Thursday, July 31, 2008

Do wild cats eat turtles?

Let me tell you, a college campus is an exciting place to work, especially during the summer.

Read the following police alert that recently went out to all students, faculty, and staff:

July 31, 2008

There have been several reliable sightings of an animal fitting the description of a cougar on the campus. The description of the sighted cat is: light tan and tawny brown, about 4 feet long with a 4 foot tail, and weighing about 50 pounds. Several sightings have been reported from the area of Cole Field House, near the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, and continuing through the wooded areas to the area of the Comcast Center and Arena Drive Garage. There has been no report of aggressive behavior on the part of the animal, but community members are warned that cougars are a predatory species and that, if seen, the animal should not be approached.

If you see the animal, please contact the university police at 301-405-3555. University police are working with other agencies to remove the animal from the campus area."

Missing out

Where have I been since February??!! Did anyone know about this? They even have a roving delivery truck!

Fellow DC'ers... I believe that a field trip is in order soon...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tying up loose ends...

Gentle Readers,

I realize that in the past month or so, I've shared a number of stories that require some updates. In the spirit of tidying my desk, cleaning out my inbox, and otherwise preparing to leave this country in only four days (!), I hesitate to leave my most faithful readers wondering about the outcomes of some of my endeavors while I'm gone. So, here you go:

My experiment: It bombed. For days I waited breathlessly for notification that I had won at least one pay-it-forward contest (out of the 60+ that I entered). No such luck. And my usually-lucky friend didn't win one either, which surprised us even more than my failure. I'm still hopeful about this contest though, because I don't think that a winner has been announced yet. But I've already received at least one spam email from Harper Collins. Most likely that's all I'll get from entering their contest.

My new hobby: I'm happy to report that I've gotten the hang of knitting and my gorgeous new scarf is progressing nicely! I've knitted almost three feet, so I'm about halfway finished. I don't knit for long stretches of time, but I do complete a handful of rows every single day. In a very strange way, this scarf project reminds me so much of my dissertation. I do a little bit each day and it has quickly grown before my eyes. I'll be done before I know it and I'll need to start another knitting project to occupy me while I finish watching all episodes from all six seasons of Sex in the City (a must for me before seeing the movie).

Future rock stars of America: Rock band camp is still in session, but the stars-in-the-making are quieter this week and the noise in my office has ceased, thank goodness!! I somewhat regret not getting any autographs last week. I'm sure that there is at least one budding famous person at the camp. And had I bothered to actually converse with (instead of sternly reprimand) any of these hooligans, I could have proudly said that I knew them way back when, in the bowels of a university residence hall, where they got their start at rock band camp.

Green thumb, yes. Yellow thumb, no: My yellow 'shroom problem ended nearly as quickly as it began. I decided to take the adventurous route and let the mushrooms grow just to see what would happen. The day of the cap sprouting, I left town for about 28 hours to tag along with Brad to Columbus, OH for a political/work event and also to quickly visit my brother (who expensed my flight... thanks Luke, even though you don't read this blog!) and we returned home to find both mushrooms shriveled and dead. The heat in our apartment got them. I guess that I'm not meant to be a 'shroom grower after all! I'm thankful that the mushrooms popped up when they did. At least now I can warn our neighbor who is caring for our plants while we're on vacation so that she doesn't freak out if she spots an explosion of canary yellow in the plant's pot.

This week Brad and I are packing, trying to consume all of the food in our fridge, paying bills, exchanging dollars for Euros (a little depressing and I actually don't recommend this), and otherwise preparing to get the heck outta here. And we're also dreaming of this, where we'll arrive, Lord willing, in about five days....

Hasta la vista,

Dr. Blondie

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fern's new friends

To my amazement (and horror), my most-prized houseplant has two new friends growing in her pot: canary yellow houseplant mushrooms! Check them out:

A few weeks ago, I found a mushroom in this plant's pot, which completely grossed me out at the time. I love to consume edible mushrooms, but I have no desire to grow fungi myself. While I've battled plenty of other pests over my many years of plant love, I have never witnessed anything like this growing in my house. Protected by rubber gloves, I dug the shroom out of the dirt, but I knew deep down that spores travel everywhere and I figured that the little devil would come back. And today it did. Twice. Yuck.

What can I say except praise God for the Internet (and specifically google)! After searching for "houseplant fungi", the first hit focused on "yellow houseplant mushrooms"... bingo! I quickly learned that mushroom spores can often be found in bags of potting soil, which reminded me that I did add a fresh layer of Miracle-Gro soil to the plant a few weeks ago, which explains why now, after six years with no issues, I have a shroom problem. But I also learned that mushrooms aren't harmful (unless you have small children or pets that could accidentally consume them), and they're pretty common, but tough to exterminate.

So here's my conundrum: do I dig the mushrooms out each time they pop up or do I unabashedly just let them grow? I get the impression that other people don't consider me the shroom-growing type. Maybe it's time to surprise them.

Parlez vous anglais?

I have to admit that in addition to looking like a frumpy American, getting robbed, and being cheated because I am a tourist, I feel most nervous about visiting two countries where neither Brad nor I speak the language.

Brad took French in high school and for at least one semester in college, but I'm not sure how much he'll be able to help us. I actually took French through two college-level correspondence courses in high school only because none of the schools in my podunk little town offered foreign language courses ('cuz wuuuhhhyyy shood cuntree foke axe suhfissscated neow?) and they were required for admission to my alma mater. But when the textbook and course packet arrived in the mail for my introductory French class and every single word was written in French, I freaked out. Needless to say, I passed the courses and the U of I took me, but I definitely did not learn much French in the process.

I've only been to one country where English was not the primary language. I traveled to Cancun during spring break of my sophomore year in college with three girlfriends. But I quickly picked up the only word that I needed to know for that trip: cerveza.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Enter vocalists

The lead singer as well as the backup vocalists joined the rock band this morning, as I discovered when I walked towards my building from the parking lot. First singing a capella (and very loudly into the microphone, facing the open window for the entire courtyard to hear, I might add), the instruments soon chimed in and I witnessed a full-fledged concert.

But, thankfully, someone with some sense moved the kids up a few floors and to the other end of the building and I am no longer serenaded in my office, which will make my next week and a half here much more bearable.

Monday, July 21, 2008

They may be future rock stars, but I don't want to hear them practicing now...

The rock concert in my office is still going strong and the pounding in my head grows more painful with each squeal of the guitar and every drum beat.

My boss had a fit too and left nasty messages with all of the same people that I did. Despite being told nearly three hours ago by the idiot who gave this group permission to rock out in a residence hall that he would "take care of the problem", the band plays on. And play on it does. The same tune over and over and over and over. Can't these young rockers at least vary up the music a bit to entertain me? Don't they need a lunch break?

I propose that the moron in visitors and conference services who created this problem swap offices with us for the next two weeks. If he dares to show his face here again this afternoon, I'm going to accost him with this idea.

Power chord this

You will not even believe this.

As I walked to my building (a residence hall on a college campus) from the parking lot this morning, I heard very loud music coming from the rooms right above my office window. And when I mean loud, I mean electric and base guitars, drums, cymbals, keyboards, and probably other instruments that I don't even know exist. And I could hear it all the way from the parking lot, which is a considerable distance from the building. I realized that I was hearing live music, but I had no idea what it was for. Unfortunately, inside my office the noise was even more disruptive. When I called the building's front desk to complain, I was rudely informed that this camp has set up shop in the building where I work for the next TWO WEEKS and that some idiot who works in conference and visitors services put in the group's contract that the students could practice their instruments and hold camp sessions in this building. So no matter how much I complained about it, the group would not move or cease their concert.

I immediately placed a call to the Director of Conference and Visitors Services to complain about this ruckus that was scheduled without consulting anyone in my office or even acknowledging that this building houses a professional office with people who don't wish to listen to teenagers rocking out all day, especially not every day for two weeks. The director didn't pick up the phone. And who knows if he'll call me back after the clearly-annoyed tone in the voice message that I left him.

I seriously can't listen to this racket for two weeks. Europe, I'm ready for you NOW!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The DC Event of the Year

What: The National Book Festival
When: Saturday, September 27, 2008, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Where: The National Mall
Why? It is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

Five years ago I discovered the gem that is the National Book Festival, an annual event in DC designed to celebrate the joy of reading. The pavilions are organized by theme and host a cadre of authors who speak about all kinds of interesting things... (e.g., where they got the idea for their latest book; what they went through to publish their first book; who a particular character is based on, etc.). Basically, you learn the behind-the-scenes details about some of your favorite books and authors or you discover new authors and books to read! The authors also take book signing shifts, and the Library of Congress (LOC) conveniently (or strategically for them, maybe) operates sales tents where you can buy a copy of your favorite author's latest work, and then meet the author in person to have it signed. I'm a huge advocate of using public libraries (I enjoy tangible ways that I can personally benefit from my tax dollars) and for as much as I love to read, I very rarely purchase books, so I normally hang out in the pavilions all day. I plant myself in the fiction tent at 10 a.m. and basically stay there until 5 p.m. (it gets really crowded, so getting there early to claim a seat is a must). Keep in mind though that you don't have to devote an entire day to this event. Closer to the date, the LOC will post a detailed schedule of when the authors will speak and sign books. You can simply go for an hour to hear your favorite author.

They recently posted a list of this year's authors. I am most excited to see Philippa Gregory, but there are a few other favorites on the list as well.

Have children? The festival hosts myriad interactive events for kids of all ages. And what a wonderful way to cultivate their excitement for reading and to spend the day outdoors!

Last year, I carried two chapters of my dissertation in my purse so that I could edit during breaks. Not even dissertation crunch time could keep me away. I'm thrilled that I have time to read some of the authors' works in advance this year.

Mark your calendar to save the date and let me know if you'd like to meet me there!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Happy B-day, Mrs. Maloney!

Happy birthday today to the brand new Mrs. Maloney (as of three days ago)! What a perfect way to continue the celebratory activities!

One of my favorite moments during my friend's wedding ceremony last weekend occurred when her eight-year-old niece enthusiastically began her reading with the words, "Rejoice! Rejoice!". I think that she energized every single person there with the excitement and happiness that she conveyed through those two words alone. Child readers are incredibly precious.

Brad and I had a great weekend. The wedding was a blast and I so enjoyed admiring the beautiful bride's handmade, vintage-style gown. We enjoyed spending time with our house guests, my very organized friend and her hubby, and it was fun to catch up with this friend and that friend and a number of others. Cheers to the bride for introducing all of us in the first place! Now she just needs to move back to DC!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

While we're entering contests...

Gentle Readers (especially members of my book club):

While reading this blog, I learned that Harper Collins is offering a "Free Books for a Year" Sweepstakes. The company has preselected 12 books and the winner will receive 12 free copies of each of the 12 books (144 books total) to share with book club members. Now, I know that our book club has already read four of the selections, but one of our upcoming books is on there and overall, this is an interesting reading list. Plus, who doesn't enjoy free books?

To enter, click here. Smiling Mama, make sure that you enter the contest. We need your good karma!

My new hobby

Now that I'm done with school, I've become overwhelmed with activities. 2008 has been more social thus far than my previous four years combined. I've been hanging out, reading, writing (for fun!), running, shopping, cooking, gardening, trip planning, editing (and other side jobs for money), and catching up on TV shows that I missed over the years among many other things. You name it and I'm probably doing it. It's gotten a little out of control because at times I feel like I've completely lost any sort of focus. And focus, dear readers, was my saving grace in graduate school. I would not be Dr. Blondie right now if I lacked focus during those years. I may have lost focus temporarily, but eventually, I'd like to get it back.

But not yet because guess what? I have a new hobby! And I'm really excited about this one because it is not only teaching me patience and humility, the fruits of my labor will result in (hopefully) beautiful items for myself and others.

I'm learning how to knit!!!

One woman in my office is an avid knitter and the rest of us constantly admire her scarves, sweaters, and socks that she creates. She took a few of us on a field trip to a yarn store a couple of weeks ago so that we could buy supplies for the lessons that she has graciously agreed to give us. (Side note: Have you ever ventured into a yarn store? Did you even know that they existed? I always assumed that knitters bought their yarn solely from Wal-Mart, Michael's, or JoAnn Fabrics, but little did I know that the nice stuff comes from yarn stores. And I also used to think that people sewed or knitted to save money... wrong again! Knitting can be an expensive hobby. Enough yarn for a scarf that has silk or cashmere in it can easily cost you $100-$200. In most cases, it's much cheaper to buy a scarf than to knit one yourself.)

We've been spending lunch hours in the office learning how to knit. So far I've learned the knit and purl stitches as well as how to rib, cast on, and bind off. I've dropped plenty of stitches in learning how to make my practice swatch (which is not pretty, by the way). Have I impressed you yet with my knowledge of knitting terminology?!

I definitely have a newfound respect for knitters. I never guessed that it would be as difficult as it is. The awesome knitter in my office can read and carry on conversations while she knits and I can't understand how she does it without making mistakes. I've been humbled by how I repeat the same motion one hundred times in a row and then make a stupid mistake, have to rip out what I've done, and start over. This process is also teaching me patience (which I desperately need).

I started my first project today. I am making a ribbed, skinny scarf with a yarn that is multiple shades of pink. My goal is to actually be able to wear the scarf this winter (meaning that: 1. it needs to be finished by then, and 2. I can't be too ashamed of how it turns out), but I'm not making any promises. I'm rather slow at this, and my perfectionist nature only seems to hinder my progress.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Don't read this book at bedtime

Perhaps you recall hearing about the semi-truck that plowed into a Taylor University van on April 26, 2006, killing one TU staff member and four TU students. Or maybe you didn't hear about the accident itself, but you heard about the amazing turn of events six weeks afterwards; the one student who survived the accident (Whitney) was wrongly identified as another student (Laura, who actually died) and no one knew about the mix up for six weeks after the accident. Whitney's parents thought they buried Whitney when they really buried Laura. Laura's parents, siblings, roommates, serious boyfriend of three years, friends, etc. did not know that the survivor lying in the hospital bed was not Laura.

Gentle readers, you will dream about this book at night. It is an unforgettable true story, not just the facts of the case, how the mix up occurred, and how so many people were fooled for so long about the identity of the survivor, but how the families' unwavering faith in Jesus Christ gave them the strength to survive a tumultuous time. This book is simply written, but the Gospel is clear throughout it. Even if you don't consider yourself a religious person or are questioning your religious beliefs, I highly recommend that you read this book. I believe that there is something that everyone can take away from this story.

Like me (before I read the book), maybe you assume that the comatose girl in the hospital bed was so banged up for six weeks that no one could recognize her, a logical explanation for such a mistake. But if you read the book, you'll soon learn otherwise. This book really made me think a lot about how your mind can play tricks on you to allow you to believe what you want to believe, especially during traumatic situations. Because, well, the truth may just be too heart wrenching to bear.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Organization paranoia

I suddenly feel the urge to organize my cupboards, closets, and drawers by Friday... could it be because my very organized friend is coming to visit this weekend?:)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

An Experiment

My friend is notorious for entering and winning contests. I, on the other hand, rarely win anything, although I enter most drawings, raffles, and contests that I encounter. I've tried to win the free car at the mall numerous times. And I buy raffle tickets at all of the UT game-watching parties during football season, not because I need or even want a bright orange Tennessee t-shirt, but because someday, I'd just like to win. Who doesn't enjoy winning or free stuff?

A number of bloggers are hosting pay it forward contests this week, my friend included (so make sure to enter hers if you haven't already). I decided to set up an experiment of sorts. I am entering as many of the contests as I can (thank goodness I'm on vacation from work this week... this task takes some serious time!!), not because I'm clamoring for free give-aways, but more so because I'm curious to see if I actually win. And, I suspect that my lucky friend is entering the contests too, so I'd like to see how her success rate compares to mine. Most bloggers are using a random number generator to choose the winner, so my friend's odds of winning should be the same as mine. We'll see.

If I do win at least one of these contests, I'll need to host my own. So stay tuned, Gentle Readers. There could be opportunities for great riches coming your way. Or maybe just a Starbucks gift card.