Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Just a Quick Note ...

 ... to let the blogosphere know I'm no longer in my twenties. I have, in fact, been thirty for the better part of half an hour now.

As you were.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Progress Report: or, The Curb Fairy Is my New Best Friend

So, yesterday was Saturday and I didn’t post and today’s post is going to be truncated, but there has been progress with the move:
  1. With the CDs, I’m now through the Ps, and am definitely going to need to run out for more CD albums in the near future.
  2. While out for a walk in the neighborhood yesterday, we found two wardrobe boxes on the curb, and John carried them – both at once – the twoish blocks back to our house, removed the tied-off bag of dog doo that another neighbor had so classily dropped into one of the boxes, inspected said box to make sure the bag was really and truly tied off (it was), and then brought them into the house, where we realized we had nowhere to put them, SO …
  3. John took all the books off of a bookcase that was in the process of collapsing and carried it out to the curb, and then we boxed up NINE boxes of books from that bookcase (and there are at least two more to go – it was tall, and we’d overloaded it, hence the collapse).
  4. I made a double-batch of my mom’s meat sauce, enough for last night’s spaghetti dinner, plus four more dinners.
  5. I bought John a mini German Chocolate cake for being such a good sport about lugging the wardrobe boxes home and dealing with the doggie doo.
In other news, while all this was going on, a group of college girls from up the street took the broken bookcase plus several CD racks that weren’t in good enough shape to bother moving from our curb. At one point while they were taking all the shelving, John startled them by answering the door (ironically, someone selling security systems door-to-door), and they hid behind a bush in our yard. When one of them finally got up the courage to ask if we were throwing the stuff out, John assured her that we were and couldn’t be happier to have someone take it who could use it.

Today, I need to do research, which entails – I’m dead serious – watching Buffy and Twilight and taking notes. I’m giving a paper on vampire TV and movies marketed to teen girls and they way they depict dating violence at the Children’s Literature Association conference in mid-June.

So, I’m off to the Buffyverse.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Move

As I’ve mentioned before, my husband and I are both doctoral students (in fact, as of this month, we’re both ABD – All But Dissertation – congratulations, John!). We’re currently living in Baton Rouge, LA, which is the city where John is a student at LSU, and it’s located more or less midway between Lafayette, LA, where I’m a student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (about an hour’s drive) and New Orleans, where until this month I was a lecturer at Xavier University of Louisiana (an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half away, depending on traffic). Trying to teach full time AND be mom to a toddler AND work on a dissertation AND more recently bake bread every weekend because we’re trying to live on one lecturer’s salary and one grad student stipend has really been taking its toll on both me and John, which is why I said “until this month” when I mentioned my lecturership. John and I have done something that’s probably COMPLETELY insane and decided that in order to focus on my diss and my family, I would quit my job and we would move back to New York, where we would divide our time between his parents in the Hudson Valley and my parents on Long Island. Yes, for the next year, we’ll be living with our parents and in-laws.

On the one hand, we’re incredibly fortunate. We have not one but two sets of parents who are that supportive of us pursuing doctoral degrees in the humanities, even though they know what the job market is like. (Actually, having just typed that, I started to cry a little and the rest of this blog seemed a bit moot.)

While we’re already misty, here’s John’s parents with Danny when he’s about three months old, on his first visit to New York during Mardi Gras break 2009.

And here are my mom and dad with an almost-one-year-old Danny at our house this past Thanksgiving. *sniff*

To get un-verklemmt and continue, though, on the other hand, we are currently renting a two-bedroom house (okay, a small, falling-down two-bedroom shotgun shack – for real) and we have a LOT of stuff and we’re used to having our space. Again, the two sets of parents are being AMAZING about this. My dad is a United Methodist minister whose current appointment includes a parsonage that makes me feel a bit guilty for all those years I complained bitterly about how parsonages like the one on Seventh Heaven don’t really exist. John’s parents are going through every box in their basement to pare down and create a get-away space for us. These are PHENOMENAL people.

What John and I have actually been worried about? (Are you ready? This is absurd.) We don’t want to spend a year without access to our movie and music collections. That’s right: we don’t want to box up all our DVDs and CDs and put them out of our reach in the attic for a year and when we try to talk about which favorites we might want to keep accessible, you’d think we were talking about our children or at the very least, our cats.

(Our child meeting one of our cats about a year ago.)

So what we finally decided to do, and this will do us for the long haul until we are gainfully employed and can afford nice shelving/storage (and when we do that, books will come first, then music and movies -- and it might have to wait until we can buy a house and install built-ins), is put ALL our DVDs and CDs into books and box up all the cases for long-term storage.

We did all the DVDs Wednesday night and are now working on the CDs. Due to a combination of my having underestimated how many DVDs we own by about 150 (which means I’ve also underestimated how many CDs we have, total damage not yet known) and Target not stocking enough 256-disc books anyway, we’re going to need to buy some more materials, but here are the results of the DVD phase:

You see there nine bankers’ boxes of DVD cases and a total of four books containing all the DVDs from those cases; that is, two 256-disc and one 128-disc books of John’s and my DVDs and a 24-disc book of Danny’s DVDs, for a total of just shy of 670 DVDs (there’s some space in each book for new additions, but not a whole lot). I think even though we knew the movies would be a LOT more accessible this way, we were pleasantly surprised by the space-savings and are excited to do something on the same model with the CDs.

However: We have more CDs than we do DVDs. We're currently just about halfway done (as near as I can figure -- we're up to Ennio Morricone), and have filled a 320-disc book and almost filled a 256-disc book. I'm going to have to make another run to get more storage, and we've already bought out Target and Office Depot (the nice man at Wal-Mart told me they no longer carry CD albums). And we've already run into the first snag: CDs have liner notes that need to be archived in the books along with the discs, but they're exactly the same size as the pockets in the books and also floppy, which makes them next-to-impossible to get into the pages without damage. I got to somewhere in the Bs before I gave up on trying to archive liner notes, except in VERY special cases. And of course, that means that not all of the CDs "match" in the way they're archived, and that's the kind of thing that could send my obsessive-compulsive self into a tailspin in the middle of the night. But as sacrifices go, I think that's one I can live with.

I really, REALLY hope to be able to report soon that all the media archiving is done, the cases boxed, and the crappy shelving out on the curb (so if you're in the Baton Rouge area and in need of free, rickety CD or DVD storage, swing by and grab some!).

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sourdough Bread

So, here are the results of yesterday’s first-ever sourdough bread baking. Unfortunately, I was halfway through making the sourdough before it occurred to me to take pictures, but here’s one after the first rise:

The two indentations are from the tips of two of my fingers. When bread dough is done with its first rise, you should be able to make indentations in it with your fingertips that stay after you’ve taken your fingers away. Also, the dough should have doubled in size. Rising time varies by recipe, so I can’t give you a general approximate time; for this bread, it was an hour.

As you can see, after the first rise, you shape the dough into loaves and then cover it to rise again, also until double. With most breads I’ve done, the second rise is a bit shorter than the first. With this one, it’s also an hour. As you can also see, shaping loaves is a tad tricky. Because the dough is VERY elastic (a result of the yeast doing its yeasty business), it’s hard to divide it into equal parts (most recipes make two or three loaves). Once the pieces are unequal, you find yourself pulling a little off of THIS loaf to put over HERE, and then things get lumpy and bad. So I usually end up with one REALLY nice-looking loaf, one so-so loaf, and one pile of lumpy bad, as you see.

Something else that varies is at what point(s) you glaze the bread and what you glaze it with. Usually, it’s either melted butter or some kind of egg wash. For this recipe, it’s the white of one large egg and one tablespoon of water. For a recipe like this, you slash the tops of the loaves before glazing. This is tricky because you’ll be afraid of slashing too deeply, but you won’t; I find that I’m much more likely to make slashes that are too shallow because I’m worried about making them too deep. With this particular dough, the slashes were tricky to cut because the dough was REALLY puffy, probably because of the long second rise.

When I’m doing a recipe that calls for either just the white or just the yolk of an egg or two, I usually save the remaining portion to add to scrambled eggs or an omelet within 24 hours (shown here in a Ball un-canning plastic jar – like Tupperware, but with a screw-on lid, designed for freezing (I used them TONS for baby food when Danny still ate purees) but also good for refrigerating a small amount of something, like one egg yolk).

After the second rise and usually somewhere in there a glazing (either at the beginning or end of the second rise), the bread is ready to bake. You know it’s done when it turns golden-brown and sounds hollow when you tap it. Since I use at least some whole-wheat flour in all of my breads, the color is usually more brown than golden, but it shouldn’t look burnt, and to be clear, these loaves do look a little burnt, even though I took them out of the oven 5 minutes early because they were smelling very done.

Unfortunately, the smell is something I can’t describe with justice or post pictures of. I was about 8 minutes into baking these loaves when I could smell baking bread from my computer (at the dining room table). As you might imagine, different varieties of bread have different smells, and I’ve been enjoying the sourdough smells since I first put together the starter two days ago. I will warn, however, that enjoyment of the smell of sourdough starter – especially after it’s been sitting at room temperature for two days – is not for novices. Make sure you’ve grown to enjoy other yeast smells before leaning over a bowl of sourdough and taking a good whiff.

I also feel like I should apologize to all the gluten-free folks out there. I’m a huge fan of gluten-containing foods, and am lucky in that no one in my household has a gluten sensitivity so I can make lots of them. However, I do have a couple of dear friends with gluten and other grain sensitivities and there’s a whole world of wonderful recipes out there for the gluten-free set, many of which may be found here, at Gluten-Free Bay, which specializes in Kosher, Gluten-Free recipes and is written by a very old friend of mine (that is, I knew her in junior high – she’s not a very old person, in fact she’s younger than I am and I won’t be 30 for another … 7 days!).

I also feel like I should note that this is NOT a recipe, or even all that detailed a tutorial. As I noted in yesterday’s post, I’m using the Sourdough French Loaves recipe from Great American Home Baking, and I strongly recommend that you go look it up there; I’ve had great success with their recipes over the years. But I’m happy to tell you what I can about following a bread recipe; it was REALLY intimidating for me at first, as I’ve said, and so I’m hoping to make it less so for other folks if I can.

By the by, just to make clear that I actually don’t do ALL that much of the cooking around here and because I mentioned what I do with leftover egg yolks/whites above, here’s a picture of the beautiful plate of scrambled eggs and toast (from Honey Whole Wheat bread) John just put in front of me. He used the extra yolk from the egg wash into the mix, but he makes us a beautiful, hot breakfast pretty much every morning.

And on a self-flagellating note, I did not get to the satin blouse yesterday. However, John and I did pack our entire DVD collection in preparation for our move back to New York at the end of June; that, though, is another post for another day.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Stuff I Made This Week

So, as I mention in the subtitle and in my first entry, I’m kind of into the whole home ec thing (as long as there’s no cleaning involved; John does the dishes). So I thought, to explain what I mean, I’d make a list of stuff I’ve made in the past week or so:
  1. My Grammie’s Brownies: This one is almost a gimme. My Grammie Mylott made the greatest brownies in the world, and so did my mom, and then recently, when I started baking at least weekly, I called her for the recipe – which she no longer had, and she had to reverse-engineer it from the recipe in her older-edition-than-mine Betty Crocker cookbook, but she figured it out to the letter – and now so do I. No frosting, no nuts; just brownies.
  2. Herb Baguettes: This one was a new recipe to me, from a cook book my mom got me as a teenager, installment mail order style. It’s called Great American Home Baking, and it was one of those deals where they send you a binder and X number of teaser recipes and then for X dollars a month you get X more recipes for your binder. My mom always REALLY wanted me to get into helping her in the kitchen and I was never much interested, so she ended up getting me these things because I showed a spark of interest and I made a lot of cakes and muffins and quickbreads, but I’d intimidated by yeast breads. Then earlier this year, I was looking at our monthly spending and trying to figure out where I could economize, and we were spending crazy amounts of money every month on whole-wheat sandwich bread, so to save money, I pulled out my Betty Crocker cook book and made a couple loaves of Honey Whole-Wheat Bread (only, with ALL whole wheat flour, not just half) just to see how it went. It ended up being WAY cheaper than getting commercial bread with all whole wheat flour and without high-fructose corn syrup and tasting more like bakery bread; like seriously, I was amazed at how un-threatening yeast bread actually was. So from there, I started doing the two loaves of honey whole-wheat plus some other kind of baked treat each week. Monday of this week, I did the Herb Baguettes from Great American Home Baking and also the starter for the Sourdough French Loaves, which needs to sour for two days, so I’ll be continuing with that later today.
  3. An Eyelet Blouse: When I say made, I mean I started with a pencil, some paper, and a measuring tape. I did a lot of measurements, based on knowing where I wanted seams to be and what I wanted the neckline to be shaped like and stuff, and I came up with pattern pieces, and then today, I cut the eyelet – leftover from the bolt I bought four years ago to make my wedding dress – and made the blouse. I’m not sure I’m 100% happy with it; it might look a little too handmade. But I’m going to try a similar-but-not-identical one with some satin I have sitting around tomorrow and then see what I feel about the two of them. I also plan to use the scraps from the two blouses to embellish a T-shirt, since embellished T-shirts seem to be a big deal this summer. If I’m feeling ambitious – and photogenic – I’ll post photos of all the finished products. In the meantime, here are a couple pictures of the wedding dress, which I made four years ago this very month (photos by Dan Leavey):

 This shows some of the detail on the bodice.

    And this shows the length and the way in which the dress went with the other outfits at our wedding, which was '70s-themed.

    Sometime soon, I’ll also have to do a couple loaves of Honey Whole-Wheat bread because I took the last loaf out of the freezer today. And last week, I also did a project based on this project at Sew Green. Fair warning: this is a Lady Project, for Ladies. Also fair warning, after I assembley-line-stitched 8 of this pattern, spending a whole afternoon and evening, I discovered that I wasn’t really that happy with the pattern and re-designed it on my own. So, I’m down with the idea over at Sew Green, but the execution, for me anyway, required some fine-tuning. Anyone else out there working on anything projecty?

    Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    In Defense of Mr. Rogers

    So, the reason I decided I wanted to start blogging again was that I was goofing off on Youtube and came across this (a couple years old) piece apparently from Fox and Friends about a study (from LSU of all places) demonstrating that Mr. Rogers is responsible for the Sense of Entitlement so prevalent in Kids Today:

    This infuriated me for a number of reasons, and I had no idea where/how to go about expressing this. And I thought to myself, "Gee, if only I had a forum for expressing this kind of anger in an articulate fashion! I ought to start a blog! Oh, wait, I have a blog. Only, I haven't done anything with it in more than a year, and when I last wrote, all I did was put my foot in it and post PSAs from YouTube." So, I deleted all the old posts, changed the theme, and put up an introductory blog entry.  All preparatory to expounding exactly why it is that I got so angry about something Faux News said about Mr. Rogers three or so years ago (that is, half a decade after he died and PBS stopped airing his show).

    First of all, there is the fact that I love Mr. Rogers and everything he stands for.

    Second, there is the fact that my mom was probably the biggest fan Mr. Rogers ever had. I grew up on Mr. Rogers. I got my share of Bs and even the occasional C. I did not got to my professors at the end of the semester and explain that I really need an A, so could they just look my essays over and see if they can find a few extra points. This is not a value that Mr. Rogers espouses. He tells every child that s/he is special just by her/his being her/himself, but he also encourages intelligence, curiosity, and hard work. He just argues that a child is special even when s/he fails at a pursuit.

    Third, there is the fact that it has always baffled me that Mr. Rogers was never the face of American Christianity. Christians in America are constantly laboring against this unflattering and often offensive vision of what they are supposed to be, espoused by non-Christians in America. This view is unfortunately not made out of whole cloth; it is based on the idiosyncrasies -- and often outright bigotry -- of very public Christian figures such as Jerry Falwell, Fred Phelps, and Pat Robertson. So here is Mr. Rogers, a Presbyterian minister who advocates that "feelings are mentionable and manageable," that we should get to know and love our neighbors for their individual personalities and strengths, that there is joy in the simple action of stamping a foot and wonder in the process of manufacturing chairs, and instead of saying, "Here's a positive role model!", that voice of the Right, Fox News, accuses him of being singlehandedly responsible for ruining two generations of young people and actually calls him "evil." Sure, he's a square; but my generation actually values nerdiness, so that could be celebrated as a virtue. He was a successful and compassionate public figure for four decades, with an unwaveringly, though not overwhelmingly, Christian focus, and the same people who stick up for Pat Robertson roll over on him. Why not celebrate him?

    Fourthly, there's the fact that there is a much more sensible explanation for why college students over the last five years or so have suddenly become so disengaged for the length of as semester and then ready to beg for "extra points" during finals week. It doesn't make sense that it's Mr. Rogers' fault since he's been on the air since the sixties. Hell, I've only been teaching college since 2003 and I can attest that this is a problem that, on the grand scale at which it currently exists, has developed since then. Certainly, there have always been students who goof off all semester and then freak out around finals time, but this systematic withdrawal for the duration of the semester followed by a request for "extra credit projects" after final grades have been calculated is new, strange, and widespread. I'd estimate that my husband and I each get this kind of response from 5%-10% of our students EACH SEMESTER. Those of you drawing bell curves at home are saying, well sure, those are your Fs and maybe some Ds. Not so. Most of them are Bs hoping to be "given" As. And let me clarify now, I've never "given" a grade in my life; grades are earned, As to Fs.

    However, something has been happening more recently that corresponds to this change in college students' behavior: a certain flavor of education reform (you can read about it in the New York Times here). There is this idea that teachers must be held "accountable," which is a fine idea; unfortunately, it has been decided by a whole bunch of people who have privileged, private educations themselves and for the most part, no formal pedagogy training deciding that the only way to measure a teacher's success is by measuring the standardized test scores of his/her students. The result of this kind of policy (and it's bipartisan -- No Child Left Behind and The Race to the Top both fall into this category) is that students are taught that the only important thing about school is the scores they get on those one set of tests at the end of the year. There is no love of a process of learning, and thus low engagement throughout the school year. And then there is a mad scramble at the end of the year to get high marks on one set of tests. Of COURSE those students flounder in college, where so much is self-directed and where all the scores and all the class meetings count. Hopefully, after a semester or two, they figure it out, but it's unrealistic to expect that after twelve years of marking time until the Big Tests, students will suddenly be able to redefine the way they learn in a single semester. But I hope that most of them do, and that they find reasons to actually enjoy their classes after that. And when they do, if they're my students, I will personally sing them this.

    Monday, May 24, 2010

    Hey, There

    So, there was a blog here beginning a little over two years ago, and continuing until a little over a year ago. By then I'd had a baby. And a few disgruntled political rants. And I ran out of time and energy.

    I still really don't have either time or energy, but I wanted to give this another shot anyway, 'cause I'm chock full of opinions and interests and stuff. And I figure, if my half a reader (or less?) wants to hear about them, that's awesome.

    So ...

    Things I expect I might be interested in and/or have opinions about that are likely to turn up here?

    1. Grad School: I'm a doctoral student in the English Department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, majoring in Children's Literature, with minors in Restoration/Eighteenth-Century British Literature, Early American Literature, and Rhetoric/Composition. So, you might hear about grad school itself, or about stuff I'm reading. Just to be clear, I'm All But Dissertation, so I'm not in coursework reading diverse materials; what I'm reading now is all related to one topic, the one covered in my diss.
    2. News/Politics: I try really hard not to talk about this because it just makes me angry most of the time, but more often than I'd like I end up talking about stuff on the news, or about politics. To be clear, my own, personal politics tend to be a bit oddball, and revolve around everyone needing to be generally altruistic more often than not, which is a fairly unpopular ideology in the contemporary US.
    3. Food and Sewing: Or more generally, stuff you might do in home ec. I'm kind of big on saving money and the planet by doing stuff myself rather than purchasing stuff ready-made. Most especially, this tends to revolve around baking my own bread (but as I don't grow my own grain or mill my own flour, I don't have too many illusions about the fact that while I save a TON of money doing this, I'm not doing much for the environment).
    4. My Family: I've been married for going on four years to a talented playwright, fellow doctoral student, and all-around spiffy guy named John and we have an eighteen-month-old son, Danny.
    So, those are the things you're probably most likely to hear about, but based on the eclecticism of those things, you probably have some idea how likely I am to stay on-topic. And it's entirely possible I won't discipline myself to post at all. But we'll see.