Truly Guilty Pleasures

So today I’m going to tell you all about some pleasures I indulge in that are really and truly embarrassing. This isn’t going to be a post about eating chocolate and watching The Bachelor (I’m so BAD you guys!). This is a post about listening to the Dave Ramsey Show and watching Alaska: The Last Frontier. I know. I know.

First up, the lesser of the two evils:

This a show about a clan of homesteaders who live off the land in Homer, Alaska. Most of the Kilchers live in cabins without modern plumbing or electricity. Each episode is basically people saying over and over again how important it is to provide for yourself and [emphasis theirs] your family with, as the opening song says, “blood, sweat and tears.” The evils of meat purchased in plastic packaging (as opposed to meat that you kill yourself) at the grocery store are invoked on a regular basis. This show is basically Little House on the Prairie with good-looking libertarian hippies. Why is it so appealing to me? Because it is basically Little House on the Prairie with good-looking hippies.*

Next up is possibly the most embarrassing culture I consume:

According to his website, Dave Ramsey “lost everything”** and then got out of debt trouble by working hard and living on “beans and rice” for two years. He produces a lot of media, but my poison of choice is his call-in radio show which is Dave telling people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps over and over again. It is really difficult to acknowledge the reasons I like listening to this show regularly. I tell myself that it’s because he uses “butt” and “rip” as expletives in a way that fires up my nostalgia for all of the Baptist men of my youth.

But the real reason I regularly consume both of these shows is awful: I love escaping into the fantasy that individuals (like me!) have complete control over their own lives. It’s comforting to have someone tell me over and over again that all I have to do to become rich is stick to a barebones budget for a couple of years and pay off every cent of my debt. Work hard, these shows tell me, and I’ll be okay in the end. Delay gratification for a few years, and I’ll be set:

These shows are doing a lot of terrible things on a cultural level. The worst, though, is that they obscure the role of wider communities and/or systems in individuals’ lives. The Kilchers are filmed growing their own produce, butchering their own livestock and clearing land for a new cabin. But of course we never see them filling their ATVs’ gas tanks or buying their Carhartt coveralls.*** Dave talks about how he started with “nothing” and became a millionaire by 26 through his own hard work. He of course fails to mention his wealthy parents and supportive wife. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t even occur to him to talk about his built-in race/gender/health privileges. Really, it’s probably too much to expect a conservative like him to publicly acknowledge any of his myriad privileges.**** However, I do think it’s irresponsible and downright cruel to tell literally millions of poor people that the only thing keeping them from being rich is themselves. Okay, I’ve talked myself into un-subscribing again. But I’m keeping my Alaska episodes.

Do y’all have a taste for evil culture?


*It’s worth mentioning that while looking for clips, I was for some time distracted by another, potentially worse guilty pleasure:

**The rich white dude version of losing everything, which is getting into massive amounts of debt in real estate holdings.

***To be fair, though, they often talk about bartering with neighbors and many of the episodes feature the three families helping one another out. Also, they do a lot of Depression-era-style recycling. This makes it okay that I have purchased not one, but two season passes, right?

****He could actually have acknowledged this stuff by talking about his “blessings.” Are “blessings” the conservative’s version of privileges?

Relaxing: A Guide

One fundamental tenet of my whole life-system is that working at a steady and regular pace is the only way I can survive. But then there are times when an epic vortex of deadlines messes up my rigid schedule of 30 minutes of writing in the morning, never working on weekends, and only working on two projects at a time. This is what happened over the the Christmas/New Years holiday for me. Not to mention family stuff.

Anyways, I am cooked. I am exhausted. And now I have to go on holiday. Unfortunately I don’t have any money so I will be spending this holiday at home. Let the unfortunately named “stay-cation” commence! After a tsunami of work, it is actually difficult to enter relaxation mode (which I would like to clarify is never hard for me in normal life ’cause YouTube and TV, duh). So, like all ladies of habit I think I need a list to ground me.

1. Media–I have planned this vacation perfectly because just as I am beginning my vacation ALL THE TV IS COMING BACK! The Good Wife, Girls, Silicon Valley.

Also, it is my most sacred time of the year: Awards Season! I am making a list of all the movies I haven’t seen that are up for awards (it is critical to realize that this is not the same thing as the best movies of the year), and I am knocking them off day by day. Nightcrawler, Foxcatcher, Still Alice, Cake and Selma, I will see them all. But even I cannot bring myself to see Unbroken, so that will be my Warhorse of 2014. Finally I have also timed my vacation perfectly for the NFL post-season! I know, I’m a bundle of contradictions.

2. Cleaning. I know this is sad. But I actually won’t be able to enjoy my home until I give the whole thing a complete cleaning. Maybe I’ll even buy some Meyer’s cleaning spray in a fun new scent like “Rosemary.”

3. Cooking. One of the things I am looking forward to most is doing everything really inefficiently. First I will dwaddle around reading recipes in the Ottolenghi cookbook I got from C., then I will amble around the grocery store comparing prices, then I will cook these new recipes while listening to podcasts. THIS WILL TAKE HOURS. I will also exercise a lot, but go to fitness classes that are really far away and walk very very slowly home (bonus = more podcast time).

Finally, once this is all done, once I have reached a true state of relaxation, I might call and write back all the friends and family who I have completely ignored. At this point it might even cause me joy instead of anxiety to think about this task.


D.’s 2014 Resolutions

I love that because of LoH I can check my resolutions from last year. I did okay. I definitely walked a ton more because a. I stopped having two jobs and b. I signed up for Classpass which means I walk for 45 min. a day to get to and from my fitness classes. But the real lesson here is that working less for the same amount of money makes your life better. The dirty secret of self-improvement is that everyone who makes less than $40,000 a year would be happier if they made more money. Done, the end.

My other resolution was to wear more winged eyeliner. I have totally failed on this front because winged eyeliner is THE hardest. But, 2014 was the year I learned how to contour and that is good enough for me.

So in the spirit of LoH’s endless quest for self perfection (with reasonable qualifiers about the limitations of self reform in the long shadow of The Man), here are my 2015 resolutions:

1. I will put on clothes everyday. For many of you this might seem obvious, but I spend many days in my pajamas or in workout clothes. The workout clothes one is really pernicious, because it easy to feel like you got dressed when you have changed out of your pajamas and into a new outfit. But for the sake of my marriage, my dignity, and the cause of women everywhere, I commit to wearing a zipper or button everyday.

2. I will commit to dealing with my hair at least once a month. I don’t mean get a full-on haircut because those cost a million dollars. But even if it means walking into the terrifying russian barbershop (or the even more intimidating black barbershop in my neighborhood) to get my duck-tail trimmed once a month, I will do it. Because nothing makes me feel worse than ugly hair compounded by the feeling that I will have to wait for three months for it to be less ugly.

No resolutions for fitness or food because those are mostly self-hating. Also everyone eats healthier once Christmas ends anyway.

Oh also, 2014 is the year I discovered the power of glitter nail polish. This is not about looking professional, ladylike, or sexy. It is about having an ombre glitter spectacle on your hands to look at all day. So, more of that!




Concious Recoupling

Now that I don’t have a second job I am inspired to reinvest in the only hobby other than TV that has ever held my attention: cooking. Cooking also makes our household healthier, richer, and prettier. I turned to my number one lifestyle guru Gwynnie for guidance. I opened It’s All Good and made a plan for the week. Of course I don’t really believe in eliminating booze, wheat, dairy or sugar, but the great thing about this cookbook is that if you simply add ice cream and wine to every meal it is a solid lifestyle plan. This cookbook, even if you hate Gwynnie, is amazing. Because it is structured around a detox plan it is really simple and provides everyday recipes rather than dinner party recipes. I find that too many cookbooks focus on impressive meals rather than everyday meals.

So on Sunday I decided to do a little prep for the week and make a dinner that would also be great for weekday lunches.

This posole is stupid easy, cheap and good:

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Then I whipped up her Mexican Green Goddess Dressing for the week, because one of the genius core principles of It’s All Good is that your salads require innovation and forethought in order to succeed. Many of the stunt internet reporters that have tried to only eat from the It’s All Good cookbook have whined about how expensive and time consuming it all was. I call phewy on this. I think these people simply do not cook usually and are not used to cutting vegetables and don’t already have a reasonable pantry.

The dressing was delicious and actually inspired me to have a salad for lunch the next day.

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Then I went renegade, because I ended up at the grocery store without the cookbook and didn’t have a shopping list. So I asked myself, “what would Gwynnie do?” She would obviously stuff roasted poblano peppers with fresh corn, black beans, red onions and a little goat cheese.

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Now, she probably wouldn’t add the cheese, but I think that goat cheese is basically a health food.

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And you know what is really good on anything Mexicanish? Mexican Green Goddess Dressing!

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Then W. was out of the house and I felt ready to go full Gwynnie and only have fish and vegetables.

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Once again, I riffed on classic Gwynnie themes by sauteeing the shrimp in a bit of butter and oil and finishing it with some tarragon and lime.

Recipes from the cookbook that were also total successes:

Mr. Chow’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Thai Turkey Burgers

Siracha Salmon

And yes, you could cook almost all the book’s recipes from the generous plagiarism of the internet, but then you would miss the copious photos of Gwynnie swanning around the Cotswolds with “no-makeup.”


Talking to Humans at Weddings

It is wedding season and that means trying to talk to another person that you don’t know, who is from a totally different life situation, and who you will never meet again while you eat dry cake. First, I very recently subjected most of you to this experience. But at least my cake was MOIST!


So I am sorry, I really am. I am sure you did a fabulous job of finding something to say to my cousin/high school friend. But here are some thoughts on how I would like to improve my wedding conversation game:

1. I really really want to not ask what a person does for a living. I actually come from a part of the country where this is a polite question, but it is still a bad question. If someone is a stay at home mom, out of work, or a contract killer they shouldn’t have to tell people (unless they bring it up). Also, for MOST people this is a dead end question, though you can always get a little This American Life and really find the unexpected details. I actually like learning about the inane specifics of how people get through every minute of their jobs, but often they don’t enjoy telling me those details. And they feel like they have to reciprocate and . . . we’re done. Academia is the death of all conversations.

2. People LOVE to talk about their children and dogs. Especially if their kids are adults. As long as you keep it super specific, “so does he prefer My Little Pony or Ninjago?” this can be a very generative starting point. Asking what grade they are in is not a specific question. This last point is also true with actual children. If you ask them what grade they are in they have no where else to go in conversation. What are you going to ask next? Do they they like their teacher?

3. Asking how they know the bride and groom is a perfectly acceptable opener, but you are going to need a pivot pretty soon.

4. WHAT DO HUMANS TALK ABOUT? I think TV, but I might be overly optimistic.

5. If people don’t ask me questions I want to get better at not caring and just sitting there in silence. People who ask no questions should be punished.



iCal Habits

I once said to a therapist, “do you think my iCal habit is a problem?” Predictably and annoyingly, she responded “Do you think it is a problem?”

Well, it might be slowly sucking my soul out, but my iCal habit sure works. After the brilliant post on bullet journaling from C. I have been itching to show you my iCal, waiting for the perfect week when I would be most proud of the contents. But that week will never come, so here it is (click on it for detail):

ical copy

As you can see, the genius of the iCal lifestyle is that you can color code tasks and appointments, thus putting work/leisure/house work tasks all on the same plane but distinct. Most importantly, it allows you to organize your day around how long those tasks should take and the amount of time between tasks. This last point, the time between, is really the scheduling conundrum that iCal wins over other scheduling techniques. When I finally recognized that walking to an appointment would take me a half hour or eating lunch would take me an hour and that needed to be scheduled into my day, everything changed. I stopped failing at my daily task list.

Some other notes on my scheduling habit: it is scary to realize that I have always written my calender as legible to other people. It is like there is an invisible audience that I am waiting to share this with. This is only scary because I feel particularly proud of a dense, well-colored schedule at the end of the week and I actually delete tasks if I didn’t do them in order to be honest with this invisible audience. Notice the blank space on Tuesday. That time was lost to the internet and “spring cleaning” (also known as avoidance and listening to podcast time). I deleted the tasks I was actually supposed to be doing because I didn’t deserve them.


2014 Resolutions

I normally begin each year with a long list of resolutions that I never keep. It’s so much fun to make a list of things that will make me a better me, even if I know I’m very unlikely to change my habits. This year will be different, though.* Instead of a really long list, I’m going to concentrate on just two bigger projects. We’ll see what happens.**

1) Streamline my kitchen duties.

-When I cook even the simplest of meals, it seems to take FOREVER to clean up. Normally, this isn’t a bad thing, as it enables me to listen to my many beloved podcasts. However, I’d like to streamline the process a bit since my life will soon descend into the chaos that is caring for two babies and I won’t have the luxury*** of spending 45 minutes every night restoring my kitchen to gleaming perfection.

-I’d also like to learn to cook on the fly, without depending on recipes so much. I feel like this will help me rely less on fast food and will also help me make better meals from leftovers. If that doesn’t work, I’d like to memorize more recipes.

2) Create a new look for myself.

-I really need to get myself a less schizophrenic and less cheap-ass wardrobe. This might be a goal to put off for several months because I a) just had a baby and will not be at a consistent weight for a bit and b) am poor. However, I could probably start by editing my current closet down to pieces that I actually look good in and wear all the time. I could also window shop for a coherent look that is more age-appropriate than the style I currently have.****

-Be better at makeup and skincare. I’ve got the rosacea under control, and now it’s time to start in on the wrinkles.


*Probably not.

**Probably nothing.

***Did I mention I am an insane person who enjoys cleaning when it comes to the kitchen? Don’t I seem like someone you’d love to hang out with?

****Aged late-1990s hardcore fan with a penchant for quirky vintage pieces that never quite fit correctly and make me look slightly crazy.

One Weird Trick: Skincare

In high school, I had great skin. It was smooth, blemish-free and glowy. Basically hatefully nice. Sometime shortly after graduating though, I started getting massive breakouts. At one point I had a zit on my face that was so big and so deep, my doctor thought it might be a boil. A BOIL. After self-diagnosing rosacea as the root of my skin problems, I started using prescription lotions and the worst of the blemishes went away. However, I was still prone to major breakouts every month, especially in the summer. For ten years or so, I just accepted it as an unavoidable and unfortunate part of life.

A few years ago, though, I started doing some new things that drastically improved the quality of my skin. One of the easiest fixes involved the purchase of ten or so new washcloths. Every time I wash my face, I dry it with a clean cloth. It adds very little to the laundry pile, and I swear it’s helped reduce the breakouts. I also wash my pillow case pretty often, which is a luxury I am able to indulge in because I have a washer and dryer in my home and a small child that produces enough dirty laundry to necessitate more than one washday a week. Anyway, try the washcloth thing if you’re having skin issues.




Daily habit that I will never, ever give up, no matter how unwholesome it is: Eating sweets and watching TV before I go to bed. Usually, like, right before I go to bed.

Daily habit that makes me feel smug: Fixing three mostly healthy meals for myself and my family.*

Daily habit about which I am proud, but feel embarrassed to discuss in terms of pride: Cleaning one room a day, tidying the rest of the house daily.**

Daily habit that fills me with self-loathing and is no fun at all any more: Facebookin’. More on this later.

Daily habit to which I aspire: Spending at least four hours on my dissertation and/or teaching. This might not happen for a while.

Daily habit of Dana’s of which I am jealous: Reading the news every day. And not just little sniplets on Twitter or the Daily Show.

*Is this something to feel smug about? I go back and forth on this. One side of me is like, get over yourself, adults do this all the time. Another part of me is like, this is real work, one of many domestic duties that is rarely acknowledged as real work outside the home. And then I’m like, a lot of my ability and desire to cook so much is a result of my privilege, so the smugness is completely uncool of me.

**This one is even knottier than the cooking thing, right? Because the ability to maintain a spotless house is, again, a great deal the result of privilege (this one mostly in terms of time). But, dammit, it’s a lot of work. I WANT MY GOLD STARS. Ugh, I’m such an a&#hole.


Christiane is a mother and graduate student living in Indiana.

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