April 04, 2007
On April 1, I took the Wardrobe Refashion pledge, which is as follows:
I Emily pledge that I shall abstain from the purchase of "new" manufactured items of clothing, for the period of 6 months. I pledge that I shall refashion, renovate, recycle preloved items for myself with my own hands in fabric, yarn or other medium for the term of my contract. I pledge that I will share the love and post a photo of my refashioned, renovated, recycled, crafted or created item of clothing on the Wardrobe Refashion blog, so that others may share the joy that my thriftiness brings!
Here are the rules:
- No buying new (handmade is excepted; so this allows for Etsy purchases, etc.). All clothing must be Recycled, Renovated, Preloved or Thrifted, or Handmade only for the term. Employment-related and special needs clothing (i.e. sports, school), shoes and undies are excepted from the rules, although you are encouraged to have a go at making these.
- In extreme circumstances, maybe a special event, or the world's greatest and most amazing never to be repeated sale that you simply can not pass up, you may use the Get out of Refashionista Jail Free card. You are able to use this card once during every two months of youf contract. Of course, you need to fess up on the blog and display the button!
- You must post on the blog at least once a week to let the community know what you've been up to. This will not only give you brag points, but inspire and encourage others! Of course you need to display the button on your blog and have cpied the pledge in at least one post, and provide a link to your pledge under the button.
- You need to be honest and admit when you've fallen off the Refashionista Wagon! Go directly to Refashionista Jail, do not pass GO and do not collect $200! Apply for parole once there.
I decided to take this pledge because I rarely shop for new clothes anyway. In fact, it has already been six months, so I thought it might be fun to see if I could go another six months. Now that I have taken the pledge, however, I have become very excited about the idea of thrifting and refashioning. I even borrowed a sewing machine from my mother-in-law last weekend, and have already made some pillow covers for the throws on the couch and am halfway through a tote bag. I hadn't touched a sewing machine in fifteen years (I took lessons at a fabric store when I was in middle school), and David's mom didn't know how her ancient Singer worked, nor did she have the instruction manual for it, so it took me most of Sunday (and a trip to the library) to get it up and running. But now that it works, all I want to do is use it! In any case, if you want to see my adventures in refashioning, check out Wardrobe Refashion from time to time.
April 02, 2007
There were a couple of craft books I was pining for all through March, and that I promised myself I would buy in April if I stuck to the March budget. Since I only went over budget by 65 cents last month, I logged on to Amazon this morning to buy the two books. After I added them to my cart, I noticed that they were free -- somehow I had a gift certificate that was being applied to the purchase. I have no idea where the gift certificate came from; I must have a fairy godmother. If person who gave me the gift certificate is reading this, thank you for the books!
March 26, 2007
Losing my home internet connection has exposed me as the blog slacker I truly am. It is easy to post every day when I sit in front of a T-1 connection at work or when I have access to my neighbor's wireless at home, but it is much harder to post when blogging requires taking my computer to a cafe, even though two cafes offer free wireless within four blocks of my house. I guess I'm dedicated, but just not that dedicated. So I apologize to readers for going yet another whole weekend without blogging. Here are some of the things I might have blogged about, had I blogged:
- Going to Costco: I think the best part about having a Costco membership is all the blog fodder it gives me! When we walked in on Saturday afternoon, the first thing that caught David's eye was a display of spring bulbs to plant. We stopped to examine the offerings, and turned back just in time to see a man shopping with his young daughter begin to walk away with our shopping cart. We hadn't put anything in the cart yet, so I wasn't terribly alarmed, but I did exclaim to David, "that guy just stole our cart." David ran right up to the guy and said, "Dude, that's our cart." The guy sheepishly returned the cart to David and took another one from a nearby stack. Realizing that there were a bunch of empty carts nearby, David immediately became embarrassed for having been so possessive of our cart, and explained to the guy that we had become attached to the cart because we had brought it in from the parking lot. As we walked away with our recovered cart, David couldn't believe that he had actually uttered the words, "Dude, that's our cart."
- Other bizarre things that came out of my husband's mouth: On Sunday morning, when David went to pour milk into his bowl of cereal, he found that his new gallon had been opened, and asked me if I had used some of it. I replied that I had, and he asked, "what did you do with it?" This seemed like a really bizarre question to me. I drank it, of course -- what else does one do with milk? I couldn't very well knit a sweater out of it! Maybe he thought I fed it to his plants...
- Recreational reading: For the past week or so I have been reading the novel Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. I had purchased it as an impulse buy at Borders because it was marked 3 for the price of 2, and expected it to be rather trashy -- basically the high school version of Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons. But it wasn't like that at all. I'm not saying it is great literature, but Sittenfeld does an amazing job of capturing the social awkwardness of a teenage girl from Indiana attending an elite East-Coast boarding school on scholarship. It reminded me of my own experience of social life in college, but kicked up a notch. I could so relate to feeling like an outsider around kids who had grown up much wealthier than I had, and feeling like I had somehow missed the memo about how to behave.
- Spring-cleaning update: I think I have recovered from the spring-cleaning bug, as I did absolutely no cleaning all weekend. It feels good to be back to normal!
So there's the four-point rundown of my weekend. I hope I'll still be able to think of something to blog about tomorrow :)
March 21, 2007
Last night I read about this site in Bust magazine. Holla Back is a website that allows victims of street harassment to publicly shame their harassers and, really, in a world where the police aren't interested in protecting us from being catcalled, flashed, and masturbated at, this is about the best we can do. Holla Back encourages victims to take photos of their harassers (with their cell phones, of course) and post them to the site, along with stories about what happened. New York was the first city to have a Holla Back website, but now several cities have sister sites. I was at first surprised to find that there is no Holla Back LA (though their are sites for San Francisco and for California as a whole), given that Los Angeles is the only city in which I have been flashed and masturbated at (though I have never been catcalled anywhere as much as I was during a week in Danbury, CT of all places), but then I remembered that very few people actually walk or use public transit in LA, and street harassment just isn't much of an issue when you are ensconced in your own car. I guess I was just one of those unlucky few.
What struck me most about Holla Back was its very existence. Obviously street harassment is very prevalent if it can fuel fifteen websites dedicated to shaming its perpetrators. I was especially shocked to learn how common it is for sleazy men to masturbate on public transit. I had no idea. When I was fifteen years old and saw a guy masturbating in the seat across the aisle from me on the Big Blue Bus, I couldn't imagine that there were men doing the same thing on buses and subways all over the country (and, perhaps, the world). But then a friend told me that the same thing happened to her on a subway in Boston, and two weeks later I discovered Holla Back, which was founded by a woman who had been masturbated at on a New York subway. Of course, camera phones didn't exist back when I was riding buses around Los Angeles, but I'm glad I at least had the presence of mind to tell the driver what was going on so he could kick the guy off the bus. Next time, I'll Holla Back.
March 18, 2007
Yesterday David came home from Meijer and informed me that he had scored a free gallon of milk. He followed this sentence up by saying, "and I only had to buy five boxes of cereal to get the milk for free!" Ah, spaving. Spending money to save money. I have blogged about spaving before, in a rather disdainful tone, but have become a much bigger spaver since joining Costco.
My main complaint about spaving is that it tends to encourage overconsumption. It also contributes to our obesity epidemic. For example, why not "supersize" your meal if it only costs an extra few cents? David and I have been guilty of overconsumption too. On our first trip to Costco, we bought a large hunk of Gouda cheese because the price per pound was really good, but then we had to eat this huge chunk of Gouda! Almost two months later, we still have a few ounces left. Fortunately, I'm not the type of person who minds a little mold on her cheese :) For the most part, however, we restrict our spaving to things that don't go bad (toilet paper, cleaning products, and, in David's case, cereal). As long as we have the storage space, I don't see any reason not to buy six months' worth of paper towels at one time. I also like to spave on vegetables because I eat a lot of them anyway. The first time I bought a 3-lb bag of fresh broccoli florets David asked if I was going to freeze them. "No," I replied, "I'm going to eat them." Sure enough, they were gone in less than a week.
The cereal David bought yesterday to score his free milk was his current favorite, so he probably would have eaten five boxes of it over the next month anyway, and it was on sale. Now, however, our kitchen cupboards are overflowing with cereal, as our house was built before the onsest of the spaving-through-supersizing trend!
March 15, 2007
I pack my lunch and breakfast every day and, last fall, I decided that I needed an actual lunch box to pack them in. So I went to Kmart and browsed the selection. I began with the dignified, grown-up (i.e. plain blue) lunch boxes, but then I turned around and saw the kid lunch boxes on the shelf behind me. Most of them featured characters I had neither seen nor heard of, but then a pink lunch box caught my eye. One one side it said Hello Kitty and on the other side it had Hello Kitty's face. I had to have it. I have been a fan of Hello Kitty for as long as I can remember and, when I was a kid, my mom would take me to the Sanrio store every fall to get a new Hello Kitty pencil box.
I have now been carrying my Hello Kitty lunch box around every day for about six months and have gotten a lot of compliments on it. Strangers stop me on the street to say "cute lunch box" or "nice bag." But all of these compliments were from adults, until yesterday, when I got my first kid response to my lunch box. I was walking home from work, and a girl of about three or four years old was walking toward me with her mother. As we got closer, she stopped and stared at my lunch box. Her mom said to me, "she's staring at your lunch box because she has the exact same one." So I bent down and told the girl that I like Hello Kitty too. It's good to know that I have the right lunch box to fit in with the three-year-old crowd!
March 14, 2007
My Secret Soft Spot for the Brits
Regular readers of this blog know by now that, after having spent a good deal of time in England, I'm not terribly enamored of the Brits. Okay, that is probably putting it mildly, given the frequency with which I make anti-British posts. But I do secretly have a soft spot for those Brits, as I remembered today while working on the 1963-1970 study of Political Change in Britain. In this study, pollsters asked respondents what time of day they voted, and one of the multiple-choice answers was "after tea." How can you not love a people so devoted to tea that they all drink it at a specific time? In case you are wondering, "after tea" is 5 - 5:59pm.
My Husband, the Mermaid
On Friday night, David and I had our friends Elizabeth and Ken over for dinner and a game of Cranium. I had owned Cranium longer than I had known David, yet had never played it. The game was still shrink wrapped when we brought it up from the basement on Friday night. I can't remember all the countless times David and I said we should play it, but the game requires at least four people and we never thought of it at times when we had four people together.
But on Friday night the stars were perfectly aligned -- we had four people in our living room with the express intention of playing Cranium, so we got it out, chose teams (men against women), and rolled the five-sided die. Despite having complained in previous posts about trivia games and drawing games, I really liked Cranium, despite the fact that it involves both trivia and drawing. There are four categories of questions -- "data head" (trivia), "word worm" (spelling and definitions), "creative cat" (drawing and sculpting), and "star performer" (charades, singing, and impersonation). Some tasks were ridiculously easy (spell larvae backwards), while some were ridiculously hard (sculpt an Oscar). Others were just totally fun, as when David had to charade a mermaid. He got Ken to guess swimming woman and woman in labor (David was sitting on the couch, kicking his legs up as though they were a fish tail), but not mermaid. Meanwhile, Elizabeth and I were trying not to pee in our pants with laughter. If only I had a photo to post...
March 13, 2007
Today I'm blogging from an easy chair at Sweetwaters because I took the day off work to go to the dentist. I don't usually take a whole day off just to go to the dentist, but today I had to get a crown and, having had one before, I knew that after spending two hours in the chair getting drilled and prodded, I would just want to go back to bed, which is exactly what I did. Dentistry has always been pretty traumatic for me, from getting my two lower front baby teeth extracted at the age of five to ten years of orthodontia, followed by numerous fillings on teeth that had decayed under the braces. My first year in Ann Arbor, I was told that I needed to get my wisdom teeth out, which turned into a month-long saga, by the end of which I was hospitalized and having emergency surgery. I won't rehash the whole story, but suffice it to say, I should never have gone to someone named Dr. Mash! I have a much better dentist now -- Kristin Guenther of Donaldson and Guenther. Going to their dental office is kind of like going to a spa. At cleanings, they even massage my head! Today they gave me a soft pillow behind my head and a set of headphones so I could listen to the radio while they worked on me. I put on NPR despite the fact that it was the BBC newshour, figuring that the British accents wouldn't be so bad if they were drowning out the sound of the drill, but unfortunately it was the reverse -- the drill drowned out the British accents. I'm sure that when someone develops the technology to do a crown without drilling, Donaldson and Guenther will be the first to get it, but for now, getting a crown isn't much fun, despite the pillow and headphones. But I was done within the two hours they promised and I went home with a lovely temporary crown that I'll be sporting for the next month. I'm still super sore, and am sticking to soft foods for now, but I'm hoping to be back to normal tomorrow. All in all, I think I would rather go to work than go to the dentist!
March 12, 2007
Springing Forward and Getting Left Behind
On Saturday night, David and I and our friend Shawn took David's dad and brother (my father- and brother-in-law!) out to dinner to celebrate their birthdays, which are both March 18. As Saturday was Daylight Savings night, springing forward became a topic of discussion. Personally, I love Daylight Savings Time. There is something about long light evenings that just makes me feel so relaxed and free. Perhaps it is that I associate light evenings with summer, when school is out and there are no deadlines to be met. My in-laws, on the other hands, hate Daylight Savings. They would rather have the light in the morning, when they are heading in to work. They are also pessimists and curmudgeons who will complain about anything.
So it wasn't that I forgot about Daylight Savings Time -- I dutifully set my clocks ahead on Saturday night before I went to bed -- yet I overslept both Sunday and today. Oversleeping on a Sunday isn't the end of the world (though I did miss a phone call from a friend who calls me at eight on weekends), but oversleeping on Monday is worse. On weekends, I set the alarm clock for five minutes to eight and on weekdays I set it for five minutes to six. Last night I turned on the alarm, but I forgot to change it from the weekend time to the weekday time, and I didn't realize what I had done until I woke up this morning at 6:45. Had it not been the first Monday of Daylight Savings, I don't think I would have overslept so badly. I usually wake up on my own right before my alarm goes off. Today, however, I woke up on my own an hour after right before my alarm goes off!
I still managed to get out the door by 7:10 this morning and, just as I had predicted, it was pitch dark. Yet today I didn't mind walking to work in the dark because it is finally spring! Okay, it is still below freezing, but only by a couple of degrees, rather than by tens of degrees, and I was able to wear my transitional green puffy jacket instead of my long purple winter wool coat. Over the weekend, the temperature broke fifty! The way I can tell that it is spring for sure, however, is that all weekend I actually had a desire to clean my house. I have caught the spring cleaning bug.
March 03, 2007
Between my house and my office I have about six calendars (one in the kitchen, one in my study at home, and four in my cubicle at work -- they were free and I didn't know what else to do with them), and it took me until Friday morning to get them all set to March. Not bad -- just over a day into the month. Given that I have six calendars, and had just switched them all to March, I should have been pretty clear about what month it was. Yet, when I looked at the calendar in my kitchen and saw that it said November, it actually took me a little while to realize that something was wrong. At first, I just thought, hmmmm, November. Judging from the weather outside, it probably could have been November. But then I remembered that it had just been February, and November isn't usually the month after February.
So why did my calendar say November? No, I hadn't just turned six extra pages. It was my kitchen calendar, which features vintage University of Michigan football posters. I had been looking at the poster part of the calendar, which was advertising a game from November 18, 1922, rather than the calendar part. When David got home, I asked him to look at the calendar and tell me if anything seemed wrong, in order to check whether it was just me or if the calendar really was confusing. He looked at it for a minute and said, "yeah, it says November," but then he pointed out that all of the football posters said either September, October, or November, because those are the only months football is played. Had I ever heard of a football game in March? As we flipped through the other posters, however, most of them displayed the month much less prominently. Many of them just had the date in the corner or even abbreviated the month. So why had the calendar makers chosen that particular poster, the one that says "November" in large print across the bottom, for the month of March? Wouldn't it have made a lot more sense in another month, say, November?
February 25, 2007
Last night David and I had dinner and played Trivial Pursuit with our friends Shawn and Dave. They have the 80s edition and the 90s edition, and we used questions from both so that each of us could answer questions about the decade in which we grew up. Actually, I think they were just trying to be nice to me: David, Shawn, and Dave all went to high school and college in the 80s, but they knew that I would never be able to answer 80s questions because I was only in elementary school at the time, so they asked me questions about the 90s, the decade in which I went to high school and college.
We had a lot of fun playing the game and listening to era-appropriate music (the Police, Journey, and Public Enemy), but each time I play Trivial Pursuit I remember why it is called Trivial Pursuit. The questions are just that: trivial -- they don't ask about anything that actually matters. In the 90s edition, there was a whole category about technology, but much of it was about stuff that no longer exists and that none of us had ever heard of. Trivial Pursuit is still one of my favorite board games -- after all, it doesn't involve drawing -- but every time I play I wonder what kind of trivia-obsessed hermit wrote the questions.
February 21, 2007
Let There Be Light
Over the past week or so, it has been getting lighter and lighter on my walk to work. Walking to work in the dark was kind of romantic, but walking in as the sun is rising feels a bit more normal. I feel like I'm actually going to work at the beginning of the day, not working the midnight shift. In less than a month, however, I'll be plunged back into darkness, as daylight savings is about three weeks early this year. I'm not sure how I missed it, but I wouldn't have known about the DST change if they hadn't had to patch our computers at work to make sure that we didn't show up an hour late to appointments logged in Microsoft Outlook. It is Y2K all over again!
I'm guessing that walking to work in the dark in March won't be quite as bad as it was in January because, in theory, at least, it should be warmer. And the past couple of days have been warmer. Yesterday the high was about forty degrees which, after two weeks of subzero temperatures, felt downright balmy. It is amazing how relative it all is: a forty-degree day in May would have me cursing the state of Michigan, but a forty-degree day in February feels like the tropics!
February 19, 2007
Yesterday I didn't have to go anywhere or do anything, so I decided to wear my pajamas all day. It was a gloriously lazy day: I watched an episode of Big Love while I ate my breakfast, read a few chapters of King Leopold's Ghost (next month's ICPSR book club selection), took a nap on the couch, and finished watching the movie Marie Antoinette, which David and I had started on Saturday night.
But pajama day couldn't last forever: the sun was shining and David wanted to go out together and take advantage of it. I informed him that I couldn't go for a walk because that would require getting dressed, so he suggested that we go for a drive. I agreed, but then realized that that would require getting dressed as well, as I had long ago promised myself that I would never leave the house in sweats. So I got dressed and we hit the road. We spent the first hour driving around aimlessly, and then David remembered that there was a nursery in Stockbridge that he wanted to check out, so we spent the next hour driving to Stockbridge and searching fruitlessly for the nursery. By the time we got home, our one-hour drive had taken two-and-a-half hours, and I was exhausted. There is nothing like riding in a car to put me to sleep. Next time, I'll just stay in my pajamas!
February 16, 2007
A New Diet
No, not that kind of diet. As many of you know, I officially gave up dieting at the end of 2005. I was probably the only American whose 2006 New Year's Resolution was to gain weight, and I did. Now I'm trying to cut the fat out of my skin-care regimen (and, I hope, save some money) by going on the Cosmetics Restriction Diet.
The New York Times recently published an article about dermatologists recommending that their patients drastically reduce the number of skin-care products they use. In fact, these dermatologists say that all we really need is cleanser, sunscreen, and (maybe) moisturizer. Before reading this article, I hadn't really thought about the number of skin-care products I use, but when I counted, I found that, on a daily basis, I use eight different products: I begin the day by washing my face with both Clinique soap and Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser; I then apply a prescription gel, followed by both Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizer and a more intensive moisturizer; at night, I exfoliate with 7-day Scrub Cream, and wash with Acne Solutions Cleansing Foam, followed by the same Clinique soap I used in the morning; I then reapply the Dramatically Different Moisturizer and, before bed, a second prescription cream. There it is, eight products: four cleansers, two moisturizers, and two prescription medications.
One thing I can say for sure about this regimen is that it works. A year ago, when I started using all of these products (along with an oral antibiotic that I took twice a day for six months), my skin looked like ground beef. Today it looks like skin. I'm sure I don't need all of these products, but I don't know which ones are really doing something and which I can safely dispense with. I have already gotten rid of one -- Clinique Clarifying Lotion -- and don't seem to be any worse off for it. So I guess I'll just stop using each one as it runs out and see what happens. Of course, I'll still use the prescription creams, and I'll still need a cleanser, and maybe a moisturizer, and perhaps I should add a sunscreen, and there we go again. Well, nobody ever said dieting was easy!
February 15, 2007
Why David Shouldn't Leave Me Home Alone
Last night, David went out to the Earle with his dad, as planned. By the time he got home, I had prepared the verbal lesson I'll be teaching at Kaplan on Friday night, as planned, but I had also joined the Sierra Club, which I hadn't planned to do.
I used to be the kind of sucker who would give money to anyone who called or came to the door, simply because I didn't know how to say no. And it is really hard to say no to certain people, like firemen. If I don't support them, are they going to take their sweet time getting to my house when I have a fire? Being a grad student, however, forced me to learn to say no because I just didn't have the money to give. On the phone, it was actually pretty easy -- I could just hang up, but I found it was more effective to say "please stop calling me." That way I wasn't using the n-word, but still getting the point across. I have even said no to people who have come to the door. Last year a man came to the door and I couldn't even understand what he was asking for money for, so I said no and told him to go away.
But last night I felt particularly sorry for the college-age girl out going door-to-door in subzero weather on Valentine's Day evening, so I invited her in. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Seirra Club because one of their earliest activists, John Muir, was a local hero in California, where I grew up. It also seemed particularly timely that the Sierra Club was at my door because I had just been working on a survey at work that asked about them, so they were already on my mind. And, I have been budgeting $50 a month to give to worthy causes, and they seemed worthy. So I wrote her a check, and she left me with a new member pack explaining that I'll soon be getting Sierra magazine. Now if only I had time to read it!
February 11, 2007
Costco Shopping Revisited
David's brother Mike recently joined Costco and, as our wedding gift, listed David as a user on his Costco membership. I have posted before about how David and I had considered and rejected the idea of joining Costco, but who can say no to a free membership?
Yesterday we made our first visit to Costco as members. We bought everything. Okay, not quite everything -- we didn't buy any electronics, clothing, or home accessories -- but we got just about everything else: paper towels, toilet paper, dishsoap, Swiffer cloths, gum, body lotion, shaving cream, deodorant, and a ton of food. I have to admit, however, that I was a bit disappointed by the food selection. They didn't have any canned tomato sauce without sugar, or any plain non-organic frozen vegetables (I commend them for having organic frozen vegetables, but those were more expensive than regular supermarket frozen veggies). Much of the lunch meat also had sugar in it, and they had very few cuts of other meat. But we did get enough pepper corns to last us for about a year, and an entire case of chicken stock. We also got a ton of bananas, which made me happy because I usually go out for more bananas a few times a week.
By the time we got in line to pay, our shopping cart was more than full; David could barely see over the mound of stuff in it as he pushed it into the line. When the cashier rang it all up and the total came to $300, David asked, "so how are we saving money?" Honestly, I wasn't sure, though I did point out that we had bought about six months' worth of paper towels and enough toilet paper to last us into the next millenium (okay, probably not -- we do go through the stuff pretty quickly). As we pushed the cart to the car, we started to fear that our little GTI might not be able to hold it all, but hatchbacks were designed to haul a lot of stuff, so we did manage to get it all in. When we got home, however, we were faced with the real problem -- finding room in our house for all of it!
February 09, 2007
It is very rare for me to oversleep. My alarm clock goes off at 5:54, but I usually wake up about thirty-five times between five and six anyway. When my radio turns on, I listen to the Marketplace Morning Report, the news at the top of the hour, and the local weather, and get out of bed between 6:05 and 6:10. I wash my face, get dressed, pack my bag, set out David's lunch and pour his morning Diet Pepsi, and call a friend who expects to hear from me at 6:30 every morning.
Today I woke up at 4:30 and, relieved that I had another hour and a half to sleep, quickly drifted into a rather involved dream. I was taking some kind of biology class and, as part of the class, had to watch one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (which I have never seen in real life). So I rented the movie and invited over the rest of the class to watch it. We weren't at my current house, however, but in the condo my mom and I lived in when she was married to my evil stepfather. In the dream, we had just started the movie, and then I woke up and looked at the clock. It read 6:29. How could that be? My alarm goes off at 5:54, when the clock (which we keep six minutes fast) reads 6am. I felt the alarm switch and, sure enough, I hadn't set it the night before. Fortunately it was really only 6:23, so I had seven minutes to pull myself together before my phone call, but I was way behind schedule.
Ultimately, though, it wasn't that bad. I still got to work on time, and I think I even feel a bit more rested for having had that extra half hour of sleep. Maybe I could do it every day...
February 08, 2007
Getting Back on the Wagon
I have had an on-again-off-again relationship with Java Joe for over ten years now, since my mom gave me my first cup of coffee at the age of fifteen. Since then I have had a periods of heavy caffeine use and total abstention. Bizarrely enough, going to grad school actually got me off of caffeine altogether. This may sound odd as, for most people, grad school involves a lot of late nights and chronic sleep deprivation, and usually requires caffeine as fuel. For me it was the opposite.
Before grad school, I drank coffee at work every day. Not much -- usually just a cup in the morning -- but when I didn't have it I got debilitating headaches. When I started grad school, I had to make my own coffee at home and, since I couldn't really make less than half a pot, I increased my intake to match. But over the course of the next few semesters, I began to need the caffeine less and less. Grad school itself and the attendant anxiety was enough of a stimulant. I woke up at six every morning fearing for my life if I didn't get up and start reading or writing right away, and that feeling took me right through my 12-hour work day. Eventually I switched from coffee to green tea and then to herbal tea. It got to the point where any caffeine at all would send me over the edge, so I didn't even drink decaf coffee.
But then about a year ago I stopped feeling anxious about school. Perhaps it was the knowledge deep in the back of my mind that I was going to leave my Ph.D. program, or perhaps it was the medication I started taking, but I just didn't wake up at six am with my heart pounding eager to get to work any more. So I started drinking black tea. Not because I needed to -- I wasn't taking any classes so I didn't need to get up and start working -- but because I liked it. At first it was a cup in the morning and then it was a pot in the morning, but the rest of the day I limited myself to decaf coffee and herbal tea. And I still wasn't drinking real coffee, so I could continue to pretend that I was still on the water wagon (yes, this term usually refers to abstaining from alcohol, but I'm using it to draw an analogy. See the etymology here).
On Monday, however, I realized that I am, once again, fully addicted to caffeine. I had been drinking a cup of black tea before work and then decaf at work. But when I woke up on Monday morning and heard that the windchill was in the -25 degree range, I knew I would have to leave for work early. A good friend calls me every morning at seven and we usually talk while I walk to work. But on Monday it was too cold to walk and talk, so I had to get to work before she called, which meant no time for tea. I drank my decaf as usual, but by the early afternoon I had that dreaded headache.
For the past two days I have given in to the addiction, mixing my first cup of decaf with some regular coffee, and it has worked to stave off the headaches, but I hate being beholden to a substance like that. So, beginning today, no more real coffee, black tea, or green tea. I'll still drink decaf and white tea, though, as they have minimal amounts of caffeine and I need to drink something hot in my cold office. I should probably also find out where they keep the Advil...
February 05, 2007
Where is Global Warming When I Need It?
The little weather button on the ICPSR intranet page currently says -8, and the windchill is -22. I guess we are making up for an exceptionally warm December. We are supposed to be back up in the positive temperatures tomorrow, but this extra-cold weather makes it really hard to do anything, especially walk to work before the crack of dawn.
Since I walk in to work about an hour before David does, he and I parted this morning with some not-terribly-encouraging words about the cold: I told him to call me when he got to work and let me know he didn't freeze to death; he told me to stay on busy streets in case I fell down. Great.
Fully armed with long underwear (top and bottom), wool pants, a wool coat, wool hat, wool mittens, and a wool scarf wrapped around my face, I set out. On Main Street a man stopped me. I don't know what he ultimately wanted, but he introduced himself to me, took off his glove, and held out his hand for me to shake. I wasn't about to take off my mittens in that weather, or even stop, so I just told him I couldn't and kept going. But I was haunted by the thought of what he might have wanted. Did he need my help in some way? I should have told him to get inside somewhere.
Despite my full-on wool outfit, by the time I got to work, my hands were frozen and stinging. My scarf was tinged with white where my breath had frozen. But fortunately, someone had already made coffee, so I was able to warm up pretty quickly. I have never in my life been so glad to be at the office.
February 03, 2007
I just got home from having coffee with my friend Elizabeth, whom I had run into a few times but not really seen seen (yes, using the word twice gives it a different meaning) since last spring. It was fantastic to see her and to just chat for an hour or so, to catch up on her new job, my new marriage, my decision to leave grad school, her family, and our mutual hobbies: knitting and blogging. Knowing that she had been reading my blog, however, made me feel as though I didn't have a whole lot new to tell her; after all, she had already read all about my life! This is the problem I have now: my friends and family members always know what I'm up to, so I never have anything new or interesting to tell them! Of course, sometimes my blog posts prompt phone calls, emails, or visits -- as when my mom called to ask about my foot or when my other friend Elizabeth came to my cubicle to see my cell phone cozy -- but more often than not my mom will call and, instead of me telling her what I have been doing, she will tell me what I have been doing! The strangest thing is when people refer to something I have written in my blog and I wonder, "how did s/he know that?" I guess my life is pretty public now, and I'm flattered that people are actually reading about it.
February 01, 2007
Something Else You Probably Didn't Know About Me
I can't stand British accents. Given that I used to be an historian of Great Britain, this may sound surprising, but it is true. I hate all British accents (perhaps because I'm not particularly fond of the British as a people), but I particularly abhor the accents I hear on the BBC. Every morning at nine, my favorite radio station cuts to the BBC and I just have to turn it off. Today I'm listening to an episode from the Diane Rehm Show archives instead.
January 25, 2007
Welcome to the Twenty-First Century
David and I have finally become full-fledged citizens of the twenty-first century. That's right: we have cell phones! David did his research, figured out which plan and which phones we should get, and ordered them from Amazon. They arrived in Tuesday's mail, so we charged them up Tuesday night and were ready to activate them on Wednesday.
Even though we have resisted the cell phone craze for about the past decade -- or perhaps because we held out for so long -- we were pretty excited to finally have cell phones. We set up our voicemail, entered contact lists, changed our ringtones, and set the wallpaper. I even used mine to take a picture of David! When my new phone rang for the first time, I was delighted, and ran to answer it, even though I had just stepped out of the shower. This morning I made two calls on my way to work, but I think it was a bit early for the people I was calling -- they still had their phones turned off.
Ultimately, we will ditch the land line and have that number transferred to David's cell phone. He brought the phone number into our relationship (he has had it since about 1994), and so he called dibs on it: when I moved in with him I had to agree that he could keep the number if we ever broke up. I'm surprised he didn't have me sign a prenup for it when we got married. In any case, my new number is very easy to remember, so email me if you want it. Or just call the old number and ask David for my new number ;)
My next knitting project? A cell phone cozy!
January 21, 2007
A Solution to the Energy Crisis
Yesterday I encountered a group of kids just bouncing off the walls -- running, screaming, everything -- and I wondered why kids have so much energy. Oh yeah, it's because they don't work. Maybe those nineteenth-century factory owners who employed children actually had the right idea. With all that energy, child workers could probably be pretty productive. I suggested this idea to my ex-boyfriend Erik, who is a pediatrician, and thus knows more about children than I do, and he was skeptical that child energy could actually be focused in that way. After all, kids' energy is totally random, which is why they have trouble sitting still and concentrating in school. But, he continued, if we could hook them up to some kind of giant hamster wheel and harness their energy to a generator, we might just have a solution to the energy crisis. Parents' productivity would also go up because they wouldn't have to spend as much time running around after their children. I think Erik has a real solution on his hands, but he is hesitant to propose it to anyone, for fear that he might get kicked out of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
January 19, 2007
That's How Rumors Get Started
"So," I said to David yesterday, "have you heard that I'm pregnant?"
"Is that the new rumor?" he replied.
Apparently, friends of ours have been speculating on why we got married at the beginning of January on very short notice, and pregnancy seemed like the most obvious explanation. I guess it makes sense, but David and I were the last to know!
So, if I'm not pregnant, why did we get married when we did? Really, it was just because we could. We had been engaged for three years, but couldn't get married when I was in grad school because I had a need-based fellowship and would have lost a significant amount of funding if I had married someone with a full-time job. When I decided to leave grad school, we could finally get married. Why such short notice? The less time we had to plan the wedding, we figured, the less time we would have to stress out about it!
January 17, 2007
Over the weekend, a friend of mine had about fifteen women over to her house to watch The Secret, a DVD about the law of attraction, which says that you attract what you feel and think about. For example, if you dwell on your problems, you attract more problems. If, instead, you visualize something you want and bring yourself into alignment with it, it will come to you.
Before last weekend, I wouldn't have given much credence to this supposed law of nature. In fact, it has always seemed to me that the more I thought about and imagined a certain scenario, the less likely it was to come about. But last weekend, the movie spoke to me much more powerfully because I had just experienced a rather bizarre occurrence of the law of attraction. I had attracted a new bag.
Now I know this sounds terribly mundane, but I had been thinking for a while that I needed a new bag. Specifically, I needed a knitting bag, but I was hoping to find one that would double as a purse. Without even realizing that I was practicing visualization, I spent a lot of time fantasizing about what I wanted this bag to look like. I didn't specifically go shopping for a bag, but I kept my eyes open when I went into a store that I thought might have one. Then, last Tuesday night, a friend told me that she had something in her car for me -- a Sak purse that her daughter didn't want anymore. Not knowing what a Sak even was, I almost told her that I had plenty of purses, but instead I went with her to her car, thereby putting myself into alignment with my new bag. When she opened her trunk, there it was: a bag in a beautiful shade of green, large enough for knitting, my wallet, and my planner -- it was the bag I had been dreaming about.
So now that I have successfully attracted a bag, I'm trying to think about what else I want. How about a personal chef, so I never have to cook again?
January 14, 2007
I woke up today at about three am with the sudden realization that I can't put it off any longer. I need a haircut. Unlike most women, I'm not a big fan of haircuts. In fact, for me, getting a haircut rates just above going to the gynecologist, and I do it about as often. I think I don't like getting haircuts because it forces me to face the reality of my hair: it isn't quite blond and it isn't quite straight, but it isn't anything else either, and it never looks quite how I imagine it should look.
My last haircut was around mid-July, and my hair has grown quite a bit since then. In fact, the haircut has grown out to the point where it just doesn't make sense anymore: what used to be cute layers when my hair was only chin-length amounts to a shaggy, scraggly mess now that my hair is shoulder-length. I hadn't even noticed that my hair had grown so much because I wore it in pigtails for about six months. Now, not only is it way too long, but it is also abnormally fluffy, and not in a good way. As I said to David last week, I'm getting old lady hair, which isn't fair given that I'm only twenty-seven.
When it got to be a reasonable hour this morning (about eight-thirty), I got out the phone book to try to find a haircut. It turns out, however, that it is impossible to get one's hair cut on Sundays in Ann Arbor. Most salons are open Tuesday through Saturday, and the really daring ones are also open on Monday. Given that most of the world works Monday through Friday, I would think that a salon would get a lot more business on Sunday than on Monday, so it makes more sense to be closed on Monday if the stylists want to have a day off. But, no, Ann Arbor hairstylists just don't cut on Sundays. I wonder if there is some kind of city ordinance prohibiting it...
January 10, 2007
Feeling the Burn
Last Wednesday I burned my foot. That's right, I burned my foot on the evening of my wedding day. How? By spilling an entire cup of hot tea on it. Fortunately, I was wearing socks and slippers, but somehow the heat went right through. Prior to this incident, I had really thought I was immune to hot water. I worked at Starbucks the summer I was nineteen, and spilled coffee on myself all the time. I was once carrying an entire pot of just-brewed coffee, holding it against my body so that the spout opened and coffee poured right down my leg, and it didn't burn me. I was invincible. But coffee is only 170 degrees, whereas boiling tea water is 212 degrees. I guess that 42 degrees makes all the difference.
At first, my foot was just a little red and tender. Then some parts within the red area started looking purple. A few days later, the red had faded and the purple had deepened. It now looks like an oddly-shaped bruise across the top of my foot. Most of the time, it doesn't hurt, but the top of my super-cute shoes (I would link to a picture, but they have been discontinued and are no longer listed on the Dansko site) digs right into the burn. For the first couple of days, I just wedged a paper towel in there to pad my foot, but after I realized that the burn wasn't going away anytime soon, I invested in bandaging materials. Yesterday I started using antibiotic ointment in addition to the bandage. Somehow, though, the burn doesn't seem to be getting any better. I'm really glad it is on my foot and not a more visible part of my body; I just hope it heals before summer!
January 08, 2007
The Best Wedding Present
David and I didn't really want any wedding presents. Having lived together for over four years, we felt we had everything we needed and didn't want anything we didn't need. After all, stuff we don't need just needs to be stored or disposed of, both of which take time and energy that we would rather devote to other things (like clipping our fingernails). I think David just hates receiving stuff, but what clinched the deal for me was watching a friend of a friend throw a garage sale last summer, simply to sell off wedding presents. She sold a lot of nice stuff, stuff that I really liked, but the point was that she sold it because it was stuff that (at best) gets used once every few years. In theory, I would love to have a set of espresso cups or a crystal vase, but in reality, how often would I really use them? And knowing myself, on the one occasion that I did make espresso (I guess that would also require being given an espresso maker), I would probably forget that I had the espresso cups and just serve it in shot glasses! According to my uncle, the perfect wedding gift is something that we don't need and probably won't use, but that we will be glad to own thirty years from now. Perhaps, but what do we do with it in the meanwhile?
In any case, my parents came up with the absolute perfect wedding present, and now I am convinced that wedding presents can be fun and useful, even if there isn't anything David and I really need. So what did they give us? A gift certificate for a Couples Massage at the Relax Station! A couples massage is a one-hour table massage for two people -- two tables, two massage therapists, one room. So as I was getting my massage, I could listen to David getting his massage. There were also candles and soft music, so the whole thing was very romantic. The only drawback was that my therapist used so much oil that I had to shower as soon as I got home! It did smell nice, though -- lavender.
Thank you, Mom and Dad, not just for the wonderful gift, but for restoring my faith in gift-giving.
January 07, 2007
I got this from Kisha:
|This Is My Life, Rated|
|Take the Rate My Life Quiz|
I seem to be doing very well in love, but less well in mind. Is it rating my intelligence or my sanity? Maybe I'm doing so well in love because I'm insane...
January 06, 2007
Yesterday my cousin came over for a cup of tea and, when she arrived, asked how the first few days of married life had been. I replied that they had been frustrating, which produced a worried look on her face. It isn't actually the marriage that has been frustrating me (that has been going very well), but the process of changing my name. I had planned to keep my full name and add David's last name on to it, so that I would be Emily Rose K-- M--, but after standing in line for an hour at the Secretary of State (Michigan's version of the DMV), I learned that their computer system will only take three names. So my choices were Emily Rose K--, Emily Rose M--, Emily Rose K-M, or Emily K-- M--. As I have said before, there was no way I would hyphenate. I'm not against it on principal (except that it is only a one-generation solution -- if kids with hyphenated names hyphenated their names, the system would quickly get out of control), but I think it is just wrong to hyphenate when both parties have 8-letter last names. I also didn't want to lose my middle name because I like the sound of Emily Rose. So I exchanged my father's last name for my husband's, and now I have three names that are easy to spell and easy to pronounce. I'll never have to say "Merchant with an M."
After the Secretary of State, I went to one of my two credit unions. David and I have a very complicated banking system. We each have our own checking and savings accounts at two different credit unions. Then at his credit union we also have joint checking and savings accounts that we use for shared stuff like the house. I showed my new temporary driver's license (a big piece of paper with my new name on it, stapled to my old driver's license) to the lady at the credit union. She asked if there was anyone else on my account. "Yes," I replied, "my, um, husband." I think that was the first time I had used the H-word to refer to David. It turns out that she needed his signature too to change my name on the account (what is that all about), so he had to go in the next day and sign as well. The form also asked for my driver's license number, and when I looked at my new temporary license, I realized that I not only had a new name, but a new number as well. In Michigan, the first three numbers of your driver's license are based on your last name, so now David and I have the same first three numbers.
Yesterday, I tried to change the name on my Social Security card. At first I thought I would be able to do it just by calling Social Security, but no such luck. A recording told me that there was a form I had to fill out and send in, along with my marriage license. So then I thought I would just drop by the Social Security office, conveniently located in the Federal Building on Liberty Street. But when I got to the Federal Building, I learned that the Social Security office had moved to the other side of town. I downloaded the form I needed and started filling it out so that I would be all set when I went down there, but I got stuck when I realized that the form required my parents' Social Security numbers in addition to my own. The whole thing is so crazy!
Fortunately, it was much easier to change my name at the video store when David and I went there last night. He just deleted the old name and typed in the new name.
Going through this whole process has made me see why getting married sometimes seems like a bigger deal for women than for men. We got married on Wednesday, and on Thursday David just got up and went to work. He was still the same person, but with a ring on his left hand. I got up on Thursday and didn't know if I was Emily K-- or Emily M--. Not only do I have a whole new identity, but I have to go through miles of bureaucracy in order to put it in place.
January 05, 2007
The Wonders of Technology
Thanks to the miracles of twenty-first century technology, you can now watch our wedding. That's right, just click here:
You can also view still photos here: www.flickr.com/photos/emilyrosemerchant
January 01, 2007
Happy New Year
It is hard to believe that it is already 2007. I feel excited about this year, not only because David and I are getting married in two days (!) but because I just like the number seven, so it has to be a good year. 1997 was a good year -- I graduated from high school and started college -- and I'm beginning this year as an ex-grad student, which to me feels like complete and utter freedom. On the other hand, it also means I'm unemployed and uninsured, but I'm still determined that this will be a good year!
Last night, David and I celebrated the three-year anniversary of our engagement. Three years ago last night, sitting in the Power Dam Express bar (known to David's family as the Powder Dam Inn) in Defiance, Ohio, drinking cans of Rolling Rock, David proposed to me immediately after midnight. The bar patrons counted down, we kissed, and then he got this terribly sentimental look on his face, and asked if I would marry him. I heard him the first time, but made him repeat the question before I said yes. It was far too noisy in the bar to tell David's dad, brother, and uncle, who were sitting there at the table with us, so David leaned over to Mike and said, "Emily and I are getting married, pass it on." Mike told Bill and Bill told Bob and we spent the rest of the evening (early morning, I guess) celebrating.
Last night, David and I were actually standing in line at the Main Street Party Store at midnight. We had left my aunt and uncle's around 11:45, and David needed a couple of grocery items. We tried several stores on the way home, but they were all closed until we got to Main Street. So there we were, waiting to pay for David's milk and ice cream, when midnight hit and the party store owner popped open a bottle of champagne. When we got back to the car, we kissed, and David proposed to me all over again. I replied that I would indeed marry him, in two days!
December 30, 2006
Knitting Up A Storm
Lately I have become quite obsessed with knitting. My grandmother taught me to knit when I was about eight and I have done it on and off since then, but lately I have been constantly on. To be perfectly honest, I have pretty much been knitting nonstop for the past year, but my output has seriously increased over the past month or so, in which I have made several boas, a poncho, a shawl, two scarves, two drawstring pouches, and a mitten. As far as habits go, knitting is not a bad one at all -- I can knit while watching television, talking on the phone, hanging out with friends and family, or sitting in a bar or cafe. And the great joy is that, at the end of the day, I have something to wear or give away. The tip-off that I may be doing too much of it, however, came the other night, when I woke up in the middle of the night with sore elbows!
The other drawback to knitting is that it is a rather expensive hobby. Without exception, it is always cheaper to buy a knit item than to buy the yarn to make the same item. I have, however, found a few ways to get around the prohibitive expense of this hobby:
1. Knit items to give to KnitWits -- they supply the yarn.
2. Make friends with ex-knitters who want to get rid of their stashes. My friend Laura recently had to give up knitting because it was giving her headaches, and I inherited all her yarn. I made a poncho for her to thank her for the yarn, but still have several skeins left.
3. Use cotton yarn (good for washclothes and dishtowels).
4. Use acrylic yarn (not recommended).
5. Buy yarn on sale.
6. Go yarn shopping with my mom. She is also a knitter, so she understands the yarn obsession.
With my mom in town this week, number six has been the happiest solution. I used to buy most of my yarn at Busy Hands on Main Street. It was the only yarn store in walking distance, and I was partial to Busy Hands because I used to live in a super-cool loft right above it. But they have a very small selection. A couple of weeks ago I went to Knit A Round for the first time because they are the only Ann Arbor purveyor of Knit Klips (I hate that kind of fake alliteration). I haven't actually used the clips yet, but I thought they would come in handy at some point, and I wanted to check out another yarn store. Knit A Round has a much better selection than Busy Hands, but the people who work there aren't terribly nice. I brought my mom there last week to look for yarn for a sweater she wanted to make, and the woman she asked for help told her to ask someone else!
My mom didn't find quite what she was looking for at Knit A Round, so David and I took her to the ultimate yarn store: Thread Bear in Lansing. I had only been there once before, as it is an hour's drive from here, but the drive is well worth it. As soon as she walked in, my mom remarked that the store is heaven for knitters. In addition to having every yarn ever made, the store is well-staffed with knowledgeable and friendly employees. They offer free coffee and plenty of couches and tables for people to just sit around and work on their projects. I could easily spend an entire day in there, and we almost did. My mom found the yarn for her sweater, and I got some knitten and sock yarn. David entertained himself by playing with the store's two resident dogs.
We were going to go to the Henry Ford Museum yesterday, but after going to Thread Bear on Thursday, all my mom and I wanted to do was sit around and knit!
December 21, 2006
I can't believe that it is almost one pm and all I have done today is talk on the phone, eat breakfast, and check my email. Readers who know me in real life will be shocked to read that I didn't get out of bed until eleven today because I never sleep past seven, even on weekends. I guess that's what happens when you work until midnight.
Last night was my last night on the line at Zingerman's Mail Order, and I'm looking forward to getting back to my usual schedule: bed at ten, up at seven. I did have a good time though, and there was even some excitement. Somehow, a fifteen-thousand-dollar corporate order got left until the last minute and, at 6:45 we found out that we had to make twenty-four Tuscan's Treat gift baskets and have them ready to ship by eight. Fortunately, it is an easy basket and we got some extra help in the basket department, so meeting the deadline wasn't a problem. This rush was a much better form of excitement than what we experienced Tuesday night when I dropped a jar of salsa!
My students' final papers are due today at 5pm, so I thought I would have most of the day to recover from my night job before getting started on the grading. However, several students have emailed me their papers, so I could start grading right away. Will I? Perhaps, but first I want to finish the book I'm reading, tie up the ends of a last-minute knitting project, and run to the grocery store. The grading will get done at some point, I'm sure...
December 19, 2006
On Mondays I tutor at 826 Michigan and the girl I worked with yesterday had a rather bizarre assignment. She was given several sentences that were supposedly common sayings, but written using unfamiliar words rather than in their common form. Her job was to look up the unfamiliar words and then write the saying in its common form. For example, she had been given given "After the feline has left, the rodents will cavort" and was expected to come up with "when the cat is away, the mice will play." This would probably be a great way to teach children new vocabulary, if they had ever heard these sayings. The problem was that this girl had never heard "when the cat is away, the mice will play" or "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" or "if you can't beat them, join them." Supposedly common or universal sayings are actually culturally specific. Not being a member of the dominant American culture (whatever that may be), this girl hadn't heard "you can't have your cake and eat it too." In fact, she didn't even know that "angel food" is a type of cake.
It frustrates me to no end when people confuse intelligence with cultural literacy. Having grown up outside of the cultural mainstream as well (being not-a-Christian, having divorced parents, and not living in a house), I entered college feeling out of step and simply behind. I had a lot of catching up to do, not academically, but socially and culturally. I felt this sense of foreignness again in a grad seminar where we read Mr. Bligh's Bad Language. Both the author, Greg Dening, and the professors who taught the class assumed that everyone already knew the story of Captain Bligh and the Mutiny on the Bounty because it was part of "our" culture. British imperialism, however, while it is my area of specialty (and hence, I probably should have known about Captain Bligh) is not part of my culture. I grew up in California, which never was a British colony. What relevance could the Mutiny on the Bounty possibly have to my life? And why should a twelve-year-old Muslim girl be graded according to whether or not she has ever eaten angel food cake?
December 17, 2006
Last night my friend Sara, aka Nadira, gave a free belly dance performance/workshop at the Crazy Wisdom bookstore. I had seen belly dancing before, at a Middle Eastern nightclub in Los Angeles, but, at the age of sixteen, I was more grossed out by the dancers' bellies than I was impressed by the moves. Today I have a lot more respect for the female body, and could appreciate the enormous control required for hip circles, chest circles, and shoulder shimmies. Nadira and her fellow dancers were quite impressive. One even danced with a sword balanced on her head -- blade down!
After the performance, they gave the audience hip scarves to tie on, and then showed us the moves: arms, shoulders, chest, hips, feet. The larger moves -- hip circles, chest circles, and figure eights -- weren't too difficult, but I couldn't for the life of me do the shimmies or make the bells ring on my hip scarf! Last night's performance/workshop was intended to drum up business for the studio where Nadira teaches, Unveiled Belly Dance, and it worked. I think I'm going to do it. After all, I spent the last year growing a belly, so now I might as well learn how to move it!
December 15, 2006
Hanukkah begins tonight and David and I are ready: we have sent our cards, set up our menorah, and wrapped our presents. We will celebrate tonight with a quiet family dinner (he is grilling chicken, I'm roasting veggies and boiling potatoes -- latkes are just too labor-intensive), and tomorrow night I hope we will have another couple over to light candles with us. Maybe we'll even play dreidel!
Many of my non-Jewish friends don't quite get Hanukkah. Just the other day, my doctor asked if I was planning to cook the whole Hanukkah dinner myself, as if it were just like Christmas with a big meal and lots of guests. Or maybe she had it confused with Passover. Others ask if I'm going home for Hanukkah. I do enjoy years when I can spend at least part of this eight-night holiday with my mom, but it isn't something one goes home for. I college, I even preferred to have Hanukkah fall before the winter break because then I could spend it with my friends, playing dreidel for M&Ms and frying sufganyot (jelly donuts).
The Jew FAQ website has a great explanation of Hanukkah, as well as a page describing what Jews do on Christmas. I couldn't help laughing when I read this page, because I have done many of the things listed: going out for Chinese food, going to movies, and volunteering. I also enjoy spending Christmas with Christian friends, which I'll be doing this year with David's family, but I'll miss the traditional Jewish Christmas.
December 13, 2006
I often find claims of indestructability highly overblown. When CDs first became popular, my stepmother explained to me that they were indestructable. According to her, you could smear peanut butter on a CD, wash it off, and then play it, with no ill effects. A decade and a half later, we know that CDs are far from indestructable. They may not melt in a hot car the way that tapes and LPs did, but they break and they scratch.
Nevertheless, I did believe that Pyrex glassware was about as indestructable as something could get. Sure, dropping it was not a good idea, but I bought the claim that Pyrex "products can go directly from refrigerator or freezer to a microwave, convection, or preheated conventional oven," and I often did use them in just that way. But I somehow missed the disclaimer: "a small amount of liquid should be added to the ovenware vessel prior to baking foods that release liquids while cooking." On Monday, I put three red bell peppers into a square Pyrex baking dish and set them in the oven at 500 degrees to roast. Twenty minutes later, I heard a crash. Nobody else was home, so I was quite confused about what had happened until I opened the oven door to investigate. The pan had exploded. Broken glass everywhere. Fortunately, the peppers were still intact, so my lunch wasn't ruined, but I am now down one square baking pan.
November 20, 2006
Lazing the Day Away
I lied earlier when I said that I had work to do. Rather, I didn't lie about having work to do, but I lied about my intention to do the work. Okay, that wasn't so much of a lie either; I intended to work, and I did some work, but then I stopped. Now I'm just lazing, and it is a rather nice day to laze, as the sun is streaming in through my new sheer purple curtains, and I feel like a cat just stretching out in the warmth.
To laze is a rather odd verb, a verb that is not an action. According to my American Heritage Dictionary (the big one, not the college edition or the backpack-sized edition, both of which I also own), to laze means "to spend (time) loafing," and to loaf means "to pass time at leisure; idle." To idle means "to pass time without working or while avoiding work; to waste."
The value judgments embedded in those three definitions demonstrate that English is clearly the language of a people stricken by the Protestant ethic. Instead of feeling guilty about my idleness today, however, I have whiled away my time reading Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write, which praises idleness as the food of the soul and creative spirit. She calls it "moodling about." I have to admit that I didn't think I would like this book, given that it was first published in 1938, and I have little patience for the out-of-date (again, why did I ever go into history?), but her words are still as true today as they must have been back then.
And now, with a clear conscience, back to my lazy ways.
I just lost a long entry that I had spent the last half hour working on! That should teach me to save more often. I'm too frustrated right now to try to recreate it (plus I have work to do!), so here is the rundown:
2. David and I saw Babel yesterday at the State Theater. We liked the movie a lot, but it took us a while to figure out what was going on; we came in late because the State doesn't take credit cards. Ultimately, it was about misunderstanding, an all-too-common state of affairs in today's world.
3. David and I are both reading The Omnivore's Dilemma (and fighting over it, as we only have one library copy between the two of us!), which is quite a fascinating approach to our nation's eating habits (the "national eating disorder," as Pollan puts it) and food industry. Stay tuned for a future post about the ethics of eating meat.
Apologies for my pissy tone this morning -- the entry I lost was much more pleasant to read.
November 18, 2006
David and Emily on the Fifty
To prepare for today's big football game against Ohio State, David and I went to Crisler Arena last night to watch the UM basketball team annihilate Harvard 82 to 50. Basketball is one of my favorite sports to watch because we get to sit indoors in theater-style seats. I also like the intimate scale of the game, and the fact that I can actually see what is going on because the ball is bigger than a hockey puck and much closer to me than a football in Michigan Stadium.
On the way home, we walked through the Big House to honor Bo Schembechler's untimely death yesterday. As we made our way into the stands, we realized that the field was full of people. Not football players, certainly, who were probably already on their way to Columbus, but just random Ann Arborites like the two of us. Some were tossing around footballs while others were simply taking advantage of a rare opportunity to tread the same ground as Bo, Lloyd, and the numerous boys who keep our school spirit soaring week after week. One man was there with his small son, explaining to him how artificial turf is made. David and I quickly scrambled down the steps and over the wall to join them. I took off my shoes and reveled in the feel of the turf under my feet. We made our way to the big M on the fifty yard line and fondled it reverently. Just as I said to David that I wished I had brought our camera (yes, we still use film), I noticed other people taking pictures with their cell phones. For the first time ever, I understood the utility of a camera phone!
November 08, 2006
I woke up in a new country this morning, to news on NPR that Democrats had seized control of the House of Representatives for the first time in my adult life. Now I know how Republicans must have felt in 1994! I can't wait to see what happens when Nancy Pelosi injects her "San Francisco Values" into our government as the new Speaker of the House. What are "San Francisco Values," anyway? Tolerance? Equality? I think our legislative branch could use some of that after twelve years of Republican domination. I'll bet that, for the next two years, Bush and Cheney will be extra careful not to ride in the same car or airplane, knowing that Pelosi is third in line for the presidency!
It is also a bright new day here in Michigan, where my fellow voters resoundingly rejected not only Dick DeVos, but the Republican party in general, returning Jennifer Granholm to the governorship and securing a Democratic majority in the state legislature for the first time since 1999. Without her hands tied by a Republican legislature, Granholm might actually be able to enact some of her progressive policy ideas!
It is not all good news here, however, as the evil Proposal 2 did pass late last night, but it passed by a much smaller margin than pollsters had predicted. UM president Mary Sue Coleman will address the university community today at noon on the diag, to talk about what the affirmative action ban means for us. I will most likely miss it, however, because my day is stacked to the brim with classes and meetings. In any case, today I'm proud to be a Michiganian, and proud to be a part of the 42% of our state that still supports affirmative action.
November 07, 2006
Lately I have been sleeping all over town. It starts innocently enough -- curling up somewhere comfortable with a book -- but the next thing I know, I'm waking up, not quite sure where I am or how I got there. In the past month, I have napped in the History Department grad lounge, at the Starbucks on State and Liberty, and in the reading room of the Grad Library. Apparently, I'm not the only one who naps around: on Friday, I sat down on a well-padded bench in the Michigan League, with a sign above warning me that sleeping was not permitted. Each time I wake up, I'm a bit embarrassed for having fallen asleep in public; I haven't been such a nap slut since college, when I was chronically sleep-deprived!
November 06, 2006
Don't Forget to Vote Tomorrow!
Unless you have your head in the sand, it probably would be pretty hard to forget, given that the election is the only thing I have heard about on NPR all weekend, and I'm sure it has been all over the commercial media as well. I keep hearing about these negative campaign ads, but the nice thing about not paying attention to the commercial media is that I haven't had to see or hear any of them. Not that it would make a difference. I'm a pretty predictable voter and pigs would have to sprout wings before I would vote for a Republican for any kind of executive, legislative, or judicial position, though it might be okay to have a Republican drain commissioner! Not that I'm particularly enamored of the Democratic Party, but today (rather, tomorrow) they are the only real alternative.
Here in Michigan, we have a pretty evil proposal on the ballot that we need to defeat: Proposal 2, the Orwellian-titled "Civil Rights Initiative," which would actually undermine civil rights in Michigan by outlawing affirmative action. I can't even begin to get into the smarminess of the backers of this proposal (Remember Ward Connerly, who got affirmative action outlawed in California? Well, now he is in Michigan!), or the underhanded tactics they used to get it on the ballot, but you can read all about it here.
Michigan voters can find a lot more information about the election and check registration status and polling location at www.publius.org, a website set up by a UM grad!
See you at the polls tomorrow!
November 01, 2006
Back in the day when we used to work together, we could get flu shots at the office for $8 a pop. My first year of grad school, there was a flu shot shortage, and David's mom (who was then a nurse but is now retired) stole them from the hospital where she worked and gave them to us in her living room. She claimed she had never given a shot before, but I'm not sure how she could have graduated from nursing school without learning something that important. In any case, I was the guinea pig -- David, his brother, and his stepfather were all too scared to go first! Last year, I wasn't going to get a flu shot at all, but when I went to the UHS travel clinic to prepare for my trip to Kenya, they gave me one just in case. Today, UHS was offering a walk-in flu shot clinic for UM-affiliated people until 11:30. I had to go there anyway to get a cholesterol test and, when I arrived at 11:10, I called David and told him to hightail it up there so we could also get our flu shots. He arrived in record time, and we were through the flu-shot assembly line in about fifteen minutes. They are very efficient!
No flu for us this year. I also just learned from the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention that I am at very low risk for diabetes and heart disease, so I shouldn't have any heart attacks this year, either!
October 23, 2006
Shaving Like a Man
The last time David went to the Michigan Union Bookstore for a pop, he received a free razor. Given that he shaves his head weekly in addition to shaving his face every couple of days, David is an avid user of razors and is always on the lookout for a superior shave. The Quattro was not quite up to David's standards, however, so he passed it along to me to try.
This was the second time I have used a man's razor. The first time was when David and I took a weeklong road trip to New Jersey for my grandfather's birthday party, and I planned to wear a sleeveless dress but forgot to bring my razor! In any case, I was pretty impressed both times. Men's razors just seem to be better made than our razors. They are a bit awkward to use, as they seem to be angled for a jawline rather than for a knee or an armpit, but they feel more substantial and I think the weight lends a bit more momentum to the razor's stroke. Granted, the Quattro isn't as pretty as the Venus, but I may just be willing to sacrifice aesthetics for a superior shave. Even if I shave with a men's razor, however, you won't catch me with shaving cream. Real women use soap!
October 17, 2006
Calling In Sick
I have been sniffling for several days now. At first I told myself that it was just allergies, or the weather change, but yesterday I finally admitted that I have a cold. I don't like being sick, but the good thing about it is that it means I will get better. If it were just allergies or the cold weather, I would have to deal with my sore throat, congested head, and aching sinuses all winter! So the bad news is that I feel like crap today, but the good news is that I will probably feel better tomorrow.
I wonder if I got this from one of my students. Many of them were sick last week (or so they told me when they missed section on Wednesday!). For some reason, in both college and grad school, I was always terrified to miss class, so I never did, no matter how sick I was. When I worked full time after college, calling in sick was a brand-new experience. At first I felt guilty about not going to work, then I realized that if I went to work sick, I would be less productive and would probably just get more people sick. So today I'll take advantage of that understanding and call in sick for tutoring. I wouldn't want to get the kids sick, after all!
When I was a kid, staying home sick was a lot of fun. I would watch soap operas and game shows, and my mom would buy trashy magazines for me. Today I get to relive the experience by curling up on the couch and reading Dracula. Technically, this is work, because the book was assigned for the class I teach, but reading a trashy novel never feels much like work!
October 16, 2006
In a previous post I referred to my parents as "communist," and my father has emailed me to say that I had socialist parents, not communist parents. The distinction, of course, is that after the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, the word "communist" became irrevocably associated with Stalin and his "unethical, antisocial, authoritarian politics" (in Dad's words). Thank you, Dad, for this correction. As an historian, I should have been more sensitive to the distinction.
Dad describes my parents' politics as "democratic socialism." They were members of the New American Movement, along with Kathie Sheldon and Steve Tarzynski, whose papers are archived at the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research. Dad and Kathie were co-founders of the Socialist Community School, and Mom worked with Steve on reforming the American health care system.
I may have sounded flip about my parents' politics in my previous post, but I'm really proud of them, both of their revolutionary vision and of the steps they took to bring this vision to fruition.
Mom, Dad, if you have anything to add, log in and post a comment!
October 10, 2006
I just got an email from my thirteen-year-old sister informing me that her middle school in Pittsburgh has installed metal detectors, through which the kids must pass every morning on their way in. Her main complaint was that she has to wait outside in the cold, and she asked me if we had metal detectors in my middle school. The answer? Of course not! When I was her age, nobody had ever shot up a school. We signed a form on the first day of each year promising that we would not bring weapons of any kind to school and we kept this promise. Metal detectors give off the impression that teachers and administrators are scared of the children they are supposed to be teaching and guiding, and that is just a sad state of affairs.
October 09, 2006
When I was a kid, Columbus Day was a holiday, at least in the sense that school was closed and most grownups seemed to have the day off work. Back then, Christopher Columbus was a hero. After all, he had discovered the New World, hadn't he? Around 1992, the five-hundred year anniversary of this "discovery," it seemed that people started questioning Columbus's legacy and calling attention to the genocide of indigenous Americans that his landing inaugurated. Columbus Day began to fade from my awareness, and by college, the day passed unremarked-upon. In fact, I had totally forgotten about its existence until after I graduated, moved out of the dorms, and came home one Monday in October to find my mailbox empty. Was the mailman sick? No, it turns out that some people do still observe Columbus Day, though the holiday seems to be restricted to the banks and the postal service. So what Columbus Day means to me today is that David and I will have to wait yet another day to receive the next Six Feet Under disc in the mail!
October 04, 2006
Dialect Update and a Public Apology
Today I would like to make a public apology to Caroline Eisner (whose name I inadvertently misspelled in a previous post) for not discussing my concerns about African American dialect with you when I had the opportunity. I am fascinated to learn the pedagogy and theory behind the argument you made for not correcting our students' dialect. Thank you for emailing me this passage:
NCTE, "On Students' Right to their Own Language": We affirm the students' right to their own patterns and varieties of language -- the dialects of their nurture or whatever dialects in which they find their own identity and style. Language scholars long ago denied that the myth of a standard American dialect has any validity. The claim that any one dialect is unaccpetable amounts to an attempt of one social group to exert its dominance over another. Such a claim leads to false advice for speakers and writers and immoral advice for humans. A nation proud of its diverse heritage and its cultural and racial variety will preserve its heritage of dialects. We affirm strongly that teachers must have the experiences and training that will enable them to respect diversity and uphold the right of students to their own language.
I agree with this passage that the idea of a standard American dialect is a myth. After all, there has never been a single standard dialect, which is why such people as Noah Webster spent so much time trying to standardize American English. What I refer to as "standard American English" really is just the WASP dialect. This passage says that "the claim that any one dialect is unacceptable amounts to an attempt of one social group to exert its dominance over another"; in other words, the claim that one dialect is more correct than another is cultual imperialism. I can't disagree with that. The problem is that those in power have been exerting this dominance for the entire history of our nation. As a result, those who make hiring decisions in workplaces and admissions decisions in universities tend to be (but are not uniformly anymore) members of the dominant group. Furthermore, because they learned in school that their dialect is "standard American English," they will view grammatical constructions that may be correct in another dialect as unacceptable. I am speaking for myself here, but I don't think I'm alone.
I'm not arguing that this is moral, just that it is the reality. Unfortunately, not all members of our nation are proud of its diverse heritage. I agree that teachers must respect their students' diversity, but they also must prepare their students to get by in a world that, unfortunately, isn't always so respectful.
October 02, 2006
The Saga of the Shawl
As I sit here at my computer on this chilly and rainy morning, I'm warmed by a red plaid woolen shawl wrapped around my shoulders. This shawl has quite a history. It began life as my mother's baby carriage blanket, and my grandparents used it for my aunt Lesley as well. On a recent visit to my grandparents in New Jersey, my mom mentioned to them something about me always being cold (I live in Michigan -- what do you expect?), and they dug the shawl out of their basement for her to give to me when I visited in August.
When I returned to Ann Arbor from my much-blogged-about trip to Los Angeles, my grandparents asked me if I liked the scarf. What scarf? The one my mother had given me when I was there. So I called mom and asked if she had a scarf for me. She didn't know quite what I was talking about because, in reality, it is more of a shawl than a scarf, but she quickly remembered and went off to search for it. After not finding it and not finding it, she called her parents, who found it in their house; she had forgotten to take it with her. This past weekend, my mom and my aunt both visited my grandparents, and my aunt returned yesterday with the shawl in hand.
So thank you, Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, and Aunt Lesley, for this gorgeous shawl. It is soft and warm, and, best of all, it smells like Grandma and Grandpa's house!
October 01, 2006
Thank You, Claire
For emailing this quote to me. It is exactly what I needed to hear:
Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, "Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?" Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God; your playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in every one and as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear our presence automatically liberates others. --Marianne Williamson
September 29, 2006
On your marriage and your acceptance to library school. Why didn't you tell us?
September 26, 2006
The Travelling Sweater
This morning in the Atlantic I read a story by Jaqueline Novogratz, CEO of the Acumen Fund that I wanted to share. As a child, Novogratz had a blue sweater with animals and mountains on it that her uncle had given to her. When she was fourteen, a boy at school made a lewd comment to her about the sweater, and she promptly gave the sweater to Goodwill and forgot about it. Twelve years later, she was jogging in Kigali, Rwanda, and saw a boy wearing her sweater. She ran up to him to check the label and, sure enough, her name was on it.
Having read Salaula by Karen Hansen, I was not terribly shocked by this story, but it did reaffirm for me that all of our actions affect others. Salaula explains how second-hand clothing from the U.S. and Europe gets to Africa, and the meanings these Western fashions take on when worn by Africans. Only about a quarter of the clothing we give to Goodwill or other such organizations actually gets resold in the United States. The rest is sold by the pound to middlemen, usually in Belgium or the Netherlands, then shipped to Africa, where it is sold in marketplaces or on streetcorners. There are two ways to get clothes in Africa: have them made for you or buy them secondhand. "Salaula" literally means "dead white men's clothes."
When I was in Ghana in the summer of 2005, I was surprised to see Ghanaians wearing University of Michigan t-shirts. The first time I saw this, I went up to the man to tell him that I was from Michigan. He had no idea what I was talking about. He was not a Michigan football fan; he probably didn't even know what Michigan was. Michigan meant absolutely nothing to him. Or, rather, Michigan probably did mean something to him, but it meant something totally different than what it means to me. After all, even though the shirt was second hand, he still chose it, and must have chosen it for a reason.
September 25, 2006
A meme for today because I can't think of anything else to say:
- What is the greatest source of stress in your life? The obvious answer here would be grad school. After all, I don't think there is any aspect of doing a Ph.D. program that doesn't cause stress: more reading assigned than is humanly readable; the dreaded prelims (in my department a four-hour written exam followed by a two-hour oral exam -- on three hundred books!); the teaching load on top of the regular workload; the paucity of jobs in this field. But another source of stress is worrying about what I would possibly do if not this. Being a Ph.D. student offers job security (as a student, not when I graduate), a steady (though pitifully low) salary with benefits, and the status that comes from having more education than just about anyone else I know. So I guess there are perks that come along with all that stress.
- How do you deal with tension on a day-to-day basis? On a day-to-day basis, I try to avert tension by either staying on top of my responsibilities or jettisoning them. When that doesn't work, I get on the phone and bitch to whomever will listen. Massages and hot baths also help, as does knitting until my fingers are sore.
- What do you find to be the best way to wind down after a tough day? This is a new one for me, and I'm almost embarassed to admit it, but my current favorite is watching television. These days David and I are Netflixing Six Feet Under, a brilliant though morbid drama about a family in the undertaking business. Television gives me a momentary escape from my own life but doesn't require as much brainpower as reading.
September 23, 2006
Wishing a sweet and happy New Year to everyone, everywhere.
September 22, 2006
The Politics of Dialect
Last night I had tutor training at 826 Michigan, which was taught by Caroline Eisner, the associate director of the Sweetland Writing Center at the University of Michigan. I love Sweetland and have a lot of respect for the work they do. I have gotten quite a bit of help from them with my writing, and I am grateful for their presence on campus.
Before this training, I didn't realize what a therapeutic practice tutoring is. Eisner told us that one of the goals of tutoring is to heal the wounds inflicted on students by the educational system. For this reason, she told us never to use red pens because red ink is too harsh. I'll honor that request at 826 because I'm not grading student papers, I'm only coaching them as students, but I think the statement that red is a harsh color is total bulls--t. The only reason the color red seems harsh is because it is the color teachers use to grade papers. If teachers had graded papers in green ink from time immemorial, we would now be hearing that green is harsh. In tutoring, however, we are not evaluating; we are on the students' side, so I won't use red.
Eisner also told us never to correct a student's speech. The example she gave was African American English. If a student says "we was," we are not to tell the student it is wrong. If the student uses this construction in writing, we may tell the student that, when writing, the correct construction is "we were," but that in speech, "we was" is perfectly correct usage in African American English. I can't help thinking that we are doing students a disservice by not teaching them to speak standard English. What happens when they go into a job interview and say "we was" because they were never taught that it is wrong. Simply having brown skin already puts a person at a disadvantage as far as hiring goes, and I know that I certainly wouldn't hire a candidate who said "we was." It turns out that Eisner wasn't speaking from a position of cultural relativism, but rather on the basis of research on the effects of this kind of correction. The rationale she gave is that correcting a student in this way shuts them down; they stop using the dialect construction, but they also stop learning standard English. Apparently, if one corrects a second grader's speech, that student's English will never move beyond the second grade level. This sounds a bit farfetched to me, but I'm not the expert, so I'll honor Eisner's request. I would never let one of my UM students say "we was," but that probably won't be a problem because all of my students are white. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that nonwhite students are at a disadvantage in applying to college because their well-meaning white teachers never told them that "we was" isn't correct.
September 20, 2006
A Phone Call from Africa
Sometimes I get phone calls from Ghana in the middle of the night. 3:30am, to be exact. Last night was one of those nights. The calls come from Ackah, a man about my age who sells CDs on the street near where my "Auntie" lives in Accra, Ghana. I walked down that street everyday, and we started becoming friends when I bought a Fela Kuti CD from Ackah. I gave my phone number to a lot of people in Ghana, but he is the only one who has actually called me. I think he has called on about three separate occasions, always at 3:30am. He must not know about the six-hour time difference! It is jarring to have the phone ring in the middle of the night. Before Ackah started calling, the last time the phone rang at that time, it was David's dad having a heart attack. So I always answer, sure that something is wrong, but Ackah was just calling to say hi. And when I say "phone calls," I do mean plural. It always takes him a few times to get through, then, invariably, after I figure out who it is and we do say hi, he hangs up and calls back. I'm not quite sure why. It is very bizarre, but, knowing how difficult it is to make a phone call in Ghana (it took me two weeks to figure out how to call David), I'm flattered that Ackah makes the effort, even if he never actually says much of anything.
September 19, 2006
Writing the Self
Yesterday I worked my first volunteer shift with 826 Michigan, an organization affiliated with 826 Valencia, an organization founded by Dave Eggers in San Francisco to offer free tutoring, particularly in writing, for children aged six to eighteen. Yesterday, 826 put on a college essay writing workshop for seniors at Community High School, Ann Arbor's public alternative school, led by Debbie Merion, who coaches college essays professionally.
It was super cool to be able to take part in this event, and it really wasn't much work at all. Merion went over what a college application essay is, and what it can do, and then had us do some writing exercises, after which I led a small group in sharing these exercises with each other. It was a bit scary to realize that it has already been ten years since I wrote my college application essay. Nevertheless, I still remember what I wrote about: my most prized possession. Through most of my teen years, I had an ongoing collage on one of the walls of my bedroom, consisting of photographs, cards, and magazine clippings. This collage expressed who I was, what I thought, and how I viewed the world. When I was sixteen, my mother and evil stepfather got divorced. We moved into a new apartment, which meant that I had to take down the collage. I put all the in a sweater box, where it probably remains, somewhere. Since the collage had developed organically, putting it back up in the new place just seemed too contrived. For my college admissions essay, I dug this box out, went through its contents, and wrote about it, using the items to express who I was. I guess it worked pretty well, since I got into Pomona!
I actually hated writing this essay and, until yesterday, considered the college application essay one of the most evil pieces of writing ever dreamed up. But yesterday I finally got it: this essay is a chance for a person to ask herself "who am I?" and "what is special about me?" It is not a summary of one's life, but rather a chance to take one incident that captures the essence of what is important to you and write about it in a way that epxpresses that essence. Merion compared such incidents to acorns: just as an acorn contains the entire oak tree, students should choose an incident that contains everything about them that they want the admissions officers to know.
September 10, 2006
Last night I went with my friend Ken to see Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at the Detroit Film Theater at seven o'clock. I am a huge fan of Pedro Almodovar, and have been wanting to see this movie for years now. When we got there, however, we found that there wasn't a seven pm showing; it was only playing at 9:30, which is past my bedtime. We drove to Royal Oak, to see what was playing at the arthouse theater there, but the choices were not terribly exciting. So we got a cup of coffee, chatted about history for a couple of hours, and then came back to Ann Arbor. I was bummed to miss the Almodovar film, but Ken assures me that it will be playing at the Michigan Theater at the end of the month.
September 08, 2006
The Things We Say
David and I have some of our most interesting conversations while suffering from insomnia in the wee morning hours. One such conversation was a debate over whether or not the Spanish Inquisition was a religious war (it was). David disagreed with my interpretation of this event, telling me that I don't know anything about history. I had forgotten that I didn't know anything about history after getting a master's degree in it.
Our conversation last night began with us comiserating over how hard it was to get across the diag to the gym yesterday because it was the day when all the student organizations set up tables to recruit new members. I always end up signing up for some kind of random organization. Last year it was the bridge club (I do play bridge, but it has been well over a decade, and I can't even remember how to bid anymore); yesterday it was KnitWits and the African Students Association. Readers who know me know that I am not an African student, but I am a student of Africa and I have been a student in Africa. And I really liked their t-shirts! David asked if they noticed that I am white, and I pointed out to him that there are white Africans. He replied that it is wrong to be a white African, and that they should be ashamed of themselves. So then we were debating again. If you were born in, say, South Africa, Zimbabwe, or Kenya, where your family has probably lived for over a hundred years, you are just as African as I am American, regardless of whether you are white, brown, or yellow. That is your nationality; you don't have any other citizenship. What are you if not South African, Zimbabwean, or Kenyan? This statement isn't meant to condone colonialism (after all, my whole academic career is dedicated to criticizing imperialism in all its forms), but only to point out a fact of history. People who are not black have been living in Africa for hundreds of years and, regardless of whether your great-great grandparents came from Europe, South Asia, or China, if you and your parents and grandparents were born in Africa, that is your continent. That is where you are from; you are African.
August 28, 2006
Shameless Self Indulgence, Part 2
Yesterday my friend Christina took me to get my first ever pedicure. David had suggested it a couple of weeks ago, and I rejected the idea as too extravagent and unnecessary. There is also the fact that I don't like people touching my cuticles. I have never been able to push down my cuticles because it just grosses me out too much, and I don't like other people doing it either. In high school, I made an agreement with Christina that, if I didn't push them down before we graduated, I would go and get a manicure. So the day before graduation, we got manicures together. I love telling people that I have only had one manicure ever and it was because I lost a bet. But recently I started thinking that it might be nice to have someone massage my feet and clean up my toenails, so when I got together with Christina yesterday, I thought that might be something fun to do together. She lives right behind Fairfax High School, and we walked down Fairfax until we found a nail place that offered spa pedicures for $15. It was pretty creepy when they did my cuticles, and one of the nails had such a big cuticle that she had to use some kind of battery-powered machine to cut it off. But Christina talked me through it and it was fine. Now we have the cutest toenails in the whole world. I'll never wear closed-toed shoes again!
August 27, 2006
Yesterday my mother and I were at the local Von's market in Eagle Rock, and I ran into someone I had had a class with at the University of Michigan. Liz and I walked past each other, then we both turned around, did a double-take, and asked, "What are you doing here?" It turns out that the parents of her boyfriend, Matt, who is in my Ph.D. program, live on my mom's street in Eagle Rock. And Matt and Liz live on the same street David and I live on in Ann Arbor! We chatted with them for a while and found out that my mom and Matt's parents have a lot in common, so my mom asked if it would be okay for her to knock on their door and introduce herself sometime. I can just see it: "Hi, my name is Karen and my daughter Emily goes to school with your son Matt..."
August 21, 2006
I know I said my next post would likely be from Los Angeles, but I just had to gloat over the fact that I managed to get aisle seats for David on both of our flights today without paying extra! I won't reveal the tricks of the trade here, but let's just say that being a Silver Elite member of Northwest World Perks has its benefits. I guess all those trips I took to Europe and Africa last year are paying off!
Aside from a few last minute errands (dropping the last disc of 24 in the mail, picking up milk for David's cereal this morning), packing dilemmas (how to fit my mom's "Impeach Bush" yard sign into my suitcase), and phone calls, I think we are just about ready to go. So why did I get up at 5:30? Beats the heck out of me!
August 20, 2006
Tomorrow at this time, David and I will be getting on a plane to go to Los Angeles to visit my family. Actually, we will be getting on a plane to Indianapolis, where we will then get another flight to Los Angeles. But in any case, my next post will likely be from there. We are bringing the computer, and my mom has high-speed internet, so we can just plug right in and stay in touch. Maybe someday we will even get cell phones, so we can call people while we are traveling too! We just went over the TSA's list of prohibited items to see what we can and can't bring on the plane. The new rules make eating a real difficulty -- they don't serve food on the plane, and you can't bring any kind of liquidy foods, such as yogurt, and for sure not hummus -- only terrorists eat that! But I can still bring my knitting needles and, most importantly, my new Bitch magazine. Bitch is my favorite magazine for air travel because it is so text-heavy. Even on a transcontinental flight, I won't run out of reading material. Our friend Dave, who travels a lot for work, also enjoys reading Bitch on the plane, so I give him my copies after I finish reading them. He takes the cover off first, though, so he doesn't offend his row-mates!
August 19, 2006
Flying is a B--ch!
I will admit that I haven't flown since December, but when did airlines start charging $15 for aisle seats? I just tried to change the seats David and I were given for our upcoming trip to Los Angeles (we leave Monday!), and they want $15 for each aisle seat for each leg of the trip (4 in all)! I guess the question is, is it worth it? I'll let David decide, since he is the one who would get the aisle -- I'll be sitting in the middle either way.
Drawing is Hard!
I have never been able to draw. When I was a kid, I hated being told to draw something, because I just couldn't do it. Other kids made it look so easy, but for some reason, whenever I put pencil to paper, everything went awry. I didn't even realize how long it had been since I had tried to draw until last night, when my friend Diana had a Pictionary party. Of the three teams, David and I came in dead last. Granted, the game isn't all about drawing skill -- it is also about figuring out what to draw so that your team members can guess the word -- but I often felt as though I knew what I wanted to draw, I just couldn't make the image on the paper match the image in my mind!
After Pictionary, we played Scattergories, which David and I both liked a lot better. We were a lot better at it too, though David started getting a bit too competitive, and even got out one of our many dictionaries when we got home to look up some of the words he had been challenged on. I would be tempted to say that some people are just better at drawing games and some people are just better at word games, except that Kelly and Dave won both games. So maybe some people are just smarter than the rest of us!
August 13, 2006
When did Americans become so obsessed with having perfectly white teeth? It seems as though lately the number of products on the market that promise to whiten one's smile has increased exponentially. I have never had much faith that these products could actually work, and I think that the whiteness of one's teeth is something that the person whose teeth they are notices a lot more than anyone else does. After all, nobody sees my teeth at as close range as I do when I look in the mirror. I have never noticed that anyone's teeth looked particularly yellow, even a friend (who shall remain anonymous) who once told me that she was thinking of having her teeth professionally whitened. Despite my disinterest in these products, I found one in my home this morning -- whitening dental floss, which David had been given on his most recent trip to the dentist. How does dental floss whiten teeth, anyway?
August 12, 2006
Shameless Self Indulgence
Yesterday I had my second massage ever at the Relax Station. I have always been kind of afraid of massages because I am very ticklish, so the Relax Station is a good place to go because for $10 (plus tip) I can get a 10-minute massage, which is really about as long as I can sit still anyway. My whole body was sore, probably from weilding the hose and watering can in my doctor's garden, and the massage helped a lot. I think I'll do it again sometime!
August 08, 2006
To Tim McDaniel, super-star instructor at the ICPSR Summer Training Program in Quantitative Methods (aka "Stats Camp") for winning this week's New Yorker caption contest. View his winning caption here.
August 05, 2006
This fall, I will be teaching for the first time as a GSI (Graduate Student Instructor). Yesterday, I filled out my employment paperwork. In addition to the usual W-4 and I-9 stuff, I also had to sign an oath promising to uphold the constitution of the United States of America and the Michigan constitution, and I had to have my signature notarized. This was only the second time I had had to have something notarized -- the first time was when my friend Wendi adopted her son and needed me to sign a statement saying that I thought she was fit for parenthood. If only all parents had to have character witnesses!
When I went to the notary, she asked if I had sworn the oath, which surprised me, because I didn't realize that I had to say it verbally. It turns out that she was just kidding, but I did have to take a verbal oath in order to get a library card at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. I couldn't believe how many hoops I had to jump through to get this library card. I just wanted to spend one day looking through Elspeth Huxley's papers at Rhodes House. I didn't even want to check anything out. But first I had to get a recommendation from a professor at the University of Michigan, then I had to wait in line for hours to have my application processed, then I had to swear an oath that I would not light a match inside the library, and finally I had to pay three pounds sterling (about $6 at the time) to use the library for what was, by then, one afternoon! Needless to say, by the time they got around to taking my picture for the library card, I wasn't looking terribly happy.
Getting my signature notarized yesterday also reminded me of being in Ghana last summer. On my last day there, I finally made it to Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra, the capital. One of the spokes coming off the circle was a busy street full of people doing business on the sidewalk. One of the most popular businesses was "Oath Takers." At first, I was quite puzzled by this, but it soon occurred to me that an oath taker was probably akin to a notary public. I still don't know for sure, but I imagine people going to them in order to get a signature witnessed, or perhaps to complete land deals or even marriages. It is interesting to see what kinds of actions -- speech, signatures, etc. -- different countries consider to be legally binding.
August 03, 2006
Rain, Glorious Rain
I hate rain. I hate being wet, I hate carrying an umbrella, I hate using my windshield wipers, I hate everything about it. Growing up in Southern California, where it hardly ever rains, I learned to consider dryness a fundamental right. Except during el nino years, but that is a whole other post for another day. Today, however, I'm so glad it is raining!
My doctor and her husband left this morning for two weeks in Hawaii, and they hired me to water their plants every day while they are gone. Every day, that is, except when it rains! Yes, I know, I'm terribly lazy. But I have two black thumbs, and I feel that the less I have to do to their plants, the more chance they will have of surviving until they get back! I warned her that I'm not very good with plants, but she assured me that she would provide me with detailed instructions. And she did, but of course I forgot everything she said as soon as she said it. So she made a little cheat sheet for me. She even gave me a water meter, so that I can determine scientifically which plants need water when. But she is very attached to these plants, especially the false cypresses, and her husband has been working hard on his tomatoes, so I will feel very bad if anything dies under my watch. Especially given how much they are paying me. So I'm a bit relieved that I won't have to start my watering duty until tomorrow. The best part, though, is that I get to take home any tomatoes that ripen while they are away!
August 01, 2006
My Name is Emily, and I'm a Volunteer with the Democratic Party
Last night I did more phone canvassing for the Dems. I made 216 phone calls and got seventeen people to take my five-question survey about the fall election. Mostly I got answering machines and disconnected numbers, but I also got hung up on in all kinds of ways. If the hang-up seemed accidental, I called back; if it seemed intentional, I didn't. David briefly worked for a market research firm that did telephone surveying, and he had to call back everyone who hung up on him. I can't say I enjoy the phone canvassing -- actually, it is pretty tedious -- but it is a necessary evil that someone needs to do, and it is nice to be able to have the spare time to help out. It has also given me a lot more sympathy for people who make phone calls for a living, though I still think telemarketers are evil. At least I wasn't asking for money!
July 30, 2006
Today, as I was walking home from my weekly big shopping trip at the co-op (Sunday is student discount day) a guy on a bike said "nice melons." To me! Those of you who know me won't have trouble believing that this is the first time I ever received such a compliment. But alas, he was not referring to my anatomy, rather to the fact that I happened to be carrying two cantaloupes in my hands!
July 28, 2006
Today was my first volunteer shift at the People's Food Coop. The volunteer coordinator called yesterday to ask if I could come in today to do some data entry -- typing recipes into Microsoft Word -- and I told him that I would do it from ten to one. I have had data entry jobs at the University and, although I wouldn't want to do it as a full-time career, I'm more than happy to do it on a volunteer basis. Lately, I have actually been wishing that I had a job, something to get me out of the house and out of my head, but I can't work for money because of my financial aid situation, so volunteering kind of fills that need. And data entry can be kind of soothing and hypnotic if I can get into a rhythm with it. So I showed up at ten with my little radio so that I could listen to NPR while I worked, ready to settle in for a solid three hours. But I finished the stack of recipes I was given in half an hour and they didn't have anything else for me to do!
July 26, 2006
On passing your prelims :)
July 19, 2006
Last week I got a letter in the mail from my thirteen-year-old sister, inviting me to take part in a "flip flop exchange." How does it work? I send a pair of flip flops to the person whose name is at the top of the list, then move my sister's name to the top of the list, add mine to hers, and send the letter on to six other people. They each send a pair of flip flops to my sister, move my name to the top of the list, and send the letter on to six other people. Ultimately, each person gets thirty-six pairs of flip flops. So it is basically a flip flop pyramid scheme, but the pyramid only has two layers. The letter specifically said "this is not a chain letter -- it's just for fun," but isn't that the definition of a chain letter? My first thought was "what on Earth will I do with thirty-six pairs of flip flops" but I didn't want to be the one to break the chain, and I certainly didn't want to call my thirteen-year-old sister to say "sorry, dude, I'm not doing this," so I did it. As David suggested, I can always donate the flip flops to charity. Or, if they happen to be super-cute, I can just wear them, though I've never much cared for the feeling of a rubber strap rubbing between my toes. In any case, it should be fun to see where my thirty-six pairs of flip flops come from. I forwarded the letter to one person in my Ph.D. program, one
July 16, 2006
High School of the Stars
Yesterday I was reminded of a sweatshirt they used to sell at my high school and decided that, now that I am way far away from Santa Monica, it might be fun to have one. So I googled Santa Monica High School and found this page, which just amused me to no end. There had always been rumors of stars who went to SAMO, but I never quite believed them and I never knew quite how many. Add to the list recent graduate Amber Tamblyn, who I knew in elementary school. Unfortunately, they no longer sell the sweatshirt that I had in mind. What I can't quite understand, however, is why they now sell hats, gloves, and scarves. It never gets below sixty degrees there!
July 15, 2006
A Date with the Dems
Last night I volunteered at the Ann Arbor Democratic Party office to do phone canvassing, which involved calling registered voters to ask which issues were most important to them and how they are planning to vote in the fall election. I called 114 people, and got nine of them to take the survey, which seems like a pretty low yield. Most people were very polite with me when I identified myself as a volunteer with the Democratic Party, even the two people who said that they plan to vote Republican. One woman, however, got totally paranoid about the fact that I was calling her. She asked whether I had her address in addition to her telephone number (yes), what other information I had about her (age and sex), where that information came from (County Clerk -- it's public record), and who was paying me to call her (I'm not being paid, that's what volunteer means). Given the fact that she is planning to vote for the Democratic candidates, I couldn't believe how accusatory she was being. Its not like I was asking for money or anything; all I'm doing is trying to help get her preferred candidates reelected. I know it sucks to get a phone call from a random stranger on Friday evening in the middle of dinner, but isn't it better than having Dick DeVos as our next governor?
July 12, 2006
I just spent the past two hours sorting through my inbox to find some notes that I thought someone from my British history reading group had emailed to me around February. I didn't find the notes, but I did manage to reduce the number of messages in my inbox from 447 to 70. If you email me, there is now a chance that I might actually get your message, though I can't promise a response!
July 07, 2006
This morning on NPR I learned that, one year ago today, four British-born terrorists set off bombs on a bus and on Underground trains in London, killing fifty-six people, including themselves.
I knew that the bombings happened -- in fact, I knew exactly where and when they happened -- because I was there, right in the middle of it all, but I didn't have any information beyond that. I was so scared by what I experienced that I assiduously avoided all news of the event that came out afterwards and, until this morning, had no more information about it than I had when I went to bed on July 7, 2005. I didn't even know until this morning that the bombings were suicide attacks.
Today I can't believe that I was so checked out one year ago, so preoccupied with getting my work done, that I was barely aware of the fact that I was witnessing a terrorist attack from its epicenter. I was almost to preoccupied to be scared. I was in London on a research trip, staying at Goodenough College, which is between King's Cross and Russell Square stations, both of which were damaged when a bomb exploded on a train that was between the two. I left my room that morning just about the time that the bomb went off, and when I passed by the Russell Square station on my way to the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, people were gathered outside the station. I wondered what was going on and felt glad that I didn't have to take the Tube that day, and proceeded through Tavistock Square about ten minutes before the bus exploded there. When I got to Euston Road, commuters and travelers with suitcases were pouring out of Euston Station, and I heard sirens everywhere. I remember thinking that London was in chaos that morning, but it never occurred to me to ask someone what was going on. I just had to get to that library.
I didn't know about the bombings until about noon, when one of the archivists made an announcement to the researchers in the reading room, telling us what had happened and asking us not to leave the building until they had determined it was safe to do so. At three that afternoon, the library closed until further notice. The streets of London were surreal. Most of them had been closed to traffic and all public transport was down, so everyone was just walking home. It was hard to get back to Goodenough because so many of the streets in that area had been barricaded.
That night I watched as much news as I could stomach, but the next morning I put it all out of my mind and got back to work. The Wellcome Library was still closed, so I went to the British Library instead. I wasn't going to let terrorism prevent me from doing my research! The next week I braved the Tube to go to the Public Record Office. The Russell Square station was still closed, so I had to walk about a half hour to Tottenham Court Road each morning and back each evening. One week after the bombings, there was a national moment of silence. I remember thinking it was odd to have a moment of silence in the archives, where everyone is silent anyway. Today I'm embarrassed by the fact that I was so wrapped up in myself and in my work that I barely noticed that people were dying all around me, but perhaps it is what I needed to do in order to cope with the fear and terror.
July 04, 2006
Happy Birthday USA
This is the first time since 2003 that I have actually been in the United States on the Fourth of July. I had forgotten what a big deal it is: fireworks, picnics, etc. For the past two years I was in London on the anniversary of our nation's declaration of independence from the British Empire and, needless to say, the Brits don't celebrate the loss of thirteen lucrative colonies two hundred years ago. There it is just another day. In fact, Bastille Day is a bigger deal. I always said I was going to find an American bar and celebrate with my fellow countrymen (er, countrypeople?) but it never actually happened. Nevertheless, I always find myself feeling most patriotic when I'm out of the country. Here it is easy to get caught up in my disaffection with the current administration or my disgust over the war, but these United States are actually a pretty nice place to live. After all, in the US I have never had a police officer point a giant rifle at me, which is more than I can say for other countries I have visited, but perhaps that is just because I'm white.
June 30, 2006
I Need You
June 28, 2006
Setting Free the Books
Yesterday I released three books into the wild. I have been intrigued with the concept of Book Crossing for quite a while now, but was always too busy to hunt for books and too possessive to release my books. Lately, however, I have been learning how good it feels to dump stuff that I no longer need or use. And stuff that I have never used, such as my fondue set, which I gave to my ex-boyfriend as a graduation gift. I also shipped a novel to my mom and some cookbooks to a friend in Los Angeles. But these methods of getting rid of stuff are expensive: I bought a fondue cookbook to go along with the fondue set and spent $12 on postage. But releasing books into the wild is free. It takes a little time to download the labels and register the books, but then you can just leave them anywhere. I also went hunting for books last week -- two books were supposedly released on Main Street near Cafe Felix, but I didn't find them. The books I released yesterday were ones that my boyfriend and I had duplicates of, and they are at Cafe Verde. Happy hunting!