But we had the good fortune to have my classmate Bob visiting Marquette for two weeks entire, undertaking his own dissertation sprint, making use of the library and the proximity to his director, Professor Stockhausen, on this long sojourn from his home in Michigan, where his wife Carmen is an attending physician in emergency medicine now. So while Dan and Amy were hosting him, we had the pleasure of his company for two Friday night gatherings with the gang, whereas usually he ends up having to be one of the absent members due to the distance involved.
That first evening feature Mike's birthday, and he and Donna insisted upon making us a beet dish that they had recent enjoyed. Beets were something I had not really experienced growing up, having only the childhood vague sense of distaste that I think came with the sound of the name, although that ran a distant second behind the unfortunately-named "squash." I expressed something of this unease at the grocery store with Bob, on our way from campus to the house, hearing only that we were having beets for dinner, and wondering whether I should buy some meat to go with the wine I was buying for Mike's birthday (and another bottle to celebrate my dissertation completion). Bob assured me, however, that there was meat in the dish, and so I manned up and decided to brave the unknown with a little more dignity. As it turned out, of course, the dish was fabulously yummy. The recipe, as Mike passed it to me, was:
Wild rice; it takes a while.Even with Mike doing a few things out of order for not consulting the recipe, and with a few judicious substitutions, like mixing in a number of Brussels sprout leaves to fill out the small amount of spinach we had, it all turned out to be tasty. We skipped over watching the first new episode of Caprica, opting instead to just keep talking through the evening. I drifted back and forth between the kitchen and the political and theological talk with the guys and into the living room where Amy had eventually withdrawn with her computer, poking at some work after Donna had crashed early with the kids, and talked about things like catching up with old friends and seeing people grow and change, which was on my mind after I had just experienced a wonderful late-night online conversation with my former high school student Mary, who was now in her mid-20s and working on a graduate degree in philosophy in Rome.
Bunch Beets – best greens you can find (they come with greens still attached)
Dice beets, coat in olive oil, seasoned salt (like Lawry’s) and garlic powder. Roast on pan in oven until fork tender 350. Take sip of wine.
Brown diced chicken breasts lightly (they should NOT be cooked through at this point). Salt lightly and drain in a colander. The salt draws out the excess moisture.
Saute mushrooms in butter, retain liquid with the mushrooms. (no other liquid is kept) Take sip of wine.
Steam stalks with a little water, in microwave, until tender (cause they’re tough!) 2-3 inch sections.
Sauté rinsed beet leaves with garlic and Olive Oil – don’t keep this liquid. Spinach can be added to extend the greens. Usually easiest to do this in a couple of loads. Several sips of wine during the process. I do it with tongs, and the way to sauté greens is to kind of scrub the bottom of the pan with them.
Put everything in oven at 350 for 15 minutes. Pull out and add cheddar cheese (8-16 oz depending on how much of everything else you’re using and your preferences?). 15 more minutes in oven.
Beets over rice, topped with white cheese (jack or something like that).
The following Sunday I got the chance to catch up after way too long and way too much phone tag with Diane and Tim. I had not actually laid eyes on Diane since the beginning of the summer when she had surprised me with the news that she was pregnant, stepping out of her car with a baby bulge that had not existed when I had had dinner over at their place in March. I had talked with her on the phone and knew that Naomi Chase had been born with all parts attached and in good health, and I was content to let them settle in with her for a few months before I expected them to have any social time once again. But now we spent a long Sunday afternoon and evening together, chattering away through some eight hours of conversation about going back to school (Tim is, and Diane is thinking about it), about my dissertation, about Diane's ideas for graduate studies in social work and specializing in grief counseling, about Naomi and new parenthood, and about food, as she and Tim concocted a pork tenderloin served with a yummy squash and apple mix that they winged on the spot.
I took my first cell phone photograph of the new family together, explaining a bit of the gag-gift/real gift nature of the cell phone that my brother-in-law Jim had given me for Christmas after my last trip down to see the family had resulted in me getting on the wrong train and leaving my family wondering where I was until I finally bummed a cell phone call off a pedestrian. I have to admit being a bit disappointed in the photo quality, but now I know why everyone complains about cell phone pictures.
Then this past Friday, we got an extra treat. We were all expecting this to be our second weekend with Bob for company, and were going to celebrate the sort of traditional Geek Night that he usually ended up missing out on, in this case with the DVR delayed viewing of the season premiere of the final season of Lost, which was vying with Caprica to replace the former traditional Geek Night entertainment of Battlestar Galactica, and the mad conversation that always accompanied it. The extra treat turned out to be that Carmen arranged with her visiting mother to watch Logan and Renée by herself for a day while she flew in to join us all for the evening, and then to drive back to Michigan with Bob the next morning. She hadn't been in town for some four years, since just around the time Logan was born, and I missed them that time, so I hadn't actually seen her since a bunch of us went out to dinner in 2004, back when she was still doing her surgical residency at Mayo Clinic. The only drawback for the evening was Mike and Donna not making it at the last minute because their own daughter Renée suddenly spiked to a 101ºF fever.
So there was lots of talk about medicine, about Carmen's ER work and finally becoming an attending physician and getting past the sort of extended graduate school or hazing of being a resident. She asked a lot of family questions of all of us, perhaps re-establishing our back-stories after her long absence, and we ended up all lingering over Amy's chicken piccata and wine until well after Anna and Owen were put to bed. I remember a lot of talk about the extended graduate school experience for a doctorate in theology, which seems to be the case all around: I can only think of one person who did it in five years, and that at the cost of not really making any friends during the time. A few people managed it in six, but seven and eight seem to be much more the norm. Theology coursework itself, language requirements and exams, six months to a year for Doctoral Qualifying Exams, all the extra history, philosophy, literature, art, music, archaeology, and all the political, social, scientific, economic and humanities education to give it all context. I don't know that there's any other field in our specialized educational system today that so requires one to also become a generalist. So there was some light-hearted sharing of notes among the league of women putting their husbands through theology doctorates, although it seemed to be the consensus that these working women loved having dissertating husbands around to take care of a lot of the burdens of rearing young children.
When we realized that it was already after 10:30pm, there was some thought of abandoning the plans to watch Lost, but Bob and Carmen protested that they had made this special effort to have the both of them here just so they could enjoy geeking out over something like this with a lively and thoughtful group of friends and not just by themselves. (This being said after they had solicited all of us for ideas about DVD sets or series that we might turn them onto for their own occasional down time.) So Lost-viewing commenced and the dual-timeline approach took us all by surprise, with some debate about whether or not it could be pulled off by the writers. Having been assigned by the gang to watch all of five seasons of Lost, which I successfully accomplished over meals in the autumn so that I could catch up and join in on this particular event, I wouldn't bet against the writing team: it's been as fun, intelligent, and surprising a piece of television as I have ever seen.