Monday, December 27, 2010

The Best Things I've Ever Eaten

Today on our way home from Texas, we stopped at our favorite Wyoming Mexican restaurant - Su Casa in Sinclair, a town of a scant few hundred citizens in the middle of the wind-whipped high plains off I-80.  I might mention that we stopped for lunch at the same cocina five days earlier on our way down to Texas.  The food is authentically Mexican.  It's not the tex-mex, cheese-laden, spicy-for-no-good-reason-canned goop that other Mexican restaurants try to pass off as real food.  It's homemade, it's what I grew up on, in a community rich with Hispanic cooks.  Green chili that doesn't burn your throat raw, but rather melts on your tongue and slides easily down; enchilada sauce that is a rich, flavorful mole, rice and beans of homemade nature, fresh flour tortillas, and a hot sauce that I want to recreate, but, sadly cannot.  I am in love with this restaurant.  It seats maybe 15 people, and I can't drive even close to it without salivating.  I don't like food.  No, I LOVE food.  I obsess over it.  Yesterday while eating dinner, I knew we'd be hitting Sinclair (2 hours away from our home) for a late lunch, and it was all I could do to sit still in my seat in the Yukon to wait for it, like a child waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Day.  Mexican food is better than Santa Claus ... well, probably because it's real.

So I got to thinking, how many restaurants have I dined at that are truly and deliciously wonderful?

  • La Caille, outside of Salt Lake City, is a French chateau with beautiful grounds, swans, and other elegant creatures, ponds and bridges, and amazingly prepared French food that manages to be un-fussy yet complex and delightful.  Absolutely one of the best meals of my life.  I was there for a work function and couldn't even talk to people (as I am loathe to do anyway when I am eating a fabulous meal), I wanted to savor every single moment of my Asian noodle soup, my filet, and creme' brulee', truly a savory meal.  
  • Squatters in Salt Lake City is a Slow Food movement brew pub, brewing beer that is not Mormon-ized into watered down malt.  I usually have the pork carnitas, my husband opts for the beer-crust pepperoni pizza.  
  • Franck's - Salt Lake City, amazing saucework, this Franck.  We had a perfect meal outdoors at the end of summer with my in-laws.  
  • Grappa - Park City, UT - amazing Italian food, just don't drink the grappa, which is quite possibly the only alcohol I will now turn down.  
  • Blind Dog - Park City, UT - sushi, sushi, sushi ... in a landlocked state, yes, but amazingly fresh and beautifully prepared
  • Joe's Shanghai - Chinatown, Manhattan - Soup Dumplings ... nearly, quite possibly the ONLY thing, that even comes close for me, than sex 
  • Amada in Philadelphia, tapas and sangria, exotic flavors I've never tasted before, but hope to again.  
  • Davio's, also Philadelphia, I had a frenched chicken with a sauce to die for.  Amazing Italian food.  
  • Supper - Philadelphia - I had a pork medley that was awesome, pork belly, pork brat, pork loin, heirloom tomatoes, fresh, fresh, fresh
  • Artisan in Paso Robles, CA, fresh, seasonal food cooked perfectly. 
  • Emeril's in Orlando, the tasting menu was a surprise after a surprise after a surprise, it just kept coming, ragu, steak, I can't even remember all the deliciousness, but remember it as a great meal with great people. 
  • Oriental House, Scottsbluff, NE - I know, Nebraska, that's where you go to find good Asian food.  This restaurant was my first taste of Asian as a child (the granddaughter of a Japanese citizen); it closed down for a decade or so, then came back into my adulthood with an amazing likeness of what I first remembered great Asian food to be.
  • Peohe's, Coronado Island, off San Diego - fresh seafood, halibut that made me weep with delight, chocolate lava cake (before it became faddy and overdone).
  • Tao, Las Vegas - before our wedding, we ate here with Josh's family, a truly amazing feast of sushi and other Japanese treats, my father-in-law being my benefactor of many great meals
This clearly will be more than one blog entry, because I've been fortunate enough to eat at some amazing restaurants.  Maybe not Michelin-star, but still, cooks making the best food they know how to, fresh ingredients, lots of love and passion, you don't need to be a Michelin-starred chef to make fantastic food for me.  Cheers to every great chef who cooks for love.  

Sunday, December 19, 2010

New Direction

My department Christmas party (4th annual) was a success.  As usual!  I kept it simple this year -except for dessert - bacon-wrapped apricots with an apricot preserve glaze, kielbasa bites with pretzel sticks (instead of toothpicks - genius!), herb-roasted pork loin, balsamic-olive oil roasted red potatoes & onions, and buttered peas.  A truly simple meal, executed nicely.  Cooking for friends need not be intimidating.  I had chocolate (both dark and white) bark with peppermint, and spent the night before making Bobby Flay's Throwdown Coconut Cake - not for the faint of heart.  It was so rich and delicious I almost died.  But no one could eat much because they were full from dinner, thus confirming my position that dessert, when you have a great meal and wine, is never necessary.  Good times, good friends.

I have two A's, waiting on the last class's grade for the semester.  I made some progress on my proposal/dissertation today, focusing it to interaction in online education.  I've had several undergraduate education classes from the University of Wyoming, got my master's degree online from Colorado State University, and am now getting my Doctorate, somewhat online, some on the phone, and a week on campus every year.  I find online education fascinating.  Real online education, not the University of Phoenix, or Capella, or other for-profit university rhetoric.  Now, stop, I speak from an educated position.  I took four classes from UoP for my master's degree and learned nothing, except their ridiculously low standards for instructors and students would never amount to my learning.  Call me elitist, it's okay, but for-profit universities are in it for just that - FOR PROFIT.  The quality of my classmates at UoP was truly pathetic, and UoP requires group work, which is even less of my favorite, especially when students who could barely pass a high school class left me to do the work.

I want to teach online education, for a not-for-profit university, one that cares about academics and learning, not just letting students "buy" a graduate degree.  I'm passionate about this, because I believe everyone deserves a quality education - if you are willing to work for it.  So, that's my soapbox.

As 2010 comes to a close, I reflect back on the progress I've made.  I started my PhD almost a year ago, and have the momentum to continue.  In 2 1/2 years, my goal will be realized.  I will make it happen.  My dream to live on the beach burns inside of me brightly.  That's the goal.  To live in a beautiful place, be inspired by beautiful things, and do beautiful things.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Confirmed "A"

I received my first confirmed "A" for the semester - in Literature Review, one of the classes I was nervous about.  My 4.0 streak continues, but I have two more classes to confirm.  I still have no idea which topic I'll pursue.  It's really quite ridiculous, but I know I will find my way.  I will get this PhD.

I had a semi-productive day.  I cleaned out my second closet, which held clothes from a life I no longer have.  I wear jeans to work every day.  I dress them up with some blazers, some fun tops with flair, and my infamous peep-toe high heel collection.  I love going to work every day without having to dress in ridiculous khakis and button-downs, which to me, make me look like I have no fashion sense.  Fortunately, my sister is nearly my size, and can use the clothes in her new job.  I have four big bags and two big boxes full of clothes, some never worn, to give to her.  Which makes me realize how much I still spend on material goods, despite my disdain for shopping.  My first closet, a walk-in the size of the average Manhattan apartment, is full of my current clothes, "finds" and deals at my favorite dot com stores of The Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy.

So now a lazy Saturday night at home, I wouldn't have it any other way.  I finally found a local rancher to sell me an eighth of a side of grass-fed beef, so tonight's dinner far is grass-fed rib-eye steaks with chimichurri sauce, scalloped potatoes, and these amazing-for-Green River-fresh green beans.  The rancher delivered the beef today and told me to cook it slower and to a more rarer state than I would regular beef because of its leanness.  I wanted lean beef, since I love beef and am overweight to begin with.  We'll see how it turns out.

I may reveal in my hard-earned A for a few more minutes, because it was a tough semester.  But again, I've proven to myself that I can do it.  My dear husband, who has known me as nothing but an accomplished, over-achiever, responded to my excited statement that I got an A in Lit Review.  His response - "Of course you did."  Then again, I'm entering year 4 of graduate work, and he's heard me say every semester that THIS is the semester I blow my 4.0, only to maintain it in the end.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Wage Gap

After a particularly trying day of interviewing laborers, I tossed and turned, trying to get some sleep before getting up to do it all over again (It's Groundhog Day!  ... again.).  Then my thoughts came back to that ever-elusive dissertation topic of mine.  I finished this semester with a gender study, particularly the underrepresentation of women in male-dominated (high paying) industries and leadership.  And it occurred to me, after interviewing no women for jobs that pay a barely-high-school-eduated man more than what a PhD earns at the average university, is the wage gap still a problem?

You bet your apron-clad ass it is.  Women have made great strides and now make one-fifth less than men do in similar jobs - ONE-FIFTH - 20% - are we listening out there??  All right, give me the argument that we've made improvements since 1979, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics started comparing salaries and found the wage gap to be 40% - oh, we're on a roll now!.  The BLS released their Highlight of Women's Earnings in 2009 in June of this year and reported that woman make only 80% of a what a man does for the same work.  (This doesn't even begin to go into the minority wage gap either.)  Does this outrage you?  It should!  Read the full report here:

http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpswom2009.pdf

Now, let me play devil's advocate.  Women often have to jump out of a career trajectory for varying amounts of time if they want to have children.  Some women take a few weeks off, some take years off, to raise their children, which puts them further behind men in wages.  The BLS, and many other researchers, have found this not to be true for men, who might take a week or two off after the birth of a child, but they are largely unharmed when they "have it all."  If it sounds like I'm being sarcastic and pedantic, well, I am.  Here's the thing.  When women stay home, they aren't NOT working.  Most women I know who stay home aren't in their pajama's sipping bourbon and watching The Young & The Restless.  No.  They chase after their children, making sure they are clean, educated, enlightened.  They volunteer, they help out at schools.  They clean, relentlessly - even if they have a a housekeeper, I guarantee you they will clean before the housekeeper arrives.  They shuttle children, and maybe their husbands, to work, to appointments, to social events, to community activities.  Most women work harder at home than they would at work.  And - AND - they are still refining valuable skills and expertise they can use on the job.  They are life counselors, schedulers, problem solvers, chefs, housekeepers, nurses, and negotiators.  Why would we de-value this experience when they come back to work and make them start over at the bottom of the ladder?  Women who stay home support their husbands in a job.  They take care of domestic duties so the husband can focus on his job.  And what are they paid for this work?  Nothing.  And even worse, they are penalized when they return to the workforce, finding that all their work at home was still rewarded with no paycheck, and men still make more money than they do.

Where do we start?  I found Catalyst Blog, a group of researchers who study this sort of thing, read it here:
http://www.catalyst.org/blog/tag/wage-gap

The Paycheck Fairness Act, which targets eliminating the wage gap, was blocked by Senate, which ironically is comprised of, ready for this, it's shocking data - 83% men.  Yep, only 17% of the Senate is represented by women.  I don't know what the answer is.  We've made improvements, but it isn't enough.  When Susan B. Anthony, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinham, Virginia Wolfe, and all the many fantastic women fought to gain equality, they envisioned true equality, where men and women earned the same money for the same work, where men and women were both respected for what they do.  This dream still hasn't materialized.

I think I just found my dissertation topic .... (It's Groundhog Day! ... again.).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Allure of Social Media & The Art of Procrastination

I love Facebook.  I can't articulate why, though.  I see the same people posting the same types of laments about their lives, their spouses, their kids; the same people gunning for causes and thinking that posting them on Facebook will cure bunions, raise awareness for cats with jaundice, or any other cause we find worthy.  But it's a voyeuristic glimpse into lives of people that I know either superficially or deeply.  I myself try not to post too much, because I'm not certain that people really care if I'm making a fabulous dinner again, for the 800th night in a row, and I'm pretty certain people don't care if I'm feeling bitchy on any given day.  But it's a wonderful distraction and an interesting social experiment.

Which leads me to the art of procrastination.  I'm mostly done with this semester's PhD work.  Except that for the fourth time, I've changed my dissertation topic, leaving me seriously one, maybe two, semesters behind.  My problem is focus.  I have about two hundred serious interests, and as I learn more, I find some new tangent to focus on.  Perhaps a clinical psychology would label me attention-deficit, but I don't think that fits the bill.  I am intensely interested in several topics, and I think my life will be a waste if I don't pursue as many of my passions as truly possible.  But at some point - obviously today won't be it - I will need to narrow it down, find something meaningful for my dissertation so I can find, eventually, my profession.  At work this week, I told my group that our jobs reward procrastination.  I wasn't being flippant or sarcastic, I was being candid.  I pride myself on being efficient - if you ask me to do something, I'm on it like a scotch bonnet.  (Okay, I made that up.)  But where does it get me?  People just ask for more from you, or think that you didn't put enough time into your work, which for me is not the case, I've just been doing the same thing for so long it comes naturally.  And then there are the times when I do something when asked, only to have to rework it, sometimes several times, because people keep changing their minds.  Then there is the issue of being caught between several strong personalities, all with varying degrees of "in charge."  They all want something different, and I'm growing increasingly tired of being the chess pawn in their power hungry match.  So, I'm being reinforced to procrastinate, and it's spilling into my life of academia.

So, time to shut off Facebook, it will be there when I come back, and move onto the literature review for technology and education.  Wait, is that the timer going off for my banana walnut bread?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Accomplishments

Today's picture - Escape from Alcatraz (aka: a very difficult semester of PhD work!).  I woke up early this morning, I mean REALLY early, like coming home late from the bar early.  I can't really tell you what time, because the clock in our room is between 40 and 55 minutes fast, I can never remember, and it was simply too early to do the mat.  I just know what time I have to get up, after hitting 5 snoozes, to be on my own schedule.  Anyway, I tossed and turned, plotting the demise of all the people that have pissed me off this week - and I realized how utterly counterproductive that was.  So I focused, I visualized, and meditated, and used the time wisely.  If you know anything about me from reading this blog, you know that I value sleep more than most things in life.  I refuse to get out of bed too early, so I lie there, again, plotting the demise, but then pulling myself back to reality.

Okay, what works in my life?  My marriage, for one, thankfully.  That's my one given, my rock.  Next.  School.  I was close, at this hour, to finishing another PhD semester (as I write this, I have turned in all my papers, and the only thing I'm waiting on is one lazy cohort to post her part of a group presentation so I can pull it all together - as you can tell, I'm not much for group work).  I am great at my job, I really am, I'm not being arrogant, but my job doesn't fulfill me (it might define me right now, but it doesn't fulfill me).  I kept coming back to teaching.  I have fought teaching my whole adult life.  I tutored kids throughout my high school stint, and was quite good at it (Lord, it's hard to be humble! - sorry shameless Mac Davis reference.)  My undergrad degree is in elementary ed.  I love training and development at work.  My PhD is going to be in adult education.  I can't escape this Alcatraz - and maybe that's a good thing.  This morning I fought the money battle in my mind.  I already make more than an associate professor, why would I want to go backward?  I love my salary, but I'm hating corporate work.  It's soulless.  I don't want to be soulless.  I am on a 3 year plan; pay off debt, including student loan, get my daughters out of high school, finish my PhD, then I'm free ... free to move on to my passions, my dreams, which, I have to say include teaching.

I'm shaping my topic to be technology and education, some facet of online education, perhaps with a feminism slant, bringing education to women who need it most - those in rural, poverty-stricken areas.  Without online education, I would not have been able to get a Master's degree, I live 2 1/2 hours from the nearest university.  I wouldn't have the opportunity to get a Doctorate, while working and securing my financial future.  More women deserve this.  I have to make that my quest.  I have to make a difference.

I'll start by playing with my new Kindle - a piece of technology I stubbornly refused to buy, but now love!  I need to embrace technology and the advances it can bring to women everywhere.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Gratitude in the Black

Maybe I missed a memo.  Maybe I'm impervious to marketing ploys.  Or maybe I'm just a different person on a different journey today.  For weeks, the television ads have boasted Black Friday sales, open at 5 a.m., open at 4 a.m., open at 3 a.m. - OPEN ALL NIGHT!  Shopping, sales, the deal of the century - can't miss - don't miss!  I watched the madness unfold in front of my eyes with my own family.  Let me back up slightly.  I used to love to shop.  It was therapy, escape from a life that was bleak and miserable.  I'm not sure when exactly it happened - maybe a slow evolution, a coming into the light, or maybe an unconscious choice after dealing with debt and throwing out material items, some new, that had no meaning to me.  So I watched my family pour through the ads for Target, Sears, Wal-Mart, Home Depot (really, Home Depot has a Black Friday sale?), stores I hadn't heard of, all advertising amazing deals that you would have to be a damned fool to miss.  Am I missing something?  I looked through the ads, and found absolutely nothing that I would be willing to sacrifice sleep in order to purchase.  I hate shopping on any ordinary day, what would compel me to shop on the craziest day of the year?

Maybe I've realized that everything I need, I have.  I don't renounce material things, quite the opposite.  I love a good Coach handbag, a pair of sexy heels, and a fabulous black trench.  I love nice electronics and my Apple products.  But I would rather buy less of something with a higher quality.  And then spend the rest on travel, food, and wine.  For me, life is about experiences.  And maybe I can say that because I have seen life from both sides now.  I spent a decade living near the poverty level (I can't say I've suffered true poverty, but enough so to understand gratitude today), and now I am living well, I'm successful - by my own terms.  And I shouldn't judge people, they are on a different journey.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that I love my journey now.  I have nothing but hope and optimism for my future, and the blackest in financial terms of gratitude today for what I have now.

So, my friends, enjoy the early morning insanity, I hope you find some great deals (I know - it's a sport for some).  I loved sleeping in a warm bed next to my favorite person in the world, waking up at my own pace (which was actually 6:30 a.m.), and easing into my day.  Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Oprah

If you think there's a more influential, more inspiring person of our times than Oprah, I'd challenge you to tell me why.  I don't get to watch Oprah very often, but when I do, I fall in love all over again.  She is intelligent and generous and charitable, and with her big heart comes her big personality and her true beauty.  As a minority woman, she has struggled, but she never laments this fact, she uses it to make the world better for everyone who comes along behind her.  She believes in humanity, and pursues the best in people.  And she brings Josh Groban onto her show - how can you not love that?  Okay, so I happen to be watching Oprah, with Josh Groban, one of the great voices and personalities in his own right.

I'm inspired by Oprah.  I wish I could make even a fraction of the impact she has.  Maybe in part that's why I want to earn this PhD, so I have the voice to do so.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mr. Gri-inch!

The Holiday season has begun, Sirius Holly and Holiday Traditions have been bolstering my spirits for the last few days, and tonight, TBS aired the first showing of Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, one of my favorite holiday stories of all time.  I love Dr. Seuss.  Theodore Giesel may be one of the greatest minds of our time.  I remember reading the greats in my childhood, The Lorax, Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, Hop on Pop, and reading even more to my kids, One Fish Two Fish - Red Fish Blue Fish, The Thinks You Can Think, Oh The Places You'll Go!.  He's a genius.  He weaves poetry into hilarious accounts rife with political, spiritual, and sociological anecdotes.

I love Christmas, I always have.  Even in adulthood, when I have renounced organized religion and the church.  Christmas is a state of the heart, people are kinder, lighter, and give themselves permission to indulge, just a little.  My dear husband doesn't enjoy Christmas, as much.  Last year, I put my foot down and insisted we buy a real tree.  I ended up decorating it on my own, while he watched sports, and it took the fun out of it; then I had to admit that taking it down and picking pine needles out of white carpet for the next six months was a big of a drag.

Growing up, we always decorated, we had dozens and dozens and more dozens of Christmas cookies to bake, family to visit, presents to buy and create, we lit everything up that we could find, and it was festive.  Coming to terms with Christmas without children, without celebration has been hard for me.  I hate winter.  More and more each year.  The cold hurts - and I live in an area that has the coldest temperatures for the longest months of the year.  I have to listen to Christmas music, drink egg-nog (as a lactose-intolerant adult), host Christmas parties, and be in holiday cheer to make it through.  But I always like to think that even the grinchiest of grinches can grow their hearts maybe a size or two this time of year.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Counting My Blessings

I almost went down the path of a pity party tonight.  But I choose instead to think of the good things.  My daughters dismissed the idea of spending Thanksgiving with us.  We are going to my in-laws' for Christmas, and while they are invited, I know they will choose to not go.  I accept this.  I do regret not bringing them with me when I moved, because I knew their dad would die without them, but you can't reverse some decisions.  Right now, I don't care, because all the reasons I left him have only been amplified in the last six years.  He's a lazy, unmotivated, bitter piece of work, and he and his family enjoy using my daughters against me.  There's a reason he is alone, and I am not. My best girlfriends, all products of divorce, have assured me that they will come around when they grow up.  I hope they are right.  But most of all, I'm grateful for my husband now, who is the opposite of all that I hated in the girls' dad.  

Last night was filled with good times and good friends.  We have become very spontaneous.  After a terrible Wyoming Cowboys season, my husband, who is a rabid fan, insisting on attending every single home game and as many away games as I can stomach, made the call to stay home - avoiding the crappy team and the potentially dangerous roads, with an impending snow storm.  We ended up winning, 44-0, a complete and utter surprise, but it was fabulous watching it from my comfy couch, wrapped in a blanket as the winds howled outside of us.  Anyway, last night on the way home, we texted some friends to meet at the one smoke-free bar in town.  We had a nice party going, full of big, deep belly laughs, the kind that just make you feel so happy inside.  Some of us went to dinner together, and then more drinks at Mike's.  Against my protest, we went to karaoke at the smoky bowling alley bar, which is filled with the whitest of white trash and smoke so thick you can cut it with my Wusthof knives.  But we had a blast.  I drank moderately, which helped reduce the hangover factor this morning, but managed to have a kick-ass time with friends, both old and new.  Two friends, one 50, one almost 60, are amazing women.  They have been through a lot, and they are taking time to be themselves.  And they were the hottest ones on the dance floor - guys kept asking them to dance, and it made me happy to no end that men think they are as beautiful as I think they are.  My dear husband sang karaoke, he is awesome, and he sings songs that I love, offbeat ones, and he even danced with me a couple of songs.  We had a great night, and left at closing time - 2 a.m.  OUCH!  I can't help but feel gratitude at having friends who will hang out with us for hours and hours, laughing, giggling, drinking, making memories.  My dear husband, who has become a raging feminist, like myself (this is NOT a dirty word, mind you), stepped it up.  This poor young drunk girl was leaning on the pool table, it had to have been half an hour, no one even noticed her.  He got up, went to the bar and got her some water, and made her drink it.  Then a slutted-up woman came over, said he was sweet, but then took the water away and made her dance with a guy.  My husband came unglued at this, and well, he has a temper, but I couldn't hold him back, because he was doing the right thing.  He confronted the slutted-up woman, turns out the poor drunk girl was her daughter, and she made her boyfriend dance with her to "get her some air."  She fell down on the way out of the bar, and I couldn't help but think of the horrible things her life was amounting to.  He tried, he did, and won huge points in our eyes, but at the same time, you can't save everyone.

I realized last night, though, as I often do, how much I love being married to him.  I hated dating. Men are difficult.  They are not all good.  Dating sucked.  Being married to him is great.  I love coming home every night to one person whom I truly love, who gets me, who will challenge me, who is not afraid to push me, even when it pisses me off.  These are my blessings.  As Thanksgiving rolls around, I will be sad that my daughters won't be there - mostly sad for my parents and grandparents, who rarely get to see them, but I'm going to focus on the beauty that my life has become, the life that I've always wanted has materialized.  I have so many things to be thankful for, I have to push aside the things I regret and cannot change.  Life is good.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Epic

  Epic is how you'd describe our vacation.  For 9 1/2 days, the longest I have ever gone in my professional career, I didn't check e-mail or answer the phone.  It was phenomenal.  I was relaxed, I was happy, I focused on my favorite things in life - my husband, friends, travel, the beach, and food & wine.  Reality check when we hit the Wyoming border on the way home last night - snow, slick roads, accidents, closed roads (other side of the interstate - we got home just fine), and then another reality check this morning with 355 work e-mails and a phone that rang every 5 minutes.  OUCH.  But here's the lesson - there's always tomorrow.

Finding the beauty in everyday life, even coming home to snow, realizing how lucky I am to lead the life I lead, this is what life is about.  I did a little mini-experiment, I said nothing about my feelings toward snow and cold, and I think that's the way I have to deal with life.  Would I love to live in California or Oregon, on the coast - hell yeah, but can I right now?  No.  I have an incredible job, with a 401(k) and a pension, and while the job itself is not up my alley, how can I walk away?  My challenge is to live on my dreams, working toward an even better life, but having gratitude for where I am now.  Oh, and finishing this PhD.  I talked to my advisor this afternoon, and she was incredibly helpful.  I was grateful for the time I spent listening to her talk, and brainstorming with her.  I'm working on an online/distance study of how to either better serve people through online education, or even narrow to women, but I'm interested in helping people get access to higher education, even when they live halfway to anywhere (okay, can't take full credit - I saw this sign driving through Nevada - "halfway to anywhere" - aka "middle of nowhere").  I will have to do a lot of rework, but I just have to make it through this semester, a few short weeks, and then recreate the literature review and the qualitative research.  I can do this.  Did I mention I got to cook for the first time in 10 days?  That was rewarding.  More rewarding than 3 hours of phone calls with my PhD classes.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

California Here I Come ...

Tomorrow we are off ... headed farther west for a long-overdue vacation.  I spent the last three days interviewing dozens of operator candidates, which at best is dull and mundane, but truthfully, is the worst of the worst of my responsibilities.  Sure, it's boring, but I'm making decisions about people's livelihoods that I just don't want to make.

I've bitched about my job enough, but one candidate gave me an answer that rang true.  I asked him the best decision he's recently made.  He told me it was to take a vacation with his family, because he was burned out and developing a negative attitude.  Hmmmm - THIS IS ME!  I couldn't even take a sick day this year without being bothered at home, or having to still do a phone interview because no one would help me.  Starting tomorrow at noon I am shutting off the phone, I'm not looking at e-mail, I'm going to leave school behind, and I'm going to relax.  For 9 days I will let myself be ME - indulge in my food and wine passions, concentrate on my marriage, and our friendships, and stop stressing about work and school.  I am hoping to have an epiphany, a moment of clarity, something that makes it easier to finish this PhD and find my true path.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I Get By with a Little Help from My Friends

In a moment of self-pity last night, I lamented my PhD woes on Facebook .  I was met with nothing but strong cheerleading and encouragement from my girl friends.  Of course, my husband encourages me, but there's something about girl power that motivates me like no other.  (Let me say this, though:  I am fortunate to have a husband who is not afraid to stand behind all of my achievements - even when it means surpassing his own - see the end of this post for my Anais Nin quote).  I have to get this PhD, for all the women before me who have paved the way, and for all the women behind me from whom I must pave the way.  

So, I was hopped up on feminism all day.  Voting day - I reminded myself how many women fought with their own blood, sweat, and tears, for my right to do this.  I kicked it into high gear with my dissertation topic, women in male-dominated industries.  I did some more lit review, I did some more writing, I did some coding of my field work, and then finally, I faced up to the deadlines looming in the next four weeks.  After a semester of deep soul-searching, insipid, vapid, gut-wrenching mind-changing, and general digging my heels in the ground, I am seriously behind.  But today, I felt something small click inside of me.  I can't NOT finish this PhD.  I can't give up.  I tell others not to give up - what kind of person does that make me to not take my own advice?  To top off my lit review, tonight I've dug into my feminist books, Falduci, DeBeauvoir, Steinem, Friedan, the greats of the second wave, and also some new feminist literature - yes, Virginia, anti-feminism still exists.  It's enough to make your blood boil - and enough to get me off my ass to keep fighting for equality!  

"I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naive or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman. " Anais Nin


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lazy Sundays

Sundays aren't my favorite day of the week.  True, I'm not working on Sundays, and perhaps it's a still-conditioned church day, even though I have not attended church since 1993 (when I turned 18, graduated, and left home - and well, with the exception of the occasional Christmas service, or funeral, or wedding).  That and the thought of Monday around the corner ... going back to the soul-sucking job - Sundays just aren't that great.  However, I do enjoy sleeping in, plopping myself on the couch, and avoiding more homework, while eating and cooking at a few intervals, maybe consuming some supple, sexy California Cab along the way.

I have a little energy around my new dissertation topic - the cohort experience of online graduate students.  I read a great dissertation and phenomological study this morning that I could build on.  My cohort is pretty close - well, some of us.  We spent a week in the beautiful, yet desolate (think: 1 pay phone for about 200 students, no cell service, no internet) Colorado mountains, and while we bitched about the experience, I look back now at it as the week we bonded.  The guy who didn't attend, I just don't feel that connected to, and he doesn't participate as much in our online discussions, even the guy who attended only part of the week isn't bonding, but four of us have bonded and we encourage each other even outside class.  I consider them my friends.  And part of hanging on to this silly dream of being able to make people call me "doctor" is that I don't want to let them down.  So this is highly relevant to adult education.  I got an insightful e-mail from one of my cohort about my cooking topic - he refuses to believe I should give up on it, so does my female cohort member - but at the same time, the questions they ask make me realize that cooking for me, is really pretty selfish.

So I'm blogging to avoid doing more research, but I need to get back at it, since I'm oh, two and a half months behind my classmates who could make up their minds earlier.  Well, maybe a glass of cab first, to inspire me ... and hush - it's Sunday, I worship the grape.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Change Your Mind

Sister Hazel sings a great lyric: "If you wanna be somebody else ... change your mind."  This is one of my favorite songs, and one I try to sing to myself when I'm feeling a little blah.

So, if you have been reading this blog, and let's face it, who has - but that's okay, I'm writing it for myself - you - and I realize that I have no firm idea on what I want to study for my dissertation.  Each day brings a new idea, one that is quickly dismissed, and it's easy for me to start losing faith.  What if I just gave up?  What if I walked away from the program, just two and a half semesters invested?  Wouldn't I feel utter relief at not having to come up with a topic, write a paper, change my mind, do fieldwork?  These thoughts haunt me, daily, sometimes hourly, and it's enough to make me feel like I should undergo electro-shock therapy.  But you know what?  No one follows the same route in a PhD journey.  Some people are fortunate that they have a passion and a sense of direction.  Some people - like me - need to explore several different possibilities before finding the right one.  I am starting to beat myself up about changing my mind - but who says I can't change my mind this many times to find the right answer?  Who says I am not learning even though I keep running into the blocked maze wall?  And that quiet little voice that tells me to give up and live again is squashed by the voice that says I cannot give up, because I would never forgive myself for passing up this opportunity.  It's time to dig deep, suck it up, and make my own way.

Once again, after thinking most of the day about my quandry, I went to the 'net when I got home to start some new research.  Yes, I would love to study cooking and the process of teaching adults to cook, but at my university, this just isn't going to be feasible, unless I want to pursue the angle of community service.  And I don't.  I have to be honest with myself, even if it means a less-than-attractive thought pops out.  I want to teach people who WANT to learn how to cook.  I think dragging people into it under the name of health will suck all the fun out of my true passion.  Gender studies boil my blood.  I work with people who are not feminists - including some women - and it's draining.  I'm only going to solve that puzzle within myself, by surrounding myself with people who are enlightened.

So what do I want to do for an actual job - until I can go to culinary school and figure out a way to make six-figures while cooking?  Online teaching is appealing.  I am a pretty lazy person sometimes.  I like sitting on the couch, on my laptop, e-mailing my peeps, posting random comments on Facebook, and generally avoiding my PhD work.  But, I think to justify that, I wouldn't have a master's degree without online education, I wouldn't get my PhD without using distance learning, and that would be sad.  Living in a rural area shouldn't mean that you can't get a quality university education.  And even living in an urban area, where universities are plentiful, the hassle of going to a classroom, I think, appeals to fewer and fewer people.  We are all busy.  Taking time to drive somewhere, sit in a classroom and listen to the pointless questions of some classmates is enough to make you walk away from the dream.  I hate traditional classrooms.  I get so little out of sitting around with a bunch of people talkin' about my feelings and pontificating on theories and best practices.  What I love about online education is the discussion boards - the opportunity to share what I know, while being able to ask questions, be questioned, and learning at my own leisure.  I hate the phone.  I love technology.  So, now I have to work on narrowing the focus - online teaching?  online learning? new approaches in online education?  Who knows, I'm exhausted physically and emotionally and want to collapse into bed, watch the Cooking Channel, and fall into a blissful sleep that ends only when I'm damn good and ready for it to end.  It's only 9:00 - why do I feel the need to go to sleep at 9:00 on a Saturday night?

I'll tell you why - because working a job you no longer love and struggling to make sense of a PhD program that you promised yourself and your cohort you'd continue, even when you want to give up, takes a toll.  I hope tomorrow brings an attitude of commitment to my school work, joy in my kitchen, and a peaceful day all around.  Here's hoping ...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I'm Different!

I'm cute! ... I'm popular to boot!  Okay, so I went all "Bring it On" to ya (sorry, I do hate cheerleading - but this movie and my jr. high cheerleading still brings it on!) ... But still, the sentiment stands.  Today I had to lead the business leader meeting - a group of old men (yep, I said OLD) - and yeah, I'm the only woman - which can best be described as 'herding cats' (I've done it before, don't you DARE call me the 'token' woman.)

Two hours of drivel - of male testosterone - of "my dick is bigger than yours" (please forgive the vulgarness of my comments, but this cannot be ignored).  I look around the room - yep, I'm the only woman - and the youngest person in the room - well, one new grad in his mid-20's with facial hair to prove it, but filling in for his boss - again, yep, I'm in the minority, as a Japanese-American woman, there are few male minorities in this group.  And I'm leading the meeting.  Sah-weet.  Let me tell you - I'm intimidated by no one.  And letting people ramble on, sorry, not gonna do it (picture Dana Carvey as G Bush).  I almost felt enraged at this group of male elitists today.  They listened to me - but do they think my place is at home? I felt feminist-empowered, but still bleakly un-empowered- to make a difference.  I still don't care to do feminism as a dissertation - although I see it as the 'easy way out.'  But today I felt the full force of feminism-gone-stale with this group of men.  It's enough to light a woman up.  What - are we supposed to stay home and have their babies - or succeed in the workplace- lest we be called heartless, ball-breakin' bitches for displaying the same characteristics as they do?  This is so un-enlightened, but hit me like a brick wall today.  I'm accepted at the meetings, because I display some male leadership characteristics.   Then again, some days, I feel like I am accepted BECAUSE of my female characteristics.  It's always a challenge to separate the MEN from the BOYS.

My job pays me a killer salary and benefits, but some days I wonder - is selling my soul right?  How I am ever gonna follow my dreams???

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Find Something You're Passionate About

and keep tremendously interested in it."  Thanks, Julia Child.  You rock!

I'm still at odds with my dissertation topic.  I thought this morning, on the way to work, in the quiet, cold, windy, barren, desert tundra commute, while listening to 70's and 80's music (and being denied Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" by a husband not in the mood for sickly-sweet 80's pop), that maybe my lead in the Wellness Committee at work could be my dissertation topic.  My moral compass (the one that knows my company is paying for my PhD) is at odds with my true passion (the one that knows that working at my company will suck my soul dry).

But really, what do I care about people's health?  I care about cooking and teaching those who want to learn how to cook.  I can talk people in circles about the value of cooking and care and social happiness, but who cares?  I cook because I love to.  Because, selfishly, it fulfills ME.  Of course, I love that my husband loves my cooking and praises me for every meal I serve him, of course, I love that my friends come to my house for not only the company, but to see what I'm cooking next, but it's still very selfish.  I cook for myself, even when no one is here to compliment me.  Plain and simple:  I-L-O-V-E-T-O-C-O-O-K.  I have to stop pretending it's for this greater good of health and community and all that is holy.

I have this sinking feeling that I really don't belong in a PhD program.  It's on my stupid bucket list, and I have a means to do so, but it's difficult because I'm not sure if it's what I want.  I want to cook and sit on the beach at sunset sipping delicious wine, surrounded by my husband, and my friends, both old and new.  But for now, I will ignore the fact that I have no dissertation topic, that assignments are coming due, and I'm on vacation in California wine country in 8 days.  It's time for Top Chef Just Desserts.  Bon Appetite, my Friends!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Back to Square One

My "selling-out" dissertation topic was a hit amongst the people I really don't respect.  This should send me a loud signal that I need to go back to what I'm passionate about.  I feel so wishy-washy, but at least I'm being honest with myself.  I can't imagine the next three years studying women engineers.  I'm not an engineer, not once in my girlhood, adolescence, or adulthood have I even contemplated being an engineer.  Perhaps it's because I wasn't encouraged in science and math, I'm sure that was part of it, but I have no interest in being part of a man-dominated industry, nor do I think I can change it.  Lame, perhaps, but we have one lifetime to make a difference, this is not my sword to fall on.

I have to go back to teaching adults to cook, but I am breaking it down into creating curriculums for different subsets:  the cook who wants to learn more for fun and social aspects, the single mom, the abused woman (perhaps limited by a life cycle of poverty), the elderly (who may be cooking on their own for the first time), college kids, and busy executives.  I'm interested in the different motivations to learn to cook, the different instruction methods to be most effective, and lastly, the whole process of cooking, from nutrition to meal planning to budgeting to entertaining.  I think I will get some great support from a few key professors, I already know I have support of two, I just need to get the research going to prove that it is a worthwhile endeavor.

My advisor today asked me to think about several great questions, like what I want to do with my PhD, how I want to continue my research, how this will benefit me personally.  I'm journaling like crazy to find the answers to these - but they all keep coming back to cooking.  Teaching people how fulfilling and fun and empowering cooking is - and writing books along these thoughts.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Upswing

Yesterday was terrible.  I had a terrible attitude and as a result, a terrible day.  This morning I woke up at 1:30 a.m., then proceeded to toss and turn for the better part of 3 hours, all while stubbornly trying to convince myself to meditate, stop thinking about work and school, only to drift off only slightly before my alarm.  As I showered, I vowed to have a better day.  I finished my mid-term essay for one class, which was actually a good assignment - one that I enjoyed.  Then I started plotting my literature review.  (Thankfully, my job today involved testing operator candidates at the college, which gave me a lot of free time, with no distractions - which never happens when I'm in the office - and precisely why I dread going back tomorrow).

I made some decent headway on my literature review - in my mind.  I narrowed it down to the barriers that women face in male-dominated industries (like manufacturing and mining - where I work), and how to provide education and encouragement to attract, keep, and promote women into higher-paying jobs.  I think it's pretty damn relevant, it's certainly relevant to my job, but I'm sure there will be a professor and some classmates who say "nay nay."  But my fabulous "Salmon-Swimming-Upstream" cohort has been so supportive.  If nothing else, this PhD program brought me to a few incredible people who I see as lifelong friends.

I was inspired to create a Top Chef-esque dinner tonight - but I think I failed.  My husband, who would have eaten my creation, was saved through my foresight.  I don't generally test fancy/daring (read: sometimes pretentious) recipes on him or our friends (quite candidly because many of them are experiments gone awry!).  For my fabulous husband, it was fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and corn - one of my favorite meals ever that I cook, but in the spirit of being daring (and in the spirit of always trying to lose weight), I went my own way.  I roasted a small butternut squash with olive oil and salt for about 45 minutes, then pureed it with some chicken stock - delicious in its own right, but really too rich to have more than a few bites.  I made a fresh corn - trimmed from the cob - succotash with tomatoes and chives, which really had no business being together.  And lastly, thanks to the talented Cat Cora's demonstration on one of my DVR'd Master Chef episodes, I quick-seared some Alaskan halibut brought back to me from some friends.  I made a quick lemon-butter sauce to go over it.  The plating itself was actually quite beautiful, but the execution and the mixture of ingredients was just off.  I could hear Gordon Ramsey yelling words of advice to me - the halibut, slightly overcooked, the butternut squash, delicious, but it doesn't go with anything, and the succotash, just plain bad idea.  That's okay.  It wasn't inedible, just another fun experiment, and a fairly low-calorie one at that.  (I might mention that for the first time in months, today I got on my elliptical runner, since my commute today was only 5 minutes - I lasted 15 minutes - hey, it's a start!).

So, this evening finds me more optimistic and motivated.  This job, this PhD - they aren't my whole life, they are means to my dream, which has been culinary school, for the past four years, I've wanted culinary school.  Maybe with a PhD, I can teach a flexible (online?) schedule, and go to culinary school while writing ... this is my dream.  I have to put in about 3 years to get there, but really, in my life, 3 years is nothing.  It's still filled with fun times, cooking as a hobby, and living a great life.  Now, where did I put my wine glass?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Curry Me to Happiness ...

I opted out of tailgating today.  A six-hour round trip, drunken college students, watching your college football team get slaughtered, stay at a cheap motel, ehhh, it's a rerun I can probably miss this weekend.  My dear husband loves tailgating more than anything else on the planet - which is why I normally go along for the ride.  People tell me I'm a diehard fan, that's not necessarily true - my husband is a diehard fan; I'm a diehard wife.  I slow-cooked barbeque pork all day yesterday, it was fabulous.  I hope everyone likes it.  I made a vinegar-based cole slaw today (I hate mayo, and even more, I hate for people to get sick on my watch).

So I drove my brand new baby Yukon XL to my neighborhood doctor, I mean liquor store, got some Absolut, which I'm enjoying the rocks, and am trying to get some motivation for this dissertation.  But first, lunch.  I have wanted to make red curry for months now.  I've had the cans of coconut milk in my pantry, I have the red curry paste, I have the motivation.  Dear husband, who will eat anything - honestly anything - I put in front of him, is not a real fan of Thai food, it's spicy and exotic, and he's comforting and home.  So I stir-fried some beef - New York Strip steak (so it's no secret - I spend money on food, not fashion, deal with it) in a garlic-ginger grapeseed oil, with red peppers, then cilantro, and my home-grown basil.  I simmered coconut milk, red curry paste, a tablespoon or two of sugar, a few drops of fish oil, and some dashes of soy sauce with peas.  I then made Chinese noodles (it's fusion - okay, deal!) to go along with it.  Mixing the aromatic curry mix with the spicy beef and comforting noodles was heaven.  I am an overeater.  I love food, food is my comfort, my soul, my love.  But if I eat something truly, fascinatingly delicious, I tend to eat less.  How I can explain this, I don't know, but if you make - or eat - something of extreme quality and fabulousness, you simply eat less and enjoy more.  This curry was just that - comfort, silky smooth, and the right balance of flavor.  Damn, I am good!

If only I could have parlayed my love of cooking into a dissertation, but the snooty, elitist, holier-than-thou-even-though-they-don't-work-in-corporate-America professors and PhD students have turned me away.  I'll play the game - I play it every day at work - I'll get the letters, and I'll continue my love of cooking and all things food and wine.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The People You Meet Along the Way ...

The evolution of personality is amazing.  I used to be a rabid, outgoing extravert. I loved being around people, meeting new people, talking to people, you get the point.  The past couple of years, I've seen a shift.  I enjoy retreating to the quiet oasis of my home at the end of the day, and truthfully, some days, I'm happy if I never have to leave that oasis.  On the airplane, I put my headphones in and plug into my iPod, engrossed in a book, or my laptop, to avoid talking to people.  At work, I sigh every time the phone rings, when people come into my office - probably because I know they visit or call because they need something from me.  It's exhausting.  I find I get less and less from these exchanges.

However, my PhD cohort are people I can count on.  They have given me sound advice and encouragement, and I know we've met for a reason.  Tomorrow will be full of the old faces, but not really "my" old faces.  I love our friends, but some days, I would just rather burrow in my own world, create my own destiny, and live in my own world.  I know I will outgrow this, it's just a phase, and probably brought on by a job that continually demands that I hold people's livelihoods in my hands.

Swimming Downstream

I went back to my original dissertation topic - the glass ceiling and leadership development for women.  It's not cooking, but I'm still passionate about it, and my literature review is nearly completed, thanks to the extra time and energy I spent earlier this year on the paper.  I feel relived.  I've met my challenge this year in the PhD program.  But I refuse to let biased, unhelpful classmates and professors set me back.

So I'm not swimming upstream with the salmon any longer.  I'm enjoying cooking again.  I spent half the morning in the kitchen whipping up homemade chicken and dumpling soup for a cold-ridden husband, asian salmon with panko breading, roasted red peppers and udon noodles for me, and 6 pounds of bbq pork shoulder for tomorrow's tailgate.  I love holidays off of work!

Now what to make for dinner ...

Monday, October 11, 2010

So You Wanna Be a PhD ...

So you wanna be a PhD.  Be prepared to be demoralized when you are different from your classmates.  Get used to the idea that your professors think your topic has no relation to your course of study (even when your topic has all the words of your course of study IN it), and be prepared to watch your classmates who have seemingly ridiculous dissertation topics be rewarded.

Tonight was a big dose of "your professor is just not that into you."  I am okay with constructive feedback - I deal with it every damn day at work.  If I trust and respect you, then I am willing to listen.  But I haven't developed that trust, that relationship, with my cohorts or my professors.  And to hear that my topic is irrelevant, or not related to education, I don't get the connection.  I want to learn how adults learn to cook - how to inspire them, how to give them my passion.  Maybe a PhD isn't right for me?  Maybe this isn't my dream?  PhD's maybe are, in general, for those who don't want to work in corporate America?  This is definitely me, although I do love the salary and benefits of corporate America, I disdain the feeling that I'm not making a difference.  How can I be on the outside - looking in - to two distinctly different groups?

Maybe I'm becoming an eccentric recluse.  Who knows.  I'm not digging the PhD scene, because these people are so immersed in academia and are so judgmental against those who are not.  I'd love to add Dr. Cyndi Johnson to my list of monikers, but tonight, I have to ask - effin' why?  Why do I want this?

I want to cook, to nurture, and I'm not really here to convert others, just to inspire them.  And to be demoralized in the process by people I don't respect, it really turns me off.

Monday, October 4, 2010

On the Road ...


On the road to my PhD, I feel like this photo - I'm climbing upward.  Steeply upward.  I have to dig deep right now because I'm not finding inspiration or encouragement from my professors.  I have found them to be unresponsive, unless I nag (and as you may know - I am no longer a nagger), and when I do get feedback, it's not terribly encouraging.

I had a great light-bulb flash moment today while reading a journal article related to my literature review.  What if I watched cooking shows and dissected the instructional methods used by different TV chefs and compared that to people who use television shows to learn to cook new things.  Of course, two of my professors have told me - in a "politically correct" way that it seems irrelevant.  To me, however, cooking is highly relevant.  Americans are fatter and lazier than ever.  (Lest you think I'm preaching - I'm not, I am overweight, and I hate exercise - stay with me).  But we have diseases that other culture simply don't have, from diabetes to cancer and even high incidents of tooth decay (read Michael Pollan if you get a chance, he has studied this at great length).  Teaching people to cook for the benefit of their health is highly relevant - especially in a PhD program with the partial title of "Adult Education & Training."  I'm discouraged.  I felt energized this morning when I narrowed the topic, but then deflated when one of my professors returned to me his feedback on the start of my research (this feedback was 3 weeks late, mind you).  I'm, so far, not impressed with these professors.  I don't expect hand-holding, but I do expect encouragement and constructive feedback.  I think my topic is every bit as relevant as some of my other classmates, some of whom are studying college age kids, but not in relation to education and training.

All of the dissertation books tell you to find a topic you are genuinely passionate about, because you're spending 3-5 years with it.  This is it for me.  This is what I want to study.  I want to affect change, even at a small-scale level.  That is why I'm getting this PhD.  I just have to do my work and find strength and motivation in what I'm doing, rather than relying on professors, who are being paid to guide me, but are clearly finding it exhausting.  Wouldn't it be great if teachers at all levels loved to teach?  I'm finding very few people who have that sentiment lately.  Cynical ... yep, you will encounter that on a PhD journey.

Monday, September 27, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

Dorothy was right!  Not only is there no place like home, but what you seek is often right in your own backyard.

I cooked tonight, a whole meal - well, two meals, actually, but for the first time in two weeks.  I was in my element.  I went to the grocery store, which is my own form of zen meditation (as much as I hate to shop for clothes and home goods, I love to shop for fresh ingredients!).  Quick check on my sick husband, with the promise of homemade chicken and dumpling soup, then into the kitchen to start dinner.  A friend from out of town was able to stop by and share a meal with me.  Great conversation, great wine, and all while I was cooking, this is my fabulous life (outside of work, that is).  I made chicken kiev - don't tell me that's so 1981, because fun, delicious food, much like Louis Vuitton handbags, never go out of style - with my fresh rosemary in the middle, it scented the entire chicken breast, mashed potatoes, gravy, and glazed carrots, my favorite comfort foods.  I also slipped in a mixed green salad with crisp Granny Smith apples and walnuts, with my own dijon, Paso Robles Olive Oil, and balsamic vinaigrette. I opened up a new bottle of Paso Robles wine - an interesting blend of Cab Sav, Cab Franc, Petite Verdot, and Syrah - truly delicious wine.  More great conversation and laughter - this is what I love about girlfriends.

There is an easiness between girlfriends that you can't explain to men.  And I'm certain they have the similar rapport, but tonight was perfect, just fun, good times.  Why can't life always be like a dinner party?  Work was terrible.  It always is lately.  I have to divorce myself of the concept that I am a corporate drone.  I just don't care anymore.  I will do my job to the best of my ability, but I am not taking on additional assignments anymore.  Why should I?  What reward did I get from working 60 hour weeks this summer, traveling in coach class (mind you - this is how I travel for pleasure - it just feels so much worse when you are not with your husband and on vacation), eating alone, living off the kindness of your friends merely through Facebook?  I got nothing.  My superiors would argue I got a one-of-a-kind experience, but I say, in the words of John Pinette, "nay-nay."  I learned how to say no - and no I will say.  I have school, I have my food and wine and writing passions, and the day will come when I can say good-bye to corporate life and live my days in blissful wonder.  And all the while - there's no place like home.

Monday's Musings

I've solidified my goals, I've mapped out the next three years, and I don't find it hard to get out of bed to do some PhD work or check out my friends' musings on Facebook.  I am, however, finding it difficult to get myself to work.  I know I should feel blessed beyond belief to have the job I do, and I am grateful.  But I have always believed that your life's work should be fun and meaningful, and lately, my work is diametrically opposed to that sentiment.  And I know I can change that.

In this quiet pre-dawn hour, Padma is teaching me Indian cookery while I surf the internet for inspiration.  I'm making dinner for a friend tonight, and all I want to do today is menu-plan and grocery-shop.  But alas, my job still calls, demanding, impatient, cranky petulant child that it is.  My life vision this morning involved sleeping in, eh, maybe another hour, then a slow, leisurely cup of tea while reading my e-mails (sent to me by my fans).  In my home office, I'm surrounded by newspaper articles proclaiming my writing as visionary, thought-changing, and intriguing.  I spend the day writing about food, thinking about food, and cooking delicious food.  But now I go to work, in an office full of furniture handed-down through generations of bored, tired HR people, to help grown men do things they should have learned to do years ago, and continue the drudgery on the way to my yellow brick road.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Courage to Dream

My love affair with the East coast, short-lived, is now over.  I can admit when I'm wrong.  Of course, Buffalo, New York is not the most glamourous of places to spend any amount of time, but this summer's exhausting work travel to Buffalo, the nerve-wracking Philadelphia "experiment," and amazing travel in the West has cured me of wanting to live in the over-populated, stressed-out, rat-race of the East.

Telluride, Colorado was the venue for this weekend's travel.  After contracting (on a compromised immune system, no doubt) stomach ailments one week, a nasty cold the following, and not being home for most of this time, I was blissfully happy to see my charming husband at the airport in Grand Junction, Colorado.  We slipped back into the familiar pace of our comfortable marriage, had pizza for lunch, and enjoyed the beautiful 2 1/2 hour drive up through the mountains.  Each mile grew more beautiful and culminated with breathtaking mountain views and changing aspen trees as we drove into the small-town resort.  A wedding took place, but most importantly, fun times with friends - both old and new - made the weekend perfect.

The sky was so clear-blue that I know the fog that clouded my judgement of places-to-live most of the year 2010 had finally lifted.  I felt free and at ease, and allowed myself to dream of the day I walk away from a corporate soul-selling job and into a career of my heart's desire.  The weekend was full of time for just the two of us, and time with our friends.  We sought out the perfect pizza place and perched at the bar for the Wyoming Cowboys game - their loss being the only sore spot of the weekend.  We rode the gondola, which provided stunningly gorgeous views of the town in a quiet, peaceful setting.  We ate great food, we drank great wine.  We lived, we laughed, we loved.  I have the courage to dream of all the great things that lie ahead for us.  As Anais Nin has said, "Life shrinks and expands in proportion to one's courage."  I made my bucket list last week, formalized the goals to get there, and am going to take the risks, be courageous, and live the dream.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

That's What Dreams Are Made Of ...

I hope Van Halen will allow me to title this post with one of their lyrics.  (Straight up we'll climb ... leave it all behind ... ).  I got ill two nights ago, stomach ill, one of the worst for me.  I thought maybe I'd gotten food poisoning from a fast food restaurant on the way home from yet another trip.  Now, two days later, I believe it's stress.  The amazingly intense stress of working, traveling, and going to graduate school full-time.  I'm buckling.  I haven't spent enough time on school, enough time at home, enough time with my friends and family.  This is when it gets hard.  This is when people make life-changing decisions.  This is when I have to make some life-changing decisions.

I don't love working in HR.  I drag myself out of bed in the morning to do it because I make a great living at it.  But the truth is, I have found what my dreams are made of.  My dreams are in the kitchen.  Cooking.  Tasting.  Teaching others the joys of cooking and tasting.  Writing.  Talking about food.  Planning menus and parties.  Living in my own world with my own rules.  The question becomes:  How will I get there?  I fear I have become so lazy and complacent, but the time is now.  I must make steps, no matter how small, to get my to my goals.  If I wake up in 5 years and am still in the same place - physically or emotionally - I will have failed.

I read and watch Ina Garten, who is a role model to me.  Stuck working in a government job - a very good job - but going home at night to her one true passion.  Her husband encouraged her to leave it all behind, to climb higher and higher, and she is a success.  She loves what she does, she's good at it, and I suspect she's fabulously wealthy.  While my path won't be the same, I hope that my end goal is similar - to love what I do unequivocally and whole-heartedly.  To jump out of bed in the morning, put on my apron, or sit down at my laptop to write important things.  This is what my dreams are made of.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Everything Happens for a Reason

Do you remember a time when you hoped that someone would break up with you first, so you didn't have to expend the energy to do it yourself?  Yeah, that just happened to me.  With a job.  Immense relief to hear that I'm not what they were looking for, because they sure as hell weren't what I was looking for.  I am gainfully employed, they asked ME to this interview (same company, so nothing lost), but it felt wrong from the beginning.  Trust your instincts.  Go with your gut.  Whatever eloquent quote you need, do it.  Being honest about my talents, my abilities, and my passions was the way to go.  I'm staying in Wyoming for now.  And I'm happy and relieved for that decision.  I felt light-hearted, for the first time in a month, since this opportunity was presented in a most sloppy fashion.  I belong here, for now.  And I can work on things I know how to do while working on my PhD.  It is the perfect answer for me, and I can't be more excited at how things feel into place for us, oddly enough, to make us stay in a place I thought I wanted desperately to leave.

I'm not afraid to admit I'm wrong.  I'm not afraid to realize that I have it truly great now and to embrace the emotion.  All things happen for a reason.  I think this job interview was the answer to making me appreciate where I am now.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Embracing My Roots

I grew up in Wyoming.  Early morning goose hunts, long deer hunt hikes, and mountainous fishing expeditions were the norm.  Except I, being a princess-girl, resisted my dad's efforts to turn me into a rugged Wyoming girl.  I think he lured me into the goose blind with the promise of hot chocolate, even though at 4 a.m., I was crabby enough to snap back at him (if he knew what he did now, he would have added Kahlua to the hot chocolate and made me a hunter forever).  These were the days before water bottles, so when we got thirsty on the trail, he told us to suck on a rock.  I'm still baffled at how this quenched thirst, but this is my dad - don't ask, just do.  This is the man who, my mom accounted, recently broke his wrist while training for his next elk hunt, and had every doctor, surgeon, and specialist in the regional hospital, where he went to the ER, come to marvel at the man who survived a heart attack 12 years ago, a broken wrist that he didn't know about for three months,, a kidney transplant (courtesy of yours truly), and another broken wrist, and still spends weeks on end in the wilderness (some by himself) hunting wild game every year.  He's a marvel of modern medicine.  I could learn a lot from him - I have learned a lot from him.

We got to elk camp at 1:30 a.m. after tailgating for 5 hours before the first Wyoming Cowboys game.  The beer and Jaeger flowed freely, and I stopped early - dammit, knowing I'd have to drive.  The 2 hours, long, long hours to elk camp.  My dad, the most rugged mountain man alive, stayed up to help us set up our tent (because there was no way in hell I was staying in my parents' camper with my sister, her husband, and 5-year-old nephew - my dad thinks that he can fit a small army in this camper, and I think I need my own personal space).  I rode a four-wheeler, for the first time ever; I drove a four-wheeler, well, obviously a first, and in time to make my dad's dreams come true - as he had returned with my husband, from the morning's hunt to witness this spectacle).  I didn't have a meltdown (like I did last year), despite being a long day of tailgating, a campfire, and a couple days' worth past a shower.  I actually let go and let myself enjoy it.  I was a self-proclaimed city-girl for a long time - until I started dodging the bullet of actually having to move to Philadelphia and being a city-girl.

On the four-wheeler, I saw mountains, streams, lakes, wide open spaces, and fresh air.  People passing by in camo, waving at us, happy as hell to be in a world without cell phones, satellite tv, and internet.  I could maybe do a couple more days, but I have to have tv and internet.  I don't need to be connected through cell phones, but I have to Google shit I don't remember off the top of my head, I have to watch Top Chef, and I have to have my wine (which, rest assured, I did - and found fellow oenophiles in my parents' friends who camped with us).  My dad, thoughtful soul that he is, gave up being the head chef (which is probably one of his other passions - clearly I take after him), and let me cook two meals.  I hadn't cooked in almost two weeks, being on the road, and it was fantastic.  Even in the confines of a small camper trailer, I cooked amazing fajitas one day, and an awesome dry-rub pork loin roast and fried potatoes the next.

But during our four-wheel rides, I realized how truly lucky I am to live a life where this is just a short drive away.  To be able to get truly away, without cell service, and live life more simply, more slow-paced.  One afternoon, we played SkipBo, Uno, rummy, and Pass the Pigs (Google it - it's the most freakin' hilarious game you will ever encounter) with my five-year-old nephew.  If you read this blog (and who does?), you'll know I'm not fond of children.  I live in an adult-only world, but my nephew is the exception.  He's smart, he's well-behaved, and he's hilarious - I laugh until I nearly pee my pants at his entertainment.  He loves to camp, he loves the mountains.  One morning, he found a stick, and hobbled around like an old man - only to find out, he was channeling his inner Yoda, and then he'd break out into Jedi-light-saber mode, it's too funny to even write about.

I don't want the job in the city.  I don't want that life.  It's a rat race that most people would pay dearly to get out of - would probably pay dearly to have the life I do.  Why would I give this up?  To make well over 6-figures?  Who cares? I make close to 6-figures in Wyoming, where we have a beautiful house, the cost of living is cheap, and we can travel to amazing places in a short amount of time.  I dread having the conversation with my boss to tell her I'm not interested in relocating.  I'm not interested in making the big bucks, because with the big bucks, come the big house, the big stress of maintaining the big house, the big lifestyle, when I really already live a life larger than my expectations.  I am grateful that I've learned this now, instead of making a huge mistake to move East and lose it all.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Business Travel Boot Camp

I think I have the job I imagined when I was growing up.  But why do I feel so tired?  Let's recap ... I have been spending two weeks a month in Buffalo, New York, a good, solid 2,000 miles away from home, two connecting flights, and a hearty drive to the airport.  Meanwhile, summer fun travel, and unexpected travel has cropped up.  I'm home maybe 3 days in the next few weeks, a thought that is oddly discomforting.  Not that it might be home for that much longer.  So we drove 17 hours on Wednesday to Oregon.  Spent an incredibly long day filled with funeral prep, memorial service, lots of children, and no booze - a day of Griswold-ian proportions.  After 13 hours, I was beat, but I didn't complain, I held it in.  When a certain not-quite-two-year-old yelled and cried and gave me evil looks, I didn't complain.  When I offered to help, and was given a bean recipe from a cheap church cookbook, fourteen cans of beans, and various other disgusting foods to throw together, I did it.  I helped out. When we had the BBQ with no adult beverages, and lots of mysterious dairy food, I picked through and found the fresh produce, and the relatively innocuous BBQ meat, and sipped ice water.  I was rewarded with a trip to the cousins' local watering hole, and proceeded to match my husband, his sister, and two cousins drink for drink - except they drank craptacular domestic lite brews, I downed dirty Grey Goose martinis like I was dying on the Titanic.  But I digress.  My husband turned a somewhat sad time into a fabulous birthday weekend for me.  Fabulous restaurants, a beautiful hotel room on the beach, more fabulous restaurants, the beach, a winery, and a nice drive down the coast, what more can a girl ask for?  Oh, yes, I'm 35.  That's the first time I've said it.  And you know what?  I like being 35.  This is going to be an awesome year.

We got into Utah around 8 last night, had a few drinks with a friend, and stayed the night by the airport, so I could get up early and head to Buffalo.  Tomorrow it's Philadelphia for an interview, after 4 hours of PhD class tonight - on the East coast, so I won't be finished until 11:00 p.m., which mind you, is only 9:00 p.m where I come from, but my flight for Philly leaves at 7:00 a.m. Eastern time.  Translate:  I only get 4 or 5 hours of sleep tonight before I have to look, feel, sound, and be my best tomorrow, after a flight.  I get home late Friday night, only to take off Saturday morning for the first football game/tailgate of the year, and camping for the weekend.  Come home, then a day later, leave for Texas for another football game.  It gets worse from here, but I'll spare you the details.  I'm tired, I'm disoriented, I just want to sleep, but I can't.  Instead I found a great Japanese take-out restaurant, which made my tummy feel blissfully nourished, had a Grey Goose on the rocks, and thus draining my last flask, and now gearing up for phone calls.  Strap in, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Even though this is the life I thought I want, I would really rather go home, curl up on my couch and watch bad TV with my husband.  This is the time to put the big-girl pants on, make the most of the fact that people think I do a great job, and see where it goes from here ...

Friday, August 20, 2010

When It's Tough ...


Work started out so well this week, and unfortunately, has gone downhill since.  I was put in tough positions this week, between people decades older (and supposedly wiser) than I.  And I failed several people, disappointed them.  I have always feared authority, and when I disappoint someone in authority, the pain is almost more than I can stomach.  My husband helps me put it into perspective, but it's still difficult to face people, even after I've had to bite my tongue, apologize, and live with the time that has to pass before someone else usurps my mistakes and creates a diversion from me.  

One of my friends posted a quote on Facebook last night that I have to live by, "Sometimes it takes just one person who believes in you."  I have that.  In fact, I have many more than one person who believes in me.  Right now, a few people who I've worked so hard for, don't believe in me.  And I have to recognize that it's okay.  That this, too, will pass.  How do you do that?  Drink martinis at night and make a comforting dinner.  Focus on the people who will stand behind me.  Remember that I'm more than my failures.  Easier said than done.

I'm, quite candidly, disappointed in these same people for not extending to me forgiveness and understanding.  We are trying to change our culture at work into one where people are reinforced to do the right thing.  Unfortunately, there are several key people who don't get the science, who don't practice it, and I know I'm not the only one who is feeling downtrodden.  Three days to go until PhD classes start.  I'm ready for the distraction.  (I think.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Work/Life Balance?

I'm working 10-11 hour days, traveling weekly for work and fun, and wondering how I am keeping up with it all.  I can go in to work at 6:30 a.m. and look forward to it, and then have to drag myself away at 5:00 p.m.  Really?  It's an attitude, a choice.  I am motivated by the results, by the number of people I can help, by the fact that I am doing something I love and getting feedback that I'm doing it (most of it) right.  It helps that my husband works at the same place and understands the demands.  It also helps that he supports me in my crazy, out-of-town assignments, my PhD work, and knowing that, while I complain, it fulfills me and makes me visible to a large number of colleagues (a point he never fails to mention when I complain!).

I am exhausted, but happy.  The delicious curve-ball is still dangling in the air, mid-pitch, and I have to put it aside and trust that the universe is unfolding as it should.  A dear friend of mine from a life several years ago had this framed picture in his office, called "Desiderata" (never sure what that meant) and it said something to the affect that you have to trust that "the universe is unfolding as it should."  And he would remind me of that so often that it became ingrained in my psyche.  I dearly miss this friend, and our large iced raspberry mochas with extra whipped cream that we treated ourselves with.  We didn't keep in touch when I moved away, and I regret it.  He became my best friend for a couple of years and got me through a tumultuous time in my life.  It's odd how people come and go in our lives.  Some people impact you in ways you don't realize until years later - then you miss them and cherish the time you had.

So back to the work/life balance.  Right now, work has taken a priority over my life.  I'm not proud of it, but I'm doing what I need to - to get the job done, and secure my future.  I still take care of my home life, sure, some things suffer (like housework), but I do my best to support the man who supports me - the man who is my best friend, my biggest fan and supporter.  We work hard, but thanks to him, we play hard, too.  If not for him, I'm afraid I wouldn't take much time off of work.  He has taught me that time spent with family and friends - or just each other - is well spent.  Even if we do nothing but watch bad TV and make sarcastic comments over a bottle of red and a fabulous dinner I've prepared.  Or if we hop in the car and travel 14 hours to get to wine country, 8 hours to Vegas, or 3 hours to the mountains of northern wyoming.

I'm about to start four PhD classes in 6 days.  Four ... three I thought was a push - but I've done it for a few semesters and am probably being over-confident.  A moment of panic.  Can I REALLY do four?  One is totally optional - part of a certification I can get, and it should be easy, it's industrial psychology, which is what I do at work.  Can I do this?  I hope I'm not delusional.  Can I really finish the assignment two time-zones, and two flights away, work at my normal job, take care of my personal life, and continue this PhD journey?  I guess time will tell.  I've only excelled when I've pushed myself.