Blue in the Sky

A lesbian wife and mother tries her hand at something new. Surely there is a hat that fits out there somewhere!

Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, & Obsession (Julie Powell) Wednesday March 31, 2010

Filed under: Books,The Reader — The Professor @ 11:02 am

Awkward.  Painful.  Embarrassing.  These are the words that most immediately come to mind in response to my most recent date with Julie Powell.

But, let me back up a bit.  We really should start from the beginning.

In the beginning, there was reluctance.  Sometime last summer it seemed that everyone was reading Julie & Julia.  You couldn’t walk through the most pathetic grocery store in town without seeing its cover beckoning from the racks.  The book was everywhere, there was talk of a movie.  I was staying out of it.  Why?  Well, because I have a snooty disregard for the bestseller.  If “the American public” was eating this book up with a spoon, well then I was full.

Of course eventually the inevitable happened.   I heard enough glowing reports from people I actually knew that when a copy turned up at my favorite used book store, I made the purchase.  Unfortunately I was so late to the party that it was the movie paperback edition, but I enjoyed the story.  The project, the obsessiveness, the poor housekeeping.  I was in.  Julie felt familiar to me.  I could relate to her and I was inspired by her success.  In fact, I even saw the  movie.  Not in the theaters, but shortly after it went to DVD.  My wife fell asleep before Meryl Streep even appeared on the screen, but I made it through the whole thing and was quite glad I did.

And then there was Cleaving.  Long before my name came up on the library wait list, the buzz began and the buzz was bad.  All of the news seemed to suggest that Julie Powell had run off the rails.  Gone a tad too far.  Of course, by this time I was in and when I’m in, I’m hard to shake.  So, I put my name on the list and waited patiently.

Last week, my name came up.  I wish it hadn’t.  Reading this book felt like stumbling on the drunken diary of a friend and making the decision to settle in and read the whole thing.  A decision you would be sure to later regret.  It is not so much the startling lack of restraint in this book that makes it so alarming, but rather the fact that all of this over-sharing leads to neither insight nor resolution.  At the end, I am left with a deeper understanding only of butchering technique, a topic I never really wanted to understand.

In spite of the bad reviews, I held out hope for the story because I have my own struggles with knowing exactly where the line of appropriateness actually lies and I’m pretty brave in the face of TMI.  Relationships are hard and bad things happen, it’s true.  It’s also true that sharing the story can be redemptive.  But sometimes, it’s just sharing for the sake of it.  And that is the purview of a good friend, not the reading public.

 

Tally Ho – The Adventurer Week 1 Tuesday March 30, 2010

Filed under: The Adventurer — The Professor @ 11:13 am

No need to blink.  You read that right.  I actually did use Tally Ho as a title.  What can I say?  It was the first thing that came to mind.

So here’s what I’m thinking with this adventure idea.  I will choose some challenge/program/interesting thing each month and try to see what I can get out of it.  My goal is to be flexible and see what I can learn.  Some adventures might require more or less than a month, some may come from books or websites or who knows where.  In fact this is where you come in (if you are in fact out there).  If you have an idea for a future adventure (you’ve heard of a book or a cool project-oriented website) I would LOVE it if you would leave your idea and an information about it in the comments.  It would be so much more fun to have folks to play with.  🙂

I’m starting with Kathy Freston’s Quantum Wellness: A Practical & Spiritual Guide to Health & Happiness.  This is a book that I picked up last year and have paged through but never really sat down to consider.  I have long been harassed for my interest in self-helpy/spiritual books, but I’m still standing strong.  Some are silly and many of them say the same things, but I’ve gotten something out of more than one of them.  So, I’m carrying on.

Early in the book Freston lays out what she calls the Eight Pillars of Wellness.  Her idea is that these are eight practices that work together in a synergistic way to move us closer to wellness:

  1. Meditation
  2. Visualization
  3. Fun Activities
  4. Conscious Eating
  5. Exercise
  6. Self-Work
  7. Spiritual Practice
  8. Service

The book is loosely structured around each of these pillars.  One of the things that I like about her approach is her idea that instead of radical change, we are better served by “leaning into” new changes.  Here’s an example of what I mean:

“So quantum wellness, to me, is about the tiny little things that we invest our energy in every day and every moment.  These little investments of attention hold us in a steady and predictable place.  But when we make shifts – no matter how small and subtle – we agitate the norm….. The momentum we generate through our actions leads, eventually, to a tipping point, and then there is a breakthrough, a quantum leap….. It is not about imposing big changes but about leaning into wellness, comfortably, adding things here and there to the thrust and taking baby steps toward the changes we want to achieve”.

This “leaning in” thing really resonates with me.  I am not a leaner.  I am a crasher into new directions.  I don’t take it slow.  Who has the time?!!  However, this has kept me neatly in my little box of safety.  It’s very easy to be overwhelmed by making a new change when you feel like you have to radically overhaul your life in order to do it.  Actually, I think Cathy Z said it best over on her Bits & Pieces blog in a post in which she said this:

“Dan and I and not very much alike. He recently shared this analogy with me. ‘Let’s say I see the movie “Witness” and I decide I’d like to learn more about the Amish. I might go to the library, check out a few books, bring them home and maybe, just maybe crack the cover and read a few chapters. You? You become Amish.'”

I also BECOME Amish.  This is problematic.  At 32, I can actually see that and I’m working on my ability to lean.  In that spirit, I am going to focus on only one pillar this week.  I had originally thought I would do two a week, hitting all 8 pillars in a month, but you know…. one a week is probably enough.

So….first up?  Meditation.  And not because it’s listed first on Kathy’s list.  I’m starting here because this is a practice I would like to adopt.  Given that I’m not exactly a “clear your mind” natural, I could use a little work here.  So, that’s my plan for the week.  I’m starting with 5 minutes of focused breathing each morning.  We’ll see what happens.  I’ll report back this time next week.  Want to play along?  If you have any interest leave a comment.  I would love to hear from you!!

 

Mushrooms with Chinese Black Bean Sauce Monday March 29, 2010

Filed under: Food Glorious Food,The Chef — The Professor @ 12:51 pm

This recipe comes from the fabulous Moosewood Resturant Cooks at Home.  We got this cookbook a few years ago from the Grabs.  It has been well-loved.  I haven’t try this particular dish, but it sounds quite good to me.  Not sure when I’ll make it, but it will happen this week.  I’ll report back in the comments about how it goes.  The cookbook suggests that  it takes 40 minutes to prepare.  Also, it should look something like the picture above sans the super hot red peppers (unless you’re feisty and decide to add them).

2 cups water

10 dried shiitake mushrooms

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 tofu cakes, cut in 1-inch cubes

SAUCE

1/4 cup dry rice wine

1 tbs molasses

1.5 tbs white vinegar

1 tbs soy sauce

1 tsp cornstarch

1 cup soaking liquid from mushrooms

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 tbs Chinese fermented black beans, rinsed and chopped

1.5 lbs fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 red or green bell pepper, thinly sliced

chopped scallions

  1. Bring the water to a boil
  2. Place the shiitake in a heatproof bowl, cover with boiling water and set aside for 10 minutes
  3. Prepare all remaining ingredients and put them in easy reach
  4. Heat the oil in a skillet
  5. Add a third of the tofu and stir-fry for about 3 minutes, until lightly golden
  6. Drain on paper towels
  7. Follow the same process for the remaining tofu
  8. Remove skillet from heat
  9. Drain the shiitake, reserving the liquid
  10. Cut off and discard the tough stems and thinly slice the caps
  11. Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl
  12. Return the skillet to heat
  13. Add the garlic and black beans to the remaining oil and stir fry for 1 minute
  14. Add the fresh mushrooms, peppers and shiitake and continue to stir fry until tender, about 5 minutes
  15. Add 1/4 cup of shiitake liquid if needed to prevent scorching
  16. Stir in the sauce and heat to a simmer
  17. Add the cooked tofu and gently reheat to a simmer
  18. Serve immediately with rice, topping with chopped scallions
 

The Last Week of March Sunday March 28, 2010

Filed under: Movies and TV,Pregnancy,The Wife & Mother — The Professor @ 3:57 pm

It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon.  Toad has been out-of-town moonlighting since Saturday morning, and the house is quiet without her.  Baker and I will be very glad when she arrives this evening.  I will actually be much more excited than Baker as she will be bringing home Indian food for me.  I will be having Tandoori Chicken, Vegetable Korma, and Naan, while Bake will be having dog food.  I win!  Yum.

So, what’s been going on around here this week?

As I believe I have probably mentioned a time or two before 😉 , we will be moving this summer.  This means that things are pretty busy around here.  Pretty much every day there is the internet scan for suitable rental possibilities (gotta be convenient to the university, amenable to dogs, in a runable/walkable/strollerable neighborhood (read: sidewalks), and include enough comfortable space for guests – this is NOT easy to find), the slow pare down of the stuff we have in our current house (what do we REALLY need/want to take with us?),  and the sadness that we are leaving this town that we love.  This move is the right thing for our family for so many reasons, but we do love this place.  We got married here.  It won’t be easy to leave.

Although the move is taking up a lot of mental space, there is also the baby!  As of today, Toad is 17 weeks and 3 days along.  We had an OB appointment last week and although we got no new pictures (boo), everything looks great.  Beans’ heartbeat was in the 150s and the midwife said that in spite of the fact that somehow she is still not showing, Toad is gaining weight the way she should be.  We are happy with all of that.  Sounds like Bean is doing just what she need to be doing.

I am growing increasingly frustrated by the impossibility of nesting at this point.  Oh how wonderful it would be to start setting up a nursery like this…..

But…..we have no house.  So, nesting is a bit premature.  First things first.  Irritating.  Oh well, at least there is television.  This week we’ve been sucked into this show.

It’s official.  We are very late to the game, but Netflix has the first five seasons on Instant so we don’t even have to wait for the next disk.  Lost is our getaway mechanism of the moment.

 

And Away We Go – Writer Week 1 Friday March 26, 2010

Filed under: The Writer — The Professor @ 3:05 pm

So here we are on Day 1.  Nothing like a fresh new beginning.  In fact, let’s start there.  At the beginning.  Before the Professor became the Professor, although after she announced  her desire (at the age of eight) to become a child psychologist when she grew up, she did a lot of writing.  Hey, this was my childhood hero after all.

So I wrote story after story after story.  Life was quiet as an only child and when I wasn’t reading someone elses’ story, I was probably making up my own.  In fact, I had something of a series going by the time I got to middle school.  The title of this collection?  One Big Family.  Yup, nothing like a creative title and a kid wondering about the opposite of what she had.  I spent a bit of time worried about this big family fascination as an Intro Psych student, but the more I thought about it, the more it became clear that the huge family in those childhood stories gave me lots of opportunities to do the thing I love best, to create characters.

Characters are what captivate me as a reader and keep me motivated as a writer.  For some it is setting or hey, even plot, but for me it all starts and ends with characters.  There is much to be said about character development,but one of my favorites comes from Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird.

“You make up your characters partly from experience, partly out of the thin air of the subconscious, and you need to feel committed to telling the exact truth about them, even though you are making them up.  I suppose the basic moral reason for doing this is the Golden Rule.  I don’t want to be lied to; I want you to tell me the truth, and I will try to tell it to you….. Just don’t pretend you know more about your characters then they do, because you don’t.  Stay open to them.  It’s tea time and all the dolls are at the table.  Listen.  It’s that simple.”

That advice resonates with me, it makes sense.  Lots of other writing programs and books suggest a similar approach.  One of my favorites of this kind of book  is The Writer’s Idea Book by Jeff Heffron.  In the chapter entitled Folks Like You, be provides a number of helpful prompts that writers can use to get to know their characters.  Here are a few of the best:

  • Describe your character’s facial expressions and body language.  Describe any tics or physical habits, such as clearing his throat when he’s irritated or stroking his chin when we watches TV.
  • Describe your character’s wardrobe.  Know everything he wears, but pay particular attention to favorite clothes.  What image does this character try to project through clothes, and what does that desired image say about the character?
  • Describe your character’s interests and hobbies.  How active is in he in all of these areas?  Which hobbies has he abandoned through the years?  What is the hot interest of the moment?
  • Write your character’s life story in a few pages, focusing on the key moments, the turning points.
  • Describe your character’s personality.  Outgoing?  Shy?  Both?  Give this description some depth.  Here’s where you’re really getting to the heart of the character.
  • Describe your character’s large and small possessions.  What objects are most loved?  What does this say about your character?

Do you, like me, have a character that’s been tapping on your shoulder for years?  Popping into your mind when it wanders?  If you do, sit down with a cup of coffee and these questions and get to know each other.  I imagine I’m talking to myself, but if I do have readers that want to play, I invite you to post what you’d like from your own conversation in the comments.  I will be doing this later in the week.

And to get you in the writing mood and welcome you to the weekend, take off your heels and settle in to hear what Joyce Carol Oates has to say about character development.  It’s short 🙂

 

The Professor Gets a Makeover or What’s Going on Around Here? Thursday March 25, 2010

Filed under: Daily Life — The Professor @ 12:46 pm

Change is afoot.  We have only 14 more weeks in this town.  I have only 5 more weeks of employment.  No summer school teaching, no job for the Fall.  This is radical in it’s newness.  I got  my first job when I was 16.  I worked throughout high school and college and the only summer I have taken off was 2006 after my first year as a tenure-track faculty member.  That is sixteen years of largely uninterrupted employment.  I’m thinking a pattern has probably developed in that time; a kind of groove.  My routine loving self is likely to struggle as I make my way out of the groove.

I was thinking about all of this during a meeting at work when I got a great idea.  Perhaps I could use this blog as a way to structure my next steps.  So…… Blue in the Sky will be taking a new approach.  Instead of a random collection of personal reflections, as of March 2010 this is now a blog with a mission.  The unemployed Professor will be trying on some new hats.  Seeing what fits and what looks flattering.  What does this mean  for you dear reader?  It means you can expect a little more consistency and perhaps even some information you can use.

Each day I will try on some of my new hats.  On Monday when the Professor turns Chef you can expect a recipe, on Adventure Tuesday I will check in with my progress on whatever the “Adventure of the Moment” might be.  Wednesday brings a book review and on Thursday I’ll channel my wife and offer suggestions to nurture your Inner Athlete.  Friday I’ll be back with writing tips and the weekend will bring news of the whole clan.  The schedule looks like this:

Monday – Chef
Tuesday – Adventurer
Wednesday – Reader
Thursday – Runner
Friday – Writer
Weekend – Wife & Mother

What do you think?  Want to play?

 

Today Has Got Me Thinking Monday March 22, 2010

Filed under: Daily Life,Family — The Professor @ 12:13 pm

Maybe it’s the fact that the sun is shining when I had expected rain or that I am experiencing my first cold med free day in recent memory.  I’m not sure what it is, but I’m having a calm, quiet kind of introspective day.  This hasn’t happened in a while.  For the last few weeks I have been either spinning manically within all of the possibilities and choices that lie ahead or crashed on the couch devoid of energy and making my sneezy way through another box of kleenex.  The calm middle ground has eluded me.

Today it feels different, quieter inside.   I’m grateful for that.  From here I feel reasonably sure that the next few months will unfold as they will.  A home will be rented, a move will take place, a decision will be made about my work life, a baby will be born.  All of these things will happen.  It is even likely that all of this will happen more smoothly without my crazed organization of every piece of it.  It’s hard for me to admit that one, but I do believe it’s true.

And one of the main reasons that is possible for me to take a good deep breath these days is bc somehow I have had the unimaginably good fortune to take all of this on with Toad.  I really must have done something wonderful in my last life to have found her.  She’s not perfect and life isn’t filled with roses and laughing at every turn, but she is deeply, deeply right for me.  We fit together in a way I didn’t think was possible.  Not in a “you complete me” kind of way, but rather in a “that makes sense to you?!  Are you serious, you get that?” fashion.  I have found a real home with her and happily I am very much aware that I have been blessed beyond measure.

All that AND she looks cute with a carrot.  😉