A Good Year

For many people, 2016 was, to quote from social media, “a dumpster fire.” Between what feels like an incredibly large number of celebrity deaths, and the events of November 8, it certainly had its moments. For me, though, it has been one of the best years in quite a while.

The atmosphere at work changed from the very first day of the year. We started a new chapter (excuse the pun), which led to my getting a promotion. The job I have now is not anything I ever imagined I would do. However, I enjoy it. I’m good at it. And most importantly, my work is respected.

I dated. For many of you, this is no big deal. It was huge for me. Maybe I’m too particular (this did not involve any commercial web sites), maybe it’s social anxiety, maybe it’s this, maybe it’s that. Whatever. For a few hours this summer, I was able to put that all aside and hang out with a guy.

My best friend from high school and I started our birthday celebrations a couple months early this year. We spent a weekend in New York, having splurged on tickets to Hamilton. The show was (as you’ve probably heard once or twice) amazing. Getting to spend hours walking around the city, on beautiful, sunny days, talking about everything and anything, was equally wonderful.

Later in the summer I was asked to be the Vice Chair of the Hartford Jewish Film Fest (March 16-26, 2017…see you there!). I’ve been on the committee for a few years now, but this is my first leadership role with the Hartford Jewish community. The film fest falls into the category of ‘lots of fun and lots of hard work,’ and I’m looking forward to being more involved than I have been.

img_4893The next step in my birthday celebration was a week in Wisconsin with my family. We
stayed at a lake where my grandparents used to have a house. I was able to visit with friends I hadn’t seen in a few years, introduce my niece and nephew to some very dangerous (but incredibly beloved) playground equipment, and spend copious amounts of time outdoors. Swimming in the lake is one of my favorite activities, and I don’t get to do it nearly as often as I used to. Even the morning it was 48°, I was in for a dip before breakfast!

img_5152When my actual birthday arrived, I celebrated with a bike ride from West Hartford to Old Saybrook. It was another warm, sunny day, and perfect for the 54 mile trip. By mid-September, the water in Long Island Sound has reached a perfect temperature. It was incredibly refreshing after spending four hours on the bike. My mother met me at the beach, we had lunch, did some shopping, and then she drove me home. Later that day a friend and I went to Mozzicato’s, where I had just the right amount of cake.

Though I have branded myself as Cycling Archivist, over the past few years I have done increasingly more of the former and less of the latter. This fall I had the opportunity to process a collection for the Watkinson Library at Trinity College. It’s a small collection (less than three linear feet), but I welcomed the opportunity to get back in the game. Working full time at one job, and trying to fit in another four or five hours a week at a second job, is tough. There are some interesting pieces, though, and I’m glad I got to work with them (I wrote five blog entries between October 28 and December 14 about the collection. Search for ‘Wells’).

Cycling. It has continued to be a huge part of my life. On the last day of July I realized I was a mere 35 miles away from hitting 500 for the month on my road bike (I don’t keep track of distance on my hybrid). I couldn’t let that milestone slip by. My pace for the ride ended up being my fastest ever. Most Saturdays I have a friend to ride with, which is wonderful. One Sunday I went out with some racers. It was fast, and I couldn’t really keep up, but I gave myself points for going on a group ride (I’m a slow rider and generally avoid group rides because of the frustration they bring). My biggest cycling accomplishment of the year, though, is my new personal best record for biking to work. As of this writing, I haven’t missed a day commuting since February 23. That includes the day in April when it snowed, which I admit was a

img_5768
Commuting in December’s single degree temps.

mistake. Excluding weekends, holidays, and vacations, I have ridden to work 191 days in a row. For the year, I have 218 commutes. Yes, there have been days I’ve switched vehicles at lunch. But I still got in the bike ride. Who knows what Mother Nature has in store, but I am trying to get as close to February 23, 2017 as I can!

One of the best holiday gifts I got was the weather in Atlanta during my recent trip there. I was able to ride my sister’s bike each day, including Christmas Day, when it was 75°!

Don’t worry, the year wasn’t perfect. Amid all these high points, were certainly were some low ones. But the first time in a while, the highs were more numerous. A lot of this was luck, and things I won’t necessarily be able to replicate next year. Friends have had marriages end in 2016, and have lost family members and close friends. Certainly for them, this was not the best year. I hope everyone else, though, can look beyond the top headlines, and see that there were many good things that happened in 2016.

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Surviving Un(der)employment

This is my story. It will inevitably be different than yours. It is not so much a guide as a giant thank-you note.

As of Monday morning, I have returned to full time employment. I am incredibly excited to be the new Digital Cataloging Specialist at the Hartford Public Library. I will be splitting my time between maintaining the classical music collections and working with the collections of the Hartford History Center. Though I have spent much more time working with historical collections, I am equally excited to be working with the music collections.

Altogether, I am incredibly fortunate. My un(der)employment only lasted six months. I was able to work part time, so I was never completely unemployed. Financially, it wasn’t easy, but I made it through without any permanent damage. The worst was the perfect storm of heating bills (I advocate summer underemployment), Christmas credit card bills (again, no pesky Fourth of July presents), and the property tax bill for my vehicle (hmm, that does happen in July, too). I could have lived quite happily without January.

There is so much that I thought about doing during the lull in my employment. I considered trips to the beach, museum visits, taking the train to New York for the day. If given a choice, I would have chosen to be out of work during the warmer months of the year, those more conducive to cycling. It doesn’t really matter which half of the year a person is out of work, though. While underemployment provides plenty of free time, it is rather stingy with the spending money. I constantly faced the emotional tug-of-war of wanting to leave the house, but not feeling that I could afford to. Fortunately, I live in a great place, with highly talented people, and plenty of affordable entertainment. Over the past six months I attended Envisionfest, Nightfall, Other People’s Stories, The Ear Cave, and two events at The Hartt School, most recently the Women Composers Festival. I even attended the Colgate Women’s Basketball game at UConn, which added to my alma mater’s [thirteen] minutes of fame. All of these were free! Ok, the Colgate game was free with four years paid tuition, but I digress… I volunteered for The Connecticut Forum and was able to attend their events, too (the Vision & Brilliance panel was phenomenal). Without a steady paycheck, I managed to be happier and do more things than in the past when I had much more money.

While events are fabulous, the emotional support of my family and friends has been priceless. My parents did everything from sending me home with leftovers to making sure I could attend my nephew’s first birthday party. My sister put her son in front of the webcam whenever I needed a smile. A giant hat tip to everyone with whom I regularly interact on social media, as well.

A growing part of my life, particularly since the fall, is my relationship with the Mandell JCC. I am in awe of how much more than a gym marionmembership it has become for me. Toward the end of the summer I was invited to participate in the Stavis Leadership Forum (a joint program with the JCC and the Jewish Federation) and asked if I would like to be on the Hartford Jewish Film Festival committee. I can’t do justice to either in this paragraph, but both have been great experiences. For the film festival I suggested a Kickstarter campaign, and the committee was willing to try it. The extra time I had allowed me to put together our project (please watch the video and support us!). Most recently I was recommended to help with a project for the JCC’s centennial. In the process, I found out my Great Aunt was an Executive Director of one of the agencies that became the JCC. I guess I’m meant to be involved!

Sure, these six months were not entirely puppies and rainbows. There were job interviews and rejections. Weeks went by without there being any positions posted that grabbed my attention. Evenings out with friends were far more likely to include a glass of ice water than wine. As a contractor, if I didn’t work, I didn’t get paid, which took away from the glamour of hurricane and blizzard days. I’m also still recovering from the fear that I wouldn’t get this job, and would eventually find myself in a nightmare situation, such as unemployed. In Greenland. But I survived by having a strong, supportive, and varied network that allowed me to enjoy life as much as I could. This had the possibility of being a very dark period, but my community kept it light. Certainly there were days when my spirits were down, but those days were the exception. I don’t wish un(der)employment on anyone, but if you do find yourself there, I hope you have plenty of community support to see you through.

Field Museum of Natural History

My grandfather has a louse named after him.
How did that happen? Research.
Where did that happen? Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History

I have been thinking a lot about the Field Museum in the past two days, since they announced they will be cutting staff, research, and refocusing their mission. As a professional in the library/archives/museum field, this deeply saddens me. It saddens me even more as the granddaughter of a Field Museum research scientist.

My grandfather, Melvin Alvah Traylor, Jr., spent the bulk of his career researching for the Field Museum. In our family, it is simply known as “the museum.” Though our visits to the Midwest were more often to the family lake house, no trip to Chicago was complete without a day spent at the museum. My most vivid memories are the visits behind the scenes, viewing specimens that Grandpa collected over the years. On his collecting trips they acquired more birds than anyone would today, using methods that are no longer best practice. I remember the smell of the chemical preservatives as each cabinet drawer was opened, the birds neatly arranged, all with paper identification tags attached with string. Audrey Niffenegger writes of this so well in The Time Traveler’s Wife, that I felt as if she’d stolen my memory.

Years after he retired, Grandpa continued his work. The “new guys” welcomed him, and he enjoyed working and learning with them, as well. I have met some of these people. Even if they didn’t continue to praise his work, I would still think of them as wonderful. They came to his funeral, and afterward to the house. One regaled us with stories from his own research.

To me, the Field Museum embodies research. To cut research is to change its entire spirit; a spirit that is not meant to change. Want to switch from handwriting notes to typewriting them and later to word processing them? Fine, that is progress. Want to switch from shooting massive numbers of a single species of bird to methods that are better for everyone and everything around us? Excellent, social responsibility must be valued. Regardless of the methods, the products of research are unique and invaluable. There is nothing unique or valuable about raising admission prices so a visitor – from in or out of town – can view a commodified exhibit and purchase a chain hamburger or latte.

Research lives on, long after the researcher. It is meant to be built upon. Last I knew, my grandfather’s papers are still in desks and file cabinets in the Bird Division. While I was in graduate school, I spoke with the department about possibly processing the collection. Now, as a slightly more seasoned archivist, I am glad I did not. This wonderful body of work needs to be added to the archives by someone with a much greater knowledge of the subject than I have, so it is in the best condition for future researchers to reference.

So please, Field Museum, reconsider. Think about all the wonderful material at your disposal that can continue to grow and provide knowledge. Continue to provide a unique and valuable experience for your visitors. Give them something they can not find on every street corner. Research, teach, and inspire both your staff and the public. Allow someone else’s grandchild to blog, years from now, about their love for an institution that has always been 900 miles from home, but deeply rooted in their heart.

The Hidden Plot

One woman, one bicycle, and a search for dead relatives.

I am not a genealogist. I used to work with a woman who was fairly intent on finding a connection between herself and everyone else in the building. That is a bit intense. I believe it is good to have some knowledge of family history, but grandparents, great-grandparents, and a layer of cousins or two is good enough for me. However, combine anything with bicycling and exploring Hartford’s history, and I’m game.

Garden Street Synagogue. Jacob Richman was a founding member of the congregation.

Regular readers of this blog (*chuckle*) will recall a post from earlier this summer in which I discussed my great-grandfather, Jacob M. Richman. Recently, a cousin found that post. On Friday evening I had a phone conversation with him, during which he told me about the work he is doing on our family tree. He asked me what I knew about when Jacob came to Hartford, and if we have any idea when he actually came to the country. None of this information is easy to find. When the cousin sent me the link to the information he has gathered, I admit, I was hooked.

The timing was really perfect. I need things to focus on in between sending out job applications. If I had called the cousin when he originally contacted me, I would have had all the resources of the CHS at my disposal. Alas, having waited a couple weeks, I had to sign up for the free two week trial of Ancestry.com. After reviewing much of the information on the tree, I decided it was time I did some exploring.

I have visited my maternal grandparents grave many times; it is quite nearby. Never, though, had I seen the graves of my their parents. Locations in hand, helmet on my head, and camera in my pocket, I set out for the cemeteries.

Hartford’s first cemetery, now known as the Ancient Burial Ground, has always been in the heart of the city. As the years went by, the residents of the city came to the conclusion that living so close to death and disease might not be the best policy, not to mention the cemetery was filling up. For their next burial ground, the residents went north, starting Old North Cemetery. Later, Hartford’s first Victorian era cemetery, Spring Grove, would be put into place a few blocks away.

United Synagogues Cemetery, F. D. Oates Ave., Hartford

The Jewish cemetery where Jacob and Hannah Richman are buried is adjacent to Spring Grove. It is one cemetery, occupied by three Jewish organizations, one of which is now known as the United Synagogues of Greater Hartford.

From what I had found on Ancestry, I knew Jacob’s grave was “X53.” Unlike some cemeteries that label their sections, the only markings visible were on the stones themselves. I had no idea where to start. Looking back, I’m fairly certain I started at Row A. It took a while to get to Row X, but eventually I did. Walking up and down each row, I found a few other cousins as well. There was plenty of room between rows for me to walk with my bike. In most cases, there is so little space between headstones, everyone underground must be pretty cozy.

Jacob and Hannah Richman

Next I rode south to Zion Hill Cemetery. I have passed Zion Hill countless times. I couldn’t get to my graduate courses at Trinity College without going by. Yet, I had never been in there. Part of the reason for this is the surrounding fences and gates do not make it appear very welcoming. I entered through the first open gate I found, only to realize later that there were many open gates, and a main entrance.

Zion Hill was too large to employ the start-at-row-A method. Luckily as I rode around, I was able to find the portion of the cemetery occupied by the Hartford Workmen’s Sick Benevolent Association. Even more

Workmen’s Sick Benevolent Association Cemetery, Zion Hill, Hartford

fortunate was that Morris and Paulina Scharr were in the first row I walked down. Since they were “G32” and “G31,” respectively, I then knew which direction to head to find their daughter and her husband, Bessie Scharr and Jacob Zwillinger.

Even though this morning I had found an obituary for another daughter of Morris and Paulina, Ida Scharr Zwillinger, I had somehow missed the fact that she is buried next to her parents. I was glad her headstone caught my eye as I was heading back out of the cemetery (it seems that Bessie Scharr’s first husband died, and following Ida’s death, Bessie married Jacob Zwillinger; it cuts down on the relatives at Thanksgiving).

Jacob and Bessie Scharr Zwillinger
Ida Scharr Zwillinger and her parents, Morris and Paulina Scharr.

Within two hours I had biked through the city, located the markers for several relatives, and visited two Hartford cemeteries I’d never explored before. It was a great way to spend a crisp, late summer/early fall day. Overall, finding the cemetery plots was fairly easy. Some of the roads were a little sketchy, but being on the bike reinforced to me how close these memorials have been to me. I love living in a place that I know so well, yet there is always someplace new to explore.

I was left with one unanswered question. Why did we give the dead people such a great view on the city?

View of the Hartford skyline from Zion Hill Cemetery.