18
Sep
11

comfort food

I think I’m having a midlife crisis.

Okay, I won’t soft-pedal it; I’m having a midlife crisis.

I can’t alleviate this crisis by leaving my husband and taking up with someone younger/richer/more handsome because I love him dearly and right now he seems like maybe one of the few things I’ve “done” right in my life, and I can’t imagine a day without him.

Besides, the crisis is mostly professional. For the first 10 years after my masters degree I mostly raised children. I couldn’t figure out how to practice 4+ hours a day, teach enough students to help make our budget more-or-less balance-able, and take care of busy toddler boys, so I just did the latter 2 out of 3. I played when I could, a little collaborative work here and there for area graduate students and miscellaneous faculty, accompanying my bff Jackie’s violin studio when she took them to contests or played recitals, that kind of stuff.

I’ve since spent the last 14 years as an adjunct at various colleges, while adopting my daughter from Korea and completing my DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) degree in 2005. This was prompted by the realization, as I worked as an adjunct in various college/university music departments, that I was as good a performer and probably a better teacher than a lot of the people I was working with, who had full-time, tenure-track jobs, so why shouldn’t I go for it? But you won’t even be considered for such a position without a Doctorate these days, so, after 5 years of 100-mile-each-way commutes, reading and writing and practicing and studying and performing while still being the primary parent (oldest son was 10 when I started), I had a DMA. And now I’m a fully-credentialed musician in a world with way more fully-credentialed musicians than there are jobs, and in an academic climate which favors piece-work-paid adjuncts over full-time professorships.

I don’t know the numbers on how many pianists graduated with DMAs in the past year, but there is currently ONE tenure-track position in piano posted at the College Music Society. One. In the whole country. One.

So, I’m having a crisis, and as far as I can tell, there are two things I can do about it:

1.) I can suck it up, be grateful I have any work at all, and continue to work at ~ 25% pay for the rest of my life (when compared to what full-time, tenure-track faculty are paid) or

2.) I can find something else to do, and by this I mean something for which I will be paid, which does not include such activities as writing a blog that 135 people read every day or eating my weight in potato chips. Fun as these activities may be, they do not contribute to paying the mortgage.

So. What are my options?

1.) Areas I am interested in and could maybe make a living at:

a) Nursing. Would have to start from scratch, reconcile myself to being a complete “newb” at the age of 50, and probably do things like hold bedpans and inject people with needles.

b) English/Language Arts for secondary school instruction. Would have to  start from scratch, reconcile myself to probably 4 years of school while still paying off loans from my DMA pursuit, still teaching, which can be rewarding, but is also frustrating as there seems to be a general dearth of curiosity/interest in learning amongst “students” today. And are there any teaching jobs anymore?

c) Writing for Pay. Have written two children’s books that start “Nicholas Picholas Tickle-Me . . .” and based on the mischievous antics of my now 18-year old. Also started one called “Hannah’s Hungry,” but haven’t finished it. Don’t know how to get them published, can’t seem to find anyone else who knows. Presumably this is done, routinely, given the number of books out there. And some of them are really dreadful. Have also considered trying to write articles and submit them to magazines, but have not done so, partially in interests of time. Also have a few short story ideas and a family history/memoir/birth-order-memory-what-makes-us-who-we-are book idea but not enough time to really pursue them. Would have to take some time off from earning actual money to see if these lead anywhere, and no windfall/lottery wins/inheritances in sight. Also feel like it’s an act of supreme arrogance to think that I have anything to say that that many people would want to read, and yet here I am. . .

d) Opening some kind of bed-and-breakfast. What I would really like is to move to Italy and buy a few acres and a little villa somewhere and grow my own grapes and host and cook for tourists. I could even teach piano lessons to all the little Italian children in the area, but would have to improve my Italian first. Or offer it as piano -and-English-lessons or something. Although sometimes I don’t even want to teach any more.

Sigh.

Lots of ideas, lots of ways to talk myself out of them.

I joke sometimes that my life’s goal is

2) to be a kept woman.

I don’t think I would be very good at it, though. This is the first semester in a few years I haven’t taught a Music Appreciation class, and, despite still having a pretty full teaching schedule, the lack of this prep has made my days seem rather long.

I’m trying to talk Husband into a dog. A little white Havanese, named Zuzu.

What do you think?

Meanwhile, I can always cook. Am making gumbo today. Have thought about starting a second blog called “Soupy Sundays,” and making a different soup every Sunday and writing about my life, my week, what’s going on with my “crisis” although it seems a little too Julie Powell.

Maybe just a new category then.

Today’s soup:

Gumbo

Heat 1/2 c. canola oil in a large cast-iron soup pot, then whisk in 1/2 c. whole wheat flour and lower the heat to low/low-medium. Allow to brown for 5-10 minutes, whisking occasionally.

Meanwhile, chop:

1/2 large onion

3 stalks celery

1 large red pepper

1/2 lb. okra (slices)

2 cloves garlic (slice, then mince)

Add the vegetables to the roux, stirring to coat, and allow the vegetables to begin to soften.

Add 8 c. chicken stock (recipe below), 1/2 tsp. cayenne or 1 or 2 dried red chilies, snipped into flakes, or 1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes (use both cayenne and pepper flakes/chilies if you like it really spicy), 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp coarse black pepper.

Bring to a boil, then add

12-16 ozs. andouille sausage (the nitrite-free kind if you can find it)

and allow the soup to simmer for as long as you’d like — 1 – 3 hours.

A few minutes before being ready to eat, add 1 lb. of peeled shrimp (the big ones are great, but cut in half so you have bite-size portions in your soup spoon), bring soup to boil and boil just long enough to cook the shrimp.

Serve with a crusty bread, and over cooked rice if desired.

I’d include a picture, but the shrimp aren’t in the pot yet, and I’m drying 7 bags of leftover bread bits on my stove, so I’m a little embarrassed. Maybe next time.

Homemade chicken stock

Every self-respecting cook should make this themselves. Way too much sodium in even the low-sodium kinds, and it’s easy. I like to roast a chicken for an easy meal, and then make the stock overnight.

In a large soup pot, put one chicken carcass, and add water to cover by several inches. Add coarsely chopped onions and celery (the top part with the leaves is the best), a handful of whole peppercorns, a couple bay leaves. You can leave the skin on the onion if you want a golden broth, and add garlic or carrots if you want it more flavorful, but this will make it a little less adaptable for certain recipes because the garlic especially adds a very distinctive flavor. I don’t use any salt, so I am free to salt the final dish.

Cover and bring to a boil, and then allow to simmer for HOURS. We often leave this overnight and put it in a bowl to chill the next morning.

This part is important: Pour the stock through a strainer into a large bowl, and chill the broth thoroughly; then skim the fat off the top before putting into 4-cup containers to put in the freezer.

 

Meanwhile, if anyone has any life- or career advice: Please share!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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