Cook. Write. Teach. Make.

I recently reviewed Gail Simmons’ memoir, Talking With My Mouth Full, and despite the fact that it was sort of “inside baseball” for foodies and Top Cheffies, part of her story has really stuck with me. In her memoir, Simmons explains that when she graduated from college, she didn’t really have much direction in terms of a career. A family friend told her to make a list of the things she loves to do and to let that be her guide. Simmons’ list was Eat, Write, Travel, Cook. And she’s done a fairly impressive job of incorporating those four loves into her career.

I think about her four words a lot as I emerge from the fog of graduation, go to work at my temp job (where the work has slowed down so considerably that I’m often getting paid to balance my checkbook, write thank you notes, and browse Pinterest), and work on freelance stories and pitches. I have a research project on the back burner that I would really like to make some forward progress on, but I just haven’t taken the time to sit down with the texts in question and start digging in for research. (I’m hoping that once my temp requisition ends I’ll be able to devote some serious time to writing and research.) I have recently seen a tiny bit of traction on the academic front in that it looks like I’ve picked up one class (a survey of British literature, of all things) at a local private university, but I can’t help but sometimes let myself go down the rabbit hole of bitterness about my academic career.

So, I have to make my own list of things that I love the most and find a way to make those work for me. The title of the post is a bit of a spoiler in that regard: Cook. Write. Teach. Make. These are the things I love to do, and I need to let them be my guide. I’ve been doing some cooking for others beyond my family lately and it makes me happy to see them happy with what I’ve fed them. The writing, well, that’s a no brainer. I won’t ever stop doing that. (In fact, look for an uptick in posting here once I’m done temping!) Teaching may have to take different forms than what I am accustomed to, but I’m open to exploring the possibilities. And the make? Well, it’s time for me to dust off the sewing machine and the knitting needles. I gain enormous satisfaction and pleasure from making things to wear, to give to people, or just because. I may not fashion a career out of it, but I can certainly gain some peace from it. And peace is what I need most right now.

It feels a little strange to include a recipe in this post, but since I started with the review of Gail Simmons’ book, I’ll end with it. Part of the reviewing process meant testing one of the recipes at the back of the book. The “tear off a hunk of baguette and eat it with a hunk of Gruyere cheese” recipe seemed a little easy (and may actually be something I “review” later today), so I opted for the frozen chocolate, peanut butter, and banana bar with toasted coconut.

This was a pretty fussy recipe (you can find it here), but the end result is pretty tasty, if a bit dense. The chocolate layer is THICK and softens more slowly than the creamy banana layer, which makes it rather difficult to eat. But the peanuts and toasted coconut on top provide the overall effect of a frozen Snickers bar (with higher quality ingredients, of course). I haven’t eaten very much of it (I cut it into slabs and froze them) because that chocolate layer is a bit much, but I think this would make for a lovely finish to a summer barbecue, or just to add a little sweetness at the end of a difficult day.

Processing (Chocolate Cobbler in the Crock Pot)

I’ve been quiet. I haven’t really had much to say, really. I put up my most recent entry two months ago and since then, I have survived another incredibly busy SXSW, started a temp proofreading/copyediting job, applied for jobs and fellowships, traveled to Boston for a conference, finished out the semester (probably my last at this Large Southern University), written a ton of freelance stuff, started a bunch of really cool projects, and done a bit of walking the black dog, if you will.

The completed PhD candidate with no academic job prospects is a curious creature, especially when that dearth of prospects is a bit self-created (say, you’ve got a husband with a really good non-portable job and retirement and kids in school and aging parents nearby and deep community ties; in that situation, you’re not really in the position to go chasing far-flung one-year postdocs or visiting jobs or other contingent employment with shit pay). Some people are supportive, some people think they’re being supportive but are actually twisting the knife with their words, and some won’t make eye contact when they pass you in the halls or at parties.

So, I’ve been doing a lot of processing. I hit a rather low point a week or so ago; the last day of classes, actually. It had been a pretty melancholy week. My husband’s elderly grandmother had passed away and he was about to leave for four days to go pay his respects. MCA died, a loss that truly felt like a bit of goodness had just left the world. And, it was the last day of classes. That was it, done, goodbye, no more teaching (maybe). I went to a party at the house of one of my committee members and I just … broke. The combination of wine and pity and avoidance just did me in.

And then my husband left for the weekend and the kids and I had a (mostly) perfectly lovely time together and something shifted. I was happy and content. I realized that have everything I ever wanted: a loving husband, two adorable (and maddening) children, a nice house, a pretty solid writing career, and I’ve achieved the one major goal I’ve ever set for myself, which was to get the PhD. I have a lot of friends and a supportive family.

I have a bright future. I just have to choose to see it that way.

I hope I’m not coming across as complaining or having a pity party. That is not the intent. I’m just trying to communicate my mental and emotional process over the past couple of months.

Sometimes the process isn’t pretty.

But things start to come together.

And then you have dessert.

I first saw this chocolate cobbler recipe on Tasty Kitchen (sorry, no link; it’s my policy not to send any traffic to Ree Drummond) a couple of years ago and thought, “Oh, that could do nicely.” And then I forgot about it. Then I found this crockpot-friendly adaptation while idly perusing Pinterest, and since I am home sick(ish) with a sick(ish) kiddo and it’s been raining, I decided to give it a whack.

Once upon a time, the Alamo Drafthouse had a molten chocolate cake that I ordered pretty much every time I went to see a movie there (pause for reflection on the closet full of pants that don’t fit…). They’ve since done away with it and have something called “brownie cookies” in its stead. They’re close, but no cigar. This chocolate cobbler comes close. Dangerously close. 

I won’t replicate the recipe here because I followed it as written. I will note, however, that the cook time as written might be a bit long, based on your slow cooker. My Crock Pot runs hot and the cobbler was sizzling after 2.5 hours. Served warm, it is a spongy cake interspersed with a chocolate sauce evocative of warm pudding. Top it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you’ve got a perfectly satisfying dessert, the result of a long and sometimes-ugly process.

On failure

These were supposed to be black-bottom cupcakes, as seen here. I made them in anticipation of a girls’ night in I’m having here at my house tonight with some friends from school. Kind of a big difference, no? I think that the combination of using mascarpone instead of regular cream cheese and overfilling the muffin cups led to this spectacular baking disaster.

Okay, they’re not THAT much of a disaster. I tried a quarter of one last night and it was quite delicious. It even had the tiniest suggestion of the cheesecake-y “filling” in the center. But because they’re nothing like I had intended them to be, I consider them a failure. But it’s one I can laugh off.

This has been a difficult week. Part of the reason I haven’t been blogging much (because I haven’t had much time to cook — there have been a lot of sandwiches and thrown-together meals around here lately) is that I have been working a full-time job at Pearson (ach! my values!) since April 25. My job requisition is through June 30, and we had made plans for the rest of our summer accordingly. But about a week ago, my boss came to me and told me that there was a way to extend my job requisition indefinitely, by having me support an admin whose boss had just gone on maternity leave. I accepted because I like having the extra money. We’ve been fortunate enough that I have been able to sock most of my pay from this job into savings (well, a nice portion of it. There has been *some* shopping!). So, we signed the Big Kid up for more camp and I made plans to take one day off a week to finish my dissertation revisions.

I supported this admin for three days, then noticed on Wednesday morning that someone else was helping her. I asked my boss about it and she told me that this young woman found me “unhelpful” and that she “didn’t feel comfortable” working with me. So she had been assigned someone else and my job requisition would not be extended.

This stung. Oh, did it sting. I won’t go into all the gory details, but I am guessing that she found me “unhelpful” because I questioned the efficiency of the things she was having me do. (Make binders, then take everything out of those newly made binders and move it into other binders, among other vague, ill-defined instructions.) Basically, I thought this girl was an idiot (not quite sure why I’m using past tense there), and didn’t do a very good job of concealing those feelings. At the end of the day, it was a personality conflict and no one is the bad guy in situations like that, but I still feel like I’ve failed. It’s demoralizing to realize that someone disliked you enough to tell your boss’s boss that you suck rather than tell you to your face.

So, like I said, a rough week. This happened on Wednesday, which meant that I spent the rest of my work week in a pit of self-loathing, wondering what I could have done differently to keep my good reputation there intact. I have endeavored to do a really good job there, and I get along really well with all of my colleagues (save this one guy, but I learned very early on that *everyone* hates him). This also stirred up extremely bad memories of past job failures: I have been fired from more jobs than I care to admit, all from when I was in my 20s and had an extremely bad attitude. I have worked very, very hard to be a better person than the one I was 10-15 years ago, and this incident just churned up all of those long-buried failures back to the surface.

But this is not a complete tragedy. Because the Big Kid is now signed up for camp through July 15, I will have two full weeks to dedicate solely to dissertation work (plus an exciting freelance story). After he’s done with camp, he and I will do all sorts of fun things together: bike rides, pool trips, bowling, trips to the school library for storytimes, and so on. (There will probably also be some summer-bridge-style homeschooling, but he doesn’t know that yet!) I will be able to resume my morning runs. I can go to aqua fitness at the Y at a time that works for our families. I won’t be spending $25 on gas every two or three days. I can catch up on my sewing projects. I can get started on an article and work on my job-market materials. This development is a good thing, for me and for my family. But I still feel like a failure, and I guess only time can help me get past these ugly feelings.

Time, my family, my friends, and ugly cupcakes.

Shameless self-promotion

While I continue to plot a post on our mega-strawberry-picking excursion, please allow me to take a moment to point you to a guest post I did at Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style. It’s a little sneak peek at Chapter 1 of my dissertation, and it involves my Internet bête noire, the Pioneer Woman.

Is it just me?

Or are people really stupid? We had two showings (after more than a week of silence) of our house on Wednesday. We got some feedback from the second realtor:

Her client likes the house
a) but she is just in the beginning of her journey
b) the house is in her price range but she prefers a home that has been rehabed
and vacant

c) she thinks the house is in good condition but she prefers the more expensive

Does this realtor’s client not realize that once we sell the house, we won’t be living in it anymore? I.e., it will be vacant?

We have an adorable 1950s home in excellent condition. Very little rehabbing is required. This girl is barking up the wrooooong tree. (In other news, the client from Wednesday’s other showing has requested a seller’s disclosure. Fingers crossed?)

Real estate blues

So, we put in an offer on a bigger house in our neighborhood on Sunday afternoon, after deciding over lunch on Saturday to take the plunge. We started scrambling to put our stuff in storage and suffice to say that this week has been very stressful and overwhelming while Matt scrambles at work, then comes home and scrambles on house stuff while I try to stay on top of my dissertation, manage my exhaustion and short fuse, and wrangle Harry, who is … challenging … these days.

Anyhoo, we got a verbal counteroffer on Tuesday (“we want more money and to close in 45 days”). The written offer came yesterday: they declined our offer, but invited us to resubmit a new offer with some new terms. Apparently, they were pissed that we offered them $240K (making it very clear that this was the starting point and that we were very willing to negotiate), which was $9,900 less than their list price. They had just lowered their asking price from $269,900 (where it sat on the market for 99 days) to $249,900 and were offended that we didn’t offer them something closer to that original list price (que?!?!?!). Apparently, $249,900 is their rock-bottom price. Why they listed it at that is beyond me, but their realtor is newly minted and eager to get their house sold.

So, they want full asking price, $2,500 in earnest money, and to close in 45 days. That means we have to get our house on the market and SOLD within 45 days. Now, I either want to embiggen our house or get a bigger one before Rex Boy is born, but on these terms? Not so much. I kind of want to tell them to grow up and list their house at a price that they’d be comfortable working down from, rather than acting like petulant children when they get their FIRST and ONLY offer in FOUR MONTHS in a SHITTY MARKET.

I mean, we’re not the desperate ones here. I’m not sure why they would act like this in a buyer’s market. I think it’s greed, but Matt thinks it’s naivety. Whatever. They can take their extra 600 square feet, adorable kitchen, livable backyard with covered porch and tire swing and shove it, as far as I’m concerned.

Grump, grump, grump.

$%!#$!#% Rodents!

I’m hoping a gardening expert can help me out here. I’ve got my first-ever garden thriving in my backyard — so far we’ve harvested 4 plump jalapenos that are destined to be salsa later today. I’ve got 8 heirloom tomato plants and 4 heirloom eggplants.

Until this week, all of my plants were thriving. I had 9 tomatoes ripening on their vines, although none of them ever reddened, and my eggplants are about to go crazy. My problem is that the tomatoes are disappearing. I now only have one tomato, still green, hanging out in the garden. I imagine it will soon be gone.

I suspect that squirrels are the culprit, but I’ve not yet witnessed any critters doing any actual pillaging. We have a scare cat in the bed, but it’s clearly not working to keep critters at bay. How else do I manage these thieves? I’m not going to poison them — I won’t have that on my conscience. Is my best bet to just enclose the whole shebang in chicken wire?

Please help, as my dreams of fresh-picked tomatoes sliced and sprinkled with salt, homemade pasta sauce, caprese salad, and bruschetta are quickly dying!

Not much to say

I’m just here because I want to express my frustration that a 29-year-old graduate of my current university and one of this school’s most beloved quarterbacks, has just been hired on as some sort of offensive coordinator for the football team at a salary of $250K. Six figures for drawing Xes and Os on a board. Meanwhile, my friends who have completed their PhDs and gotten tenure-track jobs (including here) are making approximately $50K. I’m not good at math, but that’s something like five times less than what that jock with a Bachelor’s degree just signed on for.

I’d whine about how I’m in the wrong line of work, but it would be a moot point because a woman will never, ever get a six-figure job as a coach for a university football team. I wonder how much scrilla our women’s basketball coach was pulling by the time she retired. Something tells me it wasn’t anywhere near what this guy is.

So, to express my disdain for UX athletics, I’m going to the XU v. UX men’s basketball game on Saturday night with a gaggle of local XU alumni, and I’m on the hunt for some sort of XU gear here in my town to wear to the game. Not that I give a whit either way, but I feel the need to make a Statement. Via a t-shirt with a buffalo on it. Makes sense, no?

I mean, why fucking bother? No one places any value on what I do, what I’m passionate about. They just want to sit on their fat asses and watch Almighty Football on the boob toob while their arteries harden. I might as well just go back to waitressing.


So, yesterday sucked. It was totally exhausting. We left town around 7:45 and drove to Canyon Lake to drop Harry off with my dad and stepmom. Then we picked up Jeremy from the airport and then met with our lawyer. Lunch, and then headed to the mediation.

Fortunately, we only had to be in the room with John for about 5-10 minutes and it was relatively painless. He said some things that were blatantly untrue, although we’re unsure as to whether he was lying or deluded. The mediation started a little after 1pm and lasted until about 5:30. I might have said, at some point, “you can go tell that greedy piece of shit to go fuck himself,” but I can’t be sure. At one point, we were considering capitulating and assuming payments on the mortgage and insurance on the property as an investment, but I also knew that out of spite I’d want to vet every bush, every flower, every coat of paint, etc.

I don’t really want to say more than that; I will say that although we settled for a small amount that will be the basis of a college fund for Harrison, and we don’t have to worry about being sued for back mortgage and insurance payments and we don’t have to deal with John any more, I just feel really gross about this. I feel wrong about taking his money, I feel bad for him because he’s obviously not moved on from my mother’s death, but I also feel really angry with him for trying to soak us (this is my perception of his actions, anyway).

I didn’t even get my margaritas at Rosario’s, just a Shiner Bock at an inexplicable place called Beefy’s Backyard. We got home late and I was so exhausted, I let Harry sleep in bed with me until Matt came to bed. I’m still in need of cocktails, y’all. So, I’ve felt pretty down all day and have even picked a few fights with my wonderful husband, who was such a rock for me yesterday and kept me from flying off the handle. I excused myself in the afternoon to attend my first yoga class in a year, a hatha flow class that has my muscles screaming in pain tonight. Harry and I had dinner with the Masseys, where I had some much-needed Zinfandel and a lovely meal heavy on the vegetables.

I will confess that I’m trying really hard not to eat my feelings tonight or work my way through this bottle of pinot that’s calling me from the wine rack. And to ignore that bar of Green & Black’s in the freezer. Or the almost-vegan carrot-applesauce cake that Molly made that’s sitting lusciously in the fridge. Instead I will watch my DVR’ed episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, finish editing my syllabus, and hunker down with Atonement, which I’m reading veeeeery slowly. Harry went down like a rock at 8:40, not having napped today. Matt left at 5:15 to go hang out with his friend Phil — it’s nice to have some time to myself.

If one really good thing has come out of this, it’s that I feel so much closer to my brother. I spoke to him on the phone today while driving to yoga and felt totally comfortable crying about how bad I feel. I’ve never, ever been that vulnerable with him, not even when our mother died.

Tonight I feel a little older, a lot sadder, and maybe even more lost than I did before. But at least now I’m not going to get sued.

Friday Night Fights

On Friday afternoon, my brother and I (and our lawyer) are going to mediation on my mother’s estate. She died intestate in March 2004 and it has taken this long to settle affairs with our “stepdad.” Their house was in her name, which means that my brother and I are heirs to that asset. Three years ago, John (the “stepdad”), presented us with an offer to either sign away our rights to the property, and giving us full access to her personal effects (of which there were few, some crappy clothes and a very small collection of books; we’re not even sure if she even had any old photographs from when we were babies) OR start making mortgage payments on the house (and he would be responsible for the property tax). We rejected that offer and countered with the opportunity to buy us out of our interest so that he owned the house free and clear. It took him two years, but he rejected that offer and threatened to sue us for back mortgage. So, now we’re going to mediation in San Antonio.

There’s a lot more to it than this: nasty behavior on the part of his lawyer, John himself feeding misinformation (we suspect) to my grandparents, and just the usual complicated baggage that comes with being the children of a broken home followed by multiple remarriages. Lots of bad blood.

I’m really nervous about this mediation, mostly because it’s going to require me to be in the same room with John for 5 hours. Granted, Matt will be there, as will my brother, and my dad will be taking care of Harry (I think), and it’s not like he’s going to beat me up or shoot me or anything (at least, I hope not!), but I just cannot bear the thought of being in the same room with that creep, who seems hell-bent on punishing us for our mother’s death.

In some ways, I think this will help me with the grieving process, to get this ugliness behind me and have the specter of John and that g-damn house no longer looming over me. In a lot of ways, I feel like he thinks he “owns” my mom and controls all access to her (she’s buried across the street from his/their house), and I truly do think he blames us for her death (because, you know, we forced her to ignore the lump in her breast for 9 years).

I’m not looking for a payday, obviously, I just want some closure and I want what’s fair. I don’t want to have to pay mortgage on a house that I don’t have access to, and which we can’t afford. But I am just sick, sick, sick over what I’m facing on Friday afternoon. And you can rest assured I’ll be drowning my ass in margaritas at Rosario’s that night. And Matt will have to keep me out of Yarn Barn and indulging in retail therapy.