Monday, August 31, 2009

humble beginnings

Although this day has filled me with an all-consuming dread for weeks now, the first day of school has finally arrived! And I will celebrate today by revisiting the day that my educational journey began thirty years ago.

A very young Dr. Blondie in the making, on the first day of kindergarten in August, 1979:


And here I am standing at the end of our lane, waiting for the school bus to pick me up, wearing a new dress that my mom made for me with my name tag proudly displayed (notice the corn, pasture, silos, red barn, gravel lane, and white farmhouse in the background... proof that I did indeed grow up on a farm):


I have pictures commemorating every single first day of school through my high school years. But the kindergarten photos are most precious. The formal educational journey concludes for all of us at some point, also a cause for celebration (as shown below), but the learning never ends. And that's my favorite part.


Happy first day of school to all!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

bring your own basil

When did Cosi turn all fancy? I arrived at the Courthouse Cosi for book club one evening earlier this week and was halted at the door by a "please wait to be seated" sign. The host then asked me if I had called ahead to reserve a table (which of course, I hadn't done, but the restaurant was empty so acquiring a table for five was no problem).

Then, noticing that my arms were full of two large herb bouquets that I brought to give away to friends who responded to my ad on this blog for free herbs, the host asked, "Are you bringing those inside?"

Um, yes. What do you think that I'm going to do with them?

But I hastily replied, "I just need to give them to a couple of friends." I think that subconsciously, I suspected that he was accusing me of bringing my own home-grown basil to put on my T.B.M. (tomato, basil, mozzarella) sandwich. Please. I'm not that much of an herb snob. And believe me, I ordered nothing with basil on it. I get more than my fill of basil at home.

The menu was exactly the same as I remembered it. But Cosi has upped the service, and I do have to admit that after the initial interrogation at the door, it was lovely.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

free for the taking

As noted in my last post, my garden suffers from an herb overdose. That's what I get for growing the herbs from seeds.

I stole my friend Amy's idea and made an herb bouquet as a hostess gift for my friend Torey recently. Here's a picture of my masterpiece:


I liked it so much that I almost kept it for myself. But then I remembered that the whole point was to thank Torey for her hospitality and to get rid of herbs!

DC Readers, you are welcome to come over and forage my herb garden. Take as much as you want (as long as you take A LOT). Or, even better for you, let me know which herbs you most desire and I will bring them to you, freshly picked, savory, and beautiful!

Your choices:
Parsley
Peppermint
Spearmint
Sage
Chives
Marjoram
Basil
Oregano

I am taking orders immediately. Leave a comment if you're interested.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

the war of the herbs

The day dawns hot and humid, a day like any other in the middle of August in the Mid-Atlantic region. As the sun climbs high in the sky, gradually, and then suddenly spilling over the tall, wooden fence that shades the raised garden in the early morning, eight of the twelve troops soldier on, viciously fighting to outwit, outplay, and outlast each other to claim the last remaining inches of rich soil in direct sunlight and total dominion of the garden. Ninety days into this never-ending war, here's today's briefing on the situation:

Peppermint and Spearmint make up a battalion in the southwest corner of the field to combat the evil one, Parsley, a fast-growing-and-spreading terror in the garden. The 'mints built a thick wall to shield Thyme, now rescued and sequestered in its own gray plastic tank after early imprisonment by the Dark Lord. Coming from the Northwest, Sage holds its own while guarding Rosemary, rescued from the South soon after early casualties were found. Rosemary now thrives in its own terra cotta bunker. Chives, a cowardly traitor and suspected deserter from the outset, ran away to live peacefully with the Tomato and Pepper tribes, escaping the war altogether. The General just received word that Marjoram plans to invade from the North, seemingly irrelevant information because no one has heard of this supposed leader. Major, who? Basil, lurking in the Northeast, attempts a new tactic: growing taller rather than wider to invoke a slow and painful death on its enemies by starving them of sunshine. Oregano, the veteran and wisest inhabitant of the garden, rests quietly behind Parsley, letting the young and reckless evil one cause distraction so that the big O can surge in and crush the others, trampling their tender leaves and stalks to bits. Dill never saw its demise coming. Sprouting up too quickly, Dill reached its peak prematurely and exploded. Also known for its lack of stamina, Cilantro has already risen for a second time, posing as Parsley's twin to gain ground.

The stakes are high. Each battle is fierce. Lives will be lost. And only one will triumph. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 17, 2009

first sewing project

Last summer I learned to knit, this summer I have taken up sewing, thanks to Mama Millie's old sewing machine, and my mom's tutoring when she and my dad visited in June.

I just finished my first project, accent pillows for our bed. I learned how to make and stuff the pillows, and how to sew a fold-over type of cover (not sure what it's really called!) and a cover with a zipper.


I am only sewing in straight lines for the moment, and nothing fancy with cording or buttons!

Next project: a valance for the kitchen window... I've ordered the material and it should be delivered in early September.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

inside the inferno

Now that August has arrived boasting multiple days of 90+ degree temperatures, our air conditioner (AC) has decided to take a vacation. Congress IS on recess, after all. Most DC residents have vacated the city. Why should our AC be left behind?

The blaze began on the first of August. I arrived home from book club, instantly greeted by my frustrated husband who bemoaned the warm stuffiness in the house. Apparently, the AC made its escape when Brad went into the backyard to cut the grass. Because it was a Saturday, the technician couldn't make a service call until Monday. Brad and I survived the heat through the weekend and were surprised on Monday when the technician claimed that there was nothing wrong and just recommended a different type of filter, which we promptly changed.

We enjoyed cool air until very late Thursday night/early Friday morning, when I awoke because Brad bolted straight up in bed. Because this type of violent reaction, when it occurs at 2 a.m., is normally followed by frequent and intense vomiting, I gave Brad some space. But I quickly learned that he wasn't suffering from a stomach virus; he was burning up because, you guessed it, the AC went out again.

Brad spent all day on Friday going back and forth with our home warranty company and the technician, trying to convince everyone involved that we shouldn't have to pay another deductible because the problem obviously wasn't fixed the first time. We didn't care that our claim had already been closed. Finally, the home warranty company agreed to reopen our claim and send out another technician, but since the weekend was upon us again, it wouldn't happen until Monday because they refused to pay the weekend/emergency rates.

It was a long, hot weekend.

On Monday, the technician replaced a valve, but the system was broken again when I arrived home from work. Because the home warranty company insists that the technician try every possible solution before replacing the whole unit, we are now waiting for a new motor to arrive, which will hopefully be installed by Friday. The technician isn't 100% certain that a new motor will fix the problem, but the home warranty folks won't budge. They won't replace the whole unit if they can get away with a cheaper solution. After all, none of them are going home at night to try to sleep in the middle of an inferno. Why should they care how long this takes?

This home warranty business is both a blessing and a burden. We may end up with a new or at least improved AC unit by only paying our $100 deductible. But I can't assign a monetary value to what this little blip has cost us in terms of time and comfort. At least we've gotten some use out of our new sleeper sofa in the living room (it's cooler on the first floor at night, although that isn't saying much).

I didn't grow up in a cool house in the summer. My frugal parents have one window unit to cool a huge farmhouse. During my childhood, they only turned it on during the hottest days (100+ degrees) of the summer. I remember plenty of years when the unit went unused. Now, my parents only use it for company. Unfortunately for us, my parents do not consider their offspring to be company.

How and when did I grow so dependent on air conditioning?

Hopefully we will not spend a third weekend in a row without cool air. Dear AC, come back now, please. Your vacation is over!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

winner

Thank you to everyone who entered my contest in honor of summer reading. Cheers to beach reads and good books in general.

The lucky winner, Sarah, author of Sorry Sarah, will receive the book of her choice as a prize. Check out her blog and leave her some encouraging comments as she gears up for another year of teaching 8th graders!

Monday, August 10, 2009

back to grammar school

The following email messages that I received last week from two different students (honors students aka the university's best, keep in mind...) warrant the subject of today's post:

Message #1: "I attached Blair and I's draft syllabus."
Message #2: "I've attached Kenny and I's draft syllabus to this email."

These messages support my theory that perfect SAT scores in no way guarantee correct grammar. (Side note: my students are lauded as the highest scorers on standardized tests at the university.)

My regular readers, I believe that you recognize the mistake in both of these messages.

But for everyone else, please allow me to explain. The pronoun my is the possessive form of I. Adding an apostrophe s to I is never correct. Personal pronouns do not have apostrophes in their possessives. I rarely see this mistake made in writing, but I do occasionally hear it when people speak.

In the above examples, I suspect that the addition of the second person in the sentence confused the students who wrote the messages. If just one person was involved, the students obviously wouldn't have written "I attached I draft syllabus." They would have written "I attached my draft syllabus." Including others in the sentence brings us to the me versus I discussion, which I won't elaborate on here. For a more detailed explanation of this subject, check out Grammar Girl's podcast transcript or Smiling Mama's blog post.

So, what is the correct way to write a sentence that includes two people who are possessive of one object? Let's give it a shot.

The syllabus belongs to both you and Blair. Here is one example of how to communicate that relationship properly using first person voice:
CORRECT: I attached Blair's and my syllabus.

Using third person voice:
CORRECT: Attached is Blair and Jessica's syllabus.
Because Blair and Jessica share one syllabus, they also share one apostrophe s.

If you detest the solution above, or if it sounds too awkward for your taste, then I recommend my old standby: rewrite the sentence or add a second sentence to avoid this situation altogether.
CORRECT: Blair and I completed the first draft of our course syllabus. I attached it to this email message. (or something along those lines...)

Let me conclude this entry with my usual caveat for grammar-related posts: I am no grammar expert and I do not attempt to cover these topics exhaustively. Please feel free to comment with suggestions or corrections.

Happy writing!

Friday, August 7, 2009

he's so clever

For reasons that I will probably never know, Brad fell victim to spouse pressure and began reading the Twilight books about a month ago. Why he decided to read The Twilight Saga as opposed to the Harry Potter series (which I KNOW that he would enjoy so much more because he is definitely a plot and action lover and could care less about character development and romance) is beyond me. For years, I have BEGGED him to read the Harry Potter books, and to this day, he stubbornly refuses. But after I simply laid Twilight and the rest of the books in the series on his pillow after I finished reading them, to my shock, he picked them up and started reading. Was a pillow present the secret?! After he finishes Breaking Dawn, he may find another surprise on his pillow, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone! Brad already warned me that I'd better not pull that trick again.

However, I can't claim victory just yet. Brad repeatedly reminds me that he's doing me a favor by reading these books and that I'll owe him big when he finishes them. I've already graciously offered to read his book(s) of choice, but I have a feeling that my offer won't satisfy him. I fully expect to cook his favorite dinner many times over and assume some of his cleaning chores for a short period of time. Brad is scheming about something. I'm sure of it.

Although I suspect that he enjoys the books more than he lets on, he does his best to act otherwise. Brad, normally a speedster when it comes to books, read the first two so slowly that I nearly pulled my hair out. I told him that he had to be the slowest reader of Twilight in the world. He had the nerve to fall asleep after only reading a few pages of New Moon one Sunday afternoon. These books have kept me up well past my bedtime for weeks now; how on earth can one pass out while reading them? Knowing that I'm an Edward fan, he nettles me with comments about Jacob's redeeming qualities. And just this past Tuesday, he acted out by joining a Facebook group named "Husbands Annoyed by Twilight".

I know little about Facebook groups, I don't belong to many of them, but this group had me laughing hysterically for a good part of the evening. The group's home page features the picture of a lovely woman with an excited expression wearing a sweatshirt that says "Forks" and holding something in her hand, perhaps movie tickets. The group was created around the time that the first movie was released. Here is the description of the group:

"Husbands that are annoyed by the fact that their wives are obsessing over Edward and or Jacob! Boyfriends and other people annoyed are also encouraged to join!"

Some of the members have elected themselves to leadership positions such as Vampire Slayer, Werewolf Hater, and Officer of Book Burning Affairs. The wall posts crack me up; the men rip on Edward and try to outdo each other with their book burning threats. For being so vehemently opposed to the series, they certainly seem to know a lot about the characters and the story. Hmmm.....

These men are just jealous of Edward.

As for my darling husband, well, he's still reading the saga and is well into book three. Brad hasn't quit yet, as he normally does with books that he hates. That fact alone tells me all that I need to know.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

contest: in honor of summer reading

I'm embarrassed to admit how few of the books that I've actually read are included on the "Top 100 best books" lists that I find occasionally and include links to on this blog. But I finally came across a list that suits my reading preferences: NPR Listeners' Top 100 Best Beach Reads Ever.

I don't listen to NPR, but I can certainly appreciate this book list, especially because it seems geared toward the arguably lowbrow tastes of readers like me.

Of the 100 books listed, I have read 34, and I have 20 others on my to-be-read (TBR) list.

What about you?

In order to:
a) celebrate the joy of reading
b) engage in one last bit of summer fun
c) distract myself from the inevitable start-of-school anticipation ...

... I am hosting a contest this week on my blog. To enter, please leave a comment and tell me how many books from the NPR list that you have read, and which book (from the list) you would most like to read.

This contest runs through 5 p.m. next Monday, August 10th. I'll select a winner using a random number generator. The winner will receive one free copy of the book of his or her choice.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

the shopping excursion of the year

To cover for a woman in my office who is out on maternity leave, I, along with my graduate assistant and student worker, recently made a trip to the grocery store to purchase nonperishable snacks for an overnight retreat for all incoming students in the program for which I work. The receipt, which you see next to me in the picture, was longer than I am tall (I'm 5'7", taller than average for a woman).

This trip required three people, two cars, and four shopping carts. By God's grace, we managed to only have to go through the check-out line once. (Years ago when this event used to be my responsibility, my friend Susannah and I had to make multiple trips through the check-out line... we'd both fill our carts, check out, load the car, and return to the store for another round. I begged Susannah not to quit on me after that first nightmare shopping trip! Lucky for me, she didn't. She even came back for more the next two years!)

On this most recent shopping trip, we spent $472.68. Keep in mind that we only purchased nonperishable snacks. Another trip will be made closer to the event to buy all of the perishable items.

What did we buy, you ask? More lemonade mix than you can imagine. 1200 cups. Enough packages of cookies to feed a small army. Hundreds of bottles of water and individually wrapped snacks that students can transport with them to service sites. S'mores supplies. One can of Red Bull.

Students who attend this retreat have no idea of the myriad small and large tasks involved in the planning and coordination of it!

Monday, August 3, 2009

august dread

Exactly one year ago today, Brad and I arrived in Capri to begin our three-week European adventure. That vacation exempted me from my least favorite period of work during the year: the season of August dread. I completely missed it last year and when I came back to work, things were nearly in full swing for the beginning of the semester. I wish that I could do it that way again.

Four weeks from today, classes begin. Exactly one month from today, I will teach my first class of the fall semester. And it will be fine, even good, once it all begins. Teaching a large class of over 135 students makes my semester fly by. It will truly be over before I know it. But this period of anticipation nearly drives me crazy every single year.

Of course, I'm busy with last-minute preparations, but the majority of my course planning is finished. I'm following up on students' questions and registration issues, and of course, trying to stay two steps ahead of my young scholars and their inevitable moaning and complaining about anything and everything. I'd love to tell you that I have 135 little darlings in class, but anyone who works with college students knows that the sophomore slump can be tough, on students AND the faculty and staff who advise them.

Even though right now my heart feels heavier than normal and I have a growing knot of dread in my stomach, I know that on August 31st, I'll experience that childlike first-day-of-school excitement all over again. Because it's a new semester. A fresh start. And once it begins, it will be just fine. But until then, I'll try my best not to think about it.