about bliss

Thursday, October 31, 2013

31 blogs and then some

Happy Halloween!

And happy last day of Blogtober!

It looks like neither Gregg nor I are going to lose our bet, which makes me happier than a bottle of Rombauer Zinfandel and a block of 10 year aged cheddar (well, almost).

Before we began Blogtober, I filled two journal pages with lists of potential blog topics for those days or nights of writer's block. I only referred to the list once, and then I was pleased to see that I had already written about several of the topics on my list.

I wrote many more haikus than I planned (my default on days when time and/or words escaped me), but I also wrote a few posts I'm particularly proud of, and which garnered some attention (pinktober, tenure, both over at Protagonista).

As I type my way across the finish line, I'm happy to say that I have more topics to write about, and now that I'm in the daily writing habit, I don't want to stop. Several years I blogged every day in November about gratitude, and I intend to take up the practice again this year.

A preview: I'm grateful to Blogtober for the jumpstart to my writing practice, which had all but disappeared. I'm grateful for these digital homes that provide me space to share my thoughts and an audience to read my words.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

haiku: fall semester, midterm.

fingerless gloves. chai.
giant stack of midterm grading.
rubrics and red pens.

Monday, October 28, 2013

favorite places: northwestern michigan edition

When I was in high school, my 9th grade health class was assigned a marriage project. We were paired with an opposite-sex classmate, and we had to collaborate on a project, in which we would plan our wedding and post-nuptial life together.

As a Women's Studies prof, I now seriously question this assignment and all of the problematic assumptions it relies upon, namely the heteronormative coupling evolving into marriage. At the time, though, I desperately hoped that I would be paired with my crush. I wasn't. I now wonder what classmates felt alienated by this project, which was likely designed to teach us that weddings are expensive and married life challenging.

I distinctly remember deciding that my husband and I would live in Traverse City, Michigan, because it was the best place I knew. At the age of 14, I had traveled to a handful of states outside of my native Michigan, and most of my travel was to Northwest Michigan, in the area surrounding our family hunting cabin in a tiny hamlet close to Traverse City.

While I've now traveled more extensively, and have even ventured outside of the country on one momentous occasion (Paris, France), I still count Traverse City, Michigan at the top of my list of places to live.

latte from Morsels
As I've evolved since I was 14, so too has Traverse City. Big box store sprawl lines the highway leading into town, and chain restaurants frame the southwest side of the city. And yet, I am still blown away every time I crest the hill on M-37 and see Grand Traverse Bay glittering in the distance. I feel the history and untold stories as I twirl pasta at Trattoria Stella, located in the former Traverse City State Hospital. I still marvel at the Caribbean shades of blue and green of the water as I drive around the bay, heading to L. Mawby sparkling wine vineyard.

late autumn grapevines at Black Star Farms

Regularly noted for being a foodie city and food, wine, and beer lovers destination, Traverse City also appeals to my literary side, with their annual National Writers Series. Two independent bookstores grace Front Street, and the city encourages reading through a local read program. In the summer, the TC Film Festival attracts filmmakers and viewers from around the world.

And the twin peninsulas, Leelanau and Old Mission, offer breathtaking vistas, undeveloped orchard and vineyards, and local eateries.

TC's not without its faults—food, from farmers' market to local wines and artistic lattes all cost more than comparable towns in Wisconsin (I use Madison for comparison). And the population is overwhelmingly white (94.4% according to the 2010 US Census).

Yesterday, after leaving TC with my mom and picking up Gregg at the hunting cabin, I drove back to the city to show Gregg a few sights, both natural, gustatory, and cultural. Will this part of my marriage project, unlike the other elements from that long-ago assignment

come true? Will we someday live, work, and love in TC? Or, will TC always be that ideal place to visit and imagine how life would be transformed by place and culture?

Sunday, October 27, 2013


family bonding time
driving around Great Lakes states
I am home.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

haiku: northwest michigan saturday

artisan breads,
sparkling wine, windy hilly roads
farm, city, Great Lake.

Friday, October 25, 2013

daily bliss: road trippin' with my hubby

Gregg and I are spending a weekend in northern lower Michigan (G with the guys at the hunting cabin, me with my Mom in TC).

G and I have logged many miles together over the last few years, and I always enjoy a chance to chat, car dance, and be silly with him in the car.

Here are a few photos from our 7+ hour trip today.

At the Michigan Welcome Center in Menomonie, MI.

Viewing the Mighty Mac from the North.


Up close and personal on the Mighty Mac, heading South! 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

taking up the habit

My husband Gregg blogged about habits a few days ago, and included research that suggests that it takes 21 days to form habits. Every semester, I vow to maintain my daily exercise, daily writing, and daily reading. Usually, at a certain time around midterm (now!), I realize how fall I've fallen short.

While my walks have shortened with the shifting daylight hours, my writing has moved from my journal to my blogs, and my reading doesn't always include non-work texts, I have developed a yoga habit.

Better yet, it's a morning ritual.

This Summer, I downloaded the yoga studio app, and have been enjoying it ever since. The 30 studio classes vary in time and intensity, the app syncs with my calendar so I can track my classes, and I even earn rewards by completing classes! (the best reward was a $50 gift to Naked Wines, an innovative "customer supported company" funding and promoting small winemakers). My only quibble with the app is the lack of a "namaste" at the end of each class, but I simply add my own.

In September, I would take my mat and block and iPad outside and practice on the deck. Now that it's freezing at night, I've unfurled my mat in our guest room, and after waking up and drinking water, I queue up a class and begin. I generally practice 15 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and 30 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I love stretching awake to start the day before breakfast. Centered, calm, limber, and alert, I move to the kitchen and begin the next morning ritual: preparing oatmeal and cafe au lait (another post for another day!).

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


starbucks drive through line:
first snowflakes hit my windshield
latte melts the cold

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


i walk leafy sidewalks
to the wetland meadow:
two deer leap, stand, stare.

Monday, October 21, 2013

the pretty: floral edition

A few of my favorite blooms from our honeymoon last summer to brighten this chilly grey Monday.

Lavender...Sequim, WA
Rose...9 Cranes Inn, Seattle, WA
Mixed Bouquet...Seattle Public Market, Seattle, WA

Saturday, October 19, 2013

madison market morning

A bonus to a attending an overnight work-related conference in Madison, Wisconsin: shopping at the Saturday Farmers' Market around the square. 

This morning I waited for the sun to start waking up the world before walking 3/4 of a mile down State street to the square. State street, so loud and raucous in the wee hours of the morning, was empty and quiet. Michelangelo's was the first local coffee shop I found open. The espresso miel was worth the long walk. I sipped my coffee and walked around the square, as vendors tipped root veggies into waiting bins. A smattering of shoppers pulled carts and survey stacks of peppers. I stopped outside of Graze, one of my favorite restaurants, for a chocolate croissant. Flaky, crisp outside gave way to buttery inside layers, and bittersweet chocolate batons. 

I sat on a bench to eat and drink, but brrr! The previous night had been cold! Soon I was up and walking around, while admiring the capitol highlighted by morning sun.

After walking around one and a half times, I hauled my foodie treasures back to my hotel, packed my trunk full of goodies and bags, and attended more conference events before heading home.

Gregg eagerly unpacked my bags to find: 1 pound of garlic, a small bag of potatoes, a medium bag of sweet potatoes, a bunch of assorted carrots, two varieties of kale, "cheddar" cauliflower, broccoli, golden and chioggia beets, peppers sweet and hot, small brussels sprouts, spinach, pepper jam, and three kinds of artisan bread. Delicious local goodness! 

Friday, October 18, 2013


college guys tote pumpkins
trendy girls wear tan ugg boots
walking down state street

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Florence flew into our backyard in June. She survived a hailstorm, rain, wind, searing heat. Now, we'll see how she manages in the snow.

A friend quipped that we should put some kind of machine next to Florence (I did stick a pin-wheel next to her, but I'm not sure that counts as a machine) as a nod to the eccentric band Florence and the Machine (who I also love).

from Wikimedia Commons

I'd like to go to Florence, Italy and see Boticelli's "The Birth of Venus." Our Florence came not from a seashell but from Lowe's Home Improvement store.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"tell the ones that need to know—we are headed north": or, my love for the Avett Brothers

Pack a change of clothes
and a pillow for the road
for when we drift off to sleep.
~"Open Ended Life"

So begins "Open Ended Life," the first song on the Avett Brothers latest album, Magpie and the Dandelion, released yesterday. The song ends with a rollicking, feel-good fiddle melody accompanied by cheery instrumentals. 

I have loved the lyrical beauty, indie-folk-bluegrass music of the Avett Brothers from the moment I first heard "I and Love and You." 

This past summer, Gregg and I saw the Avett brothers in concert with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, and the Violent Femmes: an epic Summerfest amphitheater show. 

As the festival fireworks popped in the distance outside of the stadium, the Avett Brothers launched into "I and Love and You," pausing mid-song for the finale of fireworks, a fountain of sparkle and smoke. After the last glimmer, the band resumed the song, and my heart filled with aching, transient beauty. 

I've listened to the new album four times and feel the same sense of bittersweet beauty, one of my favorite emotions. 

Bring your love to me
and I'll hold it like a dandelion. 
~"Bring Your Love to Me"

Monday, October 14, 2013

toasty interiors

Sixty-three degrees at 7:30 am.

Five degrees make such a difference, don't they? I turned the heat on and slid the kitchen window closed, both for the first time since early summer.

I rejoiced after reading that the maintenance staff had fired up the boilers at work. My office is notoriously chilly during the non-heater times of the year, and the last two weeks have been shivery. I'd taken to wrapping up in a silk pashmina, fleece jacket, and a light quilt. Hello, eccentricity! Now my office should be warm enough to sit and work without alarming students with my patchwork layers.

While I prefer fresh air and summer's natural heat, I also love burrowing into a warm room, tucked into a soft blanket, and sipping a mug of tea.

I'm a creature of fire rather than ice, and I'm ever thankful for the modern technology that provides warmth even as temperatures dip.

The evenings fall sooner, and the blues and a familiar shade of grey descend more easily. I seek out patches of sunshine and trees dipped in gold and crimson before surrendering to barren branches and frosty forests. And then, I kindle my own fires, paint my own rainbow.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

family rituals: or, how to celebrate decorative gourd season

Building new rituals is one of the most rewarding elements of creating our family. Every October, Gregg and I drive fifteen minutes out in the country to our favorite pumpkin patch some sunny Saturday or Sunday. We stroll through the pumpkin-filled fields, turning over sunny orbs in search of the perfect gourd: deep color, few blemishes, and no more than one flat side. A decent stem and a flat bottom help, too.

Today we filled the wagon with pumpkins big and small, flat and round, white and orange. We chatted with friends out in the field, and watched kids smile and run down the dirt tracks between fields. We shivered and sweat at the combination of cool, damp fields and brilliant sunshine.

Gregg loaded the dirty pumpkins in the trunk and back seat of the car, and I later arranged them on our porch. Bring on the harvest feasts and trick-or-treaters!

(for adults not bothered by cussing, read Colin Nissan's classic essay, "It's Decorative Gourd Season, &^$%^&$^#%")

Saturday, October 12, 2013


rainy saturday
grandpa watches wolverines
almost win, then lose.

Friday, October 11, 2013

coffee maker crisis!

Perhaps the apex of my morning ritual, after yoga, is drinking the first cup of coffee of the day. I steam and froth milk on the stovetop while my automatic drip pot brews two cups of magic elixir.

This morning, alas, the coffee maker lid WOULD NOT OPEN. I kept pressing on the "open" release tab to no avail. In desperation, I pried the lid open with a butter knife, added my water and coffee grounds and clicked the lid closed. As the coffee brewed, I realized that once again, the lid WOULD NOT OPEN.

After drinking said coffee and eating breakfast, I pried the lid open again to suss out the problem. One part of the interior latch was stuck in the closed position. I pressed the exterior open latch. Stuck. I pressed the interior latch and discovered, A-HA, that I could leave it in the open position.

My victory was fleeting, because now the lid wouldn't stay down and closed. I needed something to hold the lid taut. A rubber band didn't work, but the lid to my small dutch oven (enameled cast iron) worked amazingly well. I brewed another pot this afternoon with my re-engineered lid, and the coffee was hot, dark, and strong as always. Success!

My husband jokes that I should continue using this coffeemaker/heavy lid system into the foreseeable future.

I want to research coffeemakers and find a new one with a functional lid and superior brewing capabilities.

Perhaps I should hipster it and only craft pour-overs. Eschew modern technology and go french press or chemex. What about a vintage percolator? Will I have the patience to perfect a hand-crafted brew every morning? Doubtful. All I know is that there will be coffee in my kitchen tomorrow, and for that I'm grateful to my ingenuity.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

thursday night soul food

I drive home after my last class of the week, deciding: to walk in warm sunshine or snuggle on the couch with Elizabeth Gilbert's novel The Signature of All Things

I unpack my lunch bag, unzip my boots. Hunger rumbles. I slice a pear, chunk cheese, add a handful of pretzels to my favorite snack plate. I heat milk and brew coffee. Snack time, couch time, and novel time.


Gregg and I drive South, on our way to my favorite restaurant. The sun dips below the horizon and the grass dews. Fog rises where sky and ground meet. The landscape softens. The bittersweet hour.

In the restaurant, we eat the last Caprese salad of the Summer, dragging meaty slices of fruit through a puddle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Voices rise and fall around us as fellow diners come, and more frequently, leave. We fold slices of Neapolitan pizza and eat, tomato sauce dribbling on our plates. I tuck sprigs of unruly arugula between crust and cheese and sigh. We stir rocks of raw sugar into espresso and cappuccino, plan weekend getaways.


I watch for red lights ahead as the fog hovers, lowers, and lifts. Back home, we greet the moon and wonder if Orion dances through our skies yet. If not, then soon.

Inside, and I'm back to fleece, and words, tapping keys and sipping water, soul and body nourished.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

haiku: candy corn

yellow orange and white
sweet seasonal addiction
i can't eat just one

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

perfect playlists: songza

I minored in music (and German) in college.

I played the violin.

I haven't played seriously in years.

I've always loved music, with my tastes leaning toward singer-songwriter, indie-ish, with a touch of folk, bluegrass, classical, opera, top 40, college radio, and country. Throw in some classic rock (when did Journey become classic rock? Really?), an occasional opera, and dance tunes...okay, I like many genres.

And I listen to music all throughout my work day, when I'm not teaching or in a meeting. I've used Pandora, and subscribe to Spotify. Thanks to Spotify, I don't have to unpack the (many) boxes of CD's still in the basement after our last move.

In class, a student mentioned Songza, another internet streaming service. Songza's niche: playlists curated by experts. A few weeks ago I experimented with the site, and have been since listening (obsessively, constantly). Songza allows listeners to browse by activity (cooking dinner, getting lucky, and shopping at a vintage store, to name a few); mood (angsty, lush, nocturnal); genre; decades; culture; or something called "Record Store Clerk." The playlists have descriptive names; my favorites include "Harvest Moon," "Literate Indie," "Americana Ladies," and "Farm to Table."

I appreciate how songs "fit" together within a playlist, and appreciate the obscure bands and songs alongside more familiar tunes. Sometimes Pandora's artist-based stations leave me wishing for more variety or fewer popular songs. And I love Spotify, but I don't always make time to curate my own playlists. Songza's visual ads don't disrupt the music, a definite bonus compared to Pandora (for free subscriptions).

Songza allows me to browse the musical buffet and sample various playlists and genres on a whim—delicious food for my ears and soul.

Monday, October 07, 2013

manic mondays: or, what happens after not-so-blue sundays

The downside of the weekend relaxedness I waxed poetic over yesterday is the increased chaos of Mondays. Cue the Bangles, please:

I try to extend weekend chill into Monday. I wake up at a reasonable hour. I practice 15 minutes of gentle yoga. I eat oatmeal and drink cafe au lait, and orange juice. I check email. I work for about an hour and a half, grading, reading, class prepping.

I walk, and take in such soul-restoring vistas:

As I walk, I listen to "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" and laugh out loud at the limerick challenge and the far-fetched tales, one of which is always true. 

I then get ready for work, eat lunch, and head to campus, where I make copies, review prep notes, chat with colleagues, and arrive in class. 

My class is high energy. It's large for a discussion-based, writing-intensive class (36 students). We learn interesting concepts (feminism, patriarchy, intersectionality, heteronormativity) via engaging content (Miley Cyrus, music videos, popular romance fiction, vintage ads). 

I love this class, but it's a marked difference from my low-key, mostly introverted, quiet weekend. It jars me back to faux-extrovertedness. Once again, I'm slammed with the frenetic rhythm of the work week and the competing external demands on my time (answer my question! can you tell me what we're doing two weeks from now? here's a new task you need to complete on a project you thought you'd already finished! can you lead this seminar that's not really related to your field? this form is due. can I have an extension? can you travel across the state for a short meeting?) and more internal demands (read, grade, prepare, write, search for engaging content, adapt old assignments, create new ones, keep professionally connected). 

On Mondays, these demands seem like an unstoppable flood, and I feel ill-prepared to even throw a few sandbags at the encroaching waters. 

By Monday night, after teaching my evening class (smaller, more skills-based, less rambunctious), and after cooking dinner, I start to feel that once again I may find a way to accomplish the important tasks during the week. I may only miss a few emails (sorry!) and may need to lower my expectations for myself, but there's a path. I will not be defeated by and on Monday. 

So, readers, I'm curious. How do you ease the transition into Monday? Do you accept that it will be manic and blue? Do you trick yourself into Monday awesomeness? Having made progress shifting my weekend emotions, I'm eager to learn how to improve Monday. 

I know how to best end the day: hot tea, soothing music, fluffy pillows, and a delectable novel. 

Sunday, October 06, 2013

weekend revisions: or, how to minimize the sunday blues

During my teaching year, I typically fall into Sunday blues, often long before Sunday. Come Thursday, my last day of teaching for the week, I survey what my friends and I have come to call "The Giant Stack of Grading," and plot out my grading for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I review my syllabi for the upcoming week, and figure out pages to read, assignments and/or rubrics to create, and lessons to prepare for. 

Now's probably the time to admit that I plan most of my classes in the day or days before a class session. I outline the broader topic when I complete my syllabi, but the magical tidbits (videos, photos, handouts, discussion questions) happen just-in-time. 

In the past, I would then chart out my chores: doing laundry, changing the bed sheets, and grocery shopping as the the primary tasks I relegated to the weekend. 

Then, Gregg and I would review our social plans, whether a low-key writing session at a coffee shop, or a party with friends. 

There was never enough time, and I would feel anxious already on Thursday before I even started working, choring, and playing. 

There's still not enough time, but I've made some minor tweaks that are helping me avoid the worst of the blues and to enjoy some time off. 

Perhaps most importantly, I've shifted the chores to non-weekend days. I thank my sister-in-law K for this idea. I now do laundry on Wednesdays, change the bed sheets on Fridays, and Gregg and I grocery shop throughout the week. While we visit the farmers' market every Saturday morning during the season and occasionally run to the store on the weekend, I don't feel pressured to shop for the whole week.  

I try to grade as much as possible of Fridays, unless I have a meeting or another engagement. I accept the fact that I will very rarely have all the grading done, but know that I will make progress as I can. For sets of major papers, I chart a schedule for myself and try my best to meet it. When I don't, I take solace in this idea: "So the work is to recognize on Friday (and on Saturday and Sunday) that what we are hoping to achieve this weekend is most likely not what we are actually going to get done. It's a game plan, an outline, but not a definitive fact" (Barth). As Diane Barth notes, we create an image of how our weekend will evolve, but chances are that it will evolve differently than we plan. 

And that's okay. 

What's most important on Saturday and Sunday? Time to laugh with my husband. Cooking and baking. Reading at least one whole section of the Sunday New York Times. Waking up to the Sunday Puzzle on WPR. Walking along Lake Michigan. Talking, visiting, or otherwise communicating with family and friends. Feeding my soul, tending my relationships, and restoring myself so I'm a better teacher during the week to come. 

*check out Diane Barth's article, "What Makes Sunday Nights So Hard?" at PsychologyToday.com. 

Saturday, October 05, 2013


rain slicked roadways
deserted farmers' market
harbingers of fall

Thursday, October 03, 2013

what I'm reading

For Class:

Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

Carr explores a wide-ranging history of technological advancement and neuroscience, showing how our minds (and lives) adapt to each new invention.

My English Composition class theme this semester is technology, so we're reading and writing about many facets of contemporary technologies. Carr's book is our shared class read.

Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Skloot's masterful work of creative non-fiction explores Henrietta Lacks, the woman behind the historic HeLa cells, her surviving family, biomedical ethics, and Skloot's own experience following this story.

This is the third text my Multicultural American Literature class is reading; I've structured the class to cover a range of genres. My class isn't sold on the genre yet, but we have hundreds of pages to read.

For Fun:

I finished reading Toni Morrison's novella Home last week. As always, I'm struck by Morrison's lyrical prose and bittersweet storytelling.

And, waiting to be cracked open, is Jhumpa Lahiri's newest novel, The Lowland. I love Lahiri's storytelling--lush, evocative, and compelling.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

impressionistic landscapes

The evenings of magnificent sunsets have arrived. Light-dappled, color-drenched skies are softened by the haziness of warm, sunny days meeting cool crisp nights. 

Last week, Gregg and I drove out in the country to a vintage yard sale, and watched the sun glow through pastel skies. It was hard to focus on the center line of the lonely roads as the sky beckoned over silos, barns, and grazing dairy cows. The hilly, windy roads and occasional jumbo tractor demanded my attention, but I wanted to leap into the most beautiful sky I've ever seen. 

Tonight when I left work, I caught a glimpse of magic to the west, and snapped this photo with my phone. The contrast of dark trees and pastel sky, the balance of dark and light, the days growing shorter and the nights colder.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Happy Blogtober!

“We should write because it is human nature to write. Writing claims our world. It makes it directly and specifically our own. We should write because humans are spiritual beings and writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance.

We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the act of living. Writing is sensual, experiential, grounding. We should write because writing is good for the soul. We should write because writing yields us a body of work, a felt path through the world we live in. 

We should write, above all, because we are writers, whether we call ourselves that or not.” 
― Julia CameronThe Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life

I've joked recently that I'm a non-practicing writer. 

Humor as a mask for pain? Yep. 

It's been far too long since I've immersed myself in any sustained writing project, whether creative or academic (or both–I'm still trying to find a way to bring creative expression to literary criticism and pedagogical research). I miss the feeling of such deep writing, my brain zinging between thoughts and feelings, searching for a precise word to nail an idea. The state of creative flow, in which time both expands and contracts as I follow the trail of ideas wherever it leads, fueled by tea and the right soundtrack. The spirituality and sensuality that Julia Cameron alludes to in the quote above. Writing is more than good for my soul. 

On nights when sleep eludes me, I tally up the years I've lived, ponder how many years I have left, and consider how I most want to spend my time. And the answer is always a blend of being creative and spending time with loved ones. 

I want to create, whether a towering 4 layer cake that provides sweetness, a scrapbook of memories, or, most significantly, a written record of my thoughts and feelings, imaginings and interpretations. Poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction. Blogs. 

Gregg and I made a pact to turn October into Blogtober, a month in which we each write one blog post. Every day. 31 days. If one of us fails to post, we owe the other person a bottle of Rombauer Zinfandel (a favorite special occasion wine) and a block of 10 year aged cheddar. Hopefully neither of us will fail and we can each kick in half of the cost of the prize to toast ourselves and our re-emerging writers on November 1. 

I'll be posting both here and on my other blog, Protagonista: Writing a Professional Life. I hope you'll join me in celebrating Blogtober by reading, commenting, creating your own blog!