My Culinary Skills

Might as well get it out there now, so I don’t have to worry about being “outed” at an inconvenient time: I’m a vegetarian. Yup, no meat, no fish, no birds, nothing that eats or shits, as my stepdaughter, Kelly, would say.

I am not a radical, not on a mission to change anyone’s lifestyle; this is just my own way of being comfortable with who I am and what I eat. My husband and my son are both omnivores, and we coexist peacefully, except when I push the zucchini a little too enthusiastically.

Lovin Spoonful
Lovin’ Spoonfuls

However, once-in-a-while, I make a dish so good that even Chuck doesn’t complain. Last night, I made Vegetarian Cowboy Casserole and Lovin’ Spoonful buttermilk cornmeal side. If you judge this meal on the photos alone, you would be incorrect on a couple counts. First, the Cowboy Casserole tasted much better than it looks, and it looks darn good. Made with soy protein (I know, I know), black beans, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, onion, mushroom soup, spices and cheese, this is a comfort food if ever there was one. Chuck gobbled it.

The Lovin’ Spoonfuls, however, looks much better than it actually turned out. I think it was operator error, but as lovely as it looked on top, it was watery and under-cooked inside, and after a littler longer in the oven, it firmed up a bit, but it still lacked flavor. It was disappointing to create such a work of art that tasted like paper.

I became vegetarian, wholly, in December of 2008, almost eight years ago. Prior to that, I hadn’t eaten red meat of any kind for probably ten years, working my way up to completely vegetarian. I’m not vegan; I eat dairy products and eggs, and I wear leather shoes and love my leather seats in my Subaru. I’m just happier eating a vegetarian diet, knowing that I’m not directly responsible for the deaths of other sentient beings. Do I still own some culpability because I eat dairy products, wear leather, and eat eggs? Sure. I’m not perfect, just working on a better version of me.

To the New Year!

Everyone has a bad day from time to time, but sometimes the negativity or doldrums, whatever you want to call it, seems to affect an entire year. Because teachers work on an academic year, somewhere from September to the end of May, we often think of our “years” as beginning and ending with the school calendars; I do, and that’s why I said farewell to the 2015-2016 academic year wearily, glad to see it go. Maybe it was my career equivalent of the seven-year-itch that some people experience in their marriages, but I did not revel in—not like I have in the past—my last year of teaching.

Last year was a very successful year for me professionally in a variety of ways. I piloted a “learning community” cohort during the fall semester, and while there were bumps in the road and learning curves for all of us, we called it a success at the end, and I learned a lot from the experience. Elected faculty senate vice-chair, I represented my colleagues at two Board of Regents meetings as a member of MUSFAR, the university system faculty organization that attends those meetings. I received an important award, a faculty excellence award given only once a year to a member of Helena College’s faculty, and the significance of that still causes me pause at times. With that award came a trip to Chicago to the League of Innovation annual conference, with recognition of my award. That happened in March. I received official notification that my application for promotion was approved last month. More importantly, I met another group of students whom I genuinely, thoroughly loved getting to know and work with, both fall and spring semesters.

Despite all that, and I admit with all due humility that it’s impressive, I constantly felt defeated, out of my league, suspicious of others, angry and disappointed by the everyday, ordinary frustrations that arise, especially in education, and on the very verge of throwing up my hands and making a major career change. Each day was another conscious struggle to stay upbeat and not allow my negative mood to get the best of me, and serious conflicts or challenges nearly sent me into a deep depression. More than once I bit my lip as tears threatened to spill over, but sometimes it didn’t help; the tears came anyway. I felt uninspired, dull, tired, and disillusioned, and many times I wanted to quit.

My summer goal was twofold: to improve my lousy attitude and to prepare well for the coming semester, and I was able to do both. Through dozens of trails and thousands of steps (I track with my Fitbit!) with some solid friends and a beloved cousin, I hiked in the most beautiful state in the country, leaving unhealthy thoughts behind, one step at a time. From Canyon Ferry to Seeley Lake to Tongue River Reservoir and Glacier National Park, Chuck and I camped and let our daily pace slow enough that we could ponder, actually just ponder. There’s no time for that during the school year. We spent time with family and friends—I even made it to Havre this year and reconnected with Lauren and Terry—and we have a big wedding coming up this weekend.

Professionally, I worked all summer but at a leisurely pace. I read and planned lessons, changed lessons, planned some more and then read some more. I pushed myself to reach a little further as a teacher and demand that of my future students, too. It’s exciting; I have high expectations for the coming year, and I’ve already got conferences planned and workshops scheduled, collaborations that will help to invigorate me even more. It really feels like I’ve broken the spell of darkness and desolation I felt last year, and I feel the way I used to: excited, focused, motivated, and in love with my life’s work.

I wish I could have enjoyed last year more, but maybe it was a time of growth for me. Maybe it was something I had to go through to get where I’m at now. I’m incredibly grateful to the people who support me, even when I’m miserable to work with and be around, and I’m also grateful I didn’t give in to the urge to quit because this year is going to be a great one. I’m exactly where I am supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and it doesn’t get any better than this. Come on, 2016-2017: Bring It!!