CaptureA nor’easter is a storm that forms in a low pressure area that is associated primarily with the Northeast part of North America where polar cold air masses converge with warm ocean air over the Gulf Stream.  Winds swirl around in a counterclockwise direction around a low pressure zone, constantly blowing from the northeast off the ocean onto the land. Winds in a nor’easter can sometimes reach hurricane force and bring anything from rain to snow.  I’ve seen rain coming in through the edges of windows, or through ceiling after having been blown up under the eaves or shingles of the roof.  Everything blows sideways, trees come down, coastal areas flood, and many lose power.

Nor’easter storms were made famous in the book and movie, The Perfect Storm.  This week we got a decent nor’easter.  I have been looking at two feet of snow and still falling.  The drift in front of my garage is much higher yet.  In anticipation of the storm, I left my bright yellow shovel by my front door.  This was a good decision since I had to shove the door open because of the snow piles in front of it.  I would have had a four foot snow drift to get through to retrieve the shovel from the garage.  This way I could dig my way to the garage.  But then, I’m not going anywhere.

Nor’easterlies.  It is why I have a back-up generator for my house.  We remain safe and warm.  And the bread is baking in the oven.


My guard owl is almost buried.


The entryway after several rounds of shoveling.


Yet more fell after this…

Where in the World? (This Christmas)

This is the time of the Chinese New Year’s celebration.  Everyone goes back to home villages to visit family during this time of year.  This is not an easy trip to plan since you can only buy train tickets two weeks ahead of time, you can only buy them from the place of your origin, and you are competing with millions of other travelers.  Having seen the lines of people trying to get home for the holiday in China, I once foolishly wondered why they put so much effort into going home given the barriers.  I merely had to think about my own family to put it in perspective.  Take the movements and placement of members of my family this Christmas for example…

From Shanghai, where they live, to the Middle East for a reunion with fellow teachers, and a visit with a father on a kibbutz, taking a cloth Christmas tree in their suitcase.

Swaziland doing voluntary service.

Paris serving as a nannie.

Going from northern Minnesota to Florida, leaving winter behind, to have fun with the grandchildren.

San Diego Cluster:  Where Daisy the pug received steps to enable her to get up on the couch.

North Dakota Cluster:  Where everyone primarily spent Christmas with the individual outlaws this year.  A quiet day at home with turkey.

Phoenix Cluster:  From NYC to Phoenix to join family and extended family snowbirds for the holidays and see how much Taylor loved her new chair.

From Michigan to NYC to explore the Big Apple.

Michigan Cluster:  In the snow and rain from Minneapolis to Michigan via Rockford to stay with a niece overnight (who was apart from the North Dakota cluster), in order to join others arriving from Boston for the gathering, all prior to the Michigan snowbird going southwest to see how much Taylor enjoys her chair, and how well Daisy can get on the couch.  Returned to Minneapolis, transporting Minnie Mae’s china with them in order to give it to the South Dakota niece enroute home from Philadelphia.

Minneapolis Cluster:  From South Dakota to family gatherings in Minneapolis, on to St. Louis to move a family member to Philadelphia, then back to Minneapolis where the dishes were to be picked up, having been brought there from Michigan by an uncle and aunt.  Alas the dishes were forgotten in the back of the uncle’s van, while they proceeded to arrive back at home in South Dakota.

The uncle was last seen with the back of the van open along the highway hoping against hope that someone would steal the dishes before next year’s Christmas round robin.

Multiply this by millions…

Antiques Road Trip

dishesMy grandmother, Minnie Mae, died in 2002 at the age of 101.  She lived a life that was rich in relationships and poor in material wealth.  Minnie Mae was of Ostfriesland, German stock.  Her mother, Gretchen, immigrated to Iowa when she was a teen-ager where she initially served as a maid.  My grandmother told stories of Gretchen having to sleep while standing up in the kitchen of the “English” who employed her.  Gretchen married Claus, another person of Ostfriesland ancestry, and my grandmother was the oldest of their ten children.  Minnie Mae’s father took her out of school before she finished 8th grade in order to put her to work help in a farm household.  She always regretted that she could not finish 8th grade and that she didn’t learn how to use a computer or play a bass clarinet.  Gretchen died young, leaving many younger siblings to my grandmother’s care.  Later my grandmother was widowed during the height of the depression with two young daughters after my grandfather died in a car accident.  She remarried, had two more daughters, worked cleaning houses, and taught me to can vegetables and bake bread.

At some point along the way, I ended with a set of china that once belonged to my grandmother.  My mother thinks she must have brought it to me when I lived in Iowa, on her way home from Minnesota where she had helped move my grandmother from her subsidized apartment to a nursing home. I have it in my mind that this set was bought for my grandmother by my Aunt Ruth, since my grandmother had virtually nothing in terms of luxury items.  I somehow associate it with my aunt’s visit to Ostfriesland and German china, but the back of the dishes say they are Japanese…

These dishes have recently been on the road.  I took them with me when I moved to Michigan from Iowa many years ago and then to Massachusetts more recently.  As I moved into my smaller house in Massachusetts I had a conversation with my daughters—would either of them want the china?    Having gotten no interest, I began to search for a family home for them.  Since they were purchased by my Aunt Ruth for my grandmother, I went to a cousin who had several daughters.  Yes, they were interested.

Now—how do I get them back to Minnesota?  I packed them up and waited for the opportunity for a road trip for the dishes.  This came a year later when I had to drive to Michigan.  The china came with me.  Then they sat for 6 months in Michigan waiting for someone from Minnesota to come visit family in Michigan.  In the meantime my cousin moved to South Dakota and her daughters to Pennsylvania and Paris.  Finally another aunt came to Michigan and I proposed she take the box back to Minnesota.  By this time, my cousin had forgotten about our conversations, so my aunt had to send a photo of the dishes to my cousin who sent it to each of her daughters.  The one in Paris wanted them.  Off to Minnesota the dishes went.  Now they sit in Minnesota waiting for my cousin to come through to get them and take them to South Dakota where they will sit until her daughter comes back from Paris and moves to who knows where?

We used to do what we called “grandma exchanges” where we would drive and meet half way and pass my grandmother off from one person to another.  Now we just move her china across the country.  My grandmother would have been very interested in who ended up with the dishes.  But mostly this interest would have been focused on how we used technology to communicate, who visited whom, and how the dishes kept everyone in relationship with one another.  The china itself would have been a side dish.

Geographers, Pigs, and College Administration

Academic geographers often become college administrators.  We would speculate on the pattern at my national geography meeting every year while missing a friend who has gone over “to the dark side” and thus could no longer get away to attend our geography meetings.  “No time for field trips,” we would say, lamenting their loss.

One theory related to the pattern of geographers becoming administrators was that we worked at the intersections of large areas of learning–science (earth sciences), social sciences–the more obvious, humanities (historical and phenomenological), and the arts (cartography).  We understand different ways of approaching the world and different “ways of knowing.”

Another theory that has been floated is that geographers are both “lumpers,” or big picture people, as well as “splitters,” or detail people.  We move back and forth across scales of analysis, a useful trait for college administrators.

I have recently been reading the book, On Thinking Institutionally by Hugh Heclo. I summarize some of Heclo’s thoughts that have led me to construct a third theory on the relationship between geography and college administration which is related to a desire to construct (we ask questions such as–where would be the best place to put a road?) or take abstract theory and see how it is lived out on the ground.  Of course, geographers become city planners who have the ultimate task of trying to take theories of the good life and turn them into concrete spatial expressions on the ground (in collaboration with real people). But first let me summarize some of Heclo’s thoughts:

1. Thinking about institutions is not the same thing as thinking institutionally.

2. Skepticism involves exercising our critical thinking facilities—a good thing, but our modern inclination to distrust typically goes beyond this for various reasons that range from contemporary history to individualism.

3. A “critical theory” approach, associated with an