Sunday, January 30, 2011

Liquor and Blueberries

J and I are making booze and getting ready to travel for a research trip. Lots and lots of blueberry booze. Left is the blueberry liquer steeping next to our creepy Canadian Mounty full of wild rice, which I keep on our kitchen window sill to remind me of Snowy City and of creepy novelty plastic. Unlike the clemantines in brandy, which are still visible, the blueberries in vodka are PITCH BLACK. There's a little edge of purple when the bottle is turned, but it's so dark you can't even see the berries. Both the blueberries and the clemantines will steep for two weeks, then get strained and decanted with some sugar syrup to cut the bite. And then they will be delicious.

We froze five pounds of blueberries last summer when we got them cheap, with the intention of making mead with them, and they finally lost the competition for freezer space this week. About a pound ended up in vodka. The other four pounds did make it into the mead.

Four pounds of blueberries went in with six pounds of honey and a whole lot of hot water and some yeast, and went into the secondary fermenter yesterday tasting ok but a little too bitter on the back end. The only brewshop in the little city of Overcast has a very limited selection of yeasts, so I used a champagne yeast for this and for the pear cider, and it has a definite champagne taste. I'm not a fan of champagne. (Crazy, I know!) The booming metropolis of Snowy City had one of the best homebrew shops in the country right down the street from my undergrad, and they carried a yeast recommended for ciders and meads. I might have to switch to mail ordering my yeasts; the brewshop here also has a very disappointing selection of malted grain and hops. We also pitched our first beer this week (yay! A post just on that later), and were pretty limited by the selection.

But between the pear cider, the blueberry mead, and the beer, we're going to run out of bottles pretty soon and have a lot of alcohol in the house, even if we give away a lot of it. The pear cider, which was only three gallons, bottled up to thirteen wine bottles. Six of those are going to friends tomorrow and one's already been drank. But still--that leaves six wine bottles. Need more friends. I spent all fall going crazy with all the boxes of beer and wine bottles stacking up in my office, but we might have to start up collection again. I'm contemplating giving a bottle to Dr. Asiago, but I don't know if that would be too awkward.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Of a sort. I finished Dr. Asiago's book, and I feel horrible saying this, but it was so boring. He does military/political/diplomatic history, and I'm much more interested in social/cultural/diplomatic history. We're interested in many of the same historiographic issues, and of course, the same groups and periods, but very different approaches to them. Not that I have issues with them as scholarly work--there are parts that I'll be re-reading because they say complex things very clearly, but the military/political angle puts me right to sleep.

Also got some writing done. J was off work Tuesday and Thursday (his days off are intermittant and a little random, since he's working retail) and he did some huswifery while I shut myself away in the office to write. Tuesday we got a lot done; we're starting to experiment with making liqueurs, so while J was rolling out forgotten Christmas cookie dough, I put some clemantines and cloves in brandy to sit. Hopefully in 2-3 weeks it'll turn out like homemade Cointreau. Also we drank beer while J made cookies and I wrote fellowship apps and my prospectus; a beer with lunch makes fellowship apps much easier to get to.

I feel like I spend the majority of my time applying for money to do research instead of doing research. They've definitely gotten easier to whip out once I get going, and doing the prospectus has given me some good canned answers to "why this topic? what the historiographic significance?" but they're still so time consuming. They all want slightly different things, and there's so much groundwork before the writing even starts. I just need time away from Overcast Town with no teaching to keep pulling me back here so I can get some research trips in. The library at Snooty U is good about ordering material and getting microfilm, but I hardly have time to keep up with the reading for the class I TA, let alone sit in the library basement for days on end and read microfilm. Especially if I keep getting assigned to teach 20th century courses I have no background or training in. Seriously, why assign an early Americanist to TA courses on 20th century music and politics? I know there's a value in teaching outside the comfort zone, but I barely had 20th century feminism in my comp fields for women's history, and there's not the remotest chance that I'll ever have to teach a 20th century survey.

But I've finally finished J's Christmas socks, so I'm starting a hat for me (pictures later). Yesterday we also finally got our pear cider bottled, after it sat in secondary fermentation for several months. We brewed it in October right after my exams, but never had time to bottle with the holidays, so the upside is that as soon as it's done carbonating, it'll be ready to drink immeadiately. It's definitely smoothed out quite a bit since it was racked. Tomorrow before J goes to work we're going to pitch a blueberry mead (honey wine) and put up a blueberry liqueur. We're just using frozen grocery store blueberries, but I'm excited, and it should be a pretty color.

Monday, January 17, 2011

On Writing

Or at least, on writing the prospectus. My program requires a prospectus/dissertation proposal to be submitted within three months of the comprehensive exams, and I submitted it in time for the official deadline, but my advisor wants another draft done with more substance, or lit review, or something. At least he gave me a lot of comments to work on, as per his usual.

My problem is that I lost all my momentum over the holiday. After a series of small but exhausting family crises, I can't get my head back in the right place. I work best when my partner J is at work and I can devote long, uninterrupted blocks of time to writing, and I had that today, but all I've accomplished is rewriting a few pages of my prospectus. My advisor wants me to elaborate on why I want to write what I want to write, which is important to articulate, but so much harder than just writing BS. It's not that I don't want to work on the prospectus, or that I'm tired of my topic, but that I feel like I lost all the words I crammed into my head last semester. I spent the summer and fall semester of 2010 pushing all of these things into my head so that I would be able to cite on command, and I was able to do that at the end of the semester; that's how I passed my comp exams. And now it feels like it's all gone. I wrote the prospectus with authors in mind, but didn't include them because it wasn't required. Now my advisor wants names and detailed historiography, and I feel like I'm back in my first semester of grad school and I have to re-read review articles to remember who wrote what.

The writing is happening, it's just going very slowly. I think the rest of tonight will be spent trying to finish reading my advisor's book; it came out in October, just after I finished my exams, and I didn't feel like I had the brain power to finish it, so I'm only about half way through it. (I'm a bad advisee). It's both a daunting and a boring read. Boring because I can't skim it for major arguments like I usually do, both because I already know his major arguments and because I need to know what he thinks of some details. Daunting because, for good or bad, my research and my advisor's area of research cover the same groups, the same players, many of the same concerns and mostly the same time period, which means that his books feels sort of like a crib sheet for my work. What does he think of this guy? Check chapter one. What does he think this group was doing? Check chapter three. But maybe finishing the book will help me avoid putting my foot in my mouth in the prospectus.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


I'm using a few of my days (sort of) off before classes start to do some organizing, laundry, and general huswifery. We had a lot of people over right before the holidays, and between that, letting things slide for finals, and then going to my parents' for a few weeks and leaving my partner J home by himself, things need to get straightened back up. J does the majority of our housework, like dishes, cooking, and sweeping/mopping, but he's not very good at landing things where they need to go (or at least, where I think they need to go). And my sewing machine is in the shop with something wrong in the bobbin case, so I might as well make the office/sewing room usable again before I make more messes in there. My poor house plants in the office aren't too happy with J's overwatering and underwatering over the holiday, but that's also partly because our little town of Overcast has been so cloudy all winter.

I feel bad sometimes about all the housework J does, because sometimes it feels like we're replicating the old academic roles of disengaged academic and housebound non-academic spouse with the genders reversed, but then I get over it. Our third anniversary (of dating, not marriage) is this weekend, and we moved in together permanently about six months ago. We started dating in college right after I'd decided to move halfway across the country from Snow City to Overcast to go to Snooty U for grad school, and we planned on dating only for the rest of that academic year. Well, that didn't work out, and we decided to go long distance even though he had another two years of college left (I know, robbing the cradle). He graduated this spring and moved out here, which kind of put his career on hold because there's only work in his field here during the summer. He's working at a wine store for the winter, which is at least something he enjoys and which gets us free wine, but I worry that for all my feminism I'm just replicating old gender roles. At least he's not supporting me through grad school and we don't have that sitting between us. Living together certainly lets us afford a better apartment than either of us could afford separately, but that doesn't bother me so much. I think we're doing ok with it by talking the issue to death every time something happens, but I hate to make someone a trailing spouse since (I hate to admit it) I'm not sure that I would be able to be the trailing spouse myself.

Back to the organizing. My desk has been taken over by stacks of paper, electronics, and piles of art that need frames or hangers or just wall space. And a puzzle we started before Christmas and haven't finished yet. I have a little collection of vintage souvenir plates, and I got six more for Christmas that have to get put up somewhere, plus prints and photos that have been sitting around for months. I'm much less productive trying to write on the couch or at the kitchen table (couch + computer = Internet for me), so getting the desk cleared up and organized again will get me back to work. And I'm telling myself I need a few days to recover from being with my family for the holiday (I just flew back to Overcast the day before the first post here). Plus there's the problem that my sewing pile and fabric stash overflowed from its dresser in the spare bedroom and all over my desk chair, so that has to get taken care of and put away somewhere first. And then some felllowship applications will get written, and there will be a research trip later this month, and then I will do some sewing as a reward.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Square One

Well, it's not exactly square one, because I'm ABD and in the third year of my program, but it's basically square one as far as the dissertation goes. I went ABD in October and I've made very little progress since. One archive visit, some secondary source sifting, and no writing.

I'm in an early American history program, and the dissertation will have feminism, archaeology, material culture, critical race theory, chemistry, religion, and maybe a dog and pony show for good measure. My advisor (who we'll call Dr. Asiago, because his real name sounds like a different sort of cheese) refers to the dissertation like it's its own person: "The dissertation should locate itself at the intersection of X and Y fields; the dissertation has to grab attention; the dissertation can't lose energy." He says I should keep a writing journal, but he also has stacks of paper falling over in his office and walls of filing cabinets. I bought my first little two-drawer filing cabinet this summer and I can't bring myself to make more things I'll have to file later. I'm sure he'd hate to know that I'm starting a dissertation blog, but I'm sure he'd also hate to know that I'm planning on sewing a couple of dresses when I finish my next round of fellowship applications, instead of jumping straight into more fellowship applications.

But hopefully the blog will keep me honest. Being ABD, my only responsibilities are TAing a course unrelated to my dissertation this semester, and I'm hoping to get a couple of short research trips in this semester instead of staying home and fretting. I'm trying to keep my responsibilities and commitments down to leave me time for writing, because in college I had periods of over-commitment when I didn't know whether I was coming or going, but I seem to get more done when I have some deadlines to work towards. Maybe the next step will be goal setting, but first I have to figure out a starting point.