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.