An Homage to My College

“Now that you’re an educated woman, put it to good use.”

This is what my professor told me on the last days of college. “But what about before I came to college?” I thought naively. Was I uneducated and therefore useless? I doubt that’s what my professor was implying. He was implying that education is a gift, one that comes with a heavy price tag–metaphorically as well as physically. Women and girls all over the world are being punished for trying to unwrap this gift, a gift that many argue should be an unalienable right.  Still, his comment came at me like a blow to the head. It struck me as a “call to action.” I’m ready, I thought, to battle evil: let me go put on my superhero costume adorned with the letters “EW” (Educated Woman) and rescue the poor and oppressed, so that no one will suffer anymore. Right? Right??

I think I’m wrong and I wonder if I am not alone in the pool of recent graduates who feel that their ideals and their realities don’t quite align, since newspapers and journals now report that degrees are the cultural equivalent of incomes–necessary evils, almost accessories to your life, or something to put on a resume. Holding a degree does not change who I am. To me, the experiences of college are far more valuable than a piece of paper or moving my tassel from right to left. In college, I felt like my words mattered. I found myself in intimate situations with classmates and professors, arguing over the conditions of our time and of ages past. But nothing we said or did changed anything…so what use was it? 

We weren’t changing the world, we were changing ourselves. We were being changed, unbeknownst to us. We were, I hope, learning empathy and compassion, something that this world could use a lot more of.  We learned, I hope, to respect other people’s opinions, even when they are so different from our own. This isn’t easy. So many times I wanted to shout in class, “you’ve forgotten that Christ already saved the world!” or something to that affect. But I think no one would have taken me seriously.

Maybe I’ve taken myself too seriously all along.  There’s so much amorphous pressure in college that I think we put on ourselves because we are so afraid of disappointing the ones who made this experience possible. College is not cheap. It is an investment (we’ve all heard that before, right?)

I heard in a lecture once that the speaker would rather his son be “a good person than successful, and I hope you would, too.”  How strange, I thought. Don’t parents want their kids to be happy, and doesn’t happiness mean success? Perhaps not. Perhaps success is not the best way to measure happiness.

Despite that revelation, I want to say from the depths of my heart, Thank You, to all the parents, friends, teachers, coaches, roommates, bosses, boyfriends, girlfriends, and pets who have cheered us all on, dried our tears, and listened to us complain non-stop about our Intro to Meteorology classes. Because without that love and support, we would be both miserably unhappy and unsuccessful, in any way you measure it.


But I hope that you know that I don’t want to be successful.  I want to be a good person, and I hope you do, too. 

With love,
Mel

The Art of Calm (A trip to Kentucky)

Kentucky is a beautiful state. I never appreciated this growing up, because (and I honestly have no idea where this came from) I had a deeply-seeded resentment of anything south of the Mason-Dixon line. Still, late fall, stress from school and eventual early adulthood brings with it dreams of hibernation, home and pie. Being able to  spend all day in pajamas is also high on my list these days. So after coming back to Memphis to visit my family for fall break, we took a road trip to Kentucky. The entire drive, I stared out the window, slightly out of breath over the forgotten beauty of so many rolling green hills. It seems I’ve developed some kind of armor to protect me from life in the northeast and, in the process, I have neglected to look up at the sky. Like Icarus, I flew too close to the sun. It takes coming home to realize you never needed wings in the first place.

I won’t pretend I’m a sophisticated northerner. I speak more slowly than many people I know; I don’t own any Ray-Bands or black high heels or know all the subway lines in Manhattan. Still, I’m noticing some stark differences between the vast, expansive south and the busy, densely populous northeast. For one, in the drive from Memphis to Kentucky, I saw more trees than people. More trees, more leaves on the trees, more blades of grass, more fish in the lakes, even more clouds in the sky. There is somehow more sky.

When the only thing you have to contest your existence against is something that’s existed for hundred of years, like a tree, you suddenly feel very, very small. It’s almost impossible  be existential in a city! There are too many people telling you you’re wonderful, and not enough reminding you that the trees were here first.

Also down south, people…are just so friendly. I always thought this was a myth, that people in the south are friendlier than in the north. “Just because people down south smile and wave and say ‘hello’ as if they mean it doesn’t make them more friendly.” Perhaps I will test this some time and see how long I can talk to a stranger in Memphis or Bowling-Green before he or she gets bored or scared of me. But at least when people greet me with a boisterous “hello,” I know they really mean it. You know that awkward semi-acknowledgement of a stranger’s presence, where you’re too shy and too busy to be genuinely interested in someone else’s day, but you don’t want that person to think a bad thought about you so you smile and eek out a timid “hi,” and the other person blurts out, “Hihow’sitgoin’?” and then just keeps walking? Yeah. In the south, strangers greet strangers with genuineness. And they separate their words.

Perhaps what I’m experiencing is a bit of rose colored glasses syndrome, that feeling you get when you’re in a new place, when you’re exhausted from what you’ve left behind, and you look at your present surroundings with admiration and bliss. To tell the truth, I never thought so rosily about the south when I lived there.

In fact, all I remember dreaming of (aside from other planets) was my fantasized, grown up life in New York City. So perhaps now as a young adult, I’ve begun to reverse the fantasy and trade skyscrapers for landscapes and subway lines for tractors. Or haystacks…

Our time in Kentucky was full of farms, animals, fresh air and Mennonites markets. I overheard the boy pictured at left (click to see the detail) speaking Dutch with his father, owner of the first Mennonite farm we visited, where my own father proceeded to buy over a hundred dollars worth of squash! Seriously.

I watched this boy, about ten, grab a basket and pluck a few leaves of kale from the stalk and then mosey on back up to his house, to sell it or to eat it.

I admit I was jealous. When I want to cook kale, I need a car, a shopper of the month card, cash, car keys, a wallet, and the patience to walk under halogen lights and stand in line at a conveyor belt while trying to ignore all the celebrity gossip and “HOW TO LOSE TWENTY POUNDS IN TWO DAYS!” advertisements.
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Perhaps this trip was exactly what I needed. Blue skies and sunshine. Apple pie, baseball games, harmonicas and dogs on my lap. I had no idea I was so…American.

“Country rooooad, take me hoooome, to the place I beloooong!”


Unpacking a Wedding

The dogs see everything. They see how tired I am. They see the many trays of barbeque and bottles of wine in the refrigerator. They see how frequently their water dish depletes. They see squirrels of course, and they bark, and bark, and bark, until the neighbors complain because everyone is awake until one in the morning. This past week they saw and met two new puppies who came and went along with my frighteningly grown up siblings and their significant others. They see me, too, and I see them, but sometimes I think they’re the only ones who do. It’s very easy to feel sorry for myself right now, even though I have so much to be thankful for (when do I not)? Unhappiness, in the sense of depression, for me often slithers in the door when I neglect my needs. And nothing makes it harder to meet your own needs than planning a wedding!

On the other hand, it was a very humbling experience, to “come home from college” and not be the center of attention. I was the youngest in my family for a long time (I’m not anymore) so I know how to demand attention. But somewhere along the line I think I figured out that most of the time, demanding makes people feel annoyed, intimated, or uncomfortable. So I try not to do that so much! Of course when I got home the little voices in my head were crying “tell them everything! tell them everything!” but why disrupt a good thing? I discovered that I can enjoy myself in the company and immersed in the stories of others, and play a participant. Who knew! And for the first time I felt so proud of my family for absolutely no reason related to me.


Of course, my role in this circus was very, very minimal. Other braver souls orchestrated the event; I was merely a player…but if I may boast, I think the entire day was nonstop fun. That’s okay by me.


Of course, mayhem ensued.

Since being in Memphis, I’ve been a bridesmaid, a baker, and a spredsheet maker. I’ve also been brushing up on my puns and rhymes. I put my life on hold to help make this special, life changing event possible for someone else, and I couldn’t be more happy about it. After all, that’s what we’re meant to do.

The clean up Crew

But now it’s time to unpack the wedding. The happy couple is somewhere in the southwest, and just this morning I put away my makeup and high heels. The extra barbeque is put on ice for the next party; I gained five pounds. Then I went for a run and looked up at the sky. I felt so small beneath the birds. That’s how I want to stay, small beneath the birds and grateful for the blue skies, soaking in sunshine and floating in music. But life has its responsibilities. In fact, life is mostly responsibilities, but it doesn’t do to dwell on them, because there exists inevitability and the rising of the sun to wake us up again. I’ve missed dancing and doing my own things so much, but this heat makes me a prisoner in my own house! It also makes me blame. 🙂 But I can do things in between, like write to-do lists and plan my next adventure, lie on the floor and practice my guitar. I should also call my mother. Always call your mother.

I know as soon as I leave I will miss home and will wish to be back in my room where nothing can touch me. But things can and do touch me, invisible things, all the time, no matter where I am. My control and my battle against invisible spirits takes place in my soul, which, God willing, will always be  protected. With that knowledge, and with prayers, I can conquer anything, so why be scared?


OctoberFeast!

Second attempt at a happily candid photo. Let me show you the first attempt, below.

After a mid-week scare that involved the (socially questionable) blue clad Geniuses at Apple confiscating my beloved laptop, I am happy to report that all is well and fully functional, which means I can blog again, with pictures of course!

Last week rang in one of the best months of the year: October. Pumpkins, gourds, hayrides, autumn leaves, cider doughnuts, pumpkin pie…

Pumpkin pie, pumpkin pie
She made a special pumpkin pie.
Pumpkin pie, pumpkin pieeeeee…
You’ve neeever tasted such a pumpkin pie!


(Now picture lots of kids dressed in prairie outfits, my mother holding a wooden bowl and spoon, and my father playing his guitar, and you’ve got my childhood.)

That’s my father, the guitar player……..

Sadly, I grew up, and after many years of attempting to dress my dogs up in prairie hats, I concluded that some traditions are best left in the past.

On the bright side, there is always room for new traditions (look Ma, I’m growing!) and with my life being what it is now, with new friends and new experiences, it seemed only fitting that we create a new way to ring in the season. Enter OctoberFeast! 

The idea started with a trip to the farmers market and the serendipitous discovering of sweet potatoes that were the size of my head. I kid you not. From there came a recipe idea for a fall-themed chili, which I had been brooding over since the weather turned chilly (ha-ha-ha, get it?). And since I have the best people in my life, they hopped right on board, contributing this jalepeno cheddar cornbread and an apple crisp for which I’d trade my soul to get the recipe (hear that, Elly?)

My crowning moment, personally, was this recipe. It started with me throwing a bunch of random things in a pot (as most of my recipes start), but unlike the majority of experiments, this one actually turned out delicious!
Serve it piping hot with a piece of cornbread in the middle to soak it up like a sponge, or with crumbled crackers for a hearty fall lunch!
Apple crisp is optional. Wine is not.
Autumn Turkey Chili 
Serves a whole lotta folk!

Fall in a pot.

One pound ground turkey, preferably organic

Two stalks celery, chopped
Two small or one mammoth carrot, chopped
One large white onion, chopped
Two medium or one mammoth (the size of your head) sweet potato, chopped into bite size pieces
Three cans white beans in bean liquid
Two cups chicken stock
Three bay leaves
One cinnamon stick
Cumin seeds
Caraway seeds
Several good shakes of sweet smoked paprika
A few good shakes of round cumin
A few handfuls of dried parsley
Salt and pepper

Place your largest stockpot over medium-high heat; add the turkey, break it up with a wooden utensil, then let it sit until it begins to caramelize. Add salt, pepper, and the cumin and caraway seeds (a few sprinkles of each).
When it looks like this, add the onion, celery, and carrot, and cook for a few minutes until the carrots are slightly tender but still crispy.  Add the sweet potato, season with salt, pepper, paprika, and ground cumin, and cook for five minutes more.  
Add two cans of beans, with liquid.  Add four cans worth of water plus two of chicken stock, then bring the whole thing to a boil and reduce to simmer.  Puree the third can of beans, with liquid, in a blender until smooth. Add to the simmering pot, along with the bay leaves and cinnamon, bring to a boil and boil, uncovered, for five minutes.  

Reduce to simmer, cover, and let cook for twenty to thirty minutes, or until the liquid has thickened and the sweet potatoes are soft.  Sprinkle in the dried parsley. Taste, adjust seasonings, and serve.

Happy Fall.