Sunday, January 31, 2010

who me? yeah you.

M raises a dilemma about names and naming and being -- well, maybe we don't need to go that far -- in this space. I'm conscious of wanting to stay a bit anonymous -- or pseudonymous (as it were) -- here at 550. As such, my name is nowhere to be found, but of course, with a bit of finesse and a bit of google, someone could easily unmask me. But for now, I choose to stay partially concealed and partial revealed. And so, we seem to have reached the need for noms de guerre . This is where my imagination fails me. Should we be geographic selves: "Sioux Falls" and "Philadelphia." Or perhaps chronologically characterized: "Old one" and "Less old one." Maybe we should reduce ourselves to the physical: "the blonde" and "the brunette" (that one doesn't really work because I'm barely a blonde and she's hardly a brunette). Or what about epicurean entitlements: "Yogurt Yogi" and "Sista' Sweet Tooth"? It does all come down to spaces, right?, so how about 550 and 775 (or whatever her spacious accommodations add up to)? But that's confusing, right? Wait, I have it: how about our preferences for tea? I could be "Peppermint" and she could be "Earl gray?" Or perhaps she should just weigh in!

towel hoodie

This is my first post to 550. A (we are going to need to change her name because that is what I call our little sister) has enlisted me to contribute and I finally received my new camera from Amazon! I am the sister that lives on the moon (or in South Dakota) who she mentioned in her earlier post. I don't know that my postings will be as insightful as a's, but hopefully posting will make me finish a bunch of projects that have been lingering, including two quilts that are overdue wedding gifts.

Instead of working on those quilts, I have been sewing a lot of baby stuff. This is a towel hoodie inspired by Lotta Jabsdotter's Simple Sewing for Baby. The reason that I say that it is "inspired" by her book, rather than the actual project from her book, is that the instructions in the book are quite deficient. In some places the instructions grossly understates the amount of fabric required and in others they are extremely wasteful. For example, in this pattern she calls for a 1 bath sheet and 1 matching hand towel (just to make the towel hoodie), yet there was more than enough of the towel left over that you didn't need to buy a separate hand towel to make the hood piece. I made the whole thing and the two washcloths from one bath towel (the diagonal stripe on one washcloth is because I had to piece it together). The instructions call for 1/3 of a yard of fabric to make the binding tape (it doesn't have to be on a bias because there are no curves), but you really need 1/2 a yard to finish the project (not including the washcloths).

Bottom line: This is a great and easy project to make for any upcoming baby shower. It takes around 2 hours depending on how you sew (I spent a long time trying to get the mitered corners right, but then I gave up). But you don't need the book or a pattern to complete this project. Just cut the biggest square you can out of a bath sheet, cut a triangle that is about 16in x 11in x 11in out of the remaining fabric and cut stripes that are 3.75 in for the binding.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

finally it's saturday

Sure, I could sleep in late on Saturday, but this morning -- and the last few Saturdays -- I've crept out of bed early to get going on all the things that get lost each week. Seven years of graduate school effectively deadened me to any real difference between the work week and the weekend; it all felt about the same: there was this great big ogre breathing on my shoulder and whether it was Tuesday morning or Saturday at five, I still needed to be thinking about how to appease said ogre. Things have shifted a bit since June, mostly because I told myself that it was okay not to do any academic work for six months (I finally sent out an article last week) and because I started my first ever 9 to 5 job. When I get home each night, I'm tired, really very tired. I usually manage to get myself to the gym or yoga, but then I pretty much want to relax for an hour or two before I go to sleep and do it all again.

But when classes started last week, this all shifted again. I added teaching to an already busy life. I'm thrilled to be with students again, but realistically this means giving up my weekends to prepare all my classes for the week ahead. Today that means reading Ben Franklin's autobiography and about 150 pages of criticism. Fortunately, Franklin cracks me up, with all his errata and schematic charting of virtue. I'm hoping that reading Franklin in Franklin's hometown will feel almost intimate, maybe I can force birthday boy J out into the subzero temps to take a walk through Franklin's life. And in between chapters?

It's all Elizabeth Zimmerman for me. For a couple months I've been thinking about working my way through a year of Zimmerman. But then wouldn't you know it? Soulemama -- who fascinates me for a number of reasons, both good and bad -- steals my thunder. But with two February baby sweaters in my bag and a baby surprise sweater on my needles, I'm forging ahead with all Zimmerman, all year. The surprise sweater is for J's sister's baby who is currently in utero but who is set to arrive when there will be the last hints of a spring chill in the New York air, at least I hope so.

Why is Elizabeth Zimmerman enjoying such a knitterly renaissance? I think it's because she's so funny and so brilliant and so chatty (while also being phenomenally concise, i.e. totally spare). She's always chatting about the "old man" who manages to help her out mathematical quandaries and she makes her patterns into intimate little stories of life in the deep woods. In the baby surprise sweater from the fall of 1968, she befriends her readers and asks them to engage, "Have you realized how unbecoming pink and blue are to a bran-new baby?" You read the pattern and find yourself saying, yeah, I know pink and blue and are bad, and you're ready to do whatever she tells you to do. She has you eating out of her hand....which I will be doing in between Franklinian episodes all day today.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

mid-winter cheer

J and I are too busy. Super busy. We're busy the way that everyone is busy. We race around, pass like the cliched ships in the night, sometimes forgetting to see one another. This week we decided to try to slow things down. We wanted to be more deliberate, to see one another more. So we plotted out a week of fun, a silly list of activities, one for each day so that we'd actually take the time for each other. We tried something similar last summer and we both felt like it brought us closer, reminded us why we enjoy being together, witnessing, as we were, each other's experience of the world. Of course during the summer it was easier: we brought blankets to Fitler Square and lay in sun -- well, I lay in the sun and J in the shade, our blanket positioned just so. We took long rambling walks and admired Philadelphia's architecture.

This week, though, we needed to plan around the cold. So we went to yoga together, something we've both come to love and practicing together feels especially fantastic. We made dinners. We went to the movies. We watched a lot of The Sopranos (a show that rewards devoted watching). And last night we went to hear Ken Vandermark's rendition of Don Cherry music. This was something about which I was NOT excited. Experimental jazz, ahh, no thanks. J, though, loves this stuff. Heck, as an undergrad at Northwestern he even hosted a radio show of just such stuff. When we showed up at the venue last night, my worst fears were confirmed. I found myself sitting in a crowd of middle-aged men, graying folks who instantly seemed to be jazz buffs (and I loathe the buff more than most things); the guy next to me tried to covertly set up his bootlegging equipment, a digital monitor attached to his eyeglasses. Oh my.

But here's the amazing thing: I really, really liked it. There were parts of it, in fact, that I loved. Unlike me, J is devoted to sound in a particularly intimate, intense kind of way. So it never occurred to him that I would fall hard for the visual elements of the show. But the vibraphone player was miraculous. Watching him play was like watching modern dance, his whole body riveted over the instrument, the sound making him pulsate from head to toes. The thing that I would have never guessed -- but am thrilled to discover -- is that watching this kind of jazz is like watching the best kinds of drama. I couldn't take my eyes off the individual players, struck dead by their relationships to their instruments. They would cradle them close and then throw them away, haranguing them to make the sounds they desired. Amazing. A fine close to a week of fun....

Thursday, January 21, 2010

or my entire dissertation

Wordle: dis

it almost makes it seem worth it. well, no, not really.

wordling an article

Wordle: lma


my friend Lori, my only friend in the city of brotherly love, made this wordle of my blog. how great is that? how great is she?


If you haven't read Daniel Mendelsohn's commencement address to Berkeley classics students, read it now. It's fabulous.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

first days

Last night I was feeling super nervous about starting the new semester. I didn't teach last term and I was worried that my course -- on women's autobiography -- would fall flat. But I opened this week's New Yorker to find a piece on our collective obsession with all things confessional. Daniel Mendelsohn's article was prompted by Ben Yagoda's new and rather fun history of memoir that I read this past weekend. J and I both really like Mendelsohn -- whose own memoir J read aloud to me shortly after we met. In any case, Mendelsohn explores what William Dean Howells termed something like the American love for tragedy with a happy ending. After I read the review, I slept easily, knowing that there would be plenty to talk about.

A side note: J likes memoir less than I do, though about a month after we started dating I was scanning his book shelves, noting in that truly geeky way how many of our books overlapped. We both have the Joy of Yiddish, how perfect! We each own Perry Miller, neat! We both seem to have a long-standing affection for Faulkner, how poignant! It was all very self-satisfying. But then I noticed a spine that I had never seen before: The Surrender by Toni Bentley. I asked J about it: "hey what's that Toni Bentley book?" Without skipping a beat, "oh, it's an anal sex memoir." He was utterly unfazed. Wow, I thought, this guy is really something. The memoir, on the other hand, not so much.

In any case, I felt pretty good walking into class armed with a kind of Mendelsohnian legitimacy. The girls responded to my prompts right away, even though we began class with a "silent" discussion on the board. The room was packed and still they seemed engaged. Of course, I worry that they'll all drop it between now and Monday, but actually, we could stand to lose five or six for some breathing room.

I was fortified by this lovely little dinner that J whipped up last night. Perhaps I should ask him for the recipe?

Monday, January 18, 2010

when you're too tired to cook

my favorite and most perfect dinner. you take an apple, wash it, dry it, cut it, dip it in peanut butter.

there's something in the water

When I open my cell phone, the shiny sanyo display whispers to me: “breathe.” I added that bit of text some time in the midst of dissertating hell, at a moment when I was liable to forget. One time in the beginning of our relationship, J opened my phone, saw this corny command, and burst out laughing. I was totally embarrassed. I was so high-strung that I needed my phone to tell me to relax. About this same time I started practicing yoga at the insistence of my roommate and her girlfriend. I also started taking anti-anxiety meds and going to cognitive-behavior therapy. All of these things helped in their own way and some of them continue to now. My phone still tells me to breathe and I still practice yoga a few times a week. And while I intend to write more fully about anxiety at some point, I want to admit something big, right now, right here:

I watch t.v. I don’t own a television, but I watch t.v. I watch about one show a night, some times I go a few days without watching anything and sometimes I watch two shows in a night, but I watch t.v. I am a t.v. watcher. In the circles in which I often find myself, admitting this might as well be as bad as admitting that you eat fast food or shop at Wal-Mart. So I don’t talk about it very often, and save for J, few people know of my proclivities. I’m always delighted when I find myself talking to another closeted t.v. watcher at a party, our conversations about “Friday Night Lights” or “Mad Men” are as good and as liberating as gossiping about your best friend’s boyfriend. So what does my t.v. watching have to do with my need to remind myself to breathe?

Television seems to cure—or at least radically improve—my anxiety. I guess that this is the most obvious thing in the world. Why else would millions of Americans flip on the tube every night? Things suck at work, watch television. Can’t stand your spouse, turn on “House.” You know the drill. The problem is that this surefire solution, the one that leaves me perfectly zoned out for 48 minutes, has been causing me some problems of late. You see, I’ve become totally peeved by the trope of the teenage pregnancy and it's beginning to diminish my ardor for the small screen. It’s everywhere this season and last: “Friday Night Lights,” “Big Love,” “Glee,” “Private Practice,” and these are just the shows I watch. There’s no question that it’s a kind of “Juno” effect, the movie that made getting knocked up in high school look like a not-half-bad idea, especially if your parents still love you and you get to befriend Jason Bateman in the process. This inundation comes on the heels of my asking my doctor—just for information’s sake—how difficult it is to get pregnant at my age. Her response: “well, let’s just say, you’re not 16.”

You see, the problem of teenage preggos on t.v. is, for me, a purely solipsistic one. All these little ladies find themselves with children at a moment when the people I love—friends who chose to wait until careers were settled or are still waiting to find someone right—struggle to conceive. Maybe the problem is that I’m not watching age-appropriate television. But these aren’t afterschool specials either. Maybe these shows are trying interrogate the destruction of the American family and its effects on the second generation (Friday Night Lights – child of single mother knocked up; Big Love – child of polygamous family knocked up; Private Practice – black child of divorced family knocked up; and Glee – the real spoiler – white cheerleading child of intact marriage knocked up), but all I see is outrageous fertility. So what gives?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

sunday morning

quiet time.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Even though my newest new course - on women's life-writing - doesn't begin until next week, I've been starting to think about another new offering for next year. Though i'm supposed to be doing five other things right now, I started thinking about offering a course on GUILT (with a heavy dose of shame thrown in). So far I'm thinking about including texts like The Scarlet Letter, Charlotte Temple, "William Wilson," "The tell-tale heart," The Crucible, and Native Son. Of course, we'd have to begin with Genesis and we'd probably make a pit-stop at Macbeth, but any other good American suggestions? I think I'd conceive it as a mix of cultural history, literature, Am. studies kinda thing.

J has long been interested in shame, but I find guilt the more operative emotion. I'd call that the classic WASP v. Jew divide.

the makings of a perfect weekend

five days until classes begin. a three-day weekend. J returns. a historical drama i'm longing to see. brunch dreaming. a stack of books to wind my way through.

...and no, it's not going to be a shotgun wedding.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Don't get me wrong, the salad-in-a-bag is a true delight, at least that's what I'm going to tell myself for the next 185 days or so until I say "I do." Don't tell me otherwise. Really, I need your support. Last night I really mixed it up, though, with cabbage-in-a-bowl:

Some people call this cole slaw. But it's really cabbage-in-a-bowl with some carrots on top. Red cabbage is a super food, and so I tell myself that I'm a super person when I nibble away at it. Save for the toxic odors that sometimes result, it's pretty great indeed. And yet I can't help but noting the culinary decline in the last week. I went from risotto to chopped lettuce, but we all tend toward declension on occasion, no?

Even as my consumption of red cabbage keeps me self-righteous, I kinda, sorta fell off the wagon late last night. A "comfort food" potluck at work convinced me that I needed to try the famous New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe. My friend Maura once brought them to a party and no one wanted to eat anything else. They're just that good, and the key is the sprinkling of sea salt on the top, well, that and the two and half sticks of butter and bittersweet chocolate disks, not chips! You know you're making a bougie cookie when it calls for disks and not chips. The real question is how much cabbage does it take to offset the effects of half a batch or so of these babies?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


A few years ago I went on a major juicing kick. I was juicing anything I could get my hands on. Beet greens, kale, spinach, peppers, lots of lemons. Apples and carrots and ginger. Oh my. It was great. Once I even juiced whole beets and then gulped down the sweet blood before I realized that it’s not so smart to drink three cups of pure beet juice. Apparently your heart can just spontaneously stop beating. Imagine that: death by nectar.

In any case, I was obsessed. But here’s the rub: juice is delicious, but not really all that cost effective. You get all the goodness—vitamins up the wazoo—but you toss out the stuff that really fills you up, all that fibrous tangled goodness. The point at which I did this cost-benefit analysis just happened the moment when I was at a dinner with some friends and an old hippie pal of theirs named Pierce told me how he gets around this problem. “I blend. I don’t juice.” Now, I thought, Pierce looks pretty good for a hard-workin’ guy in his 60s. So I decided that when he unveiled his method, I’d add a little spin of my own and begin blending. Blending salads, that is.

I met my foodie boyfriend J about this same time, just after I had perfected my method. I think I told him about blending on the first date. I might as well have been describing the slow torture of his family cat; he looked pained, confused, his squinched eyebrows practically overlapping. Here’s what I told him: you take a head of lettuce (preferably romaine), put it in a blender, add two whole carrots, a cucumber, one green pepper, a ripe tomato (stem removed), some celery, a handful of mint, the juice of one or two lemons, a cored green apple, and really anything else you have in the crisper. And then you just blend the hell out of it. It comes out as this muddy green slop that if you drink quickly enough, you hardly realize how good it doesn’t taste. And you’re all filled up with three days worth of greens and basically no fat. I lost seven pounds—at a time when that was a significant reduction in my body weight—in my first week of blending. It was brilliant, if a bit gross. The real problem was that I needed to be near a blender everyday and I needed to keep a ton of greenery around. I gave it up as soon as J started proving that it was possible to eat well and have it taste good. Imagine that.

Fast forward a couple years. I have a new invention. It’s called salad-in-a-bag. This time it’s the goodness of a blended without the blend. You take a head of lettuce, chop it up, wash it, put it in a ziplock. Then you repeat this process with any other vegetables on hand. Then you put the bag in your work sack and nibble on it all day, using your hands, not a utensil. There’s no mess because there’s no dressing. It’s just a bag of goodness. Then you try to avoid the slightly more delicious bag of pumpkin seeds that you also packed in said work bag. You give in.

Monday, January 11, 2010

winter dreaming

J and I have begun to talk about our post wedding plans. We've talked about how lovely it would be to tour Scandinavia or wander through China. We've imagined winding our way along endless beaches in the Caribbean, and we've daydreamed about finally seeing the Hermitage. Okay, so that last one isn't really J's dream, but it's been mine for as long as I can remember. But alas, when we think about what we can responsibly spend on such a trip, we end up realizing that this summer just isn't a time when we'll have any windfall to rely on, and besides, with our keeping up two separate households, a lux vacation just isn't likely in the cards. About this I was initially annoyed, but then I started daydreaming about one of my favorite spots in this world. Anyone remember?

My mom and her husband own this place in the furthest reaches of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Sometimes at night, when I'm hopelessly trying to fall asleep, I imagine lying in the hammock that you see above. I try to listen to Lake Superior lap its hungry waves on the rocks, and I try to imagine the sweet tang of freshly picked blueberries. I think about lying with sweet arlo on the nearby beach, its heat melting the muscles in my back, and I remember how the first time I went there, I felt my brain clear itself of the miseries of grad school.

Last night, I imagined J and I there. A couple summers ago, my mom and her husband build a detached living room that looks over the red clay cliffs. I have this little dream about convincing them to put a big bed out in the living room, that way J and I could wake each morning, feel the immensity of Superior's endless blue, and ask each other if we should begin our honeymoon with thimble berry picking or a bit of yoga on the screen porch. It may not be Kathmandu or even Kuala Lumpur, but I think it will feel like paradise.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

books in bed and other sundry items

After my first week here at 550, I called my sister last night to ask her what she thinks of the blog. While moderately enthusiastic, she admitted that she wasn't quite sure what it was: a craft blog? a food blog? a list of gripes? a mundane account of my daily existence? a slow striptease of emotional turmoil? What is it? She told me that the only people who would be interested in it are the people who already know me. Yeah, I had to admit that it seems to be shaping up as a little of all of these...because, frankly, that's my life.

Sure, I'd love to be writing a craft blog after making lovely things all day every day (my pipe dream has always included a pottery studio and a sugar daddy to support my crafty whims), but sadly, I have to work. And a food blog? Well, that's just funny. I'm no chef at all. I just like to eat things that taste good, and though I love baking (the stuff of good food photographs), I'd look like a semi-truck if I ate baked goods all the time, even if it were for the sake of the blog. And gripes, well, I’m a fixed-term academic and I’ve been trained to complain, so when I don’t, it’s really a small miracle. About the personal, well, I think that will just have to sort itself out organically. Maybe no one’s interested in the quiet account of a life led with pleasure, pain, and most often, the simultaneity of pleasure and pain. But I’m interested in telling the story--in pictures and in words--of that life, at least for the moment.

But that sister--who sounds like a real jerk now but is actually one of the nicest, coolest people I know--got me thinking. And my hope is that she’ll find a place for herself here too. She lives in South Dakota, which is basically the moon if you live in Philadelphia, and she makes terrific things all of the time. Her camera is broken (excuses, excuses) at the moment, but I think she might just take care of that today (hint, hint) and then grace 550 with her presence, and her pictures of life on the moon, soon.

For now, here’s what my little life looked like on a frigid saturday in january:

Syllabus creation in bed, the best place to imagine a semester:

Risotto for one:

A few rows of the new Tea Leaf Cardigan:

A breakfast of champions, steel-cut oats:

And so, that's my life. Reading, eating, knitting, eating, reading, knitting. And this, my friends, is its story.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

on another kind of commuting

J and I parted ways this morning. That sounds overly dramatic. This time it’s just for six days. Usually when we say good-bye it’s for three weeks and sometimes even more. You see, I don’t just commute to work each day. I’m in a commuter relationship. Rather, we’re in a commuter relationship. It’s something academics do all the time, one partner lives and teaches in Washington and the other lives and teaches in Ohio. They do it for a variety of reasons: neither partner’s college will hire the other; one partner is at a better institution; both feel that they’ve worked too hard to sacrifice their careers; they’ve been trained to believe – or they actually believe – that fulfillment comes primarily from work. We do it because J has a tenure-track job and I have a post-doc. Supposedly it’s temporary. In any case, there’s nothing new here. Everyone knows this. It’s just the way it is. But it’s lousy when you’re the one living it, as J often says, ‘it feels like we’re each living half of a life.’ It’s true. There’s so little that’s good about being an academic these days, when university budgets are crumbling, tenure is in peril, and adjuncts can’t make a living wage, and I suspect I’m feeling at my wit’s end with a system that right now necessitates that we live 500 miles apart. We can’t even fight in person. It never feels like we have enough time to talk through anything. And so when we do squeeze in time it can feel like a full-frontal attack. I want to race through the ten things that I’m worried about, and I forget that I have a lovely partner who inclines toward a more moderate approach. I talk loudly and quickly and he whispers slowly, especially in the morning. But instead of having time to ramble our way through a discussion about our divergent communication approaches, we rush again to the airport, hoping not to miss the flight this time around. It’s just not a way to live, especially when the rewards are so few and the frustrations are so large. Argh. Double argh.

Friday, January 8, 2010

i'm a commuter now

7:51 am: resist temptation across the street from my 550 square feet. or rather, try to resist temptation. give in once every ten days, give or take eight days.

7:53 am (or 7:56 if temptation was too much to bear): walk through rittenhouse square and forget for ninety seconds that it's 7:53 am. breathe.

7:59 am: move swiftly past signs of urban hustle. think briefly of The Quaker City and wonder what's really going on behind closed doors.

8:01 am: take a last glimpse of philadelphia's architecture.

8:02 am: ride an escalator! what fun.

8:04 am: curse myself for failing to check just how late the trains are running. recognize that i could have slept for 6 extra minutes. yawn.

8:13 am: join other working stiff on the R5.

8:16 am: appreciate the bucolic views.

8:48 am: arrive in a neo-gothic winter wonderland.

8:53 am: slow down, note the architectural charm.

8:54 am: remember that i don't work in such a charming building.

8:55 am: at all.

8:59 am: face reality for another day. and yes, that's President Taft's daughter who is on my reading list for today.

9:23 am: somebody, anybody commutes with me here?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

beans and greens

I met J (whose code name here I’m considering changing to The Big Guth) when I was 31 and at my wit’s end with graduate school and it’s impoverished living. A couple walks together later, I made a list of the reasons why I liked him. I did this because I had a long history of meeting someone, really liking him, enjoying a lovely six or eight or even thirteen months together, and then promptly forgetting why it was I ever decided to date him. I figured that 31 was as good a time as any to change my ways and so I’d write it all down, keep a spreadsheet of love (okay, so that’s an exaggeration), and then have the proof months later when he was driving me crazy and I had decided I was better off alone. And yes, I pulled that list out six months after we met, and again at nine months, and even again at twenty-two months. I haven’t looked at it in awhile, but when I came home from work last night, #2 on the list was being enacted before my eyes: the man can make miracles happen with a can of beans.

Indeed! At 31 and after scores of failed relationships, I knew what was most important: the ability to turn a $.99 can of black beans into a little taste of heaven. He called it “beans and greens,” and it had been a staple of his diet for the countless years that he, too, spent in the throes of graduate school hell. I had never known anyone who could make a delicious meal out of three simple ingredients: a can of beans, a bag of spinach, and some hot sauce. Oh and I guess a bit of olive oil to coat the pan. It was perfect: lots of protein, little fat, a green leafy vegetable that you don’t really want to eat but that tastes yummy all warmed up and spicy, and best of all, it was cheap, super cheap. Last night we had the post-graduate version, i.e. it had chicken. Imagine the decadence. It might not look like anything, but trust me, it tastes like love.

p.s. Beans and greens a la Smitten Kitchen. Combining my love of risotto and beans and greens....think I might give it a try

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Frogging it

Now you see it.

Now you don't.

This had been the start of an adult version of a little baby sweater finished for Jonas, my new nephew, in September. Why I thought that a sweater that flatters an infant would flatter a grown woman is beyond me. It just seemed so cute...

...which I gather is an adjective that probably need no longer apply to my wardrobe. So I frogged it. Took it out and am beginning again with a pattern designed for, imagine it, a woman. I’m not thrilled by the dull green hue (it’s kinda like the Incredible Hulk suffering from a bit jaundice) but it keeps my hands busy during our evening Sopranos watching and that means I eat less of my cuticles.

But frogging my sweater isn’t the only thing I’ve been frogging. Last week I accidentally happened upon the MLA book exhibit at the – gasp – MLA convention. Actually, I got dragged there by a friend who promised me that I wouldn’t run into a soul. Ha. Within three minutes I was face-to-face with a colleague, and in another minute, with a nemesis who appears whenever I’m looking particularly downtrodden, like when I show up at the MLA convention book exhibit expecting to see no one and thus wearing jeans, my down coat that makes me look like a couch with legs, and my hair plastered against my forehead. Reeling from the encounter with said nemesis, who made sure to coolly remind me of her recent marriage, her tenure-track job at an R-1 institution, and the progress of her “manuscript,” I hurried off to peruse the displays. I headed over to a certain press because I wanted to see what they have coming out this spring, and because I wanted to daydream about how my manuscript might fit in someday with their catalog. But you know that feeling when your stomach just falls out, when you feel it drop on the floor and just lie there? Well, that’s what happened when I spotted a new book – still in proofs – bearing the name of a scholar whose article a decade ago first interested me in my topic. As luck would have it, she’s had a very productive retirement, and my gamble that that article would never become a book because she had to be close to retirement proved unwise. I opened to the table of contents: a couple chapters on Alcott, a few on Jane Addams, and heck, even one or two on M. Carey Thomas. This, by the way, damn near replicates my dissertation – in topic and in spirit. I started flipping through the introduction, felt the tears welling up behind my eyes, and just made a run for it.

All this to say: I may be frogging my dissertation. At the very least, it won’t be seeing the light of day at that press. But my disappointment about this discovery, is not, in fact, my point. My point is that I thought to myself: I could frog it. I could let it go. It’s going to be fine. In other words, I didn’t panic. I didn’t even really feel that anxious. And this is what’s new. Calm. Or at least relative calm. A new calm for a new year. A new blog. A new sense of proportion. I may have just 550 square feet and I may have to start again from scratch, but I’m here and I’m breathing. And I’m not in graduate school.

And don’t worry: I promise to avoid – at all costs – the suggestion that knitting is a metaphor for life. Gag me with a spoon.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

sick day

One day back and I'm already taking a sick day. But I've got a nasty cold that turned southward toward my lungs, and with a proclivity toward pneumonia, it seems hardly worth it to push. Of course I also managed to infect J, who snored all night and will probably end up far sicker than I am. Ah, the gifts we give those we love. So it's oatmeal and tea, some Emergen-C, and if I get brave, a trip to CVS for Mucinex.

But beyond my phlegm, there's a slightly more interesting development in my 550 square feet. My beloved phalenopsis orchid, a gift received from my adviser after passing my ph.d. exams (a process that destroyed my life--and my relationships--for a year), finally shed its two extraneous leaves. Now down to three healthy paddles of green, it's poised, I believe, to bloom for the first time in three years. It's flowers are hearty and white and they stick around long enough to welcome the first hints of summer, at least they did last time. I love the mystery of the orchid, blooming only when it wants, seemingly without any correspondence to my gentle feeding and care. While there's no flowering stalk yet, I'm thinking that 2010 bodes well for ms. orchid. It better, because she was the only plant that I moved from North Carolina last summer. After fifteen years of totting around a giant, alien begonia that I could never definitively identify and that the nurse gave me in eleventh grade, I ditched it with the orchid-giving adviser. I just couldn't bear its gothic overgrowth for another moment and so I abandoned it at her doorstep and drove North. Now I exist with only a single hint of green--

Monday, January 4, 2010

life inspected

A broken-down train couldn't even stave off the inevitable: a return to the office. This year and next I'm a postdoc and the particularities of my contract are such that I'm expected to keep pretty regular hours in the office. While I imagined that this arrangement might have suited me just fine, I struggle with it most of the time. I am, of course, more productive because of it -- how could you not be? -- but when it comes to thinking through new ideas, well, I just never do it that well at a desk. I like to walk and think. In graduate school, I did most of my thinking out in the woods with Arlo. Now I stare in the silence of my library office and try to rack my dull brain. I guess that I shouldn't complain.

At least today I get to think about my course for the Spring term. It's on American women's life-writing (mostly autobiographies, some letters, a couple journals, a graphic memoir, a handful of blogs, anything really). Yesterday I read a couple spirtual autobiographies from the late 18th century, and while I feel like I need to include at least one on the syllabus, I really have no idea what to say about them. I never know how to read revelation, especially when it's reported as literal, tangible fact. I feel compelled by such conviction but at sea when it comes to talking about it. Anyone know any texts that I simply have to include?

Sprout update: I laid off the brussel sprouts last night in favor of roasted beets. Ahh, the perfect pleasure of a sweet beet soaked in lemon and olive oil. Too bad the camera batteries died.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

brussel sprouts and breakfast

I'm on a huge brussel sprout kick. I've had them for dinner -- or as part of dinner -- every night for the last four nights. With another pound in the fridge, I'm thinking I might as well make it five nights in a row. When I was a kid, I loved brussel sprouts, much to the horror of my friends. I'd methodically peel back each paper-thin skin, drop it in my mouth, and hurry to peel back another layer, eager to discover the heart of the sprout. Artichokes held the same allure, and in our house, they were a special, late summer treat. We'd all share a single choke, ripping off its dense leaves and dunking them into melted margarine (I didn't know butter existed until I was twelve). Once it was stripped bare, with the choke exposed, my father would take his knife and with surgical precision, flay the heart. Not a hair of choke remained as he delicately cut the heart into six small pieces and drowned them in the remaining fat. Ever since, I've loved foods that need to be disassembled, though now I'm more inclined to pop an entire brussel sprout in my mouth, steaming and salty, and enjoy it as an intact whole.

And on this 7 degree morning, why not make a batch of popovers? After years of frustration at my popovers not popping, I solved the problem yesterday when I purchased a little $5 oven thermometer. I also used a new recipe that called for putting the melted butter directly into the pan, instead of mixing it in with the batter. Perfection. And J even let me eat four to his modest 2.

But tomorrow it's back to the grind. With new teaching, this semester promises to exhaust me, so I guess I'd better get back to that syllabus.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

a cold

Wouldn't you know that I'd start the new year with a new cold. I went to sleep with great plans for Saturday -- an early visit to the gym, recipe planning for a dinner tonight, finishing the revisions for an article. Instead, I woke up with a nasty cold and so I canceled my gym plans and am having a quiet, if unproductive, morning.

My friend recommended that I take Molly Wizenberg's lovely book off my shelf -- a gift from another graduate school pal -- and snuggle up with it. It's wonderfully confessional and culinarily intimate. I'm in a cooking phase, an unexpected phase for me, and so her inclination toward marrying food with family narrative (a perennial interest) intrigues me. When I asked J if he thought we were in a cooking phase, he grumbled something about my need to always diagnose the present. Diagnosis or not, I think we're in a cooking phase.

As you can see here, I'm also in a winter knitting phase. I decide to tackle the entrelac scarf. It's easier than it looks, and doesn't it look cool? This is my second scarf with Noro Silk Garden and it certainly won't be my last. Bring on the chill, I'll be prepared.

And on to that damned article...

Friday, January 1, 2010

hats, risotto, sopranos

Luxury on the head. Finished this little number as the final minutes of 2009 passed away. A new hat for a new year in a new city. It's jade sapphire 8-ply cashmere, a pure splurge occasioned in early december by the successful purchase of a wedding dress.

2009 ended with shrimp, lemon, and brussel sprout risotto that I stirred, stirred, and stirred. J looked on, but let me take the culinary lead. It was creamy and rich, with a fullness of flavor that I rare take the time to achieve.

We also curled up with the Sopranos, a series that we've both been keeping in reserve for a long time. It doesn't seem as immediately compelling as Six Feet Under or The Wire, shows that call you to emotional attention in the opening minutes. But we'll persevere and see what happens.