What Social Life?

Monday, 30 January 2012
When I worked for WKRC-TV in Cincinnati, back in the day when I was in my early 20s, I had to grasp the reality of getting up at 3am in order to be at work at 4am, five days a week. I was late often but got the job done thanks to my talented and experienced photographer and live truck engineer, Rambo. Life was actually pretty difficult at that point because I was ALWAYS tired. However, I didn't let that stop me from doing the things I loved to do.

I attended Reds baseball games, went to Bengals games on Sundays, was part of the Bacchanalian Society of Cincinnati and relatively engaged in an active social life (read: I received several nice invitations to dinner from young men and explored the lovely nooks and crannies of Cincy with girlfriends.) I also emceed charity events which would keep me out past my bedtime and attended opening night at Broadway plays that made their way through the Queen City. While I probably should have abandoned the need to be a sociocultural butterfly, I didn't want to. I was young, I was resilient. My, how things have changed.

While my life is still incredibly exciting, the stakes, I've found, are much higher. As a reporter, I could turn the "switch" on and off. With the right makeup and electricity under my chair in the live truck to plug in my straightener, I could quickly and easily prepare to be live-shot ready. Typically, Rambo and I would shoot our story for the morning ahead of time and I would write and prepare for the report before even going home that day. Essentially, we'd meet in the morning (before even God was awake), print scripts, drive to our live location and proceed with the involved set-up. We did the same thing everyday and the routine became comfortable. I trusted our team. The producers knew they could count on the crew in the field and we knew all would go well on our end. I became confident, I could afford to enjoy myself outside of work and be committed to my job as a morning reporter.

I now operate in a realm where nothing is constant except the meeting time of my classes and there is no respite afterwards because the work day is never done. In the academic world, when I meet a deadline, four others are looming. Beyond that? More deadlines hang out just begging for attention. Rather than relaxing when the lights switch off and the crew gets the "all clear" from the booth, this is an existence that requires constant sacrifice and discipline.

Just this week I had to wave the white flag on my social life and tell a couple of nice gentlemen that I just did not have time to get together. Who does that!? It doesn't seem okay or natural but not many potential partners are willing to sit at home and read for hours and hours. Who can blame them?

For the first time in gosh knows how long, I stayed home for the entire weekend, working on a paper for the conference I'm presenting at, reading a book that I have to lead a discussion on (Erving Goffman's Presentation of Self in Everyday Life) and reading journal articles for another class. This doesn't even include the massive research project I'm working on with a UTK professor regarding First Amendment Rights.

Do other PhDs struggle with not having enough time in the week? I had to find out so I asked around and the consensus is: yes. It is perfectly normal to put your personal life on the back burner because it is not an option to not publish, not present at conferences, not be prepared for 600 level classes. Okay. Fine. But here's one thing to consider: Spring Break is on the horizon and even if I have to read six books and write two papers, I will be doing it from a white beach in another country, possibly with a drink accented by a tiny, purple umbrella.

A Comforting Dish

Sunday, 29 January 2012
I've been spending more time at home hitting the books and working to wrap up research studies and papers. For me, it is nice to take short breaks and whip up something tasty to provide sustenance to keep up energy for work.

When you have great ingredients on hand (I always have yellow onions, garlic, olive oil, canned, diced tomatoes with garlic and onion, pasta, couscous, risotto and rice in the pantry), cooking is easy especially when you experiment and it turns out to be delicious.

While digging through the pantry last night, I found a half-full bag of excellent risotto. Some people tend to shy away from cooking dry risotto because it takes a few steps but wow. It is actually simple to make if you have a bit of patience.

Smoked Pork Parmesan Risotto

1/2 large, yellow onion, chopped
5 smashed and chopped garlic cloves (use less if you don't like a strong taste of garlic)
2 cups fat-free chicken stock (I use low-sodium because the pork is salty)
T butter
Fresh Parmesan for grating
8 oz risotto
1/3 pack of good quality, smoked bacon
Fresh cracked pepper
Salt to season
3 T olive oil

Start with olive oil in a saute pan, heat the oil. Chop the onion and garlic and add to oil. This should be over medium heat and be careful to not let the onions or garlic get too hot (burn). The onions will be almost clear after sautéing for approximately five minutes.

While sautéing, heat chicken stock to a boil.

Add risotto to onion, garlic and oil. Sautee for 1-2 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Now it's time to start adding chicken stock. I add about 3/4 cup at a time. Stir and monitor risotto until the stock is absorbed. Add more stock, keep stirring, and wait for risotto to absorb the liquid. Continue this process until all chicken stock (2c) is absorbed by the risotto.

Note: lower heat (touch less than medium) is better for the risotto. The absorption process and proper timing is what allows the risotto to soften nicely.

While risotto is cooking, place bacon on two paper towels on a plate, cover with a paper towel and microwave for approx 3 minutes or until bacon is cooked. (I don't like crispy in the risotto so take it out before it gets too stiff or whatever you prefer.)

Tear the meat into small pieces, add to risotto, add butter and cheese, stir. Serve with fresh cracked pepper and salt to taste. Fresh herbs over the top such as Rosemary or Oregano would add to this dish but my plants are outside and sleeping for the winter.

Enjoy! La Crema Chardonnay would be nice with this dish. (The risotto is also just fine served left-over. Just add a teaspoon of water, cover with a paper towel and microwave for two minutes or less.)

"You'll Have it Forever"

Sunday, 22 January 2012
It's always nice to come in contact with people who have already been through something that you're up against. I received the best advice last night when discussing my PhD, piano lessons and the things that are new in life...

N and I were discussing how difficult it is to pursue a PhD and just how dang busy it keeps you. Some people who don't know about advanced academia are quick to think that graduate school is a way to goof off and avoid "real life." He said something like, "You're going to be so busy for the next three years, it isn't even funny."

We talked about the exhilaration and the frustrations of new experiences and N said something that really stuck with me. He said, "It's difficult now but if you put in the hard work up front and the sweat and tears (figuratively speaking), whatever you earn, you'll always have it."

I just love that.

If I put in the discipline now and learn piano, I won't lose the skill and can share my love of music with others for the rest of my life.  If I earn my PhD, no one can take the degree away from me. I'll hopefully benefit from the time I put into the pursuit of knowledge forever.

This is encouraging and hopefully you can use the advice somehow in your own life. It might not be easy to get through situations that are difficult or require major work right now, but we'll have our accomplishments and achievements to grow from for years to come.

Evenings at Home

Wednesday, 18 January 2012
It has been too long since I've checked in. I guess that happens at the beginning of a semester. Wow. I have been so busy but this is shaping up to be an informative and amazing Spring!

I'm working, as you may know, to pursue happiness as a priority for my 2012 New Year's Resolution. So far, so good. I've been spending more time in my little house (that I'm proud of buying on my own), getting organized and cooking! This makes me happy.

When my close friend Carter was in town in December, I prepared a baked bone-in ham using Nigella Lawson's gorgeous recipe. The piece of meat was huge so I froze part of it and this week, I baked the remainders with onions, spices and a bit of white wine. After boiling the ham (with the bone in), I roasted it at 325 for about an hour. I enjoyed it with fresh green beans and cracked pepper. The meal was simple but lovely. I cut up the left over ham and I'm stewing it now with chopped onions, garlic, a tiny bit of butter, olive oil, salt to sweat the onions, Northern white beans and the bone (with marrow in tact). It smells amazing and I listened to WUOT-FM's jazz improv while I was chopping and sautéing.

While waiting for dinner to cook, I've set the three-point lighting in the living room as I like it (some TV news habits die hard) and since I finished a major research draft today, I have the opportunity to blog. This is fun for me. Yes, these moments seems small to some but I enjoy being a home body and honestly, cannot wait to have someone to share this warm solace with.

How is your week?

A New Semester

Thursday, 12 January 2012
Today was an excellent day. I felt energized and happy just being back in the Comm office and seeing my PhD cohorts. I had a great talk with one of my colleagues. He was inspiring and encouraging and I hope to be more like him.

You know when you just find that one person who doesn't just listen but actively listens and offers advice, swaps stories and empathizes? Friends like that are hard to find and I'm so thankful when my life path joins that of someone who genuinely cares about others.

Our 615 research class will be a ton of work but I already feel like we'll come away with a wealth of knowledge and a tool box of ways to approach questions that need expansion.

The PhD happy hour also started back up tonight. I was again the only first year student there but wow. I glean so much from the 2nd year kids! Every problem I'm facing with the students I teach (already) and questions about reports and such, they know the answers to. AND they're patient! I'm fortunate to be around such cool people.

Every day is a new beginning. Treat it that way. Stay away from what might have been and look at what can be. -Marsha Petrie Sue

Pursuing Happiness Update 1

Monday, 9 January 2012

The idea of happiness continues in my world, now nine days into January. What exactly makes you happy? What makes me happy? I'm slowly learning to identify moments when I'm content and recognizing what the situation entails including feelings, people I'm with, whether I've had enough sleep, etc. 

Here's a quick list of what I've discovered (thus far) that makes me happy:

1. Being skinny. How do I accomplish this?  - I'm going to get back to a healthy, low-fat diet (integrated in a steady way so I'm not overwhelmed), drink more water, more green tea and less alcohol.

2. Blogging. I want to incorporate more "real" posts about the challenges and joy of school, life and love.  

3. Gel polish. How did I live without it? Years and years ago I had acrylic nails (ew, I know). They looked perfect on camera and they made me feel girly. Then, I decided to throw out the fakes when it comes to appearance (fake tan, fake nails, fake eyelashes… note I still don't mind highlights…) so my nails just looked pretty bad. Recently, however, I discovered gel polish. It's just nail polish that is dried under a certain lamp and it lasts for 2 weeks. I'm going to try to keep that up even though I once blogged that I wouldn't pay for regular manicures. Times change.

4. My cats. I'm going to play with the girls for at least five minutes most days. I pet them, talk to them, feed them, clean their litter, etc. but I don't play with the little things. They need mental stimulation and for me, it's a stress reliever. I need to make the time to do this.

5. Piano lessons. I'm going to schedule piano lessons with UT. I enjoyed lessons and need to practice. I'll be happy later in life, too, when I can sit down and play a tune for my loved ones and friends.

What else does "Pursue Happiness 2012" entail? Meditation. Okay, I'm not embracing Buddhism and I don't know what I'm doing exactly but I am going to learn how to focus my mind. I will sit for a few minutes during the week and concentrate on peace, joy, positive things and good vibes. Also, instead of dwelling on worries, I'll visualize problems evolving into positive outcomes. I'll breathe and rest my mind. Try it with me if you want.  


Thursday, 5 January 2012
Pride can stand a thousand trials
The strong will never fall
But watching stars at night without you
My soul cries.
---- Sade (Romeo and Juliet)

Please forgive this moment of weakness. I am blogging for my own benefit, so again, my apologies for being so candid. I dislike observing others' emotional pain because I feel helpless and prefer that people keep their open wounds private but - here we are.

This week, for some strange reason (the holiday season is so fun, huh?) I've thought a lot about the failure of my last long-term relationship and the things I took for granted. There are so many things. Why do I mention it? Only to say:  if you have love that works, don't count on it growing or sustaining without cultivation. Please, don't assume it will always be there or that you can find what you have elsewhere.

For me, love didn't die for lack of cultivation, it died for lack of living on the same continent for three years. You've heard about it before. (If you haven't, please refer to former posts.)

In order to come to terms with my melancholy, I've listed aspects I took for granted during the time when Kings and I were together:

1. Having someone to come home to every night.
2. A person to share meals with, whether we spoke or not.
3. Coffee at my bedside every, single morning.
4. Someone to whom I could tell everything.
5. A person who dearly loved my family.
6. A warm body (sounds ridiculous but the practicality of having someone to sleep beside is lovely).
7. The wonder of travel with someone who has traveled.
8. Unconditional love.
9. Celebrating small victories with someone who cares.
10. Folding laundry together while watching silly TV.

It has been six months since we parted and there are still difficult times, pronounced by the necessity of forward movement.

Why this distressing blog post? I've decided to be real when possible this year. I apologize ahead of time if my sharing is too much or seems to deliberately garner pity. That's not what I'm looking for.  I just feel in my pursuit of happiness in 2012, I need to start being honest about who I am, what I struggle with and of course offer a few laughs (promise that'll come later). I feel happy when I write.

How was your week?

Reality Coming At You

...In 5
... (in the news biz you never actually say "1" because your voice could be heard on live TV...)

I was like you. I used to think, wow, that guy? The one that stays in school for 9 years? For what? Another degree? He's not even a medical doctor or a lawyer... A career student? Great. This economy needs more of them...

I get it. The only reason I'm trying to get my PhD is for a new and improved career path that offers a MUCH better schedule (more time to write non-fiction) and MUCH better pay than the TV news industry. However, wow. I am staring at the new, gorgeous bookcase that my father built for me and oh my word. There are at least 12 books that I need to read on subjects I do not fully understand to be ready for my classes that begin in less than a week.

Going after my PhD is the most difficult thing I've pursued and I need to be on my A game. Yes, I profess this often. In my opinion, career students are not just drains on the economy, they are (even worse) complete and utter masochists. Truly. I should perhaps seek therapy...

Back to reading. I hope 2012 is staring off brilliantly for you. Not bad here. ;)

Pursue Happiness

Tuesday, 3 January 2012
Resolute  :  1. firmly resolved or determined; set in purpose or opinion. 2. characterized by firmness and determination, as in temper, spirit, actions, etc.

The tradition of New Year's resolutions dates back to ancient Rome. Romans acknowledged the god Janus at the beginning of a new year. Janus had two faces: one on the front of his head looking into the future and one on the back of his head looking into the past. Resolutions were born out of the Romans' desire to acknowledge the past year and resolve to not make the same mistakes the next year.

I've thought long and hard about my resolution for 2012. There were a few years where I didn't make resolutions because I feel they are cliche. People establish lofty goals and then...for instance...stop going to the gym by February 28th.

2011 realized a simple resolution for me: add to the family. I wanted to adopt a playmate for Violet (cat) and found Lily (another cat) at the local animal shelter. She is a lovely addition and was such a comfort to me during difficult and depressing times this year. Lily is a lover and rarely stops purring.

In 2010, my resolution, which I did not remember (not a good sign), was RAC (Rebel Against Consumerism). The idea was to be happy without stock piling costly things. How many things do we have that just take up space? I take items to the thrift store several times a year and it reminds me that I spend money on stuff, at a rapid pace, for no good reason.

In 2009, I remembered and followed my goal as much as possible throughout the year. It centered around the idea of ELM (Enjoy Life More). I conjured up ELM many times over 2009 and it helped in the moment. Overall, I felt more relaxed and remembered to laugh at most small disappointments.

In 2012, I plan to pursue happiness. I'm thankful to be young(ish), strong and smart with the freedom to run after my goals and dreams. Pursuing happiness sounds a bit silly to the pragmatic (I fall into that category) but perhaps that's why it is important. I'm not one to sit around pondering happiness or any feeling for that matter. I spend time thinking about accomplishments, achievements, how others perceive me, areas in which I've failed and the speed at which I check goals off of a list.

A successful and fast-paced professional life is fulfilling to the extent that you don't have time to think about anything else. Now I have some time to consider my personal life and I don't want to look back in 10 years and wish that I did more to tend to it.

Pursing personal happiness will not be easy for me because I first need to recognize what it is exactly that makes me happy. It is time to consider my needs. For the past 11 years I was happy when I nailed a live shot, completed an in-depth report that my colleagues commented on favorably or received an award for fighting for media rights. Now, in a new career arena, I have immense professional and intellectual challenges but they occupy a different sort of space.

This time in my life could be comparable to a mediocre artist sitting down to paint. The canvas has been primed and stretched. All of the needed tools are within reach but there is no confidence on how the colors should begin to touch the surface. In the analogy, I see paint being brushed on under the light of self awareness. Why not pursue my happiness rather than someone else's? Does that make me selfish?

I used to think those who went after their own joy and listened to their heart over their head were unwise. In the last few years, I've changed my mind. We are not guaranteed tomorrow, only today. I would be wasting the miracle of existence to pursue anything but joyful living because I believe if we capture happiness, we can exude positive energy to those around us. Wouldn't that be a wonderful contribution to the New Year?

Let's explore happiness together in 2012. Whether it be learning to play an instrument, starting a journal, planning a trip, or spending one meaningful night a week with family, we should choose something that makes us happy and cling to it. Now I have to figure out what that is for me. xo