Saturday, December 26, 2009

High Maintenance

When I babysat for my friends' newborn baby, she and her husband gave me a pretty extensive run-down of her routine and her possible-deviations-from -routine and what to do if and how to work the very fancy baby monitor. They sort of laughed at themselves and their nervousness about leaving the baby for the first time. But I assured them that I understood completely. The note I had written for a recent dog-sitter was much longer and more involved than their baby-sitting instructions.

We usually take the dogs with us, but sometimes it just isn't feasible. They are such pampered little freaks that I hate the idea of kenneling them with their special needs. So instead of paying to kennel them, I rely upon the kindness of friends who are typically a bit reluctant but ultimately willing (my pouty face is hard to resist) to hang out at my house and spend the night with these guys.

Do we look high maintenance to you?

As I typed out dog-sitter instructions the last time we headed out of town, I realized just how complicated our little routines are. I guess we're used to it at this point--we try to balance the needs of a neurotic and anti-social almost-10-year-old pek-a-poo (Little Mac) with the emotionally needy momma's boy otherwise known as a 4-year-old puggle (Cooper).

I know I love them, but I think one weekend is plenty of Mac and Coop time for my dog-sitters. Perhaps this note, left for my most recent dog-sitter, will explain why:

The dogs will, of course, bark obnoxiously when you arrive. Please feel free to load them up with treats. Then they will like you immediately. If they continue to bark, just pop popcorn and share it with them. It is their favorite treat. (Do not be alarmed if they howl at the microwave during the popping process; they are just excited).

Do not feel like you need to hang out with them all day, although you are more than welcome to do so. Cooper's favorite spot is on the sofa and he will snuggle all day. When you leave, please put him in his house. He gets a treat on his way in and another treat before you shut the door. Little Mac also gets a treat at the same time (from the jar on top of Coop's crate).

Leashes are out if you want to take them for a walk. If Mac growls at you, that just means she doesn't feel like going. Don't take it personally--she does it to me all the time. Cooper loves to walk but if it's cold you really don't have to take him.

They've already had breakfast but they will want dinner at 5 o'clock sharp. Cooper gets the blue treat stick filled with diet food from the canister labeled with his name. He also gets a bit of extra food just dumped on the floor. Mac gets an almost-full scoop of senior food from her canister, with a generous helping of parmesan cheese sprinkled on top (see the huge-ass can of parm in the door of the fridge).

They will have the same for breakfast on Sunday morning, whenever you get up.

Cooper loves to snuggle at night (yes, we co-sleep with the furbaby) but if you want the bed to yourself, just carry a dog bed into the guest room with you and put it on the floor and he will sleep there. Avoid picking up or moving a dog bed that is close to Little Mac. She gets very cranky at night. We have put a bed in the guest room for her; she also has a bed in our room and she may choose to sleep in the living room. I would suggest you mostly avoid eye contact with her after 9pm and let her do her own thing. If she does attack her dog bed, don't be scared, she will just bite the bed (not you). She has special needs and a very large personal space (did I mention how much I appreciate you doing this?)

Cooper loves to play tug of war with his blankie but sometimes he also tries to eat the blankie. He should not do this, so if you catch him, please take away the blankie and give him a rawhide chip instead.

If Mac starts making a weird noise by the front door, that means she wants to go outside but she needs to be let out back. She prefers to go out front, so this may take some coaxing/patience (you might pretend you're going out back too and she will follow you). If she makes a weird noise in the kitchen, it means she wants you to refill her water bowl very full with fresh water.

This is my version of "normal life with pets."

Is it possible that they aren't all like Little Mac and Cooper?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bloggers and Butters

Since I started this blog, I've been interested in reading other blogs.

(Which makes sense, as my narcissism is likely to be matched only by my voyeurism.)

Anyway, I have made the following discoveries in my blog-trolling:

(1) I only like to read political opinions if they are in keeping with my own.
(2) There are a lot of ridiculously cute kids in the world.
(3) There are a lot of terrible writers writing on the Internets.
(4) The best blogs have good writing, a sense of humor, don't take themselves too seriously, and can make you feel like you are hearing the writer's voice when you read their posts.

My three favorite blogs (besides my own and my brother's, of course) are:

The Pioneer Woman

This is a woman in Oklahoma who lives on a ranch, is in love with her cowboy husband, has four children whom she homeschools, is a talented photographer, and just published a cookbook of buttery, belly-fillin', ol' fashioned homecookin'.

Amalah (that's pronounced AIM-uh-luh)

This is a woman who lives in the suburbs of Washington, DC, has two adorable small children and a chihuahua, a potty-mouth, and penchant for self-mockery and run-on sentences.

The Pink of Perfection

This is a woman who lives in New York City, has a knack for French cooking, a love for all things vintage, a knack for being thrifty and chic at the same time, and a whimsical prose style that is both thoughtful and witty.

I have little in common with any of these people except that we are of the same gender and we feel compelled for whatever reason to write things and put them on the Internets. I have never met any of them. They have remarkable followings (meaning lots of people read and comment on their blogs) whereas I still have my blog "unlisted" by google because, I don't know, people I know might read it and make fun of me. More than usual, I mean.

But despite the fact that we seem to have little in common, (aside from my love for run-on setences, obvy), I found myself returning to their blogs and now I follow them pretty regularly. When I'm feeling misanthropic, it's nice to know there are people out there I've never met whom I am quite sure I would like. They are smart, funny, and good writers. (And, yes, I bought the Pioneer Woman's cookbook even though it has a lot of meat recipes in it because the pictures are so pretty).

Recently, Pink of Perfection offered a give away for Shea Butter (give aways are a lovely thing in the blog world and something I shall do when I am so successful that people are begging me to give away their things or I am successful enough as to purchase my own give away prizes--like the Pioneer Woman does with Kitchen Aid Mixers [I know, right?]). I signed up for this shea butter thing because I want to be stylish like the Pink of Perfection writer, Sarah McColl, and because I was quite taken by the story of this butter.

You can find the full story on the website here, but in a nutshell, women in Ghana, West Africa make money by harvesting shea and it's basically an additional job to the many responsibilities they already have, so most of the harvesting occurs at dawn or dusk. This is dangerous because that is the time that poisonous snakes are most active and women are often fatally bitten by these snakes. The One Village Planet—Women’s Development Initiative is selling Just Shea and proceeds from the Shea butter go to buy boots, gloves, and coats for these women to protect them from getting bitten by vipers.

Note to Self: Reflect upon this when you are tempted to bitch about dissertation revisions.

Anyway, Sarah at Pink of Perfection had a give away for a thing of the Shea Butter in which she asked readers to comment about a random act of kindness they had performed or received and then selected winners at random. I told my pathetic Christmas party story which seems particularly absurd given the daily struggles of women harvesting shea, but, in my defense, it was a wake up call I needed to quit slouching about and pouting and to start feeling the Christmas spirit.

And I won!

I have high hopes that this shea butter will do good things for the scar on my arm.

At the very least, I think that this demonstrates the strange and beautiful way that technology and blogs can link women working in African to a sophisticated New York blogger and then a nerdy Midwestern girl.

The Internets. It can be a magical place.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Last weekend, I dropped my cell phone.

Actually, it fell out of my purse.

While I was running.

In the pouring rain.

And I didn't notice that it was gone until the next morning. When I found it face down on the front walk. In the rain.

I took it apart and dried it off and hoped for the best and sure enough! It works.

Sort of.

It still makes and receives calls. But the fancy little slide-out keyboard that allowed me to text with the speed and agility of a junior high kid? No longer working. Nor is the volume control.

I can technically live without these features. But considering that we're paying for unlimited texting, it's rather annoying.

Today we were out and about and decided to stop by the Mighty Cell Phone Store to see if they could maybe fix it. No such luck... water damage is an automatic FAIL and even if they could fix it, it would cost $100.

So they wanted us to upgrade.

We started out looking at the newer version of the phone I already have. Seemed fine to me. It was one of the least expensive models.

But then we started talking battery life, touch screen capabilities, the Fancy Super Data Plan and David also doing an upgrade and before I knew what was happening, David wanted to buy $200 cell phones for each of us and upgrade our plan so that it would cost an additional $25 a month.

It was about that point that I started freaking out and saying things like, "Oh, gosh, I just don't know. Gosh."

My stomach started hurting and I suddenly felt the urge to cry because I hate making major decisions about technology and I hate spending large sums of money. Every time we make a major purchase, I cry. Even if I am excited about it! Our car. Our flight to London. Write the check, click "confirm" and then: tears.

It just makes me super anxious. I have no idea why I am such a freak but all of sudden I was totally spazzing in the Sprint store and I felt like an old fogy who couldn't handle new expensive technology and also like I wanted to hyperventilate to think about spending that much money on a stupid phone that doesn't even get service in my basement, windowless office.

At this point, I asked the girl (jokingly) if they had a Jitterbug (you know, the cell phone they make for old people, with big numbers and no extra features).

She didn't laugh. I'm not sure she got the joke. I laughed nervously.

Finally I told David we just had to leave and come back later because I couldn't handle it. I couldn't handle investing that much money in a phone, I couldn't handle making the decision without thinking it over.

I think that I am just tapped out at this point. Incapable of functioning under any level of stress, even the most mundane of circumstances. I am still in a holding pattern, waiting to hear from my advisor about whether I am seriously SERIOUSLY finished with the dissertation or if I need to make some final revisions. My grades are completed. My semester is, at long last, finally over.

But instead of feeling totally relaxed, I feel jittery, tense, and hung-over. I am incapable of doing anything but wearing a Snuggie and watching TV or reading Sookie Stackhouse novels. When I fully recover my decision making faculties, I will let you know. Until then, all decisions, beyond what channel to watch, need to be addressed elsewhere.

If you need to reach me, call me on the Jitterbug.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Look at the Cute

I had dinner with Beth and Jamie last night and we invited our new BF, Lilly.

She is at a convenient age where she laid on the kitchen counter on a blanket while I stirred the chili and the girls drank wine.

She accompanied us when we retired to the living room, where Cooper decided that she was also his new BF.

At first I thought he was jealous of the attention I was giving Lilly.

Then we discovered that wherever Lilly was, Cooper wanted to be right next to her.

Because, obviously.

Look at the cute!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tell Me How You're Gonna Breathe With No Air

When I was in third grade, my legs got kicked out from under me. We were outside playing soccer in PE, and I was participating enthusiastically, despite being one of the shrimpier kids in my class and not being particularly athletic. At one point I was battling for the ball against a boy in my class. He was no bigger than I was, but he managed to swoop his leg around behind me to kick the ball and instead, kicked my feet right out from under me. I fell down hard, flat on my back.

The game moved on down the field as the herd of kids followed the soccer ball, and I staggered to my feet, determined not to cry in front of everyone in my class. Another student asked me if I was ok, and I tried to say yes, but all I could do was make a weird guttural noise. This freaked her out almost as much as it freaked me out and she ran and got the teacher. I ended up having to lie down on my back on the ground while the PE coach pumped my legs to get air back in my lungs. So at the age of eight, I got a vivid realization of exactly what it mean to have "the wind knocked out of you."

Fast forward twenty years and I have pretty much managed to avoid soccer fields and other kicking-related sports that might put me in danger of reliving that experience. Between Jazzercise and Pilates and beginner yoga, I sometimes like to imagine that I have pretty good balance and that my agility and coordination have improved since I was a spastic little eight year old. Sure, the sidewalk can still sneak up on me sometimes, but for the most part I am capable of functioning in day to day life without putting myself in danger of having the wind knocked out of me.

Or so I thought.

Friday was a busy day. I taught my final class on the history of the British novel. I scurried over to the other campus to meet with my advisor, and then meet with a student. The department holiday party was that afternoon, and before I knew it, I was on the train heading home with not much time left before I needed to be changed and ready to go to the Christmas party we were attending that night. And I still had gifts to wrap and a cheeseball to make!

Once I got home, I was on a mission. Put on sequined top, skinny jeans, and boots (because, honestly, what's the point of a holiday if you don't wear sequins?). Decided time did not allow for the cheeseball so we would just bring extra booze and count on other people to supply the food (several of my friends have a flair for the culinary, so this is usually a safe bet, and that night was no exception). I edited David's outfit and made him change so that we were slightly coordinated without being too matchy (no sequins for him!) and then it was time to wrap the gifts.

I grabbed the roll of wrapping paper from its storage bin in the guest room closet and marched with it into the kitchen to use the big counter space for wrapping. I was really on a mission now, taking long strides and carrying the roll of wrapping paper at hip level, sort of like a jousting rod. David was sitting at the dining room table, so I walked by him, chattering about the party, the gift exchange, whatever. I lifted the wrapping paper roll to put it on the counter.

And that is when my hand-eye coordination failed me.

I made some kind of minuscule miscalculation and instead of placing the wrapping paper roll on top of the counter, it hit the edge of the counter and stopped. But I kept moving. I ended up jamming my entire body weight into the wrapping paper roll as it dug its way into my gut, just under my ribs on the right side.

Evidently it was a firm rather than flexible cardboard roll. And I was walking pretty quickly. So if this thing had had a sharp point, it would have impaled me. As it was, it simply knocked all the air out of me in a "whoosh" and I dramatically collapsed to the floor.

I was having a flashback to the third grade soccer game because I was gasping for air but it appeared that my lung had been entirely deflated. So there I was, on my hands and knees on the kitchen floor, unable to breathe in or out, wondering whether I needed to lie down on my back and start pumping my legs or whether I would just start to breath in a second. When I started making a noise that resembled a dog coughing, David got up from the table and came over to assist me. He put his hands under my armpits and dragged me up to my feet and told me to put my hands above my head.

I guess these are the kinds of things you learn to do in PE School, because it worked.

I was finally able to breathe normally again, although even that was a bit complicated because I was also kind of laughing and kind of wanting to cry. Sure, it was totally embarrassing and funny that I had just rammed my entire body into a wrapping paper roll, but it also seriously hurt and really knocked the air out of me. And I suspected that I had bruised a lung (which made for a great conversation starter at the party when I made that casual announcement, "So, I bruised my lung today," and then was forced to admit it was a self-diagnosis as the looks of shock and voices of concern compelled me to full-disclosure).

David continued to mock me for "jousting myself with wrapping paper" and making jokes about how I need to wear full body armor all the time. Until we were home putting on p.j.s and I discovered that there was a serious bruise and red mark on my ribs because I hit that damn roll of paper so hard. Then he felt a little sorry for me.

The point of this story is that my life has now been saved twice by PE coaches. And that it is, in fact, really hard to breathe without air.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


They say that stress can affect your memory.

And by "they," I mean "really smart scientific people." If blogger allowed footnotes, here is where I would footnote this article from Science Daily which I found while researching this phenomenon (and by "researching" I mean "googling." Of course.)

Science Daily reports:

If it's been a really, really tough week at work and you can't remember where you put your car keys, it may be that high levels of the stress hormone cortisol are interfering with your memory. In the June Archives of General Psychiatry, investigators at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis provide the first direct evidence that several days of exposure to cortisol at levels associated with major physical or psychological stresses can have a significant negative effect on memory.

I wonder how a university could possibly find enough people experiencing major physical or psychological stresses to run such tests? Oh wait. Any major university would have a huge pool from which to select such subjects. They are called graduate students.

Whatever the scientific facts behind this, I happen to know for certain that when I am stressed out about something, I become a total space cadet. The worst semester I ever had was right after David and I got married. We were having some serious issues of the "OMG we just got married what the hell we were thinking?" variety. Things got so bad that now we simply refer to those few months as "The Bad Time." As in, "Remember The Bad Time? That really sucked." It didn't help that while we were sorting out our various mental/emotional/financial/whose turn is it to empty the dishwasher issues, I had the worst group of students I'd ever taught. Not in terms of ability, mind you, but in terms of attitude. They hated me, I hated them. They hated the text I was teaching, I hated the text I was teaching. It was honestly the only terrible semester of teaching I have ever had. But it was a doozy. (Seriously I asked them to fill out mid-term evaluations in class and one student--the most insufferable one--went home and typed up a f*&$ing list of things he thought I could improve on. Yes, he did. You'd better believe I shredded that shit in the copyroom on campus. What an asshat.)

My life really sucked that semester and I was so stressed out and worried all the time that I forgot everything. (Which, in case you were wondering, tends to add to the stress and worry.) I'd show up for class only to realize my lesson plans were on my desk at home. I'd go home and get ready to do some work only to realize the books I needed were in my office at school. I'd get started planning for class or drafting a paper, only to realize I had forgotten a meeting that had already started or a reading that I'd wanted to attend. I'll never forget the morning that I got about halfway through a travel mug of coffee before I realized that I had forgotten to put coffee in the coffee maker and I was just sipping on hot water with a hint of stale coffee flavor.

It was a bad semester. But it got better. David and I got over our newlywed freak out and he turned back into the wonderful person he had been before Bad David showed up during The Bad Time. We decided that I would do the laundry and he would empty the dishwasher. My students finished the semester and I half-heartedly graded their papers and washed my hands of them (this was the class in which 2/3 of them named The Da Vinci Code as their favorite book. I shit you not. There was no teaching those people. Lost causes.)

The point of that story is that I hate being forgetful. It makes me feel stupid and incompetent. That's why I make lots of list. I write things out in a planner. I keep two calendars. I plan ahead. I manage to pretty much stay on top of things as a general rule. I'm no where near perfect, but I did show up for class all semester with my lesson plans and I haven't left a crucial ingredient out of any food or beverage (that I know of). I guess what I'm saying is that I've pretty much figured out how to keep my shit together or at least give the appearance of doing so. Most of the time, anyway.

But now I am at this weird point in my dissertation where I am so close to finishing. So very close. And yet also so far away. Things are mostly written. Chapters are being proofread. And yet I'm panicking about what sources I made sure to cite. What exactly do I want to say in my little 5-page conclusion? Have I sufficiently accounted for the current criticism in my introduction? Are my footnotes ok? What about my font? Should I change the title of chapter three? I feel this terrible, tired, wrung-out feeling where I want to wash my hands of the whole thing and at the same time I am clinging to it because it is the sad little child of my brain and it needs more help and I know that I can still improve it and I am afraid to let it go because what if people are mean to it?

The result of this endless self-doubt, crisis of confidence, and general existential angst?

I am forgetful.

Instead of thinking about the task at hand, I'm fretting about the dissertation. I stood up a friend for lunch yesterday. Totally forgot. I e-mailed a student yesterday about the time we could meet tomorrow, totally forgetting that I still have to teach tomorrow morning and therefore cannot meet with students before noon. I showed up to a holiday party tonight, the highlight of which was to be a rob-your-neighbor gift exchange, and I forgot my gift. Then when I left, I left my little notebook on a table in living room. The hostess must think I am an absent minded maniac who needs my mother to write my initials on all my belongings because I just heedlessly run around leaving my things willy-nilly.

After a rough day of writing frustrations and scheduling errors and feeling like I got next to nothing accomplished even though I had so much to do, showing up at the holiday party empty-handed (well, holding a homemade cheeseball, which looked good but, frankly, did not taste that good--very disappointing)... It really felt like the last straw. The final nail in my coffin. Proof of my general incompetence and a total FAIL of a day.

The gracious hostess, however, happened to have an "extra" gift that she insisted I use as my own so I could participate in the game. So even though I started out feeling pretty miserable (I sat for a moment in the driveway and considered just turning around and driving home even though it had taken me nearly half an hour to get there), I ended up having a good time.

It made me realize that my worrying and fretting and stewing has really overwhelmed the holiday spirit and general goodwill that I usually feel this time of year. Instead of being excited about Christmas shopping and traveling for the holidays, I just feel tired and overwhelmed, which is totally unlike me. So I am going to make a conscious effort over the next week to relax and breathe and focus on one thing at a time instead of the big worries about the dissertation and the defense and the job market and all that stuff. One thing at a time.

It's easier said than done, but I'm hoping that I'll at least make it home for the holidays without forgetting my toothbrush.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Let's Talk Turkey

So this Thanksgiving I ate turkey.

I know, way to get crazy, right?

But this was the first Thanksgiving in years that I didn't subsist on side-dishes.

When I mentioned to a few people that I was going to eat turkey this year, they all warned me to "be careful" because they thought it would be really hard on my body to suddenly start eating meat again.

I found this strange because it's not like I was going to gorge myself on turkey. Of all the meat-items that I've really truly missed, turkey honestly hasn't been that high up on the list. It definitely ranks below greasy cheeseburgers and crispy bacon. (Although maybe that is somewhat psychological since beef and pork are forboden due to allergies and poultery is just a personal choice...).

So as I've mentioned before, I have serious qualms about the meat industry in this country and the only reason I was eating a bird at all was because it was a free-range turkey raised by a local organic farmer. This is not because I am a liberal elitist snob (although I can see why someone might make that accusation) but it is because I don't like the idea of torturing animals before we kill them and I think can safely assume that this particularly turkey was as happy as a turkey can be for the duration of its life. The fact that it was never frozen and therefore supposedly tastes better was lost on me because I haven't tasted any turkey for so many years that I am not sure I'd know the difference.

Anyway, I was still slightly skeeved by certain things. Like there was a vein that you can see through the skin of the raw turkey and the idea of eating veins makes me want to hurl. Also during turkey-prep time David was shoving his entire forearm up in the turkey's insides and pulling out internal organs (organs that my mother actually suggested we cook and feed to the dogs--this was before we took away the crack pipe she must have been smoking). Then David was stretching all the skin around which was pretty nasty.


And then he thought it was funny to shake the wings at me as though the turkey was dancing.

Seriously, he thought it was really funny. See how much fun he is having? Must haven taken up my mom's crack pipe.

In spite of the traumatic prep-work (and by "work," I mean "observing from bar stool while drinking wine") and some debate over cooking temperatures and appropriate cooking time, I managed to eat some turkey on Thanksgiving.

And it was good.

Don't it look good? Yeah, it do.

I've even been eating the leftover turkey in enchiladas and I had a sandwich and a turkey roll up. (It was a nearly 16 pound turkey--we had LOTS of leftovers.) And we went ahead and boiled up what was left of it to make turkey stock that we will use for cooking.

Was it worth the price per pound?

Well, if you're only eating turkey once a year, I think that such a splurge can be justified.

Was it so delicious that I wish I could eat turkey every day?

I think I'm perfectly content to be a vegetarian most of the time.

(I think this surprises some people, who must assume that vegetarians constantly feel deprived, thus prompting them to warn me not to over-indulge myself by eating copious amounts of dead bird in one sitting.)

So turkey for Thanksgiving seems to be a pretty good idea after all. Looks like this Thanksgiving propaganda might have the right idea after all. In fact, I just might try it again next year.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving: This was the year we ate approximately one pound of butter each!

Yes, Thanksgiving weekend at my house saw four people consume eight and half sticks of butter. I am not sure that is actually a pound each, but it is still disgusting.

I blame the sweet potatoes! And the homemade cinnamon rolls! And the apple dumplings! And the mashed potatoes! And the pumpkin pie and broccoli and rice and stuffing and snap peas with caramelized pecans...

It's fine, though, because my mom and I went to Jazzercise Thanksgiving morning so we surely burned off at least 1/8 of the calories we consumed.


Basically we all spent the entire weekend eating, punctuated by shopping trips and sewing projects. Oh--and one viewing of Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was, in a word, fantastic.

But now Thanksgiving is over. Which means it is time for the festivities of the winter holidays--cocktail parties, Christmas movies, caroling, shopping, gift-wrapping, whatever makes your lights twinkle.

In my world it is also the time for final papers and end the of the semester grading.

Oh--and that little detail I almost forgot--FINISHING and handing in my dissertation. It's enough to make my stomach churn and my face feel hot just thinking about it.

I have three weeks. Three weeks to revise and fine tune and double check citations and make sure I footnoted all the right people. Three weeks before it is OUT of my hands.

And then I throw up and die.

Part of me is really scared that I will chicken out and decide to keep working on it over the holidays. I don't WANT to, but I could easily give myself an extra month to keep obsessing over it. I am determined to do all I can to avoid this scenario, however.

So in the next three weeks I will be commenting on 14 drafts, grading 14 exams, grading 14 final papers, and revising roughly 200 pages of my own writing.

Lest you think this sounds like I will have no fun at all this holiday season, please keep in mind that I will also be attending four holiday parties, two dissertation defense parties, one play, one movie, one college basketball game, and one children's Christmas program at David's elementary school (shoot my eyes out) (I mean: It's so cute! Love it!).

Totally d0-able. Right?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I am a rock. I am an island.

I am not Simon nor Garfunkel, but I am without internet at mi casa!

Our land line is out, and our DSL with it.

Our provider promises it should be up and running by... Monday.

Perhaps these people don't realize that when I work from home, the internets is my only connection to the outside world! Without it, I go crazy...

I also take naps. Accidentally, for thirty minutes today. I was trying to read about the history of science fiction and suddenly I was awake! And thirty minutes of my day were missing! It was like a moment out of science fiction. Only without shiny gadgets and a unitard.

* * *

As far as The Status of Things (read: my dissertation), dare I say that Things are going well?

I am afraid to say that, for fear of jinxing myself or inviting myself to be the butt of some horrific cosmic joke, but...

* My sanity seems to be intact. (I am not ripping out my hair and eating it. Anymore.)
* My chapters seem to be written. (I am still revising, but mostly cosmetically.)
* People on my dissertation committee seem to be using the words "clear" and "well written" when talking to me about a chapter. A chapter that I wrote. (I know, it's mind-boggling. That is why I blink and stare at them blankly before I remember to smile and nod.)
* It seems that I might actually be close to finishing.

What I'm saying here is that I need to write 5 or 6 pages and call it a coda or an afterword or some other elitist name for a conclusion.

And then.

It. Is. Written.

Now there I've gone and jinxed myself.

* * *

New Moon!

After much deliberation via Facebook, four of my girlfriends and I bought our tickets in advance for a showing on Saturday night. We plan to arrive at the theatre en masse and giggling like junior high girls. After the showing, we will retire to a posh cocktail lounge where we will engage in a scholarly discussion of the film, as would reflect our intellectual pursuits. In other words, we're going to grab a beer and argue over whether vampires or werewolves are hotter with their shirts off.

* * *

What follow are two fictional scenes. Any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.

* * *

Scene: A college classroom, class has been dismissed. Instructor erases dry-erase board and students gather their books and exit. A female student rushes to the front of the room, seems rather frantic, somewhat crazy.

Student: (loudly) I need to talk to you about my assignment!

Instructor: (in a friendly, patient tone that does not belie the irritation she actually feels) OK.

Student: I guess I will wait until more people leave. I had some personal issues this weekend.

Instructor: (less friendly) Um, OK.

All students exit but Student #1 and a slouchy male student.

Student #2: (shuffles to front of room)

Instructor: Do you have a question for me too?

Student #2: Uh, I forgot my assignment.

Instructor: OK. Bring it Monday.

Student #2 shuffles out of room.

Student #1: (seems bewildered) Oh, well, I wanted to talk to you about the same thing, but I guess you don't need to hear my excuse?

Instructor: No. (with relief) No. I do not. I am actually not at all interested in your excuse. Just bring the assignment on Monday.

* * *

Scene: College classroom. Overachieving, grade-grubbing students are in their desks. We enter this scene mid-way through conversation in which students who got a poor grade on previous assignment are pretending to have been confused about the parameters and expectations of the assignment--which were clearly spelled out in class.

Student #1: (whiny and petulant) But I don't understand... what do you want on this assignment?

Instructor: (slightly exasperated) Look, this assignment is not about what I want. This has nothing to do with what I want. If you were writing what I want to be reading, you would all be handing in celebrity gossip magazines and I would be reading US Weekly.

Pause. Silence.

Instructor: (cheerfully) Now let's talk about what skills this assignment requires you to demonstrate.

* * *

I love to teach. But I really love when the semester is over, too. This one is so close I can taste it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Tale of One Dissertation Chapter

The morning started out like any other Thursday. I ate breakfast, worked out, walked the dog. On our walk I noticed that the recycle bins were in front of other people's houses. I made a mental note double check and see if David had put ours outside. And of course I promptly forgot about it.

Got home around 11 and showered and flitted away the rest of the morning grading/e-mailing/etc. Finally I ate lunch and decided it was (at last) time to start on the revisions of this last chapter based on the comments I'd gotten from my advisor. Went to pull out the copy with her comments on it.

Couldn't find it.

It is Nowhere to be found. Distinctly remember having it in a specific pile on my desk. 45 pages, double spaced, blue-ink commentary in the margins. No sign of it. All other items are in pile. Chapter is gone. Not in my bag. Not in the living room. Not underneath laptop. Not sitting on printer ready to be reused by printing on the other side. Not in any one of various folders I frantically rifled through looking for it. This probably took about five or ten minutes but it felt like YEARS.

I suddenly couldn't remember if I have really seen it since I got back from my conference. Could I have lost it before the conference? I know I didn't take it with me. WHERE could it BEEEEE?

(At this point my face is hot and my hands are cold and I feel like I could barf or cry except that would be too distracting and I HAVE to find this chapter.)

The dogs start barking their crazy heads off because the recycling truck is outside, which reminds me that we never DID put out the recycle bins and so far this day is adding up to a total FAIL.

In desperation, I dig through the recycle paper bin next to my desk. And there at the bottom, under the newspaper and catalogs and advertisments and the paper shreds my cousin Angie used to cushion the pumpkin butter she mailed to me... THERE is my dissertation chapter with my advisor's blue inked scribbles on it.

It must have slid off my desk and into the bin at some point when I was scrambling to revise my conference paper or hurrying to tidy up my desk before leaving for the weekend. And by all rights, it should have already been picked up and on its way to become gray notebook paper or 7th Generation paper towels.

IF David had remembered to put out the recycle bin this morning... IF I had remembered when I got home from walking the dog to put out the recycle bin...

Call it what you will--good luck, predestination, providence, our forgetful morning was obviously meant to be.

Yesterday, my chapter revision was handed in. I anticipate one more serious revision before this thing is officially completed!

Friday, November 13, 2009


Reader interest in naming the cat pretty much matches my current interest in the damn thing.

Haven't seen it since before we went to San Francisco but the food still disappears.

(And here we all say a little prayer that I am still actually feeding the cat and not that enormous possum that lives somewhere in the neighborhood.)

Anyway, survey will be up for a few days, so please feel free to vote in the right column there.

In spite of kitty's vexing lack of gratitude and/or affection, I am also considering getting a small dog house that I could put outside to provide shelter for kitty in the winter. Cat people--would an outdoor (stray) cat use such a thing? I just don't know where he will sleep when it snows...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Deer Meat

When I was little, the holiday season did not start with Thanksgiving or Halloween. The holidays began when Deer Season shifted from bow to firearms.

How festive and peace-on-earthish of us, right?

Deer season meant aunts and uncles and cousins driving in for the weekend and everybody getting together for dinner at Aunt Tammi's house. It really was the beginning of the holidays--a chill in the air, a warm and brightly lit house at the end of a long gravel road, the scent of chili simmering on the stove, men's muddy boots standing up by the front door, Carhart coveralls smelling faintly wet and woodsmoky, the low baritones of men comparing hunting stories, punctuated by little kids laughing and women talking in the kitchen. There is still a particular kind of minty chewing tobacco that makes me think of deer season and being a little kid whenever I smell it.

I think it is important to note that I've been an animal lover my entire life. I've never had interest in hunting. I've been a vegetarian for the last seven years. And yet I still think of deer season with a kind of warm nostalgia.

My mom kept a journal when I was a little girl and in it she recorded an incident when I was about three years old and I saw a deer that my dad had shot. It was lying in the back of his truck. I understood that it was dead but I kept asking why its eyes were open.

And then told my mom that when I got to heaven, I was going to lie down beside that deer.

Which must have been a kind of creepy thing for a little kid to say and suggests that from the very start I had some serious misgivings about this killing animals thing.

My sympathy for deer (perpetuated, no doubt, by Bambi) only increased as I got older. By the time I was nine or ten, I began to vocally protest hunting season. By which I mean I tried to convince my dad it was cruel to shoot deer. He explained to me that the population needed to be controlled or they would overrun the woods and starve or get hit by cars on the highway. I was only somewhat mollified by this explanation.

I still hated the idea of deer being shot but more troubling for me honestly was the thought of a general state of anxiety in which I imagined the poor deer must live for the entire extent of the season.

Perhaps I gave deer too much credit for their cognitive abilities?

In spite of my misgivings about shooting furry animals, it was hard not to enjoy the side effects of the season. After all, it was like a cultural ritual in our small town and the excitement was sort of contagious. I admired my aunt who hunted with the guys for ignoring the traditional gender roles even though I personally had no desire to get up that early in the morning only to sit outside in the cold without being able to talk (let alone actually having to shoot a deer). Kids would come to school with their carhart coveralls still on, the top half unzipped and hanging down so they were just wearing the pants and a flannel shirt as evidence they had been up at the crack of dawn deer hunting before school.

Deer season didn't just mean grabbing a gun and hitting the woods, it meant families getting together, a certain sense of cameraderie in the hunting section of Wal-Mart (yes, some Wal-Marts have a hunting section), men growing beards and wearing camouflage, people stocking up on groceries to feed extended family, good-natured boasting about the first deer of the season or the biggest deer in the group. The season seemed to be full of family and food and a general sense of goodwill--no wonder it felt like Christmastime.

Deer season doesn't really make a blip on my radar where I live now. And I have been surprised to find that I kind of miss it.

I don't like violence and I don't like cruelty to animals. But I'm no longer sure that deer season is those things.

Now that I've learned more than I really wanted to know about factory farms and chicken factories, I have more of an appreciation for hunting wild game. I suppose it is something of a skill and while human beings clearly have the advantage, I would wager that the deer who are hunted this year have lived a happier existence than most of the turkeys that will be consumed this Thanksgiving.

Personally, I still don't particularly want to eat deer meat, but I'm glad that the hunters I know eat venison steak and use ground venison in spaghetti and make summer sausage and jerky out of deer. I see it as a responsible use of resources. Take your share and leave some for others. All things considered, I think it is a relatively humane way to feed a family.

I still don't want to see dead deer hanging in trees. (Especially within the city limits--shouldn't there be some kind of ordinance about that?) But in a world where we lived so far removed from nature, I'm glad that my family is part of a tradition that respects the meat on the table and that we've all seen the animal that used to be. We recognize that food that doesn't just come pre-packaged and de-boned at the grocery store.

So you definitely won't see me wearing camouflage and carrying a gun out to the woods, but as far as I'm concerned, the holiday season has commenced.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I Left My Heart In San Francisco

Along with a nice chunk of change.

But it was worth it. See?

Yes, San Francisco lived up to the hype. That city is amazing! I had to be a Responsible and Professional Adult and actually attend my conference, but even so we managed to squeeze in as much sight-seeing as humanly possible for two people in one big city over two and a half days.

Thursday night began with our (on-time) arrival. David's aunt Lana lives in Sacramento so she and her two kiddos drove over to see us. They actually swung by the airport and picked us up which was an excellent surprise!

Our hotel was the Parc 55 which I chose for two reasons: (1) it was recommended by my conference and so gave us a special discount and (2) of the hotels recommended by the conference, it was the closest to a metro station.

What I didn't know was that it is located near Union Square and therefore is within walking distance of every major retailer known to man.

From our hotel window, I could see Barney's, Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Macy's, and Neiman Marcus. Not to mention all the smaller stores-- a 3-story Forever 21, a massive Old Navy, a 3-story H&M, DSW, BCBG, FCUK, you list a few initials, that store was there. It was very exciting.

Look, Mom! It's the biggest Macy's I've ever SEEN!

But to be perfectly honest, there wasn't that much time for shopping. Our first night we had dinner at Puccini's--a little Italian place just on the corner across from our hotel. The kids (5-year-old Kailer and one-and-a-half year old Taylyn) were quite well behaved. Of course there was a small hiccup in the evening when Kailer announced he was going to barf (this was before dinner had arrived). Lana frantically jumped up and dragged him to the bathroom. They returned several minutes later, with Kailer cheerfully announcing that actually he just had to burp. In the meantime, Taylyn had a bit of a meltdown. Something about her mom and brother abandoning her in an Italian restaurant with two people who are essentially strangers seemed to set her off. David and I avoided eye contact with other diners by staring into the bottoms of our wine glasses and gulping quickly while Taylyn screamed in her high chair.

So, no problems that a bottle of wine and some veggie lasagna couldn't solve.

Friday morning I was up and off to the conference and David went to check out the baseball stadium. He walked around the stadium while I sat in on a panel about nineteenth-century literature and religion and another panel on nineteenth century literature and crime.

Picture of gianormous baseball glove deemed more interesting than picture of a literature conference.

At lunchtime, I cut out of the conference and met up with David and Lana and the kids at Pier 39. It was a rainy, foggy day which somehow felt much more tolerable in San Francisco. I guess it just seemed appropriate. It was the perfect weather for some clam chowder in a sourdough breadbowl. After lunch, Lana took the kids back to the hotel for a nap and David and I caught the boat to Alcatraz for our tour.

The tour was very interesting (we did the audio guide bit) and we got to wander the island and the prison, which was as bleak and depressing as you might expect. Some of the cells were furnished and even decorated with water color paintings and books that the inmates had. The cells were astonishingly small and of course there was no privacy at all ever which just freaks me out. We learned all about the escape attempts.

Let me out! Or I will sharpen a spoon and dig my way out through the grate in the wall.

I thought it was interesting that the prison tour is pretty insistent about claiming that the three escapees who were never found must have drowned and therefore there has never been a successful escape from Alcatraz. I recently heard a thing on NPR about it that said they are still not officially presumed dead and there is an officer whose job it is to continue to follow up on leads about these guys. If they lived, they likely headed to South America (they had been studying Spanish while in Alcatraz). I'm totally spending my next lazy Sunday afternoon watching one of those escape-from-Alcatraz movies that they always rerun on TNT.

Unfortunately, I think I must have gotten kind of seasick on the boat ride. I felt pretty queasy as we wandered around the island but I just kept chewing gum and I didn't barf (Kailer and I were 0 for 2!). On the ride back to the pier, we stood outside on the deck of the boat and I think that helped. Wind and fresh air and a great view of the island and the city, even through the fog.

Can you tell I kind of want to puke? Also, that's Alcatraz Island to the left.

Once we got back to the pier, we walked back down to Fisherman's Wharf to catch a cable car back to the hotel (Parc 55 is just one block from the Powell Street cable car stop). We popped in and out of the little tourist shops and David bought some Ghirardelli chocolates. We happened upon all the docks where the seals hang out and stood and watched them for a while. There were so many! They are cute. Like puppies without feet.

Then it was time for the cable car! We squeezed on, standing on the running board and holding on to the side. I still can't believe it's legal for people to ride that way. We were so close to the other cars on the road and the hills were so steep. I loved it. I guess it's a pretty cheesy tourist thing to do but definitely worth it, if only for the views of the city.

It really looked just the way I imagined it would.

Lana's husband surprised everybody by driving in for dinner that night so we got back to the hotel and changed and then headed to an Asian fushion restaurant that Lana had found in one of our guidebooks--a "hidden gem" of San Francisco. It was certainly hiddden--down a back alley with a quiet little door (guarded by a doorman) that simply led to an elevator. Upstairs was a lovely upscale restaurant with wicker furniture and palm-frond ceiling fans.

My seasickness was still bothering me so while everyone else ordered wine or mixed drinks, I had a ginger ale. And while everyone else ordered fancy dishes of steak or seafood, I had brown rice. I managed to have one veggie spring roll as well. It was sad to see all the delicious food and not want to eat it.

We were still operating on Missouri time so we were ready for bed pretty much right after dinner. We walked back to the hotel and window-shopped on the way. Taylyn entertained us by finding a street sign pole, wrapping her arms and legs around it, and sliding down to sit on her bottom. She was so funny and evidently was having a great time. We made a few inappropriate jokes about her pole dancing and then continued back the hotel where the guys went down to the restaurant for a beer and the kids and the girl with the stomachache crashed for the night.

No sleep before a tickle war!

The next morning was my conference presentation! I was up early and once I'd gotten ready I decided to head over to the university with plenty of time to spare. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day so I sat outside and read over my paper until it was time for my panel to begin.

I was second of four presenters. Each of us read a 15-minute paper and there was a general question and answer time at the end. I was the only graduate student on my panel, the rest were all professors which I found slightly intimidating. But everyone was so extremely friendly and encouraging. My paper got the most questions and comments at the end and I felt like I knew how to answer all of them or they were comments that I had already considered in my larger project. So it was really a pleasant experience. I might even call it fun!

I walked over to the luncheon with a very nice woman who teaches at Harvard and we sat with some other people who had sat in on my panel--some graduate students from Berkeley and Stanford and Santa Barbara. We commiserated about the job market and people said more nice things about my panel and my essay. The veggie entree was enchiladas which made me really happy. And then we listened to an interesting talk about alternate-history novels (like Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, which I recently read just for fun and found completely fascinating).

After lunch I seriously considered heading back for a panel on women and work in the nineteenth century (the governess!) but I had too much sight-seeing left to do!

Lana and Barry and the kids had headed back to Sacramento so David and I were on our own for the afternoon. I met him back at the hotel where he had planned out our route to the Golden Gate Bridge via the metro bus system. I was a little bit nervous but he had figured everything perfectly! We made it to the bridge where I hummed the theme song to Full House and we admired the view and marveled at our good fortune to be there on such a beautiful day.

Special thanks to the international tourist who took our photo. I asked him because he had a huge and expensive looking camera so I figured he knew what he was doing. Digital cameras: the new international language.

From there it was a bus ride back into the city. I decided I wanted to walk down Lombard street, so we hopped off at a bus stop just two blocks from the top of the world's crookedest street.

Those would be two blocks at an approximately 80 degree angle. And we had to go UP before we could walk DOWN.

Our legs were jello by the end of it and there was only one cure: Irish coffee at Buena Vista (special thanks to Aunt Peggy for the suggestion).

After our coffee we wandered back through the wharf and got dinner from one of the take-away places outside. I had fish & chips (with garlic fries for chips) and David (who had fish & chips for lunch) ordered crab and shrimp AND a side of calamari.

David with his cup o' crab and shrimp. Waiting on the calamari.

We sat on some nearby benches overlooking the water but then I saw two huge rats and nearly had a freak out spaz attack. I managed not to scream but I totally bolted. David came jogging after me as I ran away clutching my coke and fish & chips and we ended up standing and eating in a well-lit area that proved to be rat-free.

(That night I had a nightmare about rats which surprised me because my dreams are not usually that predictable. I woke up in the middle of the night shouting "I don't like it!" so loudly that I woke David up too.)

After dinner we wandered back through Fisherman's Wharf, watched some of the street entertainers and artists, went in some of the shops, and then decided to catch the cable car and head back to the hotel for a drink before calling it a night.

Did I mention I loved the cable car rides?

Breakfast our last morning was at Lefty O'Doul's -- he was a baseball player with the likes of Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio so the place was full of baseball photos. I had an Irish coffee with breakfast. It was the last day of vacation!

Sunday brought us uneventful flights and the irritating realization that it was much easier to make the transition over to west-coast time zones than it is to make the switch back... I think I'm still recovering!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Our Narrow Escape

In all the excitement of adopting an unfriendly and ungrateful cat, I almost forgot to mention that David and I were terrorized by the Jason of Friday the 13th on Halloween night.

I am terrified. Actually, I was sort of freaked out by the flaming hand being over my hair.

Our neighbors celebrate Halloween with a fire pit in the front yard and hot food inside and Halloween candy outside. And also by dressing up like the bad guy in a horror movie and jumping out at unsuspecting trick-or-treaters and neighbors who happened to be walking their dogs or just walking to their cars. He definitely startled a few people although most of the kids were too cool to be scared.

David gets cozy with Jason. Until the chainsaw comes out.

In fact, it seemed that jumping out of the bushes was mainly for our entertainment, but we did find it highly entertaining. David and I didn't stick around all night as we had a Frito Pie plus Buffy the Vampire Slayer Halloween viewing party to attend as well. It was delicious and delightful. It was not a dress-up party so we were costume-free this year. (David was relieved, I was disappointed, although at least this way I couldn't procrastinate work by making a Halloween costume.)

So our Halloween was comprised of a fire pit, some brewskis, a crazy dude in a Jason mask, some vampire viewing, frito pie, mulled wine, popcorn, and candy. Hope your Halloween had at least a few of those delightful ingredients.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The thing about cats...

is that they are not particularly grateful.

Yesterday afternoon I was outside trying to coax kitty to come over and let me pet him (I have decided Kitty is a boy but that's mostly because I want it to be a boy because I don't want to deal with kittens), but to no avail. A neighbor passed by walking her two dogs and asked me if the cat belonged to Don and Bill's house. I explained the situation with the renter leaving and the cat being left to fend for itself and said that I was going to get some cat food tomorrow and start feeding it.

Poor pitiful kitty. Who knew you would be such an ingrate?

Dog-walking Neighbor told me that she had put food out for this cat before because it roamed the neighborhood and would try to kill the birds that came to eat the seed she puts out on her front lawn (Note to Dog-Walking Neighbor: There is a reason your car is covered with bird shit. It's because you ask for it.). She said she might have some cat food left and I told her that if she did, she could go ahead and put it out for this kitty because I didn't think it had eaten for a few days.

She ended up walking the cat food back up to my house with her dogs (Cooper was most decidedly not a gracious host to them--embarrassing!) and so kitty got a meal yesterday. I stayed back while he ate and then tried to get closer but he just walked away without so much as a backward glance. Yeah, Kitty. Because the world owes you this food.

So today I came home from Target* with a bag of Friskees and went outside to feed kitty. He came running right away when I called him and hopped up on the landscaping bricks. I reached out and touched his head but then he jumped back and hissed at me. He continued moving forward to be close to the food bowl, but hissed at me again. You might try being a little bit grateful, you starving little wench.

So I guess this process of winning over the cat is going to take a while...

Contentedly nappy after dinner of Friskess.

Still, it's not like I don't have good practice at parenting pets who are slightly psycho and sometimes hateful to me. I mean, it is sort of like Kitty already fits right in with the family. So I have decided to have a naming contest.

Submit your suggestion for a name for the Kitty in the comments. I'll select my favorites and then open it up to a vote. Extra points for obscure and pretentious literary references or baseball-related names. Gender-neutral names will also be given higher priority but I think we'll operate on the assumption he's a boy.

Target has started a new policy! (At least this was the first time I was made aware of it.) They take 5 cents off your total for every reusable bag you bring from home. They aren't charging people who still take plastic bags (although that policy would get my vote) but they are at least rewarding people who bring their own bags! Another reason to buy more than I intend to at Target.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

We Have a Cat

Our next door neighbor had been renting her house from our former and favorite neighbors, Don and Bill.

She was a volunteer for Stray Rescue and had three indoor cats and she adopted a pug dog named Minnie who was sweet and cute except she unfortunately had horrible stretched out and saggy nipples from when she was kept in a cage and forced to breed litter after litter of pug puppies in a puppy mill. Sometime our neighbor would try to tell me other stories about rescued animals and I would say ANYTHING to get out of the conversation because I cannot read the inserts in the letters the Humane Society sends me and I actually still get teary over the commercials that show the dogs in cages and have that Sarah McLachlan song playing (something about "arms of an angel...").

Anyway, that neighbor was feeding a stray cat but the cat is so timid it won't let anyone get close enough to touch it. She had told me that she was trying to get the kitty to go in a carrier but had no luck. So when she moved she told Don and Bill that she couldn't take the cat (because she couldn't catch it) and it would have to fend for itself.

It is a beautiful black and white kitty. Cooper goes ballistic when it is in our yard. But he will have to get used to it because I am now going to start feeding it.

We now have an outdoor cat!

When I go to Target tomorrow, I will buy cat food and leftover Halloween candy. I'm going to feed the kitty off to the side of the house near Don and Bill's house to keep Cooper from flipping out as he would if he saw her on the front porch. I will worry about her out in the cold this winter but I'm thinking that with some careful coaxing maybe she could learn to sleep in our garage?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Lesson Learned; or, Suppositories Go Where?

The holiday season is approaching with a rapidity that I find positively frightening. Not because I don't love the holidays (I do! I do!) but because there is so much to be done between now and winter break. Like, you know, FINISH MY DISSERTATION.


Anyway, as I think about the holidays and our travel plans and such, I wanted to share with you a lesson I learned on Christmas Day (or maybe the day after) a few years ago:

I learned what a suppository is.

I didn't know! I was out of college and a PhD program and I had no idea what a suppository was. Is that really my fault? My parents later insinuated that someone "as well read" as myself should probably know what a suppository is.

Well, believe me, Charles Dickens isn't doing a whole lot of writing about suppositories in his novels so it wasn't like I'd read about them in school. I personally had never needed one or known someone who had. Who was willing or able to talk about it, anyway.

I had heard the word, I'm sure. It wasn't like a completely foreign term. I knew it was some sort of "pill" that you would take to "feel better" so I just assumed it was synonymous with a "supplement." Aiding in nutrition and all that.

So anyway, I am at my in-laws' for Christmas. David had gone somewhere with his dad and grandpa, and his mom and I were watching a Law and Order marathon. You know, because it was Christmas. (Or probably the day after.)

And his mom started telling me about these stomach issues she'd been experiencing and this new suppository she had to have.

That was quite large.

Large enough that David's dad had to help her with it.

Of course, at this point I am staring at her, rather dumbfounded, because I don't understand how David's dad could help her swallow a really big pill or why she doesn't just take it with yogurt or something.

So I say (in my most helpful voice), "Have you tried taking it with a spoonful of ice cream? Or maybe applesauce?"

*long pause*

Obviously, my comment left her a bit dumbfounded. But she decided to overlook my weird remark and went on to explain that the suppository had ultimately helped her stomach issues. And then we returned to Law and Order.

Which meant that we never resolved the issue.

I STILL didn't know what a suppository was and --most crucially--I didn't know that I didn't know.

So later that night as we were getting ready for bed, I casually asked David if he knew his mom had to take these "huge suppository pills" and how was it possible that his dad was helping her with them?

Well, one of us knew what "suppository" meant.

David's eyes got huge and he was all "WHAT? Why is my mom talking to you about her SUPPOSITORIES?"

And I was all nonchalant, "Well, I don't know, but evidently the pills are huge and your dad has to help her with it. How would he do that?"

David stared at me for a long moment like he was waiting for the punchline of my joke.

Then he said, "Um, do you know what a suppository is?"

Me (as though slightly offended): "Um, yeah! Isn't it like a vitamin?"

And then, much to the mortification of both of us, David kindly explained what a suppository actually is. And how one takes it.

And then I screamed, "Oh my GOD! I told your mom she should take it with a spoonful of ICE CREAM!"

The End.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Agonizing Demise of Mr. Jack O'Lantern

Hey there, Mr. Jack O'Lantern. You were a big-ass pumpkin. You're looking pretty confident and self-assured, sitting on our front porch like you don't have a care in the world. I might even say that your jagged teeth are kinda fierce.

What's that? You look scared rather than scary! You're not afraid of the dark are you, Mr. O'Lantern? Surely ghosts and goblins don't scare you! Oh really? You're afraid of squirrels? Now that just seems silly. They're so small and skittish. I don't think you have anything to worry about.

Oh NO! Attack of the killer mutant SQUIRRELS!!! They've EATEN your FACE! And your jaggedy teeth! Now you have a creepy screaming mouth that extends all the way into your nasal cavity. Look at the dried up brown leaf blown inside your mouth by an ominous wind. That bodes no good. You're totally creeping me out, man. And I'm afraid you might scare trick-or-treaters. Maybe we'd better move you to the backyard....

Where the Jack-O-Lantern-flesh-eating squirrels can eat your eyes and make your skull cave in.

Halloween is a tough season for the pumpkins. Better luck next year, Jack.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Whenever I talk about my brother, I have a tendency to infantalize him. I don't think I do this when I am talking to him, but I realized this yesterday when someone mentioned the date and I gushed, "Oooooh, it's my little brother's birthday!" as though he were at home having a Lego-themed birthday party instead of commemorating the occasion by drinking beer and eating fried chicken in Korea.

The advantage (and potential disadvantage) of having a sibling is that they have truly known you from the beginning and therefore have seen all the sides of your personality. Even the ones you claim to have outgrown. I have this photo framed and on the wall in my hallway because it makes me smile. Most people probably don't imagine my brother as being particularly giggly. But I know better.

Hope you found some good stuff to laugh about on your birthday, Bubs.

Also: Wow, how about that chub in the Mickey Mouse shirt?

Thursday, October 22, 2009 just changed my life

So I have been pretty vigilant about backing up my dissertation. Save it to the laptop, save it to the jumpdrive, transfer it to the desktop, and back the whole thing up on an external harddrive that I keep in a fireproof box in my closet.

Not that I am paranoid or anything.

I have also uploaded chapters periodically to googledocs, which screws with the formatting but saves the precious precious content (ha). I figure it might be necessary in case of desktop computer meltdown followed by stolen laptop followed by loss of jumpdrive followed by tornado that lifts up fireproof box and deposits it in Oz.

Due to a random series of comments on Facebook, I discovered It is a free way to link to files from any computer online, but unlike googledocs it keeps everything in Word and can move from Mac to PC or PC to Mac and back. It is a beautiful thing.

So I can save my dissertation in my dropbox on my desktop and when I open the dissertation in my dropbox folder on my laptop, it is automatically saved and updated just like the file on my desktop computer. If I am on campus and on a computer in the lab OR all of my computers and drives have been destroyed by a series of freaks of nature and I have to get a new computer, I can go to their website and link to my files from there with my e-mail and password. Amazing.

I am not sure if I am the last person in the world to discover this or what, but I am definitely stoked about it. And not just for a worst-case scenario with the dissertation--I love the idea of easily accessing pictures on my laptop and my desktop without having to e-mail or upload all of them.

BTW, I am not a paid sponsor for and no one is giving me anything free (except the service already available for free to everyone at Just wanted to share the love...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

At the end of the day, it's another day over. And that's all you can say for the life of the poor [graduate student].

It's a struggle, it's a war, and there's nothing that anyone's giving. One more day standing about what is it for? One day less to be living...

You know that when you start commiserating with Fantine's plight in Les Miserables, you need to quit listening to show tunes and get back to work on the dissertation.

One of the myriad of reasons academia makes me crazy is that it is a constant battle of time spent teaching and time spent researching. Whichever you choose, the other is neglected and I'm not sure anyone has found the perfect balance. You just choose whichever is more pressing at that precise moment and wait for crisis-time on the other one to pop up later. This problem escalates because nobody turns out the lights and locks the door to your office at 5pm. So if you have neglected your teaching to read journal articles all afternoon, you can spend a few hours that evening (or all night long) grading papers and preparing for class.

I completely empathized with a friend of mine who recently confessed that she was dreaming about the day her dissertation would be finished, the library books would be returned, the notes would be recycled, and the mess of books and papers on her desk would be transformed to a tidy stack of neatly-bound copies of her dissertation.

At the moment we were both smiling wistfully and thinking about how wonderfully liberating that would feel, someone else interjected that such a day would never come because then she'd be started on an article or culling a conference paper from her work and such is the life of an academic.

At this point, half-way through the semester, with two stacks of essays to grade, I am frantically scrambling to finish my dissertation and when I am not working on it, I am dealing with students who have H1N1, mono, grand mal seizures (none during class, thank goodness), and an incurable disease that causes frequent urination. These in addition to those who have a wide range of "personal problems," and those who just don't bother to show up for class all that often. Teaching this semester has not just meant wearing high heels and doing a dog-and-pony show in the classrom three days a week, but it has also meant one-on-one conferences with students, extensive comments on essays, and e-mails exchanged with students, librarians, administrators, department chairs, students' advisers, and academic resource centers.

It is strange to work in a profession in which my own research (representations of empiricism and intuition in Victorian novels) is so far removed from the teaching I do in the classroom and outside the classroom. Even when I am teaching Victorian novels, the real work of it is less about a discussion of significant themes or provocative cultural issues, and more about explaining the structure of a literary analysis essay or the basic work of close-reading. And a lot of it is about understanding that students have part-time jobs and religious observances and social lives and misplaced priorities and an infuritating sense of entitlement and a stunning lack of tact and somehow believing that it is still meaningful and worthwhile to show up three days a week and ask them to talk about books that were written a hundred and fifty years ago.

I believe that studying literature makes us better people. I believe that literature is an extension of all that makes our lives meaningful and purposeful--creativity, compassion, fearlessness, curiosity, fellow-feeling, a desire to understand why the world works the way that it does and how we can make it better.

But the idealism of the study of literature can sure get lost in the details of the everyday practice of doing it and teaching it.

But at least I'm not prostituting myself to save the life of my daughter on the cusp of the French revolution. I mean, those are real problems, man.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Habanero Hottie

David made fajitas last night.

I'd been at school for a meeting. By late afternoon, the campus was pretty deserted (fall break started today) so I decided to hole up in my office and get some work done since the halls were quiet. I ended up staying later than I'd intended, so David told me to text him on my way to the metro and he would get dinner started.

By the time I arrived home, he had met with a bit of a disaster.

He was using CSA veggies to make the fajitas--green peppers and onions we'd gotten from last week's share. We had also gotten some habanero peppers, which I had thought would be perfect for spicing up a pot of chili or a batch of soup.

But David was not familiar with the heat of the habanero and he assumed these peppers were similar to jalapeno or banana peppers. Seeing as we both like spicy foods, he thought he'd toss one in with the fajita mixings.

Oh, no.

Once he started cutting into it and pulling out the seeds over the sink, the juice from the peppers started making his hands burn. Then the fumes from this little pepper were so intense that he started coughing and choking. Realizing this pepper had no place in the fajitas and seemed by most standards to be inedible, David ended up throwing it in the compost and washing his hands twice to make them stop burning.

He continued prepping for dinner.

And then he took a bathroom break.

Suffice it to say that the handwashing had evidently not removed all traces of the pepper. He was now experiencing a serious burning sensation. Below the belt.

By the time I got home, fajita-fixing was undergoing a slight delay as David was awkwardly adjusting his pants in the kitchen and looking rather uncomfortable when I walked in the door. When I asked him what the heck was going on (what with the pained expression and the crotch-grabbing) he explained the whole story and then finally headed to the bathroom to take a shower and try to wash away the, um, peppery discomfort.

I don't know what kind of a batch of uber-hot habaneros we got, but evidently they should have come with a warning label!

[Edited to add:] A brief internet search on habanero recipes got me to a page where someone was asking for advice about what to make with the habaneros they'd grown in their garden. One wise reader replied: "I know one thing. Don't cut them up with bare hands and then touch private parts." Touche.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Twirly Skirt

It has been a rainy, gloomy week.

I am battling the hump day blues by wearing a twirly skirt. But since it is rainy, I am wearing it with tall brown boots.

The skirt hits mid-calf so you don't see the tops of my boots, which is good because my skinny little calves rattle around in them a bit. The fact that my skirt covers the tops of my boots also makes me feel a bit like a cowgirl. Perhaps because the last time I wore a skirt long enough to cover the tops of my boots I was playing Kate in Wild Oats my senior year of high school.

It was a funny sort of western melodramedy which had its dramedy heightened even more by all of the nerdy sexual tension among cast members (imagine Glee only without singing). The plot included me getting tied to railroad tracks, four of us acting out a scene from Taming of the Shrew, the discovery of unknown relations, and a kissing scene with a guy who bit me on the nose during dress rehearsal to "relieve the tension." The tension was also relieved unintentionally when my friend Erin's Shakespearean dress ripped at the bust during dress rehearsal. Also Monica was in it and she had painted-on dark eyebrows and an foreign accent of dubious origins. I should really locate pictures of this...

Anyway, the skirt reminds me of that and it also reminds me of this outfit my mom made for me that I wore in my third grade program when I was the narrator.

It was a February President's Day program so we sang patriotic songs and while I cannot remember my lines, I do remember the outfit. It was a skirt and matching shirt, sort of western style, made from blue fabric with a small, off-white flower pattern. The skirt hit mid-calf and had an off-white lace inset at the waist to make that pointy western-style waistband. Matching insets on the shoulders of the shirt too. Little pearly white buttons going down the front. I thought it was so cute. I wore boots with that too, little gray suede booties that I loved. And which are totally back in style, come to think of it.

Anyway, I'm not wearing cowboy boots today and my outfit does not include any western or lacy accessories, but wearing a twirly skirt still cheers me up on a dark and dreary day. Any other suggestions for getting through a dreary Wednesday?