Friday, November 30, 2007

Things to do Over Break: A List

As MB said, This is the end. It's been a fun month that went way faster than one would think it could. But now I have things to do over break (once I finish grading and submit my grades, that is):

  1. Baking: chocolate chip cookies, this bittersweet chocolate and hazelnut cake I make every year from my and MB's birthdays, boob cookies (a family tradition, basically a small peanut butter cookie with a Hershey's kiss right in the middle), seven layer bars, some kind of sugar cookie for Son to decorate.
  2. Tree: This year we are finally getting a tree. Maybe tomorrow. I am looking forward to having the good-smelling, well-lit, glowy thing in our living room for almost a month.
  3. Reading: A lot. I just want to read some trashy detective fiction, and maybe finish a few more of the books that haunt my nightstand.
  4. Writing: I'd like to work on my novel (the old one), send out some short stories, and take one more look at my collection before I submit it to another publisher, just so I don't fall into despair about the publisher that my collection is now languishing at, unread and unloved.
  5. Sleeping: A radical notion, but maybe I'll go to bed earlier. Maybe.
  6. Swimming: Try to get up earlier to swim with the Serious Swimmers (otherwise known as the Masters. But I'm not the slowest one! So there's that.)
  7. IKEA: MB and I have an IKEA date. When Son is in school we're going to go shopping.
  8. Breakfast: MB and I also have a breakfast date. We drop Son off at school and then we go have breakfast. I'm hoping we can try a new place.
  9. Movie: I hope to see a movie in a theater. It's a radical notion, but it just might happen.
  10. Appetizer date-night: MB and I usually go out for our birthdays. This year we are going to IKEA. But I hope we can still squeeze in a date that goes something like this: appetizers and drinks, movie and popcorn, dessert and wine. That sounds like an ideal birthday to me and covers a few things on my list: baking (the dessert), movie, and this one of course, number 10. The end of the line. As far as we go.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

All He Wants for Christmas Is....

Son brought home a few Thanksgiving related exercises from school. You know, they made turkeys and cards and talked about what they were thankful for.
Son brought home a cared for Middlebrow. On the front was a picture of a turkey, a pie stamp, a sticker that said "Fish." And under that he had written "Beer."
Inside it said
Dad: I like pie. I like turkey. I like cranberries. I like beer.

I think we're lucky we have a liberal teacher. No one sent a note home about his beer lovin'. No one mentioned it to me. But I did say, "Maybe you shouldn't talk about liking beer at school. They're going to send Social Services." Which led to a lengthy discussion of what Social Services is.
And then, later, Son said, "What if I wrote to Santa and said, Dear Santa, I want beer. Please bring me a six-pack of beer?"
I replied that I didn't think Santa would bring him beer, as it's illegal.
"What if he wrote on it For Son only? Son, Son, Son?"
What indeed. I'm almost tempted to leave a six-pack of something under the tree for him. Maybe Root Beer?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

For your consideration

Occasionally, okay, sometimes, I think about going back to my vegetarian roots. Legend has it that I became a vegetarian my freshman year of college after running early in the morning near the dorm cafeteria and seeing a box of meat on the loading dock that said, "Grade D Meat: For Prisons and Institutions Only." I think I still ate some fish and a turkey sandwich here and there. But let's face it, it was easy to be a vegetarian in Eugene.
I started eating meat when I was pregnant because I was so anemic. Also, I craved meat. And I like red meat. I like lamb. I like sushi. I like lots of things.
But I know, (know, know, know) that many things, like cheese and milk and some kinds of meat (the kinds I like: bacon!) aren't good for me.
A friend from Idaho said she just read the book Skinny Bitch. I looked at it on Amazon and it actually looks good. It says things I already know: diet soda is bad for you, coffee is bad for you, sugar is bad for you.
Eventually, I guess, I should just do what I know is good for me. Thing is: I like sugar. I really do.
So what do you say? Should I do it? Should I go back to being a vegetarian?
But here's my problem: I like to eat local and it's hard to do that with vegetarianism (like avocados, in the winter? I love those too). And I think that there is some good local meat.
And also I'm lazy. It's hard to cook when you are a lazy vegetarian.
What's a girl to do?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blogging instead of...

I feel a little guilty for all the blogging I've been doing. Not because it's a waste of time, it isn't, but because of all the other things I should be doing, but don't do. Instead I blog.
So, I blog instead of
  1. Writing something else: a novel, a short story, a poem, a letter, an email
  2. Reading
  3. Grading
  4. Sleeping
  5. Exercising
  6. Cooking
  7. Baking (don't chocolate chip cookies sound good?)
  8. Cuddling Son to sleep
  9. Watching videos from TED (my new worst habit)
  10. Writing limericks about all the things I should be doing. Like "There once was a teacher of writing..."
Go ahead. Finish that one. I dare ya.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Why I'm Not In Bed

MB recently happened upon (I don't know how, he has some special gift with the internets) the site from TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design (I think). It's an annual conference where brilliant people in different fields give 18 minute talks. They have been uploaded to their site and you can watch them. Tonight I watched two. Here's the first one.

It scared me, in terms of education and what we're doing, or more specifically, what I'm doing to my Son, but it also gave me hope. Maybe we can just teach more art, more dance, let kids do what they want. Maybe.

I'll save the second one. It was by a filmmaker who gave cameras to soldiers going into Iraq. She made a movie from their films. It made me cry. But her talk was fantastic and I want to see her movie. It's called "War Tapes."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Movie Night

Last night Middlebrow and I finally got around to watching "The Lives of Others" which had been languishing in the basement for weeks. Weeks! We hadn't watched it because it's so long, but finally a few uninterrupted hours stretched before us, so we opened a bottle of wine and settled in for some movie watching/reading.
I love foreign films. I sometimes think that I might absorb some language just by hearing it. This seldom really works.
I really liked this movie for many reasons. It was slow, dialogue driven with complex characters who struggled against their circumstances. The movie was about making art and following rules and breaking rules and being a good person or being a bad person in bad circumstances.
What I liked most was how an unsympathetic character becomes sympathetic over time. Watching this movie, I felt like one of the reasons Americans often fail to make Important Art is because we don't really have a lot of environmental challenges. I don't mean global warming. I mean institutions and societies that imprison us. Regimes that silence us.
Obviously one could argue that the "regime" we live under now attempts, daily, to silence and imprison. And, no doubt, some great art will be made in the aftermath of this war.
But, culturally, Americans are forbidden to do very little. I do remember the woman who rolled in chocolate (what a waste of chocolate. Unless someone licked it off...) and The Piss Christ. But really, weren't those just attempts to provoke a conservative administration? Were they really "art"? Or attempts at "art"? (That is, were the artists trying to do something aesthetically or were they just trying to make a statement?)
What I mean is, most Hollywood movies gloss over the difficult moments, the repressive institutions, the awkward silences and difficult decisions. At one point in the movie MB commented, "At this point, the Hollywood movie would turn the plot into a chase scene, lots of shooting." American movies often substitute the big explosion for the subtle change.
I even liked the ending of this movie, though for a few moments I was afraid it was going to have a dark, depressing ending and I was going to be mad. But a few friends had said they loved the end, so I held my breath and waited. And it was good.
A very satisfying, moving film. Five stars!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

One Day: One Book

On Friday night, I began reading The Thirteenth Tale for my Moms-with-Kids-who-were-in- Kindergarten-together Book Club. We're meeting December 13th, in some kind of numerical coincidence.
In any case, I started the book around 8:30 on Friday night and read until just past midnight. I thought Middlebrow was still reading too, but unbeknownst to me he had fallen asleep. Then I got up today and, after dropping Son at a playdate, finished the book. It's a recent record for me, one book in less than 24 hours.
Reading this book was a relief, as lately I'd had a hard time getting into any book. I love the feeling of getting so wrapped up in a story that things like sleeping and eating seem less important. But then there's also that feeling when the book is over. A kind of elation, but also the let down. The world of that book is closed now, though in a way it's still alive inside you. If the book was really good, you go over parts of it again and again in your mind. The characters are vivid.
I liked many things about this book: the narrator's voice (distinctive and clear, but unobtrusive), the plot (a mystery, but really a family mystery about characters and relationships between them), the structure (divided into sections, "Beginnings," "Middles," and "Ends"), and many of the little details (the narrator is a biographer who has written an article on a certain set of twins, her father owns a rare book shop), the writing. The book has some beautiful sentences which are heavy on insight into the human character. But I didn't mind that.
And it has closure, and a somewhat happy ending. No loose threads to annoy the mind.
I was going over my list of books read this year, and I think this is definitely one of my favorites. My mom has a five star rating system, and she hardly ever gives anything five stars. She's a librarian, so she's read a lot and has many books to compare against one another.
But this was a five star book, definitely.
Next on my bedside table: The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver. I've heard great things about her writing. One friend (from the book group) said she couldn't put it down. She also said her mother called her and told her she had just finished it and, when she hung up from talking with her daughter, was going to read it again. I look forward to it.
Winter (especially vacation) is the time for reading, especially reading a book a day. Okay, maybe every three or four days. Or five, depending on how much movie watching is taking place.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Day After

And so they found themselves, as happens after numerous meals comprised of fowl and root vegetables, squash and beans, bloated and satiated, happily drowsy and gazing into a glass of wine or tea, contemplating the coming day, usually devoted to the purchase of gifts, for others and oneself, gifts in celebration of the approaching winter holiday, obtained this day at a drastic discount in order to save money for other purchases: the festive evergreen, the white lights that blazed like candles, the shiny silver balls that reflected back the spherical faces of children hoping to decipher the cryptic messages of box and bow, the candy canes, and the secret coveted gift, the one each so desperately wanted and yet failed to articulate so that when the holiday came and went without the gift being given or received, the desire remained secret and so the disappointment, but perhaps a little extra income remained so that the one who desired the secret gift could buy it for herself and keep it secret, only taking it out at established intervals and cherishing it in that way that only secret possessions are cherished, with a concealed fervor that stands in for all secret desires, private hopes, thwarted passions, and so this day, gazing into the scarlet liquid they can almost see the peaks and valleys of the impending season, what may come to pass and what will, how things hoped for and imagined rarely, if ever, came to pass, instead those coming days bore a striking resemblance to the days already passed, and those resembled the days before and so on, so that life, interrupted by feasts and famines, was really, when they stopped to think about, nearly always the same.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Actual Day

Somehow, Son managed to let us sleep until 8-ish. Then I had to bolt out of bed (okay, bolting may be a bit strong), eat something, drink some coffee, and somehow convince Middlebrow and Son to accompany me to the Race.
Well, they did. They dropped me off by the Capitol and went to get coffee before meeting me at the finish line. I liked this Thanksgiving Day race. Lots of families, running and walking, lots of groups taking pictures at the start. I especially liked the runners with turkey hats. I saw only one person I recognized, and I knew her from Son's school.
It was a jam packed race, and I was passing people the whole way, which made me feel good. Much of it was uphill (at least half) and the second half was downhill. Hooray! I felt pretty good about the race and when I checked the results, just now, I won the "Athena" category. For those of you not in the know, that means I weigh over 150 pounds! Crazy! Yes! But hey. At least I can win something. Though I have to say I felt like throwing up when I got to the finish. But then I had some water and a few bites of pumpkin bagel. All good.
We put the turkey in at 1, etc, etc, etc. Now I am boiling the carcass for all it's worth. I think I will make soup, though I can't say what kind. Maybe turkey with rice? turkey with noodles? unknown.
All the food was great: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce from a can, homemade pie with whipped cream. Delicious.
We are all thankful for many things: food, family, health. But son's list was my favorite: theaters, so we can see movies, our house, turkey drumsticks, and Harry Potter.
I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving, one and all.
Let the insane Holiday Season begin.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving: priceless

Number of pumpkins roasted: 3
Number of containers filled with peeled, cubed, uncooked, leftover pumpkin pieces: 8
Soups made: Curried Pumpkin Soup
Salad made: Caesar Salad (from The Surreal Gourmet)
Bottles of wine consumed: Two (Coppola's Merlot, and a Penfold Cab-Shiraz)
Dogs made crazy by laser pointer light: One
Pies made: Two (from baked down pumpkin and dough made from scratch)
Pieces of bread toasted: 11 down (five to go!) (for stuffing! tomorrow!)
Things yet to do: veggies (celery, radishes, red pepper) to chop, stuffing to make (onion and celery to chop and sautée in butter! toast to squeeze!), potatoes to peel and cook, salad to make (red leaf lettuce, apples, pecans), green beans to steam, turkey (oh yeah!) to defrost, roast, slather in butter and wine, etc.; can of cranberry sauce to open.
Harry Potter movies left to watch: One
Thanksgiving at home: priceless!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Day Before the Day Before Thanksgiving

The day begins as most do, only earlier. For some reason, you feel compelled to get out of bed around 6:15-ish so that you can make it to the gym by 6:30-ish. Oh, that's right. It's all part of the go to bed earlier, get up earlier plan that will result in being able to get up in time to be at the pool at 6 a.m. on the day before Thanksgiving. Like all plans, it begins a day early.
Even after swimming, there are things to do: papers to grade, crossword puzzles to complete, folders to lose and then find again, writing center hours.
Also: a friend from high school (high school!) to pick up at the airport with her significant other. Unlike many high school friends, she is crazy in a way that is familiar and comfortable. She is crazy in the same way you are crazy. The things you had in common then, you still have in common. You can talk about creativity and art and food. She took the photographs of your wedding. You take her and Man to a brew pub for lunch. You drink beer. You take her to one of the cool places in town for tea. She photographs everything in sight, including you doing a Serious Author face and the bookcases which are organized by color (red, green, etc). She finds a yellow one that says "Revolt" and places it in among the red. She is able to see things that are invisible to others. But you see the monkey holding two candles lamp. It seems important.
Picking up Son from school is different with Friend. You see the chaos for what it is: an intricately choreographed dance of attraction and avoidance, of deferral and intersection. The direction and energy of the children is inversely proportional to the direction and energy of the adults. You can see this now. You worry about the parents who worry too much. You want Son to move like a dervish through this hallway, to move out into the world without damage or care. Instead, he finds a turkey made from a pine cone on the playground. It is a treasure. You make him return it, imagining the child who misplaced it, distraught and unanchored, turkeyless.
There is more: the dog who jumps on all visiting strangers, the phone calls with directions, visits to the neighborhood bakery which is only open this one day because it is the day before the day before.
And then: good-bye to Friend and Man, the gift of a pumpkin, the roasting of pumpkins, eating of leftover chili, watching of wizard movies, the staying up too late, the inevitable fit, the sudden drop into noiseless sleep, instant and complete.
There is more to do, accomplish. The making of soup, the making of pie, the purchase of the turkey.
But first you must sleep. Tomorrow is the day the plan begins, and you must get up in seven hours, regardless of when you go to sleep. So sleep now.
Tomorrow is the day before.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Because if I ever decide to be an adult, I want to be like Lisa B (a poet! a mother! a chef! a stellar teacher! I could go on!), I decided to post this poem.
Also, I was swimming today and thinking about how I almost drowned when I was 4. Luckily my grandmother's sister taught me how to swim right after, so I've never been afraid of swimming (not in pools at least). I was wondering if I could have been a swimmer when I was younger (our town didn't have a public pool, and I'm not sure if we even had a swim team). But then I'm not sure I could have been a good swimmer then. When I was younger I used to pull my head out of the water and flip my hair. My teacher used to yell at me for that. Well, maybe not "yell."
So, in honor of the poet I want to be (someday) and the swimmer I might someday become, here's a poem from my MA thesis: Vocabulary of the Unsaid.
I want to put some kind of disclaimer on this poem, but I will resist. (But somehow I did, by saying that I wanted to. See how I did that?)

How I Learned to Breathe


Taste of chlorine: clean and toxic.
I fall through divisions,
under, before, beneath. Caught
in anomalous borders,
spaces between.


He says, “I revived you.”
I studied him through
the bars of the bed.
What is “parallax”? What
is “represented”?
I filled in black lines with white.


Memory hovers, nameless.
I could see myself
always sinking,
always on the surface.
Blurry, forever
coming into focus.


She could teach me--
floating in her hands.
My face in, I blew, I breathed,
eyes open to the image
swimming beneath--
a watery shadow rises
and begins to fix.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Cold Pie and Turkey Sandjou: A List

In honor of the upcoming Feast of Thankfulness and Overeating, a list of my favorite things about Thanksgiving:
  1. Pie: Pie for breakfast, pie for dessert, cold pie with whipped cream while watching the parade. Pie, pie, pie.
  2. Turkey: One of the reasons I'm glad we're staying home this year is that I get to make all the stuff, and you know what that means. Leftovers!
  3. Stuffing: Lots of different kinds of stuffing are good, but the only stuffing that will do on Thanksgiving is the exact same kind of stuffing your mom made when you were a kid. In my case, it's a melange of white bread (toasted), celery, onion, butter and poultry seasoning. I love it cold. So good.
  4. Mashed potatoes: I think I might have to be traditional and actually peel the potatoes this year for that smooth tato goodness. For the average weekday meal mash, I usually don't peel. The peels are good for you, you know.
  5. Gravy: How many times a year does a person eat gravy? In my case, usually once. So you have to do it right. I may make some mushrooms on the side, because I have become overly fond of mushroom gravy.
  6. Cranberry sauce: From a can. I mean, how much can one woman do? I like this okay, but I love it on sandwiches the next day.
  7. Green beans: For some color. You have to have some vegetables. Right? We will also have the all day vegetable tray with the carrots, celery, radishes, etc, and dip.
  8. Olives: When does one eat olives from a can? On Thanksgiving. I could eat a whole can just standing in the kitchen trying to get them onto the veggie tray and failing.
  9. Wine: I found a Martha Stewart turkey roasting recipe, and it involves basting the turkey with wine and butter. I think this is a good idea. And then there is the wine you open at noon so that you can start drinking before you eat. It's a good idea to eat a little something. How about some of those veggies?
  10. Family: I enjoy staying in my pjs most of the day, just hanging out with the family. I also like the mid-day football game. I held this game in Bellingham one year and Tommy Z tried to actually tackle me. I don't think he understood the finer techniques of touch football. Also, I don't think he understood that I'm supposed to win! But it was fun nonetheless. This year, maybe it will be me vs. MB and Son can be the person we all pile onto when someone makes a touchdown. Or Son can be the person who makes the "Goal! Scoredown!"
I will not be shopping the day after Thanksgiving, unless it's from my computer. I will avoid humanity. Perhaps this is the day we will hold the Harry Potter film fest. Or part one anyway. Also, on Thanksgiving morning, I will run a short race that Middlebrow convinced me to sign up for because he said he would run it with me, and now he's not. Loser. Well, I hope he and Son will be there to cheer me on.
Good luck with your pre-Thanksgiving food shopping. Also a nightmare. Not one of the things I am thankful for.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

What's better than pie? Shopping!

In lieu of posting about the lovely, entertaining and, of course, delicious Pie Party, (for details, see Hightouchmegastore), I am going to post about the day after activities: shopping.
In case you haven't heard, Steve and Barry's opened here last weekend. What, you might ask, is Steve and Barry's? It's a department store selling celebrity clothing lines: Amanda Bynes, Venus Williams, and, most importantly, Sarah Jessica Parker's line Bitten.
Hightouch, daughter and I made our way down there and did some power shopping.
The best part about this store is that everything is ridiculously inexpensive. It's not on sale, the regular prices are just low. I got two pairs of pants: boyfriend jeans for $14.98 and black work pants for $19.98. I also got a button up shirt that fit my shoulders! Unheard of. It was only $12.98!
I still need to shop for some boots, but I am well on my way to super high fashion at a very low price.
And just to be clear, pie is not better than shopping, but it's just as good, in a different way.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Pie and....More Pie

Pie minus six minutes and counting....
I am awaiting my colleagues and their various significant others and, most importantly, the pie they have chosen to bring to the first of what I hope will be an annual Pie Party.
I made apple. It looks pretty nice if I do say so myself. I took Hightouch and Lis's advice and made the crust with butter. I think it went okay. I'll let them decide.
On the menu: chocolate and pecan, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin pie, apple, rhubarb? and perhaps other various unknown pies.
Also: Bailey's, and enough wine for many, many more people than are actually expected. We have to have some left over for Thanksgiving!
I'll post some pics and reviews.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Gender and Coffee

If you haven't read or heard about it already, you should look at this study about wait times in coffee shops. The study was conducted in Boston, by a professor and undergrads from Middlebury College, which is cool. Basically what they found was that, even allowing for the fact that women are more likely than men to order "fancy drinks," women's wait time was significantly longer than that of men.
As a former barista, and a woman who frequents coffee shops, I found the study quite fascinating. First, I acknowledge that I was pretty bad at customer service. I don't like people, and bitchy women ordering "skinny vanilla lattes" are just about the worst thing ever. But I could make coffee and do it fast. One interesting part of the study found that when the staff was all female, wait times for women were still longer, but not statistically significant.
So the upshot is that women are nicer to women, but men make women wait longer. Why? It's an interesting study, and I wonder what kinds of conclusions we can make. It will be interesting to see what economists and sociologists make of this. Hmmm.
It also reminded me of a time I was at a party and a friend of a friend told me that I should smile more. At the time I was working as a cashier at a food co-op. She said it was part of customer service. I made the argument that I was paid to scan and total groceries. I understand, of course, that being nice is part of it. But every once in awhile a person has a bad day, right? And I have the right to be in a bad mood, right? But she seemed to think that smiling and being fake was part of the deal. Maybe. This friend of a friend said she didn't like to come through my line because I was intimidating. I don't understand this. How can you be intimidated by a person who is ringing up your groceries? In practice, I liked this aspect. It meant when I was working with the young, flirty girls, my line would be empty, while hippy men lined up to be helped by them. Great for me, I thought. I can stand here and drink coffee while she works. I should also add to this that I had the best record for till correctness of any cashier. They wanted me to become a manager. Ha! I quit to go to graduate school. Thank god. That job would have killed me.
But it begs the question, do we discriminate against customers based on gender? Did I? I don't think so. Though I have to say, in my memory of terrible customers both at the coffee bar and at the co-op, all of them were women. Men, in general, seemed to care less about my general mood. As long as I made their coffee and it was fast, they didn't care. I really did hate those non-fat vanilla latte women. Hated them!
I also had some high maintenance shoppers at the co-op. Once a woman returned more than a hundred dollars worth of cleaning supplies. I sighed heavily and did the return. Then I went back to the customer service desk and told the supervisor that the woman who I had just helped was going to come complain about me. And when she did, the supervisor said, "Yeah, I know." It was actually kind of funny. I just can't stand the shoppers who feel they deserve special attention just for doing what everyone else is doing: shopping.
Which is why my customer service career came to an end. But not quickly enough for me. Never.
So my opinion is, yeah, women probably wait longer. Maybe men are just less likely to put up with perceived bitchiness. Or maybe they are just sexist pigs. A little from column A, a little from column B?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

More Lessons from First Grade

Today was Pajama Day at Son's school, which only made me wish we had Pajama Day at College. What fun! But actually, it was a bit of a disaster. The kids were extra crazy and wild. It didn't help that their regular teacher was out of town for a Feist concert (an extra good reason for a personal day, if you ask me!) and they had a sub. They know her, but still.
As a result, it was me and the sub against the first and second graders. They assaulted us in the following ways:
When asked to write what they learned about seeds from a story, they wrote on their worksheets "No." They had learned nothing.
One student complained about having to practice his letters. "I already know them all," he said. When I explained the purpose was to practice handwriting, he said, "I don't need to practice, I'm perfect." I just looked at him. How does one acquire such panache at such a young age? He also has the mannerisms to go with it, gesturing toward himself, and then out, wildly. Sigh. I told him to do the handwriting practice anyway, and eventually he did.
Another kid cried because, according to the girls in his group, he thinks everyone hates him. That, and crying gets him out of having to do any actual work.
One girl squirmed in her chair and said, "I'm having a bad day." Apparently this is how she tries to get out of everything. In her world, it's always a bad day. No worksheets, no learning.
Luckily there was no math today, only "free choice" which involved a cooking center and various arts and crafts. We had to keep them from lunch to get them to clean up.
Needless to say I was happy to get out of there and go to College, where if the students are having a bad day they just don't show up. My attendance was laughable, but we got to discuss genre, by which I mean blogs, so that was fun.
What have I learned from this? Pajama Day, while good in theory, is hell in practice. Kids in pajamas don't want to work, it's that simple. I, on the other hand, don't want to work, pajamas or no. And at this point in the semester, even students who are passing will not turn in a paper if it means they don't have to change out of their pajamas, and can stay home, doing whatever they do, squirming or crying, but not learning anything.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bulletin from Conferences with Creative Nonfiction Students

I felt a little bad because I'm not conferencing with my composition students this week like Middlebrow and Assertively Unhip. But then I remembered, I am conferencing with my students from Creative Nonfiction.
I had a day of conferences last week, and they were okay. My least favorite was with the student who needs the most help. He turned in a draft that he had clearly written just before emailing it to me. "What's the heart of this essay?" I asked. He looked at me blankly. I'd forgotten about this kind of student. He doesn't have an idea, he doesn't know what to do, he doesn't even know how to ask me a question so I can help him. "Okay," I said and sent him on his way. I'm accustomed to this student in beginning writing, but in an elective? I'm not sure why he's in this class. He is an okay writer, and I think he might even be creative, if he just wrote some stuff and loosened up.
In contrast with this conference were the majority of the conferences I had today. First, a student who wants to be an English major. I gave her a handbook. She's great at description and terrible with grammar.
Later a guy who's been quiet most of the semester. He's a good writer, but he clearly hadn't found his subject, until now. He had told me he was going to write about random conversations on public transportation. Okay, fine. But he sent me an essay about how his family moved to the woods, essentially, and how his mom came out of her depression for awhile. Because he wrote about it before I know that his mom eventually committed suicide. What was interesting was that in this essay he shifted from the third person (referring to himself by name and to his parents by their names) to the first person. He clearly was dealing with some tough emotional territory. In the final section, he began posing some questions that he hadn't quite addressed in the rest of the essay. I pointed to this section in our conference and said, "This is the section that can change this from a good essay into a great essay. But you have to decide for yourself, are you doing this essay just for this class, or are you a writer?" Like a good lawyer, I didn't ask a question I didn't know the answer to. Obviously he wouldn't have started this essay if he wasn't a writer. It's that kind of essay. It's messy, it's not done, but it's what he really needs to write about. I hate it when creative writing classes become therapy, but I see some real potential in him as a writer, and in this essay in particular. He said he saw this project extending beyond the end of the class. What greater compliment is there for a teacher than for a student to finally confront the subject matter he most needs to write about and to pursue a project beyond the end of a class? It's those quiet ones. You never can tell.
There was also another student who told me that she wants to turn her essay into a book. She's writing about her father and Viet Nam. He wrote a remembrance book that she is going to include in her essay. She had some great lines that began, "The story I want to tell is..." I referred her to "How to Tell A True War Story."
A few of these students told me that they are signing up for my Fiction class in the Spring. One, a great writer and a student from last semester, is working out a special deal with me, as he can't fit it in his schedule because he finally got into the nursing program.
Just when I had almost given up: hope.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Things to Think While Swimming

I'm back on my swimming jag, which is good as, besides running for the bus (and walking home when I miss it. Damn!), it's the only exercise I get! Here's what I think:
  1. Hips, hips, underwater, underwater. See, it seems that one should roll one's hips while swimming. Also, one should focus on the hand that's underwater. I seem to forget that, especially when I'm breathing.
  2. "You must have fallen from a star, you must have hmm de hmm de hmm de haw." Lyrics to songs you know are good to sing to oneself while swimming. Did you notice what I said there? Songs you know. But I like to sing songs I don't know, like the one above from "Once." So I just sing that same line, with the hmming, over and over. Luckily I'm not breathing, so all the singing is in my head, so no one notices that I don't know the words.
  3. "I wonder if those lifeguards think I'm like the world's worst swimmer." I wonder a lot what the incredibly bored looking lifeguards are thinking as I swim and flip and swim and flip. I actually don't think they are thinking anything, they look that bored, but if they are thinking something I also sometimes imagine they are thinking, "Wow, she's hot. She's a fantastic swimmer. How did she get so hot and fantastic?"
  4. "I wonder if the lifeguards notice that I sometimes take an extra breath before I flip and think I'm lame." I have to take an extra breath sometimes because I don't want to drown while trying to flip turn. Also, I'm afraid. Also, I almost drowned before. But that was a long time ago.
  5. "I wonder if the lifeguards would save me if I hit my head while trying to turn because I misjudged the distance between me and that wall." This is why I sometimes flip too soon and end up having to just swim with no cool push off to propel me forward.
  6. "I wonder which lifeguard would give me mouth-to-mouth if I did almost drown. I hope not the one with the mustache, because mustaches give me the creeps."
  7. "Was that 100 yards or 150? How far have I swum? Am I a good swimmer?"
That's all for now. Middlebrow is demanding his computer back for something called work. Have you heard of this thing?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Being Thankful

Seven Things I'm Thankful For

  1. Rainy days: I like to stay inside and drink tea. And think about running, but not actually go running because, you know, it's raining.
  2. Reading: Along with drinking tea, I read Son the rest of Harry Potter (the 2nd) today. It's difficult, to read out loud for a long time, but it was fun. I enjoyed that Son was so into it and that he wanted me to finish.
  3. Breakfast: I love to go out for breakfast. We had some friends in town, what shall I name them? Conservation Man and Idaho Teacher. We all went out for breakfast. It wasn't the best breakfast I'd had there, but it was good. And Son ate all his breakfast and a side of bacon and a side of fruit. Dining out for breakfast is fun. It just is.
  4. Food: I'm not hungry. At Son's school, we are doing a project for the food bank, making snack packs for kids who eat free lunch at school. Apparently, over the holiday breaks, many of these kids don't get enough to eat. I'm thankful that Son has enough to eat, even if he's not always aware or thankful. And I'm thankful that his school cares enough to have the kids do service projects. In first grade! Maybe these kids can change the world!
  5. My family: I'm not always as thankful as I should be for them. All of them. I have great sisters and parents and a great husband and a great Son.
  6. My brain: Even though I often feel stupid, and use the word "idiotic" about myself too often, I know I'm not stupid. So I thank my brain for still working and for getting me this far. You deserve a break! But please don't take one. Not yet.
  7. Writing: Even though I'm feeling discouraged these days, sometimes writing feels like a gift. Like when I've been discouraged and think I suck, and then one day I sit down and write something, and I have no idea where it came from or why. Those are the good days. I think there are more on the horizon. (Cue the George Michael:) I just gotta have faith.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

7 Things: A Confession

I've been retagged by Thirty-One Flavors, and I like a list as much as (okay, more) than the next person, so I'm game. Here are 7 Embarrassing Confessions. Or maybe not so embarrassing and maybe not so confessional, but 7 nonetheless.
  1. The number of actors that I adore beyond reason is actually quite long and includes some shockers: Clive Owen (always my number one), Gabriel Garcia Bernal, Mark Wahlberg, Judi Dench, Jennifer Aniston, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Helen Mirren, Julianne Moore, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kate Hudson, Reese Witherspoon, Patrick Dempsey, Peter Skarsgard, Kate Winslet, Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew McCounaughey, Emma Thompson, Joaquin Phoenix, Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette. I could go on. But the list must end somewhere.
  2. My home is filled with books I have not finished and have not started. Some standouts: Cloudsplitter (one year and counting!), The Beauty of the Husband, The Omnivore's Dilemma, The Kite Runner, Midnight's Children. Etc, etc, etc.
  3. My weaknesses are, in no particular order: dark chocolate, red wine, tequila, baked goods (cookies, scones, cake, pie), french fries, soda, potato chips. Basically potato and potato products. Dip (especially the one my mom used to make with cottage cheese, cream cheese, garlic salt and red wine vinegar). Really cold good beer (hoppy!). Hard cider (also really cold). Artichoke dip.
  4. Best meal ever: Right now, as I try to think of it, I'd have to say our first meal at Martine. At that time (years ago? maybe 5 years!) our town seemed like a restaurant wasteland. It has improved, but I'd have to say that Martine is still one of the best. Sangria is out of this world. That first time, I still remember, I had a tapa that was scallops in a Clementine reduction sauce. Also I think it had pistachios on it. Oh. My. God. (Also, at Stella, I had some amazing lamb with a cherry salsa. Wow!)
  5. Another good meal: My defense celebration meal (for which I still owe a great many people) where we went to Metropolitan and I had the elk medallions. So. Good.
  6. Favorite kind of restaurant: Taco truck. Haven't met one yet I didn't like. Looking forward to going back to the one in Pocatello.
  7. Favorite drink: the kind with alcohol in it. Does that make me an alcoholic? Maybe. Honestly? A pornographic martini (vodka, three olives) or a margarita on the rocks with salt.

Friday, November 09, 2007

10 Canonical Novels I Love

  1. Jane Eyre: love it! I spent about half (okay, maybe I exaggerate) of my oral exams discussing this. Why? Unknown. But I did. I've read it maybe 3 times. Never tire of it. My favorite part may be the crazy lady in the attic. I identify with her. And with Jane.
  2. All Jane Austen: Never met a Jane Austen novel I didn't like. I've read all except: Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey.
  3. House of Mirth: I think this was my favorite of the novels I read for my exams. Since then I've vowed to read more Wharton. And have I? No, I have not. Hey, give me a break. It's only been 5 years!
  4. Mrs. Dalloway: I love this novel. It is my favorite Woolf. Why? It's lyrical without being choppy. I much prefer this to The Waves, for example. (But, like hightouch, I have not read To The Lighthouse). I often use excerpts from this novel for my students to imitate.
  5. The Awakening: Love it! I know, she kills herself in the end, but there are many descriptions of interior space and she moves from a house to an apartment. Plus many good details (especially the last two paragraphs).
  6. Our Mutual Friend: I actually really liked this despite the fact that it is so long. It also has lots of interior space issues. One thing I didn't like is all the minor characters who never recur. I was left wondering, well, what happened to them?
  7. Lolita: I once had a long fight with some friends of friends about authorial responsibility for writing novels about pedophilia. But I hadn't read Lolita when I had this discussion. I like to do that. But now I have read it, and I'm not sure how I feel about authorial responsibility, but I do know that Nabakov is a master. In his second language. Damn him!
  8. Beloved: I reread this for my exams and I have to say I didn't love it so much the second time, but I still like it. And I love the structure, so I'll keep it on my list.
  9. Tristam Shandy: I liked this book, but I liked the movie even more. I know the movie isn't in the canon, but still.
  10. Wieland: This is a shocker, I know, but I really liked this. I wrote a pretty good paper on this that my professor liked. My thesis was: She must be unhoused! (Sorry, I can't remember her name!). As you can see, many of these novels concern houses or interior space. It's my obsession. Deal with it.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Books I Haven't Read

Inspired by Sleepy E's idea for Humiliation and the game from David Lodge's Trading Places, I am going to OUT myself by admitting the books most literature majors have read but that I have not.
  1. Moby Dick. I know. This is must be a mortal sin for a fiction writer. But hey.
  2. Canterbury Tales. At the University of Oregon, where I got my BA, there was this scary professor who taught the Old English classes and he made you come to his office and read Beowulf to him in Old English. I avoided this class until the English Department finally hired a woman who taught a class on Medieval Women, and then I took that. Needless to say, we read neither Beowulf nor Canterbury Tales. But I had already read (at least one page of...) Beowulf.
  3. Paradise Lost. To be honest, I "read" this for a class in grad school, if by "reading" you mean opening the book and turning the pages but retaining none (and I mean NONE) of what has passed before your eyes. I used to think it was because I was stupid, but now I know it's because the book( I should say "poem") sucks. You heard it here first.
  4. Aeneid. I did read part of this, but I never finished it. This is the second book from the same class in grad school that I didn't read/like/finish. I much prefer The Odyssey, thank you very much.
  5. Any novel by David Foster Wallace. I think this is only a sin for a lover of postmodern fiction. I like his short stories. You know why? Because they are short.
  6. Remembrance of Things Past. Nothing. I have not read it. If I ever get stuck on an island, maybe I'll get to it. But I doubt it. I'm shallow!
  7. Some James Fenimore Cooper novel I was supposed to have read in grad school. I read some of it. But I didn't finish it. The professor was mad at me because I didn't talk in class for about three weeks, while we discussed this novel. I hated it.
  8. Billy Budd. Is it nice to include two Melville on such a short list? I was supposed to read this for AP English in high school. I just couldn't do it. It was so boring. So. So. Boring. Even now, I still couldn't read it. And I didn't read Pierre when it was assigned at UO. My teacher had a thing for introductions, so I just read the introduction. I knew there would be a question on the introductions on the final, and there was! So I passed the class!
  9. Invisible Man. Okay, I started it. I read most of it. But I didn't finish it. Again, so long. Why? I know it's good, but I tire easily of novels that get too preachy.
  10. The Bible. I've read parts of the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament. But I've never read the whole thing. This, I think, is a mortal sin.
Next time: 10 Canonical novels I love!!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Favorite Lines

Listen: it's late and I'm not that creative. So, I give you my two favorite lines from my nightly ritual, first an episode of "Pushing Daisies" then an episode of "Samantha Who?" You know, the best thing about TV ala the computer is that you can make your own lineups and there is always something you want to watch on!
Pushing Daisies: When a widow asks Ned how he knows how her husband died he says, "DNA. ish."
Samantha Who: Okay, honestly? I can't remember the line now. Which is ironic, I know. I think it was in the bar when she said something about wanting to help the little people and her shallow friend thought she meant dwarves. Maybe I'll think of it tomorrow.
*Update: here's the line. I had to go on-line and surf through the episode. So, yes, Samantha says she wants to quit her job, because she doesn't like it, so she can help "the little people." Her shallow friend says if everyone asked themselves if they were happy, they would all quit their jobs, "and the economy would collapse by morning. And how is that helping the dwarves?"
But I have to go to bed now, because supposebly I am getting up at 6 to exercise, but don't bet on that.
*Update: I did not get up at 6, but at 6:50. I went to the gym and ran two miles on the treadmill.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Top Snack Foods at School

I think I'm in a list groove. I like lists. Lists are good. And right now I'm hungry. This list is limited to food that is available at my place of work. Meaning: vending machines, small snack store, and the dreaded food court.
  1. Cashews: maybe this is just what I had today. But I was craving them. And now that I've decided fat is good (well, natural fat, like nut fat) I can eat as many cashews as I want. I think I ate 24.
  2. Salad: actually, I think I'm addicted to the Caesar dressing at the pizza place. The salad is just so-so, your regular iceberg affair. But the dressing is good.
  3. Smartpop: Is that what it's called? That white cheddar stuff? It's good.
  4. Double-dipped chocolate peanuts: They sell these in bulk at the little snack place. Hightouch once gave me money to buy snacks for a department meeting and I came back with these gems. I may have eaten the whole bag. Thanks HTMS! I owe you!
  5. Chocolate: the usual kinds. I usually don't buy or eat these at school, trying to maintain my image of healthful snacking, but...I do buy candy sometimes. Rarely.
  6. Potato chips: I sometimes buy the baked ones, but I also love Salt & Vinegar. In a pinch I'll eat SunChips (I like them, but they are not my first choice, especially the cheese ones or the french onion ones).
  7. Gardettos: I might be mispelling that. I like the mustard kind. That's sort of weird, right?
  8. Sandwich: We have a new sandwich place, which I think is okay, as those things go. Their salads are weird, but big. ("...and such small portions!") But in a pinch you can get something mildly healthy, like a turkey sandwich.
  9. Coffee: you don't really want to get it at school, but sometimes you have to. It's watery. But it smells, almost, like coffee. And with enough flavored creamer, it's a meal.
  10. Pretzels: they seem healthy, but they are almost never what I want. I get them when I feel too guilty to get the potato chips.

I need a snack! Stat!

Monday, November 05, 2007

7 Facts about Me

I was tagged by Hightouchmegastore to do this 7 Facts about Me list. You know I love lists!
So, only 7?

  1. I'm an anxious, anxiety ridden individual, plagued by self-doubt and insecurity. Often this expresses itself in certain habits. Such as: drinking too much wine and talking really loudly, allowing my attention to wander so that I'm not paying attention to friends I should be listening to during conversations, saying things I shouldn't and then regretting them later, feeling a sense of competition with, well, pretty much everybody, worrying about my weight, my eating habits, the eating habits of Son, my exercise habits, saying cruel things I don't really mean but then can't take back. Basically, worrying about everything.
  2. I have these OCD habits like: picking up trash and straightening things up at events where I'm not responsible (wine and cheese get togethers, kids birthday parties, restaurants, friends' houses) but not, I should point out, my own house. (Perhaps I do it because I am nervous and insecure?)
  3. I love to read mysteries. Once, in my high school AP class we were doing presentations on Greek gods from Edith Hamilton's Mythology and I had an Agatha Christie book stuck inside my mythology book. Then, when it was my turn, I took Agatha out, stood up and did my presentation, sat back down and continued to read Agatha. I mean, I was reading, right?
  4. I hate fantasy books. I don't mind sci-fi, especially sci-fi that's like our world, but only slightly different. But I hate books with dragons and fairies. Especially fairies! All my friends read those Anne McAffrey novels in junior high, but I couldn't stand them!
  5. My favorite book in junior high was Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater. I love that he's a commentator on NPR now. He's so legit! If you haven't read it, you should. It's like Vonnegut for the tween set.
  6. My favorite movie in high school was "Casablanca." I was such a romantic! Now...hard to say. I still love "Annie Hall" and probably always will, but I think "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is riding high, because I wish I could write something that original and inventive. (and I kind of hate that guy because of it, see? competitive!!) But then there are all those other movies I love: Grease, Ladyhawke, Hannah and Her Sisters, Lost in Translation, Notes on a Scandal, etc, etc, etc.
  7. I'm running a fun race on Thanksgiving at City Creek. I think y'all should run with me. It's fun. If we can find someone to watch Son, MB will run too. Anyone?
So, I'll try to tag seven: Susansinclair, academom, not a folk singer, scorpion's tail, ErinAlice, SuziQ, Strange Polkas.
I did it! Success!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Book #23: Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital

Last night I completed book #23 for this year, Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital. I liked it, enjoyed a lot of it, but I didn't think it was as good as Oyster. Her last three novels (Oyster, Due Preparations for the Plague, and Orpheus Lost) riff off of current events and do so in fascinating ways. What I love most about her novels is her ability to be lyrical, to be literary, and to have great plots. Orpheus was no exception. She takes a musician and a mathematician, and somehow links it all to terrorism, underground prisons in Iraq, and freelance interrogators.
This novel is less successful than the previous two, in my opinion, because she gets a little off-track with the characters. There are whole chapters that don't advance the plot, but rather give backstory about one of the main characters, Leela (and you know how I feel about backstory!). And at that point, I didn't care. I just wanted to find out what happened. And I think too much of the plot was elided rather than depicted. I wanted to know more about what happened in the Iraqi prison and what happened behind the scenes. I think the characters could have been more fully explored. There was a lot of darkness in the novel, but whereas in Oyster she went way into the darkness and depicted what was happening in Orpheus she talks about what happened, but it's never really clear what occurred. Maybe, in some ways, it's realistic. Maybe the characters will never really know what happened. But I think as a reader, I wanted to know more about the circumstances.
In any case, it was a good read. I read it in about a week. I will definitely meet my goal of 25 books this year, maybe I'll even make it to 30! But I'm still trying to finish Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks. I've been reading it for more than a year. I have a good feeling though. I can do it!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Things I Feel Guilty About

  1. Not taking Gus for a hike
  2. Staying inside on a beautiful, sunny day
  3. Not writing
  4. Not reading enough
  5. Not being a good enough teacher
  6. Not running
  7. Drinking too much wine
  8. Watching too much TV
  9. Yelling at Son
  10. Guilt-tripping MB for his outings (but he doesn't feel guilt on his own, so I have to!)
  11. Eating pizza (but it tastes so good!!)
  12. Piles of shit (paper) in the basement
  13. Not having read all the books that clutter our tiny house

Okay, I know that's a lot. But there were some positive things about today: we purged the old computer and lots and lots of useless paper. We started piling some books (see #13) to sell at the used bookstore. And Son's last soccer game (yeah!). Saw a cool cartoon exhibit at the downtown library. Went shoe shopping with Middlebrow. Tried on jeans at Nordstrom Rack. That was a disaster. Does anyone else suffer from the big quads no hips no waist problem? Low-rise jeans help, but my god, who are these tiny women with their matchstick legs? It's why 501s never really worked for me (but I tried!).
Time to read Harry Potter to Son, and then try to get MB to watch a foreign film with me. Maybe I'll try guilt...

Friday, November 02, 2007


Two ideas converged today: the idea that, for the DFL, I could make a cool Power Point presentation with images that part of my story would cover (like layers). And the second thing is that in my collection of stories, I have more than one (two?) in which knives figure prominently. A friend pointed this out and I laughed. I said, "Yeah, that's funny." Which he found amusing, because knives aren't usually funny.
One story is called "Knives in the kitchen" and is basically a list of different knives, albeit with eerie overtones (think Lydia Davis's "French Lesson" meets Crate and Barrel). The second is one I posted a paragraph of in the summer. Inspired by Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, it features a housewife wandering the house, butcher knife in hand. Madness ensues.
So I had to post this photo, which I love. Maybe I will use it. Note the "fotosearch" watermark.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

What is the best candy?

This is a difficult question. I pondered it as I helped Son sort his candy on his bed last night. He went for the sugar candy: skittles, nerds, suckers.
Me, I prefer the chocolate. A ranking then:
  1. Dark chocolate: this can include many derivations, including Mounds and Special Dark. Not a lot of dark chocolate in the Halloween haul.
  2. Junior Mints: again, scarce. And I don't eat them very often, which adds to the allure.
  3. Almond Joys: good, even if they are milk chocolate. I'm joining Al Franken's campaign to get them to make Almond Joys with dark chocolate. What, are they stupid?
  4. Sweetarts: I only get them once a year!! What happened to the big ones that made you pucker like crazy and lasted all afternoon? Oh, Sweetart, where have you gone?
  5. Reese's Peanut Butter cups: these are ubiquitous. And therefore less in demand. Good, but could be better with more chocolate and less peanut butter. Which is why the tiny ones are best.
  6. M-n-Ms: if they gave out almond ones, they could move up the list. But alas, we are stuck with peanut and plain.
  7. Snickers: good, but the caramel hurts my teeth.
  8. Butterfinger: good, but with an odd texture.
  9. Other candy bars: whatever. I could take them or leave them: crunch, baby ruth, 100 grand, this new Take 5 thing, smores, and all those odd, new candies.
  10. Sugar candy: these are candies that lack any flavor beyond sugar: suckers, skittles, nerds, dots, etc, etc, etc.
  11. Candy corn: the lowest circle of hell is reserved for these headache inducing nightmares. They are sugar with some sugar and then some high fructose corn syrup. They are terrible and represent everything that is wrong with candy.
Did I miss anything?