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.