Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It's Nearly Slanket Weather

Dear Santa,

I want a Slanket.


I wanted a Snuggie for a long time only because I didn't know that the Slanket was real. I heard about it on 30 Rock but I thought it was a parody of the Snuggie because of copyright issues or something.

I think it sounds awesome.

YES I want to be under a blanket when I'm sitting on the couch.

YES I want to be able to read or eat or use the remote control while under said blanket.

YES I therefore need a blanket with sleeves.

Do not judge me; you want a Slanket too.

And if you're not sure, you can click here to read extensive reviews of various blankets-with-sleeves.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Romantic Date Night: Thwarted and Restored

Sometime last week I realized that David and I had not been on a just-the-two-of-us dinner date since we were on vacation this summer. Which was well over a month ago. We've also been on weird schedules with me staying late at school working (I know, so not cool) and David have ball games in the evenings (his team has gone to the playoffs but got rained out last night) so we haven't seen that much of each other and have had a couple of crappy evenings when it's suddenly eight o'clock and no one has thought about dinner and we're both starving and cranky.

We needed a nice date night.

Saturday night we had plans to go out to a local pizza place called Onesta that is not far from our house. It's a locally owned neighborhood place that uses a lot of local ingredients and we'd heard good things about their pesto pizza sauce from some friends. The plan was to sit outside and enjoy the nice weather and split a pizza and a carafe of house wine.

David had spent the day at the ballfield, playing a game and watching the next game. I'd done some stuff around the house, including a "pet fresh" vacuum (some sort of baking soda that is a little scented and you sprinkle it and then vacuum it up because I am always paranoid that our house might smell like dog). It was about six o'clock when David got home and said he was going to take a shower. I said I just needed to change clothes. As we had this conversation, I was throwing a load of sheets into the washing machine. I started the washer and left the kitchen.

Then suddenly David was hollering for me to get old towels as there was water coming out from under the washing machine. And backing up in the sink. It was plumbing chaos.

David decided that something was backed up somewhere. This seemed plausible to me. He went to the utility closet to look at pipes or something.

If you just rip that pipe out of the wall, honey, I am sure that will solve the problem.

While he was in the closet, I suggested that we turn on the garbage disposal and see if that would help. Then I flipped on the garbage disposal. Then water started rushing out from under the washing machine again. Oops.

After throwing old towels, t-shirt rags, and a couple of beach towels on the kitchen floor to saok up that water, David and I emptied the utility closet of all the extra crap we store in there (citronella candles, puppy pads, Chinese lanterns, and beer buckets--you know, really useful and important things). Then he started messing around in there and all of a sudden the utility closet was flooded and the house instead of smelling Pet Fresh like Arm & Hammer carpet powder smelled like skanky water.

Are we having a party? Because it looks like we're having a party. Look at these party supplies.

David tackled the problem with some sort of roto-rootering but not with a real roto-rooter (evidently that is some sort of machine? I thought it was just a long bendy stick. David used a long sort of bendy stick that went down a pipe) and the wet-vac and diminished the standing water problem. I fluttered around saying helpful things like "Well, at least it's not the toilet! That would be really gross!" and taking pictures until David told me to stop taking pictures and to assist him by dragging the garden hose into the house and standing by the front door to turn on and off the hose when David shouted. (I was simultaneously trying to watch a memorial show dedicated to Patrick Swayze but the plumbing disaster was distracting .)

We were supposed to be at a table for two. Not wet-vaccing the utility closet.

Eventually, the pipe was cleared (still no idea what caused the back up... perhaps an onion peel? There were a couple pieces of onion skin that came floating out of the utility closet but we compost those so I have no idea how/why there would have been enough of a build up in the sink to cause such problems) and we were filthy with some kind of black stuff all over David's hands and also smeared on our legs (gross). The house smelled bad like standing water and we were an hour behind schedule for our dinner date and it had started to rain.

Filthy. Stinky. Hungry for pizza.

There was a moment when we thought about calling out for Chinese and a PPV movie. But we decided to make the best of it. This was supposed to be date night after all! So David hit the shower while I sprayed anti-bacterial spray all over the floor of the utility closet where it was still damp and then I dragged in a box fan from the garage to help dry it out. Then it was my turn for a quick shower and then we went out in the rain.

Onesta was crowded and delicious-smelling and they told us it would be a 45 minute wait if we wanted to sit inside. We were starving, so we opted to be adventurous and sit outside in the rain, which by this time had slowed to a drizzle. Each table had a large umbrella over it and the tables were close enough together that the patio itself was actually pretty dry. The temperature was still warm and eventually the rain cleared up all together so we ended up having a nice dinner and a good evening. The service was wonderful, the food was delicious, the wine helped us laugh about the kitchen flood, and we were out of the stinky house long enough for it to dry out.

In summary: No further plumbing issues to date and I highly recommend Onesta. I call Romantic Date Night a success.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Key to Successful Teaching

I have discovered it and I think I should market it.

Instead, I will present here for your educational benefit.

Prepare for teaching as normal. Give your lecture, lead discussion, whatever. Then, when a student asks a question or raises a point that completely contradicts what you've said and you realize you were entirely wrong, you shout, "Excellent! So what do we make of this contradiction? How does this complicate our notion of [whatever we were talking about]?"

Works every time.

At the start of my teaching career, somebody told me that it is all smoke and mirrors. Years later, I can only confirm that statement. Most of the time, I feel like I am dressing up to go pretend to be a teacher every MWF for 50 minutes. It can be an exhausting stage performance, especially if I have failed to write and memorize my lines ahead of time. But my no-fail teaching strategy can be a real life saver.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I get by with a little help from my friends.

A new friend recently said to me: "The dissertation is just an intellectual exercise. It is not a demonstration of your self-worth."

Perhaps this seems like stating the obvious, but to a graduate student who is supposed to be approaching the end of what feels like a life-long project, it was eye-opening. I stared at him and blinked and then reached for a piece of paper to scribble down what seemed like the sagest words of wisdom I'd heard in a very long time.

Today I bought a new notebook. One of those old-school style Composition notebooks with the black and white cover and the ridiculously wide ruled pages and the stitched-instead-of-spiral binding. It was on sale for fifty cents and it seemed to hold so much promise.

Armed with this composition book and my friend's comment, I sat down and wrote out five pages of what I think my introduction is supposed to do.

I have had such a hard time writing this introduction. Perhaps because it is the last step--the final thing to write before I revise and submit and defend and then... what? It feels like such a moment of reckoning. I have to account for what I've said in 200 pages of double-spaced 12-point font. I have to own my ideas and be prepared to defend them in such a way as to be somewhat convincing. I have to feel like I know what the hell I'm talking about.

I'm not there yet. I still feel like I'm having a constant crisis of confidence. That if someone points out a loophole in my argument or mentions a text I've never read or even heard of, I could be reduced to tears on the spot. I don't feel like a scholar so much of the time.

I don't have an introduction yet. I'm still not there. But I finally feel like I'm moving forward again.

After all, this is just one more intellectual exercise.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Total Wipe Out Narrowly Averted. This time.

So I still walk the dog everyday. I didn't particularly want to walk him today, which was totally stupid because once I got outside in the beautiful almost fall weather, I was glad to be there.

We walked a couple of extra blocks beyond our usual route because I was enjoying the breeze and Cooper was enjoying the sniffing. And we turned down a particularly picturesque street with all of the little brick gingerbread houses I love to look at and I was gawking at flowerbeds or tiled rooftops or little arch-shaped doorways or something when my toe caught on an uneven block of sidewalk and in a split second it became clear that I was about to Totally Eat It: Face Plant On The Sidewalk.

By some miracle of completely ungraceful self-preservation, I managed to fling my arms out to the sides, use Cooper's leash (and his weight) as a little bit of leverage, and hop awkwardly forward on one foot to save myself from the face plant. I must have looked totally ridiculous but was relieved to think that there weren't any witnesses.

This incident made me think of a real face plant I did back in the day when I thought Cooper would like to jog with me and we could both get some exercise on our walks. This was back before I resigned myself to the fact that Cooper does not really like to jog, he likes to trot a few steps, then stop and sniff and pee and sniff, trot a few more steps, repeat sniffing and peeing routine. So he really spends more time sniffing and peeing than he does walking, which is why it takes us half an hour to walk like two blocks. Sometimes I say "C'mon Cooper! This is called a walk not a sniff!" But to no avail.

So anyway, back when I was still forcing, er, encouraging him to jog with me, we were jogging past a dog groomer's shop (the one Little Mac was not invited back to) and it is next to an art studio where this guy brought his German shepherd to hang out a lot (wow, my neighborhood sounds really cool... maybe I don't appreciate its quirkiness enough). So I'm jogging, Cooper's jogging, then suddenly Cooper stops to sniff what must be a freaking buffet of dog pee from the groomer's dogs and the artsy dog.

Mid-jog, I've now got thirty-five pounds of puggle yanking me backward while momentum is propelling me forward, I simultaneously manage to hit a crooked spot in the sidewalk (for such a great neighborhood, you'd think we could get some decent sidewalks put in!), and I plunge forward onto the concrete.

And this was no bump on the knee, folks. I did a full-body-slightly-sideways-sprawl on the sidewalk. I scraped not only my knees but also bruised my hip, banged my elbow, and scraped my shoulder because my whole body hit the concrete sort of at once.

I was just lying there really really wanting to cry because it really hurt and I hadn't fallen down like that in many years and also because I was totally embarrassed and my fragile little ego hurt nearly as much as my scraped and bloody shoulder. I was lying there thinking "OMG I just ate it" and I was praying no one saw me and that I could just continue to lie there for a minute and sniffle pitifully to myeslf. But, sure enough, this occurred right near a four-way stop and a little old lady driving by in her Oldsmobile witnessed the entire scene and bless her heart pulled over to ask me if I was ok.

So then instead of sniffling on the sidewalk and feeling sorry for myself, I had to jump up and act like I was totally fine and laugh it off and jog around the corner until she was out of sight and I could finally collapse in someone's yard (perfect! More sniffing for Cooper!) and then at last limp sadly home and throw a pity party for myself.

Since then, Cooper and I keep our walks at a leisurely pace with plenty of pauses for adequate sniffing time. And for the most part I am able to keep my feet underneath me. But as today's near-wipe-out affirms: there's a reason my mama didn't name me Grace.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Folding Socks

Someone once told me that the secret to marriage is learning how to fold socks.

Really it just means that the small compromises can be the trickiest. Different people fold socks differently and being open to changing the way you used to do things is an important part of building a relationship with someone else.

One thing I love about D is that he is very tidy. He never fails to put things away.

BUT sometimes this drives me nuts. Particularly if I have deliberately placed something somewhere visible (usually on the bar so I won't forget it) and he has hidden it away. Also because he sometimes gets into this super-tidy mode where he zooms around the house and puts things places and later does not remember where he put them.

Or claims to not remember.

Yesterday I asked him where my oven mitt was.

He claimed ignorance (this is always his first response to my inquiries about where he put something).

Then he went and found it.

It was in the garage.

He put it away with the Christmas stuff. "Because it is red and green."

When my back was turned, he washed and put away a cutting board. Even though I was still using it.

It would take two seconds for him to ask "Why is this piece of saran wrap on the dresser?" and two seconds for me to explain that I wrap my mighty-expensive silicone gel sheeting that covers my scar in saran wrap so it doesn't dry out while I take a shower. Instead, he just throws it away until finally I have torn off the FOURTH piece of saran wrap in as many days and I confront him and say "Do you keep throwing away the little piece of saran wrap I put out on the dresser?"

I mean you would think that general curiosity would provoke him to ask why it keeps appearing after he keeps tossing it. But no. It is like he moves in auto-pilot when the "clean gene" kicks in and he just does things without thinking.

It puts me in a tough spot because it is not like I can get annoyed with him for being too neat and clean. It's certainly better than the alternative.

But it still drives me batshit crazy sometimes.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Amateur Entertainer of the Year

They say that the strip in Branson has as many lights as the strip in Vegas.* A star-studded city, hunkered down in the hills of the Ozarks, luring tourists to the Bible Belt of America with its musical entertainment, go-cart tracks, miniature golf courses, outlet malls, and amusement parks. No glassy-eyed gamblers yanking the arm of slot machines here and spending their time and money nickel by nickel. This is the land of Wholesome Family Values, with its wide varieties of yard ornaments and wooden signs painted with cheeky phrases, the sort of place where you can see Yakov Schmirnof (you'll laugh your yak off), buy a t-shirt emblazoned with the Confederate flag, and indulge in an all-you-can-eat buffet. Americana in all its tragic, hokey, misguided, enduring, and endearing glory.

We are somewhat frequent travelers to the Branson area, but we don't usually frequent most of the tourist destinations. I've got nothing against a good game of miniature golf, but with a quick weekend trip to visit D's grandparents (who don't technically live in Branson anyway), we usually hide out on the homestead and spend most of our time on the lake and in the neighborhood.

As you might suppose in a place full of live music and entertainers, one of their neighbors just happens to be a musician and comedian who has spent several years performing with Mickey Gilley -- a man by the name of Joey Riley. Joey is currently puttin on his own show in the Mickey Gilley theater and for a few minutes on Saturday night, I joined the legions of Branson entertainers with my own dance routine on stage.

Joey's wife Kelli, in addition to being ridiculously beautiful and kind and friendly with a charming southern accent, happens to be a professional dancer. She danced for years in a cajun show in Branson and now dances in Joey's show. David's grandparents have become good friends wtih them and often pet-sit when Joey and Kelli are out of town (they have a menegerie that includes various reptiles, two dogs, and three ducks). David's grandpa also has a big crush on Kelli and it is easy to see why. When Kelli found out that David and I were going to be in town, she offered to give all of us tickets to see the show. David's g-ma told her that my parents and brother were also going to be there and so she comped three more tickets for us. It really seemed to be the ideal send-off for Brandon, who leaves for Korea in just over a week.

Kelli and Joey's bulldog, Leroy, makes a cameo appearance in each show. What a mug. He does a meet and greet in the lobby after the show, where he ambles up to people and expects them to shower him with attention. And they do.

So we accepted the tickets and (after an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet that included such Asian delicacies as tator tots and mozzarella sticks) we headed to the theater for the music and comedy routine--with just a bit of audience participation thrown in for good measure.

It was the quintessential Branson experience. I really wanted Brandon to get on stage but he promised me that I would regret it if I volunteered him, so he remained seated for the entirety of the show. I, on the other hand, ended up on stage with David's grandpa as Kelli and her dance partner, Mike, selected us out of the audience to join them for a little routine on stage.

I'm on the far left. Grandpa Gene is on the far right.

It was actually really fun -- Mike was very nice and he just told me what to do and I followed his directions, spinning and twirling and whatever. The lights were bright so we couldn't see the audience and it happened so fast I didn't have time to feel awkward.

Dancing so fast our arms are blurry.

So now I have expanded my entertainment resume from "tricycle rider at minor-league ball game" to "dancer in Branson musical variety show."

David and Brandon asked for a group photo with the stars of the show. We all paused from signing autographs to oblige. Evidently Grandpa was mobbed by fans and couldn't make it into this photo.

I hear that I might be in the running for Amateur Entertainer of the Year in Southwest Missouri. But with David's grandpa and Joey's bulldog Leroy in the running, the title could be anybody's...

*By "they," I mean my friend Monica, whom I believe has been saying this for years in a tone of greatr authority and I have never questioned her knowledge of Branson.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I don't like milk.

I haven't liked milk for a long time. As long as I can remember, actually. I would drink chocolate or strawberry milk (sick!) as a kid but it always made me want to gag and I couldn't do plain white milk ever. Milk and cookies, milk and chocolate cake, milk with anything. I don't like it. I think it's gross. The smell. The texture. The idea of it.

I've been reading Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (more about that in a later post and how it has partly changed and partly affirmed my food perspective dramatically and also more about how it might make me not always 100% vegetarian). Anyway, this book is fascinating. And smart. And seriously well-written.

And it explains, in logical and no-nonsense terms, why I don't like milk.

Because, guess what? I have weaned myself to solid foods.

That's right, folks. I don't need to nurse. From a cow. I'm actually totally good with getting my nutritional needs filled elsewhere than from an animal's boob. Thanksverymuch.

Seriously though I feel totally vindicated.

This comes from a couple of passages in Kingsolver's book dedicated to the "strange" issue of adults who are lactose intolerant. She explains that such intolerance is actually a natural development for creatures who were intended by nature to be wholly weaned at some point in their lives (typically by the age of four, at least) onto solid food: "in other words, a gradual cessation of milk digestion is normal" (137).

She goes on to say that human beings are a weird species and that due to our intimate relationships with domestic animals, some have a particular genetic mutation that allows them to keep their lactose-digesting enzymes as adults: "The gene rapidly increased in herding populations because of the unique advantage it conferred, allowing them to breast-feed for life from another species" (137).

When you put it that way, I don't think my distaste for milk is abnormal. In fact, I will probably point out to my husband that his craving for cookies and milk is downright pervy.

My love for cheese, though? Well that's another story. Although Kingsolver is seriously tempting me--the very person who needs lots of strucure in the kitchen and who used to prefer to eat popcorn for dinner rather than mess with cooking a meal just for myself--to try making my own cheese.

(I would like take this moment to vow on the internet in front of whatever witnesses might be reading this, that no matter what kind of food-hippy I turn into, I will not stop shaving my armpits.)

Our CSA is still providing generously and after this weekend we will be carting home buckets of tomatoes and peppers from my dad's garden and David's grandpa's garden. Food is on my mind (and in my belly) in a big way. I will be the first to admit how surprised I was to discover that I love squash. Delicious summer squash. And acorn squash. Chopped into bite-sized pieces, dumped in a bowl with olive oil and garlic, then spread on a pan and roasted in the toaster oven. With rice, with pasta, or by itself.

Our CSA veggies have more flavor than anything I've bought at the grocery store. Next year we are dedicating a section of our yard (and I can only imagine how many hours of our lives) to a garden. (I knew there was a reason we started composting last spring). I've been enjoying the delicious of these veggies all along, but Kingsolver's book is giving me a new perspective on why local organic farming matters so much and why I want to be a part of it (at least on the consumer end).

And it's also nice to know that I'm naturally not supposed to like milk anymore. Because drinking from a cow's boob is gross, dude.