Friday, May 28, 2010

sookie and me

I'm all packed and ready to leave on our vacation tomorrow. I only have one problem: eleven books don't fit in my suitcase.

At times like this, a Nook or a Kindle would come in very handy.

But I don't know if I could sit on the beach or at the pool reading a book on a computer. It just wouldn't feel right. I won't have time to read all of these books anyway, and I need to make some tough choices. I am dying to begin The Southern Vampire Series. Sookie Stackhouse has been calling my name for months.

And regardless of how many of the books pictured above I take with me or finish, I'll give you one guess which book I plan to buy and begin reading the minute I step foot on U.S. soil on Saturday, June 5th, when we return home (and when, conveniently, the book comes out in the United States).

Any ideas?

Come on. You should know me by now.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

flowers in the front planters: round 2

I like to think of myself as a tidy person. I like things nice and neat. Remember the pansies I planted on April 2nd?

So pretty. So tidy. Perfectly contained in the planter. Simply beautiful.

These pansies really spruced up my front steps. But then they went wild on me, and now my front steps resemble a jungle.


I have no idea what happened. Although the pansies get little sun in front of the house, they've grown like weeds and I can no longer control them. I prefer to keep the messy, wild, out-of-control plants in the back yard. So, I was forced to replace the pansies with these.

Red Salvias. So nice. So neat. Please stay that way!

Monday, May 24, 2010

beach reading contest winner

I always appreciate book recommendations and I love to know what other people are reading. Thanks to everyone who entered my most recent contest. And congratulations to commenter #9, my friend Susan who lives in Nashville! Susan, you will receive your $25 gift certificate via email later today or tomorrow.

Several readers commented that they plan to reread Eclipse this summer, in anticipation of seeing the third movie of The Twilight Saga. Dear friends, have you no mercy? What are you doing to me? Now I am TEMPTED to read Eclipse again. I have no business rereading this book. I've already read it three times in the past year. I have at least 20 others books I'm trying to finish before the end of 2010. Stephenie even has a new Twilight-related book (albeit a very short one) coming out on June 5th, which should feed my addiction.

And yet, I'm tempted. So very tempted.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

my summer begins today

Although the summer solstice is still over a month away, my summer officially begins today: my last work event of the 2009-2010 academic year occurred last night. I said goodbye to my tenth cohort of seniors. They are graduating today and tomorrow, and now my office will be a ghost town for the next three months. I have at least nine weeks before the August dread sets in. What bliss!!

I am wearing jeans to work today to celebrate!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

shopping woes

Gentle readers, I am curious: when shopping for clothes for yourself, do you prefer to shop with others or alone?

I am, admittedly, a slow shopper. I prowl for bargains, usually visiting each of my favorite stores once to study the options and then returning to the store that offers the best deal for my desired item(s). I hog the dressing room, often taking in two sizes and multiple colors of each garment and trying everything on at least twice. At my favorite stores, one trip to the dressing room is never enough for me; I often sweep through the store once more after I've made my first-round selections just to make sure I didn't miss anything. I don't shop for clothes often, maybe two or three times per year, but when I do, I try to make my trips worthwhile and buy everything I need.

I wish I could shop online--it would save so much time! But when I can buy a size extra-small in one top and a size large in another style, from the same store, I need to try on every item, in multiple sizes, before I buy it. And who wants to deal with all that shipping, anyway?

Because of my shopping habits, I prefer to shop alone. I feel bad subjecting others to my poky tendencies, and to be honest, I don't want to be pressured to hurry up.

When Brad and I first got married, he followed me around the clothes racks in my favorites stores while I browsed, often so close on my heels that when I stopped suddenly, he crashed into me. I finally broke him of that habit by directing him toward the nearest chair and encouraging him to relax. Now, he's much, much, MUCH more patient when waiting for me than he used to be (thank you, BlackBerry!), but I still can't help feeling rushed and unproductive if he's with me when I'm looking for new clothes.

Brad and I made the mistake of going to Banana Republic in Georgetown last Saturday afternoon because we both wanted to pick up a few new things for our upcoming vacation. It was an absolute madhouse. I have never seen so many people crammed into a clothing store, even during the holiday season! The clerk advised Brad and I to share a dressing room, which we eagerly agreed to do to avoid a longer wait. But when we entered the claustrophobic 3x3 space, both of our arms crammed with clothes, I knew we had made a horrible mistake. We're lucky we're still married after that debacle. Clothes spilled out of the tiny room because we didn't have enough hooks. Brad stood between me and the mirror the entire time and I couldn't see a single outfit I tried on. He claimed he had nowhere to go when I asked him to move! After about three minutes, we both got frustrated, gave up, and marched out of the store without buying a single item, a rare occurrence for both of us, but especially for Brad, whose casual wardrobe comes mostly from BR.

We soothed our frazzled nerves with a treat from Georgetown Cupcake, an act not at all conducive to fitting into vacation clothes, but much needed for keeping us sane and happy. And married.

I went shopping the next afternoon for two hours, ALONE, and bought almost everything I needed. Shopping solo = success!

Monday, May 17, 2010

beach reading and contest

With our vacation only two weeks away, I'm already dreaming of the books I plan to take with me. I want to reward myself--I'm doing well on my 2010 reading goals and I've already completed some serious reading for the year, so I deserve some fluff.

What shall I choose? I watched the first season of True Blood last fall (and am anxiously awaiting the second season's DVD release on May 25th) and I've been itching to read Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series, the books the show is based on. I've already started the first book in Stieg Larsson's trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and want to finish the series (although these books don't really count as fluff). Up and coming romance novelist, Julie James, has three books out now, and I went to college with her and know her personally (we're Alpha Gam pledge sisters), so I think it would be fun to read books written by someone I know.

Gentle readers, what do you think? Any beach read suggestions?

Please comment with the title of at least one book you hope to read this summer (it doesn't necessarily have to be a beach read), and I will enter your name to win a $25.00 gift card to This contest, sponsored by moi and not by amazon, runs through 5 p.m. on Friday, May 21, 2010. I'll select a winner using a random number generator.

Happy reading!

Friday, May 14, 2010

ticket secured

It's official! On Wednesday, June 30, 2010, at 12:01 a.m., with my friends and fellow Twihards Emily and Jessica, I will join throngs of tweens, teens, 20 somethings, moms, and grandmothers (and maybe a few brave men) to watch Eclipse, the next installment of The Twilight Saga. Who will Bella Swan choose? Edward or Jacob?

I've read the books three times--I already know Bella's choice, but nonetheless, I'm ridiculously excited to see this movie. I can't believe I'm going to a midnight premiere--I'm in bed by 10 p.m. most nights! But I figured that if I would ever stay up late to watch any movie, it would be for The Twilight Saga.

And now for the real question plaguing my mind today: what should I wear? Do I dare don a Team Edward t-shirt? Would Brad let me back into the house if I did?:)

And now, the most recent trailer, because watching it ten times once is just not enough.

If you want to join me at the premiere, let me know! Only 37 more days!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

it's back!

Mark your calendar: the 10th annual National Book Festival is scheduled for Saturday, September 25, 2010.

Thank you, Library of Congress, for keeping this wonderful tradition alive and thriving within walking distance of my house!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

backyard planting bed

We're back to garden month(s) posts for highlights of my most recent accomplishment.

Up until a few weeks ago, the large bed that paralleled the fence looked like this:

With the exception of pulling up old, dead plants left by the former owners and planting a tiny hydrangea bush (left end of the bed) that failed to bloom last summer, I didn't do anything with this bed. If I can't be productive in the yard early in the spring, it's hard to motivate myself to do anything. What's the point of landscaping in July? If I'm going to put forth the effort, I want to enjoy the fruits of my labor for as many months as possible. This bed was a mess. As you can see in the picture above, the ancient trumpet vine (left side) raged out of control and tried to spread along the entire fence. Weeds grew up and climbed the trellis. The bed was dull and lifeless and begged for color.

I rolled up my sleeves and spent two Saturdays bonding with my gardening sheers, planting flowers and bushes, pulling weeds, and flinging mulch. Here's a picture of what the bed looks like now.

I whacked away at the trumpet vine (I still have more to do, once the remaining branches become brittle and allow me to disentangle them easier.) and cleared the trellis of the myriad climbing weeds.

Let me take you on a tour of my work.

In the next shot, you'll see the pruned trumpet vine, my slightly bigger hydrangea bush (from last summer), a row of snapdragons in front of a climbing rose bush (that I hope will grow, climb the trellis, and bloom), and the first of two Knock Out rose bushes.

Here's a better picture of the Knock Out rose bushes (one has dark pink and one has light pink blooms). I placed a row of dahlias in between the rose bushes to add color and another climbing rose bush behind them to fill the empty trellis. (Note: the climbing rose bush in the picture has yet to do anything and I planted it almost a month ago. It may be dead and need a replacement.)

On the other end of the Knock Out bushes, I planted more snapdragons in front of another climbing rose bush. A brand new, teeny, tiny hydrangea bush and a climbing Cleomatis vine anchor the end of the bed. If you haven't noticed, the arrangement to the right of the Knock Outs more or less mirrors the arrangement to their left. Yes, I'll say it again--I like symmetry.

I added acid to the soil to turn the hydrangea blooms blue. I scattered a thick layer of black pine mulch around the plants. I hope the mulch will lessen my weed pulling this summer--my back just can't take it anymore!

I'll post another picture later in the summer when the plants have established their roots, grown, and (hopefully) bloomed!

Monday, May 10, 2010

the spoils

I went a little crazy at Trader Joe's. Anything look familiar?

Thanks for the many suggestions! I'm well on my way to becoming a fan!

Friday, May 7, 2010

when risk brings reward

I did something incredibly stupid last Friday. My car's engine light came on after I made my weekly grocery run on Thursday night. This has happened to me before, and it's never been a big deal--I've driven for days before with the engine light on. I called my mechanic on Friday morning and arranged to bring the car to him Monday morning.

My drive to work on Friday was uneventful. A small part of me thought the car sounded funny, but I decided that the bright orange engine light glaring at me from the dashboard made me paranoid. I left work around 5:15, anxious to get home, make dinner, and spend the beautiful evening outside. I hadn't even made it out of the parking garage before the car started acting crazy. It was wheezy, shaky, and sluggish, like a suffocating person gasping for air. The car's idle sounded off, and when I pulled up to a stop sign or light, more often than not, the car quivered and died. But each time it died, the car easily started back up again, so I decided to press onward instead of waiting on campus for a tow truck. I had made it 12 miles to work that morning; I could certainly make the 12 miles home. Or so I foolishly thought.

I made it off campus and through College Park, but the car grew weaker with each death at a stop sign. As I approached the entrance ramp to the BW Parkway, barely making headway because the car had seemed to exhaust its power supply, I had to make a decision. I could either pull over at the Shell station and wait for a tow truck, or I could chance it and get on the Parkway and risk breaking down there. I figured not having stop signs would help; the car ran much better when I could travel at a minimum speed.

I chanced it and went for the Parkway. Are you surprised? Do I not seem like a risk taker to you?

Well, I made a stupid choice because the car broke down on the entrance ramp--it lacked the power to make it up the incline. But fortunately, I pulled off to the far right so other cars had no problem passing me. However, my idiocy paid off in two very tangible ways:
1. Did you know that AAA automatically places you on the priority list if you break down on an interstate? Well, they do. When I called for a tow truck, they moved me to the top of their list (or so they said). Of course, I still waited 50 minutes for the truck to arrive (rather than the promised 30), but I have no doubt that had I not been on the priority list, I would have waited for two hours or longer.
2. The basic AAA coverage only pays to tow a car for three miles. After those three miles, the customer pays $4/mile. (Side note: is this a new policy? I've had the AAA basic coverage for years and do not remember only getting three free miles of towing before . . .) If I would have called the tow truck when I was still on campus, I would have had to pay for an extra six or so miles.

Brad and I spent the weekend bracing ourselves for a ginormous car repair bill. We even allowed ourselves to daydream a little about buying a new car, just in case our car was doomed. But this story actually has a very happy ending. Imagine my surprise when my mechanic called me early Monday morning to say that the bill would be $44.50 plus tax. Apparently our bellow boot had become dislodged, and all the mechanic had to do was reattach it, so we paid only for the labor (which probably took no longer than ten minutes). When has your car completely died, been towed, and then cost fewer than $50 to repair? Never! And I know it will never happen again, so I am enjoying this unexpected gift as much as I can.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Trader Joe's contest winner

Wow. Thanks so much for the many suggestions of items to try at Trader Joe's. I'm making my list now and shopping there this weekend--I can't wait!

Congratulations to commenter #6, my dear friend Rachel, for winning the contest! I'll add your gift card to my shopping list and will give it to you when I see you next Tuesday!

I'm in a contest kind of mood. Stay tuned for the next one later this  month.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

gala gaffe

Last Saturday night, Brad and I attended a gala for the organization he works for. It was a fundraiser for the D.C. recording studio, and a woman who is very active on the organization's local and national boards invited us as her guests, meaning she covered the $300 per person costs. Nice!

We had a great time. The event was at the National Geographic Museum downtown and we browsed through the Sacred Waters exhibit there during the cocktail hour. Because our car was in the shop (more on this topic later this week), we took a cab from our house to the gala. Imagine my surprise when one of my students--a senior--opened the door of the cab to help me out. (He was working the valet parking for the night--he was as shocked to see me as I was to see him.)

Most of the people in attendance were older than Brad and me. At our table, Brad and I were the youngest by at least twenty years. We were also the poorest; all of our tablemates seemed to be part of the elite DC social circle that attends these types of events often. They were very nice and welcoming, though, and we felt comfortable with them.

Much to my surprise, our hostess separated all of the couples during dinner. I assumed I would be seated next to Brad, but I found myself forced to make conversation with the two older gentlemen on either side of me. The man to my right was at least 80 years old, and not much of a conversationalist. When he did speak, I practically shoved my ear to his lips to hear him. I spent most of dinner conversing with the man on my left, the hostess's husband. 

Except, right at the meal's conclusion, the quiet old man on my right caught my attention.

After spending an hour mumbling and speaking in the faintest whisper, he suddenly exclaimed at his maximum decibel, "Now there's a woman who can clean her plate!"

I turned to find him staring in horrid fascination at my now-empty dinner plate.

I awkwardly swallowed the last bite in my mouth while my eyes darted around the table. Brad's plate was empty, too. Of course it was. Would either of us waste a crumb of a $300 dinner? The women's and men's plates in my line of vision still contained at least half of their dinners. The old man next to me had done little but push around and play with his food. The vicious part of my mind smirked that his dentures couldn't break down the beef wellington.

I tried to respond to this man's rude comment as gracefully as I could. "Did you forget that I'm a farm girl at heart?" I exclaimed, trying to sound lighthearted. "I was taught at an early age to clean my plate. I guess the habit's stuck with me."

And then, of course, I changed the subject, thankful for the dark room to hide the fire burning my cheeks.

I am not ashamed to admit I have a hearty appetite. My parents refused to let my siblings and me leave the dinner table each night until we had cleaned our plates. I abhor wasting food, which is why I either eat it all or save it for another meal, not exactly something I can do at a gala--imagine the uproar I would have caused if I had asked for a to-go container! In my defense, the meal at this gala was not excessive--the portions were small to moderate in size. But I had obviously committed a faux pas. Or, he was just a very rude man. Who makes that kind of a comment to a woman? And why didn't he pick on Brad, who also cleaned his plate?

Lesson learned: eat dinner at home before attending a gala. Pick and push at your fancy catered dinner, but certainly don't eat more than a bite of it!

My feisty nature got the best of me--despite his ridicule, I cleaned my dessert plate, too.

A woman at our table gushed to me several times about how adorable she thinks my husband is. Brad's less than thrilled with her choice of descriptor, but we had a good laugh as we left. We made a name for ourselves at our first upscale gala: the adorable lobbyist and his wife who cleaned her plate.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

happy may

Oh, May, how I love you. You give January some serious competition. You return the farmers' market to my backyard. I fled through our back gate, raced across the small parking lot, and visited the market on its opening day today, making sure to give business to the market's newest vendor. I had no choice, really; I couldn't let the new kid on the block feel left out, could I?

The excitement--at the market and in my heart--is palpable. Summer is imminent. Vacation is four weeks away. The warm temperature today guarantees a comfortable evening in a cocktail dress (with no wrap necessary!) at the gala that Brad and I are attending tonight. My last class of the 2009-2010 academic year is next Thursday. My students will leave in just over two weeks. The summer stretches lazily in front of me: open, available, promising, inviting.

And it will be over in the blink of an eye and I'll be teaching 160 students in my fall class before I know it.

But I won't let my thoughts wander there just yet. For now, I'm joyful it's May. For now, May's enough.