Saturday, October 31, 2009


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.