Category Archives: friends


This entry is scheduled to post on my blog while I’m at lunch with two friends who have happy plans ahead that will take them away from southern California.  Two friends who I might not see for a very long time.  I’m feeling a bit emotional about it right now…

These are the friends who stepped in last summer to care for TobyJoy-kitty as her health declined.  I was alone and at my wit’s end and so so tired.  Their gift was such a huge one.  Here’s a reprint of the post that I wrote after that event (and for those who are interested in more of the TobyJoy saga, the post I wrote just after she died).

Lake District by train, originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl.

We returned home last night after an absolutely wearying day of travel. It was a day where we where often singled out of for “extra ” security checks, where we stood in lines for hours at each transfer point, where the ridiculousness of it all nearly pushed me over the edge a few times. All in all, a good sign that it was time to be home and to return to some semblance of our own daily rhythm.

Waking up this morning in my own bed and the exact time (even w/o an alarm clock) that I usually do each morning…just felt so right! Irvine’s humidity is so delicious. the familiar birds chirping outside are my birds,” and so forth.


We came home to something so important I’m not even sure that I can write about it cogently (and if this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, you can chalk it up to jetlagged delusion). Two weeks ago, just as we were preparing to leave on our trip, our beloved kitty TobyJoy had a severe neurological incident. So severe that she needed round the clock care. And as our lives were completely derailed by concern for her, we knew that we were also about to leave the country on this trip to England that was so super-important to my kids–both of whom are Anglophiles, and one whose biggest wild dream is to start boarding school in Wales next year. We were faced with this horrible catch-22 situation. TobyJoy needed to be brought to a quiet controlled environment if there was any chance of her healing, because over-stimulation was causing more seizures of the kind that initially caused her brain damage, but she was in such a state that she could hardly be cared for by anyone other than a family member. Boarding in her in a kennel simply wasn’t a good option. It was super hard for us to see Toby so ill (if you’ve never met her–it’s hard to imagine a cat with a more whimsical quirky character), and we were just aching with seeing her hooked up to tubes and so deeply drugged that she wasn’t aware of her surroundings. We wondered if it woudn’t be more humane to put her to sleep than to continue her medical trauma (and at that point it wasn’t even clear that she would ever eat or drink on her own again). all of these ideas were on the table and I was trying to make decisions, a dear friend who is studying neurology, whose research is specifically on small mammals, stepped in and offered to care for Toby so we could go to England.

She (along with her partner and some other friends), developed a round-the-clock schedule for caring for Toby once she was released from the ER. She ferried Toby to vet appointments, cleaned up after numerous toileting problems, prepared a specialized diet, and administered a dizzying amount of meds every day. All while we were traipsing the British countryside. Our friend wrote daily updates, sent videos, and worked with our vet to troubleshoot problems.

When we came home last night and met Toby, we found a kitty that’s still suffering from occasional seizures, but recognized Catgirl, held her tail high as she explored, vocalized pleasure at being around our family again, and now remembers how to use the litterbox. In short, she seems happy. Certainly a bit different than before, but happy.

As I tried (and failed) to express to our friend just how much it meant to us to have her care for Toby, she simply replied, “Your family had this summer planned where you were all out pursuing your dreams…I wanted you to be able to do that…”

Anything I try to write now, can’t even touch the goodness of that gift.


In years past, I’ve had some momentous birthday celebrations. I’ll certainly never forget my 38th, and my 39th went well, too. However as my birthday approached this year, I found I just wasn’t up for a fundraising campaign. Such efforts take a lot of work, and…there are so many other things taking my mental energy already. I didn’t even know if I wanted to have a party at all this year, or just spend time with the people that I’m closest to–or perhaps even alone.

However, at the last minute I sent out an invite to some friends and suggested that they gather for a casual evening at chez Remy to celebrate along with me. And I think the evening turned out to be just the right way to mark my 40 years. Friends tell me that I was giggling so hard at moments that my lips were turning blue (I suspect that this was actually a bit of blue frosting off of some cupcakes, but either way….such fun).  There were big hugs and and tasty food and plenty of animated conversation.   That friends traveled from near and far to join me, means more than I can say.

I didn’t take any pictures–I wanted to be fully present and not behind the lens. But a friend managed to snap one pic of me, and I’m grateful for the way it shows my uninhibited joy. Forty years is a long time to be spinning on this planet, and all forty have them have been wonderful. I can’t wait to see what the next few birthdays will bring my way!

scholarly (or not)…

When I host parties, I like to mix up old invitations between old and new acquaintances.  So whenever anyone new arrives at the door, I make them endure a round of introductions wherein I typically introduce my friends by their graduate school affiliations.  Over time, I’ve come to realize that intro-ing my friends by their scholarly identities is pretty snobby of me, because it tends to marginalize those of my friends who aren’t in academia.  So at my last party I attempted to make introductions in a new vein, and it was far harder for me to do.

The thing is, I don’t think my academically-inclined friends are any more brilliant or interesting than any of my other friends.  But I think I’ve moved in academic circles for so long, that I’ve fallen into this habit–we tend to define ourselves by our field and our institutional affiliation.  And perhaps most significantly, as someone who is a nontraditional student, I worked so hard to get me some academic credibility that I think I probably wear it too boldly on my sleeve.  I don’t do so to raise myself above anyone else, but to acknowledge my own journey from housewife to scholar.  It’s been a hard-earned path.

As I’ve considered the qualities I’d like to have in future romantic partners, I’m weighing the pros and cons of dating other academics.  While it’s nice to be with someone who can understand the tensions and pleasures of my research, I wonder if it makes more sense to pursue a relationship with someone outside the ivory tower?  Because it could allow for more balance in a life that’s already rather stress-filled with writing deadlines, grant applications, and teaching (not to mention the pressures of simply finding a job!). On a related note, I’ve found Kelly’s list about what she’s looking for to be rather helpful in my considerations, but it doesn’t mention career paths specifically.

What do you think, internets?  Is it best to choose a partner who follows a similar career path, or one who is different (but complementary)?

lean on me…

Couch party
A whole slew of friends came over last weekend to help me “break in” my new couch.  If you haven’t yet made it over, I hope you’ll consider dropping by–it’s a very comfy place to sit with a cup of tea and solve the problems of the universe.  🙂

PS:  Aren’t my friends just lovely?

Only good…


I spent time with two different close friends yesterday and both said something similar to me about my life since separating from John.  Both affirmed how much good has happened for me since then.  One even went as far as to say that “only good has come of your splitting.”

I don’t know if I’d wholly agree that it’s all been “good.”  After all, it’s been emotionally difficult (even traumatizing) to navigate the realities of sharing the custody of our children, and of facing the future without a spouse at my side.

However…I am the kind of person that tends to rebound quickly from setbacks.  That’s a lesson learned from so many difficult experiences early in my life.  And I was already headed on an exciting professional trajectory, which in some ways is only made smoother now that I don’t have a partner to negotiate with over the details of my choices, or to distract me from my goals.  There’s an absolute headiness that comes from knowing that I’m charting my own course now, and can depend on my own strength to get me there.

I’m reminded of an experience I had taking a friend out paddling for the first time.  Usually, I take it pretty easy on those who aren’t used to the physical toll of canoeing–it’s hard work!  Often we don’t even make it to the PCH bridge, which is about a mile away from our launch point.  However, this friend (a vibrant divorced professional woman) was a powerhouse in the canoe, despite not having an athletic lifestyle.  When I asked her about it later, she said that she’d learned many years ago to do things herself: when she remodeled her home, landscaped her yard, and so forth.  That being single taught her to tap hidden reserves of strength.  I could see that when she paddled and I could see it in her life.  And now….I’m learning that lesson, too.

feeling blue…

Today in sunny Pasadena, rambling through the Huntington gardens, one can’t help but feel more than a little bit blue.  By blue I don’t mean sad, I mean staring into the blue blue sky and being overwhelmed with its beauty blue (my thoughts in this vein inspired by William Gass–many thanks to David for the recommendation & my very own copy of On Being Blue):

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”pilgrimgirl” id=”72157625414624608″]

This life…

It’s funny that as much as I want to get home now (am bone-deep aching to sleep in my own bed again), this life that I’ve built here in Pasadena will not be an easy one to leave.  The solace of wandering the grounds of the Huntington during the early morning hours, the quiet rhythms of working deep in the recesses of its reading rooms, and the network of friends in its environs will be sorely missed.  And while I can’t believe that I’m saying this now, I’ll even miss those long late night (or early morning) drives up the 5 or 57 as I schlepped back and forth between here and Orange County to spend time with my children (oh, Prius, how I love your sing-along-able stereo!)

Pasadena is now coffee meetups at Busters, morning light on the sunporch with a purry Tigris-kitty, working dinners at the Novel cafe, deep evening conversations on overstuffed white couches, dissertation sprinting until my fingers ache, pumping iron at the Y, flannel robes & snuggly-soft blankets, your poetry, cheeseburgers stuffed with potato chips and extra pickles, sharing favorite vistas at the Huntington, sweet-smelling care packages by snailmail, collegial conversations, the corinthian column of Christmas, wearing cons & jeans nearly everyday, and the sound of rain on rattly-old glass window panes. But perhaps most memorable is meeting people who don’t know of me as John’s wife or as my children’s mother–who know me only as Jana. And who like me just that way.

My pilgrim soul has found so much delight in these steps of my journey.  Thank you.


My plans for this trip had to change at the last minute, due to my confusion over the ferry schedule back to Seattle.  So instead of an extra day to explore Vancouver Island, I gained a day to explore Seattle (how odd that it is, really, considering that in just a few days, John will be settling into making this city his new temporary home…).  One of the joys of such a spontaneous change is that I was able to quickly make contact with a Seattle blogger that I’ve followed for several years.  She and I shared a friend in Sara, but have never met.  We also share a love for gardening and the Japanese culture, as well as experience with cancer.

The change in travel plans has meant less time as a tourist—I never did even make it to a tea shop in Victoria—but more time talking with fellow travelers at my conference.  Last night I ended up sharing dinner with a woman that I’d just met, after we learned that we had children of similar ages and temperaments (and we’d bought similar take-home gifts in the UVic bookstore).  As we walked on we realized that both of our spouses build/manage databases and we also share a passion for 19th-century women’s history.  Sharing a cab to the ferry this morning I had similarly provocative conversations with scholars from California,New York, and Illinois.

As I write this, I’m looking out over the rolling waters of the Juan de Fuca strait and dreaming about paddling those waters someday.  My very small taste of the Pacific Northwest & Vancouver Island has me convinced that this is a place to return to again soon.  A place that I could even call home someday.  But even more than the connection that I’m finding to the cities and structures of the area, I’m feeling full of the conversations and connections that’ve emerged in the past few days.  I’m coming home full of ideas and possibilities, ready for even more such experiences at the conferences coming up in July, and for my research projects.

early rising

steps to nowhere, originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl.

This morning I awakened spontaneously, at about 6am. Perhaps it was the soft light filtering through the windows that woke me, perhaps it was the noises of Friends around me stretching and shifting in their bunks. In any case, I figured that as long as I was up so early, I would attend the early Meeting for Healing that was scheduled before breakfast.

We were staying in Temescal Canyon, just a few miles away from Malibu, with Quakers from all over southern California. It was our family’s first regional Quaker gathering–so much of it was new to us.

For example, the night before I’d watched a group of Friends worshipfully dancing in rhythm around candles. That had been strange to me, but beautiful. I hadn’t ever seen anyone participating sacred dance before. I’d sat and watched out of the corner of my eye while chatting with a few other women. Amazed at bodies young and old, in rapture. I’d been tempted to join in, but realized that I could enjoy it better from watching on the sidelines…

This morning as I stepped into the room where the Meeting for Healing was taking place, it seemed like any other Meeting for Worship. A small group of Friends sat in a simple circle of chairs. The one main difference was the empty chair in the center. Within a few moments a woman stepped forward and sat in the chair. All remained silent for quite some time. And then another woman walked over to her and placed her hands on the other woman’s head. Then hovered her hands over the seated woman’s shoulders, neck, and arms. Then she walked around and hovered her hands over the Friend’s legs. Then she returned to standing behind her chair again and placed her hands on her head for several moments.

After some silent time, that woman left the center chair and another woman took her place. A Friend from the circle came up behind her and wrapped her in a warm embrace, holding her tightly for several minutes.

This process continued through several different people who chose to sit in the chair. Friends spontaneously rose and ministered to them in very physical and loving ways. Through embrace and touch.

I was moved by this so deeply that it was hard for me to process what I was seeing. Such generosity of spirit. Without rules. Without gender. Without words. Wrapped in love, hope and faith. It was as mystical and as strange to me as the dancing had been the night before. But it was also completely comfortable and familiar.

When I was in the hospital last summer, our Meeting gathered and prayed for my healing. Then, I had no idea then what exactly it meant for Friends to minister to each others’ bodies and spirits in such an intimate manner.
But I’m beginning to understand now.
And I’m also slowly realizing that those times I am so insistent on carrying my own burdens…
even when they are weighty…
Perhaps sometimes
I can let a Friend reach out and help me along the way.

Picture of some stone steps along a pathway near the Lodge where we at our meals at Temescal Canyon. I loved the stonework all around the camp area and especially here, covered in red leaves.

on swimming, by moonlight

Moon Hiding, originally uploaded by vajra.

During my recent trip to Albuquerque I took very few pictures. I think I needed to just experience the trip rather than document it visually. So here are a few verbal ‘snapshots’ of my travels to share with you:

–Desert rain as I arrived in town. The shuttle driver telling me that I should have brought an umbrella. The smell of the wet hot breeze wafting across adobe plazas.

–Swimming by moonlight in a courtyard pool (this very moon that vajra captured in her photo), after sweet-talking a security guard into letting me (& friends) stay past closing time. Then the tolling of bells ringing out over the city, marking the late hour.

–the characters of Albuquerque including the eccentric Ben Michael whose rustic restaurant and anti-corporate rants charmed me, the baker who admitted that he liked processed bread better than the flaky handmade pastries of his that I enjoyed, the waitress at Julia’s who was so hospitable that I couldn’t help but adore her quirky cafe (and oh, those watermelon napkins, the hot green chile sauce that liquified my sinuses and the honey & frybread that reminded me so much of mom’s sopapillas that I was a child again), and the random strangers, including the hardened-looking man smoking with his buddy who was so eager to give me directions thru Old Town.

–agave tea at the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) cafe, that made my throat feel so much better

–my colleagues: who are brilliant and witty. I loved sitting around the table & hearing about their research and their dreams for the future. There’s such comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in my passion for the past, and that there are others who share my quirkiness. I especially appreciated their tolerance for my complete lack of direction, so when I said “I think that cafe is somewhere over there,” they were willing to follow (and gently nudge me in the correct direction along the way).

–the salty-looking shuttle driver as I left town, who had a PhD in Philosophy and who helped me remember that anyone might be so terrifically interesting and well-spoken that I need to be ‘present’ even at 5 am after a night of fitful sleep.

PS: pic above taken by Vajra, who I met up with (in person!) while in Albuquerque. What fun it was to get a text message saying “I’m wearing a large blue hat and sitting in the plaza on the west side of the San Felipe church.” The wandering around that ensued as I asked locals “which way is west?,” “Where is the church?,” etc, was the best possible treasure hunt!