Friday, December 19, 2008

1001 Reasons to Smile

   Andrew has a gigantic book of reasons to smile that I have always appreciated.  My favorite is: the tilt of your head as you eat a taco.  And while the holidays may be a winter-wonderland, cookie-smorgasbord time of enjoyment for some people, I find it inordinately stressful -- all the more reason to consider reasons to stop grinding my teeth and smile at someone. So I thought I'd make a list of things that make me smile. I had to cut it short because I thought I'd lose you, so feel free to add any that inspire the same reaction in you.

1.  Someone's face when he/she is genuinely happy to see you.

2.  Wormwood hiding in the Christmas tree, waiting to ambush the other cats/dogs. 

3.  Bing Crosby's serialized radio show.

4.  Thumbprint cookies.

5.  The word "zither." 

6.  Candles that smell like you could eat them.

7.  Newspaper cartoons.

8.  Unexpected snow days.

9.  The sled my grandfather built for me on the only unexpected snow day I've ever had.

10.  Acceptance letters.

11.  Naps in front of the Christmas tree when it's cold out.

12.  A dinner with friends that runs late.

13.  A student that has an epiphany

14.  Sangria

15.  Seeing two movies at a theatre in one day

16.  The smell of a book you loved as a kid

17.  Seals

18.  Puffins

19.  Cookbooks

20.  Poorly made Sunday-afternoon 80s movies

Monday, December 15, 2008


This blog is inspired by a phone interview I recently had with a university. It just ended and my fingers itch to pick up the cell and say, "You know, I said this, when I really should've said this."  That's right. I'm second-guessing myself. 

This is a particularly irksome thing to be doing for me because I do not second-guess myself. Most decisions I make undergo grave consideration before any action is taken. I rarely regret break-ups, or moves, or job changes for this reason.  I also believe that I am shaped by the mistakes I make. So while I don't think every decision I've made has been the right one, I still rarely second guess a decision since I know it probably happened for some unknown reason.  I'm not a Calvinist.  But you might think of me as someone who has walked by the pool of predestination and caught a bit of condensation on her cheek. I have been lightly sprinkled with its possibilities.

But these interviews do not fall in line with my faithful life pattern of little regret.  As soon as I shut off the phone, I think, of COURSE I can define transnationalism! It's the study of cross-border communities! It's the deconstruction of thinking us versus them and the recognition of the complex relationships involved between the colonizer and the colonized! It's not whatever garbage I just gave five minutes ago.  The answer I gave five minutes ago sounds now like "Words! Verbage! Transatlantic! Literature between colonies! Vomit!" Not only that but I begin to worry: can Julia Sterne be considered a theorist? Is Erving Goffman too archaic to bring up as an influence? Is Judith Butler overdone even if there is no better substitution? 

But I can take none of it back.  I've got a monkey on my back I can't shake, and I've got to learn to do that and much faster than I have because at MLA I only have 1 hour to recover from anything stupid I might have said. My momentary bouts of idiocy cannot affect each interview I undergo.  The only thing getting me through? I keep hearing over and over from gainfully employed academics that the interviews they thought were the worst resulted in the campus visits. Maybe that won't be true for me, but maybe it will help me temporarily pry this chimp from my shoulders. 

Friday, December 5, 2008

I don't have a poker face; may I borrow yours?

I'm not blogging right now because everything that's happening to me has to do with job interviews, and since blogs are public, I don't want any of the schools reading something that might jeopardize my chances of getting to work for them. But I think I finally found a neutral topic.

Sometimes, and on very very rare occasions at that, I allow myself to daydream about what happens next.  I pull up maps of the places I applied to and squeeze my eyes shut and try to picture myself walking Sierra on a beach or throwing snowballs at Andrew.  I imagine carrying reusable grocery bags on the subway or buying a convertible to cruise sunny highways with the top down.  But besides the ugliest of my ugly characteristics -- self-doubt -- there's one thing that always bursts that bubble: my lack of a poker face.

You see, all of the candidates who ever made it to a campus visit at Baylor or Ole Miss had great poker faces. I ate with them, drove them several hours to the airport and back, and none of them let me know if they would pick BU or UM if they were invited to do so.  Nor did anyone show unbridled enthusiasm or obvious disdain for the campus they were visiting. They masterfully held their cards close to their chests, undoubtedly because they didn't want to seem too eager so they could make negotiations later.  

But I'm not like that.  If I'm lucky enough to get a campus visit, while I might have the intention to act like a normal, intelligent, reserved human being, my true self always comes out with adrenaline.  If we pull up to a campus next to the loveliest ocean I've ever seen, my tongue will surely develop a mind of its own as it blurts out, "My GOD you must wake up every day and be ecstatic to be alive, living in a place like this!!"  Or if we walk through some classic, austere New England town and pass 4 museums, 8 art galleries, and 32 specialty food stores, even though my brain might be saying "don't do it Kacy!" my arms will detach themselves from my body and grab my guide in a feverish clutch as I babble:  "THINK of the different kinds of PEPPERS I'll bet you can buy here!"  And then, of course, it's all over.  

While other people play coy, I'm completely incapable of doing that.  Take, for example, Dr. Prickett's grad class on early British literature.  While I liked Prickett, a severe Brit who belonged at Oxford and not Baylor, sometimes reading all of Darwin's Origin of Species made my mind wander a little.  We sat at a small table trying to discuss beetles and turtles and Darwin one day and no one was talking.  No one had anything to add.  It'd been 2 hours and I felt like my brain was going to explode.  I looked down at one of the pages and saw the name "Cicero."  I leaned over to my good friend and whispered, "Do you know that Cicero in Latin means chickpea? Can you imagine? All Hail the Chickpea!"  While my friend possesses that thing called the poker face, I, as I have mentioned, do not.  While Prickett did not hear my whisper, he did see my suddenly animated face in a sea of dead ones.  "Kacy! Finally, someone has something to say about Darwin. What are you thinking?"  "No, sir," I said, turning scarlet and blotching like always.  "Don't be shy Kacy. Be confident! What you have to say is most likely insightful."  "No, sir, I am ashamed to say it isn't," I said, trying to find a way to surreptitiously start a fire or crawl under my friend's chair.  Long pause.  "Oh, come on," Prickett urged. I'd been a teacher. I knew what he was going through. 2 hours of silence were brutal.  I swallowed:  "Cicero in Latin means chickpea, Dr. Prickett."  I wasn't giggling. I'm not a class clown.  It was mortifying.  He wasn't angry; he looked utterly disappointed.

You might wonder why I didn't bluff him. I'd read the book. (I always do, as a nerd.)  I should've been able to come up with something about bird beaks or barnacles.  But I don't have a poker face and I'm LOUSY at lying.  So I just -- couldn't. Not because I'm a good person but because I don't have the knack. My face always screams the truth even as my words try to cover it up. 

So if I'm ever lucky enough to get a campus interview, the school will probably know everything it wants to and most of what it doesn't after 15 minutes of talking to me.  And if I'm wholeheartedly in love with the place I've visited, even though I don't want to do it at all, I'm most likely going to tell every person I meet.  Just think Honey when she meets Anna Scott in Notting Hill:  "Oh God this is one of those key moments in life, when it's possible you can be really, genuinely cool -- and I'm going to fail a hundred percent. I absolutely and totally and utterly adore you . . . and more importantly I genuinely believe and have believed for some time now that we can be best friends.  What do you think?"

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Best Books You Probably Never Read

I don't mean to suggest you aren't well-read; I just mean these books are fairly obscure and most of them are children's books, so you might not have heard of them before. But they're worth a read even if you already have kids of your own.

The first is Briar Rose by Jane Yolen.  I read this when I was 12 years old and I've never forgotten it.  It's the story of a man in a concentration camp during World War II, but it's told alongside the original German version of Sleeping Beauty. By the way, the original is no bedtime story.  Every other chapter tells the heartache of the prisoner, and every other chapter tells the fairy tale, only the stories are intertwined.  It was the first book I ever read about World War II and concentration camps, and it was the best one, too. 

The second is my response to the Stephanie Meyer phenomenon, Twilight.  A note to all of you secret vampire-book fans -- L.J. Smith beats the pants of off Meyer anyday.  In the 1990s, she came out with a series of books called The Vampire Diaries; they're now being sold alongside Twilight at most chain stores, the trilogy repackaged as a fat black book you'll probably overlook if you ever wander into the adolescent book section (don't worry; I won't tell if you do).  It's the story of Stefan, his twin Damon, and Elena; like Twilight, it's a love story, but unlike Twilight, the main character has a spine and some intellect (sorry, Bella fans).  Stefan is the good vamp who wants to resist his nature; Damon is the bad one who wants to embrace it. And of course, as with all tween books, Elena has trouble choosing.  But unlike most tween books, the story is fantastic, the characters well-developed, and the imagination inspiring. At least, it was when I was 12. . . . OK so it's probably no Harry Potter but I loved it and still do.

The final book is not a kid's book: Phantom by Susan Kay.  I'm completely biased on this one for two reasons -- 1. I have always loved the story of Phantom of the Opera and 2. It's the catalyst for my life's devotion to literature.  Phantom is Kay's retelling of the Phantom of the Opera story, with much more emphasis on Christine's relationship with the famous masked man living in the catacombs of Paris's opera house.  It's a romance, and a complicated one, since Christine is engaged to (Pierre?).  I read it when I was 12 (I see a pattern developing here) as part of an AR reading program.  My history teacher interviewed each child and asked him/her questions about the book they selected, in part to see if the child read it, but in part to see if he/she interacted with it.  My history teacher, who was amazing, heard me babble for weeks about the book,  picked one up for herself, and read it.  So, when it was time for my interview, she knew enough about it to ask the meaty questions.  The end of the book (this gives nothing away) is undecided; Christine enters a room to be with the ailing Phantom, but the author doesn't take us there with her.  She just describes Christine as she exits.  The suggestion is that Christine finally gave the Phantom what he wanted, but nothing is overt.  Mrs. Jones asked, (and it was an appropriate question, given the scene), "What do you think happened at the end?"  

Well, I'd never been asked a question like that before.  I had always been told what happened in a book. I'd learned to take notes, write down themes, regurgitate answers on exams, but I'd never been asked my opinion about something unclear in a book before.  I answered her, and she gave her idea of what she thought, and we went on our way. It was a really small moment but it changed everything.  Books were not pages of facts but stories with endless possibilities.  Everyone has to know about this, I thought.  

And so, here I am today.  An innumerable amount of books later, I have a completed dissertation, set a defense date, and I'm one good committee's nod away from getting a chance to work at what Mrs. Jones only started.  So here's to optimism, good teachers, memorable books, and the holidays to read (or reread) as much as possible.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Youth and Hate

Yesterday, I was saddened to learn that students at my alma mater, Baylor University, strung up a noose and burned Obama memorabilia upon learning the results of the November 4th election.  I don't like to think of myself as naive, but perhaps I was, thinking that the Obama supporters might get a brief (say, 1 day?) grace period to breathe.  Apparently, I was wrong. 

It turns out Baylor's was not an isolated event.  Two of my friends have posted blogs about encountering hate first-hand; one, Lisa, whose post can be found in my blog roll, said one of her students posted the following status update upon hearing of Obama's victory:  "The white house is called the white house for a reason!!!!!"  Her school is now in arms.  Another, Claire, said she'd been accosted on facebook immediately after mentioning the election day.  Her "friend" asked her what reason she could possibly have for celebrating the downfall of our nation.  My own acquaintances have not been so openly bigoted, though some have posted that they now feel free to "have all the babies they want so that someone else can care for them."  

The problem, for me, isn't that these people were hateful.  This world is so big and the thinking often so small that I don't wonder that sexism, racism, and classism still exist. No, the truly disturbing characteristic that all these stories share is that every one of the slurs I mentioned were made by someone young.  

It's not that the youth were supposed to be pro-Obama; it's that the youth are supposed to be forward-thinking.  They're the people who have grown up attending integrated schools.  They have been friends with children who have homosexual parents.  They are the most technologically connected generation the world has ever known, which means that what they don't know or understand, they can research in the time it takes to ride the subway or wait for a fast-food order to be filled.  In other words, they should know better.  They can't claim ignorance.  They can't say "well, the world has always been divided by sex or race" because it hasn't, for them.  Their opens minds are supposed to take us one step closer to erasing sexual and racial barriers.  But if the youth are the ones stringing up the rope, what are we supposed to do? If the youth burn hope in bonfires and yearn for a more violent time, how will change come?


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Last-Minute Thoughts on Election Day

It's election day, but this post isn't about  who I think you should support.  It's just a few last-minute thoughts that have been running around in my head in the past few weeks. It'll be the last post on politics for a while -- at least, as far as I can predict. =)

1.  Democrats do, in fact, have moral values.

2.  The word "liberal" is not dirty.  It just indicates a belief in the idea that the government shouldn't get to tell you whom you can marry or what you can do with your body.

3.  People who say "Let's put God back in America again" (as the billboard down the street from my house pleads) are suggesting the Constitutional framers put him there in the first place.  The framers were pretty freaked out by government-regulated religion, so this is misleading. 

4.  The founding fathers, while admirable in some regard, were not the keepers of Christianity or virtue.  Ben Franklin was a man-whore.  Thomas Jefferson slept with his slaves. At one point, John Adams was more fond of a monarchy than a republic.  Very few were Christians; some were Deists, if they claimed a religious belief. None of them wanted equal rights for women or other marginalized figures. The 18th century really isn't the most idyllic time, so wanting to restore its "values" doesn't really make much sense. 

5.  People who vote for Barack Obama are not anti-America, or insane, or morally defunct. People who vote for John McCain aren't gun-waving Bible-thumping idiots.  Most people have given a lot of thought to the candidate they're supporting. Maybe I don't agree with McCain's policies, but I can still respect voters who disagree with me.  

6.  People who wear flags (in any form), live in small towns, or enlist in the military are no more American than I am.  We are equally American, whatever that means.

7.  There is no real America and fake America.  There's no "America."  All nations are constructed. Most are stolen from someone else. 

8.  All people who run for president are, to a degree, elite.  It's not a bad thing. I want the person running the country to be better than I am.

9.  Just because the media talks about how volatile John McCain's election has been doesn't mean it is "in the tank" for Obama.  Reporting the facts, just because they're upsetting to one political party, does not indicate bias.  So invoking the phrase "liberal media" doesn't mean that the news organization in question is making up information, just because that information happens to be unfavorable.  

10.  None of us is red or blue.  We're all just people, living in the same country, together, no matter who wins or who loses.  

11.  Fear is no reason to vote for or against a candidate.  If Barack Obama becomes president, we are not going to become an Islamic socialist anarchy.  If John McCain becomes president, we are not going to turn into a theocracy.  People who resort to politics of fear are relying on an argument ad metum fallacy to sway your vote, which is, by its definition, faulty logic.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

On Halloween, Granddaddy, and I.P. Freely

For some, Halloween is a time for children.  It's a chance to watch them wear their imaginations on the outside and to eat so much candy that they become sticky all over.  For others, it flirts with reveling in all things unholy -- satan, poltergeists, demons.  But for me, it's more special than Christmas, and it's all because of one man: my grandfather.

My grandfather loved Halloween in an over-the-top way.  He didn't just kind of enjoy passing out candy; he turned his entire home into a haunted freak-show, and he let me help.  The first thing we did to ready the house was set up the trick coffin.  My grandfather would rig a pulley to a man-sized stuffed dummy, who would be concealed.  He would make his own gravestones to put around the grizzly scene -- most of them had really inappropriate names carved on them (like I.P. Freely), his signature crude humor.  Then, he would set up a soundsystem that would blare scratchy records of Halloween sound effects: screaming witches, yowling cats, howling wolves, creaking doors.  It could be heard all over the neighborhood, echoing off the pine trees.  It would have made Vincent Price proud.  The last step was to position my grandmother at the front door with a bowl full of candy, and to wait for dark. 

I would rush through trick-or-treating so that I could get back to grandfather's sound room (aka the guest bedroom facing the street) as soon as I could.  From where we sat, with the lights off, we could see the trick-or-treaters, but the trick-or-treaters couldn't see us.  It was a great way to view the prank.  As soon as the children decided they were brave enough to pass the ominous coffin to get to the candy they so desired, they would try to run for the door, where my grandmother stood with the bowl.  Their sprint never saved them. As soon as the children passed the coffin, granddaddy would yank the pulley and the life-sized dummy would stand straight up, face-to-face with the kid or parent.  Only adding to the terror, granddaddy had rigged the dummy with a microphone; as soon as the kid looked into the face of the gigantic dead guy, he (granddaddy/the dead guy) would growl in his lowest voice, "GIMME SOME CANNNNNNDY."  This would cause a frenzy of screaming, almost ALWAYS from the parents.  Most ran away.  Some punched the dummy in the face.  Many swore.  A couple just fell out.  Grandaddy and I would mute the microphone and laugh until we couldn't breathe.  

Those who were brave enough earned their sweet tooth that night. You might think people would avoid his house out of terror, but that isn't so.  We had lines and lines of people wrapped around the block.  My grandmother always -- always -- ran out of candy.  The night usually ended with a recruited friend, my grandmother, and I popping popcorn and stuffing mini treat bags with it so we could continue feeding all the people at the door.  (This was a small town and a time predating seals on food.)  

Eventually, when we ran out of all food for the crowd, we'd have to turn out the lights, lock the door, and huddle near the fire as we waited for people to stop coming.  I usually fell asleep in that year's outrageous costume, terrified from that night's ghost stories but exhausted.  

My grandfather died twelve years ago.  I do not mourn him at Christmas, or on his birthday. I don't cast a glance anymore at his empty chair at Thanksgiving.  But the first time I smell burning leaves, pumpkin pie, and the cold, clean air that signals October in the South, I think of him.  Now when I wait in the dark, out of candy,  near my own fire, in my own house, I know he's nearby.  And it's as if no time at all has passed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Liberace in Church

This morning on NPR, I heard a piece concerning a new breed of church organ player.  Wait -- don't stop reading.  The man leading the way wears leather tights and wild hair, and he's replaced the church organ with a grandiose electronic keyboard. He's a youtube star, has rock albums, and has changed the way people in New York City think of (if they think of) organists.  His flamboyant musical style has drawn a few critics, of course; the dissenters generally refrain that church music should never be showy. His pastor disagrees.  She says that the "Greatest Story Ever Told" is a dramatic one, so what's better to represent it than a little theater? "Churches have lower attendance than ever," she said; "People need a grand performance to bring them back."

OK. That statement has had me scratching my head all morning.  My first instinct, informed by a very reserved Methodist background, was to bristle. Is it ok for someone to advocate bringing in congregants with a show? If someone decides to come to church, should it not be for a number of personal spiritual reasons -- not to see Liberace?  

Then I realized that habit, not how I really feel about the theatricality of church, initiated that reaction. Methodists, by their name, like order, neatness, predictability, logic.  You don't wave your hands or dance; he who speaks in tongues would probably be ushered out.  You don't shout out "Amen!" -- you sit with a kind of reserve that borders on boredom.  You take what you're given. You rise to sing, recite the creeds, sit, and file out. While I have represented this as dry and uninspiring, I have found the rituals comforting.  And I always get more from the hymns than the sermon. Always. Either silence or music lead the way to God -- not talking. It's never been talking for me.

So what if this NYC organist walked into my church this morning and began representing the gospel with wild runs, dramatic crescendos, and cacophonous dissonance? Whether it inspired or outraged, wouldn't it awaken me? Wouldn't it interrupt that slumber that descends over every person, now and again?  And what if people came for the music? What if they stayed for the verses? For the people? What if it led them to some other religion that inspired them? What if it led to soul-searching, inspired them to be better people, moved them to do something greater for the world than they'd thought of before? There's really nothing bland about Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Islam -- why should the services that represent them be anything less? 

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Grilled Pizza

Hey, South! The two weeks of autumn we get each year are here!  Get out there and fire up the grill before it drops to freezing and rains 'til February. If you're tired of the same old meat and veggies, though, give this recipe a try. I made it up, so nothing is exact, and everything is adaptable to your palate. If you have a favorite grilled pizza recipe, or this recipe inspires one, please share with me.

It starts after you have made your favorite homemade pizza dough recipe (or, if you're lucky to live in a city with frozen pizza dough in the freezer, use that).  If you don't have a favorite, Paula Deen's is great:  

My recipe list is long because I used just about everything I had left over in the fridge. It would have been just fine with the spinach and marinara mixture alone. 


(Whatever you need for your favorite basic pizza dough.)
About 3/4 cup bottled pizza or marinara sauce
1 package of frozen spinach, defrosted & squeezed dry
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 oz light cream cheese
1 oz  reduced-fat ricotta
1/2 cup diced ham
1/4 cup bottled, roasted red peppers
3 tbl diced black olives
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Cooking spray
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne 

1. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.
2. Roll out pizza dough to desired size.
3.  Spray both sides of dough with cooking spray. 
4. Place dough on grill. (Trick: It's easy to transfer dough from one surface to another if you roll the dough onto your rolling pin to pick it up from the counter.)
5.  Grill 3-5 minutes on each side or until dough is firm and displays light grill marks. Remove from grill, placing on baking sheet or pizza pan. 

Here's what we put on ours, but at this point, you could add anything that inspired you:

1.  Place thawed, squeezed frozen spinach in a microwave-safe bowl.
2.  Add to the spinach one ounce of light cream cheese, about 1 ounce of reduced fat ricotta cheese, 2 minced garlic cloves, and a dash of salt, pepper, and cayenne.  
3.  Heat spinach mixture in microwave 1 to 2 minutes or until cheeses are soft. Stir well.
4.  Spread bottled pizza (or marinara) sauce onto your pizza shell. 
5.  Top marinara with spinach mixture, spreading to cover.
6.  Add diced ham, olives, and roasted red bell pepper strips. 
7.  Top with parmesan cheese.

Prepare grill for indirect heat.
 Place prepared pizza (on its baking sheet) on the grill.  
Bake 20 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the marinara sauce is warmed through.  (This last part can also be done in your oven.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

On Being Robbed

I should begin by saying that we have not been robbed. But this weekend, at least one odd thing happened to change my perspective a little bit.

So Sunday morning at 8 AM, about the time we were convincing ourselves to climb out of the massive piles of covers we're using to postpone turning on the heat, we hear a tap-tap-tap at our back door.  It's Marion, the 90something year old cotton farmer neighbor. The only time Marion climbs the big hill to the house is about once a week each summer to deliver the tomatoes. Otherwise, all conversations between us happen when we make the much easier downhill climb to see him. That he's at the back door in the morning in the fall, then, is strange.

The first thing he asks is, "Were you robbed?"  Well, despite knowing that I had not been robbed, I felt ice water in my stomach. "What do you mean?" Andrew asked.  He explains: "The cops were in my bushes last night with a high-powered flashlight, looking for the guys who were trying to break into your house."  Now, if I didn't feel light-headed before, it was now necessary to sit down and shiver.

Andrew asked him to back up and slowly explain.  He did:  "I heard your dogs barking like crazy and then I saw a bright light and saw it was the cops in my back yard. It had to have been midnight or 1 am, so I raised the window and said, 'What're ya'll lookin' for?' And they said someone had called to say they'd just arrived home late to find someone breaking into their house, and when the homeowners caught them, the robbers escaped, running through ya'll's [that would be, our] yard and maybe mine. I asked the cops, 'Was it the house on the hill?' and they said 'Yes.'"  

Hence the misunderstanding -- we're the house on the hill, to Marion, but as the property keeps slanting upward, his vague gesture could've indicated a host of other homes.  And anyway, we didn't call the police, so it certainly wasn't our house being robbed. But it still could've been our backyard that was the escape route.

This changed several things for me.  I no longer saw my house as protection but rather a glorified, decorated pup tent.  That night, I went through each room and closed the blinds and curtains so no one could see in.  Andrew taught me to use a 9-millimeter, a .38, and a shotgun, two of which are now loaded in various parts of the house. I currently sleep with a bat. I brought in the dogs, not because they've vicious -- anyone who knows Sierra would find that giggle-worthy -- but because they're loud. They now sleep in the house with us, near us.  And we are permanently keeping on the brightest porch light you've ever seen in your life.

I have never felt afraid in my house before. I grew up in a town where everyone knew everyone; as an example, one of my classmates in now in jail because he held up the Country Store -- one of only 2 convenience stores in the 2,000-person town -- with a bag on his head but everyone knew his voice when he said "give me your money."  The whole store stopped and said, "Mike? Is that YOU? Your dad would be so ashamed of you right now."  He was pretty easy to track down after that.

So this idea of drawing the curtains close, checking and rechecking the locked doors and windows, learning to load and fire a firearm, fearing this old house's creaks is alien to me.  It's not so much a sign of my neighborhood, which is OK, but a sign of the times. Who's hungry enough, withdrawn enough, desperate enough to come into your house when there's a good chance you're already in it?  It's that desperation, more than the person behind it, that worries me the most.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The New Dirty Word

This blog is inspired by an article by CNN's Campbell Brown that addresses the rise in hate speech at John McCain's political rallies.  In case you haven't caught the latest videos, at the past few public appearances McCain has made, the crowd has gotten increasingly ugly, particularly after Palin accused Obama of befriending terrorists (and by terrorists, she means William Ayers, and by befriending, she means he went to a campaign fundraiser he hosted).  One woman in McCain's crowd shouted "[Obama's] an Arab, and I don't trust him." Another yelled out, "Kill him!" McCain attempted to calm the crowd by assuring them Obama was a good man and not an Arab, and the crowd booed him. 

Most Democrats are quick to point out that Obama is a Christian, not a Muslim. They do this in part because it's true, but in part because the word "Muslim" has become the newest dirty word.  The rebuttal comes a little too quickly, the disdain a little too evident.  The reason the woman at the McCain rally spat the word "Arab" is because she deemed it the ultimate insult.  It's our version of the 17th-century "witch."  All you have to do is point to someone and say it (or "terrorist") and whoever is accused must swim, and be burned, or sink, and drown.  Whoever uses the label wields all power. 

But since when is Muslim a bad word? What if John McCain or Barack Obama were Muslims? I KNOW they aren't -- but so what if they were?  Since when is a Muslim incapable of ruling the country? If Americans think Christians should be the only ones allowed to run for office, then they should put it in writing (so I can move to Canada). Religion isn't a prerequisite for holding office.  What are people afraid of? That a Muslim president would break out some kind of crazy machine that turns them into jihad-loving terrorists? That logic is seriously flawed. Did John F. Kennedy convert the masses to Catholicism? Did George W. Bush turn everyone into evangelicals? Mitt Romney holds congressional power; do you suddenly feel yourself morphing into a Mormon? Of course not; people decide what they will believe by soul-searching, maybe by following the lead of a pastor or a friend. They do not expect their president to convert them to one religion or another.  

And even if the president were able to break out this magical crazy Muslim-loving machine, there's nothing to fear from Islam.  It's a peaceful religion that worships the same God Christians do, shares the same Bible (with additions), and holds the same values (often, tighter).  It stems directly from the Old Testament, in fact; its brother-religion is Judaism. Both share a family tree.  The people America fears are radicals. Just like Christians -- remember the Branch Davidians? Or those nike-wearing people who killed themselves to prepare for incoming aliens? -- that religion has extremists.  Extremists are not the rule; they are the exception.  They are not Islam, incarnate.  They are not model Muslims, just as the Davidians were not model Christians.

In short, we shouldn't stand for the stigmatization of Muslim or Arab. We shouldn't let the mob make dirty what isn't.  

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fix It

I like Kenan's plan: fix it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

SNL VP Debate

Freaking Hilarious.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dear Congress

Dear Congress, and by Congress, I include you, Senators McCain and Obama:

I can't sew.  I know -- that's just not what you're thinking about right now, is it? But maybe it should be.  You see, if we plunge to a Depression, like that crazy guy from MSNBC keeps saying, I won't be able to make my clothes, as they did in the 1930s, and then I'll have to spend a good part of my adult life naked. This actually would affect you, as I'm no spring chicken, and, as any good academic, am rather pale.  Not pleasant.

Speaking of chickens, I've recently discovered my parents/grandmother own a dilapidated farm in East Texas. I have decided if you can't pull yourself together, I'm going to have to give up my academic career, because colleges will surely be one of the first institutions to go, since they don't feed or clothe people.  That means I'll have to move to this farm and grow hens.  As every good farmer knows, you don't "grow" hens, you raise them, which tells you how much trouble this is going to be for me and my family.  Having grown up 10 miles from the Pilgrim's Pride plant, I have to say that farming would be unpleasant.  Congress, have you ever smelled a chicken farm?  I swear to you that if you screw up this economic bailout, as it appears you seem determined to do, I will find each and every one of you, bring you to my chicken farm, and rub your nose in the dirt.  Because that is basically what you've done to me.

Dear legislators, it's time for you to stop playing with me for your political gain. We all know that you, Republicans, rejected the bailout so that you could, upon running for reelection, say you rejected it.  But this is a cruel game. Perhaps the bailout wouldn't have worked; perhaps it was a terrible plan.  Anyone who's lent money to a gambler has their doubts about giving $700 billion to banks who clearly have bad decision-making skills.  But I'm not sure that's why you said "no," and that makes me angry.  Democrats, you're just as bad.  It may be a partisan issue for you, but it's a home loan for me. It's a car loan for my friend; it's a college loan for my students.  If I buy the paranoia, it could cost me my paycheck if my employer can't get the funding to meet payroll.  

And if I sound a little frantic, Congress -- if I sound needlessly worried -- that's because you've spent zero amount of time telling me just what this really means for me.  Just because you use the words "main street" doesn't mean you know what's happening here; and as a result, neither do we.  

In short, Congress, I'd like to slap you in the face.  Not figuratively -- I think you all need a good hard whack across the nose.  I would like to volunteer my services.  And when you've come to your senses, I'd like for you to reach across the aisle and figure out a plan that keeps our banks from failing completely.  Because I've got a gunny sack, but I've no idea what to do with it.  



Monday, September 29, 2008

Whatever's In the Cupboard Mac & Cheese

I got home after a long road trip -- I'm working on reunion posts -- and craved something that made me feel good; unfortunately, my fridge and cupboard only had a few leftover items here and there. I made this out of pantry staples and have since adapted it with whatever is on hand. Any small pasta will suffice, as will any cheese or vegetable (such as frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed, or chopped, bottled, roasted red peppers). Diced ham or turkey bacon would be a nice addition, too.

Whatever’s In the Cupboard Mac & Cheese

1 cup uncooked seashell pasta
4 oz low-fat cream cheese, cubed
½ cup shredded 2% sharp cheddar
¾ or 1 cup 2% evaporated milk, regular milk, cream, or 1/2 and 1/2
1/3 cup frozen green peas, thawed (run 'em under hot water)
1 egg, beaten
2 tbl Italian breadcrumbs
2 tbl grated parmesan cheese
½ tsp red pepper
½ tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt


Preheat oven to 350.

1. Boil pasta. Drain. Transfer to mixing bowl.

2. Stir in cream cheese, cheddar, milk, green peas, red pepper, black pepper, salt and beaten egg. Pour into 5-in square casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray. Top with shredded parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs.

3. Bake 30 minutes or until the dish is set and slightly pulled away from the sides of the pan.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

When the Big-Top Came To Town: The Ole Miss Presidential Debate

I work in the town hosting the first and probably most significant debate of the 2008 Presidential Election year, and I have to say, it's been interesting. While I can't give you the perspective of someone who lives there, dealing with traffic and media on a day-to-day basis, I can tell you a little about Oxford in the days preceding the circus that is the Obama/McCain media extravaganza.

First of all, I just have to say that Oxford is letting its "crazy" show.  On my way into town just a few days ago, I noticed at least 8 new billboards and yard signs that gave me an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.  The first was a gigantic sign that you have to pass to enter the town that has a very, very lengthy bible verse printed on it in bubble letters. The sign is so full that its message is obscured, but not completely:  we get it -- the South loves God, as evidenced by exhibit A's giant, unreadable sign. Check.  As you continue through the town, the same people sponsoring the first sign have constructed others.  One particularly enigmatic one says "If our universities would lead, our kids could read."  I wasn't aware that the university taught the fundamental principles of phonics; please don't let NBC (or the Daily Show) get a close-up of that one.

The yard signs are lined up row upon row as you take the primary road to the "Square," the town's main attraction, which boasts shops, restaurants, and bars.  Each sign has a small white cross on it and one word: Pray.  What does this mean? The election choices are so bad either way that all we can do is "pray"?  That Oxford thinks its president-elects should pray?  That prayer should be integrated into this government process? That you should pray before voting? What?  The South loves religion; ah yes, I had forgotten the gigantic illegible bible verse on my way in, and now I am reminded. Check check. 

For those of you who don't know me well, I happen to be a practicing, believing Christian. But I get really peeved when people use my spiritual belief system as a tactic for winning a government race. I am strongly for the separation of church and state, and I have the feeling that if the government adopted a different religion than the majority (Judaism, anyone? Islam? Hinduism?) then everyone else would be, too.  I believe as soon as the Church enters the state, one corrupts the other. (Heck I might be Quaker; they believe the church's bureaucracy makes it corrupted and argue instead that everyone carries the "inner light" of God in the body's sanctuary, making everyone a church!)  But I digress.

You might wonder if I'll be attending the debates. The answer is no -- but not because I don't want to.  You see, I'm not invited, nor is 3/4 of the University.  The debate organizers fear an unstable audience will cause a ruckus, so if you wanted to be part of this monumental event, you had to write an essay that fit their version of patriotism, and then you get the golden ticket to go inside. There is one group who'll be present, golden ticket or no: the KKK.  They said they're coming plain-clothed to recruit.  The best part?  They'll be there, they said, not because Obama is black, but because his middle name is Hussein.  I have officially decided to change my middle name to BinLaden, just to mess with people who use this ridiculous argument; the internal combustion that will surely happen as people try to compute my white face with my "eastern" name will be all too entertaining to watch. I love fireworks.

In its defense, Ole Miss is greeting the KKK with an art exhibit where a photographer has replaced the bodies of tortured African-Americans with KKK clansmen in gruesome lynching photos.  There are "white knights" being hooked, tarred, and skinned alive; the photos are so graphic that they are constantly guarded by armed officers. That's a pretty strong response, UM; way to go.

When you watch the debates this weekend, when the news will certainly find that one lunatic who laments the days of slavery and can only babble incoherently about terrorism, I'll be in Texas at my 10-year high school reunion, far away from the madding crowd.  But you can bet I'll be watching. Even if I'm not invited there, it's just too important to miss.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Reflection on Beale Street and Smushmellows

This weekend was long overdue. With deadlines looming, paperwork to be completed, and our entire future up-in-the-air, it was time for a little dancing and celebration.

Friday, we went to Beale Street (shirking the local home game's debut on ESPN! The huge-manatee!)  and went dancing at Alfred's and I was reminded how much I like it there.  It was a warm night, and the streets were stuffed with people dancing, twirling, and drinking margaritas from Wet Willie's. Beale Street is an odd combination of Memphis blues and New Orleans charm. It smells of pork barbecue, red beans and rice, and spilled beer.  Strong men line up in the street to perform acrobatic feats for money.  And there's always this one guy who sits on a throne on the sidewalk, pulled up to a standalone table.  He doesn't offer anything -- doesn't tell fortunes, doesn't perform magic -- he just seems to want to talk to people.  If you go to BB King's, you'll hear the best blues in the South (short of Clarksdale, I hear), where some of the most soulful music I've ever heard causes people to sway drunkenly on the smoky dance floor.  We went to Alfred's, which was stuffed with bachelorette parties of veiled reeling brides wearing flashing lights around their waists and necks.  One drunk guy spun aimlessly around the floor in a pink shirt, dancing with his own shoes at times, stopping occasionally to stand  still for several minutes while holding his middle finger in the air. I'm still not sure who was (or was not?) involved in the insult. 

While the night was undeniably odd, Beale Street's music is so toe-tapping, the dance floor so entertaining, the bands so glad to be there, and the food so delectable that I found myself just glad to be alive and out under the warm night sky.

The next night was also outside but in a very different setting.  We went to the lake to enjoy a campfire, smores, and early autumn lightning.  I walked a dog around the site's loop and enjoyed the absolute darkness, interrupted only here and there by the twinkling lights of a plastic palm tree or Christmas lights someone had erected in their camper's "front yard."  The world smelled like cut grass and ozone before a storm, thrown in with the happy smell of slightly dirty children who have played outside all day long, barefoot.  Campers played oldies and grilled hamburgers on rusty charcoal grills.  I was unable to get melted marshmallows (or smushmellows as one friend's child calls them) off of my hands, and that was OK.  

It reminded me of growing up in East Texas in a town with no restaurants or stores, with nothing open past 9.  I spent hours outside on the front lawn drawing pictures with the stars, which were bright and unhampered by any lights from any city, the closest one being an hour away.  My friends and I told ghost stories on my trampoline, letting the wind from the dark woods behind us send shivers down our backs, between our shoulder blades.  The smoke from the campfire would tangle in my long hair and stay there.  

While I can't buy the founding fathers' suggestion that a rural life is a virtuous one, I have noticed that spending a little time with the open sky reminds me of how small I am, how small my problems are.  And who doesn't need that little reminder, every now and then?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Palin/Clinton SNL Genius

A little humor in the midst of recent insanity

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

MLA, the JIL, and other Acrimonious Acronyms

This Friday is a day to turn the stomach of any up-and-coming literary academic: the day the Modern Language Association (MLA) posts its job list.  That's right. While everyone else is enjoying happy-hour with coworkers, going out on a date for a little escapist moviegoing, or just taking the time to relax after a long week, Andrew and I will be picking our new lives out a catalogue.

For the uninitiated, people who work in higher ed English departments don't usually get to just call up the place they want to live and apply for a job there, like all other good young job-seekers get to do.   They have to go to the MLA convention, which is always either in San Francisco or Philadelphia, and it's always a couple of days after Christmas. Yep. Christmas Day. You can think of it as the nation's biggest English job fair, only it's (relatively?) mandatory for anyone seeking a tenure-track job.  (These generalizations don't apply to academic superstars -- there is TOO such a thing, although outside their own circles they generally feel pretty lost -- and people who are fine with instructorships/adjunct work, which is always temporary.)  

Once the MLA posts the jobs you can apply for, you have to select the jobs that appeal to you and then send each school a phenomenal amount of yourself on paper. Not only do they want a resume (or vita, in our case) but they want a teaching philosophy (aka a stilted version of everything you believe about the classroom in one page), a dissertation abstract (aka everything you've devoted your life to studying and writing about for 200 pages crammed into 1,000 or so words), and a writing sample. IF they like you enough on paper, you get "the phone call."  

Legend has it that "the phone call" can come all the way up to Christmas Eve, or not at all; if Santa comes early, this phone call results in an MLA job interview, which is like speed dating with nausea.  Exhausted professors not very good at talking to people anyway push multiple interviewees a day into a cramped hotel room, trying to find someone to invite for an on-campus interview.  I hear that the smell of coffee and alcohol is enough to turn anybody's stomach; there are tales of people vomiting in the stairways and elevators, and everyone I've talked to seems to remember the stink of failed deodorant, evidence of the anxiety on both interviewer and interviewee's account.  

The combination of nerves, alcohol, caffeine, long days, and exhaustion makes for some pretty terrifying stories. One I've recently read, but shouldn't have, began with a guy sitting down for his interview and being told this:  "I find your scholarship totally irrelevant. Would you like to comment?"  Others have recounted how people on the hiring committees would slide out of their chairs to hide under the table, never to come out again.  Another said she watched one man, a pretty high-up muckety-muck, fall asleep in front of her, drooling on her CV.  

But the truth is, I want to be there. I want to have my chance. If you pass this particularly grueling test, you might get invited to a campus interview, where you teach a class, discuss your dissertation, talk to the provost, and generally try to convince people they want to work with you.

So as this Friday rolls around, stop a minute and think of our family and all of our friends who are going through this process too.  If you're a praying person, we really wouldn't mind if you'd remember us in your weekly laundry list of people who have concerns. If you're not, whatever you normally do for well-wishing would also be appreciated.  If you happen to see me puffy eyed, a little on edge, distracted, unable to eat, and generally more insane than usual, just keep in mind -- the MLA posted its job list this Friday. And that could change everything.

Friday, September 5, 2008

How to Fight a Wild Animal in your House, and Win

It all started while we were watching a recorded version of John McCain's speech. It was late. We were folding laundry and hurling insults at the TV.

"*I'M* for change," McCain insisted.
"Idiot!" I ranted. "No you're not! Stop lying to people."
"I'm a war vet and that means you should vote for me," he continued. I'm paraphrasing but whatever.
"No it doesn't!" I throw a pair of socks at the television screen. "It just means you would be really good at Survivor."

This goes on for some time and, meanwhile, in the floor, Wormwood is knocking things off of tables, as usual. He skitters into the next room, chasing a cat toy with a bell in it. I hear what sounds like a marker rolling around on the floor and think to myself that I'll have to dig it out from under something dusty later and roll my eyes. My mind vaguely registers the familiar sounds of the house at night -- Worm destroying something, the ancient air conditioner wheezing in its struggle to cool our old house, the creak of the wooden floorboards, and a cat crunching her dry food. I pay very little attention to any of this.

The speech ends and Andrew and I exchange our exasperations. While the marker-rolling, air-wheezing, and floor-creaking have all stopped, the catfood-crunching has escalated to a noise level I've never heard before. There's now an added bag-rustling which suggests one of my animals is about to get into trouble. No cat has ever eaten out of the cat-food bag. I head to the kitchen.

Allie is standing in front of the washing room with not one hair out of place. She looks at me calmly and raises an eyebrow. I see a big furry body submerged in the supersized bag of cat food and I at first assume that Chloe has finally lost all self control and is eating her weight in Purina. Allie's look contributes to my assumption; I swear if she could talk, she'd say, "Well, we finally lost her." But on a second glance, she could also be saying, "So I see you've brought ANOTHER animal into the house and told it that it could live in the food bag. How like you."

Because it's not a cat in the Purina -- it's a possum. And it's making a lot of noise.

I utter a string of curses I rarely invoke and the little weasel pokes his eyes up out of the bag, his cheeks puffed out with food, and stops chewing. "Oh hey," he seems to say. "Didn't think you were up."

He reluctantly pulls himself out of the cat food and hides behind the washer (as he's doing in this picture). He cannot get back into the hole he has come in through; it's high on the wall, and he seems to have fallen out of it. We are at a stalemate.

So Andrew sets up a mousetrap-like maze in the kitchen with boxes, baby gates, and laundry baskets, all the while shouting all the diseases these demons carry. He stands on the washing machine with a baseball bat and a broom, and I stand on the stove island with the same tools. When it comes time to act -- no one wants to touch it, and both of us are only halfway convinced that they don't jump or fly -- Andrew shoves it out from behind the washer with a broom. I expect it to hiss and try to frighten me, but it just shuffles out, as if exasperated, and pauses next to the food and kind of looks up at Andrew, like, "Can I just pause for a bite? Just a small one?" The answer is of course, no, and I push him in the backside with my broom toward the back door.

I don't like touching him at all but he follows the maze of boxes and baskets well enough and out the door, which has been propped open for him. We wearily construct a hack-job of patchwork over the hole behind the washing machine (this "hole" is really where the pipes enter the house) using leftover boards from crown molding construction projects and duct tape. We sink into bed about 1 AM and wonder, how do these things happen to us?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

You Ain't Nobody unless you are F-R-U-M Somewhere

Labor Day weekend, Andrew and I drove for four days (total) to Ft Worth, Texas, to visit my brother and sister-in-law and to see their beautiful (did I mention gigantic?) new home.  We were fortunate to see my parents as well, and between audiobooks, while making the 18-hour roundtrip, I started thinking about Texas, which is home.

I'm coming up on the point in my career when I need to start thinking about where to go next.  There are a lot of reasons not to return to Texas. Gun-toting NRA supporters.  People who call eating chicken instead of steak one day a week  "environmental conservation."  Unnerving prejudice against all Spanish-speakers or "furriners" as my friend Sabahat jokingly called herself. A kind of pride in an unwillingness to change.  

But despite the deficiencies, there's something about home that gets in my blood and stays there. In that ironic voice that would become her calling card, Flannery O'Connor once said, "You ain't nobody unless you are FRUM somewhere."  And I'm "frum" Texas, but what does that mean? 

The answer to that is tied to family but since I'm removed from them, it's tied to food my family made for me.  When I first moved away, my first night in this big empty house I wanted to make enchiladas. My version incorporated jalepeno cream cheese, but when I went to the store shelves to find it, it wasn't there. Of course it wasn't there. I was in the Deep South, not the Southwest, and then it hit me how far away from home I was.  I sobbed right there in front of the shredded cheese. No one noticed.

Home is also in that dark, earthy spice cumin, and in the rich warmth of chili powder, which my mother used to dust over cheese toast.  Anything topped with cilantro makes my heart hurt a little.  When I feed friends in my new home, I serve them what I know. Homemade salsa spiked with lime, hot with chipotle peppers.  Avocados mashed with garlic and cilantro and sweet chopped red onions.  Pitchers of tart, cool margaritas.  Some approve and teach me about their own regional fare.  Some, though, poke the avocados, saying, "Ew. It's green. I don't eat green mashed food."  Some say -- "This food is hot.  I do NOT eat hot food."  I cannot fathom what heat they're talking about, and this is not some weird, faked, food-bravado if there is such a thing.  I cannot explain to anyone why this is like insulting my mother and father, but it is.  (Upon reflection, then, D.W., I apologize for any disparaging remarks about pork barbecue, which I have grown to love.) 

Texas is about more than spices, of course, though that's enough for me really.  The air is different, for one.  While my current home smells overly sweet, especially during the summer when the magnolias vie with the honeysuckle, my birthplace smells like linen and hot pine needles.  Even the ground is different, the dirt a dark red clay.  My friend used to tell me that if you dug up clay and shaped it into quarters, you could set out the discs in the sun to dry, and they would turn to gold.  We tried it one night at a catfish fry near Club Lake, laying out rows upon rows of rust-colored earth, dreaming of what we'd do with our riches the next day. 

There are a dozen other distinctions as well, though you may think none of them remarkable.  While I still live in the South, the twang in Texas is different.  East Texas words are flat but not long like here.  Central Texas has big hair but clipped speech and no trees.  The sky seems bigger.  

But no one can say if we will call it home again. Academics don't pick their careers, not really. Even if we return there, I'm not sure people can ever return to the place they remember.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Peanut Butter and Chicken Sauce Euphoria

When I got married 6 years ago, I realized that if I wanted something other than macaroni and cheese, I'd have to make it (Andrew can cook and will help anytime but it's just not something he gets excited about). So I ordered Cooking Light, one of the best health decisions I've made since I started running in 1994, and have been inspired ever since. Besides helping me keep track of my calories and teaching me tricks for preparing good food that's good for us -- like using fresh herbs, sea salt, and small quantities of good olive oil -- it's helped us broaden the kinds of foods we eat. We've added Indian and Thai to our standards, Southwestern and Italian (I think Andrew would also add his favorite, "meatloaf," as a food category but I'm not sold).

The following recipe is now in the rotation of go-to recipes for our household because of its versatility; it uses staples, it's not too weird, and it can be altered to be a sack-lunch or dressed up for company. It would be a great way to try something new -- it incorporates classic Thai ingredients -- even if you have picky people in your household. I'll include the original recipe but then tell you how we've changed it to stretch it, make it vegetarian, alter it to be a soup in the wintertime, and dress it to make it more colorful. The recipe is courtesy of


Cooking spray
1/2 cup matchstick-cut carrots
1/3 cup chopped green onions
2/3 cup light coconut milk
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 cups shredded skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast
4 (8-inch) fat-free flour tortillas
1 1/3 cups packaged angel hair slaw


Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add carrots and onions; sauté 1 minute. Stir in coconut milk and next 5 ingredients (through pepper); cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the chicken; cook 1 minute, stirring to coat. Remove from heat; cool. Warm tortillas according to package directions. Spoon about 1/2 cup chicken mixture down center of each tortilla, and top each with 1/3 cup angel hair slaw. Roll up. Cover and chill. (I top mine with Sriracha, or Thai chili sauce, and a few extra unsalted peanuts for crunch.)

4 servings (serving size: 1 wrap)

Nutritional Information
CALORIES 321(28% from fat); FAT 10.1g (sat 3.3g,mono 3.7g,poly 2.1g); IRON 0.9mg; CHOLESTEROL 49mg; CALCIUM 37mg; CARBOHYDRATE 25.5g; SODIUM 844mg; PROTEIN 24.1g; FIBER 4.3g

So this is the basic recipe. But you can omit the chicken, tortillas, and cabbage and double the carrots and onions, and add matchstick-cut red peppers and toss with warm fettuccine for dinner. Garnish with green onion tops, peanuts, cilantro, and Sriracha, or Thai chili paste, the red bottle with the giant chicken on it (which is why Andrew calls it "chicken sauce"). It's beautiful with all of the vibrant colors. This same meal is also excellent on white or brown rice, if you're looking for a boost in fiber.

The other way you can alter it is by making it into a Thai Chicken Chowder. Saute the onions and carrots like before, but add 2 cloves of garlic, 1 cup chopped bell pepper, 2/3 cup snow peas, 1 1/2 cups (1/2 inch) cubed sweet potato, and 1 1/2 tsp of ginger to the pan as well. When that has cooked 8 minutes, stir in 2 (14-oz) cans of chicken broth and simmer 10 minutes. Then add 2 tbl lime juice, a dash of Sriracha, 1 1/2 cups cooked chopped chicken breast and one can of light coconut milk; cook 1 minute or until heated. Serve garnished with onion tops, cilantro, lime wedges, unsalted peanuts and Sriracha if your guests like food HOT!

If you end up trying it, lemme know what you think. If you have another recipe for me, send it my way. I always need new ideas.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

RIP Jerry Wexler

Unfortunately for me, this blog is a little pretentious. It's a panegyric to Jerry Wexler, the president of Atlantic Records partially (mostly) responsible for the fame of the likes of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Otis Redding. He died Friday, 8/15.  But that's not what makes the post pretentious; it's because it's partly a paean to music of the 50s and 60s but it's written by a girl born in 1980 who can't claim soul and blues and rock n roll from 20 years before her existence without a little bit of affectedness.  It's a little hypocritical coming from a person who has voluntarily downloaded a Britney Spears song because it made her want to dance around the room.   It's a little high-minded because if you snuck into my car today, you might find it on XM's 20 on 20, and you might find out I know the words to that new song by Carrie Underwood, "Last Name." 

So at least I'm honest.

But I was listening to a tribute to Wexler the other day, which included a sampling of songs like "These Arms of Mine," "R-E-S-P-E-C-T," and "I Know a Woman." Driving down the road on my way to Oxford, I was singing along at the top of my voice when I thought -- who will pass down this music to my students? To my children? To my children's friends? 

Flashback to 1992. I'm 12 and very impatient with my dad.  I've come to ask him a question about history, a question I always precede with, "And can you give me the short answer please because I just don't have 4 hours this afternoon."  Very bratty.  But I come in on him singing.

"These  ----   armmms ----- of ------ miiiiiiiiiiineeeeee" he croons.
"Dad, I have a question about the American Indians." 
He smiles at me and raises his eyebrows but doesn't answer. "They are yeeearrrning, yearning." 
There's no music playing. I roll my ungrateful teenage eyes at him. I've gotten in trouble for this a lot.
"From wanting youuuu." 
"Dad. Are you listening to me?"
"I need somebody. Somebody to treat me right ohhhh." 
I sigh. And wait until the end. "That's Otis Redding, Kacy. I love Otis Redding. But not as much as Bob Dylan."  

A typical conversation in my household. My mother compromised on the radio and let me listen to Bon Jovi. My father would not. "You need a musical education. This stuff you listen to is all boom boom boom boom."  He was talking about the beginning of hip-hop.

So he played Aretha Franklin. And Sam Cooke. The Drifters. His favorite thing to do was imitate the 50s falsetto, especially if it was a Frankie Valli song. He made up his own music too and sometimes paired it with really moldy country songs. It resulted in an odd "Ode to Charlie Pride/Ode to Myself."  Here's just one example:  "Ohhh the Crystal Chandeliers light up the paintings on your wall. . . plunka plunka plunka -- I'm wonderful, I'm marvelous, I'm terrific and I'm great. I'm one of the greatest people I've ever knooooowwwwnnnnnn."   

The music Wexler helped get to the public is the soundtrack to my childhood.  What do I have to give my own (nonexistent) offspring? "Make 'em Say Unnnnn?" "Gin and Juice?" Shooting stars of hip hop & R&B who flare up just to fall down as quickly? 

Nope, no thanks. I'll risk being a musical leech -- a person who makes claims on music beyond her generation -- any day.  

Sittin in the morning sun. I'll be sittin' when the evveeening comes. Watching the ships roll innnn . . . Then I watch 'em roll away again. . .

RIP Jerry Wexler. (And thanks, Dad.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wormwood, or, Kacy Gets Mistaken for a Homeless Person Outside of Walmart

This post is not about the cuteness of kittens. It's actually about a really tough weekend, and a little about this guy, whose name is Wormwood. 

It began about a week ago with the appearance of those kittens I told you about in the last post. They started sleeping in the space between our kitchen door and the screen door, piled on top of each other, trying to avoid the rain.  I tried, as quickly as possible, to find homes for them so that I wouldn't get attached. But when I woke up each morning to find one sleeping in my flower pot, another sleeping pressed up against the door, another mewing at me with his feet on the glass -- I couldn't help it. I became attached to them. I knew my very small window of opportunity for giving them away without trauma was slipping closed. "We could keep all of them," Andrew suggested. Uh-oh. Must act quickly.

Andrew and I decided to catch them and bathe them, since they were covered in fleas, so we could begin finding homes for them. This was easier said than done. Worm, the black-and-white kitten above, walked right into the house, rolled over on his back, and purred. Everyone else put up a deadly fight.  After we finally managed to pick up the first one, she shredded us both. Our hands dripped blood and we were clawed from finger to elbow. We dumped her in the (empty) bathtub. When we went to get the others, we wore gloves, which both kittens bit all the way through. Did I mention they were leather? 

After some time standing in the rain and one can of tuna later, everyone was in the tub, washed, shivering, and resembling drowned rats. They eyed me resentfully.  

I put them all in a box and trudged up to evening church, which was just letting out, and I pushed my way through the people trying to leave. "Would you like a kitten?" I pleaded. "Please take a kitten." Most people were amused but uninterested.  Until Jackson. Jackson, who is a little boy, began pulling on his mother's pants. "Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. MOM. MOM. MOM!" "Yes Jackson?"  "Mom, I want one."  And so he got it. One down. Three to go. 

But the church was empty. No one was left, and I still had two babies to go (Worm, for complex reasons I won't go into, was still at my house). Jackson had picked my 2nd favorite, and I felt my chest go tight but I knew I should just be glad someone had taken him who'd play with him.
The other two, on the other hand, were demons incarnate. Every time someone tried to touch them, they'd swipe and snarl and growl and hiss and not in an endearing way. What was I going to do? (In case you're wondering at this point, I don't take animals I've fallen in love with to animal shelters to be euthanized. I just can't do it. Oh, and yes, it is possible to love even demon-cats, if they're 4 inches long.)  

One person who remained at the church, washing dishes after the evening meal, said, "Take them to Walmart and give them to people there." This sounded like a very distressing and rather embarrassing thing to do. But these devils were not going home with me. I swallowed all pride and positioned myself in front of the electronic doors, holding a big red plastic box with a towel draped over it to prevent the escape artists from leaving. 

"Would you like a kitten?" I asked. Eyebrows raised, lips pursed -- some shook their heads, but most just ignored me. "Would you like a kitten? Please take a kitten," I begged.  Everyone looked suspicious of me and the box. I could see them trying to work out what I was doing; was I nuts? was I homeless? I didn't look homeless.  I didn't look nuts. But who else stands outside of superstores and talks to strangers? 

 Children peered in, charmed, but their parents snatched them by the back of the shirt and towed them to the car. "Would you like a kitten?" I asked, by this time nearly overwhelmed -- embarrassed that I looked pathetic, upset I might not give away the animals, depressed at having to give away creatures I'd come to love even though they ruined my potted plants -- and then two sisters approached me. "Oh no we don't need a cat. But let me see it."  So I did. Just as the first one was about to put her hand in the box, I went to stop her, trying to say "Oh they're a bit nervous, so don't. . ." but she did anyway, grabbing the cat by the nape of the neck.  This little twisted possessed ball of fur went absolutely limp in her hand. No teeth, no screaming, just stillness.  She put the animal to her chest and it began to purr, which it had never done before. The other sister did the same thing with the 2nd kitten, with the same results. "My God!" I said, awestruck. "You have to take these animals! They've shredded every human that got within 10 feet of them. They're meant for you."  And oddly enough, neither sister, like their new kittens, put up much of a fight. They sighed. "We're such suckers," they said, taking the animals to their necks and carrying them home. 

I was left with Wormwood (originally misnamed Wormtail -- it appears I mixed Lewis and Rowling, which is either a sign of too little reading, or too much).  The next day I carried him to three different people.  The first was a friend who agreed to be his temporary home while we searched for another; I didn't last the night. I had to pick him up again. The next was a mere acquaintance; she greeted me with, "Oh no I can't have a cat," and when I let her hold him before leaving, I dissolved into sobs.  This was very odd behavior for me, not just because I'm 28 and grown people don't cry over small animals but because I'm not a sentimental weepy woman. I'm kind of stubborn and fairly level headed. And I'm definitely the practical one in this household. I could not adequately explain to this person that I was never like this, nor was I able to pull myself together. 

Taking Worm back in the car, I pointed my vehicle to the next place I'd try to give him away, but I couldn't see the road for all of the crying.  He licked my face, tracing the tracks of tears down my neck.  I threw my hands up (metaphorically -- I was still driving) and gave in. It was not economically feasible to have a fifth animal, and it would mean more hair, more litterbox cleanings, more food. More shots. More flea medicine. But for some reason, the rational part of my brain that always wins -- that always carefully balances pros and cons -- lost out. And I took him home. And now he's ours. 

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Our Mockingbirds Mimic the Sound of Shock Collars, and other stories

So this post is about pets. If you live near me, you might've heard most of these stories but since I have new readers from facebook I thought I'd record some of the weird and funny stuff that's gone on with our animals.

It's inspired by the fact that I have 4 baby kitties living in my siding. Well, they probably are living under the house, but they get to the pier-and-beam hiding place by going through a hole they've dug just under the siding. This morning, the little devils got brave and decided to come visit Allie, who was standing guard at the door. I went to get a cup of coffee when I heard "Mew mew mew mew mew" -- very much like "Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey." Much to my surprise, there were 4 furry bodies about 3 inches long with front paws pressed against the glass, talking to me.  I watched them for a bit before attempting to open the door, and the bravest of them, whom I've named Wormtail, began hissing at the doormat. It's a rough green cheap thing and I believe he'd never seen such texture before. So when he put his front paws on the mat he leapt up in the air like it'd bitten him on the feet, making him explode into a small puff of hair and eyes.  The other, who has named himself Marlow (sometimes cats do that for me) is afraid of marigolds. Marlow would lean very close to the little orange flower and mimic his brother, fluffing instantly into a small round spiky-haired devil possessed with the need to put this annual in its place.  They continued to relax and explode on and off again all morning long. I've had to force myself to go to work and stop watching the charade. 

But really this is just one in a series of odd animal behavior that's happened in this house. When we first moved in, our 100-year-old dwelling needed more than a little work.  Just below the dryer connection, for instance, "something" had knawed a small hole in the wall that we knew we'd eventually have to patch.  But when I was carrying a box of stuff to unpack and came across a small cat that wasn't there before -- standing in my living room, though all the doors were closed -- I dropped the box and turned to Andrew, saying, "If that hole is big enough to let a cat in my living room, I believe it's time to patch it."  The feral feline just cocked its head and looked at me, as if to say, "Hey. Food?"  

The picture at the top of this post is of our devil-dog Brinkley, a golden retriever who never grew out of the terrible twos.  He's an absolute maniac.  After he was hit by a truck he thought he could catch, a miscalculation that got him a broken leg and us $2,000 in vet bills, he was put on a radio collar so that he could play ball in the backyard while not being tempted to leave it to pursue another vehicle.  (Although Brinkley's wild, he's clever. A month of training with the collar and he now almost never leaves the yard, so the system has been dismantled.) Apparently the mockingbirds who live in the back yard paid close attention to the warning beep the collar gave before shocking Brinkley in the neck because when he returned to his pen, they would watch him as he barked and yipped at them and would respond to his frustration by mimicking the warning sound from the shock collar.  This would cause Brinkley to randomly throw his body the ground and not move.  A very odd site to see from the house, where you can't hear the birds. 

His life companion, Sierra, a mild-mannered sweet mutt who keeps him company, likes to agitate this entire process by biting him in the legs while he tries to stay still.  She finds this to be an amazing amount of fun. 

Meanwhile, inside, Chloe our tortoise shell cat snores like a fat man and sleeps on a pillow with the covers over her little furry shoulders.  And she washes her hands at the sink.  Her friend Allie's only quirk is that she eats rubber bands. 

Sometimes, when I walk past the window and see the baby kitties hissing at my flower pots, Brinkley throwing himself on the ground to avoid vindictive avians, Sierra biting him on the ankles while yipping, and Chloe snoring like an overweight sumo wrestler, I think I'm entirely too underqualified to operate this zoo. 

Friday, August 1, 2008

Go Meat

Sometimes, I have small thoughts I want to share that I'd rather piece together like a quilt than elaborate upon, so that's what I'm doing tonight.

In the summer, when it rains, the most beautiful spider lilies spring up out of nowhere and are gone just as quickly the next day. 

I like to go outside in my backyard and gather figs from my tree by folding them into the edge of a long t-shirt. I like to think of the t-shirt as a fig parachute. I get sad when I drop one. A fig, not the shirt-chute.  

My neighbor, Marion, can't pick his crabapples fast enough, so my back yard smells like fermented cider.  I talked to him about the abundance of fruit on his tree, and he looked sad. "People used to pick them and make jelly out of them, dry them, preserve them anyway they could. Not anymore."  For some reason, when he says this, I feel responsible. I hate crabapples. 

Marion takes a gigantic fig the size of a silver dollar and shoves it at me. "Eat it," he demands. I can't tell him that, for some reason, I'm convinced that all figs harbor worms. I imagine biting into the sweet purple flesh and chomping onto a grub, and I repress a shiver.  "I have to eat them only after I've split them with a knife," I tell him. He narrows his eyes at me and says "EAT IT!" but I won't. 

I take Marion some basil from my new "winter basil" plant I bought from the farmer's market. It's starting to take on a likeness to Seymour -- I swear I came in on it singing and gyrating lewdly the other day -- so I had to clip it.  I was so happy to return Marion's kindness (he always brings tomatoes) but when I handed him the basil and smiled at him he said, "What is it?"  "Basil," I repeated. "I don't know nothing about no bagels," he grunted. "Not bagels," I tried to say clearly. "BASIL. The herb. It goes on tomatoes."  "I don't know nothing about no BASIL," he said, equally loudly.  "Put it on your tomatoes," I said, emphatically poking the bright red fruit sitting behind him.  He eyed me dubiously -- perhaps he thought I was trying to poison him -- and said something that sounded like "thanks," but I don't think he meant it.

I spend too long in my study reading about epistolary novels and decide to do an experiment. I send a text message to my friend and my sister in law that says, "When I say Hilshire, You say Farms! Hilshire, Farms!"  Andrew thinks, in their wonderment, they'll write me to ask what substance I'm abusing.  Instead, both of them reply, "GO MEAT!"  In a very small and bizarre way, I feel contentedly understood by people who love me. 

I've decided what makes an adult, an adult.  Lamps. I think if you have lamps in your house that you don't need -- lamps that just make a room cozy -- then you've arrived. Each time I walk past the small, warm, earth-colored lamps in my bedroom, I have to take a quick breath. It looks like Mom's house, only it's mine.  When did that happen?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What to do with a Bumper Crop

Inspired by Ellie, Anna, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, I went to the farmer's market last weekend to do my grocery shopping. I have to say I haven't had a more pleasant experience in a very long time.  Everyone was happy to be there, people were playing music for "money or vegetables," a couple of vendors were selling homemade foccacia and were more than willing to give me tips on how to "dress" it.  But my prize find there was  basket of gigantic tomatoes.  I didn't like tomatoes until I moved to Mississippi. I thought they tasted like cold cardboard.  But I hadn't had a farmer's tomato -- sweet, fat, juicy fruit that tastes like sunshine if anything ever has.  

When I got home with my find, I found Marion, my cotton farmer neighbor, had deposited another box of his own lovely red tomatoes on my back porch.  Bumper crop.  And not one of them went to waste.  Although I ate some on triscuits with cheese, and some on my favorite sandwich -- Bottletree bakery bread, onion-and-chive cream cheese, fresh spinach, tomatoes, and thinly sliced cucumbers with just a little salt and pepper -- I was still left with a ton of fruit.  So, I put together a combination of recipes and made what has become my favorite marinara sauce EVER.  It's not too sweet -- I hate saccharine-flavored Ragu -- and it's not too bitter like mine usually turns out. It was ideal. Since a lot of ya'll are growing your own tomatoes or have generous neighbors and friends like I do, I thought I'd post this all-too-easy recipe, which will provide me with spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, and calzone toppings well into December.  

Crock-Pot Marinara

Chop the following and put into a crock pot -- 

About 6 gigantic fresh tomatoes or however many fill most of the crock pot
1 of the big cans of whole tomatoes with juice
2 cans tomato sauce
1 yellow onion
1 medium sized carrot (this, not sugar, seems to be key)
4 garlic cloves
2 tbl fresh oregano
2 tbl fresh thyme
2 tbl fresh basil (I used globe basil)
2 fairly good-sized pinches -- and by pinches I mean meager hollow-of-the-palm full -- sea salt or to taste
a dash of freshly ground pepper
a dash of red cayenne pepper
1 tbl white wine that you would drink
a splash of balsamic vinegar (the other key to offsetting acidity) 

Heat on low 8 hours. I then blended with a hand mixer to break up some of the chunks but you may not want to.  If it isn't thick enough for you after that, you can also add about 1 to 2 tbl tomato paste to make it more like the consistency of bottled sauce.  

Friday, July 18, 2008

Coming Home

I'm home from a very long trip in a very strange place. As usual, that lends itself to a little reflection. 

To begin, there were several things about home I missed. My friends. Kind people. Sober people. Slow drivers. Clean sidewalks. My animals and house. My bed. My herbs and vegetable garden.  That means there are several things about Boston I was glad to leave behind, too.  Being afraid to go home in the dark. Being afraid to set out the trash. Being afraid to walk to or from the bus. Being afraid to ride the bus, and the subway. Being afraid of night, period. No air conditioners. Small yards. Carrying my groceries 2 hours home. Small, cramped grocery stores. Pushing. Groping. Crowds of people who don't wear deodorant. Working 7 hours in a library without talking. Rush hour. Sticky rain. 

But as with most formative experiences, I felt changed by my time in Boston, too.  Mixed in with the relief of being around something familiar, and being near people I love, I felt trepidation when I came home.   So there are things about Boston I miss, and they pull on me too.  Time to read a book in the morning on my commute. Chicken sausage. Fresh, affordable, organic food.  Barack Obama stickers. Anti-war sentiment. Faces, languages, belief systems different from mine.  Public transportation. Not paying for gasoline in my car.  Bollywood movies in movie theaters. Used book stores everywhere. H&M. Walking. 77 degree weather. Historic landmarks on every single corner. Schooners. No TV. No radio. Talking to Andrew. Concord. Stores that sell tea.  A library full of every single resource I've ever needed to write my dissertation. Living statues. People who dress up as revolutionaries. Whales. 

But I guess being torn at this point in my career is natural. It's probably my brain getting me ready for our eventual move -- God willing I get a job --, which is going to be emotionally draining.  Change is terrifying. For now, I think I'll go pick a tomato. And drink iced tea on my porch. And talk to Andrew. 

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fenway, Or, Manuel Ramirez

The second to last day of work, Andrew and I took a lunch break at Fenway Park, which is a little over a 5 minute walk from the MHS.  We had to take a tour of the place to see it, as tickets are sold out through next year. 

This is the green monster, one of the most recognizable symbols in baseball.  If you want to sit in the seats on top of it, you have to enter a lottery to have the CHANCE to buy the seats. Sports Illustrated listed these seats as the #1 place to sit before you die, and we got to as part of the tour.  They say if you sit here, you get to come 2 hours early and catch practice balls that the players will inevitably hit your direction. 

Another part of the tour was that you get to go in the press box and see what the writers see.  This is Andrew, sitting in the front row, which is reserved for veteran reporters. The second row is for out-of-town and local press -- rookies, mostly -- and the back row, our guide said, was saved for New York newspeople. Ha, ha.

These Budweiser seats are known as the "lucky" seats. They were built in 2004 when the Sox won the world series, breaking that 80-something year curse.  These have to be part of a lottery too, and if your name is chosen, you can win the opportunity to buy 4 ticketed seats at a table near the Budweiser bar. That means you also get your own waiter/waitress and bathroom in your section.  These group tickets cost $440! To me, if you can afford to sit here, you can afford to sit in one of those swanky boxes with leather seats. But I must not be an aficionado. 

When we left the stadium, I told Andrew that I'd decided to be a Red Sox fan.  Andrew, an avid Yankees enthusiast, frowned at me. But he appeared more puzzled than disappointed.  "You don't care about baseball," he challenged. "Name one Red Sox player. Then, you can be a Red Sox fan." I thought for a minute -- this was a test I really wanted to pass.  "Papi," I said confidently. I had seen his name on a poster inside the stadium.  And, as a bonus to up my credibility, I added, "Manuel Ramirez."  There was no talking to Andrew after that, who dissolved into stomach-shaking laughter and immediately had to call his brother to share the news.  "What?" I said. "Isn't his name Manuel?"  

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Call Me Ishmael. No, really, you should.

This was a week for madness.  It began with the drunk guys who couldn't decide if they wanted more to relieve themselves on the sidewalk or beat up Andrew and take his watch. It ended with 2 crazy people -- one who was so drunk that he couldn't tell the police officer what day it was when she came to chase him out of the subway for panhandling, another who was so wasted at 8 AM that he was singing "AYE AYE AYE AYE" over and over and -- get this -- FOLLOWING US.  From one train car to another to another. . .we could not get away from him. So by the time we got out of the subway, another unwashed stumbling guy began making his way toward us when I looked his direction and said "If ONE MORE CRAZY PERSON approaches me, I am GOING TO SCREAM." He about fell down the steps then but left us alone. We sat down on a bench to consult a map near Boston Common and another drunk man (this one had vomited and/or poured Vodka down his shirt -- I know because he was still carrying the glass bottle) came straight up to me and began to babble incoherently. I started waving my arms and yelling at him too -- "I can't take this crazy city one minute longer! If you are a crazy person, DO NOT APPROACH ME!! Aaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!" And of course he stumbled off as well.

So it was beyond time for a break from the metropolitan loveliness that is Boston. We hopped on a train to Gloucester, Massachusetts on Cape Ann and left the skyline all behind, embracing Judith Sargent Murray's bright yellow house and the charm of the seaport town she once called home.  Since it's an active port, there's little for tourists to do there -- thank heavens -- so we took a Whale Watching tour. Incredible.

The boat goes about 1 million miles an hour to lose the coastline -- of course, whales don't frolic in shallow shores unless they're in trouble -- and we were driving into a headwind. The boat tipped, plunged, rocked, rolled, and dived. It had no mercy for any of us.  Thank the good Lord for my past boating experiences and a little patch called "Transderm Scop" that keeps a weakling like myself from throwing herself overboard. Everyone else was green to the gills. I got soaked with saltwater, the harsh mineral lashing at my face and drying in my hair, making it stiff, but I couldn't think of a cooler place to be.

Then, we saw the whales. 10 humpback whales, mainly calves, moms, and "escorts."  And while they didn't do any acrobatics, they did show us a few fins. I have a video but blogger for some reason is making it impossible to post. I, along with the camera, crew, and other tourists, pitched and rolled with the waves. If I ever get it posted, I recommend dramamine if you get curious.