Friday, December 19, 2008
Duh. I quit my job, sublet the house to someone who would feed the cat, and bought a plane ticket.
After a few days in the heat and noise and chaos of Bangkok, we escaped for a couple of weeks to the quieter, jungly north, near the border with Burma and Cambodia. We met some other Adventurous Travelers there, including a charming Scot named Daihi and his friends. A guide offered to take the group of us on a hill trek, several days of travel by foot and canoe and elephant into the villages of the northern hills which have never seen roads or electricity.
I should have known what was in store when we all piled into the back of a small covered truck to take us on the first stage of the journey, the only part that was accessible by road. We realized that the top of the truck had a sort of platform, and we asked the guide if we could ride on top rather than inside. He grinned and shrugged, and we all clambered up, wondering who would be so dull as to stay in the covered part. Riding on top let us see the little villages we passed with their huts and curious children and indifferent water buffalo by the sides of the road. It was infinitely better than riding inside, until we hit a length of road where the truck stirred up an enormous dense cloud of red dust, which stuck to our sweaty bodies and instantly transformed us into a mass of unrecognizable muddy creatures. Daihi howled with laughter as he looked at my caked face and matted hair, and shouted “Ach, if your people could see you now!” (I flushed with pride rather than embarrassment, thinking that at least they would see me being adventurous!) The guide just smiled.
The next stage of the trip was by elephant, as we ventured into areas where motorized vehicles had never penetrated. Elephants don’t plod heavily around like they do in zoos; in the jungle they are astonishingly nimble, and they can climb steep jungly hillsides more quickly than I could have on my own. On the second day of the trip, we started off early for a day-long journey, two elephants bearing three people each and one lead elephant with the guide.
The elephants snacked along the way, seizing clumps of tall grasses with their trunks and munching them as we ambled along. Several small streams crossed our path, and the elephants took advantage of those as well, slurping up the cool water. Ours drank his fill, and then filling his trunk again, suddenly swung it up in the air and sprayed himself – and us – with a shower of stream water. We howled with surprise and then pleasure, as the cool water felt wonderful in the sticky heat. We hadn’t showered for days anyway, and were still streaked with red mud from the truck experience, and it fit into our National Geographic sense of adventure to be sprayed clean by elephants. We crossed several more streams, and began to cheer every time we saw the elephant’s trunk swing up to give us a good dousing.
As we climbed higher, there were fewer and fewer streams to cross, and fewer trees to give us shade. The tropical afternoon sun beat down on our heads. The elephants lowered their heads as they trudged up the hillsides, and they probably missed the streams more than we did. We did pass a sort of ditch by the path, where stagnant water had gathered and a rich profusion of plants grew up out of the damp ground. I experienced a moment of horror, thinking surely the elephant won’t find that nasty stuff appealing? A cool mountain stream is one thing, but I don’t really want to be sprayed with swamp water. He didn’t, fortunately, but he did help himself to a few good-sized mouthfuls of the tender plants, and we were relieved that he was only interested in the snack. We climbed on, as he munched contentedly.
Then the trunk went to the mouth, and filled, and the trunk swung up in the air. We had just enough time to realize what was happening, but not quite enough time to duck, as we were drenched with an enormous trunkful of juicy green elephant spit. It was cool, and wet, but not exactly refreshing, though the elephant seemed to enjoy it a great deal. The rest of the day was filled with our howls of despair every time we saw that trunk reach out for another fat mouthful of squishy plants. The guide just smiled. Ach, if my people could see me now.
Some travelers complain that these northern hill treks are patronizing to indigenous cultures, because they take wealthy white people around to gape at the uncivilized tribes. I can assure you that it was more the other way around. Every evening as the elephants arrived at whatever village we were stopping at for the night, all the children came running out to stare and laugh at the stinky, mud-streaked, green-crusted foreigners who had come to visit. We experienced many of the wonders of Thailand that summer: temples, jewels, islands filled with coconut trees, luxurious fruits. But I will always associate it most with the smiling guide, and the sensation of being covered in elephant spit.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
1. Started my own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band (if singing counts)
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than I can afford to charity ("more than I can afford" for me sounds like bankruptcy, so no, I have not managed to be that charitable)
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sung a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched lightning at sea
14. Taught myself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child (no, that one's just not likely to happen.)
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty (is it still possible to do this?)
18. Grown my own vegetables (used to have a gazpacho garden, with onions, garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers. Man, I miss that.)
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France and was completely awed.
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitchhiked (on a bulldozer, no less!)
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill (I am just beginning to learn how to do this. Too much of a rule-follower, I am.)
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset (are there people who haven't done this?)
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied (that doesn't take much for me, fortunately.)
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt (oh, I've wanted to do this ever since I learned about it as a little kid. I remember reading that it was very gradually erupting less often, and I cried to think that it might not exist by the time I was old enough to go. Hang on, old thing, I'm still working on getting there...)
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had my portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris (was at the bottom, but didn't want to spend the hours in line to go up)
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain (that was the best first date ever, with Bruce-Springsteen-look-alike guy)
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie (does a promotional university video count?)
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business (kind of unintentionally; I need to close it down by the end of the year)
58. Taken a martial arts class (years of tae kwon do; a little karate)
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies (would much rather buy them. oooo, Thin Mints!)
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma (all three, and some bone marrow to boot)
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check (I could live without doing this, or the ambulance trip, thanks)
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job (I was about to once, but I think I managed to quit first.)
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London (and Madrid!)
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book (hee! this still astonishes me sometimes)
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating (if fish count)
88. Had chickenpox (somehow I skipped all the childhood illnesses.)
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby (no, thanks)
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a lawsuit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee (just once. Thanks, Rocket Boy.)
100. Ridden an elephant (and for real travel, not just a photo op)
Saturday, October 18, 2008
2) Wake up and spend an extra half-hour reading in bed.
3) Make blueberry pancakes and eat them while reading the New York Times. (Bonus points to your husband, who has been indifferent to pancakes all his life but has suddenly decided that they are the world's greatest weekend breakfast.)
4) Head into the study to grade, and take twenty minutes to grade an assignment you were sure was going to take over an hour. Get caught up on a bunch of pesky tasks that have been irritating you.
5) Take a break to head to the park down the street and play an hour of tennis and enjoy the spectacularly beautiful fall day.
6) Come back, grill steaks for lunch. (More bonus points for getting really good steaks half-price on sale at the store yesterday.)
7) Write about the really great day now, because the rest of it's all going to be grading. Even so, take substantial pleasure in the fact that if you stay on schedule, you'll be caught up by tomorrow and might actually be able to enjoy the rest of October at a more sane pace.
8) Get through the afternoon by looking forward to repeating at least steps 1, 2, and 5 tomorrow.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
LWI: We're going back to the 90's!
Me: I noticed! That's excellent.
LWI (after a puzzled pause): It's good for music. It's not so good for temperature.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Me: I wonder what they burn in that thing?
The LWI: Dissidents!
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Here are just some of the reasons why I am all twitchy with glee:
1) It's our first road trip in the new car! With an mp3 jack and freezingly efficient air conditioning and comfortable seats and room for all our junk and more cupholders than any rational adult could ever need!
2) We're going to see my Piano Niece and her new husband, Tank. We missed their wedding while we were in Spain this summer, so this is our chance to see them as they cross the country towards their new home. (They're crossing the country horizontally, and we're going vertically, to meet up just in the middle. It's the Isosceles Triangle Road Trip.) They're great people and a perfect match, so I'm excited to welcome him into the family.
3) Piano Niece is my Studly Brother's kid, so this means we get to stay with Studly Brother! That alone will make this just about the Most Fun Thing We've Done All Year.
5) On the way, we get to visit Art Sister, who is always an inspiration to me. She's the one person in the world I can call pretty much anytime, with nothing to say, and we'll end up coming up with some Deep Philosophical Insights into ourselves and the universe. I always feel reassured and invigorated after I've spent time with her. (Hmm, that makes her sound too much like bath gel. New Extra-Foamy Art Sister: Soothing and Invigorating!)
6) Here's what I love about the State Where I Grew Up. There's a bed and breakfast on the way to Sibling Town where we've stayed the last couple of times we've driven that way. I emailed the owners to see if they had a room available for the night we're coming through. They wrote back immediately: "sorry, we're out of town then, but if you'd like to stay anyway, we'll hide a key for you; we just can't give you the breakfast part of the bed and breakfast." Keep in mind that they know us from all of two previous trips. But they're leaving us their house for the night. I love these people.
7) And then we're taking the long way home, to explore some new territory. I chose the route because the scenery should be substantially cooler and greener and hillier than where we live, which is basically furnace-blasted flat clay. It's going to be a good trip.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
So I turn to the blogosphere. First, an easy-ish one: in English, is a female marquis most appropriately called a "marquise" or a "marchioness"?
Second, there's a Portuguese word recolhimento, which describes a place that would take in women and give them a basic education and a place to live, usually until they were old enough to marry. Its name comes from the verb meaning "to gather," so it's a place that gathers people in. I can't for the life of me think of a corresponding term in English: it's not a poor-house, because the women weren't necessarily poor; it's not an orphanage, because they often had parents; it wasn't exactly a finishing school, because (at least to me) that suggests building on a previous education as well as preparation for entry into an elite world, which wasn't necessarily the case here. It was really a mix of all of these things, with a religious element (but it wasn't a convent, becasue they didn't take vows). Is there any word that would suggest this, or am I stuck writing a long awkward footnote to explain this term?
Thanks for any suggestions!
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
So the nice blood guy said "Well, we can try again on the other hand if you want... there's not much of a chance it will be different, but sometimes if your hands are cold it can register a bit low." So I said sure, what the heck, I have plenty more fingers. Besides, the second test was on my right arm, which is my tennis arm, so of course all the strong blood's going to be on that side. So we both started joking about focusing my iron and the power of positive thinking and so forth... until the little machine beeped, and the guy's eyes got huge, and he said "Um, I don't know what you did, but now you're at 13.7."
Cool, so now I can give blood. And just to be on the safe side I spent the rest of the day thinking World peace! World peace! World peace! just in case I have magical powers I was not previously aware of.
Anyway, all of that reminded me of a habit I used to have of making a wish at 11:11. If you're not familiar with this, it's sort of like wishing on stars, for the digital age - if you happen (and it must be by chance) to see a digital clock just when it shows the time 11:11, you can make a wish.
I don't know if this is part of the official 11:11 lore, but the habit I developed if I happened to catch that magic moment was to stare at the clock, not averting my gaze until it turned to 11:12, and focusing the entire time on my wish. For a long time I made a regular practice of this, and the best thing about it was that it taught me to always have a wish at the ready, so that I didn't waste big chunks of that precious minute trying to decide what to wish for.
And, interestingly enough, if you are frequently nudged to evaluate what things in your life you most want to wish for, that does wonders for helping you clarify what it is you really want.
A couple of years ago, What Now wrote a really lovely post along these lines (I'm so happy that I actually saved this reference); she wasn't talking about the 11:11 phenomenon, but she has a wonderful description (from her partner D.) of what she calls the background work of the brain: "Our brains are always engaged in background tasks; if we ask ourselves a particular question at least once every day, the brain starts to gather information on that question automatically throughout each day."
I think there's an awful lot that we do to train ourselves to think in particular ways. Squadratomagico just wrote about a couple she knows who have the habit of constantly denigrating everything around them, and I thought boy, do I know those people. They live in the same world I do, but they've trained themselves to pick out all the things they don't like about it. Others train themselves to look for any possible slight to themselves, any sign that they're not measuring up to the expectations of others; still others get in the habit of looking for opportunities. It's all in what you teach your brain to do. (Either What Now or PPB - unfortunately I didn't save this link, but I'll be happy to give credit if anyone remembers - once used the example of setting your computer password to be something you want to focus on, so that you're reminded of it every day. I loved that.)
I used to be in the habit of thinking about what I most wanted, which kept me attentive to the kind of person I wanted to be and the kind of direction I wanted to head in. I've slipped on that lately, to the extent that when our dean recently asked me what my longer-term career plans were, I didn't have a very clear answer at the ready. I know what I want to do today, and this week, but with my life? Haven't had time to think about that lately.
But heck, if I can boost my blood iron, maybe I can be a little more conscious about steering my life too. I don't feel like I'm off track, particularly; I just don't know what my track is at the moment, and if I saw a clock turning 11:11, I'd waste a good part of that minute trying to figure out what to wish for. Time to get back in the habit.
What would you wish for?
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Monday, July 07, 2008
* Uno de enero, dos de febrero... happy San Fermines! I've been out of the US on July 4 for several years, so I hardly even remember it anymore. But San Fermines are a blast. (this is what most of you are more likely to know as "the running of the bulls.") It, like pretty much everything else in Spain, has its own little catchy song, which will be stuck in my head for weeks.
* Spaniards are just beside themselves these days: the national team won the EuroCup, Pau Gasol made it to the NBA finals with the Lakers, Contador won the Giro de Italia and Valverde's leading in the Tour de France, and now Nadal at Wimbledon. Score!
* My sister-in-law is unfailingly awesome. My two brothers-in-law are both kind of jerks. We've just gotten back from a weekend trip together, and the LWI keeps saying "The one thing I know is that I am never, ever going to travel anywhere with my brothers again."
* As part of the weekend trip, we went to the city where my father-in-law went on his honeymoon 53 years ago. He remembered the neighborhood where they stayed, and we went past the hotel... which was still there, completely unchanged. We were afraid this would be a little too much for him (since my MIL died last summer) but he was really sweetly happy.
* I have a million photos to post, if I ever get around to it. They include pictures of my growing collection of T-Shirts That Say Completely Absurd Things in Mangled English.
* I'm ready to go home. I love being here, and there are a million things I know I'll miss as soon as we're back. But I've decided that I have a certain capacity for living with my in-laws, a reserve of flexibility and patience and the ability to be constantly around lots of people and to sleep about an hour a night less than I'm used to and to speak in another language, and that reserve lasts about seven weeks. It's not Spain itself that drains me; if the LWI and I take a few days off on our own, the reserve fills back up a bit. But by the eighth week I'm pretty frazzled, and I start acting like a four-year-old.
* Fortunately we're heading home on Thursday. I plan to sleep for about three days straight, and then you can expect to see me start whining about how I wish we were still here.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Bougainvillea in somebody's driveway:
Charming Town has a little fruit and flower market in the main plaza on Thursday mornings. (Is that cheating, to take pictures of captive flowers rather than wild ones? Anyway, I love seeing so many colors piled together.)
And, nothing is more symbolic of springtime in Spain than the poppies in bloom; they're everywhere, along roadsides, in people's back yards, all the fields are full of them.
Sunday, June 01, 2008
In honor of our ninth anniversary, the LWI and I took a few days to head out of the city and visit a lovely town a few hours from here, full of medieval churches and amazing landscapes. It was one of the best trips we've ever taken together, and I'll write about it soon (with pictures for Dale and Phantom and Songbird!) but at the moment all the good stuff has been rudely shoved out of my brain by the events of the last day.
The morning we left Charming Town, we'd arrived rather early at the train station, and were sitting on the deserted platform waiting for the next train to arrive. Finally we noticed that it was approaching, but it seemed to have stopped about 200 feet away from the station, and we could sort of see something on the tracks. We saw the conductor step down; he looked at the tracks, went back into the train, and then behind us we heard the station manager's phone ring. Definitely something odd going on. We thought, surely it's not a person who's fallen on the tracks or something? or an animal? Not an animal; the bit I could see looked like fabric or plastic. And certainly not a person; no one was screaming or running around as they would have done if a person had been hit by a train. Besides, since the train was just coming into the station, it wasn't going more than a few miles an hour, and there was no reason for anyone to try to cross the tracks at that particular point, only a wall on the other side.
We waited for a bit and then I decided to wander down the platform for a better look; more than anything it looked as though there was some construction material from the nearby highway, or a chunk of old tire, or something of that sort that maybe some prankster had thrown on the tracks.
And really, I wish I hadn't done that, because as I got closer the vague sort of lump came into clearer view, and then it waved its arm, and goddamnit it was a person halfway under the train. He was... well, you really don't want to know how he was, but suffice it to say that it took the emergency crews an hour to separate him from the train. (There never was any screaming or running around; the station authorities and emergency guys were brisk but silent, except for the wail of the ambulance when it pulled up to the station. I guess that's logical, and my own reaction was to be quiet and stunned, but the whole scene was very eerie and surreal.)
Astonishingly, they got him out alive, though I saw on the news later that he died shortly after arriving at the hospital. And now there are images in my head that I really really really wish were not there. Questions, too... he turned out to be an ordinary middle-aged bookstore owner, and no one has any idea why he stepped directly in front of a slow-moving train at 10 am on a sunny Saturday morning. For his sake, and mine, and everyone else's in Charming Town, I really wish that he hadn't.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Here's what we had for dinner last night, and in fact what we have for dinner most nights: a loaf of crusty French bread, fresh from the bakery around the corner, accompanied by various things "para picar." In the back, a rosca, or toasty bread with serrano ham and cheese melted inside. Then we have bowls of olives, mussels, good old potato chips, and prawns. In front, a plate of lomo (cured pork loin) and spicy chorizo sausage (my favorite), and a bowl of berberechos (cockles - didn't know you could eat those, did you?). There's plenty for everyone - dig in!
Sunday, May 18, 2008
So I'll take blogging requests. What would you like to see, in pictures or in words, about where I'm at now?
Friday, May 09, 2008
For my part, I offer this: "The Scientific Revolution brought about a major change. Researchers were beginning to notice the fact that the sun and all the planets did not revolve around the moon as previously thought."
The LWI, after a moment of stunned silence: "You win."
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Bonus points for anyone who knows #21! (And extra bongo bonus points for anyone who knows the bonus lyric at the end.) The hardest ones will be #10 and #15, though, because they're from CDs put out by local bands, one from the cool town where I lived way back before the days of Google, and the other from the cool town where my Studly Brother lives. (So he'll probably know that one, come to think of it.) And a fifty-point deduction for anyone who CANNOT guess #17 or #19. Ready, set, play!
Step 1: Put your MP3 player or whatever on random.
Step 2: Post the first line from the first 25 songs that play, no matter how embarrassing the song.
Step 3: Post and let everyone you know guess what song and artist the lines come from.
Step 4: Bold when someone gets them right
Step 5: Looking them up on Google or any other search engine is CHEATING.
1. Qué horas son, mi corazón
2. Thanks for the boogie ride, I'm more than gratified
3. En cambio constante, todo se mueve y deja de ser lo que era antes
4. And the hail falls hard and the wind whips in my face
5. Help me breathe, help me believe
6. There were people living in a green valley, found a way to make a lot of money
7. Pa' el cementerio se va, la vaca de mala leche
8. Poor old Johnny Ray sounded sad upon the radio
9. I do believe in you and I know you believe in me, oh yeah
10. Woke up this morning and what did I see, all of the bigots had gone to sleep
11. Lone Star, where are you out tonight
12. We can't play this game anymore, but can't we still be friends?
13. Here we go again, another round of blues
14. Don't bother me, I ain't got time for your misery
15. Wake up y'all 'cause I'm a crazy fool
16. Late nights in rustic motel rooms, stale lives left by someone else
17. Here she comes now sayin' Mony Mony
18. Tok tok, quién es?
19. Istanbul was Constantinople, now it's Istanbul not Constantinople
20. Tengo que confesar que a veces, no me gusta tu forma de ser
21. He held a job at the Buckeye Creamery
22. And when I see the sign that points one way, the light we used to pass by every day
23. Hazme un lugar en tu almohada, junto a tu pecho me calmaré
24. The song came and went, like the times that we spent
25. Full, full moon and that same sad nature
Bonus (I cut this one from the list because it's from a recording of a live performance that varies quite a bit from the original, but it's fun anyway): Bring on the bongo, bring on the bongo bong!
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Some of these have a bright side. The maple only lost one substantial branch, and it fell in the only part of the yard where it could possibly have fallen without doing any damage to anything. The microwave is still dead, but we actually still had our old microwave in a box in the garage from the last time we moved (the house came with a built-in one), so that at least has a temporary solution. It took AT&T a full four days to fix the damn phone, and the "fix" involves a large black cable strung over our neighbor's fence and through the yard, so I'm hoping that story's not quite over yet, but at least the phone works, which is good because we need it to call all the other repair people.
The fridge is being more obstreperous, and more puzzling. The motor works, and it blows air, but the air is not particularly cold. Naturally, we discovered this on a Friday evening, so we spent the evening buying ice, rounding up the coolers, and trying to decide whether the previously frozen stuff was at all salvageable. Then I discovered that the manufacturer had a website where you could make a service request, and, wonder of wonders! one local service place had an appointment available on Saturday. We jumped on it.
Except that Saturday morning, we get up to find... a perfectly working fridge. The freezer is frozen again, and the fridge is warmish but clearly on its way to cooling. WTF? We debate about whether to keep the service appointment, because something clearly *had* gone wrong even if it fixed itself. But then we decided that a) a Saturday service call was going to cost us an arm and a leg, and b) if the thing was running perfectly, the service guy probably wouldn't be able to tell what was wrong with it.
So I cancelled, and we loaded all the stuff from the cooler back to the freezer, and went about our business.
Until, later this afternoon, I went to put some leftover lunch things away, and... again the damned thing is blowing lukewarm. I try kicking it a few times, which doesn't seem to have much effect besides scaring the cats. I call the service guys back, and they say sorry, not only did you lose your place today, but we don't have any openings again till Wednesday.
This week of course is the last week of class, which means there are countless meetings piled on top of the usual schedule, so I have no idea when we're going to find a way to be home during the precious rare minutes that the service people are willing to come out. I think we're pretty much doomed. Anyone wanna come over for a big meat/cheese/egg/yogurt feast before it all goes bad? Come quick, before the stove breaks down.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Favorite laundry detergent:
I am committed to a variety of particular household and personal products, but I must confess I have no real emotional investment in my laundry detergent. I like the whole line of Mrs. Meyers Clean Day products (especially the dishwasher detergent), but our grocery store quit carrying those, so I need to figure out some other way to get them.
Favorite item used for an unintended purpose:
The Oracle Sock. The LWI used to own a pair of ratty funny-looking argyle socks that we tied together to make into a cat toy, many years ago when OneCat was tiny and wildly hyperactive. Since then, we have never seen either cat actually touch the sock or even acknowledge its existence. Nevertheless, it travels around the house on a regular basis, usually seeming to comment on the general situation of cats - lurking outside the bedroom door on mornings when we sleep too late, or perching on Places Cats Are Not Allowed (such as the dining room table) when we're too many long days out of the house.
Favorite way to buy music:
Um, people still buy music? I've never actually purchased music online, but for the last couple of years I've subscribed to an internet radio (formerly MusicMatch, now Rhapsody) that lets me play or download as much music as my little heart desires. So I buy access to music, but not music itself. Ironically, I still possess the first CD player I ever bought, long enough ago (1987?) that I wasn't entirely convinced that CDs were really going to be the Next Big Thing.
How clean is your car?
Spotlessly clean, because it's only two weeks old! I meant to blog about this at some point, but we have ourselves a brand new car, and every day we are absolutely delighted with it. One of the things I appreciate the most about the LWI is that we work in remarkable harmony in coming to such decisions; we started out liking the same make/model, both spent a few weeks carefully researching (and briefly favoring) other options, both came back to the same original choice, and ended up agreeing on it down to the color and accessories. (I am a little baffled as to why he thought a roof rack was essential, but hey, you never know, I might get a kayak someday.) And all of this gets away from the question of how clean it is, but we both drive around every day chortling with glee about how lovely our car is.
How clean is your apartment/house/room?
Okay, that's another story, because we haven't bought a new house lately, and there's an awful lot of accumulated grunge in the old one. Today it's reasonably clean, because I tackled it yesterday after a few weeks of neglect. I fear that's the last good cleaning anything is going to get before the end of the semester.
How clean is your office?
Oh, yeah, like you don't know the answer to THAT question. In April? Are you kidding me? I'm lucky I can find my desk.
Favorite weekly free time:
Probably Friday night, to the extent that I have any free time at all. Fridays we teach in the morning, go to the gym, do the weekly shopping, and grab a late lunch on the way home, and by that time I'm usually pretty well wiped out, in a happy Friday sort of way. So Friday evenings are spent flopped out on the couch with a book or the previous weekend's New York Times.
Is there a word, phrase, or gesture that is identifiably yours?
Oh, that's greatness.
Most effective medicine for one (or more) of your ailments:
Red wine; one glass every evening cures the woes of the day. I hardly ever take standard medications of any kind; I fortunately don't suffer from any substantial ailments, and I tend to think of occasional aches and pains and sneezes as my body's way of warning me or correcting itself, meant to be responded to, not silenced.
A favorite thing you try to sell/push/encourage your friends to try:
Mmm, I'm not a big fan of pushing things on other people, even if I really love them (the things or the people). If I were to recommend anything, it would probably be yoga, which is a wonderful remedy for most of the things my friends and colleagues complain about. Stress, stiffness, low energy, back pain? Get a little down-dog in your life!
Favorite new (or new-to-you) thing:
Besides the above-mentioned lovely new car? Boy, I haven't done much new lately. One new-to-me thing (in a slightly more abstract sense) was the conference experience I described earlier; I've finally gotten to the point where I know probably more than half of the people in this organization, and it was new and pleasant to feel that greater sense of connection. I tend to be a loner in terms of my research and academic identity, and I'm not all that great at networking, so this was a positive new experience.
Tag! You're it.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Here, then, for your enlightenment and instruction, is my Participant's Guide to the Academic Conference, from the (somewhat jaded) point of view of the organizer.
1. It will be much appreciated if you register by the registration deadline, rather than waiting to register on-site. Organizers need to have a reasonable idea of how many people to expect. Presumably you know fairly well in advance that you're going, especially if you've needed to purchase plane tickets, so why not share that information with the organizers?
2. If you have received a request (or, indeed, several) to confirm whether or not you will be attending the conference dinner, please respond to this request; it is very simple to email a Yes or a No. This is far preferable to casually mentioning to the organizer on the day of the banquet that you don't plan to attend, or that you've suddenly decided to attend and bring three guests.
3. It is not recommended for you to call the organizer at her home on Friday night to ask for a digital projector to be provided for your panel on Saturday morning. The organizer has many talents, but she is not able to make equipment materialize out of thin air; that is why she asked you to indicate any audio-visual needs with your proposal three months ago.
4. It is not appropriate to refuse to pay the registration fee for a conference on the grounds that you will only be attending for one day.
5. It is equally frowned upon to ignore several suggestions to update your long-unpaid membership in the organization hosting the conference, especially when you are participating on two different panels in that conference. If you are benefiting from your connection to the organization, the least you can do is pay the (quite paltry) membership dues.
6. It moves into the realm of the genuinely heinous for a single person to commit every one of the above-listed sins.*
7. Most of you, of course, are not guilty of these acts. If you register on time, show up for your panel, take part in discussion, head out for some social outings with your fellow conference-goers, and generally enjoy the collegial interaction that is the main point of all these things, then you are entirely responsible for the conference's success, and the organizer loves you. Thanks!
*Yes, that really happened, and of course this person is a well-respected, well-paid full professor at a large R1 university. Nevertheless, he is now blacklisted from all future meetings of this organization, and God knows I'll never do him any favors.
i will be done yet
eight things i can't use those
connections as much
wanted to change times
or something god knows what but
it matters a lot
perhaps that is all
the titians and grecos and
van goghs and hoppers
again did the third
and the fourth and all manner
of things shall be well
Friday, March 21, 2008
Anyway, here's how it goes:
1. Write your own six-word memoir
2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like
3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere (I've lost track of the original post!)
4. Tag five more blogs with links.
Observing in amused silence since 1968.
Many of the folks I'd tag have already been tagged, and I'm not even sure who's reading around here anymore. But I'd love to see jo(e), timna, Songbird, Lisa V, and Zhoen give this one a try.
Friday, March 07, 2008
I sent out a batch of form emails a couple of months ago, informing the participants that their papers had been accepted and letting them know their place in the program. The next morning, I opened my inbox, and there were probably twenty emails in response. I felt my heart seize up, assuming I'd made some mistake in the program, or everybody had complaints and wanted to change times, or something, God knows what, but it looked like a mess.
Trembling, I opened the first email, and instead of blistering criticism, it turned out to be a bright and cheery "Thanks! This looks great!" The second one said the same thing, with an added "Looking forward to meeting you." So did the third, and the fourth, and all twenty of the damn things were just perfectly nice messages of thanks. It made my week.
Now the registration forms are coming in, and it's the same thing. Probably half of the forms have nice little notes added to them, and I can't tell you how gratifying this is to see. (I often add little notes like this myself, assuming they never really got noticed, but now I know that they do.)
It's hard to shake the worries, though. One of the registration forms came from my adviser, who is a singularly intimidating person, even though we get along very well. The first part of the form lists the registration fee and the events it includes, and in the margin she'd penciled in a little "Wow!" Of course I had to panic over that for a few minutes - what did she mean, wow? One would like to think it meant wow, this is great. But what if it meant wow, that's really pricey? Or wow, I can't believe you think you're going to put together that many events on this skimpy registration fee. Did I miscalculate the budget? Is this whole thing doomed?
Okay, then I got hold of myself. Once I calmed down, I saw the bottom half of the form, where she'd written an additional note - "You do us proud." Well, damn, that about made me cry. It really is dangerous to get too much of myself wrapped up in this conference, because it's not any kind of Supreme Judgment of Me, but I have to confess that the little bits of encouragement are deeply, deeply appreciated.
(Until I realized, of course, that her phrase could be read as an imperative - "Do us proud, girl, if you embarrass us we'll disown you altogether!") Sigh...
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Enjoy a warm fire, a good book and a pleasing beverage tonight."
I am nothing if not an obedient employee, so here I am with a glass of wine, some nice cheese, a fire crackling in the fireplace and a fun novel. Boss's orders!
Saturday, March 01, 2008
Spending your whole Saturday planning to do a big task, and budgeting about three hours for that task, and having to kind of work yourself up to it because it will need a lot of concentration and you're not all that excited about it...
and then opening the file and realizing that you did it a week ago.
(Should I be worried that I didn't remember this? I don't think so... it's one in a line of several tasks of its kind; I just forgot how far along I'd gotten.)
And now the LWI's playing Duran Duran for our work music. It's going to be a good day.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Saturday, February 09, 2008
At the pre-shindig reception, the LWI noticed an unusually distinguished-looking gentleman strolling through the group, and pointed him out to me. "Look at that guy; have you ever seen anything more aristocratic? He has to be Spanish nobility." And it was true - if it's possible for aristocracy to be etched in a face, this guy had it. In fact, he looked just like a twenty-first century version of this guy.
I went off for a moment to talk to an Important Person who's working with me on the conference I'm organizing later this spring, and when I came back, I was astonished to find the LWI engaged in a delightful conversation with the Spanish Nobleman. He introduced me to His Excellency, who greeted me warmly, gave a gracious little bow, and kissed my hand. I about peed my pants.
Generally I'm a fan of the proletariat; I identify with the common people. But being kissed on the hand by an old-fashioned gentleman? Priceless.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
What evidence did he use to support this? That the mother at one point in the letter expressed disappointment to her son for “having caused her grief” in the past.
Boy, I think there may be a lot more going on there than I know what to do with.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
The LWI and I are in the study, each plodding away on our own projects, the radio playing in the background. Suddenly the LWI speaks up with the news that Obama has won decisively in Georgia. In the pause that follows this statement, as we are savoring the news, we hear Kenny Loggins sing out: "This is it, for once in your life, here's your miracle, stand up and fight!"
As a fan of portents and omens, I find that profoundly heartening.
Friday, February 01, 2008
Eight passions in my life
I had to think about this one a little, simply because I wouldn't describe myself as being passionate. Thoughtful, yes; appreciative, definitely; grateful, enthusiastic, occasionally obsessive, sure. But I'm a little too quiet and introspective and distant to think of my interests as passions. But that's taking the wording a little too seriously.
1. Walking. See? That's not something you'd ordinarily describe as the object of passion. But I love to walk, both as exercise and as a way of maintaining contact with the world - when you move yourself through a space, you're much more in tune with that space and yourself than if you are moved by car or bus or even bicycle. I like to look at the sky, and at my surroundings, and to feel the rhythm of the movement of my body and the contact of my feet on the ground. I did a 300-mile pilgrimage walk a few years ago, and the physical act of walking across fields and up hills and along ancient paths pleased me as much as the cultural experience of the trip.
2. Ideas. Yeah, that's vague. But there's nothing more fun than coming up with a new question or new perspective on something, talking it over with a friend, seeing new angles, and feeling my brain muscles stretch to try to handle it. That hasn't happened nearly enough lately; I'm enough in a comfortable rut with most of my friends that I already know what they think about most topics, and we exchange anecdotes more than we wrestle with entirely new ideas. I need someone to shake my brain up a little.
3. Things I can see. Maybe this works more in reverse; I can't really be passionate about things I can't visualize. My brain works in a very visual way, so I tend to think of concepts and words and people in terms of color and shape. That's not exactly a passion in itself, but anything I'm passionate about takes on some sort of visual presence in my head.
4. Learning. My god, I get bored if I'm not on some sort of learning curve. Unfortunately that means I like beginning projects more than following through on them.
5. The BBC. Really, I didn't realize how hooked I was on BBC news until our local public radio station moved it an hour later at night, and that's the hour I usually listen. For most of the past fifteen years I've listened to the BBC while I'm getting ready to go to bed, and besides the basic quality of the news, it gives me that sensation that no matter how crazy the world gets, there will be sensible calm people to help figure it out.
6. Environmental responsibility. I certainly don't do everything I could to conserve resources, but it matters a lot to me to understand my impact on the world and moderate it as much as possible. All I have to do is imagine any individual action - throwing away a battery, letting the sink drip, not recycling plastic bags - and multiply it in my head by the three million people in the metropolitan area where I live, and that's horrifying enough.
7. Getting into other people's heads. The main reasons I study history and literature are because they give me a way of understanding other people's culture and beliefs and behavior, and I find that endlessly fascinating.
8. Sleep! I am so not one of those people who can party or study or play all night; never have been. I'll sacrifice fun time or shopping or housecleaning or eating time if I really fall behind on something, but never sleep time. I need seven hours a night to be a human being, and since I used to suffer regularly from insomnia, sleep is a precious treasure. The last few years, I've slept better than I ever have in my life, and oh what a difference it makes.
Eight things to do before I die:
I vividly remember one point in graduate school when I realized that I was at the age when most people had a job, a car, a spouse, maybe even a kid, decent furniture, a retirement plan, leisure time... and I wasn't even close to getting any of those things. Being the incurable optimist that I am (I can hear New Kid laughing at me now) I decided that the best part was that I still had all of those things to look forward to. The truth is that I enjoy looking forward to things almost more than I enjoy doing or having them, so I'm almost hesitant to make a list like this; ironically the only way I would die happy is to still have things to look forward to. I guess the solution is to make sure that as I do these things, I add new things to the list. No final bucket list for me!
1. Live within walking distance of campus. I've been associated with university campuses of one sort or another since I was a kid, and until my current job, I've always lived within walking distance. It feels very odd to me now not to, and I'm always torn between wanting to go to evening events and activities and really really not wanting to drive back in to campus. There's a good chance this move will happen in the next three or four years, fortunately.
2. Decorate and furnish our house (the one closer to campus) in a way that reflects a reasonably consistent and attractive style. We still have the sort of odds-and-ends collection that we cobbled together when we got married, and the pieces we like best don't really fit with the house, so our style is sort of Lower-Income Hodgepodge. We've been keeping a savings account dedicated to buying stuff that will coordinate with itself and the new house, whenever that comes about. That is going to be the world's most satisfying shopping spree.
3. Learn to play the piano, again. (Did the usual lessons as a kid; hated them; have finally recovered enough to actually want to play.)
4. Walk somewhere. (see "passions," above.) I don't have any concrete goals for this, but another pilgrimage, or walking across a country, or the Appalachian Trail, or something.
5. Discover some new talent I didn't know I had. Wouldn't that be fun? I'm always taken by these stories of people who started playing the guitar, or writing, or woodworking, in their thirties (or older) and discovering a real ability when they never had any idea that was something they'd be good at.
6. Find some sort of community service project I can really get into. I've done odd bits of volunteer work here and there, but as I get more comfortable in my career, I'd like to spend more time finding ways to contribute to the world outside of it.
7. Travel more. This one's pretty much a given, and we've gotten good at taking little adventure trips to new places every summer. But I want to plan that in to the rest of my life, too.
8. Figure out a way to get through the next 30 years of my career without feeling stagnant or burned out. I'm almost ten years in, and there have been enough challenges and enough of a learning curve to keep it exciting. But that's not likely to last, and I want to make sure I find ways to keep it satisfying and rewarding. Not sure how that will be done, yet.
Eight things I often say
1. "Awesome!" (I am so trapped in the eighties.)
2. "Run-run-run to the kitchen!" (high-pitched and with great excitement.) This is part of our nighttime ritual of feeding the cats. We're on a regular enough schedule that the cats start pacing around about ten minutes before their dinnertime, watching to see if we shut down the computers. But they wait for that final cue to bolt downstairs.
3. "You're such a cat." Another feline ritual. OneCat curls up in my lap every evening while I work, and looks up at me with that contented sleepy face of his, and I always feel irrationally compelled to inform him fondly that he is a cat.
4. "Husband!" For some reason the LWI and I almost never call each other by our real names, but simply refer to each other as Husband and Wife.
5. "Thank you." A habit we got into when we first moved in together, that I think has had a healthier impact than almost anything else we've done - whenever either of us cleans the cat box, empties the dishwasher, gets the mail, clears the table, all those things that happen every single day, the other says Thank you. It really helps to acknowledge what each person does every day to keep the household running, and to have those things be appreciated.
6. "Don't eat that." A frequent admonition to TwoCat, who has an unhealthy interest in chewing on envelopes, photographs, and plastic bags.
7. "It's in the syllabus."
8. "Really. The answers to all those questions? They're in the syllabus."
Eight books I've read recently
I'm listing only fiction, since I don't "read" history books in the traditional sense; I dip into them and grab a few pages at a time.
1. Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes. About the relationships and events leading up to a school shooting. What I liked best was that you know at the outset what happens, but not who did it, and the story engages several high school students in such a way that they're all perfectly normal kids, but there are moments when you can imagine any of them getting to that point. It's remarkably sympathetic without downplaying for a moment the hideousness of the crime.
2. Richard Russo, Bridge of Sighs. By the guy who wrote Empire Falls, which I haven't read yet but loooved the movie. He does a beautifully convincing job of telling a story from the perspective of a single narrator, but at different moments in his life. Plus it's a fascinating comparison of the advantages and downfalls of naive optimism vs. calculated skepticism.
3. José Luis Sampedro, Real Sitio. A historical novel about Spain (and about the writing of history itself) that hops back and forth between the Napoleonic era and the years just before the Civil War, set in the palace of Aranjuez.
4. Garrison Keillor, Pontoon. My favorite kind of weekend reading, just charming and sweet.
5. Fannie Flagg, Can't Wait to Get to Heaven. Same as the above (in fact they're remarkably similar plots.)
Okay, this is embarrassing, but I probably read eight books over Christmas break alone, and I couldn't for the life of you tell me what they are. I get completely caught up in the world of a book when I'm reading it, but then when I move on, I don't remember that much. I can remember individual scenes from several of them, but not authors or titles. So I'll have to abandon this at five.
Eight songs that mean something to me
My commentary is getting absurdly long, so I'll just list these, and leave the stories for another post. :) Most of these are pretty recent; I'm sure I could come up with an entirely different list if I thought back to high school/college.
1. Lyle Lovett, "South Texas Girl"
2. Manu Chao, "Merry Blues"
3. Jorge Drexler, "Milonga del Moro Judío"
4. Everly Brothers, "Dream"
5. Paul Simon, "African Skies"
6. Julieta Venegas, "Me Voy"
7. The 9s, "Can't Stop the Groove"
8. Bela Fleck, "Sinister Minister"
Eight qualities I look for in a friend
Kindness; responsibility; willingness to see humor in things; tolerance; talent; independence; ideally they'll have the same general values I do but a perspective different enough that we can learn things from each other.
Apologies to Wayfarer for taking so long with this; I tag everybody who'd like to play!
Thursday, January 10, 2008
The academic side worked out to my overall satisfaction. The panel I organized went exceptionally well: the room was packed, all the presenters and the commentator performed beautifully, there were interesting questions, and several folks stayed around afterwards to chat. This bodes very well for the edited volume to which all the panelists will be contributing (of which I am one of the editors, thus my reason for organizing the panel). The panel I was on was a little half-assed to start with, and got sort of half-assed attendance, but I ended up feeling more confident about my presentation than I'd expected, and got a nice response.
The social side worked out to my immense satisfaction. Friday night we met up with ADM and had the greatest evening - easy warm conversation, excellent food, perfect atmosphere. Couldn't have asked for a better evening; ADM's somebody I really wish I got to see more often. Saturday the LWI and I headed to the Library of Congress in the morning, did conference-y stuff all the rest of the day, and gave up on being social in the evening - just got takeout and sacked out in the hotel room for some much-needed rest. Sunday morning we hit the Smithsonian (Air & Space), one of my favorite collections ever, which always makes me wish I'd gone into aeronautical engineering. Bit too late to switch, I guess. After that, one of the highlights of the weekend: I got to meet the fabulous Rana for the first time! She and D. joined us for lunch with an old grad school friend of mine and his wife... a good time was had by all, but it was far too short. I had a million things I wanted to talk about with all of them, but didn't have a chance to do more than scratch the surface. Given the alternative, though, that's the kind of get-together I like best, one that leaves you looking forward to the next. That evening we got to see another old grad school friend who lives in the vicinity, and had an excellent Indian dinner with her, enjoying a few hours of catching up. I hadn't been in touch with her for years, and it was wonderfully easy to be with her again.
Monday (we stayed a couple of extra days for fun) we hit the National Gallery and soaked up all the Titians and Grecos and Van Goghs and Hoppers our little brains could stand. That evening we rejoined the first old grad school friend (who hereafter I believe I shall call the Gentleman; the LWI refers to his wife as the Viper, which if you know him is particularly funny, because he's only the teensiest bit mean to people about once every two years. I think I'm just going to dub her Control Freak, because she's really not all that bad, just Very Decisive about Everything.) The Gentleman and Control Freak joined us for dinner at a wonderfully charming Spanish place that made the LWI the happiest I've seen him in weeks... he delights in food, and this place had all his favorites, well prepared and beautifully presented. It's a shame about the CF, because we both love the Gentleman to pieces and would have been delighted to have more time in his company, but she wears us out a little.
So that all felt like a whirlwind of culture and social events, especially for us slow-paced folks who usually delight in evenings at home. I loved it all, and it was a great way to kick off the new year, with my resolution to be a little more gregarious. I've recovered from feeling totally overwhelmed by last semester, and am feeling fairly positive about tackling the new one starting Monday. Here goes.