I’ve just returned from my post-vacation grocery run. I wanted to follow my new rules, and actually, it wasn’t that hard in many cases, thanks to my store’s new brands. Sadly, the web site gives little information about them, but I checked labels dutifully, and many of them really do only have natural ingredients. I especially liked the Via Roma brand. The sauces have tomatoes and garlic and spices, a little sugar. Ragu, for the record, lists sugar as its first or second ingredient (haven’t bought it in years, so I can’t remember exactly).It’s not Ragu, but I do remember a brand with a lot of sugar in it. When I finally read the ingredients, I quit buying it.
What I’d like to see is grass-fed beef and reasonably-priced organic poultry. I’ve never found grass-fed beef, and the organic poultry has been removed, replaced with Green Way poultry, which says nothing about how the chickens were raised, so I didn’t buy it.
As a bonus, I only spent $80. But I did only buy about half of what I normally do. We’ll see if it lasts.
Last week, I devoured three books about food. First, Julia Child’s My Life in France; second, Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food; and third, Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia. All were delightful in their own way. It was a bit jarring to go from Child’s autobiography to Pollan’s description of the crap we Americans will put in our body. I have mentioned here before how I love cooking and eating, so going through these three books was soul satisfying, though not quite as soul satisfying as cooking and eating a good meal.
Child’s book was a good book to start the vacation with. I’m sure her autobiography paints a specific picture of her, but the picture I got was of a woman who loved life and lived every moment with gusto. Whether she chose cooking or flower arranging, I think she would have thrown herself in full force. I very much enjoyed her descriptions of Paris. Her apartment was mere blocks from the hotel we stayed in ourselves and a stone’s throw from Mr. Geeky’s conference. I recognized streets she described and even some market areas. It was a nice reminder of our own time in Paris. But more than that, her descriptions of food and wine and the joy she expressed in sharing meals with friends and family were really wonderful. She makes it sound as if her whole life was spent eating and drinking and laughing with friends. She doesn’t, of course, as she also talks about working on the book and subsequently the tv show. Her energy for both is amazing and inspiring.
Pollan’s book is, in many ways, a tribute to the kind of cooking and eating Child espouses. Even Child laments the processed food she finds upon returning to America. I especially liked Pollan’s rules for eating toward the end of the book. They’re simple and easy to follow. I immediately applied them to buying a loaf of bread, though the fewest ingredients I could find in any loaf was 7 (Pollan recommends no more than 5), but I could pronounce all of them. He admits that eating as he recommends is likely to be more expensive and says that it’s a shame that that’s the case. He says, though, that if you can afford it, you should eat organic and local and non-processed food as much as possible. Though it doesn’t get much ink, he also talks about enjoying food and seeing it as something to be experienced with friends (a la Julia Child) rather than as simply fuel. It’s nice to be given license to ignore the low-fat, low-carb crap the food industry throws at us. I’m just gonna eat food from now on. And apparently, not worry about saving money on it. If there’s one thing I do wish he and others would work on is figuring out how to get rid of some of the subsidies that are making it so cheap for companies to make really bad food (and food that is bad for us), because until it’s cheap for everyone to eat real food, we’re going to see more health problems and only the relatively wealthy will avoid them.
Finally, Powell’s book was a fun read, more fun than I thought it would be, and I suppose, because I love Meryl Streep, I might have to see the movie as well. I never read Powell’s blog, though I know some of you out there did and liked it and were disappointed with the book. The whole project does seem a little gimmicky, which is what, apparently, Julia Child claims it is. But in the book, but apparently not in the movie, this upsets Powell immensely, as she sees the project as giving her life meaning, as a way of finding out who she is and escaping the anonymity of her corporate job. Which is, sort of, what Child was doing in France. She had, by this point, identified with Child in a way without really quite realizing and still trying to maintain some distance, so having her project labeled as a stunt by the very person she identified with had to be a blow.
Unlike the other two books, Powell’s book is not really about food, though there are many descriptions of cooking food and eating food, that’s not what it’s about. It’s more about soul searching, about the ups and downs of life. You can sort of argue the same thing of Child’s book, that her book is also about finding oneself, trying to separate oneself from the masses. But Child’s book is less individualistic than Powell’s and less about ego and success. Not that Child doesn’t have some ego in her, but she seems to recognize more than Powell does, that her friends and family have contributed to her life in significant ways. That may be her age (Child was in her late 80s when the book was being written) or it may be the times. Child’s lesson, taking heart in your family and friends seems more important somehow in the end. Powell does recognize this in the end and she does take joy (her word) in some of what’s happened in the course of her project, but that somehow it doesn’t quite match Julia’s life–not yet, anyway.
All three books left me with renewed gusto to cook more and eat well and maybe invite friends over to share it all with.
15 years ago today, Mr. Geeky and I got married. It’s hard to believe. The early years were a whirlwind of babies and career changes and moves across the country. And now we’re in the middle, more settled to be sure but still with many challenges ahead.
When we met, I was a hippy-like aspiring poet. I had no idea what a computer science grad student saw in me and likely he felt the same way. When we moved in together, Mr. Geeky thought, “Well, this is going to make it hard to date other women.”. I don’t know what I thought. In some ways, I was along for the ride.
It’s been a fun ride so far. I’m looking forward to the rest of it.
I’m on vacation this week, without my computer and without much access to any kind of network, so I’m away from WoW. Which is a good thing. WoW can get pretty intense at times. A few weeks ago, they released a new patch which added some new features to the game. Many people jumped in and played pretty intensely, collecting the new stuff and trying out the new areas. I was among them and thanks to some rainy days, I spent a few hours in a row doing everything from collecting ore to running heroic dungeons. While that’s paid off in new gear, it’s also made me feel like I’m spending way too much time at this thing. So the vacation timing was good.
My guild in theory treats WoW playing like bowling. We have regularly scheduled times twice a week to play together and there are people who do simply pop in to play during those times. I’m still trying to find my equilibrium. I mostly play at night and weekend mornings. I probably play up to 20 hours/week (average 3 hours/day, 7 days/week). That’s a lot and just typing that number out is a bit depressing. What am I not doing during that time? I’m nto watching tv, which isn’t such a bad thing, but I’m also not reading, not hanging with the family, not doing housework (which, eh, who cares). I do tend to play in waves. One week, I’m playing 20 hours, the next, I’m playing only 5.
I think ideally, I’d figure out a way to get that number down, either by playing only 2 or 3 days/week. Or playing less in any given day. Once the school year begins, I have a feeling this will happen naturally. The dog days of summer have made us all a little lazy and we’ve gravitated toward the computer for solace (when we’re not at the pool). In other words, we’ve had time to fill and I’ve filled it with WoW. In the fall, I’m going to work on filling it with other stuff, relegating WoW to the recreation it should be.
Dean Dad had a post last week that looked at the staff side of the equation during this economic downturn. I lived through a downturn during my first years as a staff member and saw 30 people get laid off. In many departments, this meant a 20%-30% cut in their staff, meaning that the rest of the people were doing at least 20-30% more work. While there were a handful of departments where demand had declined and therefore layoffs were a reasonable action to take, this was a rare situation. I’m away from the scene now, but my understanding is that only a couple of people have been let go and that positions vacated via attrition (like my own) are not being filled. As with layoffs, the effect is the same; people having to pick up the slack.
As Dean Dad notes, the work of staff is often invisible. Unlike not having enough sections of comp to fill demand, no one readily notices if the student services office is understaffed. In many cases, service simply slows down, with requests taking longer to get filled. In some areas, such as the IT side of things, a major crisis can bring a department to its knees when understaffed, causing a ripple effect across the campus (no email for days, files inaccessible, no one answering phones). But everyone crosses their fingers that that crisis never comes. The irony is, it’s more likely to happen when you’re understaffed because people are often harried and therefore more mistake prone.
The thing that is incredibly frustrating to me is the way in which the mission of many colleges, including my former employer, is so at odds with their actual employment practices. They talk a good game of social justice and fair employment practices, but it’s all theory. They’re fine with hiring adjuncts or having dining services employees who are not making a living wage. At least in most corporate environments, they make no bones about the fact that they’re trying to make money and that one way to do that is to keep wages low. Corporations that do having excellent employment practices are often applauded and win awards. There are certainly many benefits to working in a university environment, where one often has access to classes, lectures, and often ample vacation and sick time, but all that means little if you’re too overworked to take the time for them and/or not making enough money to make ends meet. Sadly, most faculty have no clue how much their staff members are making or what their benefits are. If you’re a faculty member, I encourage you to a) find out what the living wage is in your area and then b) find out if your lowest paid employees are making that wage.
This is the first fall since 1996 that I haven’t been getting ready to attend or teach class. Right now, I’m actually at the beach, enjoying a final vacation with my father, stepmother, stepbrother, and of course, the kids and Mr. Geeky. Mr. Geeky is having to do some work here, since classes begin for him the day after we return. The kids have another week.
Aeron Haynie writes about returning to school post sabbatical and how relaxing her year without school was. This summer was the first summer I wasn’t directing a program, making my summer more stressful than the school year. I have enjoyed so much spending time with my kids this summer. We have played games, gone to the pool and gone on a few trips. But in general, we’ve just hung out and let the days roll over us, enjoying the completely unplanned time. I may never get another summer like this.
There are things I miss about working in an academic environment, especially teaching. I love planning new classes, imagining student reactions to readings, thinking of ways to engage them in topics. I love classroom discussions from which I usually learn as much as the students. I love connecting with students, helping them not only with the coursework, but sometimes with their career planning and their life. I don’t miss grading. And I don’t miss what Haynie so aptly describes as the competitive environment of the academy:
For me at least, academic work is stressful because of the evaluation and competition attending every task. It’s hard enough to engage a large room full of strangers without knowing you will be evaluated mercilessly (and anonymously) by each and every one. And I feel expected to wow, dazzle, and edify. Likewise with scholarship: writing itself is not painful, I realize, it is the attendant self-doubt. I know that competition is considered by many to be a great stimulus; however, I find it distracting and enervating. But worse is the stress I seem to absorb from those around me. Even before the current economic crisis, it seemed most encounters on campus were permeated by discontent, anxiety, and stress.
It’s hard to stand above that fray at times, to focus on the good things about the job, on the students, on those moments of insight. One thing I’ve learned in the months I’ve been on my own is how to focus on the good. There’s a lot I could say that’s bad about my situation right now. I’m not making enough money. I’m working a lot without getting paid. I’m doing more housework. But, perhaps because I have the time, I’m able to redirect those thoughts into more positive ones. Or perhaps because I don’t have coworkers around me who feed those negative thoughts. Whatever I do, like Haynie, I hope to maintain a relaxed attitude when things get harried.