Wednesday, May 25, 2011

If you want something done . . . Part 2

For our front living room window and window seat (as well as some throw pillows, I hope), I months ago chose this Ralph Lauren fabric that I mentioned here. This week, decorator's fabrics are on sale 40% off at JoAnn's, and even though starting Friday they will be 50%, Brad and I scoffed up the 1.2 yards that were left at our JoAnn's (he would probably prefer I call it my JoAnn's . . . ) just in case it was gone by then. 

Oh, and b/c I accidentially took down the old blind and caulked the holes when we began working on the bookcase/window seat redo three weeks ago (oops). So, we've had a bare window by day, and by night, Brad's been taping up a white sheet with duct tape (who doesn't love silver and white?!) so that all those neighbors who are (un-)interested in our lives can't see in. 

Anyway, we decided on a valance and a wooden mini-blind for the window b/c: full drapes will crowd the space too much since there's a window seat and will be pillows there as well; and a custom-made blind (the pull down kind) which is what we both prefer is simply too darn expensive. 

I decided to make the valance myself. How hard could this be? I ask. Brad grimmaces. I'll look for directions online, I say. 

(5 min. passes) 

(Did I mention I don't own a sewing machine?) 

I can't find any no-sew valances that are the kind of thing I want, so I'm just gonna do what I think makes sense, I say. Brad grimmaces (again). I can do this! I say. Just you wait and see! 

(2-2.5 hrs. pass) 

Valance looks lovely; appears to be the correct length; appears to be the correct width. Brad is over-joyed (he has been watching zombies in French, ocassionally glancing my way with some skepticism). We agree to hang the rod and put it up tomorrow (which is today), since it's 10 p.m. 

(19 hrs. pass) 

I hang the rod. We put up the valance. He cheers. I grimmace. Step back. Grimmace again. 

I don't like it laying flat like that. I changed my mind. I want it ruffly, I say. 

He looks at me, then at the valance. Steps closer. Are you supposed to be able to see the seams? he asks. Yes, I say, when fabric is not super heavy you can see the hems through it. Then I look closer. Sunlight streams in through the valance. 

It seems that the brilliant seamstress - failing to realize that you would, in fact, be able to see the fabric folded under for the hems when the sun shines through - did not think to cut the jagged line out of the edge of the fabric or even up the length of said fabric across the width of the valance. 

And, now it's not wide enough, b/c I like it ruffled. So it needs to be twice as long, which of course can't happen unless you would buy twice the length of fabric (which would be ridiculously expensive to do). 

And so: the stitch witchery needs to be ripped out, the fabric edges need to be trimmed, and I need to figure out how you make two valances for one window without it looking idiotic. And then I need to remake it (I'd say sew, but that's not true) and make a sister/brother for it, too. But I face this task with no fear . . . just a little bit of trembling. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

From the couch to 5K . . . this summer

So, I'm tagging along with Brad on his quest to get in running shape. It's been years since either of us rocked the run, so this should be nothing if not interesting. We're following the Couch-to-5K plan, which, if all goes well, will take 9 weeks to complete. They've got plans for running a 10K, half marathon, and marathon, but, as Chris Rock would say, sloooow down. 

We started this afternoon - you know, once it got nice and ripe outside (brilliant idea) - and it went pretty well. Brad and I had come to a compromise beforehand, since I'm a notoriously fast walker and also have a long history of running. It's too detailed to explain here, but suffice it to say that I get to go faster and he gets to go slower while we still manage to feel like we're working out "together." 

And we managed to avoid the bickering that almost always accompanied our walking last summer. (Him: Slow down. Me: Come on, go faster. Him: I'm going as fast as I can already! Me: If I slow down anymore I won't even be getting a work out! Etc. etc.

The plan starts you out slow - 5 min. warm-up walk, then alternating 90 seconds of walking with 60 seconds of jogging for 20 minutes - and the first three weeks seem pretty simple. But things start to heat up in week 4, at which point you're running a total of (though not non-stop) a mile and a half . . . eeks! 

If this works, I'll be more than halfway to my 5-mile goal. And who knows - exercise is supposed to be good if you're trying to get pregnant . . . . 

Wish us luck! 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Poison Control Center (a.k.a. If you want something done right, don't ask me)

Don't be alarmed: no one was harmed in the making of this post - or in the ruining of the lamp that inspired it. My hands did look like this, though: 

And then - after Brad called Poison Control to make sure that I was not going to be poisoned by the black paint that would not come off my hands despite 7 minutes of washing and scrubbing with a rough sponge - they looked like this: 

Like that shine? It's Crisco vegetable oil. 
Yes, they are glistening with vegetable oil. Which actually worked pretty well. After the second try. 

Anyway, age-old wisdom tells us that anything worth doing is worth doing right. My house/craft/cleaning motto, by contrast, is more like, "Anything worth doing is worth doing now." Herein we find numerous problems, not the least of which is my undertaking projects without sufficient preparation, know-how, time, and/or interest. 

See, for example, Thursday evening, which can be summed up by the following equation: 

   1 cheap spray paint primer 
+ 1 dirty lamp 
+ 10 minutes before dinner 
+ 1 over-eager spray painter (me) 
+ 1 impatient spray painter (me)     

After spraying the crap primer on probably too thick (it costs $1 for a reason), I sprayed the dries-in-10-minutes black Krylon on too thick, and it started dripping. I then had the bright idea to wipe it off. In the stationary tub with my hands. You've already seen how I faired in that deal; well, the other guy got it worse: 

I like to think this lamp isn't ruined. But I also like to think that I've never massaged vegetable oil into my hands (and the base of a lamp) at the suggestion of Poison Control. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Friday 4: Books I'm Embarrassed to Have Not Read

You might think that I like to read given that I have a master of fine arts degree in creative writing; am a PhD student studying contemporary American literature; have three large bookshelves full of books and many other stacks of books that won't fit; and teach courses focused on writing and reading. You would, however, be wrong. 

Graduate school officially killed my love of reading. I can't say when this happened - year 2? 4? - and I hope in my heart of hearts that the damage is not irreparable, but I wouldn't place any bets at this point. These days, the most I like to read is Martha Stewart's amazing website (crafts, decor, and wonderful things galore!) and Shape magazine. Anything more involved than that, well, thanks but no thanks. 

Even so, I fake a love for reading when necessary (like, at school), playing the role of the avid, interested reader at least semi-convincingly when it counts. There are, though, more than a few gaping holes in my reading that I just don't know if you can fake your way around. These books are so frequently referenced and so commonly known by others - whether students of literature or not - that I really should just break down and, well, read them. But I don't wanna . . . . 

4.  Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961) 

I love using the phrase that originates with this novel's name, but I couldn't tell you a darn thing about the contents of this book. I feel like everyone I know who read this read it in high school - along with #2 below - and it seems that we're about a decade or so past that point. Brad loves this book and highly recommends it, though. (He's read all the books on this list except #1 - what a show off.) 

3.  1984 by George Orwell (1948) 

Doesn't he look like
Sean Penn?!
Let me tell you, it's harder than you may think to pretend you've read a book (a classic, no less) when not one, but two of your students are writing a paper on it. I recommend Wikipedia, backed up by reputable websites. Maybe go to the third or fourth page of Google results so that when you talk about the book you're not using the same exact language your students are likely to see when they, invariably, search for their so-called "favorite" book online so they can figure out something to say as well. 

I do give a thumbs-up to Orwell's essay "Shooting an Elephant," which is a thought-provoking read. I taught it in two creative writing classes a few years ago, though, and it definitely wasn't a class favorite. 

2.  The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951) 

I know a few things about this topic. I know, for example, that Salinger was a recluse. I know, also, that my mother used to teach this book to high schoolers (along with To Kill a Mockingbird, another one that I, unsurprisingly, haven't read) - at least I'm pretty sure she did. 

That about covers what I've got to offer. I don't know if I heard one word about this novel in high school, which is apparently when you've got to read this thing for it to be the most unbelievable book blah blah etc. etc. But I can't tell you the number of times people have mentioned this book in my presence since then. 

1. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1902) 

Last fall, we studied Heart of Darkness in my modernism class. Did you not read said novella then, dear student? you ask. No: I listened to it on cd. Two months in advance. And I didn't remember a damn bit more than the plot when the time came for class discussion. You can imagine how actively I participated that night. 

Thematically and structurally, it's a cool book. But otherwise, let's just say it's not my cup o' joe. I mean tea. No, I actually mean joe. Unfortunately, I feel like this book more than all others that I've read and haven't read is on the tongues of professors and other students, no matter their interests. I mean, at least I know the basics, right? Doesn't that count for something? 

A young Robert Duvall! He rocks!   

(Note: I have seen Apocalypse Now - Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film based on Heart of Darkness - and I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it. Then again, I almost categorically dislike any movie made before 1985, so not hating it is kind of a compliment. Plus, Robert Duvall as Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore could not be any awesomer.)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Another one bites the dust . . .

That is, another perfect hardwood floor gets messed up. 

It should be noted that "another" suggests there was, in fact, a previous one that had been perfect - well, that's not entirely accurate (can you hear Independence Day in there?!). It was never perfect, although it had the opportunity to be. 

That story: last summer, Brad, my mom, my dad, and I refinished two of the hardwood floors in our house - my office and Brad's office. We did his first and did a less fabulous job b/c, well, we didn't know what we were doing, but even still, it's amazing-looking, especially when compared to the crap show it previously was. 

In my office, we had a bit of a clue, and our sanding was much more even (if no less tedious and torturous in 86-degree weather when we couldn't turn the air on b/c sawdust would get into the HVAC system and we couldn't turn any fans on b/c sawdust would get in our eyes). The oak thus took the stain more evenly, and, on the whole, the floor looks wunderbar

Except for the footprint. And its cousin the toeprint. 

It's not pee. I swear. 

Yep, Brad stepped in the wet stain. And we didn't see it until it had dried the next morning. Why didn't we see it? Well, b/c LIKE IDIOTS we did the staining at night so we had only lamps to show us what we were doing and only lamps to illuminate what we'd done. There's not even an overhead in that room. (Instead, there's one of the house's 1800 ceiling fans - I hate ceiling fans everywhere except for porches.) 

I'd detail the efforts to repair this disaster, but, obviously, they didn't work. I spent two weeks in distress over the fact that my beautiful floor was, essentially, jacked up from the get-go. And over the fact that either 1.  it needs to be fixed next time we tackle floor business (which will NOT be this summer) or 2.  when we sell the house, we'll be selling it with a messed up floor despite having spent tons of money and tons of effort to make it look nice. 

So that's that. 

Now, onto this story: I got SUPER GLUE and BLACK FELT stuck to the floor this evening. How is this possible? I shudder to think of explaining. It's too soon, far too soon. But I am agrieved. 

The shiny stuff is just the camera flash. But
even so, this looks ridiculous. 

And now I'm in the Stupid People Who Mess Up Their Beautiful Floors Club with my dear Bradley. Someday I hope to be able to to share this tale of woe, but right now I need to nurse my wounds. And eat some hot dogs.

The Friday 4: Minor Goals

I'm going with minor here instead of major b/c I'd like, at the moment, to avoid all the soul-searching and philosophizing that attends making a list of major life goals - such an effort requires so much energy . . . and it's summer! So let's call this little list Life Goals in C Minor in honor of my #4 goal. 

4. Learn how to play the piano. 

Turns out my mother was right. "When you're older, you'll wish you could play the piano. I would've loved to have the opportunity to take piano lessons!" she'd say as she nagged me to sign up for lessons that I would have, invariably, loathed at the age of 9, 10, 11, 12, etc. 

A pretty old Steinway 

But now, I do so wish I could play, and I've felt this way for some years. Perhaps it's b/c Brad turned me onto classical and jazz years ago, and now I appreciate instrumental music in a way I never before had (with the exception of "Orinoco Flow," haha). Whatever the case, I hope some day we can get a piano (it need not be anything fancy), and I can get schooled in the ABCs of piano playing. 

3. Be able to run 5 miles (again). 

I used to be quite the runner - if not fast, at least dedicated. From about 7th grade through my junior year of college, I'd take to the streets and hoof it on a fairly regular basis. During the summer after my senior year of high school, I was running 40 miles a week (10 miles at a clip). 

These days, I can run approximately .27 miles. (Okay, I made that up. But you get the point.) In fact, I don't run at all. Just over eight years ago I fell (while running) on a sidewalk in Oakland, tore my labrum, and did some other unidentified damage to my hip/lower back. Despite seeing four orthopedics surgeons, enduring PT and an unncessary cortizone shot, and even going to a chiropractor and a rheumatologist, much of the problem remains a mystery, and I'm still in pain. And, as one might suspect, running is basically out. 

Well, it's my hope - however dreamy, lofty, and unrealistic this may be - to work my way, slowly, back into running and then, slowly, work my way up to 5 miles. Is it gonna happen? I guess time will tell. 

2. Learn woodworking. 

Brad and I have a friend who made us new cabinet doors for the windowseat/bookcase in our living room. He came to visit last spring, I randomly complained about the cabinet doors, he said he'd make news one, and three or four weeks later he showed up with the new ones and put them on and viola! our crappy so-called built-in was a lot less crappy. This same friend has also made himself and his children headboards, end tables, etc. etc. 

I want to be able to do that. I love refinishing and painting furniture - being able to make it seems like the next logical step! 

1. Live in a big old house with lots of character - and bring it back to its full charm. 

I've got a thing for Victorians (this one's in Georgia) 

There are very few things I find more beautiful than an old house. Arched doorways, etched glass, enormous front porches, hardwood floors, high ceilings, built-ins, huge windows, dormer windows, fish-scale siding - I could go on and on and on. To have a wrap-around porch would, for me, be the equivalent of a sports car or yearly trip to Jamaica for someone else. Sigh . . . gush . . . swoon . . . . 

And whereas Brad would enjoy snapping his fingers and having all of our house projects magically completed, I like the actual doing of these project (see #2 above). 

A fabulous federal style house in CT 

Okay, wait - I can't stand hand-stripping wallpaper and I loathe refinishing floors. But otherwise, I'm pretty much down with it. There's a sense of accomplishment that comes with looking at your home and thinking, "I did that." Even pulling weeds makes me feel like I'm gettin' things done. (Okay, truth be told, I really like pulling weeds. Sometimes when I'm at my parents' house, I get my mom to come outside and pull weeds with me. Brad thinks this is weird; I do, too. Oh well.) 

A sweet little Kansas City Tudor 

Gimme me an old house in decent but far-from-perfect shape (I don't want to be dealing with ductwork, roof problems, etc.), some tools, and, of course, enough money to shape things up - and I'll be in my glory.

Public Service Announcement: Protect your hearing

I pretty much can't hear anything the first time it's said. "Wait - what?" is perhaps the statement that most frequently comes out of my mouth. And yes, I clean my ears out on a regular basis (I love Q-tips). 

None of this is surprising considering the fact that I come from a long line of people who also cannot hear and, therefore, shout as they talk to compensate for it. (Interesting side note: I am extremely sensitive to noise. I hate hate hate loud stuff, screeching stuff, and bass makes me beyond miserable.) 

Despite my genetic disposition to crappy hearing, yesterday's chiropractic experience will demonstrate how important good aural . In fact, protecting your hearing could be a means of protecting your health in general. 

At the point at which our PSA commences, I was laying on my back while Dr. L., who was behind me, stretched the mucles in my neck and rubbed out knots there. We were discussing his eldest son's college plans, which will probably involve Pitt-Johnstown for the first two years. Here's how I thought the conversation went: 

Me: Why won't he just go to Pitt main the whole time [in Oakland]? 
Dr. L: Oh, he'd hate it down there. 
Me: Why?! It's awesome. I bet he'd like it. 
Dr. L: No, he would hate it. His favorite thing to do is go fly fishing. 
Me: What?! Where am I?! 
Dr. L: You're in moral America. 
Me: Don't give me that Republican crap! 

Here's how the conversation actually continued: 

Dr. L: I said rural America! 
Me: Oh! I thought you said moral America! . . . This isn't rural America! We're 45 minutes outside of the city. This is super gun land, but it's not rural! 
Dr. L: I live on a farm! 
Me: Oh, whatever. 

I sit here writing a blog post, unscathed by this event - which continued to get even more political on my end, although dear Dr. L., like a good business owner, abstained from political discussion on the job - but aware that things could have gone differently. Off the top of my head, I can think of two unfortunate fates that could have easily befallen me: 

1. Incensed, Dr. L. could have snapped my neck in .2 seconds. All this would have required is twisting my head a little harder and a little farther to the right or left. 

2. A swarm of gun-bearing locals could have converged on the chiropractic office, busted down the door (or simply pulled it open), and captured me for the purposes of torture. 

Neither of these sounds very pleasant. Perhaps this is why Brad - whose hearing is minorly better than mine and who could hear the conversation from the other room where he was on the Spinalator - when he saw me, said quietly and quickly in shock/dismay, "You can't say 'Republican crap' in public!" 

Oh, but I did. 

Besides, if anyone had openly minded (well, actually, if there'd been anyone there to openly mind - the place was empty), I could have just put my hand to my hear, scrunched up my face, leaned forward, and said, "Huh? I can't hear you."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Der Bericht an Deutsch

That means - I think - The report on German. And if it doesn't, that's what it's supposed to mean, and you should cut me a break b/c today was only my first day (!). 

Now onto der Bericht (note: in German, you capitalize all nouns, so that's not just me being fancy-shmancy with my non-existent new language skills. Except you see that I obviously learned something . . . ): 

I loved it. 

The teacher's hilarious, wonderfully random, and really really good at conveying the material. Plus he moves at a reasonable pace - which is super impt. for someone who hasn't formally studied a language in, gulp, over a decade. 

This morning, as we walked from Starbucks to class, I said to Butcher, "This is my life," with a sigh. Getting up at 6:20 a.m., driving an hour + in rush hour traffic, starting class at 9 a.m., sitting there for three hours . . . I was not looking forward to this ordeal. 

But I enjoyed myself. A lot. I learned things. I felt smart. And it was like a throw-back to my beloved days of Latin where I thrilled at both my increasing knowledge of another language and my growing facility with English. This is all incredibly starry-eyed, I realize, but hey - I'm going with it if it's here to go with. 

Don't get me wrong - I'd rather not have 5 hours a day consumed by driving and class time when I could be whiling the day away at mi casa. (Throwing some Spanish in there - how do you like that one?) BUT since that's not an option, the current situation seems to be just about the best one a girl could find herself in. 

Some rockin' German castle 

Correction: it could be better - I could be learning German in that awesome castle above, although I guaran-darn-tee you I wouldn't eat their food.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

I've become an expert - overnight

Sometimes, a totally unexpected/weird/cool e-mail from a random journal editor asking you to review an article being considered for publication shows up in your inbox. Okay, sometimes is an exaggeration; once is more accurate, but you gotta start somewhere, right? 

The scoop: yesterday I get an e-mail from the editor of a journal that I've never heard of, asking if I'll be an outside reviewer (!) for an essay that focuses on the book on which I published my first article. If not, the editor asks, could I recommend 1 or 2 people who I think would be qualified to do so? Oh, and he called me "Prof."! Haha! 

So, my eyes pop out of my head, etc. etc., and then I look up this journal online, thinking it's some silly thing that's existed for about 3.2 weeks, but siked nonetheless. Not so. It's been in existence for more than 30 years and some major theoretical bigwigs published articles there about a decade ago. Like, Jonathan Culler? Um, major bad*ss. 

Of course I said "yes" in about no time flat. (Well, 55 minutes or so.) And like that - 10 min. tops - he writes me back with the article attached. Now I've got 6-8 weeks to review this thing and make my recommendation on publication.

Just so you can understand the magnitude of my shock and how much this has tickled me: outside reviewers are supposed to be "experts in the field." (That's the exact phrase Brad and I use when teaching our students about peer review.) It's a little laughable that anyone could think of me as an expert in anything outside of, say, sitting on the couch, drinking Mt. Dew, or arguing. 

Brad's immediate response was, "They must have liked your article!" My response was, "They probably haven't read it. But there are like no articles published on that book." I'm willing to settle somewhere in the middle. They probably haven't read it, maybe glanced at it, and chances are the author (who cites me!) recommended me as a reviewer b/c lots of journals (and it seems, from the website, that this is one of them) ask the author to do so. 

Anyway, this is one more step in the direction of me feeling like a real true adult with an actual possible career. Instead of a flunky who's 29, still in school and stinks at it, and who's never going to get a teaching job. 

A seasoned professor who's been asked to review an article 100 times would probably groan and find it to be more of a pain in the butt than anything else. But when I think about it, I'm like, Wait a minute - I think someone might be taking me seriously . . . !

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Friday 4: Best-ever Craigslist Finds

When you're livin' on a budget, chances are you're shoppin' on a budget. Even for the big stuff. 

That's where my good buddy Craigslist comes in. Brad and I have scored a lot of awesome deals through the site; in fact, probably half of the furniture in my house has come from there (I'm being serious). 

I can say from personal experience that Craigslist-ing can become quite addictive. And I've been known to go great lengths (see #2 below) to secure the perfect find. In addition to the amazing deals below, we've also snagged a 1-year old, perfect condition Broyhill micro-suede chair ($115); a matching Pottery Barn coffee table and two end tables ($125; they're in the pictures for #1 below); and a custom-made wooden console table (free!) that's an awesome addition to my office. But these next four are the truest beauties . . . 

(Disclaimer: all of these rooms need work and, in time, will get their share of TLC. Don't judge me!) 

4.  Ethan Allen leather couch 
     We paid: $300; seller paid: $3000 (it would've been more, but it was discontinued!) 

Focus on the luscious leather (ignore surrounding mess) 

This couch - if I do say so myself - is simply gorgeous. An uncommon color, sturdy, possibly the most comfortable couch I've ever sat on. I wish it had mates in the form of a loveseat and chair - not that we could have afforded the set if it did and not that we have any place to put them - but it's an ideal fit for our wee little family room. Oh wait, I think you're supposed to use the word "cozy" for things like that. 

3.  Broyhill Attic Heirlooms Windsor side chairs 
     We paid: $160 for five chairs; MSRP: $159 per chair (ahhh!) 

Look at those four happy chairs snuggled 
around an ugly table! 

I love high back chairs. We get compliments on these babies left and right. (I seriously think Amanda has said something about them every time she's seen them.) We only need 4 for the table, so the other's in the bedroom (where it matches pretty darn nicely) as a decorative accent. You really can't beat what we paid, and while they've got some dings and scratches, said flaws are barely noticeable and don't bother me one bit. 

The cheese chair stands alone 
(just for this picture) 

2.  Broyhill Attic Heirlooms hutch 
     We paid: $225 + the cost of gas (approx. $100); seller paid: $2000+ 

Our living room is giant (11' x 22') and any old media piece just wouldn't do: we needed something equally giant. Enter Broyhill's lovely Attic Heirlooms hutch, which is really a bedroom/dining room piece. (I have a thing for the Attic Heirlooms collection, if you hadn't noticed). 

Originally a black finish;
seller painted a creamy white 
Before Brad put the kibosh on this activity, I used to look at the Craigslist websites for the, um, surrounding areas. That is, if you consider 5 hours away, just across the New Jersey border to be a "surrounding" area of Pittsburgh. (Hey! I love a good deal! Cut me a break!) 

And what a deal this baby was. To transport it, we borrowed Brad's dad's super new Chevy Silverado (less than a year old - boy, was that nerve-wracking), drove all morning through the pouring rain, got lost about half a mile from the seller's house, then drove back through the rain with a giant 400 lb. piece of furniture not adequately covered in the truck bed. On top of all this, I was sick as a dog with a stomach bug, so I really shouldn't have been spending 10 hours in the car. 

Oh, but it was soooo worth it! Isn't it just gorgeous?! 

1.  Ethan Allen matching couch, loveseat, chair, and ottoman 
     We paid: $800 + U-Haul and gas (approx. $110); seller paid: probably b/t $3500 and $4200   

Doesn't the paint make the double windows just pop?!
For the first 5 years of marriage, Brad and I sat on a futon to watch tv. Yes, a futon. And for about 4.5 years, that's all the living room furniture we had besides a coffee table. We were living in an apartment then and had no money to waste, so it seemed silly to buy furniture that would eventually be too small for the living room of a house yet still be too pricey for our wallets. So we suffered with the futon (and I did a lot of complaining). 

Under Construction: everything to the right of the bookcase 
Just before moving out of our apartment - literally, days - we bought the leather couch (#1 above), but that thing weighs about as much as a small elephant, so we couldn't get it upstairs and never sat on it until we moved into our lovely house. But, as you can imagine, a couch is not quite enough furniture for a room with 222 sq. feet - even a giant couch like that one. 

So I looked at Levin's, dreamed about Pottery Barn, etc. etc. Eveything in our price range was too ugly. Everything lovely was out of our price range. Then, in October, about 2 months after we moved in, I found a whopper of a deal on Craigslist: enough upholstery to fill the room at a price lower than the cost of even a crappy couch. They're super high quality, and they were in unbelievable condition. These pieces suffered more wear and tear from me and Brad in 2 months than they did from their previous owners in the course of years.

This Old House + Zombies = Love

Just when I thought This Old House couldn't get any better (unless it stopped having so much crap about shrubs, plants, etc.), it got immensely better

I go to the website - unsurprisingly, - and what pops up before me? "How to Protect Your Home in a Zombie Invasion." That. Is. So. Awesome. 

As you may have realized by now, I am not a little bit obssessed with our dear flesh-and/or-brain-eating friends. For them to be featured on the website of my favorite over-priced magazine, well, that's like a "Happy Summer" present to me. 

But there's more. As I'm feverishly clicking from "tip" to "tip," I stumble upon nothing less than a reference to the 'Burgh. Just. Got. So. Much. Freaking. Better. 

For those of you who foolishly will not click the link and see for yourself and then also see the other wisdom TOH has to offer, I will copy and paste below. But, be forewarned: if you don't look at their suggestions and the zombie apocalyse does happen, you've no one to blame but yourself. And, if I make it out of the attic alive, I will say, I told you so. Now go, and fight the good fight.


#4 Remember: Good Fences = Good Zombie Neighbors

Along with Pittsburgh's three rivers, the only thing that protected the living from the undead in George Romero's 2005 film Land of the Dead was a giant electric fence. Well, if it's good enough for the Iron City, it's good enough for your house, too. If you can't afford an electric fence, consider building a tough, tall chain-link, wrought-iron, or cinderblock version (at least eight to twelve feet high) around your property. The local zoning board might take offence, but, seriously, man; this is a zombie invasion. Who cares about zoning? 

A Girl's Gotta Know Her Limits

A long long time ago, in a land far far away (read: a little over a decade back, in the 'burb where I gew up), there was an over-achiever who spread herself so thin she got sick all the darn time from stress and lack of sleep. 

This girl tried to do everything. She was high school valedictorian (despite a serious hating of AP calculus). She worked out 3 or 4 days a week - when she wasn't playing volleyball 5 days a week. She wrote for the newspaper and was in the Latin and Italian clubs, as well as a host of others. She had a part-time job. She hung out with her buddies and did a lot of talking on the telly. Plus, she was Queen of First Dates (she wasn't really into second, third, etc. dates). 

Then our fairy princess went to college, got a boyfriend (guess what his name is . . . ), and learned about a certain thing called limits . . . . 

I can't say exactly when or how it happened, but somewhere along the way I stopped trying to be superwoman. I slowed down a little bit - not enough to smell the roses, but enough to see the roses in passing. It was a good choice. A crucial choice, actually. 

This comes to mind today b/c my plans for the next eight weeks just changed drastically - and, I believe, for the better - in the time it took to read 2 pages of a course syllabus. My German class starts on Monday and, since the creative writing class I agreed to teach got cancelled last week due to insufficient enrollment (major bummer), I signed up for a lit. class that would get my last area requirement out of the way. 

And while I wasn't looking forward to having a 3.5-hour class twice a week at the same time I'd be spending 3 hours M-F in my language class, I could NOT have predicted how awful the requirements for this literature class would be. The amount of stuff this teacher wants students to do is ridiculous for a 16-week course. But for a 6-week course? It's scandalous. 

Taking this course would, in theory, make my life easier eventually (maybe next spring - ? It's hard to predict these things). But it would make my summer hell. Which would trickle (or gush) into the fall and on and on. I know myself well enough to know that I don't need to "suck it up" when it comes to something this big and stressful; I need to make the smart choice for my peace of mind. 

In addition to this German thing hanging over my head, (do you see it dangling there, just out of reach?), Brad and I have a lot of relaxing and work on the house to get in over the next 3.5 months, and I plan on chilling out with my mom and my friends a lot. Basically, I want to have a summer. Not a condensed semester of torture. It's time to decompress and focus on other things. It's a well-earned break. 

Besides, I've already got plenty of "work" to do during these warmer months - writing my novel-in-progress and hopefully some short fiction, revising a paper from last fall, reading for classes this coming fall. That's enough, I'd say. 

Oh, and there's the fact that any prof who suggests a final essay for a course - 6 weeks or 16 weeks, I don't care - might be 9000 words is not a prof I plan on taking any time soon.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Humble Pie

Looks like that frightening, horrible thing Maryann made
Tara and Eggs eat in True Blood season 2 . . . yikes! 

I'm eating a big ol' bite right about now. 

So, I've been grading student papers for a few days now (very very slowly) and, for the most part, they're pretty impressive. Their ideas are sophisticated and well-organized; their introductions make an attempt to be engaging; the papers use good sources in a smart way and even seem to be getting somewhere with the dreaded Topic Sentence. And the students seemed to have grasped the need for evidence to support their claims and the difference b/t analysis and summary

Of course, this doesn't apply to all of the papers, but, on the whole, I'm pretty happy with what we accomplished this semester, and I feel like they've really learned something (hopefully multiple somethings). 

There are, however, writing habits you can't train out of people in 16 short weeks - for example, their beloved "From the beginning of time . . . " or "In all of human history . . . " statements in the introductory paragraphs. (Hate those.) Another bad habit? Relentless use of "is" and other bland helping verbs instead of interesting active verbs. 

But this post concerns not about a bruise to my ego for failing to be Super Teacher (I would hate that whole leotard thing anyway [though a cape would be awesome]). Instead it's about an ego bruise resulting from my own writing. 

While I should be grading, I've spent the last half hour looking over the article that I'm revising before returning it to the journal that has accepted it for publication. And what I've seen in this half hour of looking at my written-in-about-three-days-under-the-great-duress-of-a-looming-class-deadline essay is that the writing, well, kinda stinks. 

No, I'm not fishing for compliments (none of you have seen the paper anyway!) - I'm being serious. I pride myself, if anything, on my good writing, so I wouldn't say it wasn't so great unless it really wasn't. For instance, if the word "is" shows up one more time in that paper, I'm pretty sure the authorities are going to restrict my use. 

But that's not the worst thing I've found so far. The worst thing comes in the form of grammatical incorrectness and general non-sense-making-ness. The following isn't an actual line from the paper, but it conveys an appalling sentence structure that I can not believe I wrote and did not revise out immediately, let alone sent out for the world to see

The neighbor's attitude regarding Sally's new minimum-wage job suggests that having even low-paying employment can be viewed as being a hard worker, much the way Tony's willingness to accept a pay cut suggests blah blah blah. 

There are so many things wrong with that sentence - most notably the glaringly hideous mess pairing of "having" and "can be viewed as being" - that I shudder to think three people read (my real version of) it and had only to assume I thought it was a reasonable expression of my ideas. (Well, three people - at least three - other than me and Brad. Those were my professor, the journal's managing editor, and the outside reviewer). And the idea that this sentence could appear in a journal several pages below my name . . . 

The horror! The horror! (For all you Conrad fans out there.) 
It's okay if you're embarrassed for me; I'm embarrassed for myself. But I guess a kick in the butt is good every now and again, just so you don't get complacent (right?). 

Anyway, I'm gonna go work on that sentence, cut my students some slack, and try to get away from that awful offal pie . . . .

Monday, May 2, 2011

All Growed Up?

If being a grown-up looks something like this 

and my life looks something like this 

Don't let your mom see a kitchen sink crowded with dishes
when there's a perfectly good bathtub available! 

does that mean my 29th year isn't the year of my True Adulthood? 

It would seem so. 

In the 20 minutes preceding my mother's arrival at our house for my birthday last week, Brad and I scrambled around like maniacs to make the place look like somewhere reasonable, respectable people live. The results were a success, as my mother announced, "Your living room is so clean!" and "Oh, the kitchen looks so nice!" 

This is so not me. 
But, of course, I could not keep up the charade for .2 seconds: I said, immediately, "Yeah, we just did all this before you got here so it wouldn't look terrible." But she was unfazed - my mother possesses the handy-dandy (typically male) ability to not-hear when she deems it necessary. 

She also has the ability, and had even before retiring, to keep her house spic-and-span, in order, and generally pleasant. This ability was not passed down to me in the gene sweepstakes, and it's a darn shame. 

Every now and again, I get the cleaning bug, and when I do, Watch out. (Brad can attest to the ferocity with which that bug bites me 4 or 5 times annually.) But for the most part, I'm just like my husband: I live around the clutter and add to the mess. I'm just too busy to spend the time dealing with it or keeping the things looking nice in the first place . . . but then again, I manage to find the time for blogging . . . . 

So when does the adult attitude toward house cleaning commence? Are we talking 30? 35? 50? 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Serious Conversation I Just Had:

Brad (walks into living room): Like, if zombies ever do come, our only real chance is the attic. 

Me: Really? (Tries to register precisely where this line of thinking came from. Eventually gives up.) Like b/c the door's in the closet and they wouldn't be smart enough to look there? 

Brad: B/c they're not nimble enough to get up there. Like, the basement's not like a real basement* - b/c it's the bottom floor for the back of the house - and they could get in. (He mutters other things.) 

Me: I see. 

Brad: Like, if we could get up there and then kick the ladder away, they wouldn't be able to get up there. 

Me: They couldn't set it up? 

Brad: No, they're not nimble enough.** Unless they were - well, if they were that - that kind of - if they were . . . no, they couldn't. Hopefully we could grab the kitties and some foodstuffs beforehand. 

Me: Forget that. If zombies come, it's every kitty for herself . . . Could we sleep up there? Or would we fall through? 

Brad: It would be uncomfortable, but we could do it. (Explains the logistics: 2x4s turned on their sides, space b/t them, would need boards, there's a few up there, etc.) 

Me: Hmmmm, okay. Any other thoughts? 

Brad: No, that's it; I'm just thinking about it. I think about it more than you might think . . . (sees tub of gourmet popcorn Shannon ordered for my birthday sitting on bookshelf; opens it; peers inside) . . . You better eat this before it goes stale. 

Me: It's just a little. You can finish it. 

(Long silence; Brad eats popcorn.) 

Brad (finishes popcorn): And we might have a chance of getting on the roof - of the house - people could find us, rescue us. 

*The basement is a very real basement. 

**Obviously I didn't catch on to this the first time he said it.

Free Time? Eeks!

A big part of being a grad student is saying things like, "I wish I had time for fun things like that," or, "Must be nice to have time to sleep," or, "If I only had time to do something I actually enjoy, I would . . . . " It follows that when said grad student (for example, yours truly) gets that coveted free time, she will have no problem enjoying it and using it to do all those fabulous things she's been dreaming and dreaming of. 

True. Yes. Definitely. Except not always

As Brad pointed out many years ago, I am notoriously bad with free time b/c, well, I am notoriously bad at relaxing. I'm all, "Isn't there something I should be doing? I feel like there is" and "Don't I have some responsibility that I'm currently shirking by having fun?" Or, I feel like I'm not using my free time as wisely as I could be. (Yeah, Type A all the way!) And b/c it's in such short supply, I'm determined to make the most of it. 

Which then, of course, backfires, and half the time I end up frustrated and not having a good time at all. 

Surely a big part of the problem is that my brain never slows down. Never. Ever. It's part of the reason I am, like, the world's worst sleeper. If only I could do everything else at the speed at which I think (and the speed at which I jump to the worst conclusion possible) - I'd be unbelievably productive and accomplished. Alas, that speed doesn't translate at all. 

Don't get me wrong - I'm not completely up-tight and un-fun (although my friends and family might say differently . . . ). I definitely enjoy myself and chill out on a regular basis (see picture below for evidence of the success of Funday), but it takes me a good long while (hours, days, weeks - depending on the situation) to get out of overdrive and overthink mode. And right now, even as I blog, I'm thinking about all the other stuff I want to do/could be doing: 

looking at Craigslist 
playing Words Bubbles Rising 
playing Clue with Brad 
fiddling with our new Target purchases for the house 
hanging up the cool new lights we got 

and on and on and on. Maybe one of my summer's resolutions (?) can be learning how to relax like a normal human being . . . . 

See? I can have a good time