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.