What’s Next? Nothing Like A New Year To Start Thinkin’ About Tomorrow!

We have received a number of beautiful “year in review” letters in holiday cards this year (you know who you are) and I always tell myself when I read these that I’m going to write one and put it in cards next year but I never do! I enjoy reading these letters so much that I thought I’d write a year-end post holiday card “year in review” blog.  Here it is:

It has been a year full of many great moments and at the top of the list is our son Ian’s graduation from Oberlin College with high honors in history.  Emily, Geoff, and I and Ian’s cherished grandparents–90 year old Manny and his faithful and loving wife of 50 plus years Annette–all made the trip to Oberlin, Ohio to experience the joy of all of his hard work and determination.  It was truly a moment.  Ian bravely accepted a teaching position at an inner-city school in Detroit and is discerning the priesthood, graduate school and what path he will take.

Emily Ann continues to thrive at Penn State.  She is perfectly suited to her communications major and she has blossomed as a Lion Scout, tour guide, Lion Lines representative and Kappa-Delta Associate VP.  Her exuberance is infectious.  She leaps out of bed in the morning to run her 4 miles every day and always has a smile on her face. One of the many benefits of being in State College is that she is here!  We see her more often that we would have if we were still in the Lehigh Valley, and that has made her transition (or should I say our transition of her in college) easier and certainly more enjoyable.  We often meet for Sunday brunch at the Nittany Lion Inn and sometimes she makes the big four mile trip home to sleep in her own bed on the weekends.

Thanks to my good friend and yogi Lisa Hogan, I took up yoga and a more dedicated exercise routine this year.  It took a hard fall down steps and a bout of Lyme disease for me to realize that taking better care of myself through exercise is a smart move.  Now I’m more active and feel 100% better.  Having a big birthday this year also motivated me to move it.  My wonderful sisters Teri and Julie helped me celebrate with a wonderful lunch at–my favorite–you guessed it–The Nittany Lion Inn!

I traveled a lot this year — several trips around the US and India, Ireland, and Canada.  They were incredible experiences and I took away some important lessons from them.  I’ll remember always the heat, the busy streets with rickshaws, the exotic and delicious food in India!  Can’t forget the friendly people, the many pubs (everything seems to spill into a pub) and Book of Kels in Ireland and our family time (which included two trips to hospitals because of my fall–not fun at all) at Niagara Falls.   Geoff and I also had a blast discovering the strip district in Pittsburgh and enjoyed the ethnic foods there.  What a great place to go if you are hungry!

We continue to meet great people every day in State College.  I LOVE entertaining and we hosted several dinners and parties.  That’s the most fun for me!  I love cooking and having people over.  I’ve enjoyed reaching out into the community by lectoring at the Catholic services at Pasquerilla Spiritual Center and planning to start a women’s clothing resource at the Women’s Resource Center.  And I’m really proud of my work at the Schreyer Honors College. Meeting the Schreyers and seeing (and living on a daily basis) their commitment to Penn State has been an honor. At a public meeting I heard the words “If Nikki had only done one of these things, her work here would be considered a great success, but she accomplished both.”  Seasoned administrators have told me that my approach — a full assessment of programming–my work ethic and collaborative nature are administrative assets.  It feels good to bring together a group of people and to achieve a goal.  I can identify strengths that are serving Penn State and that feels fantastic.  Penn State has done so much for me and I want to continue to serve Penn State at my highest and best level. The beauty is that this is such a comprehensive university, it is easy to find increasing ways to be challenged, grow and serve.  I put a high premium on loving my work, and I’ve always been able to do that at Penn State.  What a blessing this has been, due in part to a wonderful mentor years ago who encouraged me to stay with Penn State.  It will be TWENTY years in June!  What a great ride!

My trim, fit and ever younger looking husband Geoff of 27 years (where did they go) has lovingly supported me and always says: “what do you want to do?” when I come up with my next. big. plan.  I can always count on him for outstanding coffee, always being here, and usually coming around to my way of seeing things.

Speaking of passion and loving, my long time dream of publishing a children’s book became a reality!  We are getting very good buzz and response from Madam President:  Five Women Who Paved the Way and I could have never done it without Jane Ramsey, a gifted illustrator and friend, Schreyer Scholar Abby Kennedy and Penny Eifrig, our publisher who believed in the project.    Here’s a link to the book!!   We have lots of talks and signings lined up and more to come!

SO what’s next?  I’ve got lots of “to-dos” on my personal and professional list!

Oh, and I’m keeping those twenty plus pounds OFF that I lost almost four years ago, I’m learning French, and I’m plotting my summer travel plans!!  Life is beautiful, I’m so grateful for mine and to have you in it.  Thanks for reading!

Happy, Healthy New Year, everyone!  Here  comes 2015!  Wow!imgres


Chop Some Broccoli, Have A Revelation

Loss. Love. Beginnings. Daring. Living. It has been a wonderful year of growth for the Gutgold family! It was hard to just pick up and leave what we had in the Lehigh Valley; wonderful neighbors, family and good friends, work I loved (never did call it work), a volunteer community we enjoyed and a church where our children received their sacraments. (It took a whole year to make the move to this house and technically we still own some houses there — but probably not for long). Our son Ian is off in another state beginning his career, and we are so proud of him, though we miss him. And, lucky (at least for us) Emily is right here in State College, a sophomore at dear old State. But it won’t be long before she sets off for her own life. The way it should be.

Recently I fell down steps and got Lyme disease, but I’m fine!  I’m almost 100% back to putting weight on my right foot and I am on an antibiotic for the Lyme.  I think falling down the steps was a blessing because it made me look at the black and blue mark on my hip, which made me realize it was more of a tick bite than a black and blue mark.  The 103.4 fever clued me in, too.  After I started to heal, my good friend and fabulous yogi Lisa Hogan introduced me to yoga and though I’m definitely in the VERY beginner stage (I’m not that flexible), I am learning to breathe, relax and enjoy and respect that my body needs a rest sometimes.  That was an awesome lesson!  Thanks falling down the steps!

Over the past four months Geoff and I have settled into our cozy and comfortable new home in State College and as anyone who has ever moved knows: it is not nothing (pardon my grammar).

There was the searching for a new home (they sell fast here), the packing (dread), the moving, the losing,
(I still don’t know where my winter boots are and Emily keeps asking about her treasured copy of the third Harry Potter book in her collection–we will find it, Em) and the unpacking. There are still six very large boxes that are unopened in the garage.  Funny what you can live without.

But this morning, as I chopped the broccoli in anticipation of dinner guests (I love to entertain and we’ve made wonderful friends here already), I could sense my mom in the air. (She’s been deceased since 1993, and did not see the last three of the homes we’ve lived in). I never sensed her in our house in Fogelsville, but I often felt her spirit in the large kitchen in the house where we mostly raised our kids in New Tripoli. She would love that house, and the property, where sunflowers grow very large.

The sense of her presence instantly made this house a home. Maybe we should play a little Joni Mitchell tonight? Something’s lost and something’s gained, from living every day.


The silverware holders from Mom. We are using them tonight!

Life is a miracle. I’m so grateful to be here.  I’m grateful to everyone in my life and even to those darn steps that I tumbled down.  Namaste.


Reading of the Crimes Against Women and Girls in India Made it That More Shocking

I recently returned from a week in Delhi, India as part of a tremendous five week academic travel experience with Schreyer Scholars.  It has been an incredible experience.  I was drawn to India for a number of reasons, including my research on gender.

One of its most celebrated structures, the Taj Mahal,  was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the remains of his cherished wife.  It took more than 20 years to build and is one of the most outstanding examples architecture, which combined Indian, Persian and Islamic influences. It remains one of the world’s most celebrated structures and a stunning symbol of India’s rich history.

Female gods are also a big part of Indian culture.

But, open any newspaper in Delhi,  or the New York Times, and the crimes against girls and women are hard to comprehend.  For weeks I had been forcing myself to read about the monstrosities and on my first morning there, I opened the Delhi Times and read about the rape of a seven year old girl as she walked home from a market.  Somehow reading it while in the country made it more real, and even more horrific, if that’s possible.  Indeed, we were warned not to leave the International Guest House without male accompaniment, and indeed the gated entrance and the personnel have repeatedly warned me to stay inside and wait for a male to come to pick us up to take us less than a mile to the Shim Ram College of Commerce for daily events.   By the end of the week, I just wanted to walk somewhere — alone!


While in India we visited the Centre for Social Research photo[6]where we learned about the grassroots programs to prevent violence against women.  The director explained that education and intervention are the key.  One of the ways women are marginalized is through staring.  Some men harass women by straight staring at them.   The clothing of Indian women range from saris to jeans and long sleeve cotton tops, even in the blaring heat that was all around us.  When the director of the Centre for Social Research spoke about the number of women in politics in India, it didn’t sound much different from what we have in the US, where, like India we are trying to reach a critical mass.  Though in India, there is a movement to have at least 33% women in government, we have no formalized movement in the US. There are 20% women in the US Senate, which is not a critical mass, but more  than the 11% of women in government in India.    The same gender hassles:  appearance over performance and the accusation of women being too emotional to lead–still haunt women in politics both in India and the US.

Will the increase of women in government in India find more forceful demand for the end of crimes against girls and women?   Who knows and only time will tell.


On Leaning In — Circa 1991– and Letting Go — Circa 2014

It has been an eventful year, but then, I’d like to think that most of my life has been eventful.  What is life, if not one event after another?  Some more celebratory, for sure, but events, nonetheless.   One of the best parts of this past year when I accepted a new job, in a new town, has been meeting new people, especially a network of women at Penn State who have become a great support system.  We meet regularly, sometimes in a group and sometimes just one-on-one over coffee or lunch to discuss how things are going.  What has sprung from these new connections is the idea to edit a collection of essays by women academics, asking them essentially to “tell your story.”  An observation from our informal group meetings is that many of us lacked  female role models as we carved out our lives and careers and this book promises to help younger women learn how others have made choices and forged their way in a career that is underrepresented by women.  As I consider what to include in my chapter and as our son, Ian is about to have a birthday, I thought of this “pre-lean in era” big lean:

August 23rd was Ian’s due date.  You are probably thinking:  “not one of those ‘when I gave birth’ blogs, right?”  It seems that every woman who has ever given birth has a “my-experience-was-unique story” and most people are bored to tears by them. Including me.  I remember siting in the OB/GYNs office where pregnant women over shared more detail about their childbirth experience that I ever wanted to hear.   While childbirth is a true miracle, I would prefer to talk about something else.  Like how about the third season of House of Cards.  I am a lady in waiting for that, for sure.  Can’t believe we gorged on the whole second season in two sittings and now we are just waiting.  But I digress.

I was 26 years old when our son Ian was born, and I felt ready to be a mom.  But when he came into the world on July 10, 1991 instead of August 23rd, I was not ready exactly.  In fact, I promised Penn State Allentown (now Penn State Lehigh Valley)  I would teach the second summer session that ran from July 10 through about mid August.  Instead, early labor meant that I was being prepped for a C-section at just about the time my class was going to start.  Anyone who knows me well knows I’m almost never late for anything. Both my mom and dad were never late and they instilled the timeliness trait in me. If anything, like my dad, I usually show up a bit early.


Ian, Age 7


Ian, the Oberlin College graduate, 2014

It drove me crazy to think I was going to let my class down.  I can’t not be there, I kept thinking to myself as the doctor explained that I was going to have the baby early.  So, I sent Geoff to the campus to open up the class, distribute the syllabus, and told him to please do not say: “Your instructor is having a baby tonight, so read chapters 1-3,write a reaction paper instead of a face-to-face class tomorrow night and your instructor will see you right here, in this classroom on Monday.”   Instead he said something like:  “Your instructor had an emergency…but the class will continue as scheduled.  Plan to show up Monday, and she’ll be here too.”   I’ll never forget the look on the faces of my students when I showed up the following Monday and explained the reason for my absence. But it felt right to fulfill my agreement to teach the class.   My word is my bond.  Beisdes, Ian was “booked” in the neo-natal intensive care unit till mid-August.  In essence, perfect timing.

Ian will be 23 this July 10th.  I know it is cliche, but it is hard to believe it.  Gretchen Rubin, author of  The Happiness Project, an inventive book I very much enjoyed, describes the journey and passing time of motherhood this way:  she says, “the days are long, but the years are short.”  I think she means that when you are in the middle of parenting young children and there are a multitude of responsibilities:  scout camp, clothes shopping, cleaning, cooking, school supervision, driving (lots of driving)  and room parenting, vacation planning, etc., etc., etc., it seems like it will never end.  But, one day, you turn around and the child who consumed so much of day-to-day living is grown.

I thought I dodged the “empty nest” syndrome by taking a new job and kicking up enough new dust (moving, new house, new almost everything) but the graduation of Ian from college (Oberlin, with high honors, history) and the realization that he’s off to his first real job in the fall (an incredible one in Detroit, Michigan, teaching for the Cristo Rey School) makes me realize that Gretchen is right:  the days are long, but the years are short.   Ian was a fascinating, intense child:  obsessed with keys, computers, building, space and passionate about politics in 2008.  I think especially because I never had a brother, I marveled at all the toys he loved:  legos, Thomas the Tank, Matchbox and Brio and I got into his childhood in a way I simply didn’t expect.  I loved being the mom of a boy, and that caught me by surprise.  Though we always traveled as a family,  and he took a trip to Peru in college, he chose to spend a semester volunteering at a homeless shelter in Rochester, New York instead of the usual study abroad and it led to his life’s calling.  He is an associate in the order of the Basilian priesthood.

There isn’t as much day-to-day mothering anymore and to let him live his life and reach his potential, there is a certain amount of letting go.  That doesn’t mean I’m not really looking forward to (okay, counting the days) till we head up to Rochester to visit and have a little family time at Niagara Falls.

Ian has been a wonderful son who continues to make our lives more interesting and wonderful because he is here.  I feel very fortunate to be his mom and I’m really proud of the man he is becoming.

And I hope he lives his life just the way he came into the world:  in his own time and on his own terms.




Geography Matters – Go n-éirí an bóthar leat!

We are our places.

That’s why I can’t wait to see and experience Dublin, Ireland to get a sense of the Marys who have served as presidents, to visit the archive at University College, Dublin and to talk with older locals about the two women–the only two ever–to serve as president of the tiny island always looking to brand itself as a more independent, progressive place, and not a place in the shadow of Great Britain.

Mary Robinson was upper-class and from the south, and Mary McAleese was a blue collar woman from the scrappy North, both fiercely Catholic and both questioning women’s place within Catholicism.  

When a new politician bursts on to the scene, one way to learn and know about them is to go to their home.  If you do that, you are likely to “get” them.   I’ve had some memorable trips to get the geography of women I’ve written about:   I recall a fun family road trip to Salisbury, North Carolina to see the childhood home of Elizabeth Dole (grand) and to wander around the downtown she warmly described in her biography.  A visit Skowhegan, Maine to see Margaret Chase Smith’s childhood home–the same one her mother had been born in– and you get a sense of the constancy and conservative nature of her upbringing.  Shirley Chisholm’s Barbados and Brooklyn roots were evident in her style, a ramrod seriousness combined with the hubris of city dwellings.  Pat Schroeder, who moved multiple times as a child, as her father pursued a career in aviation learned to make friends wherever she went and brought that sensibility to her adult life.  When I interviewed her she said bluntly:  “it’s all geography.  If you want to know about a person, ask where they are from and the circumstances of their lives.”   Elizabeth Dole, spoke “fluent southern” on the campaign trail (for better as a spouse of a candidate, but worse as a candidate herself) and Hillary Clinton, who was born to a “middle class family in the middle of America”  — was the only girl in her family, rejected from joining NASA because of her gender and avowing to right that wrong with her future career.

I research and write about women in non-traditional fields.  It is what I know so in a year that has brought many changes:  new career direction, new town, new house, it feels good to  do what I know best — read and write about women.   So today I’m thinking about geography as I work on a new book about women world leaders, and do some “make-this-house-a-home” maneuvers in our new home in State College. 

Go n-éirí an bóthar leat — May I the road rise up to meet you!


POTUS with a Grandmotherly Gravitas

It is funny to me that the buzz around Hillary Clinton-as-grandmother could be anything but positive.   The Guardian sums up some of the snarkiest coverage.

I mean, isn’t a grandmother the most enduringly lovable creature ever?   Didn’t Hillary Clinton have a likability issue in 2008?  Uh, I think this will help.  She just had a shoe thrown at her for goodness sake and who would throw a shoe at grandma, huh?

Having never met either one of my grandmothers (I came a bit late to the party) I someday dream of the awesomeness of my own fantasized grandmotherly ways.  Having recently moved into a charming home in the leafy “suburb” of State College (that doesn’t seem quite right to say), we are surrounded by young families.  Very friendly neighbors, upon hearing we have a college age daughter, have missed not one beat asking “does she babysit?”  More than once I’ve said, “I think so, but if you are in a pinch, think of me as a resource.”

Kids are the best.  They lighten every minute.  I’ve been hoping to have some corny kiddy craft moments in the kitchen (did you know a milk carton makes an excellent bird house, gingerbread house, and teeny weeny dollhouse)?  Images of Hillary Clinton doing those kind of grandmotherly things are going to be well received.

So, I’ll be surprised if Hillary Clinton’s impending grandmother role does anything but boost her in the eyes of all.   And I can still see and hear her delivering her keynote address at the 1996 Democratic National Convention.  Her motherhood was her rhetorical imperative– “I want to talk about what matters most — children and families” —and her image got a nice boost.   She intoned that she wished she could be sitting around a kitchen table delivering her speech and,  as Tipper Gore said in her introduction of her “she is a friend to children and families.”  (See the great shot of Geraldine Ferraro in the audience!)  Her book, It Takes a Village, outlined her own call to arms for raising children, citing the extended family of grandparents as a vital resource.  And, what’s more, I think she is earnest about her desire to make the world better one child at a time.

So, watch my words, Chelsea’s  “special delivery” will come just in time and become a  major boost in candidate Clinton’s (and I do think she’s running) campaign.




The Warmth That Comes from Speaking Up and Speaking Well

After reading Gretchen Rubin’s wonderful book, The Happiness Project a couple of years ago, I started my “never” and “always” lists.  And after I went to the Reagan Library over Spring Break last year to dig up some research on Corazon Aquino for a new book project on women world leaders, I promptly added to my “always” list that every spring break I would go somewhere warmer.

Well, this spring break I honored my commitment to head to the warmth, really only marginally when I headed back to the eastern part of the state to present my research to two groups over spring break, the AAUW in Easton and the Commission for Women at Penn State Great Valley.  I think my car thermostat said 20 as I drove toward the Lehigh Valley on Friday and as I drive back to State College today the temps will be in the 50s.  But the real warmth came not from the temperatures over spring break but from the chance to connect with good friends, hang out with my freshman daughter who was home and gear up for spring, which is right around the corner.   And I could hardly resist the invitations to speak, which always lights a fire inside me.

Working with the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence on trying to identify a keynote speaker for next year’s conference with the theme Transformative Teaching and Learning, I am struck by how important it is for researchers to also be effective presenters.  When we come across the name of a top-notch academic, my first instinct is to search YouTube to see if he/she has given a presentation that is on the Internet.    It is the same commitment to “speaking up and speaking well” that in part inspired the ROAR (Recording of Academic Research) contest co-sponsored by University Libraries and the Office of Undergraduate Education at Penn State.  We invited undergraduates at Penn State to speak on camera about their research for 1-2 minutes.   The entries are incredible.  Our students are truly inspiring.   Top entries will win modest cash prizes, but the real reward will be their own improved speaking skills.  You’ll likely see some of the wonderful entries online or on campus soon.  They will be shown in the morning  Shaping the Future Summit at 8 a.m. on April 1 at the Nittany Lion Inn.  The keynote address is 8 p.m. at Eisenhower at features Peter H. Diamandis.  You can find *his* speaking videos all over the internet!  The ROAR recordings will  also be shown at the Undergraduate Research Exhibition on April 9 so keep your eyes open.

So, go warmer (even if it is the fire inside you) and speak up and speak well!

At the AAUW luncheon on March 8 with (l-r) Emily Ann Gutgold, and good friends Samantha and Kathleen Ferrizzi

At the AAUW luncheon on March 8 with (l-r) Emily Ann Gutgold, and good friends Samantha and Kathleen Ferrizzi



At Penn State Great ValleyThere they are:  my Spring Break Take Aways.


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