What I’m Loving Lately

books, daily life, food, music

After what felt like a long hiatus, this week I have been hitting the dissertation hard. I have been waking up at four in the morning, so that I can start writing close to five to try to get anywhere between one and half hours (if I run in the morning) to three hours (if I don’t) of writing in before I get ready to go to work in the archives for the day. Evenings are spent reading and taking notes. I’m hoping to turn chapter four in by Monday, which also happens to be the day after my one year anniversary. We’ll see.

It has not been all work, excuse me, I mean leisure. Aside for Rousseau, there are a few things that have piqued my interest.

Watching : I haven’t really watched much tv lately, but Sunday night Bruno and I watched the first two episodes of A Very English Scandal on Amazon prime. We haven’t yet been able to watch the third and final episode, but it is well done.

Listening : My current writing music is Pixies DoolittleGouge Away might be the perfect editing song. While at work, I’ve been listening to Bad Blood : Secrets and Lies of a Silicon Valley Start-Up by John Carreyrou on audible. Holy shit. I am obsessed. I am trying to avoid going down an Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos google rabbit hole. I am only a couple hours into it, but I’m already sure it will be a five star book. Also, it is the reason why this song (not Taylor Swift!) has been in my head all day.

Reading : I’m still making may way through the Odyssey. I’m almost done. I started reading Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent. As Bruno bluntly put it when he opened the book and started read a few pages, “Sarah Perry can write.” I have two history books I am working through. The first is Daniel Walker Howe’s tome What Hath God Wrought : The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 and the second, Jon Meacham’s American Lion : Andrew Jackson in the White House. I’m loving the first a little more than the second. For whatever reason, I find Meacham biography kind of tedious, although it is interesting to compare Meacham and Howe on Jackson. I was hoping for more on his political thought, particularly on nullification, and less on scandals involving “wanton” women. I’m half-way through Howe’s book and I love every page, even during the long discussions of internal improvements and the bank.

Eating : Chocolate Vega powder and cherry smoothies. I do not like fruit. I do not like cherries. But for whatever reason, when they are mixed with some protein powder, almond milk, and some ice, magic happens. Also, I restarted my sour dough bread starter this week (is it weird to name your sour dough starter? mine is named Sebastian), so definitely looking forward to eating some of that.

What are you loving lately?

xo, Ali

 

 

Morbid Conversations

daily life, death, dissertation

Our “office” has been the sunroom in my parents’ home today. I worked on editing an article for a professor and did some reading. We walked up to the local pizza place at noon to meet up with some of my mom’s family who were gathering because a relative’s in-laws from Taiwan were in town. It has not been the most productive day, but I think being away from campus has been good for my anxiety.

Anyway, you know the rules in conversation: avoid politics, money, sex. You know you are close with someone when all those taboo topics are discussed. You know you are really close with someone when you discuss the topic that is not even on that list: death.

You know you are comfortable with someone when, as if discussing the purchasing of curtains you can say, “If it happens sooner, I would want to be buried here, but if later and we have a family, a home, an established foundation somewhere, then I would want to be buried there.” And then, the person, in this case, my husband, responds back that he would like a mausoleum because that way none of our kids have to worry about where they’ll be buried (dream big, honey). Then we went back to our work. I went back to editing. Bruno back to writing his dissertation.

Maybe we are unusual, but brief conversations like this happen. I mean not all the time. I can be macabre (once, for a twelve hour drive to Connecticut we only listened to Lore — did not sleep so well that night!), but Bruno not so much. Yet, I think it is normal and probably one of the more healthier tendencies I have: knowing this can’t go on forever.

I think about it when I am wasting time (and I mean wasting time, not just relaxing, not doing something productive). Do I really want to be eighty and have devoted most of my life to Mark Zuckerberg-created methods of socialization? Do I really want to talk about that chick I barely know just because of some picture she posted on facebook? Do I really want to waste the last few years of my twenties spending Saturday mornings catching up on sleep (being hungover) or creating something, being someone, giving to someone?

I do not have a memento mori and while I do think the avoidance of death is unhealthy, being fixated on it is equally so. But I think these occasional morbid conversations, if they are even really all that morbid, help me maintain quality in life, even if quantity (in the grand scheme of history) is short.

xo, Ali

 

 

Thoughts on a Hometown

daily life, dissertation, graduate school

We are back in my hometown for the next two weeks. Even though I think I know this area pretty well, things have changed since I left for college back in 2008. Bruno and I decided to do some exploring and ended up at a new (at least new to me) coffee shop that a reviewer claimed had “the best chai tea latte in all of Ohio.” I have not had every chai tea latte in Ohio, but it is the best chai tea latte I’ve had.

I was voted most likely to never come back when I graduated from high school. I don’t have the yearbook for that year — 18 year old Ali was “too cool” for that — but there’s a picture of me in a yearbook rolling a suitcase with my superlative written underneath. I was really proud of that superlative at the time, but in hindsight I suspect it had more to do with my willingness to hate the “provincialism” of the area. I’m not proud of that.

Hometowns are complicated places. Not everyone really has one. I’m talking about the type of place where everyone knows everyone. Your teachers taught not only your siblings, but also your parents, your aunts and uncles, and all your cousins. When you tell someone your last name, they say “you must be this and that” because your last name means something to people. Its the type of place where a stranger says “you look/act so much like your mom/dad” because, yes, they know them. I do not remember my graduating class number, but I do not think it was over seventy. I knew most of them since kindergarten. That can be stifling. It was stifling.

I spent much of my life wanting to escape. And yet, strangely, it is still a place I refer to as “home.” As in, “I’m going home this weekend” or “I’m back home for the next two weeks.” And while I do not want to move back (hard to imagine any political theory jobs popping up around here!) it is no longer a place I want to escape.

Part of it is because I see how much this place made me. I have a college friend that joked about me that you can take the girl out of the small town, but you can’t take the small town out of the girl. This is probably true. I cannot imagine knowing how to work hard on my dissertation if I had never worked on a dairy farm. The high school experiences — getting busted by the cops for having a football party when I was a sophomore, regularly skipping class, regularly partying (often in barns and cornfields) in some ways led me to run arms wide open into discipline and routine. But they also made me empathetic when other people mess up. I get it. I was there in high school. Time spent working in the local factory (and my father) gave me a blue collar sense of humor and I know that. For every delicious foodie meal I’ll ever have, I’ll never be too stuck up for the local greasy bar pizza.

When I’m here I feel reconnected with the important things — faith and family. While the anxieties of dissertation writing, planning to teach my very first college class, the really shoddy academic job market never really truly leave, they seem like lesser problems. The important thing is to make sure I spend time with my younger, still in elementary, middle, and junior high school sisters. The important thing is to make sure I stop by and see one of my best friends who just had her fourth baby and let her know she is a total bad ass for becoming a mother again. It is watching my nephews for a week because their babysitter is on vacation. I’m not too busy for loving people when I’m home.

While we were driving to this coffee shop, I told Bruno, “I just feel so relaxed.” We were driving along the country roads listening to the John Denver song of the same name. I’ve been working hard and getting back on a routine. The fourth chapter is swinging along. This was not the relaxed state of doing nothing on a beach. It feels like the relaxation of having your priorities straight. Time spent in a  hometown can do that for you.

xo, Ali

 

Recipes I’ve Been Loving

crossfit, daily life, food, training

The times they are a-changing. Or so says, my favorite singer/writer/philosopher/poet Bob Dylan. And so they are. Usually I call it a day around 5, relax for a bit (some La Croix, book, and porch sitting time), make dinner, and read some more. With Crossfit evenings have become more busy. Three nights a week, I’m back home a little before seven, which means later dinners, and later bedtimes (not too late..10pm..).

With the time crunch planning dinner has become more important, especially because when we come walking through that door after working out, we are usually hungry.

Here are a few of the things that have been on regular rotation.

Meat and potatoes. This is the easiest, simplest thing we make. Usually I boil up some sweet potatoes and Bruno cooks up some ground beef or pork sausage, carrots, zuchinni, and summer squash. After sweet potatoes are boiled, I add some ghee and mash them. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is delicious. We probably make this twice a week. Maybe more.

One pan chorizo. From a Carrots ‘n’ Cake recipe. Confession: Typically I cook. Bruno does the dishes. We don’t have a dishwasher. One pot dishes are key. One pot dishes that are not bland and taste exceptionally delicious, especially key.

Smoky Black Bean and Sweet Potato Casserole. If I can remember to start this recipe ahead of time it is a game changer. It is nice to not have to worry about what to make, but just stick the pan in the oven and go. Also, sweet potatoes and plenty of cheese. Need I say more?

Shredded chicken salad. On Sundays, I stick a bunch of chicken breasts in the crockpot, add salt, olive oil, and probably way too much lemon juice and put it on for eight hours. I typically add it to salads or sweet potatoes (is there such a thing as too many sweet potatoes?). I’m thinking I might do this recipe for my next batch.

Recovery quinoa salad. This one is from my most-used cookbook Run Fast, Eat Slow. Instead of recovery though, I usually make this one on Friday’s as a pre-long run dinner with some salmon. I love it. Bruno loves it. The only thing wrong with the recipe is that it can take forever to chop everything up, but it makes plenty of leftovers so its worth it.

Do you have any favorite recipes?

xo, Ali

 

 

What I’m Loving Lately

books, daily life, dissertation, graduate school

I’ve been making some changes lately, swapping coffee for tea (most of the time) and my lunch-time sandwich for a lunch-salad. My work outs are different. I’m only running three times a week, with swimming, biking, and CrossFit thrown in. I quit working at home and now try to make it to the library every single day. I bought a new planner that I’ve loving. I’m trying to be consistent at practicing reading/speaking French again. Life is good.

Here are some things I’m loving right now.

Results tea from Tea Forte. Once upon a time, before I got hooked on coffee I was a real tea junkie. I even had a blog called “SocraTeas” because I was not a coffee person…yet. Then I hit that liquid ambition hard. With my stomach problems, I decided to mostly give it up, even though I still think and will forever think coffee is like a warm hug in a mug. I was drinking some rooibos tea from Kroger’s, and that was ok, but I figured if this was going to stick I would need to bring out the big guns. Results is delicious. I do not miss coffee at all when I drink it. It doesn’t seem to ever get boring (like rooibos) and I think it will be my standard morning drink for awhile.

RomWod. You might have noticed this addition to my workouts the last couple of weeks. I want to work on mobility, but sometimes I just need someone to tell me what to do for the day. These videos are usually only 20 minutes (aside for Thursdays) and they are effective. Bruno and I usually do them post-dinner when we are both super sore from our work outs and they usually help get me into the mindset of “ahh, the day is over.”

Working on campus. I am struggling with distraction lately. Being home has made it easier for me to say “ah, well I’ll just take the day off” and then I’ll sit on the couch on read…not Rousseau and not anything to do with an Introduction to the Constitution class. We decided we were going to start going to campus in May and for the most part it has worked out. I’m still struggling with desperately wanting to use the internet (I’ve already broke my goals to avoid social media during the week) and I suspect I still waste a lot of time internet surfing, but I definitely have gotten probably more done in the last two weeks than I normally do. So it is, at the very least, a step in the right direction.

Soup for breakfast. So here is something strange. When I was having all my problems back in March and April I was eating a really restrictive diet and a lot of bone broth. I started having soup for breakfast because I could not eat anything else, usually ground beef, bone broth, green beans, and plenty of olive oil. I’m still doing it, although I’ve been adding more veggies and the ground beef is grass fed, local, and (my favorite) raised stress free. This week is it ground beef, bone broth, carrots, turnips, and green beans. Its good and I feel satiated the rest of the morning.

The Historian by Elizabeth KostovaWhat I consider a relative miracle, Bruno and I managed to buy around 10 brand new, some hard cover books for less than $100 over the weekend. We bought them at some bargain book place and it was heaven. I was not expecting to find much, but I wanted everything. This book has been on my to-do read list for awhile. I’m not a Twilight person, but I love Dracula and I read Anne Rice in high school, so you could say I like the vampire stories. This book is so beautifully written, that I do not think one would even need to be a fan of horror to love this book. Sidenote: it explains academic life pretty well. There are some great lines about dissertation-writing.

Anything you are loving lately?

xo, Ali

 

To Build a Fire, Pt. 2

daily life

Back in February, I mentioned I was taking a Wilderness Survival course. Part of my interest was a desire to return to the outdoors. We have a few camping trips planned this summer, but I’d like to be able to hike, to see more, to be really out in the wild. The other part of my interest was to be comfortable with failure.

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Preparing to leave the comforts of a messy kitchen into the wild.

 

Today was the culmination of the course. We had a practical exam: in twenty minutes build a fire, boil water, and make a shelter. And a written exam: 25 questions, short answer. But of course, as Bruno said, we’re never really done.

It was not my best. I mean I did it. I lit my fire, I boiled water. I made a killer trucker, hitch, and slip knot to set up my shelter. But my fire was ever expanding, with the instructor having to put part of it out (this might not be me, but the wind) and I burned up my ferro rod in the fire, so if I were in a real wilderness survival situation I would be…as the kids say…S.O.L.

The written exam was worse. My sense of direction is still non-existent. Given that I was sick on the navigation day, I still have no idea how to use a compass. On the plus side, I do know what declination is. Also, in full disclosure, with the dissertation being the priority, I only prioritized studying for this exam about as much as you could expect. Still. As a normally A student, probably not my best work.

As I left, I began to fall into a “that was not perfect, or even remotely good!” meltdown. I began to fall down a shame spiral. Me: “I said EAST and it was WEST. I am such a moron! I probably seem so careless with my fire. If we were in California, we would all be totally screwed right now.” Bruno: “I thought we were doing this for fun?”

But I caught myself doing it. And I stopped. No more ruminating.  I don’t feel perfect and I’m definitely going to have to pull out some Brene Brown after this, but I feel ok.

Practical knowledge is hard for me. I’ve always been much more of a theoretically minded person (thus the Ph.D. in political theory). That saying about book smarts and street smarts is basically made for me. I can read you Rousseau in French, but common sense skills have always been a struggle.

By my own measurement my “street” or rather “wilderness” skills have improved by leaps and bounds.

Before I started this class, I could not start a fire. I would have thought food would be the first thing to look for in a survival situation (first things: climate control and water). I would have no idea that blue is the best color for a shelter due to its visibility and how map north is different from true north (theoretically, I still haven’t figured out how that works in practice yet except that it involves drawing lines). The only kind of knots I could make prior to this class is the knots that form by not properly putting my necklaces away, and now I can do three different kinds. Not only can I use a knife, but I’m a proud owner of a “survivor” knife that I keep in my Kate Spade purse (balance in all things).

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Look ma! Emergency shelter!

 

I could not find my way back from a bad situation (to do: sign up for a navigation/map reading course), but I think my chances of doing ok in a bad situation have significantly improved beyond what they were in January. And that, my friends, is a success, no matter how I mucked up the test. What is not lost is my enthusiasm.

Onward!

xo, Ali

 

Me vs. the Siren Call of the Internet

daily life, dissertation, goals

I have found my biggest struggle in writing my dissertation has been the siren call of the Internet. I don’t even think about it. I’ll be stuck, thinking of the next word I want to write in a sentence or how I want to phrase a certain argument, and it is like my fingers habitually type in “Facebook” or “Instagram” or “Michigan trail races.” I’ll be on a roll, listening to some tunes, cranking out some words and next thing you know I’m looking at a shirt on Everlane fantasizing about having a daily uniform so I don’t have to think about what to wear everyday. I know I’m not alone on this. Cal Newport addresses the problem of social media and the internet in Deep Work. He recommends quitting.

But productivity is not the only thing that I think social media takes from me. I will just be going about my day la-di-da and I’ll check facebook — I’m about to admit that I’m not the most rational person in the world — and someone will be wrong on the internet (gasp!). I’m not one to facebook philosophize, but I will think about it. I think about what I would say, you know, if I were the type of person who wanted to get in political arguments on facebook. I will ruminate. I will check to see if anyone has said what I think should be said. It takes mental space. Space that could be devoted to Rousseau, planning this class I’m going to teach in the fall, or just feeling peaceful.

The funny thing is is that I try really hard to show up for other people. If we are out to dinner, out for drinks, or out for coffee, you have my attention. I will probably not pull my phone out. But when it comes to my own life, I am easily distracted. Which I guess means, I don’t show up. Stirring the pot while looking at Instagram? Done it. Taken a relaxing bath with phone in hand? Done that too. Sat outside on the porch to read a book and drink some tea, but ended up looking at my phone for most of the time? Guilty.

And so this month I deleted Instagram from my phone. I’ve had facebook off my phone for awhile now. For the past week or so, after dinner, I’ve been turning my phone on airplane mode. This has not always been successful. Last night, I spent a good amount of reading time googling “crossfit and running” (a very contentious issue!). Today, I think I checked Instagram twice on my computer. I’ve typed in facebook out of habit. When I should have been doing the readings for the class I’m going to teach, I spent a lot of time looking at articles on dirtbagging (our rent is up in mid-June, but we cannot move into our new place until July, so technically “homeless” for two weeks. I’m trying to convince Bruno we should dirtbag during them. He is not persuaded). So, I have yet to overcome my need for internet distraction, but I do think I am making improvements.

Ultimately, the objectives are: no Instagram or Facebook during the week, only on weekends. Weekends only. Turn off the phone after dinner. No more googling things when I should be working. More peace. Write and read more pages, less screens. Less getting mad at the internet. Less trying to persuade Bruno we should be dirtbags this summer.

May is the month of me vs. the Internet.*

xo, Ali

*I get that this is a blog on the internet. But I think I’m being productive here! This entire post was done without searching around on the web, a victory in itself.

 

 

Gonna Take Some To Do The Things We Never Had, or Why the Music Video for Toto’s Africa Exemplifies Life in Graduate School

books, daily life, graduate school, music

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This post brought you by the greatest song in the world: Toto’s Africa

And now for something completely unserious.

Toto’s Africa has experienced a renaissance. From its use in Stranger Things (don’t do it, Nance!), ubiquitous club hit, to being the internet’s favorite song, it is going to take a lot to drag us away from Africa.

But what much of the commentary has failed to recognize is the deep similarities the music video has with life in graduate school. As far as I know, none of the members of Toto have ever attended graduate school, but alas, I think the music video certainly characterizes the several years some of spend between undergrad and (hopefully) getting a real job.

Before you begin, watch the video here. Watch it twice, because of its greatness.

  1. The amount of time spent in a library. This one is probably the most obvious. I know my college library now more than I ever did as an undergrad. The only difference here is that where the library in the music video is themed “African safari,” the one for mine is themed “America.”
  2. Constantly looking through books for information. I just need that one quote…now where was it? Looking, looking, looking…oh, maybe it was a different scholar who said that. Like the lead dude in the video, if you are in graduate school, you are constantly trying to put the pieces together. That means a lot of book scanning.
  3. Looking for books. How much time do graduate students spend looking for books in the library? How much time do I spent looking for books in the library? An inordinate amount, most likely. Not included are the times when you are just distracted by books on shelves unrelated to research topic. I cannot be the only graduate student who falls into the shelf abyss.
  4. That feeling of being hunted. Is it fear of failure? Imposter syndrome? Or is it chasing time? Deadlines? Too much to do in too little time? I’m not sure I know what causes all the books and bookshelves to fall over in the music video, but I think I understand it.
  5. What does it all mean? After watching Africa’s music video, one might be left thinking, “Huh? What just happened?” One of the google results that pop up when you begin searching Toto Africa is “what does it mean?” The same question can come up on particularly tough days of graduate school or even certain difficult texts (I’m looking at you, G.W.F. Hegel!).

And there you have it. Five reasons why the music video for Africa by Toto is like graduate school. Am I Buzzfeed worthy yet?

xo, Ali

A Good Day

daily life, dissertation

I have been up since around 4 this morning, working on edits for my third dissertation chapter, edits for a professor’s article, and a little bit of French for good measure. It is after lunch and I am still wearing what I slept in — after I type this up, I am going to go for a run, head to campus and sign some papers (because I have a fellowship for next year!), and crank out about another three hours of editing for my chapter which will be it until Thursday — because we are driving to Connecticut tomorrow. The plan is to have very little to do on the chapter, beyond one last read through, on Thursday when I plan on doing it in no matter what. 

I like days like today. They do not happen much, these moments like I feel like I am in the zone. I may still be in these ridiculous looking leggings that were hand-me-downs (confession: I don’t get Lularoe, plain black leggings for life), but I am mostly packed for our trip east, food is in the crockpot, and editing is going well. Really, that is all I can ask for.

It is strange what can make for a good day. I’m going to go enjoy it.

xo, Ali

 

 

 

The One-Step Over-Sleeping Plan

daily life

The insomnia blues were playing again this week. Late Sunday night, I gave into the Nyquil because I just wanted to sleep. Even though I slept (yay!), I ended up sleeping in late (boo!), and lo! the plan for Monday’s schedule was abandoned.

I suspect I am not the only person who deals with this, whether it is the insomnia or the oversleeping. Normally I am a 4am morning person, so waking up at 8am sets my teeth on edge, heart-racing, and the mind-spiral a-going. Totally rational, right?

This is a do as I say and a not as I do advice for when your sleep does not go as planned. Catastrophe planning at its finest, this plan aims to end your late-waking worries and fears of failure and thoughts of “I’m sure this never happens to ‘insert prominent scholar here’!” Moreover, it only has one step.

Do your normal morning routine. 

Now I admit, I live a pretty flexible life. There is nowhere I technically have to be, nowhere I absolutely have to show up. It is 11:10am as I write this and I am still rocking polka-dot pajama pants and a neon green marathon t-shirt.

But, what I think is especially important is not starting off the morning in that panic-stricken-I-have-so-much-to-do-I-just-lost-four-hours spiral that doing something normal, even if it is shortened, even if the best you can do is just sit with your coffee for ten minutes. Just do it.

Time is a luxury and sitting there, even if for a bit is a reminder that even if the day is starting late, even if it is not going the way you plan, you have it. As Bruno kept telling me, “You still have all the rest of the day.” Or even in the wise words of Alexandra Franzen, “Today is not over yet.”

I always find that if I do a full-dive into the day, without a little quiet time for myself, nothing I do (even if I do manage not to just write the day off) is done with much focus or even, with much enjoyment. The day feels off. The work feels off. Doing the standard morning routine makes things feel much better, or rather, just normal. Sure, less gets done, but at least I can be sure it gets done well.

xo, Ali