Tuesday, December 25, 2007

With Sage Enough, and Thyme

The wonder and gratitude for the Christmas in own house continues, by golly. Senor Fluff and I got up this morning, read our respective books and drank coffee for about an hour, and then piled up our prezzies and opened them slowly, taking time to admire their various benefits (ooh, highball glasses from the parents! those will come in handy!), and chuckle about the inspiration for them (Senor's "Little Lebowski Urban Achievers" t-shirt, courtesy of yours truly). This kind of Christmas morn kicks the proverbial ass on the in-laws "wake up at 5:30 to screaming children, grab a cup of coffee, sit on the couch and perform great appreciation for gifts, and often get picture taken" morning that we have had for the last few years. It is indeed fun to watch kids open presents; they exhibit an excitement that those of us over 30 just don't seem to manifest (even when we get new operating systems for our Mac. oh yes.). But the early morning performance, prior to coffee? Torture. Every year.

And one of the further benefits of being in my own damn house for the holidays is one that I didn't really consider until after our return from the mountains: cooking! My own food! So last night we had spaghetti with turkey meatballs and I made a version of Senor Fluff's favorite--a spice cake. Thanks to epicurious, I managed a version of the gingerbread cake with vanilla cream cheese frosting (and for the record, whoever is responsible for the KitchenAid stand mixer should be canonized). Right now, I've got a chicken roasting, with garlic and olive oil pushed under its skin. Anyone ever done that? There's something all-too-prurient about it. I felt like I was violating the chicken. But garlic roast chicken? Sorry, poultry. Take one for the team. In addition, I've got a pan of my mother's herb stuffing waiting to be baked. I went the foo-foo route and actually bought fresh herbs (something that was unheard of during my childhood). Halfway through, I remembered that I had a food processor and could have avoided interminable chopping, but I think it will be tasty, nonetheless. Finally, I'm planning on doing up some brussels sprouts with pancetta, a la Giada, which I caught on Food Network the other day. In short, there's little like cooking for yourself and your loved one, all the stuff you love to eat. Oh, there will be hell to pay come tomorrow at the gym, (and when Senor F. sees the pile of pans in the sink), but nothing says mine like a house filled up with smells of my own creation. Eew. I mean the food, of course.

I'd never really thought about the therapeutic benefits of cooking during the holidays. I suppose it's because the experience at other people's houses is never so relaxing. I don't know where anything is, the tools are never quite right (I want a sharp knife, dammit!), and things that are ever so basic to me (hmm, bean and rice burritos, anyone?) are exotic to my relatives (you're not going to fry the tortillas?). But here, everything I want is at my fingertips (or, at least, I know what I don't have. Damn missing dishwasher.) And thus, the methodical assemblage of food becomes meditative, creative, yummy. Holidays at home: 5. Holidays away: 0.

I have a sinking feeling that we'll be traveling again next year, so I'm trying to enjoy every single minute of my holiday of freedom. And if that means cooking and eating and reading and drinking coffee and watching five seasons of Angel on DVD, then so be it.

Yup. you heard me. Five seasons.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

As Close to Perfect as It's Gonna Get

Last day of vacation in the north looked like this:

9 a.m.: Wake up in lovely, historic B&B. Wander downstairs to a sunny, snowy morning. Consume blueberry pancakes, bacon, grapefruit juice and coffee.

9:45 a.m.: Wander back upstairs, have lengthy conversation with husband regarding what to do and where to eat during the day.

10:30 a.m.: Now gussied up, drive 10 miles from teensy mountain town to slightly larger mountain town. Find free parking. Wander up the main drag, in search of coffee.

11 a.m.: Eat at Rachael Ray-recommended cafe. Chicken chili with fresh baguette. Eat in view of frozen lake and mountains. Drink coffee, read Shelley Jackson novel.

1 p.m.: Rent ice skates and spend two hours going round and round on Olympic speed skating oval (see below. Thank you, New York Times.). No falling, no knocking the teeth out. Just looking at the patterns of metal blades on ice, and fog on snow-covered mountains in the distance.

3 p.m.: Limp off the ice, wander up the street to the local brewery for a pint and some nachos.
4 p.m.: Explore used bookstore. Mock its crappy selection good-naturedly.
5 p.m.: Wander up the hill to the fancy-schmancy restaurant, and wonder if they'll let us in, since we're wearing fleece and salt-stained jeans. Not only do they let us in, they get us drinks, offer us the pub and the restaurant menu, and give us a tour of the wine cellar. Dinner=tomato bisque with lobster thermidor and a organic, grass-fed rib eye with porcini mushroom sauce. Heaven. And a glass of El Felino Malbec.
6:25 p.m.: Pay bill and wander down the hill to the tiny local movie theater, clearly built in the art deco period. See Will Smith movie, which didn't suck.
9 p.m.: Drive back to historic B&B, take a bath in clawfoot tub, crawl into bed.

Lessons learned:
Everything is funnier on vacation.
Lots of small meals can give you room to try different kinds of food.
Exercising on vacation can be fun.
Snowy mountain towns require warm waterproof boots, rendering the every day, constant search for cute but weather-appropriate shoes unnecessary.
A good plan can allow you to do a good number of activities in a single day.

If this is what not going home for Christmas looks like, then I may never go home again.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Some Other Place Like Home for the Holidays

Every year, Senor Fluff and I finish up the grueling tasks at the end of the semester, hand in our grades, clean our house (which has generally acquired tumbleweeds of cat hair, dust, and all kinds of ungodly crud in the month leading up to finals), do all of our laundry, and then pack up and head out to see our respective families. There, as I've described before, we see my parents for a few days, drive 5 hours to spend 4 days in a 2 bedroom house with 6 adults, 4 kids, and 2 dogs (no partridge, no pear tree), drive 5 hours back to my parents' house, spend 2 days there recuperating (and generally getting sick) and then return to our house in time to start prepping for the spring semester.

If it's not immediately obvious from the description above, this is about the worst way to "spend" the winter break that I can think of. I love seeing my family, and I enjoy and get good karma from seeing my husband's family, but I'm cranky and exhausted and stressed the entire time. Which is an awful lot like my general state during the semester. If one of the purposes of break is to rest and recharge, then this is time badly invested.

And so, for the first time EVER, we're spending this break at home. Our own home. And when I say ever, I mean it. I've been going home for the holidays since I was in college, and we've been doing the insane two-family holiday since we before we got married in 2000 (barring an MLA or two).

My initial impressions, here on the 20th, when we would normally be out West already? This is BLISS. We've put up our very own tree, sans the chili lights my mother adores (bless her heart, but gawd, it's not my aesthetic). The house is clean from top to bottom. I'm sitting in the warm bed and the big cat is curled up at my (now very sweaty) feet. I made a mac and cheese casserole last night, on the heels of a yummy chorizo and sweet potato soup (see Smitten Kitchen, It's to die for.) I've read the to interlibrary loan books that were due almost a month ago, as well as the very compelling new Jennifer Egan novel that I think I'll use for my spring graduate class. Today, we're off to the great white north for a few days in a swanky B&B (fireplace, outdoor hot tub, cocktail hour---you get the picture). I'm taking two novels that I ordered from Amazon specifically for this trip. The best part? We'll be back before Christmas, we'll rested and rosy-cheeked from snow-shoeing. [How can we afford said swank? Well, two plane tickets to the West Coast, plus a rental car for a week to drive between families is well over a thousand dollars. Not spending that left us a good chunk of change to play with.]

I miss seeing my family, no doubt. And I miss being in the West, for sure. And I even miss the trash culture that is a part of my home town (buffets, bingo, neon---all of that says Christmas to me!). But this is just too good. And the best part is that I'm remembering who I am when I'm not a whirling dervish; a stress monkey, a raving maniacal bitch goddess from hell. Look at me yielding to the guy with three teeth at the post office! Shoveling snow and whistling! Not panicking about a paper I have to give in April! Who is this strange woman?! I'm reveling in the calm, and beginning to plot how I might have another one of these next year.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Stalked by Carols

I won't replay the constant grading whinge that has become the ongoing theme of this blog, but I will say that when I came into my office this morning, with a list of many man things to do, I wanted to get to them immediately. Since the little red light of death (You have voicemail!) was on, I thought I'd rip through those messages and get down to grading. Unlike any kind and efficient voice mail system I've ever used, Askesis VM has no cut off---you have to listen to the whole damn thing before you can delete it and eliminate the red light of death.

So, of the four messages to get through, two were an orchestrated version of "O Come All Ye Faithful." No voice, no warning, just the song. For 3.5 minutes. Not once, but twice. What, I ask you, the crap?! I like a Christmas carol as much as the next girl, but twice? On an answering machine? Is this someone's way of telling me to get some Jeebus? Or of indicating that I'm such a grinch that I'll be tortured by the sound of joyous noise?

Whatever it is, I'm annoyed. I'm not faithful, and I'm not coming to wherever they're going---expecially when they refuse to leave a clear and concise statement after the beep.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Kajagoogoo Sings My Theme Song

"The Neverending Story"? Anyone remember that little charmer? In truth, before HZ busts me, it's not really Kajagoogoo, but the band's former lead singer, Limahl. So sue me. The point is, dear readers, that this is the semester without end!!

I keep making a list (but not checking it twice), and the list keeps getting longer, not shorter. There's grading to finish for one class, and then there are a set of intership evaluations I need to write. I need to meet with a colleague and a student who is thinking about grad school. There are many, many pages of a student independent study project that needs to be evaluated. I need to fill out a %&*$$!@ assessment form for my ACUN. A woman writing for the college alumni magazine has just sent me a copy of the story she's writing to make sure that she's quoted me correctly. I had a grant meeting yesterday, and the deadline for an abstract for a collaborative article is due Friday. Meanwhile, emails from my own students and from students in the program in general keep trickling in, with questions and course substitutions, etc. Saturday is graduation. Any chances I'll be done by graduation?!!

I'm planning a post for break that talks about my experience with administrative work, now that I'm preparing to hand it off to someone else. When I look at the list above, however, I can see the ways that admin work extends the scope of the semester. Fully half of the tasks above have to do with getting the ACUN bedded down for the holidays. Needless to say that the work to revive it will start just about the time I'm in a panic about writing syllabi for the spring.

According to my theme song,
rhymes that keep their secrets
will unfold behind the clouds
and there beneath the rainbow
is the answer to the neverending story
I have no freaking clue what that means.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Screwed, Blued, Tattooed

That title comes to you courtesy of my father, who had such a flair with the common vernacular. That was one of his favorites, along with "my way or the highway," "who's we, white man" and "it must be 5 o'clock somewhere in the world." A charmer he was. But I find that some of his phrases float back to me at certain moments when I'm deeply in need of some cliched, vulgar way of describing my situation. And that's it in a nutshell.

I had the best of intentions today, I really did. I got up early and busted out those last three papers (one of which I'd been saving because the student makes me grind my teeth. Often in her presence. You know when you have someone who just gets on your last nerve? Like comes to your office and tells you how sick she is and coughs all over the place and then touches everything and leaves? Or else, despite your warnings, decides to use Yahoo answers as a secondary source in her paper?!!). Did that, and then got ready to chip the 1/4 of ice off my car and go into school. Except that my favorite neighbor's car wouldn't start. So we called AAA. And they came in about an hour, and then took another 45 minutes to load up her poor little coche on the tow truck. And by that time, it was almost 1. So I got to my office, dealt with a couple of crap admin tasks, and then started working on another stack. Why do I never learn?

So it's 10:30 and I have a stack of rubrics and 21 short (2 page) assignments to read before the final tomorrow at 11. Who's up for a little sleep deprivation?

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Suck It, Delayed Gratification

So I know that all of us are in grading jail right now. And I have no doubt that everyone thinks that she is the worst procrastinator. You're reading blogs, you're cleaning your bathroom, you're watching the America's Next Top Model marathon on MTV (and what's up with that, anyway?). Blah blah. I just took the last two days off. Haven't read a single paper. Top that!!

Clearly, this is nothing to brag about. By Tuesday morning, I should have graded: 15 research papers and 14 presentations; 21 portfolios and 21 online research projects and written a final exam. What are the chances, ladies and gentlemen? Nil, say you? I have to agree. I sort of knew when I put this schedule together that I was going to be screwed, but I have so actively screwed myself with my total lack of focus on Friday and Saturday that it's now a dire situation. And it occurs to me that this has been my pattern ALL SEMESTER LONG. I've put off grading and prepping and then, at the last hour, have run around like a chicken with my head cut off. Or, in more realistic terms, I run for two days on no sleep and caffeine. Making me both Princess McGrumpypants and verging on the edge of hysterical hallucinations on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

I've never been one to engage in delayed gratification. You know those studies about kids who can wait to eat the candy, and then they grow up and become successful and famous and svelte? Not me. Not even close. Give me that marshmallow and damn the consequences. But at some point, you think the realization of sleep-deprivation and pain would sink in. Or that it would sink in prior to the moment of realizing my screwage.

But no. Apparently I'm going to end this semester like I started it. If anyone wants me, I'll be grading and self-flagellating.

**ETA: Twelve hours, ten papers, two meals. Sucking wind. Totally and completely hosed. Hoisted by my own petard. I'd try to locate another lousy cliche, but you get the picture.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Non-Ironic Ode to My Students

You know, I've been a pretty shitty blogger of late. Really. You don't have to tell me. I can feel the heat of your silent judgment from here. I think it's less because I've been busy as all get out, and more because there are big things afoot in the Fluff household, and I haven't had the headspace to think about it. So at some point, I'll spill about the perils and pleasures of the two-body problem, a surprising, last minute job application, and anything else I can think of.

Right now, however, I'm preparing to dive into a stack of 15 seminar papers. Generally, this would fill my heart with dread (and I'm sure that it will in about 20 minutes). Now, however, I'm suffused with love for this class, so I thought that I should record that here. Really, they've just been super. Sure, my plagiarist student from last semester took the class, and reminded me that she is, indeed, as dumb as a box of rocks. And yes, I had three students try to make up a semester-long cumulative assignment in the last two days before it was due. There's one student who's had a personal trainwreck and needs an incomplete. But, honestly, they've just been so fun over the last 14 weeks: they laugh at my jokes, they bring me examples of stuff that they find that relates to the course. Very little whining about the material (which is new; this is normally the class that brings out the worst in them). Lots of sincere attempts, if not real engagement with, the theory that I've shoved down their throats.

So here's to you, group of majors taking my seminar. You've made my semester a better place to be. Now let's hope that that holds true for your final papers. Fingers crossed, everyone.


Monday, December 03, 2007


So the ever-fabulous (even while preggers) Ms. Kate has tagged me for a meme. And I'm still remiss on the one that Sisyphus tagged me for oh so long ago! So, this one first, and then I'll double back. Here are the tasks set before me:

1. Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog. (see above)

2. Share 7 random and or weird things about yourself. (see below)

3. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs. (hmm. I really hate this, and I swear I don't know if there are 7 people left in the blogosphere who haven't done this. I'll poke around...)

4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog. (see immediately above)

Seven random or weird things about me? Piece of cake.

  1. I'm an inveterate nail biter. I know that it's gross, unsightly, and a bacteriological nightmare, but it really makes me feel better. When I can control it, I try to only bite my thumbnails, because if I bite one of the others, then I'll have to chew all of them down to the same height. Top three nail-biting contexts? Watching movies (preferably in the theater), reading student papers, and writing. Painting my nails holds this off a teeny bit; I'll peel the polish before I bite the nail itself.
  2. In high school, I did a LOT of musical theater. My favorite musical, at the time, was West Side Story, and so I begged and pleaded with the drama teacher to do it in my senior year. Instead, she picked The Sound of Music. Because what's more musical than Nazis and nuns? Being the sarcastic little chit that I was, my most-repeated joke of the year was that I had always wanted to play Maria, but I wasn't specific enough. There were also, if I remember correctly, lots of jokes at the time about how no one knew exactly where Fraulein Maria was from, and thus it was technically explainable that you'd have an Asian American nun in the middle of Austria pre-WWII.
  3. My yodel, developed for the above context, is not nearly as good now as it was 15 years ago. Pity.
  4. I was in a rather serious car accident in the months before I went to graduate school. I totalled my car and slammed my head into the windshield (and thus my brain into the front of my skull at about 60 mph). This had all sorts of interesting effects: shards of glass continued to push their way out of my skin for the next few months (I'd wake up in the morning and find blood all over my pillow. Apparently glass will slowly work its way to the surface of your skin over time.); I lost my ability to conjugate verbs; I ended up with a monster hospital bill that my parents paid out of pocket because I didn't have health insurance. A week after my accident, I still had a black eye, but let my roommates talk me into going to a bar. A woman approached me in the bathroom and said: "You know, honey, you don't have to let him do this to you." What, stop in an intersection?
  5. I love to talk about myself (hello, disease of bloggers everywhere!), but am terrified that I'm a self-centered egomaniac and that everyone I know is sick to death of it. Thus, I have a tendency to avoid telling things about myself to new friends, and I'll dodge direct questions for a long time.
  6. It's been a really long time since I've been a total bitch to someone. I regret this in some ways, because I'm really really good at it. Really. A good insult is an art form, and the ones that shut other people down entirely? Genius. I feel as if my ethics are getting in the way of the development of one of my most formidable talents. I'm hiding my light under a bushel.
  7. I find certain sounds to be enormous turn-ons, and smells to be turn-offs. I know that some people get off on touch and taste, but give me Chris Isaac singing Blue Spanish Sky any day of the week. Meanwhile, I'm convinced that one of the major reasons that Senor Fluff and I are still together is because the way he smells doesn't turn my stomach. I can't say the same for most of the people that I've dated.

Now, seven others? Lee is always my go-to meme girl; it appears that Sisyphus hasn't yet done her meme duty to the blogosphere, and neither has Flavia; Beth might do it musically, and Ashley might be crafty about it; the Dandelion Diva might do it in the garden. And now I'm officially stuck. There's an open spot on the roster! Anyone interested?

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Comfort of Metaphors

It could be my background in literature, or it could be my secret, corny love of cliches: whatever it is, I love a good metaphor. There's something about its ability to bring unlike things into comparison with each other. And on their best days, metaphors show us something about one thing that we didn't know, all by virtue of its surprising similarity to the other thing. And so last night, I found myself drifting off to a semi-peaceful sleep with the image of a manual transmission.

The story is this: the meeting I dreaded brought about the unhappy decision I knew was coming. It has consequences that are far reaching for two different projects that I'm involved in. To wit, because of some people's complete hubris and narrow-minded ideas of what contemporary intellectual work looks like, two years of hard work building programs (i.e., recruiting students, developing curricula, integrating technology, negotiating with faculty, designing courses, etc.) may well all go right down the drain. My initial reaction was to spend the evening oscillating between terror (I'm not even quite sure why it makes me afraid, quite frankly) and despair. It's not so often that I spend years working on the same thing; the idea of all of that time and energy going to waste makes me sick to my stomach.

So where does the manual transmission come in? Well, on Thursday, I had the great pleasure of drinking with Dr. Marxy, who has the great misfortune of having to watch over a lot of these kinds of decisions without really being able to intervene. That pretty much makes her the impotent goddess of the clusterfuck, in my view. And as we discussed the ever-growing conservatism of faculty decisions, she very wisely said that this was one of the reasons to be thankful for, and nurture a great family life--so that you don't get overly-invested in the crap.

She's exactly right (and was even more right after two G&Ts). I tried to remind myself of that when I heard the news. All well and good, but how do you stop from getting invested, or as I worded it to myself "engaged"? Suddenly, I had the image of a a transmission engaging--the way that you push the clutch in to change gears, and how, with the clutch engaged, the engine revs but won't go anywhere, whereas when you let the clutch out, the car zooms off in fifth. So as I wandered off to sleep last night, I kept visualizing the image of keeping the clutch engaged; just hold it there and let the engine rev without making progress. I haven't quite unpacked all of this yet. Does it mean that avoiding engagement equals holding myself in and letting it all transpire? Does it mean that I'm somehow hoping to prevent wheels from turning elsewhere? I'm not sure. All I know is that the image of the gears being unable to turn was the only thing that let me get some rest.

So there you have it, folks. An unanalyzed love of a bizarre metaphor for faculty engagement. Don't you all have some grading to do, instead of reading this stuff?

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