Friday, February 24, 2012

A list

Do you ever, after going to the doctor, go on an anti-health kick wherein you eat cheese and pork products and fried foods for a day? I have a problem with authority.

I am cleaning the house. Every fourth inch of floor is covered in: dirt, sticky note, matchbox car, Thomas, book, book, orange peel, lego, lego, lego, train, pen, book, dirt.

I am making mole verde for dinner with pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seeds might be my favorite food. I hope the counteract the pork and pate products I ate after the doctor visit.

Why is it when I teach my favorite books, they do not immediately become my students' favorite books? And why, when I see the books through my students' eyes, do the books' flaws become so suddenly apparent?

More and more, the only thing I'm interested in is self-awareness. It seems possibly the rarest human trait. I like it best in others but should probably try to focus  it most thoroughly on myself.

The Associated Writing Program Annual Conference is going to be work. It used to be nothing but fun. When did this change happen? I think when Erik stopped coming with me. Also, certain blogging friends are not helping adding to the fun times because they are not going. (This is one of my more selfish rather than self-aware moments--although this parenthetical. It tilts a bit toward awareness? Is saying self-aware over and over again the least self-aware thing you can do?).

The grant website I wanted to work on is down. Does this mean I'm done for the day? Does this mean I should stop bothering with the grant since obviously too many would-be grantees have tried to access the website and have broken the server.

How can I be on 15 thesis committees? Those fiction students. How did they find me?

Weekend. They say it will be 55 tomorrow. I would like that to be true. And I would also like there to be no wind.

My mom gave Max and Zoe each a cash register for Valentine's Day. Zoe has in the meantime figured out not only all about money--how many dimes and nickels in a quarter, etc., but, because the register came with a scanner and the food that came with the scanner came with bar codes, she's scanning and adding and I am now ready to send her to the grocery store and self-check out on her own. Max just talks into the scanner like he's BJ and the Bear. Possibly the Bear.

Edited to add. Grant website back up. But I'm vacuuming! I do think I'd rather vacuum.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Yesterday morning, I woke up thinking of a blog post and then all day, I couldn't remember it. But this morning, I woke up at 5:42 and remembered. I can't go back to sleep if I wake up any minutes after 5:00. It's a curse, but in this case a gift, because that itchy feeling of can't remember finally got scratched.

I remembered because the light from the neighbor's dining room chandelier fell into the bedroom like a sun coming up. It is strange to me, living in the rural town that is Flagstaff, that I've never had a nearer backyard neighbor. At least not since I was one and my parents and I lived in the Sandpiper apartments off Van Winkle Boulevard. My parents moved next to a house behind a mortuary. No one there left lights on all night or woke up early. We moved next to a house that backed a cemetery. No one there woke up at all. After that, we lived on a big block with a huge plot of land in the middle of it. Eventually, the Church built a Stakehouse there but the worst noise there was basketball on Friday mornings. My dorm room at Reed backed the Student Union but my room was high enough that the light from my room fell down on them, not the other way around. On 37th Street, our house was on a hill. Again, my light trickled down. On 7812 SE Woodstock, I don't remember the house behind us but it didn't matter because the house was lower than the fence and the windows below the weeds that grew tall in that backyard. On 26th Street--tall fence. On Cora, our big lot-sized garden grew outside my window. Then, when I bought the house on Brooklyn Street, the cherry tree and fig tree blocked the neighbor's light. On G. Street, in Salt Lake, the lot was double-long and the house behind was so far away that I was never sure anyone actually lived there. When we moved to Grand Rapids, the houses were close together. We shared a driveway with Beth, who lived next door. The light from her bedroom could have flooded our bedroom, but she kept her blinds closed. Our backyard again was far away from the neighbor's backyard, the houses infilled side by side rather than back to back.
It is strange, then that my current backyard neighbors, in this big-lot sized neighborhood, in a forest-filled town, are the ones who bug me. There house sits directly behind ours, matching window for window. We have no fence and the Ponderosa Pines are too tall to block any light. Thankfully, our big deck is on the side of the house, we we're not fully exposed but the backyard feels like their backyard. When they're on their deck, we can hear every word. They have no blinds. I have blinds and curtains in the bed room and yet, in the morning, and sometimes all night, the light from their 118,000 watt chandelier falls through the bedroom window, making me think the sun is coming up, which wakes me up for once and for all.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Running vs. running around

My thighs are Popsicles. I knew it was cold out from the weather report but I didn't know how windy it was. I wore my sunglasses to keep my eyes from freezing. Winter here is not regular Flagstaff winter--there is barely any snow, but this week, it's cold. The snow that is there hides rocks for twisting ankles. I fall on the ice and scrape my hands. The wind whistles into my ear drum, so far it makes my teeth hurt.

And yet! This is the preferred running. The rest of the day will be running around from my office on the first floor to the Comp office on the third floor where the grad applications live. Travel forms, letters of rec (still?), and essay proofs print in the English Department office, where I will run, down the hall, to pick up one by one (yesterday, I ran around too fast and sent a letter of rec to no one--I forgot to address the envelope). I'll run over to the grad college and over to Babbitt for the UGC meeting where I'll defend, I hope for the last time, the idea of turning our MA to an MFA. Also. We need coffee. Eggs. Run to the CSA. Pick up Max. Pick up Z. Run around the kitchen, chop up vegetables. Run into the living room because Max can't reach his train. Run over to Z to help her with her Spanish homework that already surpasses my Spanish-speaking skills so that running is completely useless. All this running doesn't make me skinny. It doesn't make me warm. It makes me nervous and frantic and feel a little bit like if I could spend the whole day really running, rather than running around, I would actually be getting more done.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Bald Eagle Again

On Tuesday, Zoe and Max and I were driving home from schol/work. It was cloudy out even though it was obvious no snow was coming. The light was that yellow gray that comes toward the end of winter, the beginning of spring even though we haven't had any winter yet. Last year, with a big winter, I saw almost an eagle a day. Not by my house but by the coffee shop off Highway 180 that leads to the Snowbowl where I had off-campus office hours while the Liberal Arts building was being remodeled. This year, the eagles, like the snow, haven't been anywhere near 180 or the snowbowl but there's at least one who is living by our house. As we drove down our street, to the left, in a different snag than last time, sat what I'm sure was the same eagle. I had to drive around in circles so Zoe and Max could each see it. It flew off. I feel bad if I made it dizzy with my driving.

I don't know about harbingers but I do have a policy of believing that birds of prey are good signs. Sometimes, they are just signs of themselves. That's the better belief. But, when something good happens around my seeing of the bird, I give the big bird credit and then I go out and look some more.

That baby-friend of mine is doing the very slightest bit better, I found out on Tuesday afternoon. Good work baby and thank you eagle.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Teaching Blogging writing Chopped

Both Jackson and Lisa B. commented on one or two of my last posts about the cooking and the teaching and the writing. Jackson quoted Janet Burroway saying that neither cooking nor writing are monolithic tasks--you take to them piece by piece. It's what makes me anxious about writing--the whole idea does hover around. If you let it hover too much, it gets in the way of the details. I remember one reviewer of one of my manuscripts saying there were redundant parts. Whole-sale parts copied and pasted from other parts showing up throughout the manuscript. This was a poetic urgency on my part--you get it, don't you? Let me show you again. The details were supposed to be holding up this whole notion. Why not use the same details again? But I was missing a key factor in what is pleasurable about reading. People like reading details, new ones, surprising ones, more than they like whole notions.

When I teach writing, I make my students write idiosyncratic detail, not just specific detail. I'd rather hear about the oceanic chair than the blue, velour-covered chair. But I don't get too picky about the kind of detail, as long as it's kind of weird.

This is where my beastliness in the kitchen is so much more bossy than my professoring in the classroom. In writing, I want students to explore and surprise themselves and do new things. In the kitchen, I want food to taste right. There is a right and wrong taste with food and while there are degrees of right and wrong in writing, the process, at least as a professor of writing, is the most important part. (When I'm an editor, it's less true. There is a righter taste).

When I was blogging Chopped last spring in an attempt to avoid other kinds of competitions, I thought a lot about how teaching and writing were a lot like cooking. But instead of thinking deeply about cooking, I thought more about the competition behind cooking. Who wins? The most creative? Rarely. The best presentation? No. Taste always wins. The judges admit so much. And, with three judges, you can see that there really is one right (or one more right) taste. The judges care about all three categories--taste, creativity, and presentation--but taste always wins out.

When I cook, I know how to make sure it tastes right. With writing, I'm getting closer. But I've been writing for a long time now and I'm barely sure now what details are the right ones, what ones lead to better taste and what ones just lead to better presentation or creativity. No one wants that much creativity or presentation (sure, a little is nice) but they really want things to taste right which is so much easier to gauge with the chemistry of cooking. Not too much salt. Evenly chopped onion. Cook the onions on low. If you do burn the onions a little, add some wine, deglaze the pan. Writing. Step by step? Maybe. Correctable? Of course, just add wine and revise. But sitting down to eat and knowing that it tastes right? Our palates aren't so different.

Monday, February 06, 2012

CSA Lunch Special

It's like the Blue Plate Special, but weirder.

Watermelon radish, diced.
Small cluster of cauliflower, diced.
Small cluster of broccoli, diced.
4 olives (think about dicing them, but they're not really from the CSA, eat on the side instead).
1 cup wheat berries, cooked (Thomas Keller calls them "Farro." They take a half hour or so to cook. Don't add as much salt as I did.)
2 eggs, poached.
Mix cauliflower, broccoli, wheat berries and radish with a little olive oil and vinegar. Top with poached eggs.

Hold on. Removing poached eggs now. Let's see if it's good:

Oh yes. My dream. I may live forever.

(The secret to poaching eggs? Use the freshest eggs possible, meaning, eggs from the CSA.)

Edited to add, 15 minutes later. I'm still eating. It's even better now that the eggs have seeped into the wheat berries. But my jaw hurts a little from chewing. When they say eat whole grains, you can't get much more whole than the whole berry of the wheat.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

A little lighter

After sleeping most of last  night, not well, but way better than the night before, and after reading blog comments, and, after the editor's request to see Salmon, and after good news about my friends' baby in the NICU (oxygen sats at 99%!), I'm feeling a little lighter, light enough to change the subject, at least.

Before the semester started and before I heard the news about my friends' babies, I was in the desert with my friend Misty. She had rented a house smack-dab in the middle of it and invited us to join her and her in-laws for the weekend. So we did. It was an awesome house with a good kitchen and a huge dining room table. The bedrooms wound around a courtyard full of Palo Verde and possibly geckos. Each room had its own bathroom--possibly the best thing about any rental I've ever seen ever.

This place was good. So good, we didn't leave for two whole days. We came bearing carne asada and pickled onions, eggs for breakfast, 48 Cuties. We sat outside. We had a margarita. We had some wine. We grilled the steaks on a charcoal barbecue. The next day, it was a little colder but we still sat outside. We hid Cuties for Zoe and Louisa like they were Easter Eggs. Misty made toast and Zoe ate it like she'd never been fed before. Misty made more toast. Louisa and Zoe finished off the Cuties. Later that night, Misty's dad and her aunt and uncle were coming to dinner too. How to feed 8 adults and 3 kids in the desert? Mexican wedding soup. Erik did leave for the store and John (her husband took his dad to the airport. He had to go back to work) but Misty and I stayed. We hot-tubbed with the girls while Max slept. Then, when everyone came back, we hiked up the wash. The girls collected 75 pounds of rocks. Max insisted on walking--no baby-backpack for him.

That night, and this is the point of this post, Misty and I made dinner.  Misty is one of the few people in the world I can actually cook with. Or, rather, one of the few cooks who is willing to cook with me. My sisters and Misty and that's about it. Once, when Misty and I were first friends and we were at her parent's house in Spokane for Thanksgiving, we got in two separate fights over peels. She wanted to leave them on, first for the mashed potatoes, second for the apples for the pie. I won the fight for the mashies. She won it for the apple pie. This is why, and also why my sisters, can cook with me. Most people won't do it. Most people think I cook so much and that I care so much about it, that they usually just leave it to me. But Misty and my sisters: they don't back down. Misty cut the red bell peppers into such precise, tiny cuts, I thought, I've been cutting red bells wrong my whole life. She added escarole! Escarole to regular salad. Delicious. In the morning, she sauteed zucchini and cooked eggs on slow (she told me after reading Julia Child's biography that she cooked her eggs slow now). Delicious! She holds her own in the kitchen, ignoring me and my opinions. The best thing is, when I taste her food, and that of my sisters', because a) I already know its entire flavor components and b) the food because of their knife cuts, because they use escarole instead of lettuce, because their pinches of salt are different than mine, because they'll take a risk and leave the peels on, (wrong as that may be) it  tastes different than anything I'd make. It's always a surprise.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Hard Times Come Again No More

I recognize this is a highly histrionic title. I'm taking things pretty histrionically lately.

The mud! The mud Cleo tracked in, how can I go on?

The computer, the computer. My Dell laptop, my truest typer since 2008 is dying. It's working right now but the monitor flickers and then goes out and then the harddrive spins and spins.

The sickness. The sickness. Max was sick with two different diseases two weeks in a row. I kept waiting for Zoe to get the second one as she coughed through the first. I teased her one night, Zoe, if you have to throw up, get out of bed, throw up in the toilet and then go back to bed. She said, why do you get all the sleep Mama? If she only knew. I haven't slept in two weeks. And, in the histrionic mood I'm in, I say I haven't slept in two years. I'm in one of those places where everything seems dark. The babysitter: what does she do to Max make him so grumpy.  Why doesn't Max sleep? He shouts out, Ow! and Mama! and blankie! every ten minutes all night long. We sleep next to his crib in a bed because our only choice is to sleep upstairs far away.

This house. This house! Why is the master bedroom so far away from the kids? I could try to sleep upstairs but last time I did that, Max screamed loud enough to wake the neighbors. Even if he were to wake up normally and ask for his blankie, I imagine falling down the stairs to get him his blankie, or Zoe falling down them as she comes up to tell us Max is awake.

My job: how will I stop the accumulation? The rejections, the essays to grade, the essays to edit, the essays and poems to write and send out. It all seems so dumb. And dark. I'm reading Eugenides' "The Marriage Plot." It makes me wonder if I'm bipolar. I presume it makes everyone wonder if they're bipolar. But that's  the dark, depressive view.

But maybe things are turning around. It snowed. Maybe we won't all die of thirst. Margot and my book "Bending Genre: Essay in Creative Nonfiction" got picked up by Continuum Press. I finally got that internal Faculty Grant. Three microessays got accepted today. My friends' baby's oxygen levels were almost 100% yesterday--She is turning around. My old agent sent me a publishing idea. Maybe Max will sleep in the night. Maybe Zoe won't throw up. Maybe, this weekend, instead of cleaning the house and handing out tissues and washing sheets, we'll go snowshoeing. Maybe what seemed like the punishment of living will abate and seem like just another January and February will turn this year around. Maybe tomorrow I will write the blog post I wanted to write that is light and happy and full of good food ideas. I will. Write it and it will be true. Maybe I'll write two posts in one day just to prove it's true.