Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 running goal

Today, on this last day of 2009, I find it appropriate to reflect upon my 2009 goals. This entry will focus on my running goal, as I officially finished running for the year when the blizzard hit almost two weeks ago. A future entry will be dedicated to my 2009 reading goal (because, of course, I'm still reading up until the last moment of 2009!).

I vowed to run 720 miles this year, or an average of 60 miles per month. I am pleased to report that I achieved my goal and I ran 736.9 miles this year. Thank you, marathon training, for making this possible!

I ran 60 miles or more during five out of the twelve months. But those five months were intense (four were during marathon training and for some strange reason, I was very motivated to run this past July). I ran the most during May (107.4 miles) and the least during December (30 miles).

I need to set a 2010 goal, but I have no idea where to start. I don't anticipate running a marathon in 2010, although I do reserve the right to change my mind. And without a marathon as my carrot, I know that won't run as much as I should. I need a goal that is realistic, but also motivational. Ideas?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

holiday reading

Fellow Twihards (or Twilighters),

My husband says that I should be too embarrassed to admit this publicly, but you know that I rarely hold anything back on this blog, so I'll just get right to the point: I've been sucked in again, for the third time.

By my request, I now own my very own set of The Twilight Saga:


And even though I didn't finish my January book club book by Christmas Eve (as I had planned to), I picked up Twilight on Christmas Day and didn't look up until I realized that I was already on page 70. What am I doing?! I don't have time to read 2,500 pages of Stephenie Meyer AND finish my other book by January 6th (my next book club meeting). My friend Jenny suggested that I may need an intervention. I think that maybe she's right!

While I know that I will continue to reread these books, I really wish that Stephenie would just throw all of us fans a bone and write another book in the series, or at least finish Midnight Sun. I mean, really! Is that too much to ask? She's already written half of it!

And because I didn't want Brad to feel left out this Christmas, I surprised him with a Twilight-themed book that I know that he will enjoy:


Written by The Harvard Lampoon, Nightlight is described as a parody that "is great fun and will appeal to those who both love and loathe the series".

Brad keeps telling me (and others) that he can't wait for the next fad to come along to distract me from this Twilight "nonsense" (his word, not mine). I told him not to hold his breath; it could be a while.

Monday, December 28, 2009

until we meet again

That time of year has come again. Time to let go. Time to say goodbye. These 28 days have flown by, but alas, our relationship must end.


Farewell, dear tree. Until next year...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

playtime begins

Although my last day of work in 2009 was December 15th, I feel as though the real fun begins today because Brad is able to take December 23rd and 24th off and his office is then closed from Christmas until January 4th. We have five whole days together, just the two of us, before we will jump in a car and spend much of next week visiting Brad's family in Tennessee.

Five whole days of uninterrupted time together-I can't wait! These five days are a highlight of my holiday season. I take plenty of days off of work each year, but Brad rarely does, and when he is able to, it's normally because we're traveling or have some sort of obligation. Five days to hide away at home together is such a treat. May we ignore the endless chores and errands and just play!

We have tickets to see The Nutcracker tonight. And we're feeling healthy, so hopefully sickness will not preclude our annual performance outing like it did last year. Other traditions include: visiting the National Christmas Tree, attending our church's Christmas Eve service, fondue on Christmas Eve, my delicious beef tenderloin on Christmas Day, sleeping in, watching movies, frequenting coffee shops in our neighborhood, and the like.

These days will fly by. They do every year. But I know that we will enjoy them.

Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 21, 2009

RIP beloved herbs

On Friday morning when I learned that we were in for a blizzard this weekend, I marched out to my still-flourishing herb garden to harvest an armful of fresh parsley and sage to keep in my refrigerator. I had hoped that the herb garden would live through Christmas to spoil me with fresh herbs from my own garden for Christmas dinner, but alas, it was not meant to be. The garden has fed us so well from mid-May through December 18, 2009, a much later date than I expected. Not bad at all.

On Saturday around lunchtime, I ventured out to the backyard to survey the damage. The city had accumulated a foot or more by that time, and the snow continued to fall throughout the rest of the day. I think that we ended up with between 18 and 20 inches of snow in the city. It really is beautiful!


I found my precious herb garden smothered by a thick, solemn, blanket of white. The basil fought hard, poking up through the snow until the bitter end.


I conducted a brief mourning ceremony for my beloved herbs to pay my respect. Rest in peace, herb garden! Only a few cold months to endure before your much-anticipated return!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

my saving grace

Last Saturday, as Brad and I embarked on what would turn into a marathon shopping day, I tucked my book into my purse, just in case. I often carry a book around with me, so my behavior was not unusual, although I didn't expect to read it because I knew that we would be busy all day.

This seemingly inconsequential act saved my attitude, my patience, and yes, my ENTIRE day.

Brad's main present request this year is a new set of golf clubs, an item that he needed to pick out himself. When we arrived at the golf store, I had no idea that he would take ninety minutes to practice swinging every single club in the store. Luckily, I had my book! I made a beeline for a plush sofa near the front of the store and lost myself in my book for over an hour. It was a win-win situation. Brad had all of the time that he needed to make a careful selection without my nagging him to hurry up because I was bored.

Next, we needed to exchange an item that we bought earlier that day. Brad volunteered to run this errand while I waited in the car. Again, my book entertained me while I waited.

Finally, we stopped at the post office at the end of the day to mail a package. Brad waited in the car while I went inside to find an atrocious line, but thankfully, I pulled out my book, and those forty-five minutes waiting in line at the post office were some of the fastest minutes of my life. I left the post office feeling calm and relaxed (unlike most other people I encountered in line).

As much as I love my iPhone, it would not have held my attention during all of the downtime last Saturday. Without my book, I would have turned into an impatient, crotchety person, tapping my foot and complaining into my cell phone.

The bottom line is this: to save your sanity this holiday season, carry a book with you at all times. You will feel more relaxed while waiting in long lines, and others will appreciate your positive attitude.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

reader stereotypes

My friend Lisa sent me this blog post that stereotypes readers by their favorite authors. I find the list hilarious! Here are a few of my favorites (make sure to check out the full list here):

J.D. Salinger
- Kids who don’t fit in (duh).

Stephanie Meyer - People who type like this: OMG. Mah fAvvv <3>

J.K. Rowling - Smart geeks.

Jeffrey Eugenides - Girls who didn’t get enough drama when they were younger.

Jonathan Safran Foer
- 30somethings who were cool when they were 20something.

Jodi Picoult - Your mom when she’s at her time of the month.

Jane Austen (or Bronte Sisters) - Girls who made out with other girls in college when they were going through a “phase”.

Nicholas Sparks - Women who are usually constipated.

Cormac McCarthy
- Men who don’t eat cream cheese.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

false alarm?

Brad and I were accepted through the lottery to run the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler on April 11, 2010! Yippee!

And so were all of our friends who entered the lottery. Every single person I know who registered for the lottery was accepted. Is this some kind of a fluke? Was there really no competition at all?

Did I worry for nothing?

Oh well. Brad and I are thrilled to run this race again; it will be our fifth year in a row. I am already dreaming of April, warmer weather, and pink blossoms.

Monday, December 14, 2009

like clockwork

I have worked with the same student population for over nine years now. Even though I know my students well, why I am shocked every single time that one of them lobbies me to change his or her course grade from an A to an A+?

And yes, it happened again this year. Less than 24 hours after I submitted grades for my course, I received an email from a student seeking an early Christmas present. He fell five points short of the cutoff for an A+, but still felt that he deserved the higher grade. I explained to him that I assign grades that students earn, not necessarily the grades that they want.

This student may call me a Scrooge, but I was much more generous this year when grading the students' final papers than I ever have been. Santa already made one stop in my class. Isn't one gift enough?

Evidently not.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

more grammar girl love

I knew that I loved this girl.

Check out Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tip of the Day that arrived in my email inbox yesterday:

"Greeting Card Grammar: The Robertses, the Valezes, and the Fogartys

You're addressing envelopes or signing a card and suddenly you realize you don't know how to make a family name that ends in "s," "z," or "y" plural. How do you address a family of people with the last name "Roberts," "Valez," or "Fogarty"?

Add "es" to make names that end in "s" and "z" plural:

The Robertses invite you to dinner.

Season's greetings from the Valezes.

Add "s" to make names that end in "y" plural:

The Fogartys throw a great holiday party.

Never use an apostrophe to make a name plural! Apostrophes are for possessives."

May your holiday season be filled with joy. May you give thanks for your many blessings. And may you use correct grammar in all of your holiday correspondence!

Monday, December 7, 2009

incompetent

Brad's been traveling more frequently for work this fall, and while he's never gone for long - only a night or two at a time - his absences have taught me that I am utterly incompetent with certain responsibilities that normally belong to him. The following is a list of tasks that I have either done incorrectly or forgotten to do during Brad's absences:
  • I forgot to lock the deadbolt on our front door. Not the smartest move, considering that our house was burglarized in September.
  • I forgot to set the security alarm, both when I leave and when I go to sleep at night. Again, a dumb mistake. See the first bullet point.
  • I can never set the alarm clock correctly. I always make a mistake on this one. So I now rely on my iPhone to wake me when Brad is gone.
  • I forgot to change and wash the towels on our designated towel changing/washing day. Doing so never even crossed my mind! If Brad wouldn't have returned when he did, I would probably still be using the same towel. Gross.
  • I almost killed our beloved Christmas tree because I forgot to water it. I felt absolutely mortified by my negligence on this one.
  • I can't figure out how to work the television when Brad is gone, so I don't even bother to turn it on.
  • I forgot to set out the garbage and recycling on their designated collection days. The one time I did remember to set out the bins, I forgot to pull them back up to our house that evening, so they sat on the street overnight and ended up with random trash in both of them.
  • I forgot to clean out the refrigerator the evening before trash collection.
Let me just say that I NEVER forget to do my own chores. I consider myself a fairly organized person, so I don't know why I can't get it together when Brad is gone. He needs to start leaving me a list.

Friday, December 4, 2009

'tis the season...

...of looking forward to collecting the mail each evening.

Holiday cards really add spice to a typically boring chore. Photo cards are my favorite!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

evergreen affair

Gentle Readers, thanks in advance for humoring me as I enthusiastically continue my annual tradition...


Oh Christmas tree, how grateful I am that you returned to me! Although our relationship each year is brief, you are such a passionate and faithful partner. While fleeting thoughts of you cross my mind throughout the year, you capture my heart each Thanksgiving weekend, and our fast, but furious affair commences. You will live with me for only 28 days this year before I kick you to the curb to meet a certain death. But I am confident that you will return like clockwork next year. You always come back for more. You can't help it.

Imagine my delight when surprising you this year with a new house and a larger space to showcase your sparkly self for the entire world neighborhood to see. I understand that you feel a bit more pressure; surrounded by windows on three sides and guests on the other, I've instituted a no-tolerance policy for holes or blemishes. Brad and I don't have a corner or a wall to hide your "bad side" any longer. We expect perfection from this year forward. Luckily, you are a vain conifer, and you primped all year for this moment: to shine in our fishbowl of admiration, and I must admit that you surpassed my expectations. You are dazzling and exquisite. I would kill for your perfectly proportioned figure.

Remind me next year to upgrade a few of your accessories. When you first came to live with Brad and me eight Christmases ago, you were such a tiny thing, probably only four or five feet tall. The angel that we donned upon your precious head fit you perfectly then, as did your petite skirt. But as space and desire have increased over the years, and you keep growing taller and wider, your outfit has become a little snug. Because the items have sentimental meaning to me, I squeezed you into them one last time at the risk of making you look like a floozy, especially with your short, silky red skirt. Hopefully no one will notice.

My darling tree, I do have one teeny, tiny confession to make. While you've captured my heart and will always be my first love, this year I am also smitten with another. You see, now that Brad and I have our own front door (that actually leads directly to the outdoors - a first for us!), my heart has strayed. And although I tried to fight it at first, I shamelessly succumbed to the temptation: I bought a fresh, evergreen wreath that not only smells delicious, but begs one to enter our home. This wreath is irresistible with branches poking in all directions and a rich cologne that drugs one after a single sniff. Rather than consider it your competition, think of the dasher as a prelude to your breathtaking elegance. The wreath will seduce guests, but once inside they will stop in astonishment to admire your beauty. You can use this newbie for your own advantage.

Even if you feel pangs of jealousy about the new addition on the front door, I implore you to please refrain from throwing a tantrum. You must have figured out by now that living in a fishbowl means that I can no longer secretly secure you to the wall with fishing line. If you pitch a fit and end up sprawled on the floor, we may just break up. Forever. Don't risk losing me, dear tree. I dare you to find a more loving or doting mistress.

Please forgive my infidelity. You still hold the prime spot in my house and heart. Passersby on the sidewalk will notice your soft gleaming in the windows before they spot the jovial gem on the door. The wreath may have the personality, but you have the beauty and the class. Always.

Monday, November 30, 2009

adulthood

My Thanksgiving entertaining went smoothly and Brad and I enjoyed christening our new home for the holiday season. My turkey was moist and the other eight items that I made turned out well. We were blessed with the good company of two other couples who are dear friends and one guest who was a last-minute addition.

Yes, this holiday by far surpassed the last one.

I truly felt like a grown-up this year for two reasons:
1. I planned and prepared a full Thanksgiving dinner on my own without my mother, or anyone's mother, looking over my shoulder. And I loved it and I now feel confident that I could do it again.
2. Brad and I own a dining room table that includes a leaf, and we were outrageously excited to use it. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that it took thirty minutes and both of us crawling under the table to install it correctly last Tuesday night, but we finally figured it out and it worked out great.

I dressed the table with a Lenox Opal Innocence tablecloth and napkins that complemented my china. Desiring a low centerpiece to better facilitate conversation, I floated four large buff roses in one of my crystal bowls and added two taper candles in crystal holders to either side. I fell in love with some unusual twigs with orange berries at the floral shop at Eastern Market and as soon as I saw them, I had to have them! As you can see in the photo below, I scattered the twigs with berries around the table to add color. Very simple, yet just the look that I wanted.


Brad and I had a fun and relaxing, yet productive long weekend. We're very thankful for the many evidences of God's grace in our lives.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

a reprieve from the CB

Brad and I are celebrating Thanksgiving with friends this year, and I eagerly volunteered to host and to tackle the bird. I jumped at the opportunity to insert and use the leaf for our new dining room table. Of course now that I am in a panicked cooking and cleaning mode, I am questioning my rash decision. Why am I so much more nervous cooking for friends than I am for family? Restless dreams of raw or dry turkeys disrupt my sleep at night. I worry that I won't fit everything into the oven. My to-do list overwhelms me.

But even if the meal fares less than perfect, I am still thankful for the chance to cook it at home rather than eat it at a chain restaurant. Brad and I are really looking forward to a long weekend at home together.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Monday, November 23, 2009

musings of a fan girl

I write this entry while exhaling a huge sigh of relief. I will admit that I was worried. But New Moon surpassed my expectations, and I can't wait to see it again.

I won't go into the nitty-gritty details of the many aspects that I loved (and the few that I didn't) because I don't want to spoil the experience for anyone. If you've already read the books, go see the movie TODAY. I promise that your time and money will be well spent. This movie is 100 times better than the first because it follows the book more closely and the acting is much improved. Even KStew is tolerable this time around (or maybe I've just gotten used to her?).

If you are still a Twilight virgin, now is the time, dear friends! Why wait any longer? Take advantage of this holiday week to get a head start on the books, which you should definitely read before watching the movies. I only recommend that you watch the first movie so that you can better appreciate the drastically improved second movie.

My viewing experience differed from what I expected. I bought tickets for the Saturday 4:45 p.m. showing. While I noticed several packs of teenagers, 75% of the audience was at least 25 or older. And I was amazed at the number of couples and MEN in the audience! So my husband had no excuse to bail on me once we were seated; he had plenty of other males with whom to exchange sympathetic looks. And the screaming and squealing were kept to a minimum. I had to hold a few back, especially at the end, but thankfully everyone seemed very interested in hearing the dialogue.

As Brad and I waited in line to enter the theater, we were greeted by three women my age who exited the theater furiously fanning themselves. When I made eye contact with them, they laughed and said, "Please excuse us, we're swooning." Brad rolled his eyes and almost left me at that point. But I persuaded him to stay and although he refuses to see the movie a second time, I do believe that he was moderately entertained. I will say that after seeing the ending (which was PERFECT!!!! and a wonderful segue to the third movie), I completely understand the ladies' reactions. I swooned too.

About three things I am certain.
1. I will attend the midnight viewing of the third movie, Eclipse, on June 30, 2010. Brad has put his foot down about midnight or repeat viewings, which I completely understand. But I will go on my own.
2. I don't care how cute or sweet the wolves are. I will always be a loyal member of Team Edward.
3. I can't deny it any longer. I am officially a Twilight fan girl, in only the best ways, of course!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

meal baby

Brad and I belong to a church that has a very young congregation; the majority of members are younger than thirty. Because we have so many newly married couples and young families, as one might imagine, the congregation experiences an explosion of new babies each year, making the meals ministry a busy and an exciting place to serve. I recently assumed the coordinator position for DC, which means that I schedule up to eight meals for members living in DC who have new babies or experience some other type of serious need. Other women coordinate the meals for families living in Maryland or Virginia.

Although I just began this position in November, I love serving the congregation in this way. And someone referred me to a free online tool that makes my job much easier: Meal Baby!

This site allows me to create a meal registry for each expecting family. I query the expectant parents for their likes, dislikes, allergies, and target meal delivery dates, and then I enter all of the information into the registry. Once the baby arrives, I add the email addresses of potential meal-makers and people can sign up online for a specific date to make and deliver a meal. The real benefit of this site is that meal-makers can indicate their tentative menu for everyone to view so that hopefully the family will not end up eating lasagna for three meals in a row.

This site can be used to coordinate meals for occasions other than births. I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

mute

I've lost my voice, which has never happened to me before.

A sore throat over the weekend that blossomed into a full-fledged head cold by Monday turned into laryngitis late Monday afternoon after six consecutive meetings where I obviously talked too much.

I've tried every home remedy that I can find via google, but my voice is still unable to project above a slight whisper, which leaves me feeling incredibly frustrated. Other than a lingering scratchy throat, I feel fine; I just can't speak much or very loudly.

This morning I had a comical exchange with Ellis, my 85-year-old friend who runs/shuffles around the park each morning. After taking over a week off due to last week's rain and this week's sickness, my feet hit the pavement, or should I say brick, this morning.

Me (running up very close to Ellis with hopes that he will hear me): Morning Ellis!
Ellis: Morning (Dr. Blondie)! Where have you been lately?
Me (coughing and straining my vocal cords as much as I can): I'm sick!
Ellis: You been away?
Me (trying again): I've lost my voice.
Ellis: You went on vacation?
Me: (I just shake my head and run past Ellis, giving up.)
Another gentlemen walking next to Ellis took over for me: She's sick!
Ellis: She went out of town?
Other gentleman: No, the lady said that she LOST HER VOICE!
Ellis: Oh.

At least now I have a good excuse to forward all calls directly to voice mail. I hope for a comeback by tomorrow as Thursday is my teaching day. And I definitely need my voice to return by this Saturday, so that I can squeal with all of the tweens and teens at New Moon, which will likely cause me to lose my voice again.

Monday, November 16, 2009

a listening must

I acknowledge that I'm very new to this whole podcast thing, but please humor me today while I gush about my favorite podcast, the one that I listen to first and repeatedly: Grammar Girl.

The plethora of academic writing that I completed during my doctoral program, even though my program's focus was not English or grammar, turned me into a wannabe grammarian. I say wannabe because I will never consider myself an expert on the subject. But I do enjoy learning about it, and I constantly strive to correct mistakes and improve my writing. You already know that I am a huge fan of Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips that are sent via email each day. Her two books are on my Christmas wish list. And now let me explain why you should faithfully listen to her podcast too.

1. Each podcast only lasts six to eight minutes and is focused on one very specific grammar-related subject.

Let me give you some examples of recent episodes I have found particularly useful: who vs. whom; which vs. that; correct use of the word comprise; persuade vs. convince; alternative vs. alternate; and using possessives with gerunds (don't worry, I couldn't have defined the word "gerund" before this episode either). Think you already know when and how to use these words correctly? I did too. But I implore you to listen to the episodes. I guarantee that you will learn something.

2. Because each episode is short and specific, you will not feel at all overwhelmed. And, she releases a new episode only about once per week.

3. Grammar Girl presents complex information in a simple way. She briefly explains the rule in question, and then uses many catchy examples to help the listener understand it. I often may not remember the rule verbatim, but I can usually explain it well by recalling her examples.

4. Her topics focus on grammar mistakes that a majority of people make every day. I usually feel very humbled by her podcast because I fall into the mistake-maker category more often than I'd like to admit, which usually prompts me to listen to a particular episode a second, or even a third time!

5. You will likely be able to apply Grammar Girl's tips immediately. Even if your job requires little writing, you will be amazed at how quickly you will begin to use her tips, even through informal means such as email or casual conversation. I most enjoy learning a new tip, and then correcting the mistakes on my students' papers. My honors students believe that they are smarter than most of their professors. I relish the rare occasion when I feel smarter than my students.

6. These eight minutes per week can result in a lifetime of improved writing. Your colleagues, friends, and family will thank you. You will feel more confident about your communication skills.

Subscribe today!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

uncomfortable

Only two hours into my twelve-hour workday and I already rue my choice of outfit this morning.

It involves what is arguably a woman's most despised garment: pantyhose.

Two factors necessitated donning the restrictive, itchy, usually too short, prone to runs and holes, and otherwise ghastly stockings:
1. It is November. Is it socially acceptable to go sans pantyhose this late in the year? Doubt led me to err on the conservative side.
2. Today's weather is a windy, rainy, and chilly mess. Even if I would have answered 'yes' to my first question, trust me, no one wants to see my pasty white legs covered in goosebumps. Plus, I just might have frozen to death.

I am going to be on campus until 9 p.m. tonight. What was I thinking?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

the apple of my eye

I've tried them all,
each brand, each flavor.
But only one apple
wins my favor.

Granny Smith, Red Delicious, and McIntosh
aim to please.
But only the beloved Honeycrisp
brings me to my knees.

Gala, Braeburn, Fuji, and Pink Lady
only wish that they could compare
to Honeycrisp's sweet, yet tart taste
that I find so extraordinaire.

The other apples just don't have it;
bland is their best descriptor.
But Honeycrisp, nature's true dessert,
emerges as the clear victor.


Monday, November 9, 2009

more to read

Considering that I haven't yet started reading even one book that I acquired from the last used book sale that I attended, I probably had no business visiting my library's sale this past Saturday. But I can never resist my library, a good book, or a used book sale. Plus, Brad and I still have empty bookshelves, and what better way to fill them than by foraging through the bowels of a DC Public Library for hidden treasures?

I could have stayed there all day.

But after only about five minutes of searching, Brad found me with my arms overflowing with books, and he quickly decided that it was time to leave because we couldn't possibly carry any more books home with us (we forgot to bring a bag, of course... we'll be better prepared next time). Notice Brad's and my stacks of books in the picture. I'll let you guess which stack is mine. I found copies of three of my all-time favorite books!

We bought 18 books - eight hardcovers and ten paperbacks - for only $12.75. I scored five of Jane Austen's books this time! I still couldn't find a copy of War and Peace (which is part of my 2010 reading goal), so I will add it to my Christmas list.

Being a library lover rather than a book buyer, there's just something about a used book that comforts me. The relaxed spine, folded-over and tattered pages, occasional coffee drips, already-marked typos, and long forgotten receipts, post-it notes, and cards stuffed randomly inside give each book a unique character of its own. The more of these attributes, the better. For these are signs of attention and love; they show that a book has been read, and hopefully, enjoyed by many over time.

I love that.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

the wallet returns

Nearly two months after our break-in, a young woman who lives near us found Brad's stolen wallet abandoned near her front fence. We were all shocked to realize that someone, whether it was the thief or not, still cruised our neighborhood with Brad's wallet.

Predictably, all of the cash and credit cards were missing. But the crook left Brad's driver's license, insurance cards, library card, and a scrap of paper that contained his and my social security numbers.

The most disturbing item that was missing? Our wedding picture. Now why would someone leave most of Brad's identification, but take our wedding picture?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

podcast recs?

I've never considered myself to be a music person. While I love to read, and can talk about books and authors all day long, I can't hold even a five-minute conversation about music. I don't have a favorite band or song. I listen to the radio while driving, mostly for background noise rather than anything else. I never desired an iPod because I felt it would be a waste of money to buy an expensive device that I would rarely use. People often questioned how I could run long distances without music, but I detest the idea of tucking earbuds into my ears, especially when exercising (I have a strange discomfort regarding foreign objects in my ears; this may be the topic of a future post one day).

But ever since I fell in love with my new iPhone, life has quickly changed. I've quickly recovered from my aversion to earbuds and I now love to listen to podcasts while I cook and clean. This form of entertainment makes my mundane, daily chores so much more enjoyable! And on most occasions, I feel like I'm learning something while I mark items from my to-do list. But gentle readers, I need some suggestions. I only regularly listen to three podcasts, and while I love them all, I could use a few more in my queue. I currently listen to Grammar Girl, Books on the Nightstand, and a few random sermons that I've missed at my church.

Which podcasts are your favorites? Please share!

Monday, November 2, 2009

NYC Marathon wannabe?

Every December, I enter panic mode when I attempt to register for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, my, and apparently everyone else's, favorite spring race in DC. Due to the race's increasing popularity and myriad people attempting to register online as soon as the system opens, the server inevitably stalls, which means that it takes at least an hour to successfully pay the fee and complete and submit the form. I've experienced such difficulty each of the past two years that multiple people have used different computers on my behalf to secure me a spot. Last year, the 12,000 slots filled in under three hours. Each year, I grumble about this process and declare that there HAS to be a better way.

Last week I learned that the race organizers have changed the registration procedures for the 2010 race: they've instituted a lottery.

And I feel sick about it.

Generally, I don't have much luck with lotteries or drawings, so I fully expect to have to sit out next spring, which bums me out. The Cherry Blossom 10 Miler was Brad's and my very first race, and we've run it faithfully every year since 2006. Shouldn't four or more consecutive years of participation guarantee automatic entry? I wish!

I foresee this race quickly turning into another New York City Marathon, which only admits one-third of its lottery applicants. The NYC Marathon is on my must-run list, so I need to start entering the lottery now, knowing that it may take three or four years before I am accepted. Let's hope that the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler doesn't develop such a long waiting list. I can't bear to wait years to run it again.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

celebration

Happy Halloween to you! And happy 2nd anniversary to me...

This day will never again just be Halloween to me.

Monday, October 26, 2009

300 strong

This entry marks the 300th post since I began this blog nearly one year and ten months ago, on January 1, 2008.

One of my favorite aspects of blogging is that it forces me to pay so much more attention to each day. Always on the lookout for topics, I examine my daily activities, behaviors, and interactions with one question in mind, "Is this worth writing about?"

I delight in the regular opportunity for creativity, the chance to write and rearrange and perfect words on a page.

Thank you, dear readers, for giving me a reason to keep writing.

Hmmm... I wonder how many words have I written over 300 posts. Could I have finished a novel by now?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

neuroticism that never dies

As Brad and I waited on the crowded platform for a train at the L'Enfant Plaza metro station early Sunday morning, October 5th, before the Army Ten-Miler, a young woman, obviously a runner, approached us and inquired about the orange strips adhered to our shoes. She wondered whether she should have one too.

I explained that the strips marked a runner's progress at key mile markers, and were crucial for recording one's official race time. I mentioned that she should have picked one up with her race bib.

At that moment, this young woman completely lost her crap. She smacked her forehead and exclaimed that she DID have a strip, but she accidentally left it at home. She then proceeded to curse and pace and dial numbers rapidly on her cell phone. Aware of the attention that she was attracting (the metro station was packed and she was not at all quiet), I tried to reassure her that she could still run the race without a timing band. The Army Ten-Miler is not a qualifying race for any others. She didn't need to have her participation in this race officially noted in order to run other races.

She wasn't satisfied with my assurances. She cursed and barked orders into her cell phone, drawing looks from onlookers all around her. Brad gave me a look that said, "This woman is crazy! Why are you talking to her? We need to get out of here before she goes ballistic on us!"

After the woman hung up her phone, she turned back to us to share that her boyfriend planned to meet her at the start line to deliver her strip. We all breathed a sigh of relief that this crisis was temporarily averted.

Then the woman said, "Hey, you look so familiar. I'm SURE that we've met before."

I always feel a little nervous when strangers make such declarations. While I remember names well, faces often escape me. This woman did not look familiar at all. But I did find something about her behavior that seemed eerily familiar.

After comparing races, neighborhoods, and activities to try to determine the our connection, I offhandedly remarked, "Oh, I do work at the University of Maryland. Do you have any ties there?"

And the woman stared at me, said my name, and reminded me that she was a former student of mine. She graduated in 2002. And the minute she made the connection, I remembered her name, her research team, her major, and that she had studied abroad as a student.

And Brad flashed me a look that said, "OF COURSE this crazy, neurotic woman is one of your former students! THAT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE NOW!"

Just as the sweetness never dies, unfortunately, neither does the neuroticism.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

National Day on Writing

I just discovered that the U.S. Senate recently passed a resolution that declares today, October 20, 2009, as the National Day on Writing.

At the National Gallery of Writing, you can read published work and contribute your own writing. Today the organization is hosting a live webcast until 8 p.m. that features a mix of writers and works from across genres.

Cheers to all writers today! Thanks for your care of and attention to the written word, which results in many more good books and other works than I can ever hope to read in a lifetime.

Monday, October 19, 2009

an unexpected act of kindness

Last Friday at work, I received a phone call from a student who manages my building's front desk, asking me to please pick up a package.

"Are you sure?" I doubtfully asked the student worker. I hadn't ordered anything. With ridiculously restricted budgets, layoffs, and more furlough days this year, the state's money is virtually nonexistent. And I've been excessively frugal recently, so I could not imagine what package awaited me.

A former student who graduated in 2006 and is now in the process of finishing medical school and applying to residency programs performed a random act of kindness. Out of the blue, he sent me an edible bouquet of chocolate-covered strawberries, and a sweet card to thank me for the ways that I had helped him as an undergraduate. Feeling nostalgic about moving on to another stage of life soon, he wanted to reach out to those who helped him get to medical school.

So sweet. It is an understatement to say that this surprise made my entire week.

And it couldn't have come at a better time. This treat arrived just 15 minutes before I was scheduled to meet with a team of 14 students in my class who received a C on their first big assignment. I was fully prepared to be bullied and subsequently slaughtered during this meeting with them. But this gift renewed my confidence and I went into the meeting remembering that no matter how much grief some students give, most of them eventually mature into wonderful, thoughtful, and appreciative human beings. The meeting actually went much better than I expected. While my students are still disappointed with their grade, they seemed to accept it and (I hope) are moving on.

For the record, the student who sent me the bouquet never gave me a moment of grief during his four years. He was and is absolutely PERFECT. I am so thrilled to see that he is just as sweet and thoughtful now as I remember him being on the first day that we met.

On the off chance that you're reading this, thanks Justin!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

sushi success

I fell in love with sushi ten years ago. A friend from my master's program took me out to a local joint in Athens and showed me the ropes. I rated my first sushi experience as okay, but I didn't understand the fuss. My friend warned that sushi, typically an acquired taste, would surely grow on me and could even become an addiction if I gave it another chance. We went out for sushi two or three more times and I was hooked.

Brad predictably refused to try it for years, and after tasting one piece of one California roll in 2004, he vowed to never allow sushi to pass his lips again. However, if nothing else, I am persistent, especially when Brad refuses something that I am certain that he will love. After years of nagging encouragement, out of the blue last January, Brad suggested giving sushi another try. Before he could change his mind, I quickly dragged him to the nearest sushi restaurant I could find, a local place on Capitol Hill. He ate an entire meal of sushi, and admitted that it was okay.

Fast forward to Labor Day weekend this year. Brad gorged himself on sublime sushi that was served at a friend's wedding. On the drive home from the wedding that evening, he asked if we could go out for sushi soon. I happily obliged.

Confirmation of my victory occurred this past Monday evening after we returned home from a weekend trip to Tennessee. It is our tradition to order dinner after a weekend away because I'm usually too tired to cook. Assuming that we would consume our usual pepperoni pizza, imagine my surprise when Brad stopped me from calling Armand's and asked if we could order sushi instead.

Yes, my unfailingly stubborn husband chose sushi over pizza. I'm still in shock.

I'm feeling mighty victorious these days. Harry Potter, it's only a matter of time, I promise!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

a book per day

This article in the New York Times yesterday caught my eye. Nina Sankovitch strives to read and review one book per day for an entire year. She reads a book in one day, posts a review of it on her blog the next morning, and then begins reading the next book. Nina's quest ends in just two weeks, and she's on track to meet her goal.

While Nina said that she mostly chooses books with fewer than 300 pages, I noticed multiple exceptions to the rule on her book list. And her book reviews convey an impressive level of depth for someone who reads so much so quickly. She vowed to only read one book per author this year, thus sampling 365 different authors. And no rereads for her. Her selections for this challenge are all books that she is reading for the very first time.

Did I mention that this woman has four children, all boys, at home? They enjoy reading too!

I love the reminder that we have much more time in each day than we believe.

living room: take #2

As promised, here are two updated photos of our living room. Please ignore the blank walls and atrocious curtains (those improvements will hopefully constitute stage 3). As you can see, I am still art challenged! It may be time to break down and hire a professional to help me through these last stages of decorating. It's not that I dislike shopping and decorating. I just prefer other hobbies more.

Brad and I sold our red living room furniture and bought a new sleeper sofa, matching chair and ottoman, accent chair, and leather storage ottoman. We are still looking for a small accent chair or other piece of furniture to put in the window (where my peace lily in the red pot is now). Any ideas?

Note in the picture above that while Fern underwent a post-surgery slump and lost many of her lower leaves, she STILL LIVES!! Her stump has not sprouted any new growth yet, but I plan to wait a few more months before I give up and throw it away.

Below you will find a photo of my new and improved reading nook, where I cuddled up and plowed through 17 books this summer (speaking of other hobbies...). Now that we have a storm door that allows a plain view of the street from this chair, I enjoy keeping tabs on the neighbors as I read. I ordered enlarged prints of nine scenic pictures from our European adventure last summer to create a gallery wall. It took us forever to hang and align all of those frames, but I like how the arrangement turned out.

Monday, October 12, 2009

light lover

So it is now October and I realized that I never posted pictures of two improvements to our living room that occurred back in July. Still embarrassingly behind in my decorating, I consider these improvements to be a step in the right direction, but definitely not the final phase.

Even before Brad and I closed on the house, we knew that we wanted to install a glass storm door in front to allow more light into our living room. Because we live in an old house and no door or window is a standard size, this meant that we had to purchase a custom-made door. We went ahead with the order, and it was worth it. We enjoy the extra sunlight every single moment that we are home. Here's a view from the inside:


And the view from the outside:



Next up: new living furniture.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

late bloomer

I've always considered myself a late bloomer, and it looks like my tomato plant, the one that I had given up on, takes after me:


On October 1st, I realized that the plant had finally produced fruit. Yes, in October!

Monday, October 5, 2009

handy andy

When our house was robbed, our first priority after canceling our credit cards and cell phones involved temporarily securing the gaping hole that was formerly known as our kitchen window before the impending rainstorm or nightfall, whichever came first. However, with it being a holiday, Brad struck out with every single window company that he called. A Frager's employee recommended two contractors who normally worked over holidays and weekends. Brad struck gold, or so we thought at the time, when "Handy Andy" (the name that the Frager's employee gave to us) agreed to help us.

When I answered the door, I jumped for joy because I realized that Handy Andy was really just Andy, the handyman who serviced our former apartment. Comforted to see a very familiar face at a stressful time, I nearly knocked him over with an exuberant welcome and declarations of deep gratitude. Andy nailed a large piece of plywood to the frame of our kitchen window and left with a promise to return the next day with shatter-proof glass in hand.

All too quickly Brad and I remembered the myriad reasons we did not enjoy working with Andy when we lived in the apartment.

Andy acquired the glass later than he expected on Tuesday, and couldn't make it to our home that day, even though I had taken the entire day off of work to wait for him. We agreed that he would arrive at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, before I needed to leave for work.

At 7:20 a.m. on Wednesday, I called to make sure that he was still coming, to which he responded, "Sure! I'll be there at 10. That's the time that we agreed upon, right? I only work between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m." I had to go to work that day (especially because I had called out the day before), so after some back and forth, we agreed that Brad and I would just have to live with the plywood until Saturday morning, when Andy agreed to make another visit.

Andy showed up 30 minutes late on Saturday, and although he promised that the window would only take an hour to repair, after FIVE HOURS and two trips back home and to Frager's for necessary items that he forgot to bring with him, the window was STILL BROKEN. And while Andy absentmindedly puttered about for five hours, Brad and I lost our precious Saturday of running errands when we planned to replace our cell phones, iPod, camera, and other items.

On his fifth scheduled but third actual visit, one afternoon the following week when Brad worked from home, Andy finally completed the job and our kitchen window now resembles its former self. It only took ten days to fix it.

Our shock after the robbery fuddled our memories. But now we can say with certainty that we will never request Handy Andy's services again.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"I know this is a long shot, but..."

... and so began an email message from one of my students yesterday morning. This student proceeded to tell me that she doesn't prefer to take quiz #1 in my class on Thursday because she's "busy". She included a laundry list of everything on her plate this week. I was tempted to send her my own packed to-do list, which I promise you, is four times as long as hers.

Based on this experience, you might assume that I teach a class to only one student, but that isn't the case at all. This year, I have 131 sophomores in my introductory research methods course. I promise you that the other 130 students in the course are busy too, and most certainly do not want to study for this quiz either. I explained to this student that my graduate assistant and I spend substantial time during the summer designing all of our assignments and quizzes to make sure that they are clearly worded and fairly assess the lecture and reading materials. I have no time or desire to whip up another version of the quiz simply because she prefers to take it at another time. Since when do students believe they have the right to tell instructors when they will complete their work?

Because I have worked with my student population for over nine years now, most days I'm convinced that I've seen and heard it all. But then my students find creative new ways to try my patience and to blow my mind with their nutty requests.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

walking is not for the weak

A question to ponder today:

Why is it that I can run any distance in my running shoes, even 26.2 miles, and not develop a single blister, but the five miles that I walked on Saturday to/from/around the book festival while wearing my running shoes left my feet a sore, blistery mess?

I've always said that running long distances is much easier than walking them. But these blisters, I simply do not understand. Any ideas?

Monday, September 28, 2009

celebrating the joy of reading: a recap

Gentle readers, I could write at least three blog entries about the amazing, thrilling, mind-blowing, inspiring, and I must say soaking wet time I had at the National Book Festival this past Saturday, but for fear of boring you, I will only remark on the highlights instead (be prepared, for I have several):

1. First, I must say that I hold utmost respect for fellow readers who make an effort to attend this event regularly, especially those who travel considerable distance to do so. My friend Liana and her husband Joel, who used to live in DC, but now live in Tennessee, are faithful attendees of the book festival. Brad and I really enjoyed catching up with both of them over dinner on Friday night and seeing them at the festival on Saturday. I have told Brad countless times that if we ever move away from the DC area, we will always return for the book festival.

2. I attended the full sessions of all eight authors that I identified last week on my tentative plan, and partial sessions of a few others (when I entered a pavilion early to snag a spot before a popular author began speaking). Brad and I arrived on the mall promptly at 10 a.m. and stayed through the conclusion of the very last speaker, Judy Blume, who finished at 5:35 p.m. I even ate my lunch while sitting in on a session. I couldn't bear to miss a moment. And although I was so exhausted that I could barely finish a sentence by the time that we arrived home, I wouldn't have had it any other way.

3. Brad spent the entire day at the book festival too (which is not common for him)! Although we split up and mostly saw different authors, I felt overjoyed that he was engaged and wanted to stay the entire day in miserable weather. (Thank you, TN VOLS, for scheduling a night game! I'm not stupid. I know that that helped.)

4. Speaking of the weather, yes, it was dreary and miserable. But the rain didn't seem to affect the crowds one bit. The sessions were PACKED. I cannot describe to you how many people try to squeeze under these tents. And even though it was raining, most authors still had a substantial crowd clustered ten people deep outside of the tent, around its perimeter.

5. Much to my surprise, the author highlights of my day all occurred in the teen/young adult pavilion. Rick Riordan, Jeff Kinney, and Judy Blume all BLEW MY MIND. In past years, I haven't spent much time in this pavilion. But my experience on Saturday proved that I need to make it a priority from now on. To see thousands of tweens and teens, groups sometimes better known for their angst and apathy than enthusiasm, over-the-moon excited about books, reading, and authors left me an emotional mess. Their palpable energy truly inspired me. These kids screamed, cheered, jumped up and down, and lined up at the microphones to ask questions quicker than any other group that I've ever seen. And the kids that didn't make it to the microphones simply waved their hands in the crowd, writhing from excitement, begging for the author to call on them. Their comments and questions were chock full of adoration and praise, a welcome relief from some adults (especially in the history/biography tent) who take themselves way too seriously and see it as their personal responsibility to publicly critique the author. I do believe that this age group (and many of their equally excited parents) makes for the most enjoyable set fans. I loved this pavilion. No matter who is speaking, I will make it a point to return next year.

6. Did you know that Judy Blume is 71? Yes, 71! And her birthday is the day after mine.:) What struck me most about Judy Blume's session is her timelessness, and her ability to appeal to people of all ages. My eyes filled with tears as an eight-year-old boy expressed his love of Superfudge, and then a tween asked her a question about Margaret. I read those books when I was their ages. And now 20-25 years later, kids are still reading, and loving, the same books. Judy Blume's impact on today's youth seems just as strong as it was on my generation. And that realization filled my heart with happiness.

It was a fantastic festival, and although I inevitably battle the blues when it ends, I am already counting down the days until next year.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

choices

I have too many authors and not enough time at the upcoming National Book Festival this Saturday.

Here is my tentative plan of attack, the authors who made my "short list", which of course is subject to change depending on the crowds and my mood on Saturday:

10 a.m. - John Grisham - I rarely read Grisham novels, but I love his personal story. And, it's John Grisham, so I feel like I have to see him!

11 a.m. - Jodie Picoult - This session is tentative. I may take the 11 o'clock hour to show my support to an up-and-coming author. I've heard Jodie Picoult speak before.

12:10 p.m. - Jeannette Walls - I loved The Glass Castle!

1:20 p.m. - Julia Alvarez - I loved In the Time of the Butterflies!

2:10 p.m. - John Irving - I was awestruck the last time that I heard John Irving speak about his work, so I deem him worthy of a second visit.

3:15 p.m. - Rick Riordan - I haven't read his books yet, but his Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is next on my young adult fiction wish list. The first book of his series comes out as a movie this fall.

(Here is where I wish that I could attend David Wroblewski's discussion about writing The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, but I know that I need to claim a seat in the Teen and Young Adult pavilion to attend Judy Blume's session. So, I plan to see Jeff Kinney. At least he's a fellow Terp!)

5:00 p.m. - Judy Blume - The most anticipated session of my day!! This woman's work significantly influenced my childhood and adolescence. I fell in love with reading partly due to her books.

Thoughts? Anyone else that I should definitely try to squeeze in?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

a baby explosion

I have set a new record for myself. In a 24-hour period (from Sunday night to Monday night), I met three brand new children, all younger than one month old.

On Sunday evening, I met Juliet Blair, the baby who almost arrived in time for her shower on Saturday morning. On Monday afternoon, my friend Jeanne brought her daughter, Audrey Marin, to campus to visit. And last night, I had the opportunity to meet Megan's new son, Matthew Lawrence, at book club.

I have never been around so many small babies during such a short period of time!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

a just-in-time shower

Saturday proved to be an exciting day.

For a couple of months, I have been working with three other women from church to coordinate a baby shower for our friend Jennifer. Jennifer expected her first baby to arrive on or around October 15th, and we all agreed that September 19th should be a safe date for the shower.

Jennifer arrived yesterday morning for the shower looking as polished and beautiful as she always does. It wasn't until she declined food that she admitted that she had woken up that morning with cramps and wasn't feeling very well. However, she opened every last gift and endured every single picture with a glowing smile on her face. When the shower ended, close to 1 p.m., Jennifer mentioned that she felt even worse and planned to make a trip to the hospital that afternoon. Her declaration sparked every current mother in the room's personal story about her own false alarm. Jennifer received myriad sympathetic pats and hugs and words of encouragement, but I don't think that anyone in the room really believed that she would have the baby that day.

How wrong we were.

Jennifer left the shower and went home to basically call her doctor and pick up her husband. Her daughter, Juliet, was born at 6:30 p.m. that evening, a petite five pounds and ten ounces and nearly four weeks early, but beautiful and perfectly healthy in every way.

Juliet must have known that there was a party being thrown in her honor, and she tried her best to make it there in person.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I was a teen during the wrong decade

Even though the second book of the saga was my least favorite, and I disliked the first movie, I CAN'T WAIT to see New Moon, especially after viewing the latest trailer.

64 days and counting...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

pavilion schedule

Thank you, Ginny, for sending me the pavilion schedule for the National Book Festival on Saturday, September 26, 2009. Fellow book lovers, it's time to map out your day!

The people who plan the schedule of speakers certainly know what they're doing to draw and keep a crowd. For the fifth year in a row, popular authors are slated to speak during both the first and last slots of the day, which means that I will again be in attendance all day long!

I don't mind, though. The National Book Festival is my favorite annual DC event. I will never grow tired of celebrating good books and the courageous, creative, and diligent souls who write them.

I'd love to meet up with those who plan to attend. I'll map out my schedule this weekend and will post it on my blog next week.