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Dear Readers,

I have been back in Seattle for three weeks and the time has come to end my blog on life in Lithuania in 2009.  I want to thank all of you who have read this blog over the last nine months — the daily readers, the periodic visitors and the random hits.  I have thoroughly enjoyed writing it and I believe that doing so helped me to enjoy my time in Lithuania much more than I would have without it.  I was more aware of my surroundings, opportunities and experiences as a result of blogging.  Writing the daily posts pushed me to articulate my experiences and reflect on them, as well as simply serving as a record of my life in Lithuania.  I participated in activities and tried new things just because I thought they might make an interesting blog post — and had lots of fun in the process.  I made new friends through my blog and included old friends in my life from afar.  I especially appreciate all the comments I received through the comments section, emails and in person from readers who encouraged me to keep writing.  One day I might return to the blogosphere, but for the next nine months at least my daily writing will be of the academic variety as I work on my dissertation.  Hopefully in a few years you will all get to read my book on Romas Kalanta and Lithuania in 1972.

I won’t say farewell, but iki pasimatymo (until we meet again).

Amanda

In honor of the Baltic American Communities in Washington State exhibit currently on display at the Mickevičiaus Public Library in Vilnius, here are some famous people that you may not have know were/are Lithuanian-American.

NFL Quarterback Johnny Unitas

NFL Linebacker Dick Butkus

Tennis player Vitas Gerulaitis

Film director Robert Zemeckis

Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis

Actor Charles Bronson

Although I know that my ancestors came from the British Isles, my family has no sense of ethnic heritage as English, Welsh or Irish.  After I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I spent 18 months in England working as an intern.  I lived in Bath, which is in the West Country where some of my relative came from.  I discovered that the mincemeat pie my grandmother made for Christmas was an English tradition.  That’s the closest I came to identifying with my roots.

When I started studying Lithuania, I got involved with the Lithuanian-American community.  It was such an eye-opening experience to see how important their ethnic heritage was to them.  They have dance groups and song groups.  There is a  Saturday school to teach children how to speak Lithuanian.  They celebrate Lithuania’s independence day and have ethnic traditions for Christmas and Easter.  They wear national costumes.

Through my involvement with fundraising for the Baltic Studies Program at the University of Washington, I was also able to get to know many Latvian-Americans and Estonian-Americans.  By participating in their community events, I was able to vicariously experience what it was like to have a strong sense of ethnic identity.  I gained a real appreciation for the ways in which  my friends were both Americans and Lithuanians or Latvians or Estonians.   I also gained a greater understanding of the immigrant experience.  I realized that my ancestors had much the same experience when they came to America 200 years ago.  I am grateful that America has this duality — our own American culture but also the richness and variety of cultures of the people who have become Americans.

Because of this, I was very glad to have the opportunity to co-curate the exhibit on the Baltic American communities in Washington State for the University of Washington Libraries.  Not only was I able to hear the fascinating stories of the people who are included in the exhibit, I was able to help share those stories with people in Seattle and now in Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius.  It has meant a lot to me to be able to attend the openings of the exhibit in each city.  Sure it’s an ego boost when people compliment the exhibit — but mostly it just means a lot to have created something that people find interesting and that gives them a glimpse into the richness of American culture.

When the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania in 1940, the country did not resist militarily.  Lithuania’s political leaders at the time believed that they were no match for the Soviet army and military resistance would only lead to a great loss of life.  After the experience of the first year and a half of occupation, in which thousands of Lithuanians were executed and over 20,000 deported to Siberia, partisan bands formed to fight the Soviets when they re-occupied Lithuania in 1944.  The partisan war continued until 1953 when it was finally crushed by the Soviet authorities.  Two English translations of partisan diaries have been published by friends of mine.  I haven’t had the chance to read them yet, but if you are interested in learning more about the partisan movement in Lithuania and military resistance to Soviet rule, here’s the information.

The Diary of a Partisan, translated by Irena Blekys and Lijana Holmes, published by the Genocide and Resistance Center

Forest Brothers, translated by Laima Vince, published by Central European Press.

lenins-head When I first arrived in Vilnius, several people told me that I should read Lenin’s Head on a Platter about a Lithuanian-American’s experiences as a student at Vilnius University in 1988-1989.  I picked up a copy of the book and it sat on my bookshelf for several months until I met the author in person.  Of course, then I felt obligated to read the book — and I am glad that I did.

When I saw Laima again after reading the book, the first thing I said to her was “I am so jealous!”  While I don’t envy her experience of living in a Soviet dorm for ten months, I envy the opportunity to live in Lithuania during one of the most dramatic times in it’s history.  Laima was here when the popular reform movement Sajudis was formed.  She attended rallies and meetings and even served as a interpreter at the first Baltic congress of the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian reform movements.  She not only observed but participated in a mass movement that contributed to demise of the Soviet Union.  Oh, how I wish I had been in Lithuania at that time!

I have been assigned as the Teaching Assistant for autumn quarter’s course on Europe in World War II.  Even though this course is most directly related to my specialization, it was my third choice for a teaching assignment.  It is a “non-section” course, which means that I will grade all assignments and hold office hours to assist students — but I won’t have classroom teaching time.  Because of that, I put two American history courses as my first and second choices.  These courses would have given me teaching experience and I had heard good things about working with the professors.

That said, I am happy with my assignment.  Although I will be a grading machine for a course with approximately 100 students, I won’t be spending huge amounts of time preparing to teach my own sections.  I think that will be a more gradual transition into balancing TA responsibilities and my own work.  I hope to get a good start on writing my dissertation this fall so that I am in the groove when I (hopefully) have a teaching course in winter quarter.

I am also looking forward to attending the lectures for this course.  The professor has an excellent reputation as a dynamic and interesting lecturer.  I expect that the course will focus on the experience of Western Europe in World War II.  I know a lot about the Eastern European experience so the course will round out my own knowledge of this topic.

I do hope that the professor includes the experience of Eastern Europe in World War II.  Timothy Snyder, a historian of Poland, has argued that the US and Western Europe have failed to understand that Eastern Europe’s experience of World War II was very different than their own — and that this has and will lead to difficulties as Europe continues to integrate.  The West (and Russia, I might add) see World War II as a victory — but for Eastern Europe, the end of the war meant further occupation and domination.   East European Politics and Society a very interesting article by Snyder this year, but unfortunately it is not available on-line.  You can read a short article, Balancing the Books, about the importance of integrating the East European experience into the narrative of World War II on eurozine.com.  As an sort-of East Europeanist myself, I agree with him.

When I started this blog, I expected to write 3-4 posts a week.  During my first few weeks here, so much was happening that I wrote every day.  After receiving a lot of positive feedback from my friends and family — including some saying they checked my blog every day — I was both encouraged to write more frequently and felt a bit of pressure to do so.  Despite my dad’s assurances that he couldn’t image me ever running out of things to say, I was a bit anxious that I would face blogger’s block at some point.

A few year’s ago, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel.  I never actually wrote a novel, but I did attend several writers’ workshops.  Every published writer gave the same piece of advice, “if you want to be a writer, you have to write.”  They emphasized that it is difficult to sit down and write “cold.”  Instead they encouraged aspiring writers to write something every day, because the act of writing keeps the words and ideas flowing.  I have certainly experienced that with this blog.  Before I discovered the “schedule” feature in WordPress, I wrote and posted each day.  Now I often write two or three posts at a time and schedule them out.  But the discipline of writing on an almost daily basis has kept the words and ideas flowing.  I find that my readers are on my mind as I go about my day and I notice things that might be of interest to you.

I have decided that I need to maintain this discipline of writing when I return to Seattle.  After eight months in archives gathering materials, the time has come to start writing.  I find the prospect of writing a 300 page dissertation more than a bit daunting.  My plan is to make sure that I set aside time as close to daily as possible to write — not just read or think or do more research, but to actually write.  Even if I just write a paragraph about one small topic, I will have maintained the discipline of putting my ideas and analysis into words and onto paper (or at least onto the computer screen).  So thanks to my readers who helped me establish the discipline of writing — and wish me luck as I apply that skill to my next task!

With the assistance of my neighbor, I have now rescued two kittens off the streets of Vilnius.  I don’t worry too much about the many stray cats around town — they are surprisingly self-sufficient, keep the rat population down, and are probably being fed scraps by someone.  However, I cannot turn away from a kitten in distress.

I was walking across Cathedral Square one Sunday afternoon in July and saw a kitten running behind a group of teenagers and meowing loudly.  At first I thought it belonged to the teenagers, but they just looked down at it and walked away.  The kitten kept running up to people and crying so I walked over and picked it up.  It was very young and had an eye infection but looked healthy otherwise, with a plump tummy and shiny fur.  I suspect that someone’s cat had kittens and this one got an infection so it was dumped.  It was clearly seeking help from humans which makes me think it wasn’t born feral.  I just couldn’t leave the kitten there, crying in the square, so I took it home.  The poor little thing was terrified and hid in the corner of the box I put it in, meowing and meowing until it finally fell asleep.

I called my neighbor for help and we did an an internet search for animal shelters.  We called the two non-profit shelters in Vilnius, but both said they were full of kittens.  The city animal shelter, however, said we could bring the kitten to them.  When we dropped off the kitten, the employee on duty assured me that they would try to treat the kitten and adopt it out.  I knew that even if they ended up putting it to sleep, it would be a gentler death than going blind from the eye infection and starving on the street.  But I still cried as I left it behind.

This past Friday night, I was working on the computer when I heard a cat meowing loudly outside.  I looked out the window and saw a kitten lying in the street and a car backing up to go around it.  It appeared that the kitten had been hit and the driver was leaving the scene.  I knew that the kitten would die if it had been hit by a car, but I didn’t want additional cars running over it.  So I raced down the stairs and out of the building.  Fortunately, the light at the crosswalk up the street had just turned green.  I was able to run out into the street, scoop up the kitten and get back to the sidewalk before the oncoming traffic reached us.  When I actually looked at the kitten, it didn’t appear to be injured other than a torn ear that was bleeding.  I took it inside, cleaned the ear and put it in a box with a towel.  It meowed a bit then fell asleep.  It was too late to take the kitten to the animal shelter, so my neighbor provided litter for a make-shift litter box and helped me find the address of the animal shelter again.

On Saturday morning, the kitten was running around, eating and snuggling for petting sessions.  It was quite skinny, but otherwise seemed healthy and was certainly friendly.  Before taking it to the city shelter, I decided to call the non-profit “no kill” shelter and ask if they would take it.  I was relieved when they said they would, so once again I went off with a kitten in a taxi.  The young woman at the shelter said that they already have over 100 kittens that they are caring for so this one was lucky they took it.

I made a cash donation at each shelter to help with the expenses.  It breaks my heart that there are so many abandoned animals.  And it makes me angry that so many pet owners don’t take responsibility to spay and neuter their pets, which leads to more abandoned animals.  If I weren’t leaving soon, I probably would have kept a kitten, especially now that Bob the cat is gone.  But it is much too complicated to try to take a kitten back to the United States.  Hopefully they will find good homes here.

I went to Tallinn last week to deliver the Baltic Americans in Washington State exhibit to the Estonian National Library.  On Tuesday, the library staff and I hung the exhibit.  The exhibit opened on Wednesday afternoon with a lovely reception.  Once again, the exhibit was well-received — many people at the opening told me how much they appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the Estonian community in the U.S.  The library director commented that the photos are very warm and show the personalities of the people included in the exhibit.   I feel very fortunate that I was able to co-curate the exhibit, but even more so that we were able to bring the exhibit here to the Baltic countries.  And I am glad that I was able to personally attend the opening!

Presenting the exhibit book to the library director.

Presenting the exhibit book to the library director.

A portion of the exhibit in the library's 6th floor gallery.

A portion of the exhibit in the library's 6th floor gallery.

Bob loved to be held.

Bob loved to be held.

Three years ago, just before I started graduate school, I adopted a cat named Bob.  His previous owners didn’t want him any more because he was old, so I took him in.  He was a great cat — well-behaved, personable and affectionate.  Bob was 15 years old when I adopted him so I assumed that he would only live a couple more years and would pass away before I had to come to Lithuania to do my research.  He had other plans and was still active and healthy last fall as I was planning my departure.  My mom moved to Seattle to sublet my apartment primarily because Bob needed a good caretaker.

On Thursday morning, Bob died of heart failure.  I knew that he might not live until I returned to Seattle but, with only seven weeks to go, I felt sure that I would get to see him again.  I’ve missed him very much these last seven months and it hard to believe he won’t be there to greet me when I get home.

Needless to say, I have spent the last two days crying.  It was a bit embarrassing yesterday when I started crying in the reading room so it’s probably a good thing that the National Library is closed on the last day of each month. I was able to stay home today without feeling guilty.  I am trying to be productive in between bouts of tears, but it’s hard to concentrate.  Right now the work doesn’t seem so important — I’d rather remember all the good times I had with Bob the cat and grieve his passing.

Surverying his realm from the porch.

Surverying his realm from the porch.