>Jane Eyre returns to Thornfield and finds it *not* a burning wreck

>So in the last post I mentioned that I was returning to the place where I once spent “The Summer I Was a Governess.” I have *many* stories to tell from that summer — though my only friend from those days (how sad and melancholy — *one* friend — it’s true!) thinks I should save them for a Nanny Diaries type novel. Suffice it to say for now that I was tricked into being a much-abused and exploited live-in babysitter, with responsibilities almost every day, all day, for a mere $15 a week, and that many of the other kids didn’t seem interested in being friends with “the help.” (Except for that one kind soul, who was the reason I returned to the place this week.)

*Anyway*, for the first time in 26 years, I went back to the sight of my indentured servitude, and I have to say that it was *great fun* being there as an adult with no children to look after! First of all, it’s a *beautiful* place. It was originally a retreat for a particular denomination of Protestant ministers and their families — not quite a Chautauqua, but related, I suppose — founded in 1901. And like many other places inspired by American Romanticism and the urge to get back to nature, it’s a bucolic and relaxing place, on a spit of land between one of the Great Lakes and a very large interior lake with the most crystalline water you’ve ever seen. Look! —

That water is up to the hem on my shorts (which are fairly short shorts), and I have long legs. And as you can see, it’s a sand-bottom lake, too, so there’s an actual sandy beach to lie on when you’re not in the water. Here’s a picture of part of the sandy beach with everyone’s beach chairs and water toys just sitting around waiting for them to come back for them (because you can do that there and your stuff will actually be there waiting for you!):

People who live at this summer resort live in “cottages” of various styles. Some are very traditional, like this one —

— and some are traditional ones expanded upon and made more awesome, like this one (*love* the tree through the roof line of the porch!):

And then there’s the fancy excess-of-the-80s might-as-well-be-a-full-time-house I lived in with the family I worked for:

Yeah, I know, poor me. But I’m telling you, I really did get a raw deal. (Though I did like “laying out” — as we used to say — on the deck on the back when I was home alone with the infant.)

By the way, I wouldn’t have been back at this place again if I weren’t still friends with the one kid I really befriended up there 26 years ago. In the intervening years we kept in touch almost entirely by writing — first hand-written letters, later e-mails, and now Facebook. We didn’t see each other again until 2004, here in Rust Belt. And then Bullock and I went to a wedding in my friend’s current vicinity and we saw him then. And then I saw him this week. Amazing, isn’t it?

Anyway, this time around I made a quick, 24-hour visit (plus the 5 hours of driving on each end) and did some of my favorite things to do in a place like this (short of swimming, since I currently don’t own a bathing suit that fits). Here’s a quick photo essay of my visit.

I relaxed on the cottage deck with a regional and seasonal beer:

I walked along the shore of the Great Lake with my friend, looking for interesting rocks:

I took pictures of interesting rocks:

I enjoyed the sunset over the Great Lake:

I relaxed in front of a bonfire on the shore of the Great Lake:

And I marveled some more at the clarity and calmness of the non-Great lake:

Oh yeah, and I slept *great* in the quiet and pitch-black dark of the woods.

All it took was 24 hours of awesome laziness to wipe out the summer of ’84. I’m now in love with the place and talking to Bullock about renting a place up there for two weeks next summer!

ETA: I should also add that all the people whom I met (or met again) who have been going to this summer spot since 1984 or before were *thrilled* to see me there again, and were warm and welcoming to me as an adult. I’m sure being 15 years old had something to do with my feeling like such an outsider back then.

>A blog of interest

>Ah summer. A time when I just don’t have that much of interest to blog. Sigh.

In the meantime, some of you may remember a certain piratically-inclined dessert and bread making friend of mine who blogged her Cookin’ School adventures. Well, she’s back to blogging at a blog called Stories That Are True. Only this time she’s in New Zealand. It’s a long story; I’ll let her tell it.

>A holy day of obligation I’ll never forget

>Growing up Catholic and going to 12 years of Catholic school, I had plenty of people to remind me back then of the various holy days of obligation (the ones lay Catholic are obliged to observe). Now I often don’t even know when Easter falls. But hey, it moves!

However, there’s one holy day I’ll never forget and that’s today, December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (not a movable feast). And that’s because it’s *also* my brother Fast Fizzy’s birthday (which means he always had the day off from Catholic school, the bastard!). And it is *also* his only child’s birthday, who was born on his 40th birthday — nice present, eh?

So happy birthday to Fast Fizzy and Youngest Niece, who turn 55 and 15 respectively today!

Oh, yeah, and happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception, too, if you celebrate it.

(FYI for those of you not in the know, the feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the conception of *Mary*, the mother of God, not her conception of Jesus. Oh, and “immaculate” means unmarked, spotless [as in sinless] — not miraculous, though I suppose it has a touch of the miraculous. Still, that’s not the primary meaning. Just think of someone’s “immaculately clean” house. While the “immaculate reception” was a funny *sounding* sports pun, it actually made no sense whatsoever. I’m still trying to figure out how a reception could be spotless. I suppose, though, it could be clean in an additional metaphorical sense, but that’s not what they were trying to convey. Anyway, this bothers me almost as much as the misuse of “literally” and “aggravating,” for which, see below. Usually I’m not this pedantic, but for some reason these three things get to me. Oh, and the redundancy of “irregardless.” Shudder. That one was made worse by the fact that I once had a boss who used that ‘word’ about 10 times a day, usually to mean, “Stop talking — I don’t care what you have to say,” so he was both rude and redundant.)

>A snapshot from the Virago-Bullock home

>On the taped episode of The Office we watched last night, Michael misused the word “literally” — as so many do — to describe something that was very obviously figurative. (I can’t remember what it was exactly, but that doesn’t really matter here.) The following exchange resulted:

Virago: I just love it when people misuse “literally” like that.

Bullock: Yeah, it’s really aggravating, isn’t it?


>Brief interruption in service

>I don’t know why I haven’t found time to blog substantively lately, but there it is. And, alas, it won’t be getting any better immediately, as Bullock and I are leaving for Paris in about 15 minutes. OK, we’re leaving for the *airport* in 15 fifteen minutes, but since I won’t be taking my lap top, that means there will be no blogging between 15 minutes from now and when we’re back a week from now.

Yes, it is our fall break week. Actually, the university only has half a week off, but I always give the graduate methods class the whole week off because it is the midpoint of the term and they need to get crackin’ on their research. And in my other class the students are also writing and researching up a storm at the moment, so I gave them the whole week off, too.

Bullock and I do hope to have lots of yummy food and see some sites, but the main reason I’m going is to meet up with Virgo Sis and scatter my mother’s ashes in the Jardin des Tuileries, one of her favorite places in Paris. Last time I was in that park with my mom and Sis, I was 9 years old and I left my purse on the back of a chair in an open-air cafe. I cried and cried and cried until we found it. This time I’ll be crying for another reason. And then we’ll go find somewhere to have good food and good wine. Mom would approve.

Blogging to recommence when I get back.

>Scenes from a cohabitation

>Life around chez Virago and Bullock has been a little tense lately. Oh, don’t worry, it’s nothing relationship-threatening — it’s not even about *us*. It’s just that we’ve both been sick lately, we’re both worried about our retirement investments (like every other couple in the country), we’ve both got relatives much closer to or in retirement who we know or surmise have even more to worry about (we’ve at least got many years to try and make it up), and on top of all that we’re in the midst of a tense contract vote at work that, if it passes, will gain our household a lot of income, but may hurt some of our friends on the health insurance side of things, and so we don’t know if it will pass or not, and if not, what happens next.

All of that is bad enough, but then to that add election season in the household of one wonk (Bullock) and one less wonky but informed and concerned citizen (me).

And if all of that weren’t crazy-making enough, Bullock is a Cubs fan. Or rather, a Cubs FAN, for I really need to emphasize the fandom part. Like all true Cubs fan, he is intensely devoted. Yes, he is really bummed right now. Honestly, I think they need to move election season away from play-off season, as there has been a LOT of yelling at the TV lately. It’s freaking Pippi and me out.

So, with all that in mind, I present you a scene from yesterday morning. It was my turn to walk Miss Pippilicious and it was drizzling pretty steadily, so I grabbed an old baseball cap from my closet, a cap I had purchased in the city of my graduate studies only because it had the initial of the city prominently displayed on it, which matched the general style of the cap of the team of my youth and also the cap of the team of my college and pre-grad school years in the Big Apple, both of which caps had long since worn out. I’m big on adopting the city in which I currently live as home. I really had no dedication to this team from the grad school years, or to any of those other teams (except maybe the team of my youth), so I wasn’t thinking. I was just thinking of protecting my head from the drizzle.

I walked out of the bedroom and met Bullock in the hall.

I’ve never seen a grown man look so sad before — like a kid whose ice cream just fell off the cone onto the sidewalk.

“You’re wearing a Dodgers cap! How could you?!?!”

I am a bad and thoughtless girlfriend.

>Feasting fatigue

>Bullock and I have spent today lounging around the house, because we last night we finally had the medieval feast we were planning to have to celebrate my getting tenure, and we’re exhausted. Bullock spent all day in the kitchen yesterday (while I straightened and cleaned the house and occasionally helped in the kitchen) and still we weren’t quite ready for the party start time. The scene for the first hour and half of the party was like something out of Dinner Impossible or some other stress-filled cooking show, as we desperately tried to get everything ready *and* entertain guests — including introducing a lot of folks who’d never met each other.

But it all ended up a success, I think. Aside from the food — which I’ll get to in a moment — the social elements all came together. Three Western Canadians bonded with each other; the five kids of four different couples formed their own little society and pretty much spent the evening entertaining themselves; Pippi slept in her crate without a fuss and behaved herself when she was let out (and was much admired when she was); people drove from literally hours away to come, my friend the Big Teutonic Queer coming from the farthest (2 1/2 hours by car); a possible job opportunity was made; the people whom we know *don’t* get along managed to be civil and avoid each other; and the aforementioned BTQ fell madly in platonic love with a certain well-coiffed medievalist from a similar institution in a neighboring state (but then who *doesn’t* love her??) and my chair ooh’ed and ah’ed over said medievalist’s cool jewelry. Everyone, in short, seemed to have a great time. As one person remarked, “You have some *very* cool friends.” Yes I do!

I have to say, though, I always feel a little like a latter-day Mrs. Dalloway at these moments, because whenever I throw a party (not counting the smaller affairs Bullock and I have thrown together or where the guest list has consisted of our usual suspects, all mutual friends), I invite all my friends that I know from various circumstances, and it becomes clear to me — and in fact has been pointed out to me at various times in my life — that I know a lot of people and seem to get along with a lot of different kinds of people. Now, in this case, it was mostly academics, but there were, at least, people from different fields and institutions, and, as I mentioned, many who had never met before. And I enjoy watching them come together and get to know each other. But whenever it’s my own party, I always feel a little like I’m *merely* watching, and I never get to talk to any one person for very long because I’m always flitting from one to the next. I suppose, though, that’s the nature of being the hostess. Thank god it’s not a role I relish taking on frequently.

Bullock’s situation was even more distant from the festivities. With the madness of still rushing around to get the food going as guests arrived, the cooking duties fell even heavier on his shoulders and I don’t think he got to leave the kitchen much at all. But for all his work — and his ingenuity in overriding or adapting some of the directions in the recipe books — we were rewarded with a slew of fabulous dishes, most of which we’d never made or tasted before (a bold risk for any party hosts!). Here’s a picture of the spread and a close up of one of the pies; following that is a list of the dishes and our sources:

In the top picture, front row to back left to right, you see:

– Boiled shrimp with a cold citrus and herb sauce (sauce recipe adapted from the blood orange and sorrel sauce in Pleyn Delit)

– Saracen Stew (a Middle Eastern style beef stew from Pleyn Delit) — this was the biggest hit of the night, even with the kids

– Two Salmon Pies which really tested people’s limits for the more exotic elements of medieval cooking, because they featured the medieval taste combination of sweet and savory — along with the salmon, they were filled with dates, figs, currants, raisins, and pine nuts (from Fabulous Feasts). People either loved or hated this one.

– Regular old loaf of bread (we cheated – we bought it and its mate). There were no trenchers involved in this feast, btw. We served everything buffet style (obviously) with paper plates and plastic utensils, including forks.

– Two Pies of Parys (beef and veal meat pies — very tasty as cold leftovers, btw) — from Pleyn Delit.

– Another loaf of bread next to an earthenware jug that later contained the “Creme Bastard” (a cream sauce) for the dessert that’s in the back row

– Two Tarts de Bry (brie) — the only dish I’d had before — available in both Pleyn Delit and Fabulous Feasts, I think.

– Salat (green salad of a very herbaceous sort — lots of mint, parsley, fennel, thyme, garlic scapes, green onions and the like, as well as leafy green) – from Pleyn Delit.

[Non food items — sunflower given to my by my department chair and castle pop-up book given to me by the BTQ, which made an excellent table decoration!]

– Cherry Bread Pudding (read that as ‘cherry pudding with bread in it’ — not really bread pudding in the modern sense — this dish was the only real disappointment for Bullock and me) — this was served with the “Creme Bastard” — both from Pleyn Delit.

[Non food item – gorgeous roses given to me by a colleague and friend]

Not pictured: “Ravioles,” aka cheese ravioli, which are not only medieval, but also something we knew the kids would eat. We didn’t make them ourselves — although a recipe is in Pleyn Delit — but purchased them from Costco. Shhhh. We also served them bagel dogs — *not* part of the medieval theme, clearly.

People brought an assortment of drinks (including a gift of Chaucer’s Mead from my chair!), but we started everyone off with Belgian Trappist ales, Monty Python’s Holy Grail ale, chilled mead, white and red wine, and, best of all, a Spicy Pomegranate and Gin Cocktail that we concocted by adapting the mulled pomegranate juice recipe in Pleyn Delit. Yummy!

Oh, and as a post script: my friends Victoria and Milton gave me Beowulf the Game for Play Station (yes, we now have a Play Station). Hey, it can’t be worse than the movie, right?

>Bullock is the man!

>Bullock is on sabbatical for the entire year this coming academic year (08/09) and I’m deeply envious. I won’t be able to take a sabbatical until 2010/11. I’m eligible starting in 09/10, but I won’t be able to schedule it for another year. Seeing him not having to prepare for the coming semester is making the wait that much harder for me.

But that’s not why he’s the man. He’s the man because he’s just been invited to be a (modestly) paid keynote speaker elsewhere and because he’s going to some hoity-toity small conference in the winter where each of the speakers are having their travel costs totally paid for.

Bullock is, for the moment, leading that mythical professorial life, where he’s being paid to do his research and only his research (though granted, at RBU, a full year’s sabbatical means a pretty significant reduction in pay) and is being paid honoraria by others to fly around and present it. He’s like a social science version of a David Lodge character or something.

See — he’s the man!

>Dog tired


My two redheads, Bullock and Pippi, having fallen asleep
while watching TV(well, Bullock was watching anyway)

This is how we all feel around here these days. The last two weeks have been utterly exhausting and there’s still more exhausting stuff to come, in addition to the usual end-of-the-semester / getting-ready-for-Kalamazoo craziness. And Bullock and I are particularly exhausted because Pippi has decided she’s a morning dog. A very early morning dog. She wakes us up at 5:30 now. Anyone have any hints for getting a dog to sleep in later?

>Good news!

>No, it’s not about sweet faced Betty the Brittany — still no word on when our home visit and meet-up will be, and now there’s another applicant interested in her, so there’s competition! Oh no!

But never mind that. I’ve got other good news: my bestest friend from grad school, D., got a tenure-track job offer! Yay! And there’s a chance he’ll get a counter-offer from the place where he’s a VAP. He might have choices! Woo-hoo! This is after at least four years on the market, and only this year did he get campus visits. He’s an Americanist and works on 20th century fiction, so he’s in what seems to me just about the hardest sub-field of English there is because there are only a handful of jobs out there every year and tons and tons of applicants. He’s been moving around from one short-term contract position to another for the last four years and my heart was vicariously breaking for him every time job season didn’t work for him. But now I get to celebrate with him over his good news! Yay!

On a slightly less celebratory note: this reminds me of Squadratomagico’s post on what sacrifices we make in this profession (which I’ve been meaning to respond to more personally, but haven’t gotten a chance to do). D. is only a year younger than I am — he’s 37 — and he entered grad school with me in the same year in the mid-90s, after having taken off 2 years between college and grad school. And he’s only now getting his first stable, full-time job at 37. Bullock’s story — in a different discipline — is similar: really competitive sub-field with only a handful of jobs, many years of VAP jobs, and no stable employment until he was 35, even though he only took one year off between college and grad school and moved through his Ph.D. faster than either D. or I did.

I think D. will be really happy in his job whether he takes the one being offered or gets a counter offer at his current institution and stays there. And he’s a fabulous teacher and an incredibly smart and creative thinker with much to contribute to his field. I can also see him forging a a career as a public intellectual as well as a more specialized scholar, and so I think the greater intellectual world will benefit from his continued presence in it. And so I’m very, very happy for him. But damn, it took him a lot of super-human perseverance and patience and hope and fortitude to get there, as well as a lot of emotional, personal, and financial sacrifices. I need to tell D.’s story to my students every year in my “intro to grad study” class (especially since a number of them are interested in 20th century American literature), only in that version of the story, the focus will not be on the happy ending. Instead, I’ll start there and work backwards, so they have a better sense of what happens along the way.

But for now, I just want to jump for joy and celebrate with D. Yay, D.!