December 29, 2007
December 26, 2007
Prospero Ano Nuevo from Mike and Megan
Another year has come and gone, and we are still here and kicking in Albuquerque. We have spent the last few days frantically getting ready for and celebrating Christmas. We recently attended a La Posada in a neighborhood here in Albuquerque, which is where residents re-enact Joseph and Mary’s attempts to find shelter so she could give birth to Jesus. A young woman dressed as Mary sits on a burro and is led by a young man dressed as Joseph, and they stop at houses in the neighborhood asking for shelter, and are refused. They are accompanied by children dressed as angels, a depiction of the star of Bethlehem, and a group of Matachinas dancers, all wearing shirts commemorating the Santo Niño de Atocha. At the last stop, the Catholic church, the doors are opened and they are allowed to come in.
We have no momentous events that compare to the birth of the Christ child and the passing of another year, but there have been many important events for us in the past year that we would like to share with you.
Dissertaton...Done!!!! - by Mike
Seven years ago, when we moved from San Antonio to New Orleans so that I could begin a Ph.D. program in Political Science, did we ever think that it would take so long? We survived four years of my classroom studies, a move to Albuquerque so Megan could take a new job, watching from afar as our friends and the city we loved suffered through Katrina, and finally my push toward the goal for three plus years here in the Land of Enchantment.
Well, it’s finally done. I defended my dissertation on November 12th, 2007 and pending final revisions, I will be hooded by my committee chairman in New Orleans this spring. For all intents and purposes, you may call me Dr. Michael L. Hess, Ph.D.
It still hasn’t sunk in completely yet. I’m very aware of all the support I have had throughout this journey. Specifically, because she has supported me and kept me in food and toilet paper, and put up with my down points (which were pretty down), my biggest Christmas present this year is that Megan is still here with me. And she still is pushing me and exhorting me – to get a job!
So that’s the next step. If you know of a college or a university near you that needs a political science professor with an emphasis in international relations and comparative politics and a regional interest in Latin America, let me know.
I also want to shout out thanks to a few other people, living and not. Thanks, Mom, for all your support and encouragement. Uncle Elwin, even though you are gone, you always looked forward to having the first Ph.D. in the family, and I’m sorry you aren’t able to share it with me. Uncle Jack, you were always meant to be the first Ph.D. in our family, in political science no less, and you fueled my desire to go to college. I think that it is a tribute to you that I have achieved this goal. Wherever you are, I hope you’re smiling. John and Elaine, thanks for your support and advice – your familiarity with academics was a great resource. Megan, you have always been the rock I leaned on, so this achievement has been as much yours as it is mine. I love you and thank you. To the rest of my family and friends, thanks for all your support and encouragement over the years. You may not think you had any impact, but you did.
How can I compete with all that? Let’s just say it’s been momentous to be along on the ride for all this with Mike. I’ve decided to follow in his footsteps to El Salvador. I’m going down in January for 10 days with a prayer and action delegation from our parish with a number of younger students. We’ll be visiting sites commemorating the civil war, such as the Misa Popular where Oscar Romero is buried, and working with Aprodehni, a group set up to help the children of El Salvador.
Otherwise this year has been quite busy for me. I’m still at the New Mexico Business Weekly, which has had a fair amount of turbulence this year, but seems to have settled down for the better. I cover the film industry, which is exploding here, tourism, arts business, small business and government. I’m doing some occasional freelance for AAA’s New Mexico magazine and others. And I do radio regularly on our NPR affiliated KUNM. I host Weekend Edition every other Saturday morning and I do a women’s newscast for the Women’s Focus show every couple of weeks at noon, and occasionally some longer interviews. Every so often I host the global music show and Mike and I will be hosting the freeform music show on Christmas Day, which should be a blast. If we get this missive to you in time, tune in at www.kunm.org.
We’ve grown to like New Mexico quite a bit. It’s beautiful, has fabulous outdoor activities, an amazingly varied terrain, great weather with four seasons and a vibrant cultural life, but it’s likely we’ll have to move on if Mike gets a job next year. We’re both feeling a desire to settle somewhere, so picking up and moving again is not necessarily desirable. I’m getting tired of saying goodbye to people. But we’ve certainly been lucky to live in some fascinating places.
Mike finds his birth family - by Mike
This year was another momentous year in that I found and came in contact with my birth family on both my birth mother’s and father’s side. It really started the previous November, but I really didn’t make actual contact until January of this year. I discovered that although my birth parents have passed on, I have a half-brother and half-sister on my birth-mother’s side, and multiple siblings on my birth-father’s side. This past summer, when we went out to a friend’s wedding in LA, I met my half brother, Bob, at his home near San Luis Obispo, and while there I spoke to my half-sister, Jeanne, on the phone. In addition, I have met my birth-mother’s two surviving sisters and a whole brood of cousins that live in Ohio. After I spoke with one aunt, Maxine, she and a cousin, Diana, made it possible for Megan and I to attend the family reunion in June. It was there for the first time that people told me how much I looked like a “Mayle,” my birth-mother’s maiden name. It was a fantastic experience meeting these people that I never knew existed just a year before.
Unfortunately, my attempts to make contact with my birth-father’s other children did not meet with much success. They don’t really think of their father in a good light, and therefore are not that interested in learning about me. However, my birth father came from the province of Ontario in Canada and he has one surviving brother. This man, Morris, is my uncle and I have spoken to him over the phone and have had extensive e-mail conversations with his granddaughter, Sherry. I hope to get out to meet them sometime this coming year.
Trip to El Salvador - by Mike
This small country has played a big part in our lives this year. In May, I flew to San Salvador for five weeks of intensive language study. I lived with a 75-year-old woman and her 15-year-old granddaughter, and I rode a loud, belching, recycled American school bus daily to the school where I did 4 hours of language class and then afternoons of cultural study. I also did interviews for my dissertation with political leaders and academics. I came out of the experience with a basic understanding of Spanish – ¿Donde están los baños? – and a greater appreciation for the problems of developing countries in general and the difficulties faced by Salvadorans in particular. If you want to see some photos of my experience, you can go to
Other Travels - by Megan
Mike made a madcap 2 day drive into Mexico to help deliver a donated van to a project there. We saw our friend Elisabeth married in the Los Angeles area. We returned to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, of course, and for Mike’s diss defense (shout out to the Fitzpatricks for always welcoming us into their home!) Things keep getting better for the city each time we go back, but it’s still struggling in the wake of Katrina. I encourage everyone to visit and spend your money there. We returned to San Antonio in the spring to attend an anniversary event for Mike’s old employer, the Socially Responsible Investment Coalition. Thanks to Leilah and Scott and their beautiful bambino for their hospitality. For our 12th anniversary in September, we spent a few days at Mesa Verde National Monument in southern Colorado. And we returned to Wisconsin in October for the first time in many years because I had a journalism conference there. Thanks to Kevin and Karen for putting us up in Milwaukee, the Bolins for putting up with us us DePere and giving us the best chocolate toffee on earth, and Eileen, Vic and Connor for hosting us in Chicago. We connected with old New Orleans friend Maya Held in Milwaukee and my former grad school friends Jim Chilsen and Matt Simonette in Chicago. We also visited my parents at Thanksgiving, which was lovely and relaxing (I slept nine hours a night) and helped rehydrate my dessicated winter skin (high desert + cold = lizard hands).