Tuesday, October 27, 2009

El Bandido

This week has been a roller coaster of emotions. Cliché phrase, I know, but that is what it has been.
There have been a lot of nerves. I had to make a quick overnight roadtrip to a conference over the weekend so my faculty advisor could introduce me to some of the people I'll be working with in London next month. I dislike meeting strangers in the professional setting and despite my best intentions I still feel like I'm terrible at the mixing and mingling required at conferences. So although it went well in the end, I was anxious, most of the time. I was also gearing up to defend my comprehensive exams, which wasn't helping with the nerves.
That leads to the next emotion. Elation. I passed my exams! My defense went remarkably well. My committee members all thought my essays were good and just asked me to expand on a few points. Although I felt about ten degrees too hot the whole time, I kept my compsure and we had a discussion about my essays and for the most part I felt competent, if not quite eloquent. The hour and fifteen minutes flew by, and the next thing I knew my advisor was saying "Well, I think we can wrap this up. Congratulations, you've officially advanced to candidacy!" So this is what it feels like to be ABD. The only thing left to do is write and defend the dissertation. No more arbitrary hurdles. For me, these exams were always the scariest part of the whole PHD process. I rarely doubt my ability to eventually write my dissertation, but I often doubted my ability to prove that I have the deep range of knowledge to be a professor in my field. But now I've proven I do have that knowledge. It's a great feeling. Plus I get a raise now that I'm a "candidate" and not a "student". It's not a huge raise, but it's still a nice perk of moving on to the next level.
I wish I could feel more excited than I do about all of this, but my excitement has been tempered by the horrible news I received a week ago today. My college roommate called me last week. We'd been playing phone tag for a month, so I assumed she was just calling to chat. When I picked up the phone, though, she said my name in a trembling voice and I knew something was wrong. I had an instant to think that maybe she'd had a fight with her husband or something had happened to one of her parents. Instead, she told me her son had died. Her two month old son. I have never literally been floored, but I was when she told me that. I had to sit down on the floor between my bed and the wall, and I think all I said for a long time was, "Oh my god. Oh my god." it has been a week since that phone call and I still haven't managed to come up with more adequate words. There's just no way for me to wrap my mind around something like this. Those of you who have known me for the almost decade I've known my former roommate know that I've helped her through some other serious life challenges. I thought with the birth of her son life was finally going her way. Instead, she experienced the death of her sweet baby boy. I keep trying to think of something that could be worse, and I can't. It was SIDS, so completely unexpected, which makes it even harder to fathom. I have to believe his death is part of a bigger picture, has a purpose none of us can see yet. Maybe we never will see it. But that's the only way to even remotely wrap your mind around a tragedy like this.
I haven't written about it yet because I didn't know how. Also, it feels wrong writing about it. It's not my story to tell.
And yet she's one of my closest friends, I love her, and I'm getting on a plane right now to spend the week with her providing what little comfort I can. So I have a role in this event, too, as much as I wish we all could wake up and find it never happened. I feel a tiny bit guilty. It's irrational, I know, but I can't help but wonder why some people are lightning rods to life's difficulties while others of us just get to roll blissfully along for years at a time. I'll have my own tragedies, we all do. But why do so many of hers have to happen so damn close together? And I'm angry. Not at God, exactly, just angry whenever I think about the fact that she won't get to watch her son grow up. And mostly I'm just sad. Terribly sad.
I hope I can help her as much as possible. Please say a prayer for her.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What I'm Eating

I mentioned in my last post that I've actually become something of a cook over the past year or so. I still don't cook dinner every single night, but I feel like cooking dinner every night would be overkill anyway. There are just two of us here, we don't need elaborate meals every night of the week. Still, we seem to be getting into a pretty good meal routine around here. I've been cooking from a recipe about twice a week, sometimes more. Usually the recipes make four portions, so I eat one portion for dinner and save the next one for lunch or dinner the next day. Penn, being the manly man he is, usually eats both of his servings the first night (P.S.-I occasionally try to imagine how we're going to afford to feed a family, particularly if we end up having boys with Penn's appetite...I think I'm literally going to be eaten out of house and home one of these days!).
We also usually go out for a restaurant meal one night a week, typically looking for specials online to offset some of the cost of eating out. I love trying different restaurants, but my restaurant habit is an easy way to blow through money really quickly, especially around here where there are so many appealing options. One of the things Penn has started doing is buying restaurant gift certificates online. A lot of websites let you pay $10 for a $25 gift certificate. Paying $10 for $25 worth of food isn't bad at all! And sometimes he gets even better deals than that. Recently he was able to buy several gift certificates for a dollar! Tonight, for example, we went out to a sushi restaurant using a $25 gift certificate that Penn got online for only a dollar. Awesome! The restaurants offering gift certificates aren't always the best, but they're always decent, and we've managed to find a gem or two that way. I'm also thrilled every time a local magazine or paper publishes a "Best Cheap Eats" guide. Whenever those come out I read them carefully and make a list of cheap and highly-rated restaurants in our neighborhood (yes, I make an actual list; it's a Word Document called "Restaurants to Try"). Also, I pay attention to local events like Restaurant Week, where restaurants that are normally way out of my budget offer inexpensive specials. Last week was a Restaurant Week, actually (there are 2-3 a year) and I got a $10 lunch at a normally much-more-expensive tapas restaurant. Over the summer our town would do "Cheap Date Night" on Mondays, with all the restaurants on the town square offering cheap meals. One night Penn and I went to an Italian restaurant and got two Caesar salads, two bowls of pasta, a shared dessert, and a bottle of wine for $25. Can't beat that!
So, yeah. About twice a week I cook, once a week we go on a restaurant date, and usually once a week we meet up with friends to do pub trivia and snack at the bar instead of having a real dinner. That leaves 2-3 nights a week where Penn and I fend for ourselves. But even on those nights I've become a bit more ambitious. I'll do quesadillas or pasta or simple soups or salads. Basically, I do things that are ready in 10 minutes or less that I know Penn wouldn't be particularly interested in. Like the other night I made a single serving Moroccan vegetable stew that I read about in my Fitness magazine. That's something that Penn just isn't going to eat (vegetarian AND from a "healthy" magazine? Heaven forbid!). I do feel like it's sort of my job to broaden his culinary horizons and I love nothing more than to make something, watch him scarf it down happily, and then say to him, "Surprise! That dish was from one of my healthy living magazines!" With that said, I'm not going to torture the poor guy. He's not picky at all (thank God!) and he'll eat anything I make with a smile on his face, but I know what he likes and there are certain things (things like whole wheat pasta, for instance) that I'm not going to subject him to because I know he wouldn't really enjoy it.
Anyway, because I'm thinking about meal planning tonight for some reason, and because I know that I'm not the only one looking for easy things to make for dinner, I'm going to share a couple of recipes that have worked well for me lately:

These feta and banana pepper turkey burgers from Allrecipes.com. First of all, allrecipes.com is a pretty awesome website. Penn's sister told me about it a few months back, and my favorite thing about it is that you can enter ingredients and the website gives you recipes with the ingredients you want (you can also get it to avoid ingredients you don't want). I'm sure there are other websites that have the same feature, but I just think it's amazing. If something in my fridge is about to spoil or, say, I bought a random product for a recipe and don't know what to do with the rest of it, I type that ingredient into the recipe generator and it gives me options. That's how I found this recipe, actually. There was a great sale on ground turkey and Penn bought several pounds of it and then I couldn't figure out what to do with it. Anyway, these burgers are a great option for ground turkey. I thought the flavor would be too bland because of the lack of spices and I thought the patties wouldn't stick together, but no. It worked perfectly and made for a really juicy, flavorful burger. Penn seems to like everything I cook (he at least pretends to!) but he has asked when I'm going to make these again a couple of times, something he doesn't always do with other recipes.

Also, this tomato soup was super easy and will be really good to make throughout the winter. I LOVE the combination of lemon juice and tomato juice, so I thought this was delicious.

Speaking of soup, I may have already mentioned this here before but I loved this one: Greek wedding soup. It turns out I'm the sort of cook who always likes experimenting with new things rather than trying to perfect any one specialty dish (surprising, huh?!). As a result, I rarely re-make a dish, even if it was really delicious. This is one I think I'll go back to this winter, though, just because it was so tasty and Penn and I both love Greek flavors.

Just today I made these turkey thyme patties (to get rid of the last of that ground turkey!) and they were yummy. My only complaint was that this recipe dirtied up a lot of dishes: two skillets, a saucepan, a cutting board, a potato peeler, potato masher, a spatula...Ideally, I'm more of a one pan or skillet sort of cook, but I think this recipe was worth the sink full of dirty dishes. Also, I still get quite proud of myself when I can handle 2-3 items working on the stove at one time. I once thought that would be beyond me but, as you can see, I've branched out quite a bit from my old pasta-and-appetizers only abilities.

I feel like I should inform you that not EVERY recipe I cook comes from Rachael Ray or Allrecipes, it's just that these are the recipes I can link to on the internet. It wouldn't be fair for me to tell you about delicious meals from cookbooks I can't link to, now would it?

Oh, and I also feel like it's only fair to inform you that sometimes Penn also cooks for me. He makes a very good steak, and the only cheesy scrambled eggs I've ever actually enjoyed. It's just that it turns out that now that I have a spacious kitchen and someone to cook for, I really like cooking, and Penn prefers to do the eating and do the dishes, so why mess with a nice, natural breakdown of tasks?

Friday, October 16, 2009

100 Things About Me, 2009 Version

I realized that there are once again a lot of things that needed to change on my 100 Things About Me list. I suppose I need to start updating this every year or so just because things change so often. One of these days I'll stop editing it and just write a new one entirely, but for now I think updates are enough. As with the last time I did this, I left the things that are still true and updated (or deleted entirely) where appropriate.

1. I still have a common first and last name and a more unusual middle name, but recently I had to make a real decision about how I want to use my name professionally. Prior to now it didn't really matter since I had no publications anyway, but as of this month I'm officially the assistant editor of a publication (which sounds a bit more fancy than it actually is) so I had to decide how I want my name to appear in print. I surprised myself by deciding to use just my first and last name, my thought process being that it's easier to tack a married name onto a simple first/last name as opposed to a first/middle/last name combination that could get really long and unwieldly. I doubted for a long time that I'd seriously have to consider things like that, but this appears to be where life is taking me.

2. I still worry a bit about seeming pretentious, but I've also realized that maybe sometimes I AM pretentious, and I'm reasonably okay with that.

3. I have a rule for myself that I need to workout twenty days a month.

4. I have accomplished this goal every month since January of 2004, except for February and March of 2005, when I had a sprained ankle from falling down stairs in a parking garage.

5. Making rules about working out is good for me because I love food and don't think I could diet if I tried.

6. Luckily, I would rather eat hummus than Cheetos anyway.

7. I have fully replaced my Food Network addiction with a TLC/Bravo/Netflix On-Demand addiction.

8. I still watch a lot of HGTV.

9. My college roommate is now an interior designer. She taught me the biggest decorating mistake people make is pushing all of their furniture up against the walls.

10. I am now quite used to sleeping all night in bed like a normal person. No more falling asleep on the couch and waking up in the middle of the night to move! It helps that I have someone to share the bed with.

11. I'm still in a relationship with a guy whose blog pseudonym is Penn. As you might have inferred from item #1, things are going well!

12. Penn and I have been together for a year and a half now. Since I last updated this 100 Things thing, we spent six months dating long distance and then he got a job in the city where I was living and now we've been happily living together for a year.

13. I used to be a big fan of open relationships. I still think there is a time and place for them and they're a smart option when you're young and not ready to be tied down and committed (in college, for example) but now I definitely feel like I've been there, done that.

14. I really hate the term "boyfriend." It makes me feel like I'm fifteen. But "significant other" sounds pretentious, "partner" is misleading (it generally seems to imply a homosexual relationship, no?) and "lover" just sounds ridiculous, plus it doesn't give any sense of commitment.

15. I really did stop dating a guy because a tobacco stain on his bottom tooth annoyed the hell out of me. I don't know what I thought I was doing dating a smoker in the first place. That's a definite long-term NO for me.

16. Tobacco Guy was the shortest relationship I've ever had. It lasted three weeks (and do you want to know something really terrible? Off the top of my head I can't even remember his name! I'd have to look it up in my journal).

17. I did have a quasi-one night stand once, but I don't count that as a relationship, more just a silly thing that seemed like a good idea in college (a lot of things seemed like a good idea in college...which is not to say that they necessarily seem like a bad idea now, they're just not a good idea for ME now since I'm currently in another phase).

18. The longest relationship I have ever had lasted three years...but obviously I'm hoping to beat that record with my current relationship.

19. I tried for a while to stay friends with Phil, my ex from that relationship. Turns out he was incapable of being friends with me once I had a new boyfriend. I'd like to think he was too jealous to handle it, but I think that's too flattering to me. So I don't know what his deal is, but I tried to stay friendly. Nowadays we don't have any contact, by his choice, which I thought would make me really sad but it turns out the longer I go without speaking to him the more I reflect back on that relationship and realize how wrong I was to try to make it work for so long in the first place. Being with Penn has made me realize what it's like to have a boyfriend who actually respects me, so I don't miss Phil at all these days. I do hope he's doing well, though, since I have no reason to wish him ill.

20. One of the main reasons things have worked with Penn in a way that they never could have worked in my last relationship is that we have similar life goals. We both see marriage and kids in the future, something I either couldn't envision with other guys I dated in the past or that they couldn't envision doing with me.

21. I still really, really want to be a mother. The biological clock is ticking even more loudly now that I'm dating a man who I think would make a great father. With that said, I still envision at least a couple more child-free years, hopefully.

22. I just realized my old list was missing #22! So, here's a completely random fact: I tried salt water taffy for the first time when I was 26 years old and it's now one of my favorite types of candy.

23. Yes, I still question the sanity of wanting to bring a child into this over-crowded, mixed up world, but I guess people just keep doing it because of the hope that everything will get better, or at least not slide downhill precipitously from the way things are now.

24. I am a feminist.

25. I firmly believe in God and the idea of an afterlife, but I have yet to find an overall belief system that works for me. In theory I'm a Christian, although in reality I have so many issues with the teachings of so many Christian groups that I can only pick and choose the elements I believe in, like some sort of Religion Buffet. That seems to sort of defeat the purpose of faith, which in my mind involves believing in something enough to follow all of its tenets. I'm still trying to reconcile all of this, and I imagine it will be a lifelong struggle for me. Fully believing in Christian teaching seems to require turning off large portions of your brain and common sense, something I refuse to do and can't imagine God would want me to do. For now I'm treating my faith as an ongoing research project, looking at as many different angles as possible.

26. My only real hobby is reading.

27. I am certified to teach high school, but I don't know that I ever will.

28. I never changed my major in college.

29. I decided I wanted to go on for my PhD in my sophomore year of college. I no longer remember how or why I made this decision, but now I'm on that road and not planning to exit any time soon.

30. Since I started college, I have never taken a break. I went straight from college into an MA program and then into a PhD program. Most people seem to think that's a crazy choice, but I don't understand why I should take time off if I already know what I want to do.

31. I think those must be my father's genes talking, since he got into the restaurant business when he was 20 (as a dishwasher), managed his own business by the time he was 22 or 23, and owned his own restaurant before he was 30.

32. I have my father's drive but my mother's tendency to worry a lot and stress out when things aren't going according to plan. It makes for an interesting combination of wanting to take the big risks but being terrified to take them.

33. Of my three siblings, I'm the most likely to burst into tears.

34. Oddly, most people outside of my family don't consider me to be a very emotional person. Friends typically describe me as even-keeled. I can't think of many people who have seen me cry. I had a friend tell me recently that he's never seen me really stressed, which isn't entirely true, but that's sort of the reputation I have. Maybe I feel like I need to keep it together most of the time and it's only with family that I can really let down my guard.

35. I had a friend ask me recently, "Is your dog more like your friend or like your baby?" I thought it was an interesting question. The answer: like my baby.

36. My cat, on the other hand, is more like my buddy than my baby. That's probably because my cat is extremely cool. Really, he is. I can't even tell you how many times people have said, "Wow, I've never met a cat like that before." He has a very sweet, chilled out, unique personality.

37. I spent a little over three years living completely alone, and I really did love it. I had absolutely no problem living by myself. Now I live with Penn, and I surprised myself by really loving living with him, too. I find that I have all the perks I had when living alone (we're so comfortable together I can literally do whatever I want/need to do in front of him), plus the added bonus of a warm body to cuddle up to at night.

38. When I'm living with other people it's very important that I have a space somewhere that is mine and mine alone. Even when I'm sharing hotel rooms for a short period of time it's important to me to have my own space where I can organize my things, even if my "space" is just the side of my bed.

39. I am a neat freak, definitely a "place for everything and everything in its place" kind of person. (I imagine this will drive Penn nuts eventually. So far it just means I spend five minutes every night putting away the paper/credit cards/keys/electronics he has scattered around the house and he spends a few minutes every day asking where I put things. This arrangement seems to be working.)

40. I take really good notes. Really. In my MA program, everyone would make copies of my notebooks before tests to make sure they had all the information that I did.

41. Nobody at my current university teases me for the words I use in conversations. They do, however, tease me for my propensity to wear heels in situations where everyone else is wearing sneakers. I'm the "fashion bug" of my department, which surprises me because I feel pretty low maintenance most of the time!

42. I overuse the words "ridiculous", "literally," and the phrase "in theory."

43. But at least I use the word "literally" correctly. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people say "literally" when they're not talking about something that LITERALLY happened, i.e. "I literally died laughing." Uh, no. You didn't.

44. My favorite city that I have ever visited so far is London. Paris, on the other hand, was a huge disappointment. I'm willing to give it a second chance one of these days, though.

45. I have been to England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Mexico, Canada, and Russia. I don't consider that to be nearly enough countries.

46. I love traveling. One of my goals in life is to visit every state in the U.S. and set foot on every continent, including Antarctica. And the more countries I can visit, the better.

47. I have now visited 33 states plus the District of Columbia. The problem now is that the states that are left are not places that I am particularly eager to visit (Iowa or Alabama, anyone?) But I'm determined to see them all, so I'll find a reason to get to all of them eventually. Even Nebraska.

48. I still have to force myself to take a shower because I still think it's really boring waste of fifteen minutes every day. Luckily, I'm a normal person who dislikes smelling bad, so I do shower I also still have a wide variety of shower gel (five, at the moment, which is actually low for me).

49. I now officially consider myself something of a cook. I managed to wean myself from frozen food and I now only have Lean Cuisines occasionally for lunch. I cook full meals (from recipes) 2-3 times a week now and cobble together soup/sandwich/wrap/crackers and dip meals the rest of the time. Penn and I are really good about not blowing our money on takeout (In the whole time we've been dating I think we've had fast food together less than a dozen times, and primarily just when we're traveling) and we limit restaurant meals to 1-2 a week. Turns out I'm much more enthusiastic about cooking when I'm cooking for someone other than just myself.

50. I am very good at making change, but most math beyond that is completely baffling to me.

51. My favorite parttime job was when I worked as a valet and bartender at a performance hall. I made very good money for doing an extremely easy job, and I got to drive some fun cars that I will never, ever be able to afford.

52. In general, though, I hate driving and like living in an area of the country that has generally reliable public transportation. Since the last time I updated this I sold my (broken) car and have now started taking the bus and subway or biking almost exclusively.

53. I love thunderstorms, provided I'm in the comfort of my own home and the power doesn't go out. (I should amend this to say I love desert thunderstorms. Thunderstorms here in the east are VERY unsatisfying. Nothing like the great thunder boomers out west. Here when it rains it's just drizzly and gray all day. Nothing exciting about that.

54. I have recurring nightmares about tornadoes, giving birth to a baby by myself, plane crashes, and driving my car off an unfinished highway overpass.

55. I still take off my shoes and jewelry first thing when I get home. I don't generally take my pants off anymore because a) I lost a few pounds and my jeans are comfortable enough to lounge around in now and b) it's generally much chillier here than it was where I was living before.

56. I sleep like a normal person now! Unless it's a Friday or Saturday and we're out with friends, Penn and I are usually in bed by 11 at the latest and I'm up between 8 and 9:30. Shockingly, I feel much better rested and more healthy than I used to when I was staying up until 3 AM on a regular basis.

57. I wouldn't say I seek out wild and adventurous experiences (in fact, my grandpa would probably tell you that I'm a "glass ass"), but when opportunities find me I don't often turn them down. I will try any food, I love going places I've never been before, etc.

58. The only thing I can't imagine myself ever doing is skydiving. With that said, I almost feel like I need to make myself do it at some point just because I'm so incredibly scared of it.

59. My favorite colors to wear are brown, green, and purple. I love most shades of yellow but I can't wear it at all because it washes me out.

60. My grandfather is a gynecologist and he gives me the free birth control samples he gets from drug reps at the hospital. I currently have enough pill to last until February of 2013. Seriously! I'll be 30 then, which seems like a good time to start a family if I haven't started trying already. So I think I'm set!

61. Speaking of my grandpa, my mom's parents are both still living, and I love them very much and am very close to them. They live in my hometown.

62. My dad's parents have both passed away. I was never as close to them. My grandfather had his moments when I could tell he really loved us, but he could be a very abrasive person. And my grandmother had Parkinson's disease, so by the time I was old enough to really want to have conversations with her, she wasn't able to really talk to me. That makes me sad.

63. I feel equally close to both of my parents but for different reasons. I feel very lucky to have such a great relationship with them.

64. My sister is two years younger than me, and my brother is two years younger than her. They have more in common with each other than I do with either of them, but I have a good relationship with both of them, too. We generally have a lot of fun together.

65. I used to be addicted to text messaging. I don't do it quite as much now, but it's still the primary way I communicate with my family and some of my long-distance friends (Yes, my parents text! Even my grandpa texts!)

66. I listen to NPR whenever I'm driving a car or cleaning the apartment. I find it soothing to listen to voices talking, even when they're talking about sad news stories.

67. I am addicted to the internet and reading blogs (which is why I keep my own). When you find a blog written by a good writer, it's like reading a novel that never ends. I don't even want to know how many hours of my life I've spent on the internet, because I know the general waste of time would just depress me.

68. My favorite indulgences are professional massages and meals at restaurants that are normally out of my budget.

69. I like clothes shopping but never do it unless I am on vacation or need something particular. I think this trait probably saves me a lot of money.

70. I'm not a big impulse buyer in general. I go grocery shopping with a detailed list (and try to prevent Penn from throwing random items into the cart!), I generally think about products for several days before I go out to buy them, and if I'm tempted to make an impulse purchase I usually leave the store and then come back later if I still really want the item.

71. I generally feel good about my body and don't spend much time worrying about my weight/looks. I think we should all be concerned about whether or not we are healthy, but not whether or not we're thin. In all fairness, though, I guess I need to admit that I am pretty thin and always have been, mostly thanks to good genes and not anything virtuous that I do. I sometimes wonder whether or not I'd still have this healthy of a body image if I had a different body. I'd like to think I'd still have the same body confidence, but who knows?

72. I really do believe health is more important than looks, though. On that note, I'm STILL trying to boost my cardio endurance (biking is helping; I may not be much of a jogger but I am willing to push myself on the bike) and after I had a scary-looking mole removed over the summer I'm now vigilant with my sunscreen.

73. I have been in love twice. It's amazing how different the two experiences have been, though. I'm not willing to discount the first time I was in love (I think that cheapens a relationship that I was devoted to for a long time, and I do believe it's possible to be in love more than once in life) but the first experience doesn't match the sort of love I feel for Penn now. The love I feel now has completely overshadowed and wiped out that first love. I now think back fondly on being in love for the first time, but it's hard--almost impossible--to remember what it really felt like when I compare it to the strong feeling of love and commitment I have now.

74. My favorite TV shows are 30 Rock, Flight of the Conchords, The Sopranos, and Big Love. I gave up on Lost and Grey's Anatomy because they both just got too absurd. My favorite TV show of all time is still Sex and the City. I have all of the DVDs and have watched the entire series probably five times.

75. For the record, I identify most strongly with Miranda.

76. I don't think I'm a very romantic person, at least not in the traditional sense. If a guy ever tried to propose to me by taking me to an expensive restaurant and putting my ring in a glass of champagne, I would say no. Anything that seems like a cliche is a huge turn-off to me. However, I have made the discovery that it's possible to do romantic things while still making them feel sincere. I'm not sure how this is possible, but it's one of my favorite things about Penn.

77. I don't like to have the overhead lights on in my apartment, so I have a lot of lamps (actually, the apartment we're currently living in doesn't even have overhead lights except for one chandelier in the dining room, so it's a good thing I had so many lamps!).

78. I can't sleep soundly unless I am completely covered with a blanket, from ears to toes. Also, I sleep most soundly if Penn's chest or upper arm is my pillow.

79. I have a freckled face and look younger than I actually am.

80. I have mostly Swiss, German, and Dutch ancestry.

81. I would rather wear silver than gold.

82. I am more of a saver than a spender and feel uneasy unless I have a certain amount of "just in case" money in the bank.

83. I watch Waiting for Guffman at least once every six months. It never stops being funny.

84. I'm allergic to cats and dogs but have built up an immunity to my own. I rarely get allergic in my own apartment unless I go too long without vacuuming, but if I go anywhere else with animals I have allergy attacks.

85. My favorite types of food are Mexican, Italian, and Greek. But it has to be REAL Mexican food. I'll eat Tex Mex, but it's not the same.

86. I am an animal lover, and if I hadn't chosen my current career path I wouldn't mind doing something animal-related. I used to think I wanted to be a marine biologist and work at Sea World, for example.

87. Once I got to swim with dolphins in Florida, and it was one of the most purely happy moments of my life.

88. I also wouldn't mind having a travel-related job. The older and more settled I get (dog, boyfriend, eventually family) the less I can imagine a travel job actually fitting into my life, but I still think about how fun it would be to work for a travel website or show or lead world tours or something.

89. I don't like making phone calls. If it weren't for the internet, I would be terrible at keeping in touch with old friends.

90. I have a bit of OCD about shaving my legs and have to do it every single time I shower. If I don't shave my legs I still feel dirty even though I have just gotten out of the water.

91. I finally kicked my Coca-Cola habit! Now I only have a few a week. Sometimes not even that many! I pretty much drink just water and hot tea most days unless I'm on vacation. Then anything goes.

92. I used to like to read before I fell asleep every night. Now Penn has established a "no reading in bed" rule. In theory I agree with him. We don't have a TV in the bedroom, either, because we believe the bed should be for sleeping and/or sex and that's it. Still, I haven't been able to kick my relaxation ritual of reading before bed. Now I just read on the couch for a minute before going into the bedroom.

93. I used to be horribly disgusted by loose strands of hair. I have gotten better about it in the past couple of years, but I still think hair strands are one of the most disgusting things in the world. Interestingly enough, strands of animal hair don't bother me at all.

94. I used to sleep with socks on my hands most nights. Now that I sleep with another person, I only have sock-hands when my hands are really dry.

95. My family has a cabin in the Rocky Mountains and it's my favorite place on earth.

96. I am a lip gloss addict and I have ten (!!!) different varieties on my dresser right now (really). I will admit that it is possible that this addiction is getting out of hand.

97. I wear Estee Lauder Beyond Paradise perfume most days, even though I have a variety I could use.

98. I started taking dance lessons when I was four and was on the dance team in high school. I really miss dancing.

99. It doesn't take very much to make me happy, and it takes a lot to make me sad.

100. I still believe that moving to University Land was the best decision I ever made.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


When I was single--particularly before I'd ever had a boyfriend at all--I used to imagine the sort of dates I would go on when I had a boyfriend. I got most of my ideas from movies or TV shows, I think. Mostly these fantasies involved things like cooking spaghetti dinners together or going for hikes by waterfalls or sharing a bowl of popcorn on the couch while watching movies or other ridiculously girly things. I think everybody does that, imagines what life would be like with someone to share it with (although when I mentioned to Penn that I used to fantasize about the going-on-dates part of dating he admitted that when he was single he pretty much only imagined the having-sex part of dating, so I guess we all have our priorities). Anyway, it's fun now to realize how often my coupled life fulfills my fantasies of what it could possibly be, in both major as well as fairly superficial ways.
This weekend was my first free weekend in three weeks, so Penn and I took full advantage of my free time. Yesterday we took our bikes down to City A and biked to a museum I've been wanting to go to for a while. Mainly I wanted to go because I'd heard the food court was awesome, and it was. It had a huge variety of food from different regions, random things like buffalo tacos and fried yucca and beet and purple potato salad. Yum. It was a really nice day for a bike ride, too. The weather has been perfect this weekend.
Today we went up to City B to check out a reenactment of Edgar Allan Poe's funeral (I'm not sure that "reenactment" was exactly the right word because I think this funeral was much better attended than his actual funeral probably was) and then we went to an art museum to check out an exhibit of paintings and book illustrations of Poe's stories. So it was Poe Day, I guess. We biked all around for this outing, too, from the museum to the church where Poe is buried and back. I love my bike so much. It makes getting around so much easier, and I get the satisfaction of working out while just going about my daily activities.
Anyway, there were a bunch of little moments this weekend when I was so thankful, when I looked around at my interesting surroundings and my handsome, smiling boyfriend and my only concrete thought was, "I have such a nice life." I wouldn't exchange my life with anyone. Even my troubles are not real troubles, just annoyances and frustrations. I'm so lucky, and I feel so thankful for how nice everything is right now. Life can be a total crapshoot, and I know there will be troubles in the future because that's just how life works. It can't be this good forever, no one gets a charmed life forever. But I'll keep stockpiling weekends like this while I can.

Oh, and speaking of lucky: I'm going to London in a month! I know I mentioned that we were planning to go to Europe this fall but things were still up in the air. Well, it seems like plans have finally started concretely falling into place. See, one of my professors got a grant to do research into starting a study abroad program in London, but he's too busy to do the research himself. For some reason he thinks I'm competent enough to do the research into setting up this new program, so when he got the grant he told me that he was going to send me to London for a couple of weeks to meet with people and observe programs currently in progress that are similar to the one my department wants to start. So I've known since last spring that there was a pretty good chance this research trip was going to happen provided the funding didn't somehow disappear (you never know, these days), but I didn't know when exactly it was going to happen. Meanwhile, Penn has also been planning a trip to Europe because his sister and her family are currently stationed in the Netherlands and Penn and his mom wanted to go over there for Thanksgiving. Penn invited me to go with them, too. For the past few months it's been a puzzle of trying to figure out if schedules can work out so that I can somehow tack the Netherlands onto my London trip, thereby saving myself a lot of money, or whether I was going to go to London in the spring, in which case I was going to have to buy a plane ticket to the Netherlands but I wasn't going to be able to go to Europe for as long as Penn and his mom were planning to go since I'm allowed to leave for school-related business but otherwise leaving all my assistantship work for three weeks wouldn't go over so well. Anyway, I still haven't bought my plane tickets yet but I got confirmation from my professor that I can go to London before Thanksgiving. Perfect! So now we have a plan. I'll take my most-expenses-paid (!!!) research trip to London and be there for two weeks. Meanwhile, Penn is taking some time off work and for the first ten days I'm in London he'll be in the Netherlands and Paris with his family. Then the last weekend I'm in London Penn is going to come over and meet me and we'll either hang out there or take a weekend trip somewhere else if my research is done (we both love London but we've also both been there several times, and in my quest to see as much of the world as possible there's something appealing about trying to see somewhere else I've never been before). Then we'll go back to the Netherlands to have Thanksgiving* with Penn's sisters family and then Penn and his mom and I will fly home the Saturday after Thanksgiving. And then Penn and I will be home for a little over two weeks before flying to my hometown for Christmas! It's going to be a crazy couple of months, but I'm so, so excited about the fact that there's a very good chance I'll be in London a month from now. I told you, life is good!

*Yes, I'm well aware of the fact that technically there is no Thanksgiving in the Netherlands, but since all it really involves is eating a lot of food as a family, I think we can manage to make our own.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The C8 Gets Stranger all the Time

So I'm on the bus on my way to campus right now and for once I'm not bogged down with work that I'm frantically trying to finish on my bus ride, so I have time to tell you about the lunatics on my bus.
Typically, my fellow commuters are fairly normal people. One of the pleasures of public transit, however, is the total nutjobs I sometimes encounter. I try to refrain from using this forum to mock people who seem truly disturbed, but some people are fair game, either because they seem mentally stable but have just made odd choices or their eccentricities are harmless and amusing. Like the guy who claimed he saw Michael Jackson's ghost in the cemetery (before he was actually dead, I mean...not that I think MJ is moonwalking in the local cemetery even now) or the woman who was sporting a Frosty the Snowman sweater last week. I mean, even if we agree that Frosty is a seasonal winter thing and not a Christmas thing, it's still two months too early. Or, hey, the guys who got on the bus right this minute who are apparently celebrating Odd Hat Day. One has a baseball cap with a couple of bird feathers awkwardly attached to it (think Fagan in Oliver!) and I swear the other one is wearing a tea cozy on his head, ala Snatch.
Anyway, those people are all quirky but sort of lovable. Even the guy last week who was loudly planning Jose's Getting Out of Jail Cookout over his cellphone had good intentions. But last week I encountered Total Jackass Crazies. And this story I'm sharing just because I want you to be as outraged as I was. (In my head, anyway. I'm not really one to start bus confrontations.) Anyway, these two guys were older white men, dressed in ill fitting business suits. They were carrying a bag of supposedly real gold and silver jewelry that, if I understood their discussion correctly, they'd stolen from "the old Korean ladies" and this was completely acceptable because of the finders-keepers rule. They were then attempting to sell this jewelry on the bus to unsuspecting women who didn't realize that before they got on the bus the guys had been marking hundred dollar prices on the jewelry so they could then say "This was two hundred dollars but I'll sell it to you for thirty!" amazingly, a couple of women actually bought stuff! At first I was like, who buys jewelry on the bus?! But then I realized that a lot of my fellow commuters are recent immigrants from Latin American countries where it's much more common for people to pedal items anywhere: buses, street corners, restaurants, whatever. And these jackass con artists are aware of this and preying specifically on Hispanic immigrants. At one point one of them even said, "We need to go down to X, it's full of Latinas, they'll buy all this crap and if we liquidate by noon we can catch the bus to the racetrack." It wasn't even just the fact that they were cheating people that bothered me. It was the things the one guy was saying. I was so appalled that I started taking notes in the book I was reading so I could tell Penn about it in detail later. Here are just some of the things the guy said during the thirty minutes I was on the bus with him:
"All fat women are fat because they eat their emotions. They can't get laid so they get their sexual satisfaction through eating and then they get even fatter and no one will sleep with them. It's a vicious cycle. Look at Oprah, why does someone with as much as she has need to be fat? It's because she's sexually frustrated."
"I know a coke addict that will buy this stuff. She'll do anything. Sometimes I feel like I'm taking advantage, but that's her problem."
"Why is everything called MLK around here? The guy is dead!"
"You can't hang out around high schools because this country says that's illegal. But colleges are okay!"
"We can't go sell in X County. They're all stuck up Jew bitches over there who can afford to pay full price. They don't need us over there." (For the record, I live in X County, so you can see Jackass's assumptions are TOTALLY valid.
And, finally as we pulled onto campus, Jackass goes "Look at these college students now. It's nothing like it used to be. Now it's all about diversity." And I stood up to exit the bus and the guy behind me, who happened to be black, also stood up to exit. And Jackass goes, "See, look at that! There's no reason those two should be getting off the bus together. I've been to some colleges, and I know how it's supposed to be, and it's not supposed to be like this."
The guy and I just got off the bus and said nothing, but in retrospect I really wish I'd kicked Jackass in the balls on my way up the aisle.
Sometimes the only way I get through these situations is by reminding myself that his generation is dying off, and hopefully there will be less and less people like him every generation. I can hope, anyway.

Monday, October 5, 2009


I'm finished!! I finished my comprehensive exam essays and mailed the last two in this morning at 7:30. I wrote 95 pages in three weeks. I guess it's nice to know that I can do that when I have to, although I can't imagine that I'd ever want to do it again. I am not officially finished yet because I still have to defend the nonsense I wrote, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll pass at least some of the sections. Surely I won't have to do rewrites on all six essays...surely...Anyway, I have three weeks until my defense and I'm giving myself permission to take those three weeks off from school work. I didn't really get a real summer break this year because in theory I was supposed to have been reading for comps the whole time (so even when I was taking a break I felt somewhat guilty about it). The next three weeks can be a real break, though. Yes, I need to write and defend a prospectus and get going on the dissertation sooner rather than later, but there's no point in working on the dissertation until I'm sure I'm over the comps hurdle. So for once in my life I can spend three weeks reading novels and riding my bike and sleeping in and going on dates with my boyfriend without the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I should really be working.

I got myself through comps by bribing myself. "Just finish this essay and you can..." I'd tell myself. So now I have a whole list of ways I want to spoil myself. I want to get my hair trimmed, I want to buy new shoes, I want to buy new shower gel, I want to get a massage or a pedicure, I want to use my Barnes and Noble gift certificate. Mostly I just want to do all the things I didn't really have time to do for the past three weeks. This morning I took a four hour nap and when I woke up all I really wanted to do was bake cookies and clean my apartment and make a grocery list because I'll actually have time to cook this week. I'm easy to please, really.

The past three weeks have not been fun. I was in my home office all the time, and if for some reason I wasn't in my office reading and writing, I was thinking about how that's where I needed to be. It's an amazing feeling to be done. Tonight Nicole and I went out with our boys* for all-you-can-eat wings and beer to celebrate the end (for now, at least) of our exams and it was such a great feeling to not have to bring a school book on the subway and to not have to rush home to close myself in the office and get back to reading and outlining. I know I still have a lot of work ahead of me. There's that write-a-whole-book thing that I have to get through somehow. But I feel like in terms of compressing a massive amount of work into a small amount of time, nothing will be worse than the past three weeks have been, and if I can do that, I can do almost anything (for example, Mari has assured me that childbirth is definitely easier than comps).

I'm off to drink several glasses of wine and sleep for 12 hours. Good night!

*I think our boyfriends are happy to have their girlfriends back, too. I've pretty much only been seeing Penn in bed at night and I haven't seen him on weekends at all because he has been going to visit his friends in his hometown on weekends to give me guilt-free time to work. Which was nice of him, of course, but I've been missing him. Still, I know I'm so lucky. Some of my friends have significant others who have no patience with the grad student lifestyle. I have quite literally watched grad school end marriages (sounds ridiculous, but it's true. The combination of lots of work+very little income is hard on relationships, for some shocking reason). Instead of that, though, I have an awesome boyfriend who encouraged me to work all month, who gave me massages when my neck started hurting after hours hunched over the computer, who purposely tried to get out of the house on weekends so he wouldn't distract me, and who bought me "Congratulations on finishing your exams" flowers. He's still too good to be true sometimes, honestly!