Monday, May 31, 2010

More Fun Tidbits

Today Penn and I celebrated Memorial Day by taking a 13-mile bike ride. On our way to the local lake (our destination) we saw a big snake sunning on the bike path! He was a couple of feet long and pretty aggressive for a snake. Rather than just slithering away when we spotted it and hopped off our bikes to get a closer look, it faced us head-on, sticking out its forked tongue to smell us and then arching itself up all cobra-style. It even rattled at us before it finally slunk away into the tall grass! Google image search has informed me that it was probably a northern banded water snake and not something scarier like an actual rattlesnake. Still, it was an exciting wildlife encounter that urban-dwellers like us don't get to have very often (although, now that I think about it, we also saw a fox on a nighttime walk a couple of weeks ago, so it's all National Geographic in our 'hood lately).
On our way home from the local lake we stopped at a restaurant for an enormous order of fajitas and then we popped into our local used book warehouse. This place is HUGE and specializes in antique, rare, and hard-to-find editions, although it also has plenty of standard used-bookstore fare. Today we were just browsing and not looking for anything in particular, but I ended up finding a gem that I had to bring home. The book is called The Fireside Book of Dog Stories and I was initially drawn to it because for some reason it made me think of my grandmother. It seems like the sort of book she would have. I picked it up and looked at the back cover, and here is what it says on the back:

"A Message to America's Dog Owners:
Total war has made it necessary to call to the colors many of the nation's dogs. Thousands of dogs, donated by patriotic men, women and children and trained for special duty with the Armed Forces, are serving on all fronts as well as standing guard against saboteurs at home.
More thousands of dogs are needed. New recruits are being inducted daily at the War Dog Training Centers, rushed into training courses which skill them as sentries, message carriers, airplane spotters, pack-carriers--and other tasks which must remain secret. The Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines depend on the generosity of the dog owners of the United States to keep that stream of recruits at full flood. They depend on those who own no dogs to speed news of this need to every corner of the land.
Most wanted are dogs of the larger breeds--Belgian Shepherds, Boxers, Airedales, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Dalmatians, German Short Haired Pointers, Collies, Standard Poodles, Eskimos, Siberian Huskies, St. Bernards, Irish Water Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, and a dozen others. They must be at least a year old, and not more than five. Weight and height requirements vary, according to breed, from 50 pounds to 125 pounds. The animals must be temperamentally suited to military tasks--not gun-shy, not storm-shy. Perfect physical condition is essential.
To register a dog for duty, to learn how to help in the campaign to build up this new unit of the country's military might, communicate at once with the national headquarters of the official dog procurement agency."

Isn't that fascinating?
Then I opened the book to see when it was published and, sure enough, it was published in 1943. The copyright page was also informative:
"About the Appearance of Books in Wartime:
A recent ruling by the War Production Board has curtailed the use of paper by book publishers in 1943. In line with this ruling and in order to conserve materials and manpower, we are co-operating by:
1. Using lighter-weight paper which reduces the bulk of our books substantially.
2. Printing books with smaller margins and with more words to each page. Result: fewer pages per book.
Slimmer and smaller books will save paper and plate metal and labor. We are sure that readers will understand the publishers' desire to co-operate as fully as possible with the objectives of the War Production Board and our government."

I just think it's so interesting and sort of charming in a way, and I had no idea prior to today that paper was rationed during WWII (everything else was, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised) or that dogs were recruited for military service. I notice that basset hounds weren't being recruited though. Gee, I wonder why nobody wanted lazy bumps-on-a-log bassets to serve the USA? Anyway, this book gets a place of honor on my bookshelf, right next to my other novelty book, a guide about basset hound training and grooming written entirely in Russian that I bought in St. Petersburg last year.

I feel like I should tell you something important about my life since all I've been doing lately is sharing minor tidbits, but I don't have much to say. Everything that was broken has been repaired, other than my computer (which is still in the shop). The truck is back from the shop, my phone is almost as good as new. I'm off of my contract for the summer so I don't have any assistantship work to do until late August, but I'm already up to my neck in work on a major summer project I'm doing with some friends and our students (this is separate from my dissertation and wedding planning, two other major ongoing projects that are also keeping me busy). I start teaching a class in July, so I guess I should prep for that eventually. I just put in a proposal to present another conference paper in November, although I'm feeling very ambivalent. I know I need to go for the networking since I haven't done a conference since August, but I really don't want to spend the money to go all the way to said conference across the country a month and a half before the wedding. I finally talked myself into writing and sending the proposal; if I get selected for the conference I'll worry about finding funding and deciding whether or not I actually want to go.
So, yeah. That's the news from here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


As part of the kinda strange, cobbled-together assistantship I've held this school year, one of my jobs is to assist our department's financial secretary. When I'm working for the financial secretary my primary job is to do a whole bunch of data entry. Basically, I fill in a database with all of the department's expenses and income. Part of this job includes doing line-by-line data entry of everyone's credit card statements, which means entering the name of the store and exactly what was bought and how much it cost.
Normally, this job is completely mindless and dull. Frankly, as weird as this sounds, I sort of enjoy the fact that it's mindless and dull. It's nice to have a break from thinking and it's really nice to have a job that has a clear start-and-stop point each time I do it since most of my life these days involves working on projects that drag on for months.
Every now and then, though, my favorite store shows up on a credit card statement and I get to have a good laugh.
That store?

Richard the Thread.

Best store name EVER.

That is all.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Every Little Thing is Gonna Be Alright

On to the happier part of this past week: the trip to Jamaica!

It was a really, really awesome trip. I'm still so thrilled that Penn won it. It was my first trip to the Caribbean. I've been to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico, and I've been to the Florida Keys (which I guess almost counts as the Caribbean) but I'd never been to one of the Caribbean islands, so it was a new experience.
As far as international travel goes, it was really easy. The entire travel time start to finish was only about five hours, so it felt bizarre to be bringing a passport for such a short flight. When we landed in Jamaica it was early Thursday afternoon. We had been warned by the internet that we'd probably get hustled, and we pretty much were immediately upon landing. We'd been told by the hotel that we could catch a shuttle for $45 to the hotel, but when we got to the Kingston airport we were told that there were no shuttles to Ocho Rios and that we would have to pay almost $300 round trip! It turns out that most tourists fly into Montego Bay, something we'd failed to research. I don't even remember why we flew to Kingston in the first place, actually. At any rate, Penn haggled with a driver (I HATE haggling) and got the price down to a more reasonable amount. It wasn't a big deal, really (mostly because the shuttle ride was the only thing we had to pay for out of pocket) and we had an enjoyable two-hour shuttle drive to Ocho Rios. In the end I was glad we flew into Kingston because we got to drive from the south coast of the island through the mountains all the way to the north coast. We saw a lot. The resort we stayed at was incredibly sanitized for tourists--there was pretty much no contact with the outside world--so had we not flown into Kingston we probably wouldn't have seen the real Jamaica. We saw some cool things: the Red Stripe beer factory, a beautiful tropical river in a canyon that we had to cross using a one-lane bridge with no guardrails (yes, it was scary), actual rain forests (we drove through a place called Fern Gully!), beautiful views of the countryside as we drove up Mount Rosser. We also saw some things that were more difficult to see: tons of homes made out of scraps of cardboard and tin, shacks on the side of the road that passed for makeshift bars, people pushing heavy carts up the same mountain that our van was struggling to climb, children panhandling in the street. I told Penn, "Don't you feel selfish for complaining to each other about how small a house we'll be able to afford in our city?" What right do we have to complain? It will be our own house, made of bricks with a real shingled roof. Spoiled Americans. There were also heartwarming things, though. I've never seen so many children outside playing. Everywhere I looked there were groups of kids playing soccer or cricket or swimming in canals (that can't be safe) or hanging from trees. I feel like that's something that just doesn't happen in the US anymore. Rarely do I see a group of kids out in the street playing. I see them in the park playing on organized rec league teams or riding bicycles, but either my neighborhood is completely devoid of children (unlikely) or American kids don't just hang out in their yards and play together. I realize that the Jamaican children are outside playing because they have few other options--the internet and the Xbox aren't readily available activities. Still, it made me happy to see so many kids having fun together. I was also really amused by the fact that livestock just wanders the streets. Goats and cows wander along the side of the road, seemingly at random. We even saw a huge boar at one point! Awesome! Fences are pricey, though, so I guess there is some other system for keeping track of the ownership of the animals. It was all really interesting.

We spent the bulk of our three days there at the resort. I'd never done an all-inclusive trip before, but I think I'm completely sold on the idea. I'd definitely do it again.* It was so nice not to have to carry cash around and to be able to eat and drink to my heart's content without worrying about whether or not the tab was going to be hundreds of dollars at the end of the night. I think even if we'd actually had to pay for our trip the all inclusive still would have been worth it. The hotel was nice. It was huge. It had an enormous open-air lobby and buffet area, two towers of rooms, three ala carte restaurants, a poolside grill, a nightclub, conference facilities, a gazebo where we saw three different couples get married during the course of our stay, five pools (one of them had a water slide!) and two private beaches. In other words, it was the perfect place to just pick a lounge chair and veg out for the weekend, although there were also tons of activities for people who wanted action. The first night we were there we explored the hotel and then went to dinner. Fortunately for us the dinner buffet was pirate-themed and being held right on the beach that night, so my first meal in Jamaica was jerk chicken and grilled fish eaten ten feet from the edge of the ocean. At sunset. I loved it, obviously. Penn and I befriended a mom and daughter traveling together from Britain and we hung out with them at the pirate-themed party that followed. Part of the entertainment was a man who put a snake in his mouth. It happened almost a week ago and I still can't get over how creepy that is. I mean, I like snakes just fine, but yuck. There was also music and reggae dance lessons and the whole time waitresses kept plying me with free fruity drinks. It was awesome!
Our room had a balcony that overlooked the ocean and the mountains. It was beautiful, and I could have stayed in bed all day just listening to the waves crash down below and looking at the view. Fortunately, I had the sense to talk myself into leaving the room during the daylight hours. Still, Penn and I mostly just lounged. We'd move from one pool to another and then to the ocean, taking time every once in a while to go down the water slide. We went snorkeling twice and saw all kinds of cool things: sea urchins, a weird sea cucumber thing, lots of beautiful colorful little fish, and, the weirdest thing ever, an entire school of inky black reef squid. Those mofos were frightening. They appeared to be staring at us! We definitely gave them a wide berth, even though I'm fairly certain they are actually harmless. One day a guy showed up in the afternoon with a donkey, two parrots, and two rabbits, so that was entertaining. It was an impromptu petting zoo! Only in Jamaica, I guess! We enjoyed the breakfast buffet every morning (fresh mango!) and ate lunch either at the grill or at the buffet. For dinner we ate at the restaurants. They had a Chinese one that was good, and a Jamaican one right off the beach that was awesome. I'm going to look up a recipe for jerk chicken for sure, although I bet it won't be the same.
Anyway, the whole weekend was nothing but fun and relaxation. I was bummed to have to come home, but I'm so glad we have such good memories of our "practice honeymoon." Speaking of which, the next time we travel internationally it will be to New Zealand for the real honeymoon! Less than eight months to wait!

*Penn and I both noted that the resort was full of families with small children, and they were definitely catered to very well. I've started a mental list of child-friendly vacations (since, money allowing I don't want to give up all travel when we become parents) and I think all-inclusive Caribbean resorts make the list.

When it Rains, It Pours

Penn and I are having one of those weeks during which everything breaks all at once. Surely this happens to everyone, right? One minute everything is functioning just fine, then all of a sudden half of the things in the house break almost simultaneously. And generally this happens when you are already low on money to begin with, although luckily for us that wasn't the case this time around. Still, it's so obnoxious.
It all started with my Blackberry. The tracker ball wasn't working very well--I could no longer scroll to the right, which pretty much makes the phone useless for anything other than making and receiving phone calls, and if that's the case why have a Blackberry?--so I tried to clean it with alcohol wipes and that worked for about a day. Then I decided to be hardcore and take the tracker ball apart to clean it more thoroughly. It should have worked. Every YouTube video I found with the instruction process promised it would be easy. Well, "easy" doesn't apply to me, I guess, because I accidentally bent a metal fitting out of place and couldn't get the darn thing to clip back together, so now my phone has no roller ball. I ordered a new part off of the internet and I thought it would get here today (the phone has been broken since Tuesday) but it turns out that the website automatically paired an old billing address with my current debit card number, which means my purchase got denied. I was expecting the part today, but now with the website debacle it probably won't be here until Monday or Tuesday. So, uh, don't text me. It's useless until then.
THEN, the same night my phone broke, Penn was helping me attempt to clean my filthy, filthy laptop keyboard. This is going to gross out the non-pet people among you, but it was so full of cat hair that some of the keys weren't striking properly anymore. I KNOW. GROSS. Even I thought it was disgusting. Anyway, long story short, in the process of removing the keyboard Penn accidentally removed a piece that shouldn't have been removed, and of course it wasn't as easy as just sliding it back into place. Oh, nooooo, heaven forbid anything with technology be simple. He apologized profusely for breaking the computer when he was just trying to help and I accepted the apology and all was well and he was going to take my computer to the repair store the next day.
And then he went to the computer repair store yesterday on what was supposed to be his work-at-home day. Note that I said "What was supposed to be" rather than "was." See, he tried to log onto his work network from the work laptop and the darn thing wouldn't connect. So instead of having a work-at-home day his plan was to just call into work for an 11 AM meeting but otherwise take a day of leave. It sucks that he had to take leave time, but he can make it up with overtime and get those hours back. Anyway, remember that 11 AM phone meeting I mentioned? Yeah. He was going to drive to the computer repair shop at 10:00, ask someone to look at the computer, and hopefully get home in time for his meeting. Well, that didn't happen, either. Instead, he waited in line for forty minutes, never got to talk to anyone, got frustrated, got in the truck to rush home to his meeting, and then less than a block from our house got into a freakin' CAR WRECK when he ran into a car making a left turn across three lanes of traffic. The truck was all messed up. The bumper was pretty much broken off entirely, the hood was crunched just enough so that it wouldn't open, and one of the headlights was shattered.
Seriously, the whole thing was just unbelievable. I couldn't believe how one thing after another after another kept breaking. By the time Penn called me to say, "I was in an accident," all I could do was laugh. Well, okay, I didn't laugh until I found out that he was okay. Then all I could do was laugh, because it was just so absurd.

Fortunately, things ended up improving yesterday. First, the insurance companies decided that the other driver was 100% at fault in the accident which means our truck is getting repaired for free. I was worried about how we were going to get around for the next week or so since we only have the one vehicle to share (we can get 90% of where we need to go on the bus or subway, but for some of my tutoring jobs and my baby-sitting job public transportation isn't an option). We were also stressing because we're supposed to help a friend move this weekend and we would have felt awful having to call her to say, "Surprise! You get to rent a U-Haul after all!" Luckily, we get a free rental car while ours is being repaired and they were even able to give us a GIGANTIC truck, which means we can help with the move this weekend after all. Seriously, the truck is huge. It's a four-door thing that is practically twice the size of Penn's current truck. It's definitely not meant for driving around the city, so that will be an adventure. Still, we have a truck. Plans aren't ruined.
Also, after we finally got the car stuff sorted out Penn took my laptop to be repaired, and although I can't have it back until next week it is going to get fixed, so I'm happy. I'm also happy that I had the foresight to add all of my dissertation files to a dropbox account so I can work on Penn's computer until mine is back from the shop.

So, yeah. This has been one of those weeks that makes me wished I lived off the grid on a tiny farm somewhere where trucks and computers and phones don't matter and I'm not handicapped by the loss of them. But it's all going to be okay.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

First of all, things are better with Penn's relative. Or maybe "better" isn't exactly the way to put it, but the situation is at least stable, and hopefully will have some sort of definite resolution early next week. In the meantime, there doesn't seem to be much cause for us to stress out on our end (primarily because there's not much he can do to help, other than what he has already done) so life is basically back to normal.

We spent the weekend with Penn's mom for Mother's Day, and we went out to lunch with her and Penn's brother and sister-in-law and their kids on Sunday. As we were driving home on Sunday we ended up on a conversation topic we tend to examine pretty often, I guess because we both find it interesting: What Made Your Upbringing Different Than Mine?
There are myriad differences between our families and the way in which we were raised. Given, there are a ton of similarities, too. We were raised in the same country, we're the same race, the same class, basically the same religion, we have the same number of siblings, we both went to public schools, we both had part-time jobs in high school, we both moved away for college...we had a lot of the same basic life experiences. It's amazing, actually, all the subtle differences that emerge from the same basic picture. And, admittedly, there are also the not-so-subtle differences. Penn's parents are divorced, for instance, and mine aren't, which has had some profound effects. But it's not the big differences that interest me. It's the little things.
There was this really funny moment a couple of weeks ago that, for me, illustrated one of the fundamental differences between our parents. When my parents were visiting in April they met Penn's mom for the first time. I think we were all a little bit nervous about that, but it went great. My mom and Penn's mom seemed to hit it off (as I predicted and hoped they would) and everyone seems happy to be merging our families. Anyway, as we were driving our parents to see our church we drove over a bridge, and my mother exclaimed, "Oh, a river!" and Penn's mom said, "All I see is mud!" And I almost burst out laughing, because it was just so typical of both of them. In actuality it was neither a river nor a mud puddle, it was a creek. But Penn's mom took the glass-half-empty view, while my mom got all excited, probably more excited than most people would get. In all honesty, they likely had the reactions they did because my mom is from the desert (so any water is exciting) and Penn's mom sees a mile-wide river on a daily basis (so a creek is nothing). Still, it illustrates one of the differences between our families, and thus one of the major ways in which Penn and I balance each other out.
See, Penn thinks of himself as having been raised to be a glass-half-empty kind of guy. He has told me before that he makes a conscious effort not to convey all of his negative thoughts to me. He likes the fact that I'm a positive person, and he doesn't want to stifle that. I personally don't view Penn as a negative person. I also don't really think of myself as the relentlessly positive person he sees in me. My theory is that we're both equally positive and equally negative, it just manifests itself in completely opposite ways (as is the case with many of our personality traits; it's part of the reason I have faith in us being a good match).
When we're looking toward the future, I have a tendency to be a major worrywart. You all know this about me by now, of course. When any sort of major event or life change is coming up, I have to play the, "What if?" card from every possible angle. Like thinking about having a baby sometime in the next few years already has me in full-blown preparation-through-worrying mode. What if we can't afford to get a bigger place and the baby has to sleep in the dining room? What if the baby has colic and screams for the first three months? What if he doesn't sleep through the night until he's 3? What if I have to go on bedrest? What if I'm never able to find a job again after taking maternity leave? What if I get post partum depression? What if there is a birth defect? What if I'm one of those people who is permanently paralyzed by the epidural? What if two dozen other much more awful, too-dreadful-to-mention things happen? My mind can come up with hundreds of negative things ranging from minor annoyances to the worst-case scenario. And it's not like I have an anxiety disorder; I can push these things out of my mind quite easily. But when I have too much downtime to think about the future I tend to focus on the negative possibilities.
Penn, on the other hand, is much more relaxed about our future. While he expresses the occasional worry, for the most part when I start fretting he says, "No worries, mate. We'll be fine." And I know he is probably right, but, although I admire it in him, it's hard for me to have the same sort of "It will all be okay" attitude about the future that he espouses most of the time.
When we're in the moment, however, it is almost the exact opposite. Take going to an obligatory event, for example. Once the plan has been made and we're committed to going, I tend to go into the event assuming it's going to be enjoyable, or at least not terrible. Sure, we might get lost or the subway might be running obnoxiously slow because of construction or that other couple might get in an awkward fight again, or we might spend more money than we should probably be spending, but I don't really worry about it. Once I'm in the moment I am determined to find a silver lining at any cost. [Case in point: I went through a bout of food poisoning last night. At least, I assume it was food poisoning. I was awake and in the bathroom last night for more time than I was in bed sleeping. I felt pretty awful. But as I was lying in bed at dawn this morning trying to get my stomach to temporarily stop churning enough so I could fall back to sleep, I thought "Hey, I bet I lost some weight!" I stepped on the scale before getting dressed for the day and it turns out I'm down 2.5 pounds from when I weighed myself last week. Just in time for our trip to Jamaica! See, even food poisoning can have a silver lining!]
Penn, on the other hand, is more likely to focus on the negative points in the moment. He's focused on the rain, I'm focused on the fact that at least we won't get sunburned. He's furious about the traffic jam, I'm happy to have extra time to chat. He hates the guy blabbing on his cell phone behind us, I'm writing the conversation down because it might be a funny story to tell later.
We're not 100% true to these types, of course. There have been times when I have been the one crying because in the moment I DO NOT want to be bumped from the airplane flight. There have been times when I've optimistically assured Penn that we have a bright future when he is worrying about the big picture. But it's nice, I think, that we have the ability to be positive in any situation if we're both always willing to listen to and believe the person saying, "It's all okay" either about the future or in the moment.

Incidentally, yes, we're going to Jamaica on Thursday. Penn won a free trip for us at a travel expo! I always think those things are scams, but this raffle was actually legitimate. We get a 3 night/4 day stay at an all-inclusive resort. So the room is free, as is all the food and alcohol we can consume, as is the entertainment, as are all the non-motorized water sports. All we had to do was buy our plane tickets, which were reasonably priced. Basically, we're going to Jamaica for less money than we would spend going to a local beach for a long weekend. I've never been anywhere in the Caribbean before, so this will be a new adventure. Here's hoping it goes well!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


It's 2 AM and I'm still awake. That was once more or less the norm, but it's really unusual for me these days. Originally I was awake because I was finishing up a school project, but that has been completed for about an hour now and I still don't feel like I can sleep. Penn got some bad news tonight concerning a relative, and since it's about his family and since it doesn't really involve me at all rather than very tangentially I'm not going to write about it in detail here, but it's keeping me up because it's a sucky situation on many levels and I can't seem to stop my brain from running through all the potential outcomes. I'm hopeful that this is a sucky situation that will ultimately parlay itself into a vastly better situation for the person involved, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a sucky situation at the moment. Sorry for the vagueness. It's weird, this feeling of growing into someone else's family. Because it's still so easy to think of my in-laws-to-be as "his" family. I even said "his family" a few sentences ago. But then certain things happen once in a while that make me realize it's actually going to be "our" family soon and I have to embrace the good parts of that as well as the parts that are hard. Tonight definitely counts as a hard part, and I'm sure it won't be the last time one of his family members has a problem we choose to help deal with, and there's no doubt in my mind my family will throw some drama our way, too, one of these days. Families are good at that sort of thing.
It's a fine balancing act, doing what Penn and I are doing: creating a new family. I like to think of Penn and myself as pretty insular. That's not to say that I want either of us to be cut off from the families that raised us, because that's certainly not the case. There are enormous emotional benefits to having the supportive extended families we both have, and I'd never want to lose those. But I also like the idea that he and I are a unit and everyone else is related to us, but just that--related. Not exactly central to how he and I function. We are the unit, we might eventually (hopefully) make children to temporarily add to that unit until they are grown and head off to make their own units, but everyone else isn't integral to my relationship with Penn. At the same time, though, we have to figure out how to create our new family without harming or rejecting the way things were in the past. Sometimes it's as simple as deciding what family traditions we'll carry on. Other times it's more complicated, like deciding what help we are willing to accept (or offer) or how to delicately handle particular events so that they do not end up blowing up in our faces years down the line.
This is just another thing my mind has played with as I've been preparing to get married. Getting married--vowing to privilege your spouse over all other connections--does ultimately change those prior connections to family members, whether they were good or bad or somewhere in between. And some of the changes are great and some of them are difficult. I think people in general maybe aren't mindful enough of how a marriage changes things not just for the couple, but for the entire family. I'm trying to remember that, as I go along.
I have faith that Penn and I will create a wonderful new family when we tie the knot in January. Today (well, yesterday, technically) marks the two year anniversary of the day that he formally asked me to be his girlfriend. As with all things time-related, it simultaneously feels like two whole years can't possibly have gone by already and like Penn has been my partner for my entire life, or at least far longer than two years. Nights like tonight, when things are worrisome, just remind me how lucky I am to have someone who listens to me, who comforts me, who values my thoughts even when he adamantly disagrees, who trusts me enough to let me offer opinions about people he has known far, far longer than I have, and who trusts me enough to let me into his mind. We have a true partnership, and sometimes it's so incredibly easy to really see that and be grateful.