Friday, April 29, 2011

My one concession to royal wedding craziness

Like most Americans (and apparently 80% of Brits, if the headline I saw was correct), I don't care too much about the royal wedding that took place in England today.  I'm American, so I don't really "get" the point of royalty.  And I'm not very sentimental, so I really don't like weddings very much.  But there is one little part of me -- I like to call it my Crazy-Aunty-We-Keep-In-The-Closet part -- that likes to sneak out of hiding every once in a while.

This week, Crazy Aunty made her appearance by pointing out that Prince William and I must have some sort of connection.

Why? I ask Crazy Aunty.  Well, she points out, Princess Diana's pregnancy (Prince William) was printed in the papers on your birthday. Now Prince William is married on the same day as your graduation ceremony.  Coincidence?

Yes, Crazy Aunty.  A total coincidence.  But thanks for thinking of me.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Day 26: Something that means a lot to me

One of the things that I learned growing up was not to become attached to possessions.  That's not to say that I don't love the things that I have, it's just that I know what I have today may be gone tomorrow.  This was demonstrated very clearly last year when we had a burglary; all my jewelry, from my grandmother's ring to the first little silver dragon ring Honey gave me to my one very expensive piece I owned was gone in a moment.  And while I do miss it, I realized right away that I had to accept what had happened.  At least all the furry babies were safe (miraculously).  While this is a drastic example, there are little, every day instances that demonstrate the futility of being too attached to possessions: a favorite glass or vase drops and breaks, books are ruined in a winter flood, a coat is lent and forgotten.  That is why I had to stop and think about today's task in the Thirty Day Challenge.

I could focus on intangibles.  For example, some of the things that I love are cards or drawings from former students.  Even little notes with just a sentence or two are special to me, not because of what they are but because of what they represent.  A teacher friend shared with me her tradition at the end of every school year: she takes a group photo of each class, places it on a piece of cardstock, and has students sign or write messages around it so that she can remember her classes.  As soon as I heard that idea I started it with my own classes and I love the memory books that I now have.

But instead of taking a picture of the memory books, I walked around and started thinking about what I had around me that means a lot to me.  That's when I walked into the hallway and saw my Grama's creation: buttonhook art. 

For decades, my grandmother collected buttonhooks and for a while probably had the largest collection in the country.  Eventually, she started putting the hooks into frames to display them (she had an exhibit at a local museum one year) and then after that she started making buttonhook collections for family members.

 Of course by the time she started making framed buttonhook collections she was going senile, so her attempts to make sure everyone in the family got something were a bit hit-and-miss.  Mine just happened to be a "hit" because at the time she was living in my state and so Honey and I would drive over the mountain and see her one weekend a month. 

Grama also gave me a framed collection to hang on to for my brother Tin Man. 

She said he was not allowed to have it until he had a house of his own.  We'll see if I'm willing to give it up then.  It looks so nice on my wall.

Both of the buttonhook collections happen to have purple, which I believe was my grandmother's favorite color (that and green) because it was everywhere.  Lucky me, it goes nicely with all the oranges in my house.  The buttonhook collections hang in my hallway, which is otherwise devoted to family pictures -- one side for old/military photos and the other side for more current family pictures.

I probably wouldn't care about buttonhooks if I just saw them randomly and had no connection to them.  But now when I see buttonhooks I think of my grandmother.  I wonder if she has that particular hook in her collection and then I remember I can't buy it for her anyway because she's no longer with us.  So I guess that means that buttonhooks -- a tangible possession -- actually represent something intangible: memories with Grama.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Day 25: A Picture of My Day

This is, perhaps, the most boring post of the Thirty Day Challenge, for today I went to work.  My office is in a former janitor's closet.  I share half of my space with the storage from various programs in my department.  Several months ago I finally brought in a few framed photos to make my desk more hospitable, but it does little to change the depressing, windowless atmosphere of my office.  So why would I want a picture of that? 

The few years where I had a classroom of my own I was able to decorate the way that I wanted -- (fake) plants everywhere, lots of lamps, and curtains on the windows that let in plenty of natural light.  Walking into a closet is depressing.  Walking into a messy, ugly classroom is also depressing (and, sadly, I have seen plenty of classrooms like that in various high schools).

I think that people respond to their environments.  If I were to design a school it would look very comfortable, homey, and it would have very large windows everywhere.  If I had my choice of office space, it would have windows.  Lots of windows.  And colorful walls.  Tonight Honey and The Teenager and I were watching "Body of Proof," a new show that Hulu carries.  In one scene tonight it shows the medical examiner in her office and I said "That's it! That's like the office that I want! Except that Lotus would be under the desk by my feet."  Sadly, I couldn't find a picture that even came close.

The nice thing, though, is that it's now spring, and even though it's raining all the time the flowers are finally starting to bloom.  That means that when I pull up into my driveway, I see a beautiful picture.
This is from last year -- not quite an accurate example.

My house and yard have been a lot of work.  Maybe one day I'll post before and after pictures.  It's just that the "after" is still a work in progress in a number of areas.  But at least the front yard is done.  And I love it because spring through fall I arrive home and am greeted by different blooming flowers.  That is a highlight of my day.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day 24: Something I wish I could change

We all have things about ourselves that we want to change.  At least I'm pretty sure that we do.  I would love to be thinner, have more definition between my chin and neck, and have permanently smooth legs.  But we don't always get what we want, do we?  I think that wanting something else, wanting change of some sort, is just a part of being human.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about change over the years.  My childhood was not the best.  Not the worst, by a long shot, since I didn't grow up as a child soldier or sold into prostitution and I didn't wind up in jail for stealing food to feed my family, but it was certainly no walk in the park.  I wouldn't wish my childhood on anyone, but I also wouldn't change the fact that I went through some pretty icky things, since those experiences made it so that I feel I can handle pretty much anything life throws my way.

So changing my appearance is out.  Changing my past is out, too.  What is left?  Aha! What about a more serious post for this part of the Thirty Day Challenge?  There are things in the world that I wish I could change.  There are wars, genocides, human trafficking, many things I could list that it could be overwhelming.  I do believe that it's important to help change these things.  Some people are born to travel the world and never settle down, born to live like Mother Teresa.  I admire that.  But those people need money and encouragement as support for their missions, and so there are people born like me -- we find a way to send consistent support to the causes that we care about.  I'm not saying that money is a replacement for volunteer work or anything like that, just that both are necessary.  And so here are a few of the organizations that we support.  They do great work.  And I hope that maybe I can encourage others to support them, or similar organizations, as well.

Mercy Corps -- This organization responds to disasters (and many other situations) worldwide.  They make good use of their funds and I just love them.

Southern Poverty Law Center -- As a former social studies teacher, the issue of social justice is very important to me.  SPLC tracks hate groups (among its many responsibilities) and is very informative. In addition, they publish great teaching materials for K-12 education and give it to teachers for free!!  I have a number of videos (on VHS -- now they're offered on DVDs) that were so helpful when I wanted to highlight a particular point.  Their Teaching Tolerance website is amazing.  Seriously.  If you're in education (whether a public/private school teacher or home schooler), check them out.
 Food Banks: When I grew up, I had a lot of "food insecurity."  I didn't know it at the time.  The phrase is something I've heard within the past few years.  It means that we were not starving, but many times we didn't know if or when there would be a next meal and sometimes meals were skipped because there just wasn't any food.  I have a little bit of an obsession with food now, which is revealed by my desire to make sure that everyone has enough to eat all the time.  As an adult, the first home that Honey and I bought was in a county that had a lot of poverty and food issues.  That's when we started supporting Marion-Polk Food ShareWe don't live there any more, but it's important to me to support them, to grow food and give it away, and eventually to make my garden productive enough that I can go to the local food bank and donate fresh produce every week.  I hate thinking that people might go hungry.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Day 23: My Favorite Book

I've had a book in my hands for as long as I can remember.  Wait, strike that: for longer than I can remember.  My memory is not very good.  But I know that I've been reading since age two and it's probably one of my favorite pastimes.  In fact, I know that I am either too depressed or too busy (or both) when I can't find the energy to read.  (This has happened a lot in the past two years, so I've slowed down with reading, but I recently ordered the latest Sarah Vowell book so I know I'll have a good read soon.)  It is why when I got to today's task in the Thirty Day Challenge that I thought (like most other days), how am I supposed to answer this?

I could just point you to my version of the top 100 fiction books to read.  That might give you some indication of the books that I like.  But maybe this post requires more specifics?  What kind of categories should I use?  There are just too many good books!  My years as a humanities major, a language arts teacher, and a social studies teacher did not prepare me to narrow my book choice to one, and so I'll provide a variety.

Favorite children's book: When I was young, one of my favorite books was Possum Magic.  It didn't matter that I was a bit too old for picture books, I loved this story.  I still have a copy.

In my library there are a few shelves devoted to books and literature for children and young adults.  There are few things I love more.  Several years ago I wrote a children's book and sent it away to a few places for publication but was unsuccessful in that attempt.  My family tells me that the story is good, but can you really take the opinions of family?  A friend reminds me that people like Stephen King had numerous books rejected before finding success.  So perhaps I should try, try, try again.  In my mind's eye, the illustrations to my story would be bright and colorful, like in another children's book that I adore: Weslandia.
My mother-in-law first told me about this book because it reminded her of Honey.  Perhaps that's a reason why I love it.  But I think it's adorable and I make sure that it's a part of baby shower gifts because every kid needs this book.

An excellent biography:
When I was in high school I had the biggest crush on a long-dead historical figure: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.  He was an intellectual, brilliant, and he ended up rising through the ranks of the military in the Civil War (even though he, like many, would've preferred to stay out of the war altogether). 

Alice Rains Trulock wrote In the Hands of Providence and I read it cover to cover several times while in high school.  When the film Gettysburg came out (1993?), I transferred at least part of my crush to Jeff Daniels, who played Chamberlain.  (Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I learned that this role was far different than Jeff Daniels' usual roles!)

A good piece of literature:
I've read a few (not many) pieces of Russian literature.  Most of it is very hard to slog through, in my opinion, but I loved The Master and Margarita.

 A book that I carried with me through many moves:
Honey and I met in high school.  That year, we were both involved in the production of Much Ado About Nothing -- me as Benedict, Honey as Leonato.  (For the record, we were in a small community -- neither one of us has a thespian bone in our body.) 

This is my favorite Shakespeare play, not just because we have fun memories but because it is so funny. 

A great non-fiction book (about a sad topic):
I tend to enjoy nonfiction books written by journalists, probably because they are used to writing in a way that makes people want to read.  They tend to be good storytellers, it's just that the stories happen to be true (most of the time).
Adam Hochschild has written a number of books about different events in history and all of his books are very readable and informative.

An addictive series:
A friend of mine gave me Diana Gabaldon's book Outlander one year so that I would have something to read on the plane.  What an obsession that started! 
Outlander is the first -- and shortest -- book in a series that is set in Scotland & and US in the 18th & 20th centuries.  So good!

A feel-good read:
Anything by Alexander McCall Smith is, in my mind, a feel good read.  I love his writing style and his stories. 
My bookshelves in the library that Honey and I built are filled with books.  And I've given away boxes and boxes of books. 

Still, the bookshelves barely hold everything.  Books are definitely one of my obsessions.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Flavorful Sweet Potato Soup

The spring in the Northwest is fickle.  We had lovely weather yesterday: sunny, 70s, beautiful.  Today we were back to rain and the low-50s.  It was a good soup day.

Every Sunday evening I make dinner in a large enough quantity that Honey and I have leftovers to take as lunches throughout the week.  Since we had plenty of potatoes and a few sweet potatoes, I decided that it was time to make a potato soup.  It had been a while, and I was getting a bit bored with bean or lentil soups.  After spending some time at a potato soup recipe website, I created my own version of a soup based on several that I found there.

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4lbs sweet potatoes (or yams), chopped (into bite-sized bits)
  • 2lbs potatoes, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, grated
  • 2 bell peppers, finely chopped
  • 3 jalepenos, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 2" ginger, grated
  • 1 TBSP minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 TBSP red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. hot New Mexican red chili powder
  • 1-3 tsp olive oil 
  • 10 c. chicken broth (I use water + chicken bullion)
  • grated cheese to taste
 In a LARGE stock pot, saute onions in oil for a few minutes until soft, then add sweet potatoes, potatoes, and garlic and saute for about five minutes.

Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.  When boiling, add the carrots, half of the chopped jalepenos, and the grated ginger.

When the potatoes are cooked (about 20 minutes), remove 1/3 of the soup and puree the rest (I use an immersion blender -- works like a charm!), then add the 1/3 back to the pot.

Add the bell peppers, spices, and remainder of the jalepenos.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.

Serve soup with cheese, cilantro, and scallions. Easy!

I post my creations on many wonderful "party pages" and you can see the list here on my blog.

Grama's Green Stuff: A Recipe for Easter (or any other holiday)

The women in my family, at least my maternal side, do not cook.  (I am the exception and sometimes I think that my love of cooking was born out of necessity.)  My mother could burn soup, turn eggs green, and make "slumgullion," which I believe is Crazyspeak for "something that tastes so awful your body will trick you into thinking you're full just so you won't have to eat it." (Note: several dictionaries define slumgullion as "a watery meat stew." That is not the slumgullion we had growing up.  We had very little to eat and a house of nine, sometimes ten, to feed, so slumgullion was code for taking anything left in the fridge and/or freezer -- including condiments -- and mixing it in a large pot so that it looked like gruel to feed 10 people.)  My grandmother's specialty seemed to be mac-n-cheese (yum!) and chicken nuggets.  I do have to give these women some credit.  My mother made excellent chocolate chip cookies about once a year and she could make a mean enchilada casserole too.  Grama made excellent applesauce, rhubarb sauce, fried mushrooms, and...Green Stuff.

Grama's Green Stuff was -- is -- famous, at least in our family.  No holiday is complete without it.  And while some people say that it's "lime jello salad" or something along those lines, I silence all the blasphemers with a haughty glare.  It. Is. Not. Jello. Salad.  I hate jello and I love fruit but I am not a fan of anything that is fruity but smothered in some unknown, non-kosher gelatinous substance.  Grama's Green Stuff, however, is another matter.  When I got married, I asked for two things from Grama, things that only she could give: the recipe for Green Stuff, and a set of "wise guys" (more about that during the winter holiday season).  I got both things.  That's how I knew Grama loved me.

I know that my grandmother probably found this recipe in some 1950s magazine, just like she found her other standbys (beef stroganoff, for example -- the nostalgia of this recipe almost makes me wish I still ate beef).  But she did what she always does and added a bit of a twist of her own.  It's so good -- you've no idea.  Go ahead.  Try it.

Pour into a large stock pot:
1lb bag of mini marshmallows
2 c. milk

Heat over medium heat.  Stir constantly with wooden spoon.  When hot, add:

6oz package lime jello
16oz cream cheese
2 cans (15oz each) crushed pineapple (one can drained, one with liquid)

When cool, blend in:

12oz. Cool Whip
1 1/3 c. mayo (Best Foods/Hellman's)

Mix until well blended, put in dish (usually a 13"x9" and then a smaller dish for a bit of excess) and chill overnight.

As my Grama said, "Serves as many as you'd like."

I like to post creations at many different party pages -- check them out here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 22: I wish I were better at many things

Life has not exactly returned to normal (as you may notice, since I'm still hiding from BlogLand), but it is heading in that direction and so I thought I would return to my Thirty Day Challenge posts.  Day 22 is supposed to be a picture of something I wish I could do better.  For a while I thought "You mean like completing a task on time?" since it's very clear that my Day 22 post is weeks delayed.  Then I thought about all the things I would like to improve or learn in my life.  I'd like to be able to knit without needing a loom to keep everything straight.  I'd like to crochet interesting patterns.  I'd like to be able to paint, sing, weed, listen to others, bake, focus on the task at hand, cook, listen to my intuition, express myself articulately, and handle life parenting a teenager better than I do right now.  I have these skills, to various degrees, but I am not as skillful as I would wish.

Then I started thinking about intangible qualities that I wish to improve.  And that's when I discovered my picture for today:

What is my biggest problem in life?  Saying "Yes!" or "sure" or "okay" or "I can do that, no problem" when in reality it is a problem.  A big problem.  I've said before that I need a least 36 hours to my day and most of that is because I agree to take on my problems, the world's problems, and every little task in between.  I have no idea how to say "no!"  I practiced for a while and then fell out of the habit.  That was a bad idea.  I should've prioritized the skill of saying no until it became an ingrained habit.  (Interestingly enough, this image came from this website that talks about learning to say no.)  Ask Honey and you'll find someone else who agrees -- I take on far too many tasks.  And many of them happen to be very time-consuming.  Just thinking about my list makes me tired.

So why do I do it?  I think that a lot of it has to do with feelings of guilt.  I want to help others and so if I can, I will.  I've put in many long days and nights because of this.  It got worse when I was unemployed for a while.  I felt guilty about not having an income and contributing in that way to the household and so I volunteered for just about every task under the sun.  A friend once commented that she thought I was far busier than she was and she had a full-time job.

Staying busy did not ease my guilt over being unemployed.  When I was finally hired again, I felt great -- and then realized that my salary was far lower than it had been previously (a common occurrence in this recession, from what I hear on NPR).  I was also only hired half-time.  And so I continued to take on additional tasks, fill my time, and stay very, very busy.  Others contributed to this with the "oh, you're just working part-time so you must have the time to do _____________," but really it was my own fault for agreeing -- over and over again -- to add so many to-do items to my list.

Recently, I've come to realize that I can do many things, but when I try to do those many things all at once I can't do anything well. (My Guilt Monster chimes in and says, "Really, Dr. Genius? You just recently figured this out??"  Yes, Guilt Monster.  Even geniuses have blind spots.)  Now that I am done with my degree I have to take some time to sit down and figure out what it is that I do.  I kept thinking that one day I would be all grown up and I would suddenly know what to do with my life, but that day hasn't arrived.  I enjoy many things.  I take on many tasks that I don't enjoy.  One day, if I'm not careful, I worry that I'll wake up and realize that I've not done anything truly great with my life and it's too late.  At least that's my fear.  And so with that in mind I've decided to refocus my efforts on being intentional.  We'll see what happens for the rest of this year.  In the meantime, I think I need to make a "just say no" sign and carry it around with me until the habit becomes ingrained.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Taking a break from the last round of edits to say...Yay for blog awards!

My regular readers know that life has been a bit crazy here recently.  I have been working on my EdD and this semester was (is) my last, which means that I had to finish my dissertation.  Easier said than done!  Let me just tell you that words cannot express how much I wanted to avoid this task.  I hear that is common at this stage in the process.  Common, but not useful.

Thankfully, one of the primary motivators was the fact that I actually edit dissertations and theses as a side gig to bring in a little extra money.  I enjoy editing, so that works.  Reading through the various dissertations also helped make me see that I could do this and I just needed to buckle down and get things done.  It was a good thing that I found my motivation because I learned at rather the last minute that I had ten fewer days to finish my dissertation than I thought.  Yikes!  I scrambled and got fewer than three hours' sleep each night for nearly a week and finished the draft for my committee.  Then I defended my dissertation to my committee.  Then I had more editing to do.  Plenty more editing to do.  By Friday morning.  Ugh.

But at least it's almost over!  And I decided to take a break on my last day of editing so that I could post a bit.  I miss being in BlogLand!  It's such a happier place than the Dissertation Dungeon of Despair.

Two lovely women who have made this week bearable are my lovely BlogFriends, Kelly at Blue Bird Sews and Jenna at Sew Happy Geek.  Kelly is someone that I imagine I'll probably run into in the real world because she, too, lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.  She has a talent for sewing and gardening -- she's shared some gardening tips with me (Thank you, Kelly!) and puts some quilting tutorials on her blog (yes!).  Jenna is an expat living in the UK and I love reading her posts.  She shares a lot of tips about sewing and she is always so excited about it that it's giving me the desire to get back into that craft.  I'm not skilled right now, so I'm starting small with a mug rug for the mug rug swap that Jenna is hosting.  These lovely ladies received blog awards and decided to share the love.  Thank you, ladies!!  You made my week much better. :-)

Kelly shared the Stylish Blogger award with me.
The way that this works is that when a person receives it she agrees to link back to the person who bestowed the award on her blog, then tells seven things about herself, and then bestows the award on other blogs.

I shared seven random things about me back in February, so now I need to think of a few more...(so difficult...brain on!).

1. This year I will celebrate my ten year anniversary.  I was married at a young age, which I really don't condone now because I experienced how difficult it is to grow up when you have to be responsible for yourself and someone else.  Thankfully, we grew up together, rather than growing up and apart, and we've made it a decade.  I love my Honey! (But seriously, kids, do yourself a favor and wait until you're in your 30s to get married!)

2. Even when I was a an extremely conservative and sheltered fundamentalist when I was growing up, I still had a bit of the rebel about me.  I wanted green streaks in my hair (which never happened), multiple piercings (does a nose ring count?), tattoos (four and counting!).  I also refused to wear a white dress for my wedding.  Why should I do that just because it's tradition?  I had a midnight blue evening gown that was my grandmother's modified instead and I wore that...and loved it.

3. I was home schooled for most of my life back when it was really not cool and home schooled kids were ostracized as the weirdos.  Then I grew up and decided to become a public school teacher.

4. I feel guilty because I have a tattoo of a lotus flower that represents my love for my dog (among other things -- it also represents my life trying to make something beautiful grow out of a muddy and cruddy past, but my furry baby's name is Lotus so of course it represents her, too), but I have nothing to symbolize my love for my cats (Hero, who passed away, Canvas, Bunny, Nicky, and Nora).  I'm not sure what to do to fix that.

5. I used to think that I would want kids, or maybe just one kid, and that I would adopt.  The older I got the more and more I realized that I have no desire for children of my own.  Or rather I should say that all of my students became my de facto children.  And of course I have my Baby and my Little Baby, two much-younger brothers I cared for when they were infants.  Now the littlest one lives here as he works on finishing high school by taking college courses, and so I have a teenager in my house every day.  That's good.  I really don't want children of my own, even though people look at me as though I am some freak of nature with three heads and five arms when I say that.

6. I don't like surprises at all.  If someone threw me a surprise party I would probably get furious and walk out the door because surprises make me so uncomfortable.  My mother thought that she threw a surprise party for me when I turned 16, but since she had me make all the food to feed 40 people it wasn't really a surprise.

7. I love having large gatherings of people over to my house to eat.  We have a First Friday Family Dinner each month because I love fixing food for people.  But I do not like to entertain anyone or feel like I have to be responsible for people socializing.  Please, eat.  Talk amongst yourselves.  I'll flit in and out and see to food needs and laugh and drink, but I can't promise undivided attention.

So...was that random enough?

Jenna gave me the Liebster Blog award.
This award is meant to be given to blogs that have fewer than 300 followers.  My job is to choose three blogs, but how do I choose just three?  Oy vey, the dilemma!

First of all, I'd like to return the favor to my lovely BlogFriends, so Jenna, I'm bestowing Stylish Blogger on you, and Kelly, you get a Liebster Blog!

Now to find a few more ladies shall receive both awards:

Jenny at An Apple for the Crafter has a lovely blog with great crafting ideas.  She used to be a public school teacher, too!

Katie at Eye Spy DIY has lovely ideas and great tutorials.  Check her out.  You won't be sorry...unless you're like me and have no time but seeing her tutorials make you want to drop everything and craft, in which least you've been warned.

Congratulations, Ladies!  And thank you once again to Kelly and Jenna!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A blog award, a tired lady, and a nearly finished degree

Today I had my dissertation defense.  Yay and yikes.  As you probably know if you follow my blog, I work in education.  For a number of years I was a high school teacher and now I work in higher ed.  That means that I stand in front of people for a living and I talk.  So why is it that I am always nervous when I have to stand and talk in a new context?  I don't tend to much makeup on a regular basis (just mascara -- and my tattooed eyeliner, of course), but on days that I know I'll be speaking in front of people then I put on the works because I end up turning the color of a tomato.  Seriously.  I can't wear dress shirts because I am worried about perspiration and so I end up in blazers and nylons (also usually foreign to me) in an effort to mask my nervousness.

Today was no exception.  I spoke in front of my committee and I was nervous.  Nevermind that I edit theses and dissertations and know that mine is pretty decent.  Nevermind that I have known the members of my committee for a while and I actually work in the same building as they do (although I don't really work with them).  I was nervous.  And it turns out I had a right to be.  I was hoping that I would hear Well done, good and faithful servant, but I knew that was unlikely.  Instead I heard "Fix these things and get the updated draft in by Friday morning."  That overshadowed the more exciting part -- I'll be done by Friday -- with the more immediate notion of additional loss of sleep between now and then.  Oy. Vey. Seriously.

In the meantime I try to remind myself that this was a good response, that dissertations aren't meant to be the be-all-end-all in research, and that I just need to be done.

In slightly more positive news, my contract at my work has been extended through July.  Yay!  It still means that I will need a new job afterward, but I have a bit more breathing room while I look for something (which will prove difficult because as of today there were fewer than 50 jobs in education in this state -- at least 50 jobs for which I qualify -- and all but three are more than a 60 minute one-way drive -- and I qualify for a lot, so that should give you some indication of the state of things here).

In much more positive news, Kelly over at BlueBirdSews gave me a blogging award today!  YAYYYYY!!!!  Wasn't that so incredibly sweet?  It made my day and brought this sleep-deprived, brain-befuddled girl a bit of a smile and happiness.  If you haven't seen her blog you really must visit -- and now that I know that she lives in the Northwest and grows eggplant (which I've never been able to grow successfully), I am definitely going to bug her for her secrets!  She also makes the most wonderful quilting tutorials that are perfect for people like me who want to quilt but have no idea how.

I will respond with my good blogger duties and post the award and a bit about me and then pass it along...but not tonight.  Now it's time to head to bed.  At least it's not 4AM this time. :-)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cabinet Door Into Chalkboard

FINALLY!  I finished a craft project!  This hiatus from anything fun while I finished my dissertation was not pleasant at all.  The past weekend I was able to have time to get some things done, but considering I had ignored everything for a while, my to-do list was long and time for crafts almost nonexistent.  Thankfully, I had this project mostly done, which meant I had time to put the finishing touches on it and call it good (or good enough).

Here is a picture of the two cabinet doors I bought at the Habitat store for $1 each.
See that ugly door on the left?  I saw it and immediately thought "Chalkboard!" I still had a bit of chalkboard spray paint (best invention ever) leftover from various craft projects, and I had a tiny bit of bright yellow spray paint left for the border.

I cut the bird shape out of contact paper and placed it on the cabinet as I spray painted and then removed the contact paper and painted the bird.

Here it is!

Now what should I do with it?  That's my problem with crafts...I never plan ahead!

Check out my Party Pages for where I like to link my craft projects.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Read This, Not That

The so-called BBC book list is making its way around Facebook and the blogosphere again.  The first time that I saw the list -- over a year ago -- I remember wondering what the selection criteria was for the books on the list.  How could Bridget Jones' Diary be on the same list as Dracula and Great Expectations?  Why does Da Vinci Code get a special mention but nothing for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein?  Why did the Chronicles of Narnia (series) and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe appear as separate entries?  Something smelled fishy.

Of course I ignored the fishiness for a while.  I participated in the "challenge" and didn't do so well.  Plenty of books were works I started but then put down either because I was busy or bored or because the book was just horribly written (just because it's a classic doesn't mean it's good writing).  Other books that I read I found were a complete waste of time and I hated them.  Some books I loved.  And so when the list started circling again, I decided to figure out what the selection criteria was and then see if I could improve the list.

From what I can tell, the book list does not actually exist.  Or, more accurately, it exists but is not BBC.  In searching the BBC website, there are two articles about 100 books, one written in 2004 and one written in 2011.  The 2004 article is very similar to the pseudo-BBC list -- they have about 2/3 of the book titles in common -- but that list was a survey among readers of their favorite books.  I guess that could translate into 100 must-reads, but not necessarily.  It would, however, explain why something like Bridget Jones' Diary made it on to the list.

I am fairly convinced that this BBC list making the rounds on Facebook and blogs has no connection with the BBC.  The list is too vague in its purpose and criteria.  And so instead of worrying about how I don't measure up to this list, I've decided to create my own.  At least my own list for novels -- to have the category opened to any book would make it far too difficult to choose 100 titles.  Maybe one day I'll create a list for top non-fiction, too.

My Version of the so-called “BBC Book List” – 100 Novels to Read*
1.     Outlander (and the whole series, seven books right now) – Diana Gabaldon  This is hands-down the best historical series I’ve ever read.  I love it and can’t put it down (which can be a problem when the books are huge).
2.     The Book Thief – Markus Zusak. I’ve read plenty of books about the Holocaust and genocide.  I have to – I wrote a thesis on the subject years ago.  But this book was one of the best novels set during the Holocaust.
3.     Maus – Art Spiegelman.  This graphic novel about the Holocaust was very well done and the first graphic novel that exposed me to the genre.  As a whole, the genre is not my favorite, but I do like a few graphic novels and memoirs now.
4.     A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hossini.  This author is best known for The Kite Runner, but this book was so much better.
5.     The Kite Runner – Khaled Hossini
6.     The Queen’s Fool – Philippa Gregory.  I love all of her books, but since this was the first one that I read it holds a special place in my heart.
7.     The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova. Hands down this is the best story about Dracula ever.
8.     The Monk – M.G. Lewis.  This is better known as one of the first full-length gothic novels.  You’ll never guess, after reading the content, when this book was written!
9.     Tom Jones – Henry Fielding
10.  The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  Terrifying.
11.  The Master & Margarita – Mikhail Bulgokov. One of my favorite memories with Honey is when I had to read this book for a class – Honey started reading while I was doing something else and then we both sat together and read through it because neither one of us wanted to relinquish the book!
12.  Dead Souls – Nikolai Gogol
13.  Buddenbrooks – Thomas Mann
14.  No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – Alexander McCall Smith. Every time I need to feel good and just enjoy life, I turn to this author.
15.  Winter Solstice – Rosamund Pilcher
16.  The Winter Queen – Boris Akunin. One book in a Russian mystery series that is quite enjoyable.
17.  The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff
18.  Douglass’s Women – Jewel Parker Rhodes
19.  Across Five Aprils – Irene Hunt
20.  My Brother Sam Is Dead – James Lincoln Collier
21.  Sam the Minute Man – Nathaniel Benchley
22.  Much Ado About Nothing – William Shakespeare
23.  Romeo & Juliet – William Shakespeare
24.  Hamlet – William Shakespeare
25.  Let’s just have this line indicate more Shakespeare, in whatever form that may be.
26.  Pride & Prejudice & Zombies – Seth Grahame Smith (and Jane Austen)
27.  1984 – George Orwell
28.  Animal Farm – George Orwell
29.  We – Yevgeny Zamyatin
30.  Utopia – Thomas More
31.  The Crucible – Arthur Miller
32.  The Inferno – Dante
33.  Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer
34.  The Decameron – Giovanni Boccaccio
35.  The Moonraker’s Bride – Madeleine Brent
36.  The Treasure of Montesegur – Sophy Burnham
37.  Bridge to Terebithia – Katherine Patterson
38.  Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
39.  A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
40.  To Kill a Mocking Bird – Harper Lee
41.  Covenant with the Vampire – Jeanne Kalogridis. My favorite trilogy about Dracula.
42.  Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks
43.  The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd
44.  The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
45.  The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
46.  Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
47.  The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis All the Chronicles of Narnia are good, of course.
48.  The Bad Beginning – Lemony Snicket This is the beginning of my favorite children’s series
49.  Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
50.  Native Speaker – Chang Rae Lee
51.  Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
52.  Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery
53.  Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
54.  Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon
55.  A Spot of Bother – Mark Haddon
56.  The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
57.  The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
58.  The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
59.  The Color Purple – Alice Walker
60.  Possessing the Secret of Joy – Alice Walker
61.  Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
62.  Johnny Got His Gun – Dalton Trumbo.  This is probably the most powerful anti-war novel available.
63.  The Ruling Class (a play) – Peter Barnes
64.  Semmelweiss (a play) – Jens Bjorneboe
65.  S. A Novel About the Balkans – Slaveka Drakulic
66.  The Foreign Student – Susan Choi
67.  The Red Tent – Anita Diamant
68.  Seven Days to the Sea – Rebecca Kohn
69.  The Bonesetter’s Daughter – Amy Tan
70.  The Plague – Albert Camus
71.  Paradise Lost – John Milton
72.  Persepolis (graphic novel/memoir) – Marjane Satrapi
73.  In the Time of the Butterflies – Julia Alvarez
74.  Portrait in Sepia – Isabel Allende
75.  The Dress Lodger – Sheri Holman
76.  Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff – Christopher Moore 
77.  The Secret History of the Pink Carnation – Lauren Willig
78.  The Courtesan – Susan Carroll
79.  The Feast of Roses – Indu Sundaresan
80.  Thursday Next – Jasper Fforde
81.  Pilate’s Wife – Antoinette May
82.  The Alienist – Caleb Carr
83.  In Her Shoes – Jennifer Weiner
84.  Beloved – Toni Morrison
85.  Cry, The Beloved Country – Alan Paton
86.  The Robe – Lloyd C. Douglas
87.  Ben Hur – Lew Wallace
88.  Angel on the Square – Gloria Whelen
89.  The Devil’s Arithmetic – Jane Yolen
90.  The Cage – Ruth Minsky Sender
91.  Night – Elie Wiesel
92.  The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri
93.  The History of Love – Nicole Krauss
94.  Motel of the Mysteries – David Macaulay.  This book reminds me to keep everything in perspective.
95.  Oh the Places You’ll Go – Dr. Seuss
96.  Weslandia – Paul Fleischman This is my favorite children’s book of all time – the best picture book ever. I give it to everyone I know as a baby shower gift.
97.  The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox – Jennifer Lee Carrell One can learn a lot of history through this account that has fictionalized things to make it more readable.
98.  Frankenstein -- Mary Shelley
99.  North & South – Elizabeth Gaskell
100.                 Persuasion (or Sense & Sensibility or Pride & Prejudice) -- Jane Austen

*I invite you to compare, comment, or create your own.  Also, you'll notice that I didn't comment on every title and why I chose it -- eventually I realized that would be too much work.  I also provided a blend of fiction, everything from a child's picture book (Weslandia) to modern (20th century) classics (The Plague) to chick lit, so there should be something for everyone on this list. And the last three titles are italicized because while I've started them I haven't finished, but I do love the story lines and intend to finish day....
**UPDATE (4/9/11): I woke up this morning and realized I forgot to add Frankenstein to the list.  Now that problem is solved! 
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