Sunday, March 22, 2015

a glimpse of certainty

Every time I come to Washington, I try to be on campus for a worship service. When I come to this city, but not to this space, I go home feeling like I have missed something.

This time, though, even as I was happy to be here, I was asking myself why I do this. United Methodist worship services happen on Thursdays at 11:00 PM and Sundays at 7:00 PM, neither of which is particularly convenient for travel.

Photo credit: AU Ambassadors

As I was standing on the quad on this most recent trip, I realized why.

When this was my home, I was happy, I felt safe, and I knew where I was going, and when I come back here my self remembers that identity. It's comfortable, like favorite clothes long lost in the back of the closet.

Putting that identity back on is, of course, impossible. When I leave, I’m still the same nervous, fearful person who has little idea where she’s going, but I have a renewed sense of what that old certainty felt like.

Somehow, having that memory like a token in my pocket makes the uncertainty of my present world more bearable. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

all year long

Lately, in the corners of the internet that I inhabit, I've seen a lot of this sort of sentiment:

"We don't celebrate Valentine's Day in our house because my partner and I love each other all year long and give gifts when we feel moved."

It reminds me of the people who said things like, "December 25th is an arbitrary day. Even if Jesus was born, it wasn't in December, and we should work for peace on earth and goodwill towards men all year long."

Or the ones who said, "What's up with 'Giving Tuesday'? We should be generous to the charities we care about all year long."

How does that work, even? So, we should be nurturing our relationships with those nearest to us, reaching out in peace to the wider world, and remembering to support those who are less fortunate all year long? That's a lot to do every day. I'm not up to that task.

While I totally understand rejecting the consumerism that so often accompanies holidays in American culture, I'm having trouble following the logic of repudiating the holidays entirely.

I'd be lying if I said that the romantic rhetoric of Valentine's Day didn't make me feel at least a little bit lonely. I have a lot of love to give to a partner, and I hope to find someone who has love to return in equal measure, so I'll spend some of my meditation time tomorrow directing that love toward myself and also making space for a partner to step into. Then, all year long when the lonelies attack and I despair of ever meeting anyone ever again, I'll have this Valentine's Day meditation to remember, like a token in my pocket.

I will be celebrating love on this Valentine's Day, too.  Sofia and I are babysitting so that my best friend Erin and her husband David can go out to dinner. Because even though we all agree that going out to eat on Valentine's Day is insane, sometimes it's fun to embrace the insanity. I'm not sure what they'll be eating, but Sofia, Margaret, Blaise, and I will be having a pirate meal complete with octopus (hot dogs cut specially before boiling), doubloons (carrot rounds), seaweed (lettuce), and yo-ho-ho punch (sparkling juice). You should totally be envious.

If we reject holidays completely, consumerism wins. Subversion is a much more effective way to reclaim the values our holidays claim to celebrate.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

not pretty

I've unfollowed a couple of my colleagues on Facebook recently. Their well-deserved joy at their own progress has been feeding the monster of my impostor syndrome.

One Colleague: Just cut a 60 page chapter down to ten pages for conference presentation!
In my head: 60 page chapter?!?! Who does that? Are my chapters so short that my committee will just tell me to quit? What am I missing?

Other Colleague: Writing my acknowledgements! Submitting the defense paperwork!
In my head: I'm happy for other colleague, who has worked hard, but I started first. What have I been doing all this time? Why didn't I work harder?

Still Other Colleague: Finishing up an r&r. It's so much easier the second time.
In my head: The second time? A second article accepted? *sob*

I don't begrudge my friends their celebration of their accomplishments. Really, I don't. This job is hard, and often lonely, and we need to invite others to celebrate with us when we get something done. Yay, my colleagues!

I'm not interested in beating my colleagues in the marathon that is the dissertation process, either, but I'm having a really hard time continuing to run while being lapped.  I'm already a year behind where I wanted to be, and even knowing that I spent that year becoming a damn fine head of household and executor of estate is little consolation.

As with the tendency toward photos of clean, smiling children and tidy houses on social media, academics' posts about our writing tend to present more the good parts than the bad parts, which leads to a skewed impression of what the academic writing process looks like.

So, here's a shout out to any other graduate students who are struggling:

 It's not pretty over here. My prose looks like shit. A significant number of my footnotes say, "FIND SOURCE!!!" I've fallen out of love with my dissertation several times now. My books are all in boxes  < snark > because moving in the middle of a dissertation was a great idea < /snark>. I'm slogging.

If any of that resonates with your experience, here's a fist bump of solidarity: p#d

Friday, January 23, 2015

warm white beans

adapted from "Cassoulet" in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

serves 4-6
time: 40 minutes

1/2 onion (or one small onion), finely minced
2 Tbsp butter
2 carrots, finely diced or shredded
2 cans white beans, cannelloni or navy
1.5 qt. (approximately) chicken stock
6-8 oz.  cooked white meat, shredded or minced (chicken breast, chicken sausage, or pork)
salt and pepper to taste
garlic 3 cloves if fresh, 1 Tbsp if minced and pickled, 2 tsp if powdered
1 bay leaf (optional)

For chili flavor:
3 Tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
cayenne or other hot pepper to taste

For cassoulet flavor:
3 Tbsp herbes de Provence (the important flavors here are rosemary and lavender if you don't have the mix, use rosemary and thyme)
2-3 sage leaves, snipped to shreds (optional)

Do all the cooking in the same vessel. I use a cast iron pot, but a stock pot will do.

Melt the butter over a low flame and sauté the onions until soft but not brown, adding carrots when the onions are nearly soft. If you're using freshly pressed garlic, add it just after the carrots.  On the low flame, this step should take about 10 minutes.

Pour in the chicken stock (some water or dry white wine can be used as well), and turn up the flame to achieve a simmer.

Add the canned/cooked beans, the meat, and the herbs and spices.

Simmer until everything is warmed through and the beans have started to lose their structural integrity. Taste and add more spices, if desired.

Serve with crusty bread or crackers. Sour cream and green onion make a nice garnish for the chili flavor. Tastes great the second day.

Note: If you're starting with dried beans, the rest of these ingredients will stand up to cooking along with the beans. I've done it that way in the masonry oven. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

a glimpse of freedom

Rambling Farmhouse has new owners.

One down, one to go.

Monday, January 12, 2015

on moving

I'm writing this morning from Rustic Lakehouse, where my table-desk and my rollie chair have been placed in their new location by the south window that looks out over the lake. It feels like we have arrived.

This move has brought so many complex emotions.

I feel relieved at having the burden of responsibility for Rambling Farmhouse and its acres taken off my shoulders. The buyers have great plans for the house and the land, and I'm excited to see their beginning.

Yet, although I had already taken leave of the dreams Adam and I had dreamt at Rambling Farmhouse, there is further sadness in this physical parting, and I'm sad to leave the place where so much of my life happened.

At the same time, I'm frustrated at my younger self, who chose not to fight with her husband about the importance of keeping stuff organized and who allowed herself to buy into the "we have enough space, so it's not a problem" line of thinking.

I was very conscious yesterday of having asked the people I love to loan me their arms and backs, their vehicles, and, most critically, their time to finish clearing out Rambling Farmhouse. As we were working it became clear that there was more still there than I had thought, and I am embarrassed by the quantity and content of the stuff I asked them to schlepp for me.

I am so very grateful for their help. Seven carloads of stuff went to Goodwill, three carloads of shelves and  camping gear went to the storage unit, and ten carloads (three of them books) came to Rustic Lakehouse.

I'm grappling with my image of myself as an un-materialistic and non-acqisitive person.

I'm resolved to continue pruning the things that share my space so that the next time I move I can be proud of what I take.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Seventeen years ago, I took the train to Indiana to ring in the New Year with my boyfriend.

He said, "I want a house. If I buy a house, will you come for the summer?"

I said yes.

Over spring break I helped him move in to Rambling Farmhouse.

I can still see it as it was then with the avocado refrigerator and the goldenrod stove, the drop ceiling and the shag carpeting.

"The Brady Bunch threw up in this house," the realtor said.

We set up a Danish modern couch, leather swivel chairs, a pole lamp, and string art. And we owned it.

After that first summer we still loved each other, so the summer after that I moved all my worldly possessions to Rambling Farmhouse, and the summer after that we got married.

He carried me across the threshold. The next year, we carried Anna into this house, and the year after that, Sofia.

And then I carried him over the threshold.

Within these walls I became a wife, a mother, a professional, a widow. These walls have contained my adulthood.

Today begins my life beyond these walls.

The movers are coming to take the heavy furniture to our (temporary) new digs at Rustic Lakehouse. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, the girls and I will sort our worldly possessions. Some things we will carry over a new threshold, some things we will part with forever.

Then, I will hand over the keys to a new family, who will claim these walls as we once did.