Monday, January 25, 2010

Giving and Getting

So this earthquake in Haiti is a disaster of epic proportions and watching the footage on television just makes my stomach lurch.  The damage is so vast I'm not sure how volunteers know where to begin.  Many of you have probably already made donations to Haiti relief through various different charities (and if you're still looking for one, may I recommend UMCOR?  100% of donations go to Haiti--just go to  I don't know how to make sense of that kind of devastation, but the outpouring of generosity and efforts to help those in need offer some sense of hope.

So, if you happen to be in the market for some personalized correspondence cards to go on living your privileged, first-world life, and at the same time you feel guilty about buying such trivialities when so many people in Haiti have nothing, here's an opportunity to assuage some of that first-world guilt by getting some cards and having the proceeds go to a good cause.

A stationary company in St. Louis called Two Blue Doors is currently selling personalized cards (20 cards for $25) and donating all proceeds to the American Red Cross.

David will soon begin the job search process for administrative positions, so I ordered some for him to send as thank you notes after interviews.  It's one of those times when having a unique last name can certainly be an advantage (not that he needs any help being memorable, right?).  

The cards are cute, the price is right, and the help needed is so great.  Just thought I'd spread the word...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Baby Barf Catcher: Step-by-Step Instructions

I first saw a version of these baby burp cloths at my friend Beth's house.  She had gotten some for a shower gift and she said they were her favorite burp cloths (evidently there is enough variation among burp cloths to warrant a ranking system--who knew?).  I eyed them carefully and decided two things:  (1) I could make these and (2) they would be a hell of a lot easier to sew than shopping cart covers.  I might even be able to make them without my mom's help.

Since my friends are popping out kids like there's a big tax rebate for doing that kind of thing, I decided that the supplies for this project would be a pretty good investment.  I also found it to be a good way for me to sew something useful without stressing out too much about perfect seams and such.  Because, after all, it's going to get barfed on.  That is its purpose.

To make baby burp cloths you need the following:
* flannel fabric
* tri-fold reusable diapers
* thread
* sewing machine
* iron

The first and most important step is selecting the fabric .  This is not a highly-skilled project so the thing that makes one burp cloth stand out among the rest is the choice of fabric, not craftsmanship.  My experience has been that although everybody ooohs and aaaahs over the lambs and the puppies and the Noah's Ark brigade at baby showers, parents enjoy a release from the saccharine pastels and baby prints.

I was keeping in mind my friend who's having a girl in February and my sister-in-law who's having a boy in April, so I bought gender-specific material (because it's never too early to start brainwashing your child with gender normative expectations!).  I wanted to keep a consistent color theme for packaging them together, and I wanted to avoid baby-ish prints (no bunnies or dump trucks).

Girl-Baby gets some lovely shades of pink and chocolate brown.

Boy-Baby gets the blue theme.  Shocking, right?

I asked for half a yard of each type of fabric which turned out to be the exact right length for the diapers.  Serendipity, baby.  As the nice old lady at Jo-Ann was cutting the fabric for me, she smiled sweetly and inquired, "What kind of project are you making this flannel?"

"Oh," I said, "I'm making baby burp cloths."

Of course she happened to be cutting this material at the time:

(But later, when I showed the burps cloths to my friends, the skull and crossbones was the most-requested fabric.  Even for parents of girls.  So there you go.)

After washing and drying the flannel and the diapers, iron the flannel and cut it into pieces that are 18" long by 7" wide (I didn't have to cut the length at all since I bought half a yard, so it was super easy).

If you are cutting while watching District 9, as I was, it is helpful to have a partner in the room who can read the closed-captioning aloud to you while the aliens talk.  (Unless you speak prawn, which I don't.)  David was quite obliging in reading aloud though.

Once the pieces are cut, fold over 1/2 inch on all sides and iron.

Be careful that you do not get distracted by District 9 and allow your iron to melt your plastic measuring stick.  It creates an unpleasant odor, not to mention warps your measuring stick.

Cut off the corners on an angle to make a mitered edge so that you don't get lumpy corners that make sewing difficult.

Once you've done the ironing, place the flannel in the center of the diaper.  It doesn't have to be exact because the diapers are certainly not exact and because you must remember the purpose: it will be barfed on.

Pin it into place.  Then you can finish watching District 9 and come back to your project later.

Once you are ready to sew, choose a contrasting thread and set your machine to make that zig-zag stitch (practice on a scrap piece of fabric first).  Then just sew the piece of flannel in place.  There's a bit of a learning curve because the diapers are stretchy and the sides aren't even and your sewing machine might have a bobbin that sometimes goes absolutely berserk on you for no good reason, but nevermind those small issues. It might not be absolutely perfect.  See evidence below:

BUT, as I told myself, even if a seam is not exactly straight, its fine.  Should your perfectionist tendencies kick in and you contemplate ripping our the entire seam and starting again, remember the purpose.  It is a barf rag.

But a really cute barf rag, nonetheless.

The final trick is all in the packaging.  Fold, stack, tie with grosgrain ribbon.  Ta-da!  It's that easy.

So cute you could just barf.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Groundhog Day

You remember the movie.  With Bill Murray?  He relives Groundhog Day over and over again until he gets it right.  I always liked that movie.  Slightly absurdist humor appeals to me.

There are days I wouldn't mind living over and over at least a few times.  I had a couple of really great birthdays as a kid.  Some super fun vacations with my family.  A great Saturday in San Francisco that began at a literature conference and ended with Irish coffee.  I could relive any of those with much delight.

But, of course, the only day that goes into endless repeat is Groundhog Day.  So you have to be careful.

Which brings me to my point:  I handed in my dissertation today.  Distributed printed and bound copies of it to my committee members. 

My dissertation defense will take place in less than two weeks.  Two weeks from yesterday, to be exact.

That's right.  It's scheduled for Groundhog Day.

Because if there is one day you want to live over and over again...  it would be the day of your dissertation defense.  Obviously.

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Favorite Things in 2010

I am considering making the most out of 2010 by stretching out the month of January and beginning every post with "In 2010," "In the new year," "Seeing as it's the new year," etc., etc., ad nauseum.

At any rate, here are a few of my favorite things at the start of 2010.  I am not being paid to sponsor any of them.  I seriously just like them.

10.  Lady Gaga
She's way cool.  Like crazy freaky cool.  23 years old and a total performance artist.  I liked her when she sang her disco stick song over the summer, but I loved her after I saw her interview with Barbara Walters (anyone who gets Barbara Walters to say "bluffin' with my muffin'" is amazing, in my opinion).  I dig her hair, her make up, her costumes, her tunes.  My favorite song is "Bad Romance" (watch the video here.  It's brilliant.).

9.  Bee Bar Lotion

Got this in my stocking for Christmas.  It's a bar, but it's a lotion.  Makes my hands smooth and smells delicious.  Plus you don't have to worry about it spill or squishing out in your bag.

8.  New Laptop (Toshiba)

Bigger, faster, better.  It's not as sparkly MacBook (the men in my family shun Macs) but it definitely gets the job done.  And the new Windows operating system?  I like it.  (Note; I look like a bobblehead in this photo.  David is the worst with unflattering photo angles.  I swear my head is not disproportionately huge compared to my body.  I am, however, that pale and sallow looking.)

7.  Fleece Sheets

Not flannel, but fleece.  It's hard to describe what fleece sheets feel like.  Or maybe not.  I mean, they feel like wearing fleece pants.  Only all over your bed.  They are soft and delicious and warm and I can't believe how much I like them.

6.  Biviel boots

Finding boots to fit my calves is Mission Impossible.  Why my limbs are so scrawny is simply a mystery.  Anyway, I shove my stick-legs into Beviel boots and I find that they fit!  It's a beautiful thing to not have a 1" gap between your calf and the side of your tall zipper boot.  And these are the most comfortable 2 and 3/4 heel I've ever worn.

5.  Paris Calendar

Our vacation plans for this summer are still up in the air...  in the meantime, having this calendar hanging in my kitchen is a nice reminder that the world is inspiring and beautiful and my life is filled with good people having birthdays and fun things to do.

4.  Southwest Casserole.

I have to make up a flashier name for this recipe because it is officially my new favorite food. This picture does not do it justice because it is a photo of microwaved leftovers (which were still awesome).  I should have documented the whole cooking process but I didn't realize how wonderful it would be until it was all over. Make it, eat it, love it.

First, cook 3/4 cup of rice.  While that's cooking, microwave a sweet potato.
When the rice is done, dump it in a big bowl.
When the potato is done, peel it, chop it up, and dump it in with the rice.  Mix.  Add a bit of salt and pepper.
Take a can of corn, drained, and put it in another big bowl.  Drain and rinse a can of black beans and mix those with the corn.
Chop a green pepper and a small onion, and mince a clove of garlic
In a large pan, sautee the pepper, onion, and garlic with a tablespoon cumin and a teaspoon of oregano.
When the onions are translucent, pour that mix in with the corn and beans.
Dump a can of ro-tel in the same pan that you just used to sautee the onion and pepper.  Swish it around to get all the spices, then dump it on top of the corn and bean mix also.
Then--and this is the important part!--add 1/3 cup BBQ sauce.  Use Gates original if you can get it.  It's my secret ingredient and it makes all the difference.
Mix it all together, then add it to the rice and potato bowl.
Mix all of that together, then add a cup and a half of colby jack cheese and mix that in too.  Add a tablespoon of EVOO and stir that up also.
Grease a 2 qt. casserole dish.
Dump the mixture into the casserole dish.  Cover loosely with foil and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.  Remove foil and bake for another 10.
Let cool 10-15 minutes before serving.
Eat with cornbread.
E-mail a thank you note telling me how much you love this recipe.
You're welcome.

3. Mrs. Meyers handsoap in Basil

I've loved Mrs. Meyer's cleaning products for a long time but I bought this scent only because they were out of my usual (Lemon Verbana).  It smells unexpectedly delicious and not like the dried herb but like the fresh, fragrant plant.

2. Apples to Apples

Played this game with friends from the department and had a jolly evening.  Good-natured bickering heightened by the revelation of personal biases.  The game works like this: the judge reads an adjective (eg. "unnatural," "charming," "smelly") and the players must choose from the seven noun-cards they are holding to see which best matches that adjective (eg. "marriage," "Lucille Ball," "The 1960s").  The judge decides, the winning card gets held by the person who played it, and the game moves on with the next person being the judge and a new adjective drawn.  It's pretty swell entertainment and even more fun with more booze.

1. Netflix
We are like five years later in jumping on this bandwagon, but David has held out, insisting that it is cheaper to rent from Redbox.  Which, it is, but the choices are limited.  He's finally agreed that we should do a Netflix membership in order to watch seasons of shows like True Blood and The Wire.  Because we don't watch enough TV, obviously.  2010 is shaping up to be a good year...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Thirsting for Knowledge. Also for Champagne.

Today I did it.

I combined all of my chapters and works cited and the introduction and the coda (read: fancy academic speak for conclusion) into one document.

One 226 page document.

Holy crap, folks.  I wrote a book.

It made me nervous putting it all into one document.  It felt...  final.  Horribly real.  Real scary.

Like, I'm about to get a defense date.

How will I prepare?  What will I say?  What will I wear?

My mantra:  The defense is merely an intellectual exercise, not a demonstration of my self worth.

That sentence is helping me keep the defense in perspective.

After all, it will only last about an hour and a half.  I told David last night that I figure I can survive just about anything for an hour and a half.  Anything but, perhaps, a shark attack.  Except maybe if I had a knife on me I could survive a shark attack.  But, as David pointed out, I would get really tired of swimming after an hour and a half.  So I'd probably need a knife and a life jacket.  Seems like defending a dissertation would be much easier.

See?  See how I am keeping things in perspective?

And once it's over?  Then it's all champagne and roses and a ticker tape parade and everybody bowing to me and kissing my hand and calling me "Doctor."

OK, maybe not the bowing part.  Perhaps I am confusing the PhD with the coronation of royalty.

My brain must be addled from staring at the computer screen and drinking too much tea.  I can't believe this process is almost over.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

How Cold Is It?

School is canceled today for David.  Snow is on the ground.  The high today is around 8 degrees with the wind chill well below zero.

You may be wondering how cold that really is.

Well let me tell you.

It is cold enough that a nine-year-old, potty-trained, completely healthy pek-a-poo, with fully functional bladder and bowel-control, opted to take a shit near the bookshelves in my backroom rather than brave the elements outside.

Yes, folks.  It's that cold here.

I prefer looking at the snow rather than pooping in it.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Year In Review

I found this on another blog and it seemed like an easy way to say something about 2009 besides, "At the end of it I ate a lot of junk food and I still feel like I'm suffering from a holiday hangover."

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?
Visited London and Paris. Finished a dissertation. Taught a literature course. Visited San Francisco. Celebrated 5 years of Staying Married.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

My resolutions for 2009 were not divulged on this blog. Probably because then I would feel guiltier about breaking them... As a result, I can't tell you exactly what they all were, but I can guarantee you that the most important one was "Finish Writing My Dissertation."
That feels good.

So my resolutions for 2010:
• Defend dissertation.
• Be more optimistic, less of a worrier.
• Complete more sewing projects, possibly including something I will actually wear.
• Reread Middlemarch (no one said resolutions can't be fun)
• Write a novel (C'mon. Everybody's doing it.)
• Grow a vegetable garden.
• Find a job!

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes, actually. It was like the trend of 2009 with my college friends. Carol had Samuel, Allison had Aubrey, Stephanie had Gabriel, Kaley had Davis, and Beth had Lillian. Amazing and cute, all of them. (Moms and babies).

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No. But I was saddened by a number of deaths of people I knew, most particularly the mother-in-law of my duet partner in high school (acting duets, not singing duets). She died suddenly and unexpectedly and right before the birth of her first grandchild, which seemed colossally unfair for all involved.

5. What countries did you visit?

England and France.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
A PhD. Also an iPhone.

7. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
June 20. The day my best friend Monica married the dashing Johnny Lewis and I had the honor of standing up with them as Monica's matron of honor.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Finishing that damn dissertation. Also managing to keep out of the red on a significantly reduced salary this fall.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Too much worrying, not enough enjoying.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Surgery for that stoopid burn. It still looks pretty gruesome. Scars are sexy, right?

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Our CSA share of vegetables. Changed the way we thought about eating and buying food and inspired us to start a garden this year.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My friends who are new moms. They amaze me.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I am not going to name names here, but I hate seeing people be ugly and hateful to their moms. For shame.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Mortgage. Groceries. Taxes. Surgery on my arm. David's braces. Trip to London and Paris. Gas for holiday travels. Wash U parking tickets damn the bastards.

15. What did you get really excited about?
I got really excited about that summer vacation. I got really excited about Monica and Johnny's wedding. I got really excited about all my friends having beautiful babies. I got really excited about the prospect of being finished with school at long last.

16. What song will always remind you of 2009?
"Come On Get Higher" by Matt Nathanson. Because it was sung at Monica and Johnny's wedding. And I loved the song the first time I heard it.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

– happier or sadder? Happier. A huge project finished and so much to look forward to in 2010.
– thinner or fatter? I think I've stayed the same.

– richer or poorer? Poorer at the moment, thanks to funding issues in the fall of 2009. Life experience has made me richer!

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

More farmers market, less grocery store. More giving, less getting. More laughing, less grumbling.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

see above.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

On a whirlwind tour of the Midwest. Hutchinson, Kansas to Nevada, Missouri, to Independence, Missouri, to Nevada again, to Seymour, Missouri and back to St. Louis.
21. Did you fall in love in 2009?
Yes. With Veronica Mars's Logan Echolls, the Luxembourg Gardens, and Nutella flavored gelato.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

Veronica Mars. Also Glee.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Hmm. Perhaps Glenn Beck? Maybe that's not fair to say since I don't know him personally.

24. What was the best book you read?
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.
25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

I have no answer for this. Oh sad. My taste in music is completely obsolete. And I can't get David to listen to anything but country so we've heard a lot of Jamey Johnson around here lately. But I am sort of into this Casey Donahew Band.

26. What did you want and get?
Good teaching gigs. Time to read novels. A successful paper presentation at a conference. Vacations to some amazing cities. Time with friends and family.
27. What did you want and not get?
A really good-paying job.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
I'm having a hard time answering this one too. I think my favorite film experience was going to see New Moon with a handful of girls from the department and then getting drinks and analyzing the really problematic depiction of romance in the film in a quasi-intellectual exercise that seemed to justify viewing the film without at all diminishing our enjoyment of watching that werewolf boy take off his shirt.
(Note: That is not to say that New Moon was my favorite film this year. I actually think my favorite film would have been An Education except I never got to see it...)

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, picnicked in Russell Square and listened to teenagers playing music (including an accordion), and then went to see Billy Elliott in the West End. I was 29 and it was a very happy birthday.
30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
A defense date.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
Try To Make Cheap Look Chic.

32. What kept you sane?

David. My BFFs. The dogs. Exercising. And blogging.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Vampires. Of course.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?


35. Who did you miss?

Monica. My brother. My family in Nevada whom I barely saw this year, as Nana reminded me at Christmas!

36. Who was the best new person you met?

PEO ladies.
37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.

Mind the gap!
Don't go to the movies at 7pm on a Friday night.
Board games rock.

Things will be OK in the end. If they're not OK, this isn't the end.

OK, so I'm still working on learning that last one. But I have it written on a post-it note up on my desk so that should help.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

I'm talkin' 'bout the good times, drinkin' down the bad
Tryin to remember all those crazy nights that we had
Now I'm empty, I'm not sad
Talkin' 'bout the good times, drinkin' down the bad
- Casey Donahew band "White Trash"

Alternatively, how about an excerpt from "Come On Get Higher":
If I could walk on water
I could tell you what's next
Make you believe
Make you forget

So come on get higher, loosen my lips
Faith and desire and the swing of your hips
Just pull me down hard and drown me in love

May we all be drowned in love 2010.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Motivation; Or, Lack Thereof

Here we are. Four days into the new year.

I am full of big ideas for what I'd like to do this new year. Improve my sewing! Write a novel! Do more volunteer work! Plan our next vacation! Defend that freaking dissertation!

And I have a list of smaller, but more pressing tasks. Go to the grocery store! Move files from old laptop to new laptop! Reread Frankenstein! Take down Christmas tree!

These tasks are not hard. But the thing about goals and tasks in the new year is that I have spent the last two weeks training myself to be lazy. Oh, so lazy. Wake up around 9. Eat candy for breakfast. Watch TV until lunchtime. Eat cheese and crackers for lunch. More candy. The biggest hurdle of the day? A shower. Then it's reading vampire novels or playing board games or doing crossword puzzles and maybe fitting in a nap before dinner. Don't have to make dinner! Mom is cooking. Or Aunt Tammi. So gorge on dinner and then more of the same laziness until bedtime.

Because being lazy is exhausting.

So now I'm home and I need to snap out of it. But instead of going to the Jazzercise class I wanted to go to this morning, I slept through it. And instead of hopping immediately in the shower, I put on my coziest robe. And even though my poor dog hasn't had a decent walk in almost two weeks due to snow and ice, the high today is 15 degrees and we both feel pretty content just snuggled on the couch.

I am finally starting to get antsy though. I need to get myself moving. Two weeks of holiday time and I think my muscles have atrophied. Plus my house already needs to be vacuumed again. And there really is nothing to eat for breakfast here.

So I will tackle my to-do list!

Soon. Like maybe after I take a nap.