Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Vail's victory

Bright-eyed and eager during my first snowboard attempt, I took on the Colorado mountains, but I'm afraid that the mountains got the best of me. I feared a broken leg, so a non-displaced fracture distal radius somehow seems like a blessing.

I wish that I had a better story to share regarding my accident. I'd like to be able to say that I lost control on a double-black-diamond run in the back bowls of Vail. Sadly, I never made it off of the bunny hill (ahem, beginner slope, if you prefer the PC term). Luke (my brother and snowboarder extraordinaire) talked me into snowboarding instead of skiing. He served as my babysitter personal instructor and did an awesome job except for failing to advise me to wear wrist guards. Brad and I had hoped for two full days on the slopes, but myriad travel complications cut into our time and we only completed one run down the bunny hill at Beaver Creek during our first day. Luke taught me how to put on the snowboard, stand up, edge, and utilize the falling leaf technique to get down the hill. Granted, I think that I spent more time on the ground than standing up, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit that it took Brad and me AN HOUR to complete our first run on the bunny hill (hey, it was the longest bunny hill I've ever seen), but we had a blast and eagerly anticipated our full day at Vail the next day.

We arrived early and enjoyed some time on the bunny hill before it became packed with ski school kids. Much to my dismay, Luke insisted on teaching me to do heel and toe turns on the snow board, which I never mastered. I loved the falling leaf technique, but he warned me that solely using falling leaf to get down the hill could easily become a bad habit, like skiers who only snowplow. Anyway, on my THIRD run down the bunny hill in the midst of a toe turn, I took a bad backwards fall and landed on both wrists. I thought that I was going to throw up because the pain was so bad initially. After a few minutes of sitting there stunned, my right wrist began to feel better, but my left wrist was useless. I could barely lift it. I removed my snow board and walked the rest of the way down the hill to catch the chairlift. Luke and Brad set me up in the lodge with an icepack and a cup of hot chocolate. I iced my wrist for about two hours and after lunch, I visited the medical hut in hopes that someone could wrap my wrist tightly so that I could hit the slopes again. After all, I had paid nearly $100 for my lift ticket; three runs down the bunny hill was not my definition of getting my money's worth!

The medical assistant took one look at my wrist and suggested that I visit the ER. He accompanied me down the mountain in the gondola to the Vail Valley Medical Center, located conveniently one block from the entrance to the slopes. I will say that this was my most pleasant ER experience to date. The hospital is really nice and the friendly and laid-back staff could have cared less that I didn't have my insurance card on me (note to self: stick my insurance card in my pocket the next time I brave the slopes). I was in and out in less than two hours, doctored up with a Velcro splint for easy use until I can visit an orthopedist. The fracture is very, very fine and luckily, the bone is still aligned, so barring any other complications, recovery should only take four to six weeks.

This was Brad's first time on skis and I have to admit that he's a natural. He seemed to pick it up really easily and he loved it, so I have a feeling that Luke will now have regular visitors every ski season. I loved Colorado. Vail and Beaver Creek were gorgeous and soooo nice. I can't wait to go back. And I will even try skiing and snowboarding again, as soon as my wrist heals. I don't like for anything to get the best of me.

In the meantime, I'll wear my lovely new accessory out tonight for New Year's Eve with pride. My navy blue splint clashes with the black dress I plan to wear, but hopefully our favorite restaurant will still admit me.

Friday, December 26, 2008

raincheck, please

We were all set. Everything was going to be perfect. I had wisely used my days off from work thus far to clean the house and organize our lives. The windows sparkled. The oven and refrigerator shone. I had not only organized my closets, but also my drawers. I had even given my blog a face lift. If such a thing is possible, I was ahead on my vacation to-do list. I greeted Brad exuberantly this past Monday night, after his last day of work of 2008, excited to dive into our holiday celebration, just the two of us.

That is, until a stomach bug dove into us.

About an hour after dinner on Monday night, Brad suddenly felt awful. For about 30 minutes, I feared that I had poisoned him, but although dinner disappointed us (the new recipe did NOT live up to its expectations), I felt fine. By Tuesday morning, it became clear that Brad's sickness was not a case of food poisoning. In the past, when one of us was sick, the other one normally fell victim to it three or four days later. I had some time. Or so I thought.

I began to take precautionary measures, and thinking that I still had a few days of wellness remaining, I tackled my list of errands and chores with extra vigor. I visited the dentist on Tuesday morning to retrieve my unexpected Christmas present. I shopped for supplies for Christmas Eve and Day dinners (I naively assumed that Brad would feel better by then, and if not, well, I had to eat, didn't I?). I fixed chicken noodle soup for Brad and consumed a bowl of my favorite chili for lunch (um... big mistake). I even baked cookies and made a fresh batch of caramels.

And then at 3 p.m. that day, the sickness hit me. And Brad and I have been absolutely pathetic since then. He took over the couch and I claimed our bed; neither of us could sit up. We've never both been sick at the same time before. He'd call to me from the living room. I'd moan back from the bedroom. Thank goodness for two bathrooms!

We had tickets to see West Side Story on Tuesday night. Although I stupidly held out hope in between vomit sessions that we could still make it, we didn't. We missed our Christmas Eve fondue and our Christmas Day beef tenderloin. Although our fridge is loaded with food, we haven't been able to eat any of it. Even today, Friday, the sickness has subsided, but our appetites still elude us.

The stomach sickness abated by Christmas Eve, but we were still worthless for the next two days. We managed to attend church on Christmas Eve, but we listlessly opened presents on Christmas morning. We took a short walk around the neighborhood on Christmas afternoon, mostly to escape the house and breathe some fresh air, and we ventured to see the National Christmas Tree on Christmas night, along with thousands of other people! We had no idea that this attraction would be so crowded on Christmas night! Doesn't everyone leave DC over the holidays?

We took down our tree this morning, which made us ponder the fairness of spending a morning cleaning up from a holiday that we feel like we missed! That being said, we're extremely thankful to feel somewhat up to traveling to Colorado tomorrow. We can eat the $120 on West Side Story tickets. A canceled ski trip and a missed visit with my brother would be a much greater loss.

Can we just reschedule Christmas 2008? We'll be healthy and raring to go for take two. We won't miss it next time.

Monday, December 22, 2008

my gal

One of my favorite aspects of my blog's new look is my Design-her gal, located to the right. I've searched for a graphic to illustrate Dr. Blondie for a while now and to my delight, I stumbled upon this site about a month ago. You can design your own personalized gal... from her hair color and style to her eye shape to her earrings, outfits, and other accessories. It's a free service and the designers will even craft a blog-compatible version.

You can order gal-personalized stationary and other products, but what I love most about this company is that the owners operate the Gal to Gal Foundation, which is designed to raise awareness of and funding for Stage IV breast cancer. As one of the owners so eloquently stated on the company's web site, "We want all Stage 4 patients to make the journey to their next destination with as much style and grace as they've shown traveling through this one."

Compelling story, noble mission, classy gals... enough said. Dr. Blondie's "look" is born!

new year, new look

As we speed out of control inch toward 2009 and the one-year anniversary of Dr. Blondie, some necessary changes are in order, most importantly, a new look.

What do you think?

I soooo wish that I were more talented in the graphic design and even basic computer programming departments. I've worked on overhauling my blog's design all afternoon (wait, aren't I supposed to be cleaning and organizing?!), at the mercy of free, do-it-yourself-with-your-hand-held-through-every-single-step (but not really, because it still took me much longer to figure things out than it should have... just call me Dr. Dummy) web sites. Don't get me wrong; I am incredibly thankful for these sites. I could never manage a blog or do anything on the Internet without them. I just feel so helpless when it comes to anything and everything technical.

Now that my blog received a makeover, I think that my person needs one as well, as clearly evidenced by my atrocious new driver's license picture that was taken this morning. Seriously, could the DMV photographer have zoomed in any closer? I think that he missed at least two pores and five wrinkles on my face. And insisting that subjects LOOK DOWN at the camera is never a good idea. Unfortunately my birthday (and driver's license renewal date) falls during the winter months when pasty white skin and mousy-brown roots rule. To do: make a hair brightening appointment asap. Oh, and a beach vacation might be nice too.

Friday, December 19, 2008

scene it?

Gentle readers, I need your help. My movie-watching season begins in earnest within days. I (unintentionally) forgo movies from March through mid-December and then usually see about five movies in the theater over Christmas break and a few more in January and February to ready myself for the academy awards. I have no idea what's playing or what's supposed to be good this year. Advice, please!

I haven't rented a movie in over a year, so I seek your wise counsel on must-see rentals also.

Please comment and let me know: 1) recent movies that you've seen that you think are worth my time (either in the theater or on dvd), and 2) what movies you plan to watch over the holidays.

Muchas gracias!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

playtime begins, sort of

I love working at a university. An extra perk of working at the same institution for over eight years is that I have accrued more leave than I will ever have time to use. Even after my three-week European adventure, a week off around the 4th of July, and numerous other days off this year, I still have over seven weeks of vacation and 12 weeks of sick time in the bank. So my Christmas vacation begins today! I am taking five vacation days prior to the university's closure from Christmas through January 4, 2009. Two and a half weeks of freedom - woo hooh!

So why did I get up at 5 a.m. today? Brad's still working... and of course, the running schedule must go on.

It's okay though, because I have fifty bazillion things that I want to accomplish over the break. And I err on the side of being a "work before play" kind of a girl, so I will dive into my to-do list of household chores over the next few days while Brad is at work so that we can play when he's on vacation. The problem is, for every chore that I finish, I add about two more to the list!

I always use these days before Christmas to deep clean and declutter (is this a word?) our home. I go through each and every drawer and closet to organize and discard (I credit this practice for our continued happiness and peace in a small two-bedroom apartment. We haven't outgrown our space because Brad and I are both clutter busters, him even more so than me. My friend Amy would be so proud!). I wash the windows and curtains, empty and scrub the inside of the fridge, clean the oven, and mop the floors. I am most excited to try to wash our shower curtain liners in the washing machine this year! I can't wait to see if it works. I'm so excited to try it that I am going to do it today!

I have a few more fun tasks on my list too. I'm still working on creating a photo book of our Europe pictures. I need to spruce up my facebook page, conduct some research for a few 2009 projects, and of course, BLOG.

Brad and I are spending Christmas Eve and Christmas at our home, just the two of us, which will be so much fun! We've had one other married Christmas that we spent alone together and that was our favorite year to date. We've started some silly, but endearing traditions of our own and it's just so wonderful to relax together and enjoy the holiday. We have tickets to see West Side Story at the National Theater next Tuesday night and on December 27th, we leave to visit my brother Luke in Colorado. An avid snowboarder, Luke recently bought a condo in Avon, located at the base of Beaver Creek, so we plan to spend two days on the slopes: one day at Beaver Creek and the other day at Vail. Brad has never skied before and I barely have, if you count my feeble attempt over 15 years ago, so this should be interesting! Brad worries about altitude sickness and I fear a broken leg. Lord willing, we'll be okay!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I know my students too well

What did I tell you? Shortly after posting my students' final grades yesterday, I received an email from a student protesting his grade. Although, he wasn't lobbying me to change an A- to an A, but an A to an A+!

Monday, December 15, 2008

armed and ready

I just submitted final grades for my 133 sophomore students this semester. Let the begging, whining, complaining, pleading, and crying begin!

I will bet you $50 that at least one student has the nerve to complain to me about earning an A- instead of an A. This is the type of students that I deal with on a daily basis.

I'm ready. Bring it on!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I knew them... once.

So now I understand why some people consider Facebook so addictive. I haven't done much with my profile yet (note to self: add pictures, set up bookshelf, figure out the myriad fun things I can do) because I've been so distracted searching for and being found by current and former friends and acquaintances. It's so neat to see where people end up, isn't it?

The big surprise of today is that a sorority pledge sister friended me, someone I have not seen in probably 10 or 11 years, and I learned that she's now a novelist! Julie's first book came out in October of 2008 with the second one slated for March of 2009. I am beyond impressed. I, too, aspire to write novels someday and I felt incredibly unaccomplished when I checked out her profile (she's gone from high-powered attorney to screenplay writer to novelist in the past 6-8 years)! What am I waiting for? I need to get started on that book!

And another sorority pledge sister of mine recently married a certain well-known United States Attorney in Chicago. I suspect that her household is slightly chaotic right now.

My claim to fame? Stay tuned. I'm working on it...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Merry Christmas to me, a bit early

An overzealous chomp into a leftover piece of saltwater taffy from our recent Dollywood excursion provided me an early Christmas present this year: a brand new crown and a filling.

I should have just stuck with the cotton candy.

This tenacious piece of taffy pulled off my crown and mangled it beyond repair. I didn't even realize what had happened at first until I noticed a hard, metallic substance in the taffy. Sure enough, when I spit it out, I gasped, "is that my tooth??"

And because the missing crown left a gaping hole in the back of my mouth, my dentist identified a bit of decay starting to form on a neighboring tooth that was not visible when the crown was in place (I blame the taffy for this issue too), and she decided to take care of that little problem as well.

Although I never had braces and was therefore exempt from orthodontia drama during my adolescent years, don't be fooled by my naturally straight teeth. You won't find a gap or a crooked tooth in my mouth, but genetics has blessed me with teeth very prone to decay and all sorts of other problems. I brush a minimum of three to four times a day and I floss at least once a day. I constantly nag my dentist to keep a close watch for problems with my teeth because too many times, a dentist has ignored a "minor issue" that quickly resulted in a root canal.

After my $430 co-payment (and keep in mind that I HAVE decent dental insurance) and a sore jaw from the two numbing shots (one never does it for me), drilling, poking, and prodding, I vowed off candy in 2009. Or maybe just taffy.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

like I need one more distraction

Brad and I gave in and signed up for facebook last night. We were up past midnight (a rare occurrence for us) playing around on the site and then I slept restlessly, dreaming about random people.

Friend me, please!

Friday, December 5, 2008

homemade Christmas caramels

My homemade Christmas caramels have been such a hit with my office this year that I thought that I'd pass along the idea and the recipe. These treats make a delicious, simple, inexpensive, and appropriate gift for co-workers, neighbors, or others and I find them a welcome relief from the typical holiday baked goods (both from the cook's perspective as I don't really bake and from the consumer's perspective because the holidays include way too many cookies, cakes, and pies). These caramels, while fairly quick and easy to make in the microwave, do take a bit of time to cut, wrap individually, and package as a gift (and please be forewarned that you will be tempted to consume handfuls of these delicacies while you make the packages; they're irresistible!). I included a copy of the recipe inside each package, which my colleagues seemed to appreciate.

Happy giving, and happy eating!

Homemade Christmas Caramels: I bet you can’t eat just one!

1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1 cup sugar
1 cup white karo syrup
1 cup whipping cream
4 tablespoons vanilla
Optional: crushed pecans, walnuts, or other nuts to taste
wax paper
gift packaging materials of your choice

1. Melt butter in large, glass, microwave-safe bowl (2-3 quart or larger).
2. With a small hand mixer, blend in sugar, syrup, and ½ cup cream.
3. Cook on medium power in the microwave for 15 minutes.
4. Blend in the remaining cream, cook an additional 12 minutes in the microwave, and then test for desired consistency. Drop a tiny bit of the mixture into a glass of ice water and feel the mixture. If it forms into a firm ball, it’s ready. If the mixture still seems runny or mushy, continue to cook it in the microwave in two minute increments until you can easily form a ball in a glass of ice water. Mix in vanilla.
5. If you choose to use nuts, sprinkle the nuts onto the bottom of a greased 8x8 pan. Pour the mixture over the nuts.
6. Allow the mixture to sit on a flat surface to cool and harden for several hours.
7. Slice into very small squares and wrap individually with waxed paper. An electric knife makes the slicing step quick and easy!
8. If the caramels tend to be a little too soft or runny, you can keep them in the refrigerator to harden. If they come out too hard, well, you may need to just throw them out and start again. You don't want anyone to break a tooth! The caramels should be chewy to taste, but not runny or rock hard.

NOTE: plan to make more batches than you need! This mixture is rather easy to burn when it starts boiling in the microwave. Be very careful when you remove it from the microwave. The mixture is very hot and it bubbles up quickly and somewhat violently when you mix in additional ingredients.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

evergreen intoxication

Oh Christmas tree, how I delight in thee! I feel drunk from your spicy, yet sweet, subtle, yet overwhelming aroma. I sniff you the second I enter our building, even though I must climb two long flights of steps to greet you. Sometimes I swear that I smell you at work, but I know that I imagine things. For nearly a year now I have anticipated your arrival. No other chore could drag me out of the house on the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving, especially after traveling over eight hours and sitting on the interstate with the car parked because the traffic was so bad. But on Sunday I hurriedly unpacked so that Brad and I could uphold one of our most beloved traditions: picking you up as soon as we returned from Thanksgiving, decorating you, and enjoying you through Christmas. Our time together is so brief; I can't bear to waste a day of it.

Don't get me wrong: ours is not a cheap or an easy relationship. Although I grew up with the "real thing", I doubt that my parents ever spent more than $10 on you. Imagine my shock when, during our first year of marriage, Brad and I went to pick you up and spent nearly $40 on you. Fast forward seven years later and now you cost us double that amount. But we love the farmer who grows you and we are suckers for tradition, so we acquiesce to his constantly increasing prices. We'll only be together for 26 days this year, but every penny is worth it.

Being an avid plant lover and living in a small city apartment, I have little room for you at home. But we still find ways to squeeze you in every year. Fern, my favorite child the rest of the year, gets banished to a less-sunny location so that you can take over the prime spot in the house. Although, Fern has grown so much that she tried to fight you for the Christmas honors this year. But you still won, for one more year at least.

We do force you to squeeze into a small space, and your bottom is rather plump this year, but your shape and height are ABSOLUTE PERFECTION. I knew you were "the one" as soon as I laid eyes on you. You were the second tree I saw and I knew instantly that I had to have you. I refused to consider any others. I had no need to.

You are rather messy. Your secretions stain your skirt and leave a sticky residue on our hardwood floor. Your needles stay with us year round. But when I find your remnants in a crevice of the floor in July, I can't help but smile and eagerly anticipate your arrival in a few short months. I track your needles and the silver icicles (you are SUCH a fashionable diva!) all over the place: in the bedrooms, outside, in the car, to work. But I know that this is your way of sticking with me throughout the day. I kind of like it.

You require constant attention. While the other plants need water only once a week at most, you thirst daily. And plain old water won't do. Your sweet tooth craves a sugary cocktail. You DO take after your mother!

Many try to impersonate you, but Brad and I have developed keen eyes and snobbish attitudes toward such types over the years. We refuse to be swayed by the "pre-lit", "easy to assemble and store", and "less expensive in the long run" arguments. The real thing is the only acceptable option for us. Forever. Lord willing, impostors will never be allowed in our home.

During years when we are away on Christmas Eve and Day, my heart breaks when we take you down, strip you of your glamorous, festive attire, wrap you in a large bag, and leave you out on the cold curb before we leave town. I'm usually tempted to stick a sign on you that says, "Free! Please take to a good home..." so that you can still enjoy the holiday without us. We fear that our early departure will infuriate you so much that you'll burn the house down if we let you stay by yourself. But this year, Brad and I plan to spend Christmas at our home, so you get to enjoy your cozy spot by the fire and celebrate the holiday with us. We're thrilled beyond belief!

I know that my heart will feel like a boulder on December 26th when we take you down, strip you of your beautiful attire, wrap you in a large bag, and leave you on the cold curb, awaiting a ride in a smelly garbage truck and a possible beheading or cremation. The house will smell stale without your rich aroma and will look bare without your plump self as skinny Fern happily reclaims her chief post. But as I discover your remnants throughout the year, and think of you occasionally, I will eagerly anticipate November 29, 2009, when Brad and I will come to pick you up again.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

socially unlinked

It happened again yesterday. I received an "invitation to connect on LinkedIn" from a friend. Another pal sent me the invitation to register about a year ago and 40 people have found me thus far. I have yet to search for anyone. My profile lacks anything of substance. I've only listed my name, place of employment, and alma maters.

I'm a pathetic social networker.

I've avoided facebook (although I may give in on this one, but seriously, do I need one more distraction in my life??) and twitter. I use shelfari simply for keeping track of the many books that I read and not at all for networking with other book lovers for reading suggestions. I recently signed up for a ravelry account, again, just for an easy way to organize my knitting patterns and projects and not to fraternize with other yarn lovers. I have a flickr account because that's the only way that I can upload pictures of knitting projects to ravelry.

A couple of months ago, I received one of the regular update emails from LinkedIn informing me who my "friends" had connected with. I was surprised to see that one of my friends was connected to Brad; I was unaware that he had signed up for an account! That night at dinner, Brad and I laughed about it, each of us surprised that we didn't know that the other had an account and that we weren't connected.

And now, two months later, have Brad and I become "friends" on LinkedIn? Of course not. But as a friend recently pointed out, how funny/weird will it be when Brad and I finally do link and all of our mutual "friends" will receive an email notifying them of our connection?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Italy revisited

Brad dragged persuaded me to see the newest Bond movie this weekend, but the opening scene in Siena, Italy changed my surly 'tude immediately. I sat up and paid attention, excited to see a place that we had recently visited. In the movie, the Piazza del Campo bustled with activity: horses racing, crowds cheering, and predictably, James Bond nearly killing himself and others about ten times while chasing a bad guy. Yes, the setting looked a bit more glamorous than when we visited in August, but we still enjoyed a glimpse of one of our summer vacation destinations.

Feeling nostalgic about Italy after the movie, we decided to spend a quiet evening at home and reminisce. I made Florentine steak and we sipped the Chianti that we brought back from Tuscany. We set a formal table, using our wedding china and the Venetian lace place mats and napkins that we purchased from the last remaining lace school in Venice. We wondered how our friend Hillary was doing. And we tried to come up with a valid excuse to go back. Like next week.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

when reading multiple books at once...

My latest knitting project: bookmarks of all colors, sizes, and styles!

Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

card paranoia

From previous posts, you know that I abhor typos or grammatical mistakes on professionally printed invitations, cards, and other kinds of mass mailings. Specifically, on my blog I've addressed the appropriate use of an apostrophe and when and how to make last names possessive or plural.

Fun fact: my blog gets several hits a day because people google "make Davis plural", "last name ending in s plural", "plural of Davis", "correct grammar, plural name", "plural vs. possessive family last name". These search phrases have led five readers to my blog in just the past 12 hours. This topic is by far the most searched one that leads people to my blog. I'm heartened to know that some people are at least cognizant that apostrophe usage can be tricky. But I'm also preparing myself for the handful of holiday cards and end-of-year letters loaded with grammatical errors that Brad and I will certainly receive this year.

I ordered our Christmas cards yesterday and I nearly drove myself crazy double, triple, and quadruple checking them to ensure grammatical perfection. I even made use of Brad's scrutinous nature and he checked the card. And when Snapfish prompted me at checkout to proofread my card, I did it again. Because I know that if the cards arrive in the mail and I notice a mistake, I'll eat the $50 and reorder them before I will send them out with an error.

All of this for a mere 15 words on the darn card... thank goodness I only send one mass mailing of cards per year!

Monday, November 17, 2008

an unusual girls' weekend hangover

Soon after my college graduation, I vowed with my friends Dana and Kim to never miss a year of the three of us getting together, no matter where we lived or what life circumstances we faced. I vaguely remember us clinking glasses on an early trip to seal the deal. The first two years out of college were easy because we all lived relatively close to each other (but we still found reasons to take plenty of road trips on the weekends!). Distance and children have made the yearly commitment difficult, but I'm proud to say that we haven't missed a year since 1996! We've visited in Chicago, Indianapolis, Madison (WI), Iowa City, Champaign (IL), Springfield (IL), Athens (GA), Scottsdale (AZ), Las Vegas, South Beach, Pompano Beach (FL), New Orleans, DC, Stamford (CT), New York City, and Charlotte. We're already daydreaming about the cruises and fancy vacations we'll take together during our elder years!

Dana and I flew down to Charlotte this past weekend to visit Kim, who gave birth to her first baby this past June. While this visit with an infant in tow was a bit more relaxed than previous trips, we laughed as we retired at 11 p.m. after happily vegging out at Kim's house both nights in our comfy pants and t-shirts. At one point, we realized that we had talked for 20 minutes about grocery shopping and the pros and cons of Safeway, Giant, Harris Teeter, and Trader Joe's. Suddenly our nights out in South Beach until 4 a.m. seemed like fuzzy memories. Did we really do that?

I'm hurting today after the trip, but not because we painted the town red like we did when we were younger. I accompanied Kim to her gym on Saturday morning and endured 75 minutes of boot camp with her! Now keep in mind that Kim is an athlete. She's in phenomenal shape. She ran a 10 mile race at a 7:30/mile pace. She went hiking the day she went into labor. She began exercising again the day after she and Holden arrived home from the hospital. Now look at me. I can run long distances, but that's about it. I can't do a push up to save my life (as the boot camp instructor bluntly reminded me this weekend).

This boot camp class kicked my fanny. While I kept up with everyone else, and I even enjoyed the running portions because I felt comfortable, I have been paying for it for the past 54 hours. This pain nearly rivals post-marathon aches. I could barely move on the flight home yesterday and an older man on the plane had to lift and lower my suitcase for me because I couldn't raise my arms high enough.

After the class on Saturday, Kim sheepishly admitted that she participated in the class up until early May of this year. And she gave birth on June 9th. Can you imagine a 35-week pregnant woman in a boot camp class? That's my friend. And despite her baby belly and (minimal) extra weight at the time, she still did better in the class than some of the other members. I asked her how she did a push up with a pregnant belly, but she giggled and said that it wasn't that bad.

After hearing that, I feel like a real wimp complaining about my own aches and pains! I hope that Kim will be a bit easier on me during next year's trip.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

wally love

Does anyone else adore author Wally Lamb?

She's Come Undone is one of my favorite books. I love, love, love it. I felt as though the author (who I could NOT believe was a man) spoke directly to me throughout the book. While Dolores Price, the protagonist, experienced different family circumstances and challenges than I have and do, Dolores's journey toward normalcy, whatever that means, really resonated with me. Or, maybe I'm just attracted to stories about extreme family dysfunction, which I fear may be evidenced in my book club's upcoming selection in January, which I chose.

I also liked Wally's (we're on a first-name basis, you see) I Know This Much Is True. People argue about which one of his books is actually better and I've concluded that readers tend to favor the book that they read first, which is true in my case.

Anyway, the exciting news is that Wally FINALLY has a new book out, as of two days ago, and I CAN'T WAIT TO GET MY HANDS ON IT!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

worn out already

Due to a series of evening work commitments this week, I chose to come in a bit later this morning so that my workday wouldn't feel quite so long. But I still awoke at the crack of dawn, and I'm already starting to feel as though I've put in a full day. Here is what I accomplished before 10:30 a.m.:
  • The normal 3.5 mile run
  • Brad and I chatted with and admired one of our park friend's pictures from World War II. Ellis is a darling 84-year-old veteran who faithfully runs/walks/shuffles around the park every morning. We've become fast friends.
  • I visited a body shop to obtain an estimate for repairing the paint scratches/gouges on our car that occurred after someone backed into it (thankfully, the driver left a note).
  • I stopped by two libraries to track down new books for Brad and me.
  • I picked up some more milk to get us through the week.
  • I went to three different stores in search of the sugar-free candy that Brad's grandmother loves. I finally found it at my last stop. Kudos to CVS in College Park!
  • I donated some old clothes/shoes.
  • I withdrew cash for my upcoming trip this weekend (more on this later).
And now, off to a meeting to begin my actual work day!

Monday, November 10, 2008

sucess = no meltdowns or poop explosions

I survived my first tour of duty in childcare at church yesterday. And I do thank you, gentle readers, for your plethora of advice. I laughed at how each person recommended a different age group, which tells me that it's really all about one's personal preference. I plan to sample all of the rooms over my next few shifts so that I can determine my favorite.

The Team Leader initially placed me in the 12-17 month room, the walkers. I took one step inside the door and a tiny blond girl immediately blocked my path and reached up to me with outstretched arms. I glanced furtively around the room to see if another care giver would jump in. But it was obvious that the little girl wanted me to pick her up, so I did, walked across the room, and deposited her in front of a pile of toys. She jumped up, stretched out her arms again, and so the cycle began.

This darling girl stuck to me like glue and I have no idea why. One of the other women joked that it must be a blond thing. When I tired of holding her, I sat down on the floor, hoping that she would play with the nearby toys, but she crawled into my lap instead. A little boy toddled over with a book in hand, seeking a reader. After he claimed my other leg and I began reading, a third child, drawn to the reading like a magnet, plopped down in the middle of my lap. The three kids fought over who would turn the page and my lap was so crowded that I couldn't even really see the book. But I do love seeing others experience the joy of reading, so I was happy to charge onward.

After about 30 minutes with the walkers, the Team Leader moved me to the crawlers (6-12 months) because this room lacked the requisite number of volunteers. Things were pretty quiet there. Although a whimpering child latched onto me right away (and who I held for the rest of my time there), two of the children spent the remaining two hours playing 100% independently. Neither of them ever cried or needed to be held. I was amazed!

While the volunteers in the walkers room experience several meltdowns and one poop explosion, I fortuitously escaped all of that. That is, until December 7th, when my next tour of duty begins.

Friday, November 7, 2008

helpless infants or tenacious tykes?

I volunteered to serve in hospitality at church because I believe that, 1) refreshments play a crucial role in any given situation, and 2) it's my comfort zone. I simply love to cook and host. I worked my first set-up shift last Sunday morning before the service and I conquered a new challenge: making coffee for hundreds of people. (Fun fact about me: I have never consumed a cup of coffee in my life and I have certainly never prepared it before, especially not for a crowd!)

Our church is an extremely young one. I estimate that the average age of members (adults only) falls in the late 20s or perhaps 30. As you can imagine, babies and young children prevail. The number of volunteers in childcare can't keep up with the ever increasing birthrate. After Brad and I had been members for a few months (the legal waiting period), we were quickly solicited to assist in childcare, which honestly, scares us both to death.

Brad is an only child and has spent very little time around children. He has never changed a diaper and he's probably only held a baby a handful of times in his life. While I cared for my much younger siblings, it's been 20 years since I changed a diaper. And I rarely babysat when I was younger, so I lack experience caring for non-family members' children, especially the young ones. Plus, I suspect that people are overly particular about everything having to do with their children and previous experiences with some sassy ones have scarred me.

I will work a 2.5 hour shift in childcare for the very first time this coming Sunday morning. Volunteers who arrive early get their first choice of age group, but I have no idea which room to pick. Here are the options:
  • 6-11 months (or possibly younger than six months... I'm not sure)
  • 12-17 months
  • 18-23 months
  • 2 years old
  • 3 years old
One friend at church advised me to choose the 18-23 month room because the children have moved past their parental separation anxiety by then and can entertain themselves, but aren't overly disobedient. Another friend suggested the 12-17 month room because they "can walk and are still cuddly, but they can't talk and thus can't be too sassy."

I can tell that this impending duty weighs heavily on my mind because recently I dreamed that while working in the nursery, it took me 45 minutes to change one kid's diaper because she kept rolling/crawling away!

Advice, please. A two and one-half hour shift sounds like an eternity.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

on being cheap at a nice restaurant

I admit it. I do love to save money. While I wouldn't necessarily call myself a penny pincher, it does make my day to stumble into a bargain. And I try to take advantage of nearly every deal that I discover.... case in point last Friday night.

I mentioned that Brad and I celebrated my one-year anniversary of freedom at one of our favorite restaurants on Capitol Hill. When I visited Two Quail's web site earlier that day to look for the phone number, I saw a nondescript link tucked away in the corner on the home page that said "specials" or something like that. Thinking that it would include the featured appetizer, entree, and dessert of the day, I clicked on it. Instead, I discovered a coupon for a free entree with the purchase of one.

I was overjoyed! But I immediately felt a little embarrassed at the thought of using a coupon at a nice restaurant. Two Quail's prices aren't outrageous, but it's expensive enough that we only dine there on special occasions. Two salads, entrees, and beverages can easily cost a couple over $100.

To avoid some of the potential shame of having my coupon rejected, I immediately placed an anonymous call to make sure that the coupon was valid and to ask if we had to dine before a certain hour to use it. Once we arrived at the restaurant and claimed our favorite table, which we love because of its location in the front bay window and its romantic privacy curtains, I stressed about what to do with the coupon. Should I mention it to the waiter before we order or when the bill arrives? What if the coupon only works with certain entrees? What if I mention it too early, but then he forgets and I have to embarrass myself all over again and remind him when we pay the bill?

I decided to flash the coupon when we ordered just in case we had to meet certain stipulations. Our waiter was so gracious about it that I quickly felt at ease. Ten seconds of shame was definitely worth saving $25 on our meal. And my duck breast tasted even better because I knew that it was free!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

lessons learned at the polls

1. So many people in my precinct have a last name that begins with a letter in the same window of the alphabet as I do. Or at least we all showed up at the same time this morning to vote. I arrived at 7 a.m. and actually made it out in just under an hour (better than I expected during prime time), but I spent at least an extra 20 minutes there because the check-in station serving the S-Z last names was slammed. The volunteers constantly pulled people in line after me to go before me because they were registered as Adams or Dawson or Henry or Mitchell or even Roberts. Who knew that the end of the alphabet was so popular in terms of last names?

2. The "I voted" sticker never adheres to anything I wear. No matter my shirt's fabric or texture, the sticker likes my long blond hair the best, which is where I find it hiding out most of the day.

3. Entrepreneurial kids really capitalize on days like today. Some kids and moms from a local school sold coffee and baked goods to the voters waiting outside in the cold. They enjoyed their monopoly with a relatively captive audience (at least for a short time).

election day hives

I often jest about a number of situations that are certain to guarantee me a hive outbreak, but the joke is now on me. Late yesterday afternoon, I discovered some swollen, itchy, painful patches on my hands and arms. I'm now fighting the urge to itch my feet and stomach. My body is definitely at war with something. I woke up on Sunday morning with a strange, colorless rash on my neck.... and now the hive thing.

This malady brings back memories of my only other encounter with hives, which occurred when I was eight or nine years old. Immersed in a school read-a-thon to raise money for multiple sclerosis research, I dreamed one night that I acquired the disease, lost my vision, and could no longer read. I awoke in a panic, and my hands flew to my face as I felt swelling around my eyes and lips. A glance in the bathroom mirror revealed my disfigured face. I ripped off my clothes to find my body covered in bright red bumps. A trip to the doctor revealed that my hives symbolized an allergic reaction to penicillin, which up until that point, I had consumed by the gallon to fight a chronic ear infection.

I think that I know the perfect cure for my condition today: a free, star-shaped donut from Krispy Kreme just for displaying my "I voted" sticker!

Monday, November 3, 2008

not Kevined out yet

While I'm on the subject of books today, Everyday I Write the Book blog has announced an upcoming online book club discussion about one of my most recent literary obsessions: We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

This book still haunts me, despite reading it over three months ago. The writing, the characters, the rich description, the plot... they all got under my skin, which is, in my humble opinion, a mark of a true masterpiece.

If you've read the book and wish to discuss it, sign up at Everyday I Write the Book. Or call me and we'll meet for coffee.

The winning streak continues...

My recent win at the BlogHer Conference must have brought me luck because I recently won another contest!

Being a huge advocate and supporter of public libraries, I only purchase books if:
a) I've already read the book and it makes my very stringent, highly prestigious list of top 10 favorites (this is still a rare occurrence... I only own copies of one or two of my favorite books. In a small city apartment, I value space more than books. And overcrowded, cluttered spaces are sure to give me hives.)
b) I've read an entire series and I genuinely believe that I will it read again (e.g. Harry Potter)
c) it's a book club selection, but despite monumental efforts, I can't secure a copy in time at any library. In this case, I normally buy a used copy on amazon and then I sell it as soon as I've finished it.

But who doesn't enjoy the stiff, crisp pages of a brand new book? So I do occasionally enter contests on book blogs that I read in attempt to garner some free goods.

And I finally won! Everyday I Write the Book blog recently raffled off three copies of The Four Seasons by Laurel Corona. I have no idea what the book is about, but historical fiction is my favorite genre and I adore Venice, so I have my fingers crossed!

Friday, October 31, 2008

A crowning moment relived

This day, at the exact time of this post, marks the one-year anniversary of the moment that my wise, faithful, brilliant, kind, and patient dissertation advisor opened the door of my defense room and announced to all of us waiting in the hallway, "Congratulations, Dr. (Blondie)!"

I did it. The long-anticipated event had ended. Was it anticlimactic? Yes and no. But that Halloween day was wonderful and emotional and unforgettable in all sorts of ways. Most importantly, I survived and passed the defense. My committee even signed my graduation clearance form at the defense (a doctoral student's dream). Dr. Blondie was born. And I will forever associate Halloween with my dissertation defense.

Brad, my coworkers and boss, a few nervous graduate students, and my friend Susannah attended my defense. After I recovered from what my friend Toyia described as my crocodile tears (when I almost lost it in front of everyone before I even started... every single person in the room looked down and broke eye contact with me as my throat constricted and my eyes filled to help me through the moment. Seriously, why are doctoral students expected to begin the defense by gushing thanks to those in the room? I KNEW that I'd never pull it off with dry eyes.), I answered and dodged the firing squad's questions for about one hour, less time than I expected. I even brushed off the occasional condescending comment from my favorite committee member, such as "I was very, very dismayed to see that you failed to....". (NOTE: after I attended subsequent defenses and heard other faculty members use the SAME EXACT WORDS, I didn't feel so bad. It must be a recommended phrase in the hazing handbook.).

My office hosted a lovely celebratory lunch party for me. That night, Brad and I dined at one of our favorite restaurants in our neighborhood, a place we plan to revisit tonight and on many future dissertation defense anniversaries.

A few weeks before my defense, a colleague joked that I should wear a costume on the big day because it coincided with Halloween. She then suggested that I purchase my doctoral regalia early and dress as a graduate. I wasn't bold enough to attempt such a prank, but had I attended a costume party that evening, my graduate attire would have been legitimate.

My biggest lesson learned during my first year as an official Ph.D.? I enjoy writing this blog a bazillion times more than a dissertation.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Reasons why you too should write a blog

11. Writing regularly can improve your grammar and vocabulary.

10. Why not over share like the rest of us?

9. Writing honestly and sometimes humorously about your own craziness not only humbles you, it also makes you feel less nuts.

8. Everyone else is doing it.

7. You could be discovered. In all sorts of ways.

6. Sharing your own experiences can help others in ways that you may never know.

5. A creative outlet stimulates the mind.

4. Believing that 10 faithful readers the whole world cares about the mundane aspects of your day can really boost your spirits.

3. Writing your own blog will make you feel slightly less voyeuristic when stalking other people's blogs. At least you're sharing too.

2. The blogging community is very supportive. Nice comments received on a rotten day can really combat a bad mood.

1. I fear that I'm most socially awkward on the phone, so don't expect me to call you often, but I do care about you and about what you're up to. I'd love to know about the minutia of your life too.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Over the line

My park walking friends recently graduated from criticizing my tardiness and absenteeism and have now targeted my speed. They thoughtfully commented this morning as I passed them, "You're running slow today!"

Not to make excuses, but I've been fighting a side stitch since I woke up yesterday morning, which, as you can imagine, made my run particularly enjoyable this morning.

I fully anticipate form critiques next.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Reflections from a marathon impostor

My friend Renee successfully completed the Marine Corps Marathon yesterday and I organized a group to travel around the course to cheer for her. Despite rules forbidding unregistered participants on the course, I ran with her from miles 20 to 25 in an attempt to distract her from excruciating knee and hip pains. Although I'm normally a rule-abiding citizen, without hesitation I embraced my role as a marathon impostor in hopes that it would help her to finish the race.

What an eye opening experience it was to run the last few miles of a marathon with fresh legs and a nonparticipant perspective! The memories of my own marathon experience, struggling with the never-ending 14th street bridge and the desolate area by the Pentagon, quickly returned. But I think that because I simply joined the race at mile 20 this time, people's hardships seemed more prevalent to me. Everywhere I looked, people were bleeding, crying, and limping. Most people were walking (or should I say hobbling) more than running and some were nearly passed out on the side of the road. For the average person, running 20+ miles takes huge physical and mental tolls. Your mind and body begin to shut down. It was inspiring to see people fight through pain and discomfort. And because I wasn't hurting this time, their struggles stood out to me and seemed even more impressive. The crowds cheered more intensely during these later miles and the exhaustion as well as the raw energy were palpable.

Just after mile 23, I saw a woman who I know from work on the sidelines. The moment she saw me, she screamed encouraging words! Feeling guilty for garnering support for a race that wasn't mine, I quickly motioned to my friend and called, "I'm not running... I'm supporting!" to which she countered, "Yay for supporters! Go runners!"

At mile 24, Renee and I came upon a man younger than both of us who had this printed on the back of his shirt:
Brain cancer survivor
March 10, 2007
He ran swiftly towards the finish line of a race that he probably never thought that he could complete or even live to see two years ago. My heart overflowed.

I left Renee at mile 25 and soon after I found Brad and we started walking towards the finish line, two young runners stopped us. As they hobbled along, the man saw that Brad had a half-full water bottle tucked into our backpack's side pocket. The young man asked if we could spare him some water so that he could take pain medication. We happily obliged and gave him the bottle. Not caring that we were complete strangers who had already finished half of the water, he put the bottle to his lips and swallowed his pills with eagerness. We felt happy to help him.

Numerous people swear off subsequent marathons during the last miles of the race because this stretch is extremely challenging in many ways. But then the high at the finish line and the post-race pride eventually call them back again.

And would I run another marathon, even after acquiring a different perspective on the experience?


Friday, October 24, 2008

Who is the Target? I am.

I try to avoid Target because like a friend of mine, I rarely leave without spending at least $100. But I do make a run every four to six weeks for necessities like garbage bags, dish soap, shampoo, toilet paper, and the like. How Brad and I go through the basics so quickly is beyond me.

Target nailed me again this morning. Even after using coupons that I had faithfully collected from Sunday papers on four different weekends and saving a whopping $8.90 (seriously, is it even worth the hassle?), I still left the store $158.07 poorer. And I bought zero luxury items. No shoes, jewelry, clothes, or home decor. Well, I did buy a new clock radio because our old alarm clock recently died (it had lasted Brad's entire life!) and I accidentally knocked our kitchen clock off the wall recently and broke it, so I had to replace it. But I bought the cheaper (but still cute!) models of both items.

Even regarding the basic necessities, I always compare prices and try to buy things on sale. I'm not opposed to buying the Target brand of everything if it's cheaper. And I rarely buy fancy brands of anything. Suave shampoo works just fine.

But alas, Target gets me every time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shade protection

I proudly present my recent knitting creations: two different styles of sunglasses cases, one is a slip pouch and the other has a flap with a yellow flower button closure. Now that my white movie-star-like sunglasses have survived their swim in the Mediterranean Sea, they can live in the case, safe from all of the sharp-edged objects in my purse.

For these projects, I learned how to increase stitches, do yarn overs, sew seams with yarn, and create new patterns. I will be open to take orders any day now.

I have a few other project ideas up my sleeve, so stay tuned, Gentle Readers...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Nothing that a sweet treat won't fix...

I woke up in a rotten mood one day last week. I have no idea why other than it was just one of those days when I decided that it was my turn to be a jerk to people. I left for work in a huff after I yelled at Brad for not being available to help me carry the groceries up our bazillion stairs (How dare him! I mean, I was going to the store alone... he could at least be at home when I needed him to be and carry the bags upstairs for me, right? Right?!). My annoyance quickly accelerated into one of those "I do everything and you do nothing" type of spats, which of course, are completely irrational and not based on anything but a bad mood. But that was my temperament that morning. Luckily, I didn't have any meetings that day, so I avoided others and kept a low profile at work.

I arrived home at the end of the day, knowing that I should apologize, but I still felt a little surly... that is, until Brad walked in and handed me a delightful cardboard box that contained four delicacies from Hello Cupcake, the latest in the wave of cupcake-focused bakeries in DC. My sweetheart knows me so well. He suspected that a surprise froufrou cupcake would diminish my bad mood immediately, and he was right. This bakery is only three doors down from his office and I've been asking him about it for weeks. Brad picked the perfect day to sample the selection and surprise me.

I'm convinced that food is a crucial part of love. I believe that it can make or break a relationship.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A monster of my own creation

Earlier this year, I lamented my inability to break into Brad's circle of admirers, the elderly park walkers who religiously cheer him on during his morning runs around a park near our home. After much persistence on my part, they finally welcomed me into the group. And now, for the most part, I enjoy my morning banter with Joyce, Arelia, Ellis, and Smitty.

However, I think that I've created a monster.

Joyce and Arelia have grown so comfortable with Brad and me that their attention now borders on harassment instead of encouragement. They know our routine to the minute. They often greet my "good morning!" with a curt "you're late!" or "you snoozed too long today" if I arrive only a couple of minutes later than I normally do. Or worse, if I play hooky for a few days I'll receive a snarky "well, well, well...welcome back" or "where have you been?". They know that Brad runs faster than I do, and they often chastise me for letting him catch me. So negative! I know that their teasing is good natured, but it still grates on my nerves sometimes.

The ladies haven't learned yet that I don't respond well to negative reinforcement. I was the gangling 7th grader on the basketball court who visibly crumbled after my coach publicly bent my ear for missing an easy shot. He might as well have taken me out of the game right after he screamed at me.

We bailed on running the day before we left for Europe. I felt incredibly guilty for vanishing for three weeks without informing our keepers that I dragged myself out of bed and caught up with them circling the park to explain our upcoming prolonged absence. Plenty of people didn't know about our vacation, but I felt compelled to tell Joyce and Arelia just in case they missed us. Upon our return, we learned that Joyce and Arelia joyfully spread word of our absence to all of our other park friends. Anything to give the busybodies something to do and discuss.

We do appreciate the accountability. We really do. But I fear that this situation is snowballing into a major annoyance. I fully expect to leave the house some morning to find them waiting on our porch, tapping their feet, and asking where we've been.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I am a winner after all....

Yesterday I attended the BlogHer Reach Out Tour in DC with my two friends, Caffeinated and Smiling Mama. It was great fun and I learned a few tips that will hopefully help to spice up my blog in the coming months for your entertainment, Gentle Readers, all ten of you. Stay tuned!

Despite my failed experiment and my general lack of luck when it comes to any type of raffle or drawing, I won a door prize at the end of the conference yesterday! I nearly fainted when I heard my name called, but I quickly jumped up to claim my prize: a pink yahoo shine tote full of MAC cosmetics. Granted, most of the goods are only appropriate for Halloween costumes or 80s parties, but there are a few more neutral-colored lipsticks that have potential.

I credit Smiling Mama's lucky presence for my success. Winning does feel good!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Lost in an even bigger parking lot

I'm happy to say that I survived another 10 mile race this past weekend. And though I was worried that my excessive gallivanting and lack of running over the past few months would hurt my speed (what little I have), I ran the race only 9 seconds slower than last time. Not bad. And I give my friend Renee, who is running a big race in less than three weeks, 100% of the credit. We decided to run together at the last minute and bless her heart, although she's in marathon shape and I, clearly, am not, she stayed with me the entire time, which motivated me to run faster than I would have.

Because Brad and I both knew that he would finish the race before me, we agreed that he would accomplish our two post-race tasks so that we could meet at our designated spot and join the atrocious line for the metro ASAP:
1. Pick up our belongings at bag check (note: the bag included my metro card, cell phone, money, house keys, etc. and was checked under Brad's number)
2. Obtain water and food for both of us asap

After Renee and I finished the race, I went immediately to the bus stop, my designated meeting place with Brad. I was surprised not to see him because we've never experienced problems finding each other after races. I went with Renee to retrieve her bag, hoping to see Brad standing in line to claim our stuff. No such luck. I checked our meeting place again and didn't see him. I then wondered around the Pentagon parking lot for about 20 minutes, among 25,000+ people, sporadically returning to our meeting spot, growing increasingly nervous at his absence.

Then I started to panic and my mind began to play tricks on me. "Did he tell me to meet him at a different bus stop?" "Where the hell is he?!" "How will I get home without my metro card, phone, or keys?" And finally, with horror, "Was Brad the guy passed out on the 14th Street Bridge with paramedics hovering over him and I didn't even notice??"

I felt like my eight-year-old self again. On a family vacation in 1982, my parents lost me at Opryland in Nashville (back in the good old days when Opryland was an amusement park) for the better part of a day. Like the obedient youngster that I was, I followed the instructions that are often hammered into the heads of children: when lost, ask for help and stay put. I quickly appealed to an employee and I sat and cried in the lost and found office all day long, the only place my parents didn't think to look until the park was closing! In retrospect, was this incident a precursor of future estrangements with my family? Possibly, but I digress.

Brad and I did find each other eventually. We figured out that I must have made it to our meeting place before he did. Brad was busy retrieving our bag and claiming food and he didn't expect his out-of-shape wife to finish the race so quickly. Although we both kept circling back to the bus stop, our paths didn't cross for nearly 20 minutes.

Brad and I both relearned a childhood lesson on Sunday: when lost, ask for help and stay put.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Grading and more grading

Here's what I've been up to this week:
  • 135 sophomore students in my class this semester
  • Each student submitted two research article critiques to me last Thursday
  • I enforced a limit of two typed pages per critique (THANK YOU Lord for this wisdom), which means no more than four pages per student (or I threatened to stop reading and to dock points for ignoring the parameters of the assignment)
  • I'll do the math for you. 135 X 2 X 2 = 540 pages of grading
  • This is the first of several assignments that I am grading this semester. It has only just begun.
I've been plowing through the article critiques since Monday and even though I'm now about two-thirds of the way done, I am still drowning in paper. But I am rich in second-hand knowledge of all kinds of research projects that I know absolutely nothing about! Who can't benefit from learning how to measure the antioxidants found in grape seed oil or how a device that captures wave energy works? For me at least, these burning questions have been gnawing at me for years.

Monday, September 29, 2008

One of the best, but hopefully not the last...

My favorite DC event has come and gone once again. For the fifth year in a row, I planted myself for an entire day among thousands of other bookworms and wanna-be writers to bask in the presence of myriad storytellers, illustrators, athletes, poets, librarians, journalists, and authors. For the fifth year in a row, I briefly entertained thoughts of quitting my job first thing on Monday and pursuing my dream of writing a novel. If only a regular paycheck and benefits weren't so necessary!

All of this daydreaming leads me to one question: dear readers, if money or talent were no object (meaning: if you didn't need a certain level of income or talent to pursue the career of your dreams), what occupation would you choose and why? An interesting question to ponder, isn't it?

This year's book festival was one of the best. I saw and listened to beloved authors as well as a few new ones. I fortunately cleared the security line in time to meet Laura and Jenna Bush in person before they left. Not only did they sign my copy of their recently published children's book (about the joy of reading and importance of libraries - a wonderful message!!), I enthusiastically expressed my gratitude to the First Lady for bringing the book festival to DC. After about 30 seconds of gushing about how much I've enjoyed the event over the years, I finally remembered to thank Mrs. Bush simply for her service to our country. But I ended with, "...but most of all thank you for bringing the book festival to DC!" before the line forced me to move along. She laughed, smiled, and seemed to appreciate my enthusiasm. I am, after all, the Book Festival's number one fan.

Throughout the day, a number of authors and commentators remarked that they hoped that the new First Lady continued the National Book Festival. Considering that the Library of Congress is a co-sponsor and the event draws nearly 100,000 people each year, it seems like an institution to me. But when the new administration takes over in January, you can be certain that the First Lady will be greeted by a letter from me, lobbying for the continuation of this wonderful event.

I hope that she listens.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ways to determine which new parent authors the birth announcement email

Earlier this week I received a birth announcement email message from the husband of a woman who applied for a graduate assistantship in my office a couple of years ago. They just had their first baby and were deservedly basking in the "look at what we just created" bliss. And although the message was signed from the family, I knew immediately that the husband had authored it. How, you ask?

Clue #1: Who?! I barely know this woman. In fact, I almost deleted the message because I didn't recognize the name of the sender. It took me a while to figure out who it was, but I finally did with the help of the pictures attached to the message. My email address must have been in her address book from when we corresponded years ago about the job opening in my office. And I deduced that her husband, not being armed with a preset list of people to contact, sent the announcement to her entire email address book.

Clue #2: TMI. The message included a long paragraph that gave a minute-by-minute account of the woman's labor, beginning with her induction, not dilating for hours and then dilating quickly, finally receiving an epidural, napping for hours, dilating to 5 cm and finally to 10 cm, and then over two hours of pushing. I felt exhausted just reading the message. While I didn't necessarily mind the TMI because I'm secretly fascinated by childbirth stories and I was relieved that the message wasn't crude (as others have been... more on that later), I still wondered if the woman knew that her husband had shared such intimate details with EVERYONE in her address book, including her professional contacts?

Clue #3: Insanely proud, but clearly shell-shocked. The new doting daddy's pride in his wife and new son were definitely endearing. He mentioned her "amazing abilities" and "hard work" and his son's handsomeness and "strong presence". The tone of the email was one of such wide-eyed amazement that I felt that I needed to pat him on the back for simply taking it all in and reporting it to us.

This message made me laughingly recall other doting daddies' birth announcements. Plenty of new dads have written how their sons and daughters simply "popped out" (like baseball?) or "slid into the world" (just like sliding into home base, right? what's up with the baseball lingo?). One husband wrote that his wife's labor was "a breeze" (note: I've known 25-30 women who have given birth over the last few years. While several have said, "it wasn't as bad as I expected", not one of them ever described the experience as "a breeze".).

The most memorable birth announcement of late was sent by one of Brad's former co-workers regarding the birth of his first son. After reading a somewhat pompous message that I think was intended to be funny, but in my opinion just sounded crude and immature, I clicked on the attached picture only to be greeted by a two-minute-old baby covered in blood and who knows what else, swollen genitals front and center of the picture, his mouth agape while screaming his head off, and a look of sheer terror in his eyes. I immediately closed the picture because it scared the living daylights out of me. I never looked at it again, but the image remains with me to this day. Brad said that his coworkers reacted the same way that I did.

I anticipate that maybe that mother will proofread from now on.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lost in the parking lot

In most cases, I am blessed with an excellent memory. I usually remember names and dates and birthdays and minute details extremely well. Although I love to write things down because I'm anal that way, I don't necessarily have to, and I often complete most tasks on my to-do list without consulting it (but boy do I relish crossing things off, which is the primary reason why I create the list in the first place).

But one area where my memory often fails me is my car, and specifically, where I park it. Allow me to explain. Even though I park on the street in DC, I hardly ever forget where I park at home. I often am lucky enough to park on the block where I live, so I rarely have to search for the car. But work is a different story. Although I hold a coveted faculty/staff parking permit, which falls higher on the campus parking hierarchy than student permits, it still doesn't get me much as I compete for a parking spot every single day during the semester. Lots exist on each of three sides of my building where I can park. I also have access to two additional lots a bit farther away for days when I'm really desperate for a spot. If I leave campus during the day for lunch or an appointment and return later, I'm often forced to park in a different lot than where I parked that morning.

At least once every two weeks, I exit my building at the end of the day and find myself standing in the wrong parking lot, panicked that I can't find the car. And it's most often the parking lot located in the exact opposite direction from where I need to be. Without fail, it usually happens on a night when I'm rushing to the next commitment, already running late.

As I park each morning, I consciously recite over and over in my head where I parked as I walk to my office so that I can avoid the inevitable panic attack in eight hours. But my daily practice doesn't always work. Short of jotting down the car's location each morning, I don't know what else to do. Maybe I need to buy a little notebook to keep in my purse.

My failing memory welcomes any and all suggestions.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Lamentations of a football addict's wife

My nemesis is back.

On Saturday I realized that Brad and I were only married for one college football season (fall 2002) before I was otherwise occupied with: 1) applying to grad school, retaking the GRE, and taking one course (fall 2003), 2) swamped by graduate coursework (fall 2004, 2005, and 2006), and 3) finishing and defending my dissertation (fall 2007).

As a graduate student, I felt so thankful to see Brad blissfully planted in front of the TV for 12+ hours straight on a Saturday so that I could hog the computer and knock out papers with no guilt. Last fall during dissertation crunch time, I distractedly waved my hand, mumbling, "Go, go! No, I can't go!" each time Brad told me that he planned to watch football at a friend's house. Over the past five fall seasons, most Saturdays I welcomed Brad's football addiction. And Brad didn't have to be told twice to enjoy himself and watch football all day.

But things have changed.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy the social aspect of college football very much. I look forward to hanging out with our group of friends for game-watching parties every single weekend. I fully support following your favorite team and even arranging your schedule around your favorite team's game each week. I'm happy to accommodate Brad's favorite team every Saturday. But I (try to) draw the line at the insistence that we watch not only his favorite team, but also every other relatively big game of the week every single week.

And it's not just college football... it's every kind of football. Let me give you an example. This past Saturday: Brad played in a flag football game in the morning (I've bowed out of playing this season because I refuse to suffer any more broken bones from playing a sport that: a) I stink at, and, b) I could care less about); was going to stay for an additional flag football game to ref, but he didn't have to at the last minute; watched the UT game; and continued to watch another 6-8 hours of football after the UT game ended. Sunday afternoon just brought on the NFL. And he even says regularly that he doesn't like pro football!!

My husband has a serious football addiction.

And one of the worst part about all of this is that Brad's addiction also means that our nice TV is off limits to anything that I'd like to watch on the weekends. Granted, I don't watch much TV, but I might enjoy it now that school is no longer occupying my time. He's lucky that I enjoy lots of other hobbies!

This could be a long fall.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Don't miss this...

16 days and counting until... the National Book Festival!

They've posted the pavilion schedule and I'm looking forward to a number of authors:

Philippa Gregory: I loved The Other Boleyn Girl.

Geraldine Brooks: I saw her at the 2006 book festival and she was my favorite author that year. While she's probably more famous for March, her first novel, Year of Wonders, is one of my favorite books.

Salman Rushdie: I admit that I haven't read any of his books, but I can't wait to hear from a man who spent a decade of his life in hiding because an Iranian leader issued a religious edict for his death.

Alexander McCall Smith: I recently read the first installment in The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency series. I'm not sure that I understand what all of the hype is about, but I'd still love to hear this author speak.

Marisa de los Santos: I recently read Love Walked In, and it was okay. Under normal circumstances, I would probably have reacted more favorably. But I read this book in the wake of my recent book obsession that I cannot get out of my head and Love Walked In just didn't stand a chance.

Brad is excited to see Brad Meltzer and a bunch of authors in the history/biography tent.

I'll be there almost all day, so let me know if you'd like to meet!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I'm back! No, I'm serious this time...

I have to admit that I've had a bit of an adjustment problem since returning from Europe, but after two and one half weeks of life back at home, I think that I'm finally back to normal. Work hasn't been the problem; I returned to the start of the fall semester and a campus crawling with students, so I had no choice but to jump right in, kind of like I never left. But isn't that always the case with work? By noon of the first day back, you're like, vacation? What vacation? Did I go somewhere?

I will say that if your occupation revolves around the school calendar, I highly recommend taking an extended vacation during the month of August if you can get away with it. I abhor the month of August, mostly because of the anticipation of school starting. It's a "hurry up and wait" type of month. August is busy enough with final school preparations, but you're really just waiting for all hell to break loose at the end of the month because you know that, inevitably, it will. And then students and teachers alike get into the routine of the semester and all is well again, and even enjoyable. But that waiting period always kills me. So I skipped it this year. And I can't remember a better month of August in my life.

I've experienced more difficulty getting back into my running routine, but with my next race impending, I've tried to crack down this week. Brad and I left our running shoes at home during our trip and while I know that we walked more miles over three weeks in Europe than we would have run had we been here, it's still been tough to get back out there at 5:30 a.m. some mornings.

I am a creature of habit and because I appreciate structure and a daily routine, it's been comforting to resume my hobbies as well as my chores. But I will always think wistfully of those three weeks when the most important decision I made each day was choosing a restaurant for dinner that night and the most taxing chore I performed involved restocking the backpack for the next day.

Friday, September 5, 2008

My first creation

I'm done! I can't wait to welcome the fall season with my new pink skinny scarf, designed and made by moi!

Next knitting project: a case for my sunglasses. I've already bought the yarn. It's official - I'm hooked.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

An Educational Experience...

In honor of the first day of fall semester classes at UMD (and my first fall semester since 2003 without taking classes or working on my dissertation), I want to share my "ah ha" moments from the trip. Keep in mind that while I've visited every single state east of the Mississippi River except for Vermont and a number of states in the Southwest and West, prior to the past month, I've only been out of the country twice: once to Cancun on spring break and once to Aruba on our honeymoon. I am not a well traveled person. I am one of the only people I know who had not been to Europe before turning 30. Keep this information in mind as you read my list of top 10 surprises/observations below. (They may not be that novel to you.)

1. I found very few public toilets in Italy or France that were: a) free, and b) what I would consider "normal". In almost every case, after paying my "cover charge" to enter the stall, I looked high and low to figure out how to flush the toilet. Either I pulled a chain connected to a tank a few feet above my head (and I'm tall... I can't imagine what short women do!), stomped on a foot pedal, or pushed a random, unmarked button located anywhere in the stall. I also rarely found a public toilet that actually had a seat. Not that I was eager to sit anyway, but a seat would have at least looked a little nicer.

2. How do Europeans look so chic when no one irons? I asked, no... begged, for an iron at each hotel to no avail. Have you ever tried ironing a skirt with a flat iron? Well, I did. And let me tell you, it doesn't work. (But my international electrical socket adapter DID work - yippee!!)

3. Venice doesn't stink! And I was there on 90+ degree days. And I noticed absolutely no odor whatsoever. I truly don't understand what everyone complains about.

4. My friend Susannah mentioned that her hotels in Italy lacked shower curtains, but holy mother of God, I was completely unprepared for the challenge of showering, often twice a day, for 22 days with no shower curtain. Most of our hotels had a small, clear partition that shielded maybe a quarter of the shower space. I never did quite master the task. But I did learn to shower very quickly and to position extra towels strategically.

5. Who knew that salad dressing choices were an American invention? Italians serve the salad dry and provide bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dress the greens. While delicious at first, let me assure you, this approach grows old quickly. In France, all of my salads were served already dressed with an unidentified concoction. I had no choice in either country. And who invented "Italian" or "French" dressings? An American, I presume. Neither American version of the dressings taste similar to what is actually served in each country.

6. The travel books that I read prior to the trip warned that Europe is not well air conditioned compared to the U.S., so when I made our hotel reservations, I made sure that we would have a room with air conditioning at each location. Well, their definition of air conditioning differs greatly from mine. We stayed in several hotels in Italy where the lowest the thermostat would go was 77-79 degrees, which was too warm for us, especially my red-headed, extremely hot-natured husband. Even on sweltering days, the hotel staff couldn't understand why we complained that the room was too stuffy. Most hotel lobbies weren't air conditioned at all. And while restaurants advertised that they had air conditioning, very few of them actually used it!!

7. When I visit a museum, monument, or battlefield in the United States, I take for granted that I'll receive a well-organized pamphlet that articulates everything I need to know about the attraction and includes a map. I also take for granted that almost every U.S. landmark that I've seen includes many signs guiding you through the exhibit and explaining every last detail. This isn't the case at many of the places that we visited in Europe. We learned quickly that you have to pay the extra money for either the headset (shudder... fun fact: I can't stand headsets... they freak me out) or the private guided tour to learn anything about what you're looking at. If you just walk around, you'll have no idea what anything is. The D-Day Beaches at Normandy were much different than anything we expected.

8. Monte Carlo: while I'm so glad that we visited this famous, or should I say infamous, city, Brad and I did not fit in there at all (really, this should not be a surprise to any of us). The people, cars, clothes, casino, buildings, landscaping, and general atmosphere were so glitzy and exotic looking that our wholesome, albeit a bit frumpy, all-American looks made us stand out. And not in a good way.

9. How do Europeans manage to look so sophisticated while chain smoking? Do you ever see an American, any American, smoking and think, "Wow, that person looks so cool! I want to do that!" I doubt it. The anti-smoking campaigns in the United States have been outrageously successful. Those campaigns wouldn't fly in Europe. I'm not even joking, it seems like every single person there smokes. Every night at dinner I took inventory of the smokers around us. And without fail, at every single table that surrounded ours, at least one person was smoking. No-smoking sections are nonexistent. People smoke in restaurants, bars, buildings, train stations, sidewalks, EVERYWHERE. And although I've never been a smoker nor have a desire to become one... honestly? The smokers in Europe looked so glamorous. I did feel a little left out that I wasn't doing it. And ironically, from my unsophisticated google research thus far, it seems that emphysema mortality rates are actually much, much higher in the U.S. than in any other country. Italy and France didn't even make the short list. How is this possible?

10. If you often find yourself frustrated by the lack of wheelchair and stroller accessibility in the U.S., you should take a trip to Italy and France where curb cuts do not exist and elevators are absent in myriad places. I know because I hauled a 60 pound suitcase up and down more flights of stairs than I care to remember after fruitlessly searching for an elevator or escalator. I don't know how people bound to wheelchairs survive there. I didn't see many of them during my 22 days there. But, similar to the smoking observation, the lack of accessibility for the disabled served as another example of how laws in other countries differ from our own. And how our young country is actually quite progressive in caring for its people and their wide range of needs.