Monday, September 28, 2009

Context matters

Please allow me to wax philosophical tonight. I've had a bit of an insight, and I want to write it down before I forget it.

I have made a few lifestyle choices which deviate from the norm. Nothing on the order of joining a cult or adopting fifteen cats, just not things that the American majority usually does. The example we'll use here is my lack of a TV, although I bet almost every person reading could find an example from their own life.

When, in the course of conversation, my decision not to have a television comes up, it's usually met with one of three responses: (1) I could never do that! (2) Why would you do that? (This one conveying something less than genuine curiosity. Or (3) I knew someone who did that for a while, but then she stopped (and you will, as well). This usually makes me feel that my conversation partner (1) disapproves of my decision, (2) hopes to show me why my decision is foolish, or (3) is sure that they know me better than myself.

Generally I leave these conversations annoyed and defensive. But tonight I was reading an essay which made me realize that most of these conversations are not about me. (If I were wiser, I would realize that most of life is not about me.) I think when people are exposed to an atypical choice, they use it to measure their own choices. And I do this too, a lot more often that I'd like to admit. "That's not why I chose - could I have chosen incorrectly? No, I couldn't have. So let's figure out what's wrong about his decision." I don't want to denigrate people; cognitive science research shows us that our brains are wired to become happy with the decisions that we make. So, these people don't mean to make me feel bad. They're often just reassuring themselves that they made the right choice. It's hard for them, and me, to remember that the right lifestyle choice is defined by the individual situation.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bon Appetit!

It's a Friday evening, the radio is playing excellent Dixieland jazz, and I'm sitting on my couch trying to write an argument about professional development for teaching assistants. Andrew has mixed us a couple of gimlets, which is adding to my good mood, and may even make the words come a little easier. (Last week my mother and I seized the opportunity to watch a movie our husbands would never enjoy, and watched "Julie and Julia." Since then I've been craving the gimlets that Julie makes in the movie and the butter-laden dishes that Julia makes. I've also taken to crying "Bon Appetit!" at dinner every night.)

I'm having trouble lately figuring out what to blog about. Although I won't defend for another seven months (only seven months! it's all happening so quickly), I often find that when I do something other than work it just feels like a waste of time. This is good, insofar is I'm getting a lot of work done (I think), but it definitely puts a crimp into the blogging lifestyle. Who wants to hear about the lovely paragraph I wrote that afternoon? I promise it will all get more interesting, in a mere seven months.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I've been in Ohio for over a week, and during that time I've watched the soybean fields that surround my parents' house turn from an emerald green to a faded yellow. This is good, because the soybeans aren't harvested until the plants are completely dried up (as I have just learned).

This sort of observation is in line with how life moves here. When I make my typical quick trips to visit my family, our time is normally packed with visits to my brother or celebrating some holiday or another. This time I was able to bring work with me, allowing me to write during the day and just hang out with my parents in the evening. Since we were necessarily prevented from taking day trips, I got to experience what daily life is like here, and it's a lot slower. It's also more centered around home. Watching the sun while it sets is actually an activity here. Or we might go visit with the neighbors for a half hour when they're sitting out by the bonfire.

A list of experiences foreign to my everyday life:
1. The clip-clop of horses pulling Amish buggies.
2. Neighbors just "stopping by" to see if you need help cleaning up after a party.
3. Trying to decide if you really need those two grocery items, since it'll take 30 minutes to drive into town.
4. Taking out the compost at night and seeing a skunk. (And therefore putting off that chore until the daylight.)
5. Seeing a sky full of stars. (Curse you, light pollution!)
6. Listening to the cows (soon to be burgers and roasts) who live next door.
7. Driving in a car almost every day.

It's been a good trip, but I'll be happy to be home tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Roast pork

Last weekend was spent preparing for a pig roast, attending a pig roast, and recovering from a pig roast. As detailed here, my parents through a huge pig roast for their 140 closest friends and neighbors. And because vegetarians enjoy nothing more than watching people dismantle and consume hundreds of pounds of pig, I came too.

My husband was designated Head Carver this year. At the previous pig roasts he only apprenticed, so this was a big promotion. He was ably assisted in his carving by another guest's son-in-law, who was apparently another meat-loving immigrant. When they were dismantling the head, this man thrust the eyeball at Andrew and asked him if he was scared. So for the honor of his country, he ate the eye. I forgot to ask how it tasted, because I was so freaked out by the act.

The side dishes were potluck, and I'm sorry to report that only one dish of jello made an appearance. I'm starting to think that Midwestern cuisine is changing a bit. When I was a kid, church potlucks always yielded hotdishes (known as casseroles in the rest of the country), bean salads, and jello salads. But this time I saw lots of green salads. I can assure you, though, that the most adored guest is the one that brings deviled eggs.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Setting the bar

Last year, when we were married but three weeks, Andrew went all out to celebrate my birthday. We splurged for dinner at a really nice restaurant, and he bought me a gift I never would have bought myself. (A small chest freezer, where we can store all the tomato sauce I'm always making.) I told him at the time that he was setting the bar awfully high: I'd start expecting a perfect birthday every year.

Well, this year he lowered the bar so far that a quiet dinner at home next year will be celebration enough. To be fair, it wasn't his fault. The day started out great, when Andrew presented me with this cake, which he had sneakily baked while I was away in Philadelphia and then hidden in his closet of tools:
I was especially impressed because he had never before baked a cake, and it came out perfect.

Our plan was to spend the day at the beach. It's about a three hour drive to the beach we love best, but we were going to make a day of it. There's one point in the trip where traffic regularly slows to a crawl - the Bay Bridge. This bridge spans the Chesapeake Bay, and getting to the ocean without crossing it would add several hours to our trip. We were sailing along, when right before we drove on to the bridge, the traffic stopped. There had been an accident, and the whole span was shut down. We ended up eating our picnic in the car, while we waited the hour and a half it took them to clear it.

By then it was getting late, so we decided to skip the beach. We turned around and came home, where Andrew gave me my present. I had been lobbying for a new bathrobe, and that's what I got. Unfortunately, the shiny, hooded, knee-length robe made me look like a boxer. (Something like this, but, you know, more female and Caucasian.) We're sending it back.

In other news (but with a related theme, trust me), I need to learn to set the bar lower when dealing with the federal government. When we started the paperwork to make sure Andrew could stay in the US as long as he wanted, regardless of employer, I steeled myself for at least two years of paperwork. I mentally removed the $1500 from the bank account that it would cost to make this possible. Even more importantly, I let Andrew do as much of the paperwork as possible. Dealing with situations like this (where you're the supplicant of a monolithic corporation that can request pretty much whatever it wants) just gets me into a tizzy. Now we're seven months into the process and we're hit the first roadblock. Apparently they've sent us an approval - an approval that says "Yes, we've looked at your paperwork, and now you may send us more money and forms." Unfortunately, we didn't receive the notice. And now we'll have to pay $350 more to get a new one.

Andrew reminds me that we can afford this extra fee a lot more than most of the people applying for residency, and he's absolutely right. But I think I'll keep letting him talk to the government officials, so that my blood pressure stays low.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Summer recap

It's an absolutely, gobsmackingly beautiful day today. The weather has been perfect all week - clear, cool in the evenings, and sunny. We've been able to turn off the air-conditioning, at least for now. I won't be surprised if it hits the 90s in a few days, but I'm enjoying it today.

All this fall weather, combined with the start of school, has me reviewing my summer. My increased devotion to my dissertation has meant that we've mainly stayed close to home, but I've still managed to have a lot of fun. Here are some things I'll remember:

We vowed to go to the beach at least once a month, starting in April. So far, we've managed it. I expect that we'll get three more visits in, although the October and November trips may not
involve swimming. I've never gone to the beach in November, but supposedly seals winter over at Assateague, and it would be worth the trip to see seals in the wild.

A few weeks ago Andrew and I were continuing our quests to be tourists in our own hometown, and we went to Baltimore's American Visionary Art Museum. Pictures weren't allowed inside, but the picture on the right accurately represents the type of art we saw. Highlights included a quilted history of the formation of the universe and a fifteen-foot long ocean liner built entirely of matchsticks. I highly recommend it.

This tree was outside the museum. I have vowed that one day, when we own a house, I will have one of these in my back yard.

And now I'm looking forward to my very last school year as a student. I'm starting the school year off right with a writing weekend in Philadelphia. Please make a sacrifice to the god of your choice to ensure much productive writing by me in the coming months.