “dog days of summer.” But for us these have been dog days in another way.

We have been thinking about getting dogs since before we got married. Chris is a natural with dogs, and I like… certain dogs. When we were growing up, we had the sweetest fluffiest collie named Buck. Of course, he got old and died and I was very sad. We also had a short-haired collie named Mariah who liked to jump the fence and run away. A lot. I think she gave me “doggie abandonment issues” and made me nervous to entrust my heart to another canine.

But everyone loves my parents’ golden retriever, Shadrack. He’s sweet, affectionate, and gentle… only barks when he falls in an empty swimming pool and can’t get out (so he’s not the smartest)… and he’s pretty!


Chris knew some wonderful golden retrievers when he was growing up as well, Declan, Delaney and many others.

So when we found out we could get a house we began to look at dogs on the Minnesota rescue, Retrieve a Golden of Minnesota or RAGOM. They don’t just have goldens; in fact, we had our hearts fixed on one that was basically a black lab when, lo and behold, his foster family adopted him.

As soon as we moved in, we started the process, which involved a very thorough application and a home visit. We passed and then went on vacation for a week. On our way back Chris saw the posting for two golden retrievers that the foster wanted to adopt together. Of course, we couldn’t meet them right away. We had our friends’ dogs for a week… and then went to Black River Falls… and the foster family was out of town…

Finally last week we went to meet the doggies and see if they would be a good fit. And this is what happened:


We brought home Duke and Earl on Saturday and are really enjoying them. They make us get up early, take us on lots of walks, and give us lots of doggie love. They are two big, fluffy, beautiful golden retrievers, sweet and eager to please. Duke looks like he’s part poodle because he’s ultra curly and has a pom-pom end on his tail; he’s more chill and submissive and will go lie in his crate when he gets tired. Earl looks like a teddy bear or an Ewok, follows us everywhere, pants a lot, and is the last to lie down and first to get up. I think he’s also a little smarter. They are both really fun to have around and give my cleaning a lot more purpose. I like to see progress in my cleaning and there is always progress to be made when you are chasing down gobs of fluffy golden retriever hair.

Earl has already eaten a few things that we consider inedible, but – sigh – dogs will be dogs!

Pomp and Rites of Passage

Last weekend, Chris graduated from medical school with about 60 other medical and graduate students. As I thought about the anthropological significance of this occasion, I realized that it was a rite of passage, that rite of passage being medical school.

Rites of passage are celebrated across the globe in many different cultures. A famous example is the Native American vision quest, in which youth went away from their families to fast and survive in their wilderness and seek guidance from the universe. Von Gennep, the fellow who came up with the theory of rites of passage, separated these rituals into three parts; separation from the group (when the individual leaves the community); the liminal space (a kind of “in-between” time); and reincorporation into the group.

Graduation from medical school is a very different sort of a rite of passage than a vision quest. Instead of initiation into adulthood, it represents initiation into Medicine. Medical school a part of this rite of passage. Students leave their families for school and spend four years in the nebulous liminal space of medical school, a time full of uncertainty and lack of belonging. Medical students go through an initial “white coat” ceremony (no white coats at Mayo, but they did have an oath swearing) to separate them from their peers and family. They then undergo two years of brain-crushing basic sciences, the life-changing ritual of dissecting a cadaver (overcoming the natural aversion to opening up a human body), and the life-sucking whirl of clinical sessions. Finally, at graduation, they are reconnected to society in their new role: doctors!

Graduation is a big deal. Families from across the country gathered to celebrate this important milestone. Famous journalist Tom Brokaw gave the commencement speech, welcoming graduates into the complex ever-changing world of medicine. One-by-one the graduates were “hooded” with the awkward ring of cloth signifying a graduate degree.

Afterwards, we were treated to a lavish feast – I mean, reception- cheese and crackers, vegetable, little salads, sandwiches and even bananas foster and chocolate-covered strawberries. Families took pictures in the hall as the graduates milled around in their ornate regalia. Afterwards people filtered away to further celebrations – graduation parties, elegant dinners. We ate at Michael’s, the same place we went for my graduation last year.

Graduation. Celebration. Rites of passage. A great chance to see everyone and celebrate the transition to the next phase of our life. 76

Houses Across the Country

I’ve already talked about how different areas of the United States respond to snow. Recently, through discussions with family members, I have been thinking about how dramatically different houses (and labels for houses) are in different parts of the country.

This is mostly related to geography, of course. Is the land swampy or dry? Can you have a basement without it flooding immediately? Do things rot so fast that houses have to be made of brick to last more than ten years? The different kinds of houses in the place you grow up affects your own expectations of a house. Adjusting to the selection in a new place can be extremely difficult.

From five months to eight years, I grew up in a ranch-style house in California. It was a great house as I can see now – close to a park, lots of amazing plants, pretty good neighbors (except they did light the dog on fire by accident)… But when we went to visit my grandparents, I was always enchanted by their multiple story house and basement. What was a basement?! What was a second story?! I wanted stairs. They seemed so glamorous.

I got stairs when we moved to Houston. The three houses we lived in over the 11 years of our “Texidency” were all two-story brick buildings. A basement? In swampy, floody Houston? Ha! An attic? Is that what you call the little space above the ceiling that’s carpeted in fiberglass and soars to 400 degrees in the summer? Yeah, we have one of those.

I only ever lived in dorms and apartments in North Carolina, so I can’t really speak to the style of houses. But in Minnesota, there are a lot of basements. In fact, the most popular style in Rochester appears to be “split foyer” or “bi-level split.” (Apparently this saves money in the building – less building above the ground.)

My husband grew up in Virginia and has had to adjust to the difference Minnesota housing. To him, a ranch style house was always a “long, one-story” house. He’s accustomed to two story houses and only saw basements in older houses in Virginia.  What’s a bi-level split and why is it so popular?

In fact, when we talked with a realtor in another city, she mentioned that Rochester is known for its split foyers. This is probably related to the continuous presence of residents looking for affordable housing.

The type of house you are accustomed to affects your experience. Are you used to coming in, taking off your shoes, then trotting up the stairs to deposit your coat? Are you ready to move between the kitchen upstairs and the hang-out room downstairs? Are you willing to have your bedroom in the basement?

We have just begun the house-looking process, and I’m sure I will have more notes on this issue as our search progresses. For now, let’s just say this: every place is different. Adjusting to the different houses in different areas isn’t just a matter of environment or real estate or comfort. It’s a matter of culture.



So… What Is Anthropology?

When I tell people that I majored in anthropology, many people mention dinosaur bones. Not so much. Others discuss Stonehenge, which is a little closer to the truth.

Believe it or not, I had never heard of anthropology (the study of humankind) before I started at college. But once I looked into it, I thought it was the most brilliant idea. The study of people groups! I had always felt a little bit like an observer, on the outside looking in. Now I discovered there was a term for that: participant observation.

When I found out that anthropology is divided into four main areas – archaeology, physical anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistics – I was even more excited. I wouldn’t have to pick! Everything was available, under one roof!

When I was much younger I wanted to be an archaeologist. Inspired by Indiana Jones and an excellent book about Inca treasure hunting called Cruise of the Condor, I looked forward to digging up secret tombs in the depths of crumbling temples. As time passed, I forgot about particular aspiration and moved on to other possibilities – nursing, writing, teaching.

But in college, I rediscovered that childhood ambition. And when I learned that one of our professors went on digs to Mexico, I was definitely hooked.

I loved my cultural anthropology class. I loved all the random stuff that we read about, the sampler of articles from many different books and periodicals, everything from an article on sugar and the sugar trade to geriatrics. Pretty early on, I knew that I was going to pursue anthropology as my major. I had never met anything I loved learning and writing about quite as much.

Early on, we learned about the concept of cultural relativism. The father of anthropology, Franz Boas, came up with the idea – that our perceptions, our worldview, is not absolute or distinct, but integrally tied to our culture. In order to understand other cultures, we have to see what is happening from their point of view rather than our own. We have to step out of the box of “ethnocentrism,” the belief that our culture is superior to every other, and instead accept each culture’s beliefs and mores on its own merits.

When I learned about cultural relativism, I felt like I had made a major discovery. I felt free not to judge people.

I really liked the Anthropology department. Not the location – no, they stuck those wild, cheery, energetic anthropologists in the basement. You know why? Because they could handle it! Because the anthropology professors were the motivated, caring, thoughtful kind of people I wanted to be and they transcended the basement.

Over the next three years, I learned many interesting things and had many fascinating experiences. I took a Gender and Power class and interviewed female pastors. I went to Mexico and did archaeology. I took classes on African cultures and studied the blurry and insubstantial concept of race. I did an honors project on Baptist Latino churches.

I have never regretted my major. Anthropology was the perfect pre-nursing major because it taught me about seeing things from other people’s point of view.Through anthropology, I learned how to talk to people, to  listen to people. I discovered how irrelevant race is. I mean it when I say this: it opened my mind.

So that’s what anthropology is – the study of culture and people. A discipline that seeks to encourage mutual understanding. A field of study that we could all learn from.

Because how can we love our neighbor if we don’t try to understand him or her?