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.