Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cook It Up!: October challenge

This season I'm linking up with my good friend Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity. Trish is challenging us in her Cook It Up Challenge to get some use out of some of the cookbooks that far too often sit on the shelf and go unused.

I'm putting a slight twist on the challenge simply because I have many goals in my kitchen right now and still need to be productive this month. My choice for October is actually one of my go-to cookbooks, not one of my unused ones. I justified the choice because I only ever use the cookie and breakfast sections of this book, and there are dozens of sections!! So, while I'm halfway cheating by not dusting off an unused book (and I do have several), I am at least still making recipes that I've never tried, and I think that's the ultimate point of the challenge when all is said and done.

Last Thursday evening I made a two-layer Spice Cake with Browned Butter Frosting from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. This special Breast Cancer Awareness edition of the cookbook was a gift from my sister about 8 years ago.

Let me preface the rest of my post by saying that this was not my best cooking experience. During the roughly one and a half hours I was trying to make the cake, I was interrupted and distracted so many times I lost count. But here's a sample of what I was dealing with:
  • First, I had to change two poopy diapers, the first of which required a BATH it was so toxic. After the bath, after my sweet cherub of a baby was all clean, good-smelling, dry, and propped up in his chair in the kitchen again, he promptly soiled another diaper with similar toxic waste. 
  • Second, it took so long for me to clean up the mess from diaper #2--after having decided I just didn't have time to re-bathe the baby and finish my cake before bedtime--that he had a great time peeing all over me before I could get a new diaper on him.  (At the end of diaper #2, I was like, "I NEED CAKE, SO HELP ME GOD!!")
He is so cute, though...little goober.
  • One of the eggs I cracked completely shattered when I tapped it on the side of the mixing bowl. I was literally having to comb my fingers through my batter to find egg shell remnants. :(
  • I discovered that I do not have 2 cake pans the same size for layers, which meant I would either have to bake one layer at a time, which I didn't have time for, or bake two-different sized layers. I ended up making what can only be described as a postmodern cake. The bottom layer is a square and the top layer is a circle. Luckily the diameter of the circle was the same length as the side of the square pan (both 8.5 inches). My cake looked a little funny, but it also looks slightly artsy. At least that's what I told myself.
  • My mother- and father-in-law showed up without warning before the cake was iced (still cooling).  I wasn't dressed appropriately for company and had to run back to our bedroom to change after I let them in. But, on the plus side, at least I had a nice cake to offer my husband's parents once it cooled.
The cake turned out light and fluffy in texture. While I stand by my decision to reduce the amount of sugar, I could taste a sure difference between mine and sweeter restaurant or store-bought cakes. If I make this again, I'll likely increase the spices a bit and/or add spices to the icing. The cake was mellow, and I prefer bright flavors.  My husband and I bought thought that the cake had more flavor on the second and third days, though. The cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves were more potent, and I enjoyed it more on those days.

The Browned Butter Frosting was very nice and vanilla-y (I might have poured in too much vanilla). Next time, I might try a more traditional butter frosting and also use butter. All I had on hand was margarine that didn't have a very high fat content.  However, it was delicious!  I had twice the amount of frosting than what I needed for this two-layer cake, so I'm making a second spice cake today since we have more company staying with us tonight. No sense letting perfectly good frosting go to waste! ;)

Thanks, Trish, for hosting! My husband thanks you for inspiring me to make a cake (or two!). I'll try to follow the rules better next month and pick a dusty cookbook.

Friday, September 12, 2014

I studied abroad in Oxford, England during the fall semester of my sophomore year in 2001. While in Oxford, I lived in a dorm populated by American study-abroad participants. We’d had our morning medieval history lecture in the large lecture hall of our dorm and had come as a group up to the kitchen to make our lunches. Immediately after I sat down with my small mini-pizza, I heard a loud commotion in front of the TV in the next room over. I abandoned my food and ran to the TV only about a minute before the second tower collapsed. We were glued to the one TV in the dorm for the entire rest of the day and night, watching BBC news report on the attacks on the WTC towers and the Pentagon, as well as the downed planes. Several of my peers in my dorm were from New York and were beside themselves trying to get in contact with their families. I eventually was able to contact my family through email and then phone late that night, but almost all the international phone lines were unavailable.

As scheduled, our large group went to Stratford-upon-Avon, the hometown of Shakespeare, the next day to tour the town and then see Julius Caesar performed by the Royal Shakespeare company that night. None of us felt like being tourists. We didn’t want to hear English accents. We didn’t want to read London Times headlines of our country’s tragedy. We huddled together as we walked the cold, rainy streets. Around 6 in the evening, the group of four that I was walking around with happened upon an Anglican church that was all lit up, and we could hear music inside. We went inside and saw that every single seat was filled, and all the aisles, corridors, and hallways were filled as well. The service was a prayer and meditation service in honor of the lives that were lost on American soil the previous day. Although I’ll never be able to think of 9-11 without seeing the BBC news logos in my mind or hearing the news from a non-American point of view (…this is happening to THEM, not US), the most meaningful memory I hold of 9-11 is of that church service on 9-12. Hundreds of people who were not our countrymen or women were on their knees praying fervently for our country’s losses.

I remember flying home for Christmas and seeing ribbons and flags everywhere–in the airports, on school fences, on billboards, and in people’s windows and yards. It was jarring to see so much patriotism and support three months after the fact since I’d had no idea how much everyday sights had changed while I was overseas. These are a few of my memories from 13 years ago.

This post as well as many other recollections of 9-11 from my colleagues at Wayland can be found at

Monday, August 11, 2014

Having a baby

This happened. My husband and I had a baby in March. Well, I had the baby. And now we have the baby.

Our little guy is four and a half months old and, to be honest, despite our time with him, I am still in awe that it happened. I am still learning (baby steps, baby steps) to identify myself as a mother.

Mother has so many connotations. She's the one who always has a snack baggie of goldfish or cheerios in her purse. She's the one with wet wipes and travel-packs of Kleenex to spare. She's the one who can balance two dinner plates in one hand, a cell phone between her ear and cheek, a whimpering soggy child, and her checkbook all at once. She's the one with so much love to go around that she made a new lovable person INSIDE of her. And 21st-century mommy is even more awesome and intimidating: she's the one who keeps daddy and son happy and healthy, cookies in the jar, dollars in the bank, and laundry off the floor. All without skipping a beat or smudging her nails or scuffing her heels. Who is this woman, and why do I have the simultaneous urges to friend her on Facebook and kick her in the shins?

I am hard on myself because I fear inadequacy, which is something I've dealt with and fought at nearly every stage of my life. And, obviously, it's a quite silly fear--I've accomplished just about everything I've ever set my mind on doing. It doesn't matter, though. This fear is one that ignores the successes and highlights weaknesses, and it weighs me down but does nothing to improve the quality or quantity of my work. It's not like a deadline that sets my rear in gear to get something done or turned in on time. It's like wearing a backpack of camping gear year round without any relief. It is exhausting and would be numbing if it didn't hurt so badly.

My gut tells me that I'm doing well so far at this mommy stuff, but the voices around me poke and prod at my confidence until it has so many holes that it can't hold anything of substance. I have the have to feed baby formula because he has stopped breastfeeding guilt. The just dropped baby off at daycare and my heart hurt all the way to work guilt. The I have finally caught up on laundry but the sink is full of dishes guilt. The baby's pacifier fell on the floor and I popped it back in his mouth without washing it with soap and boiling water guilt. The please sleep, baby, please, please stay asleep guilt. The you're crying for me to hold you and walk you around but even four months later my stomach is still tender from the cesarean surgery, so can we please play on the floor instead? guilt.  I love him with my whole heart, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt sometimes.

So, today I shed a few tears in honor of all the women out there loving their babies and/or husbands or partners or family members so wholly that there feels like no room for any love for themselves.  There IS room, somewhere, there must be, and we'll be better for them--our loved ones--as soon as we start including ourselves in that group (loved ones) and turn away from the fears and guilt that are packed with lies from dark, bad places.  Today, tears and all, I intend to step (baby steps, baby steps) away from the lies and to nourish my wounds the best way I know how. I pray to my father God for healing of mind and body, and I pray for the washing away of feelings of mommy guilt and inadequacy. I especially pray for a lightness of spirit that will lift me up me as I try to slough off the heavy worries that press in close on this new mommy.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Tale of Two Houses

From birth until I went off to college, I lived in a small 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom house with my parents and sister. We lived frugally without much room to move about in, but we shared our space and our love and our belongings the best we knew how. To this day, it is a house of much music, much cooking, much intellectual work, and much spending time together.  It will always be one of my favorite homes.
In the past 13 years since I went first went away for college, I've lived in a total of 2 countries, 2 states, 2 dorm rooms, 8 apartments, 1 rent house, and now a house house.  It's been a whirlwind of leases and contracts, moving across the country and back, and more moving boxes than I could ever count...but finally the moving has come to an end.  My husband and I, at last gainfully employed and using our PhDs exactly how we planned, have purchased the home we hope to spend many, many years in.  Truly, it is our dream home.
We closed on our house exactly two months ago today. We've spent all summer cleaning, plumbing, stripping wallpaper, texturing, priming and painting walls and trim, tearing out carpet, laying new floors, remodeling, saving huge front and back yards in the midst of a drought, and--little by little--unpacking and turning this new house into a home.  The house was not a fixer-upper, although I'm probably making it sound like that. In fact, it's a gorgeous house.  It was a house that you could simply tell a senior citizen had lived in for a long time, and the d├ęcor and color choices throughout were quite old fashioned.  We could have moved right in and lived comfortably without making any changes, really.    But, we wanted this to feel like our home, one we created together, not just one we were living in. 
After months of working and sweating through 100 degree days, we're finally ready to stop, pat ourselves on the back, clink together two glasses of something cool and refreshing, and relax and enjoy our summer.  Of course, now, school starts in a week.  Guess we better relax quickly and complete our fall syllabi!
Scott and I want this house to be, much like my parents' home, to be a house of love, music, cooking, thinking, and sharing. Our journey's just starting.  Where are you at in yours?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

In which we have and eat our cake, simultaneously

Night Owls Cupcakes 
Picture from Image is a link to the website.
I want to wish everyone a blessed Easter Eve.  Today, I've been thinking a lot about the women who appeared at the tomb of Jesus only to discover it empty.  I've been thinking a lot about faith and obedience.
2013 has been stressful but also wonderful thus far. My husband was offered an awesome job at the same awesome university where I teach.  He'll start full-time in the fall.  We're officially off the job market and in the market for a house.  A home.  In the process of learning the ins and outs of this little town, we've decided that this really is where we want to stay, for at least as much of the future as we can imagine, which I suppose is another way to say the short end of long term.
But, in making that decision, we also decided that if the short end of long term turned into the rest of our professional lives, we would likely be very happy about that, too.
Reese's Pieces Kit Kat Cake
Picture from the Love Bakes Good Cakes blog. Image is a link to the blog and recipe.
This is not where we imagined ourselves, back when we used to lie in bed in the dark, doing our out-loud imagining.  We never talked about small towns, only cities.  We never talked about specifically Baptist universities, only generically Christian schools, or private schools.  We never talked about living this close to the moms and dads and brothers and sisters and their babies (within 45 and 75 miles), only hoping beyond hope that we might find somewhere in this tri-state area.  But we did ask God for his guidance, and we prayed daily for the faith to be obedient to his call, even if it was to go somewhere we never imagined.
We never imagined it was possible to have our cake and eat it too--and I blame the people who circulated job market horror stories without also circulating success stories.  Here we are, having our cake and most definitely eating our fill.  Two full time jobs in the same town.  Amazing.
Rainbow Cake from Cake Chooser
Picture from Image is a link to the website.
This cake isn't the flavor we were expecting. In fact, it's unlike any cake we've ever had before.  (...maybe it's pie?)  But we like the newness of it on our tongues, the unusual flavors on our palettes. We're hoping this is just the first crazy slice of many.  STAY TUNED.

P.S. Which of these cakes would you want to try?  I'm taking a poll. :)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

2012 wrap-up, just a little late

I loved my Christmas holidays so much--so much so that I wish I could stay in holiday mode for another month or two!  (And, by the, does anyone know where January went? I could have sworn it was around here somewhere but it seems to have disappeared...)  But the best part about coming off of the holidays is that I am teaching two brand new classes this semester, and I'm excited about the opportunity to stretch myself yet a little more beyond my comfort zone.  (Which was the entire essence of my 2012--holy cow.)  This semester is already speeding up very quickly.  We're currently four weeks in.

Since this is my first post of 2013, I want to do an overdue 2012 wrap-up.  Here are some of the major things I did in 2012:

1. Applied for many, many jobs and accepted one that I was offered after an on-campus interview: @ the wonderful Wayland Baptist University.

2. Read all of the Harry Potter books for the first time. (This was my present to myself for landing a job.)  Loved them and raved about them so much that my uber-skeptical husband decided to give Book One a try.  He, of course, ended up reading them all, and at break-neck pace.  Then we watched all the films for the first time!  So, we're a little late to the Harry Potter party, but let's set that aside and embrace the fact that we arrived at all!  Now I'm a bit HP-obsessed.

3. Walked the stage with my husband to accept my Ph.D. in English (his in Musicology).

4. Moved from Glendora, CA to Plainview, TX.

5. Started a full-time teaching position as an assistant professor of English.

6. Taught almost 100 freshmen and sophomores during my first semester @ WBU, almost half of them being athletes (47). Three of them were English majors.

7. Gave my first paper at NAVSA (North American Victorian Studies Association).  Had a fantastic time with old friends and made a few new friends.  Plan on attending again (in addition to CEA--College English Association) in 2013.

8.  Traveled to Virginia and Wisconsin by myself to present papers and managed not to get lost once.

9. Became an aunt for the third time, a third boy. Okay, so this is not something major that I did, but, what a cutie!

10. Cooked my first turkey dinner from scratch. It wasn't for Thanksgiving, but it was at a very thankful time, so it felt right.

11. Had a Wilkie Collins paper accepted for publication. It will be published March '13.

What are the big things on my list that I want to accomplish for 2013?

1. Get pre-approved for a house loan.

2. Publish another paper.

3. Complete the All Things Dickinson project with my sanity intact.

4. Teach a successful graduate seminar. My first one starts this month! (18C British)

5. Cook or bake at least one new thing each month.  And use my kitchen gadgets! (Thanks for the ever-present reminder, Trish!)

6. Take a trip with Scott back to CA to see my wonderful friends.  We miss you all so much.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Election Season

Scott and I are very excited about election season.  We voted early and feel very strongly about the candidates.  Have you voted yet?

My job at WBU has proved interesting and exhausting.  I love my students and my colleagues, and I have darlings in each class.  And I firmly believe that I have the best dean in the world.

It's looking very favorable that my husband's part-time job will turn full time next fall.  We're so thrilled-- actually, "thrilled" doesn't even begin to describe it .  Relieved.  Confident.  Blessed that God brought us here to serve, lead, and praise him through our work at WBU.  Can you imagine it--two full-time salaries for the Strovai???  Stranger things have happened!

The bad news is that we're so tired that we're about to fall over, and we're only 2/3 of the way through the semester.  The good news?  We know we will make it through.  Only 54 days until Christmas 2012!

Friday, August 10, 2012

looking forward

I know many people go through this.  I probably over-think it more than most people, but I console myself with the mantra, "you're not alone, you're not alone, you're not alone."  What am I talking about?  Let me explain.

As I transition from graduate student life to full-time academic employment, I feel the need to reassess some of my goals and--as odd as it may sound--figure out what parts of me aren't necessary anymore.  And, honestly, I need to figure out what is missing.

I'll never forget, my very first semester of my Ph.D. program, I took a short story seminar (shout out to Sharone, Stef, Jan, Doug, what what).  After our professor read our first batch of mid-semester papers, she announced that we basically had all written on "identity" and that she was forbidding the topic because it was...stupid.  Identity is self-constructed and over-discussed in academia, so she was putting her foot down.  No more identity.  Yes, many of us were writing about politics, poverty, race, gender, nationality, etc.  And identity was naturally a part of that.  But it was our job to go past identity and say something more significant and thought provoking.  I wrote some great papers for that class, moving far past surface-level analysis of characters' identity, and that moment has made me a better literature teacher and tutor.  But it's taken years for me to be able to understand that I need to assess myself that way, too, and look beyond my titles, my accolades, my jobs, my responsibilities, my partnerships, determine who I am and who I will be.  And what's entirely separate, perhaps, who I want to be. 
  • Am I healthy: physically, emotionally, mentally?
  • What are my goals and my ambitions?
  • Will my pursuit of these things further my Father's kingdom?
  • What can I do to make my daily life both simpler and more productive?
What other questions belong in this list?  What soul-searching questions would you ask yourself during a life transition?  I'm not alone, right?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Plainview, week one

I don't have the right words yet to describe our move from Glendora, CA to Plainview, TX, but I can tell you that Scott and I are TIRED.  We got to our new house about a week ago and are certainly not all unpacked.  We don't even have our furniture in the right place because we are still having workmen come into our house to fix things that weren't done before we got here (cabinets, air conditioner, etc.).  So, hopefully our day-to-day lives will start making more sense and we can stop living out of boxes within another week or so.  I'll feel more like I moved here by that point (here's hoping...) than only feeling like we are taking a really long, strange, expensive, and stressful trip.

I'm 100% excited about starting my job at Wayland Baptist in August, but I do hope that Scott and I are less exhuasted by that time.  I've said this a hundred times, but moving across the country is HARD.  We need a vacation and a generous supply of naps, otherwise we might not make it to October, much less the end of the school year!  Also, there's a bit of anxiety in the back of my mind because I'm not completely done creating my syllabi for the classes I'll be teaching, but ...right now I can't find the box I need with that stuff in it.   So, I am giving myself permission to wait until my boxes are slightly more unpacked before I jump into my course planning again.

The good news is that it only took me three days to find the box in which I packed the coffee, and four days to find the coffee filters.  I said, "Okay, Scott.  I can finally call this place 'home.'  The coffee's officially unpacked."  :)

My sweet, sweet nephew Kallan was born this past week, so Scott and I are uncle and aunt again--this time on his side. Both our other nephews are on my side of the family, so it was really special to welcome a new family member on his side now. I don't have pictures, but you have to trust me that he's cute as a button and small as one, too. My oldest nephew, Timmy, will be turning 5 this week. Can you believe it? Wasn't it just yesterday that the munchkin was one? What did he ask for for his birthday? Fruit snacks and hero action figures. I'm on it!

We've been blessed with help over and over by our friends, family, and colleagues before, during, and after this move.  God's love shines through those who love others, and we have been taken care of and loved on all fronts this week and last week.  I'm ready for our next adventure.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Last Week in California

There really is a Friends quote for everything, isn't there?

MONICA: Six years is a long time, the end of an era, you might say.
RACHEL: You know, Mon, I gotta say, I don't think six years counts as an era.
MONICA: An era is defined as a significant amount of time, now it was significant for me, maybe it wasn't significant enough for you!


As I've mentioned in a previous post, I have accepted an Assistant Professor position in Plainview, Texas, and the job will start in August.  We're moving in six days back to the panhandle of Texas, close to where we grew up. 
It's impossible to put into words the emotions that Scott and I are feeling this week--our last week in California--but I am going to try, if only because I imagine that what we'll shortly be facing will obliterate all these feelings and bombard us with new ones.  And I feel as though this moment is important to remember.

We miss our friends already. And it is a deep, tender hurt that we haven't been able to talk about much yet. Not even to each other.

We feel as though life is heavy:  We're physically and mentally exhausted from packing, sorting, boxing, making hard decisions about what goes into a box and what goes to Goodwill or the trash.  But less than from these move-related issues, I think we're primarily still exhausted from working so many different and differently-difficult jobs while working on our Ph.D.s, which is a full time job in and of itself.  So, as we garner all the strength we have to pack our heavy material possessions (mainly books) and academic careers into cartons, we are also looking forward to what happens once we get to unpack.

We feel as though life won't get easier, but it will get less heavy:  There were points during these past five years at which Scott and I were each working four part-time very low-paying academic jobs.  At the same time.  Usually we were working three each.  We know that our teaching and service responsibilities at our new university will be more rigorous in many ways; but the good news is that we'll be in ONE location. ONE office.  For goodness sakes, I'll have an office!!!  With shelves and a door and everything.  And, right now, that makes all the difference in how much this one big job will weigh compared to all my small jobs added together.

We miss CGU, APU, and Glendora already.  We miss our mentors, the few professors who time and again reached out to us, and the important men and women who have shaped and guided our academic and spiritual growth during our time out here.

We miss the trees, the flowering bushes, the ocean, the foothills, the landscapes, and the color green already.  (Our new stomping ground will be rather more yellow and brown in hue than any other colors.)

We are hopeful and not a little anxious about Scott's part-time position turning into a full-time one.  The school has led us to believe that it's a real and likely possibility.  So, we wait.

We are overjoyed that we are coming home to three sweet nephews, one of which will be born this week.

We are blessed and happy that the school that offered the job was within an hour from either of our families.  (My mind is still a bit blown about this bit.)

We are halfway timid, halfway gung-ho about leaving student life behind.  Last night Scott mentioned that, up until this point, we've been working very hard toward the achievement of one very specific, defined goal--our Ph.D.s--and these tasks that we had to complete had very little relevance outside of that goal.  But now that we're doctors and becoming "real" professors, the things we do, write, say, publish, etc., have the potential to move us forward in our careers in ways that our Ph.D. work never could.

We're nervous about the logistics and the actual moving part of the move.  Excited about everything it symbolizes.

And, lastly, I believe we understand that this move is the beginning of the next phase of our marriage.  So far, we've only ever been doctoral students while we've been husband and wife.  And starting our careers and new phase of marriage beyond student life will be a change and challenge, but one that we're very ready for.  This change will lead the way through any number of doors in the future, such as the door to buying a house, or starting a family.  There was no way to do these things until we had passed this first big hurdle of graduating together and finding jobs at the right school.  The feeling--as scary as it is to think of buying a house or getting pregnant--is actually quite liberating.  We can choose these things now.  They are now tangible options.

So, as we move forward into the new era of our lives, I can't help but feel free and heavy at the same time.  One week from now, our immediate lives and home will be very different.