Sunday, March 29, 2015

Coming to terms with my seasonal selves

Showed up at the airport for the first time since the beginning of the year, and understandably received exclamations of "Where have you been?!" "Haven't seen you in awhile!" "You been busy?" from friends at our first potluck of the season.
One of my favorite identities: Hopeful gardener. I usually perform Haphazard gardener though.
Image by Wanda Bowers. Used with permission.
Busy is a bit of an understatement. Since January, I've been heads-down, teaching three classes, keeping up with my research job, actually doing my own research for once, job hunting. All of my hobbies have gone by the wayside. No flying. Barely any blogging. Certainly no gardening or gym time. Until this week, the last complete day off I remember was mid-February. And that's a lament, not a humble-brag.

This week, as I groveled to my flying instructor who probably thought I died, and penned a few posts, and spent a few hours in the garden, I got to thinking about identity--How we describe ourselves and what we perform everyday.

People often talk about identity as something relatively fixed and stable, and that there is a "true" self in there somewhere. Since grad school, I've thought about identity as more of a performance, something we do and re-do constantly. For instance, I often perform "good wife" by being thoughtful and helpful and loving to T, but I rarely perform "good housekeeper," because cleaning, yuck. But sometimes I do. And I usually perform "crappy car owner," rarely washing or maintaining (sorry Corolla-mobile), but since buying the ZHP, I routinely perform "hand wash and waxer." (Miracles!)
A few of my favorite identities: Wife, dog mom, pilot, auntie/sister, gardener, life saver. Note you don't see the ones I'm not proud of... There are no images for procrastinator, emotional eater, or occasional bitch monster! 
I've written in my scholarly work about how thinking of identity as a performance enables people freedom to test out new personas (remember that time I was going to be a painter? HA!), reframe activities they don't necessarily like (it's not that I like cleaning up after the dog, but I'm a good dog owner) and if they make mistakes, conceptualize missteps as something that they did, not something they are (I'm not a bad person. I'm just a bad lawn mower. Thank gawd hoses are cheap).

For my months of busy-ness, I've carried around such immense guilt about not being the selves I say I am/want to be. Can I still call myself a student pilot if I never fly or study? Can I still be a gardener when my photinias are 10-feet tall? Are bloggers who don't blog still bloggers?

But not being one to embrace guilt trips, especially from myself, I've started to concentrate on the seasonal nature of life. And I'm thinking about identity like I do work/life balance--namely that I don't try to balance all the things, all at the same time. There's no way I can be a great teacher and researcher and gardener and pilot and blogger all at once. Not enough hours in the day for someone who also likes to binge Netflix with her husband and get eight hours of sleep.

So I've reminded myself that there are seasons to certain activities and associated activities. When the semester is crazy (like now), it's okay if I'm slow at writing or research. I'll catch up in the summer. And ditto for gardening and flying. And I can still be who I want to be, because I say so, dammit.

I may just need reminding now and again.


Other links you might like:
Related references for nerd types:

  • The four seasons of ethnography: A creation-centered ontology for ethnography by Amira De la
  • Fracturing the real-self/fake-self dichotomy: Moving toward "crystallized" organizational
       discourses and identities
    by Sarah Tracy and Angela Trethewey
  • Ideal selves as resources for the situated practice of identity by Stacy Wieland

  • Saturday, March 28, 2015

    Finding flow in collaboration

    We started after breakfast, me unpacking colored paper, a pad of poster-sized pages, and a collection of happy office supplies (highlighters, markers, gel pens, post-its, tabbies, and eraser tape, for those who like that sort of thing, like me).

    On sheets of pink, green, purple and blue, I scribbled out our rough plot lines and separately, lists of characters. Post-its here and there captured excited exclamations that didn't quite have a place yet. We sat, knee to knee, bantering, puzzling, arguing, creating.

    And then somehow we looked up and it was nearly 2 o'clock. Hours had dissolved as we schemed.

    I realized, for the first time in a long while, I'd found flow.

    Named by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow is a state of consciousness that he describes as being completely absorbed in an activity. People experiencing flow are unselfconscious, acting effortlessly, not worrying about how they look or if what they are doing is "right." They are essentially "in the zone."

    And let me tell you, this zone is amazing. My friend Heather and I took the zone to lunch with us, and then spent the afternoon plotting so that when 7 o'clock rolled around, nearly 10 hours had passed with us in intense concentration. We felt exhausted but exhilarated.
    An entire book storyboarded! (Blurred because you'll have to buy the book, of course!)
    Csikszentmikalyi writes that flow can be best experienced in activities that are challenging and require skill--not too easy that people will be bored, but not too hard that they give up. And, to achieve flow, activities must have clear and immediate feedback, so that people know if they are doing the activity properly or not. A lot of flow research has examined masters in sports and music like Tiger Woods and Yo-Yo Ma, for instance. With their chosen activities, it's completely evident whether or not something is right. The ball goes where it's supposed to or it doesn't; the note is on key, or it's not.

    Although I've certainly experienced flow--I can lose entire days in the garden or kitchen--I rarely find it in my primary activity: writing. I realize it's because I do not often have immediate feedback. For academic writing, formal feedback can take months, thanks to protracted journal review processes. Blog posts may garner a few comments, but I don't always know when something is well received or terrible. Feedback takes for-ever. And so I worry over words and ideas. For journal articles, I often feel overwhelmed or stuck on a concept I can't quite articulate. And let me tell you, there's no flow with writer's block.

    After thinking for a couple days, I know now that this week's super flow had a lot to do with collaboration. Heather and I plotted out two entire books, in detail, with twists and turns and elaborate character back stories. And the reason we were so successful is that we could bounce ideas and disagree with each other when something didn't make sense, seemed cheesy, or was too dramatic to be realistic. And we weren't starting our adventure blind. Both of us trained as journalists, spent decades (between us) working in communication professions, honing our craft. The task was perfectly matched to our skill sets. Oh and did I mention it was SO fun?!

    I've also started to think about this collaborative flow business with academic writing, especially after having worked closely and successfully on three different projects with three different friends in the last year. I'm finding it so much more rewarding and a heck of a lot easier to produce scholarship in partnership with other smart people.

    And it seems that people who can find flow in their activities will be a lot of happier in life (check out Csikszentmikalyi's TED talk). So whether your passion is writing, gardening, flying, fishing, sports, mechanics, whatever, if you can find flow, life will be that much more meaningful.


    Links you might like:

    Friday, March 27, 2015

    Becoming a crazy bird lady

    The sun is shining on a chilly spring day. A breeze cuts through tall grasses as 15-year-old me tromps through the wetlands on a school field trip. I am utterly miserable. We're searching for birds--the kind our sophomore biology teacher is requiring us to identify, categorize, memorize. And I just don't care.  I'm freezing, wind burnt, starving and realizing, in fact, I hate birds.

    I grew up being told they were dirty little creatures (perhaps as the reason why I wasn't allowed to have that parakeet in elementary school). When high school rolled around and I found myself having to memorize feather patterns, draw birds in a giant bird book, and identify 15 or 20 distinct bird calls on an exam, I felt extra bitter. WHO CARES ABOUT BIRDS??? I lamented.

    Oh what a difference nearly two decades makes.

    Somehow, I recently became a crazy bird lady, and you can, too. Here are the steps...

    Step 1. Buy and hang feeder. 

    Step 2. Admire feeder. Check constantly. 

    Complain: "Honeeeeeyyyy! Why aren't the birds coming to my feeder?"

    Honey: "They haven't found it yet. Have patience."

    Step 3. Admire birds at feeder. Spend time gawking, taking poor quality pictures with Iphone.

    Shout: "Tim look! Tim look! Birds!"

    Text your spouse at work to report on how many birds can fit on the feeder at any one time.

    Step 4. Feel annoyed at birds for emptying feeder every four days. Complain about how much they eat and how much they waste.

    Actual conversations:

    Me: "I JUST filled up that feeder!"

    T: "Yeah, you wanted them to eat, didn't you?"

    Me: "Yeah, but I didn't want them to eat so fast. And look, that blue jay just wastes food, knocking it off with his wings."

    T: "You can't control the birds, you know."

    Me: "I know, but they could at least be conscientious eaters."

    T: [facepalm]

    Me: "I think I'm contributing to the bird-besity epidemic."

    T: "..."

    Me: "Is providing all of this food de-empowering birds and encouraging them not to hunt on their own?"

    T: [shakes head]

    Step 5. Surveil birds. Identify seed wasters. Know bird feeder bullies (red breasted finch, I'm looking at you). Set up camera and tripod to improve photography. Trip over tripod while racing to chase off the squirrel who keeps trying to jump on feeder.

    Step 6. Commune with birds. Spend time in yard enjoying the birdie chatter. Get pooped on, feel bitter. Have at least one creepy Hitchcock moment where you feel them all staring at you. Shake it off, and refill the feeder.

    Step 7. Pull weeds under the feeder. Complain about messy eating to anyone who will listen.

    Step 8. Realize time spent whining about birds is time that could be better spent refilling the feeder.


    Random links you might like:
    Stalking hummingbirds, my new profession
    Flowers and flutterbys in photos
    Peppermint oil: A rather useless squirrel deterrent
    13 things my spring gardener self needs to know
    Aerobic gardening dos and don'ts

    Wednesday, March 11, 2015

    I'm with Julia on this one: More moderation, less "skinny"

    "The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook." --Julia Child
    Free stock image. Used with permission.
    I do my fair share of magical thinking, especially when it comes to food. Scrolling through Pinterest, I'm just as likely to pin a decadent chocolate dessert as I am an "awesome" and "amazing" cauliflower pizza crust, even though you and I both know there is nothing "crusty" or amazing about pressed cauliflower. I know, I tried that damn recipe three times. But I persist. The allure of a classic high fat, high calorie favorite done up all healthy? Difficult to resist.

    This week it was "Skinny" Alfredo. I looked skeptically at the recipe which called for low fat milk instead of the customary heavy cream. I've cooked with low fat dairy and it usually curdles or gets grainy. But I realized that the creaminess would come from a light roux, which is a little flour and milk simmered until thick. With parmesan, garlic and some broth? Who would be able to tell it was a low fat meal?

    Me, of course.

    I started to get angry when dishing the pasta before our House of Cards binge fest. The way the sauced noodles clung to each other... it didn't seem like any Alfredo I'd made before.

    And the eating wasn't any better. Three bites in and I looked to an unusually quiet Mr. T and lamented: "This isn't skinny alfredo, it's PASTE-FREDO!"

    God bless the man, he knows when I'm upset that a recipe doesn't turn out the way I planned. He offered some nice comments about the flavor and made a point of asking for seconds. But I felt so let down, with only myself to blame. Well, and maybe the food blogging world's compulsion to healthify everything and then lie about it tasting "just the same" as the original.

    Stop it! Let's call a spade a spade. It's not "Skinny Alfredo" it's noodles with a sticky-ish white sauce that vaguely resembles the creamy, cheesy gloriousness that is actual Alfredo.

    All this is to say, I'm with Julia "If you're afraid of butter, use cream" Child on "skinny" substitutes: Moderation is the key. Eat the real thing, just less of it.

    Of course, I understand the impulse to try and fit fatty classics into healthy diets, but I'm tired of the false advertising!

    Still craving proper Alfredo

    Other food things:

    Friday, February 6, 2015

    Ellen DeGeneres says I'm doing it wrong

    Is that me on the Ellen DeGeneres Show?!
    I thought my sister was kidding when she announced on Facebook that I had been on The Ellen DeGeneres Show this past Wednesday.

    A joke that reminded her of me? A doppelganger, perhaps? Nope. Three seconds of yours truly talking about the most terrifying experience of my entire life. The one where the airplane roof opened up and the plane barreled toward the earth. The one I thought I was going to die.

    We'd just landed (again). I was answering a few questions in Sacramento International that April Fool's evening (seriously). I think the reporter had just asked me to rate the scariness of the experience. I said "On a scale of one to ten? Twenty-five."

    Only, apparently I was "doing it wrong."

    Ellen's team pulled the clip and included it in new segment called "You're doing it wrong" where they make fun of people for things like not understanding the basics of rating something from one to ten. (See below)


    Wow. Not how I pictured getting on The Ellen DeGeneres Show! SO. MORTIFYING.

    I was at once reminded of finding out I'd been a punchline on NPR's "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" game show many years ago after I used the word "dude" in an interview with an AP Reporter to describe my seatmate, Gary. I just stopped being red from that experience, and now this!

    Ellen, I'll be in L.A. in a couple weeks with your number one fan (my sister, Emily Poffenberger, who never misses your show, even when she's in labor!). We'd love to come visit and explain how when airplanes turn convertible, you need more numbers on a scale.


    Southwest 812: I prefer my plane without a sunroof, thanks

    Thursday, February 5, 2015

    Thursday 13: Life lately

    I almost bragged too soon.

    Getting the Christmas decorations put away the second week of January? Unheard of in this household. And the direct result of a bet. The terms: If I could get all the Christmas decor put away in one night, Mr. T promised not to razz me about my upcoming trip to Disneyland (see #11 below). So I did. I made sure every last stitch of Christmas was boxed and bagged, and ready to go back into the attic.

    And then I blinked and a month passed, and Christmas was still in the living room. I probably have to make another Valentine's tree since the forecast for getting that sucker put away is marginal at best.

    All this is to say, life's been busy around here but I'm alive and kicking, and tormenting babies with tickles (see below). Hope you're well, too!

    1. A recent photo: Somebody turned one recently!!
    Let's not confuse this an "exciting auntie-niece bonding moment." No, that kid was trying to escape my one snuggle of the day, so I rewarded her with upside down tickles. 
    2. A proud moment: Watching collaborator, Thomas Dodson, give Above the Fray's first public presentation. So cool to see our research about teen online life (and tips for parents!) start to be shared with the world. Want to learn more about what teens are up to online, including our shocking discovery that upwards of 75% of teens report NO supervision of their online activities? Read this. And then call Thomas. Seriously.
    Thomas spoke to a regional Parent Teacher Association group at Shriner's Hospital in Sacramento. Interested in bringing him and Above the Fray's youth empowerment message to a school or civic group near you? Visit 
    3. Something I'm excited about: Lady A's activity box birthday present. She turned one last week--my how the time does fly--and I'm having so much fun finishing up her birthday present which is a collection of gadgets and hardware mounted to a pretty wooden box. The idea is to encourage play and develop fine motorskills, and obviously, teach her how to open doors, turn on lights, correctly put plugs into sockets. Skills all small toddlers need, right? At least it's not a loud gift!
    Big thanks to Mr. T for helping me with the engineering, drilling, and mounting. And Goliath, for supervising, obviously.
    4. A major accomplishment: No cavities! Likely because all of my teeth are filled already, but a major source of joy this month was finding out my obsessive dental hygiene is finally paying off.

    5. Nerd coolness: Learned recently that an article I co-authored with a dear friend titled: "The Positive Outcomes of Negative Emotional Displays: A Multi-Level Analysis of Emotion in Bureaucratic Work" was accepted for publication in a special edition of the Electronic Journal of Communication. Woo! (Intrigued by the nerd work? You can read more here and here.)

    6. A cute moment: Goliath rehearsing his rendition of "The Pup and the Pea."
    He's cute for an old man dog.
    7. On my mind: Jobs, careers, and callings. In grad school, I read an article (you can too) that discussed how people orient to their work. People generally look at work as either: jobs that bring financial benefits, careers that can bring advancement/prestige, or callings that speak to their passions. You know those folks who say they never work a day in their lives because they love their jobs so much? I'd like to be one of them some day.

    8. A nice flight: Flying has been unfortunately scarce in my life lately, thanks to weather, work, writing and now teaching. But Mr. T and I went to Livermore a few weeks ago to pick up some car parts and snag lunch. Love me some left seat flying.

    Beautiful winter flying in the Sacramento Valley.
    9. A kick in the pants I needed: School started at Sacramento State last week and on the first meeting of my night class--a senior seminar in organizational communication--we made introductions. I asked students to find out the usual information about their classmates--name, major, hometown, but also what super power they would have if they could and what they saw as their life's ambition at this point. I explained how I would love to be able to grow money (I am a gardener, after all) and that my ambition is to write New York Times best sellers. I admitted I was supposed to have my book proposal for 101 Patdowns done by the start of school and god bless 'em, my students gave me a firm deadline to meet. February 18 and the book proposal will be done!

    10. Something yummy: Spring rolls! One of my 2015 goals is to use new ingredients. January's item was spring roll wrappers. Easy but work intensive, I included boiled shrimp, romaine lettuce, rice noodles, carrots, shredded beets, jalapenos, shredded zucchini, avocado, bean sprouts and cilantro. Served with spicy peanut sauce, of course.
    Next time, I will make the shrimp pieces smaller (or just buy smaller shrimp) and quick marinade them first before cooking. Also, I overstuffed my wrappers so some of the rolls broke apart. 
    11. On the horizon: A family trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. Ahhhhh! (Reference: A Mother-Daughter Disneyland Adventure. See also: Celebrating the PhD: A Sister Trip to Disneyland)

    12. How my garden grows: Peas and more peas. Snow, English and Sweet.
    Really, I have some pea-monster bushes overtaking the garden. Note to self: Not so close together next year!
    13. Something I suck at recently: Dieting. I did a Cranberry Kick detox thing. I joined a "Friendly Biggest Loser" group on Facebook. I agreed to try 30 push-ups a day (OUCH) and jump rope (HA, soon). But I have not yet seriously committed to changing eating habits. Case in point: This vat of sauce of I made for a family gathering last month and the mea culpa cake I made this week (to make up for eating T's slice of cake over the weekend, even though he said he didn't want it at least three times). I need to reconcile myself to the fact that salads at lunch are not license to eat all the things at night. Alas.
    Want to make sauce like an Italian grandma? Here's my damn fabulous recipe: The Best Spaghetti Sauce in the West

    Other Thursday 13s:

    Saturday, January 31, 2015

    Wishful thinking: Cooking Light's sausage and kale pesto pizza

    Let's be clear: I wanted to love this pizza.

    My version of Cooking Light's sausage and kale pesto pizza, cooked in a cast iron skillet.
    The image of bubbly cheese, bronze crust, rich pesto and sausage jumped off the pages of my January Cooking Light magazine. The cooking method--store bought crust in a cast iron pan--seemed novel and fast. The ingredients sounded divine--cheese! sausage! crust!--the kale a necessary but health adding evil. And the whole meal (recipe here) would be a reward for a long blood donation.


    Alas, the pizza was merely okay. The cooking method worked well until the crust browned up to the point of charred in a few places, completely my fault of course. (Note: If you use this method, really, just a couple minutes on the stove and then into the oven, whether or not the bottom is golden brown yet.) In the oven, the cheese refused to bubble in the time frame noted in the recipe, so it stayed in the heat longer which further exacerbated the burnt bottom.

    But the real issue? The meh flavor and texture of the pesto. Perhaps because I was expecting a traditional spicy basil pesto taste, I was disappointed by the more muted and grassy kale flavor. If I were to do it again, I would crank up the garlic, dust with cayenne, and spritz with fresh lemon juice for more zing.

    And more than anything, I should have trusted my instinct that for once, a recipe made too much sauce. The precise proportions of the pesto recipe resulted in a thick smattering of sauce which, while pretty, had a grainy mouth feel that wasn't pleasant. Next time, I would use a thinner layer or consider buzzing the sauce longer in the food processor, as opposed to the "pulse until just combined" directions.

    All that said, I will likely use the cast-iron method again in the future. It's easy and helps get the nice pan-crust edges that don't seem to work as well on a pizza stone.


    Other dinner things: