Friday, January 29, 2010

Putting Out the Alarm

It's like a cricket chirping every twenty-five seconds. After I've counted, I begin to question how quickly I counted. I recently learned that when administering CPR, the counting should be done at a fairly fast pace: thousandone, thousandtwo, thousandthree, thousandfour...but when I count the seconds between the dying smoke alarm's insistent beep, I find myself fluctuating between the thousand count and the "Mississippi" count. Which is more accurate? By my count, the smoke alarm chirps every twenty-five-Mississippi seconds. My husband has done battle with the smoke alarm three times this week, plugging and unplugging it. Ordinarily, I'd say "Let's just change the batteries," but our smoke alarms don't have batteries. They're wired like the rest of the house is wired.

Our 9-year-old American Eskimo barks, every twenty-five seconds, too, while standing in front of my husband, impatiently asking him to do something about the alarm. Make it stop! He barks, his little pointy ears raised high, his squeaky voice whining. He began his complaints by standing in front of me first, quickly realized I knew nothing about smoke alarms, and altered his attention to Huz.

I have unintentionally tested our smoke alarm once every year since I've lived here. I believe that might be what they say the standard is, though I haven't looked that bit of information up yet and I think the test is supposed to be intentional.

My most recent foray into testing the alarm happened last summer, just as the school year was ending. I was standing in the kitchen, browning some garlic in a small puddle of oil on our electric stove when my dad called. I'd been waiting for his call all day and the stove was on medium, the garlic just added. When he asked me to go seek a piece of information from my desk in the room at the other end of the house, I placed my wooden spoon on the counter and padded down the hall with the dogs in tow. Out the window, the lawnmower rumbled and the scent of fresh cut grass glided in through the open window. After sifting through some folders and papers, I found the article my father wanted and nestled back into the chair to read off the information...slowly, so he could write it down, repeating myself when he asked, tucking the paper back into the files in my desk and shutting the drawer behind it. When I approached the kitchen again, my father was saying his good-byes and billows of smoke rushed toward me in the open living room-dining room-kitchen space I'd departed only minutes earlier. Before my father finished, I hit the "End Call" button, tossed the phone into the folds of the couch and started toward the stove that suddenly emitted a burst of flames from the pot. Electric fire...what's the rule for electric fire? I panicked, stepping back from the stove. Dustin! I decided, was my best solution.

Once out the screen door, I flailed my arms as he pushed the mower in my direction. "Dustin! Hurry! Come quick!" I shouted, moving my arms in fast beckoning motions, as if my sign language might provoke a greater sense of urgency than yelling, "FIRE!" The door slammed behind me when I was certain he was coming. He took his time and smoke alarms all over the house rang out in chorus just as he entered the front door. Dustin's face dropped from expectant amusement to shock as he ran into action, grabbing the cover of the pot, squelching the fire and turning off the heat in two swift motions. The smoke alarm continued and we sent the dogs out into the yard, opened the windows and screen doors before stationing ourselves with fanning materials beneath the two raging alarms. It must've taken five minutes for us to calm the alarms and longer than an hour for the smoke to evacuate the house.

If it hadn't been for my husband, who knows what I would've done. The fire extinguisher, though only two feet away from the stove in the pantry, was a forgotten memory when the flames licked the sides of the pot. It's a wonder nothing...including the walls, cabinets and countertop, was scorched...but at least we knew the smoke alarms worked.

Now, as Dustin stands on a chair and fiddles with the wires under the close supervision of Bogey, I find myself hoping he knows as much about smoke alarms as he does about how to quelch a fire. If not, my next unintentional test may not go off as successfully.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rest in Peace, JD.

We all knew Holden Caulfield, that quirky, brilliant kid with the dumb clothes and the incessant lies; the one that came out of nowhere and only said things we never expected. His was a dangerous charm. The kind that could hurt you with its meaningless, and break your heart with its observance. He was the one we all expected to die after we loved him but before we understood.

I read J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye my sophomore year of high school. Something in the jaded, critical, realist view of Holden held me captive, as if he shared insight I might never be able to put into words. The uncertainty, the moving away from innocence, the progression of loneliness, loss, alienation, the complexity of human relationships that Holden moved in and out of felt familiar to me, an adolescent acutely aware of the quickly shifting gears from carefree youth to complicated adulthood. Change was inevitable, but I didn't have to like or approve of it anymore than Holden Caulfield. And when I wanted, in following years, to revisit that stubborn disapproval of phony adulthood, I could always go back to Holden and Salinger and know that somewhere, Salinger was still capturing these words I admired, still needed and still felt incapable of capturing myself. Somewhere, Holden was standing out on the edge of some crazy cliff watching everybody run, not looking where they were going...still coming out and catching them before they went over the cliff...the catcher in the rye.

When I learned J.D. Salinger died today, I thought of the works of his I've read and taught. How desperate and greedy in my youth I had been for more of his work to be published, for him to trust in humanity as an audience again. It is only in his death that I will be able to add to my small collection of Salinger texts and this would have made my younger self happy--the self that didn't realize that the birth of new work meant the death of that person out there, standing at the edge, waiting to catch us before we went over.

I will miss knowing you were out there.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

From Caviar to Moon Pies

I've got to be perfectly honest with you here. I'm not a fan of sweets (I'm the girl you can leave alone in  a dessert shop for hours and just know she won't touch a thing while you're gone) and, typically, I have fairly refined and somewhat sophisticated taste in food. You might even call me a food snob, if you were feeling kind of snippy. I like caviar with my pasta, but not just any caviar, Beluga caviar from Russia. My uncle used to get it from a friend when I was a little girl and one day, when I was about five, he put it in my spaghetti. Mom told him I wouldn't like it, but I was the only one of my three siblings who felt okay about having black fish eggs dumped into my meal. Much to Mom's dismay, I didn't like it; I adored it. And so began the corruption of my tastebuds.

At the opening of his and my father's new office down the street from our house, they had lots of gifted Beluga caviar and I stationed myself at the hors d'oevres table, stuffing my face with it. There's a photo floating around somewhere of my sister and I with my dad, celebrating the opening in matching floral dresses. My glasses are bigger than ever, sliding down my nose, but my usual smile does not join my father's and sister's. Instead, my lips are closed, my cheeks are full and I am holding a napkin with caviar-drenched crackers in my hands. It's obvious to me why I'm not smiling. I can still taste the crush of salt in my mouth lapping itself over my tongue, coating the insides of my cheeks. I can still remember how thrilled I was to have a huge, barely touched supply of black fish eggs at my disposal.

Not much changed as I got older, except my uncle somehow lost his caviar connection and over $800 a can is a bit pricey, even for the most refined caviar connoisseur. I've tried the $5 or more kind at the grocery store, but it just doesn't have the same taste. Too salty, really. Sometimes I splurge on a caviar that's pretty tasty, but it's so rare. I've come to accept that my love affair with caviar must be put on hold until I find a reliable, affordable kind.

Aside from my uncle introducing me to foods way beyond my maturity level, my mother cooked. When I say she "cooked" I mean to say that I never tasted much that came from a box, had artificial ingredients or was processed in any way. Not to mention, Mom really encouraged healthy eating choices, or at least the healthiest kinds when we weren't at home. A few years ago, Huz and my bf Megan were talking about foods on sticks when I remarked that I hadn't, in fact, ever had such a thing before. Needless to say, they were quietly, but obviously shocked.

"Haven't you ever been to a fair before?" They asked.
"Sure, but we always had Italian sausage and peppers at the fair. Maybe we'd share some cotton candy," I put in for good measure. "Does cotton candy count?"
"No. That's a cone and it's just not the same."

They threw out every possible stick food they could think of: corndogs, chicken-on-a-stick, pancakes on a stick, fried cheese on a stick, kettle corn on a stick...etc. We ruled out shishkababs, since they typically get pulled off of the stick before being consumed and, plus, those are really skewers, not so much sticks. Never mind the fact that I'd never had deep fried oreos, Snickers or any other candy or cookie or the fact that I hate--and I do mean hate--fried dough (which I tried once as a child and once more to appease Huz this past summer. Still hate it). The mission began and before the last few years fully passed...I can proudly say I've finally tried a corndog (blech), a pancake on a stick (even grosser), chicken on a stick (disappointing) and frozen Snickers, deep fried and on a stick (fascinating-how do they do that!?!).

After we were married, when Huz first said he'd like to have mac and cheese one night for dinner, I went out to the store, bought a block of cheese and some elbow macaronis, and marched back home to make dinner. He came into the kitchen just in time to see me dumping the last of the cheese I'd shredded up into the cooked macaroni with milk, butter, salt and pepper.

"Oh, honey, I didn't mean for you to...I just meant, like, Easy Mac." He looked alarmed, though the process had only taken fifteen minutes up to that point.
"Easy Mac?" I asked not fully understanding.
"Yeah...the kind in a box. You add water and heat?"
I just shook my head at him in baffled disbelief why would anyone would want to eat this Easy Mac he spoke of when what I was making was infinitely better and, probably, better for us, too.

The same happened with mashed potatoes. He meant: dump the contents of the box, add water, heat and I meant, boil the potatoes, add butter/margarine, milk and mash.

When our friend Beth went to dinner at a place called Fazoli's with us one night, I casually mentioned it was my first Fazoli's experience and had been looking forward to it. Beth was shocked, to say the least. "Where did you grow up?" She asked, confused as to how this was possible.
Huz leaned toward her before I could say a word and explained: "Her mother cooked."
"Aaaah," she said. "That does explain it."

While a lot can be said about what this discrepancy between my food-relationship and how it was fostered and my husband's and how it was fostered (about parents, society, how family is or isn't developing, value system, most obviously-this generation's emphasis on a 'faster' paced life with less time and attention and care put into the food-making process) means, it's really all just leading up to a fuller understanding of how I typically eat and why. And while I do think my philosophy, relationship and care with food is a good one, I did miss out on one crucial food that I might never have tried if my brother had not been here in November. And if Huz hadn't suggested we go to Bass Pro Shop. And if I hadn't, somehow, gone through nearly thirty years of life without ever liking sweets enough to eat many of them.

Moon Pies.

I don't know if you've had a Moon Pie before, dear reader, but I do know I am properly obsessed with them. My brother insisted that I have one when we saw them at Bass Pro. They were only fifty-cents a piece, which worried me (if they were good, wouldn't they be more than fifty-cents?). He was appalled that I'd never had this "Great American Classic" and I began to question whether I remembered our healthy-eating childhood accurately or whether I had been the only one who truly ate healthy as a child (I do remember he and my sister eating lots of Chef Boyardee and microwavable snacks after school while I usually gravitated toward cheese and crackers or half a turkey sandwich). He handed the small plastic bag to me as we ran to the jeep in the rain. Once in the back seat, he waited while I unwrapped the Moon Pie and examined it. My other brother started the car.

"Just do it. Eat it."
"What if I don't like it?" I asked, looking over the smooth, chocolate exterior of the rounded pie.
"Then don't eat the rest."
I closed my eyes, clenched my teeth over the exterior of the Moon Pie and.....bit.

My life has never been the same.

Now we buy Moon Pies by the scores (2 for a dollar!) and store them in our bread box. We have learned that heating them in the microwave for 7-10 seconds makes them taste like self-contained s'mores. I have never felt this way about a sweet of any kind in my life and honestly believe that every bad day could be made better with a Moon Pie. I don't eat them constantly, but savor them for a day like today when it's rainy and cold and my phone is breaking, as did my pen in class today, and I'm just so tired I can barely keep my eyes open. Then there's my beloved Moon Pie shared over a paper white plate with my loving, wonderful husband, heated in the microwave for ten seconds, gooey and happy in my mouth...and the whole world seems better.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Messy Tangent in Yellow Stills

It has been a week since my first guitar lesson and I can proudly say that all the chords Rory taught me are learned and I can play a scale fairly seamlessly. Tomorrow, lesson two commences. Speaking of guitar lessons, let me introduce you to Gertie.

Gertie is ten years old, made of wood and owned by my husband. She's never had a name before a week ago, but owns it like a hooker on a street corner, though she's not one. We rock out together to the G, C and D chord every day and, so far, the relationship is coming along nicely. She's got nice, tight strings and a glossy sheen like a well-groomed mare, but she whinnies like the souls of saints. Tomorrow, we hope to learn more chords and more about each other. Thus far, she's in good shape and my fingers are properly callousing, just as Rory suspected they might.

In other news, we had guests in town this weekend, MB and Blake (not to be confused with Amy I'm-A-Crack-House's/Wine-o-House's "Blake" (aka: Winehouse). While they visited for the evening, we experience something called "Ice Fog" together, though none of us could quite put our finger on what made that particular type of fog worthy of a proper name. It was definitely foggy, but not so much icy. We theorized that the ice collects in the lungs and, later, when the person who owns the lung chamber goes inside to warmth, it melts to water, but have no scientific data to back this up, nor were any of our throats or mouths particularly watery the next day as a result of melted ice.
The above photo is of us bracing the ice fog. Dustin, as you can see, is the only one who fears it. The rest of us have made our peace with it.

Blake also introduced us to something called "memes" which, if pressed, I cannot really explain. He showed us these youtube clips of a girl who looked about 14 years old just sort of being silly and devoting her videos as shout outs of love to internet friends of hers and, apparently, it set the internet world on fire. I can't explain it, really, but people sent this kid death threats for doing, virtually, nothing. It was kind of heartbreaking. She was definitely goofy and all over the place, but not death threat worthy by any standard (but, then again, who really is death threat worthy?). Anyhow, I couldn't sleep for thinking about this poor kid who probably went to sleep every night feeling terrified. Eventually, I did some research and learned she's probably ok and living a normal life and that made me feel a lot better and less worried. My future children are DEFINITELY not going to be allowed to post videos after seeing how something so innocent could become so dangerous.

Lastly, I painted our laundry room (with some guidance, patience and help from the spectacular Huz, of course...without him,I would've tried to paint the whole room with nothing but a can and a brush!) Ralph Lauren's kayak yellow this weekend. I started with a small room, thinking it'd be a good first-time-painting-a-room effort. Husband and I use this room to enter the house more than the front entrance since this entrance leads to the garage, where, of course, we park our cars. The room is going to be yellow, black and white since the washer and dryer are white, the walls are yellow, the trim and ceiling are white and some of the fixtures I want/have in there are black. In keeping with this theme, I looked up switchplates and found some that I thought were great, but couldn't bring myself to spend $5 on so, instead, I made some of my own! Here are some photos of the UNfinished project with the finished switchplates:

The flash is ruining the pretty color, but this is the calendar and key holder that was already in there. I had to remove it all to paint (pain in the butt getting everything taped up after I removed pieces from the walls...etc.) All the way to the right you can see ONE of the switchplates. It's black flower silhouettes.

This is a truer photo of the actual color, though still not THAT yellow. It has a warmer feel to if in this pic it's missing a drop of orange or something, but stll...closer. This silhouette is an owl on a branch with a bird cage and birds hanging from the branch.

I imagine I will turn what's left of this room into a wrapping station (can you ever find the wrapping paper, tissue paper, labels, know you have somewhere when you need it? Because I can't!) and mudroom, but haven't gotten all the pieces together just yet. I still need some items before I can post full scale photogs of the whole project. It's nice, though, to be glamouring up the place, even if it is just the laundry/mudroom.

Sorry for the sub-par photos. My camera is out of commission until I find the battery charger for it (it's one of those cameras that has a special battery that needs to be charged...blah!)

Today was the first day of school and, so far, so good. We'll see. I only TA-ed for a very cool Architecture class/professor today--an extra gig I picked up since times are usually pretty slow in the summer and January is a CRAPPY month for Grad student instructors who rely on a stipend (that's a hint to anyone with authority that can change how that goes down). I get to reign over 21 students, thus far, one who poked fun at my bum eye (did I mention I have a wandering eye? It's inconsistent in its wanderings and usually only does so when I'm TIRED or stressed...aka-first day of class and up at 7am), to her friend (girls never stop being mean, do they?), but the rest seem pretty invested and far. Tomorrow, I teach my two classes. Huz and I are going to school early to wake up and make copies and all that fun stuff. Should be a good time ;)  More than likely the copier will be broken because that's just how it rolls. I'll be teaching Intermediate Cr. Nonfiction writing (think memoirs, etc. 15 students) and Intro to Brit Lit (30 students). Hopefully, all will go off without a hitch!

Also, I've been running again. Huz has been, too. We're all caught up on House (cus who doesn't love Hugh Laurie???) I made tasty spinach and black bean empanadas tonight for dinner (Huz just told me AGAIN how much he liked them so it sounds like that recipe is a keeper!) I've been working steadily on my memoir revisions and broke it down to chapters for this revision, so it's less daunting. Somehow revising one twenty-page or so chapter at a time rather than all 200 pages of the memoir at once is just less intimidating, ya know? Here's hoping! I love how busy and full my days have become. It's so nice to be so involved in my life :)

And, hey, a shout out to my lil 'ister who will be gown shopping tomorrow. She's tiny, petite, delicate and those dresses will need quite a bit of cinching to get on her little self, so GOOD LUCK, Sar!!! Send pics!

I realize this post is all over the place. I didn't get much sleep last night. Some nights, I just can't get cozy!
Love to you, though, with promises for a better, more fluid post than this one soon.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sacrificing to the Guitar Gods

After my guitar lesson last night, D and I watched a movie and I unceremoniously cut my left hand's fingernails off, collecting the fragments and swiping them into the garbage. My whole life Mom has oohed and aahed over the superhuman strength of my nails. My nailbeds are wide, the nails themselves are hard as rocks, smooth and strong. Unlike my sister and my mother's nails, mine lack any hint of brittleness or frailty; they rarely break and tend to grow to lengths most women pay to have with fake, acrylics covering up their own nails. In fact, my nails even protest cutting and tend to need a few clamps of the nail-cutter before they comply. Mom attributes my nails to her parents genetics and laments that the trait somehow skipped her. She never fails to comment on their progress, often grabbing my hand, examining the nails with one hand and looking at her free hand's shorn ones. When my parents visited last semester, my nails were short, a byproduct of the stress of comprehensive exams and Mom commented, "It's not like you to bite your nails." "They've all just broken," I replied, examining the jagged edges, so abnormal to my hand. At Christmas, they'd grown back to a squared off, manicured-looking length and, again, she noted the change, sighing and saying, "I wish I'd made an appointment for a manicure for you. You just have such lovely nails. I envy your nails."

Women spend tons of money to get their nails pampered every week. In some ways, it's a sign of femininity, one that took years for us notice in my own nails since I played so many sports growing up and my hands were always calloused and dirty, nails kept short for the cause. Today, when I look around at my students and colleagues, I notice the various shades of red, brown, purple on their fingernails, or whatever color happens to be in season at the time. My aunts get their nails done weekly, selecting nail-jewelry when they have fancier occasions or holidays coming up. Many people consider the length, structure and even paint color of nails to be an essential part of their grooming, like I consider flossing my teeth and showering.

I can't count how many times I've heard or read about how revealing hands can be. Some are rougher and coarse from working with them often; good pianists supposedly have long fingers and well-kept nails. Receptionists and secretaries frequently have longer, painted nails and writers, well, we have soft, dexterous hands from all the typing we do.

When I cut those nails off last night and filed down the stubs that remained, I didn't feel like I was losing a part of my femininity or defying my mother's desire to live vicariously through my nails. Instead, a sense of liberation to the stereotype ensued. I am no longer definable by what my hands say, since my right hand nails are still longer. I'm blending together expectations, confusing the ability to determine a precise characteristic with which I can be defined, sacrificing my nails to the guitar gods in exchange for a skill. Already, I find that typing is a tad stranger with one hand's nails shorter than the other, but guitar playing is so much easier and just like learning the guitar, the strange new way of typing will come, too. The skills and work that defines me will recompartmentalize to allot time for practicing where once there none and some other space of wasted time in my day will be given up to learning to play this guitar.

Today, when I woke up and practiced my chords and scales with D's guidance, I could hear my mother in the back of my mind when she comes next month to visit saying, "What have you done to your nails?" and envisioned myself whipping out D's wooden guitar and plucking out my chords and scales as an answer. After all, I don't want to wait until I'm dying or sick to realize that there were things I wanted to learn, but never made the time. Shaving down my nails is a small price to pay.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

While D's Guitar Gently Weeps or Guitar Lesson #1

When I was five-years-old my mother overheard me picking out a tune on the piano by ear that my brothers' were learning in their weekly lessons and immediately signed me up for lessons with their teacher who thought I might have a knack for it. Unfortunately, my brothers hated practicing and I mimicked everything my brothers did, so the lessons didn't quite go as planned. I learned to read music, but had a hard time matching my fingers to the notes or even deciphering their names without pausing, removing my hand from the keys and spelling out "F-A-C-E" or saying "Every Good Boy Does Fine." Instead, I relied on my ear; sometimes my finger would hover over a key just a millisecond longer than a good pianist would, knowing it was going to be the wrong note and flinching, internally, at the mistake I was about to make. As I got older and Mom gave up on the lessons, I found solace in banging out songs familiar to my fingers after a bad day at school or a frustrating game on the soccer/softball/field hockey field. Over time, I grew to love the piano again, but never quite grasped the translation of note names and their key correspondents. Nowadays, if I sit at the piano for three or four days straight, the sounds re-introduce themselves to my fingers enough for me to temporarily memorize the pattern which they should play to make the song I hear in my head. I read the music s.l.o.w.l.y. those first two days, picking out the tunes and reminding myself what the notes look like and which finger should reach for them; by the third or fourth day, I'm steady until, finally, it comes easily again. I can tell by running my fingers just once across the keys whether it needs to be tuned or not and which notes are off.

In fourth grade, I started the drums and played until I was fourteen. I listened for percussion in songs and was even given the title of "first drummer" in our school band, a role that came with having no sheet music to accompany the rest of the band's song and required me to play by ear, which, of course, I loved. That stopped when I entered high school and singing came to be the popular instrument of choice by my peers. So I took singing lessons for six months, an instrument, it turned out, I was not as naturally talented at.

Now, though, having just turned thirty-years-old, I am surrounded by guitarists. Dustin has two guitars here at our house: one that hangs from a hook in his office and the other that lives in an old black case. I am naturally attracted to the wooden acoustic guitar, with it's sleek glossy body and strong neck. Whenever Dustin or a friend plucks out a tune on the guitar, I immediately think of my mother in her youth who once told me she played the guitar. I knew it was true since the catalyst for me asking if she played the guitar lived in our small, cold computer room tucked, almost forgotten, away on the second floor of our house. The room was built off the staircase to the attic. It was narrow, like the neck of a guitar, and housed an old Mac computer with two games (Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? and a WPM typing test). An ancient printer sat to the right of the computer and at least two long-sleeved shirts and a hoodie needed to be worn if one ventured into that part of the house. The only other object in the room was a wooden guitar with a busted string. I want to imagine that I wanted her to teach me, but that may be a fallacy. Somehow, though, the image of my mother with the wooden guitar nestled into her lap stays with me, though I've never seen it, and some part of me wants so badly to learn how to play it, to share this music with my family and my mother.

Sometime after my comprehensive exams last semester, I decided it was time to learn the guitar and I whipped out Dustin's wooden one while he was out of the house, pulled up some online instructions and tried my hardest to understand what all the lines, dots and numbers meant to no avail. This semester, I called upon my guitar-playing friends for advice, help, lessons...anything...and tonight, after a seitan cutlet parmesan dinner with Rory and Dustin at our home, Rory patiently gave me my first guitar lesson.

Dustin retreated to his study to read and kindly tolerated my picking and inquiries and Rory's careful instruction. So far, I've learned that holding the neck of the guitar and pressing down the frets is an abnormal motion for the human hand/wrist to perform. I can't tell the difference between whether a string is out of tune because it's too high or too low and this is going to be a lot harder than skilled guitarists make it look. But now I can tune a guitar and know what the dots and lines mean, learned some scales and chords and will be practicing like crazy until that guitar nestles into my lap and plays for me the way I imagine it did for my mother, until I have callouses on my fingers where the strings have made them stronger. Rory says my ear and my fingers and my wrist will all adjust...I just hope, after I cut my fingernails, that he's right.

Thanks D for letting me use your guitar and for tolerating my picking and prodding while you study. Thanks, Rory, for being a patient, thorough teacher. We're going to have to come up with a better tradeoff than seitan for what you're teaching me.

I'll let the rest of you know how it goes as we progress.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Grind, A Confession and Beowulf

Here we are at "It's a Grind," our favorite local cafe. I'd like to pretend it's a dive, but it's really not and, right now, the only "divey" thing about it is the sea of coffee filtering around at my feet, remnants of what once inhabited this bright, beautiful, huge red mug Dustin was drinking coffee out of. That, too, is smashed. Ladies and gentlemen, let me re-introduce myself as one of the world's biggest klutzes. In all fairness, the catastrophic blow to the mug was not entirely my fault, since Dustin placed it directly behind my laptop, out of my line of sight. How could he know I'd turn my computer and send the mug flying? How could I know the mug was even there? Que sera sera.

We've come to this cafe in an attempt to refocus our attentions on schoolwork. For Dustin's part, he has been diligently reading books as if his brain has an unappeasable, ravenous appetite for them. I have been alternating between reading for my first week of teaching next week and revising my memoir. While we've both been rather dedicated, the semester will, no doubt, be hectic and even us studious, academic-types need a break from the same old setting; our home office filled with so many books it makes me dizzy just thinking about them. In fact, just before we left the house, we were fitting a place for a suspended bookshelf to reside in the office since we need space for, you know, more books!

Yesterday I began reading Beowulf which I am teaching the first and second week of the semester for my Intro to Brit Lit class. It was originally written in Old English and when I read the introduction, I found myself trying to memorize the symbols of Old English and what they sounded like so I could teach myself to read in Old English (my bf Megan can do this and I'm totally envious...literary nerds!). In my mind, it should work like those decoder rings from Cracker Jax boxes or those scrambled coded clues they provide on the Geocaching page that look like this. If I keep the symbols and their meanings beside the text, I should be able to translate no problem, right? But this is crazy talk and more introductory reading proves my theory to be impossible. It's a good thing the text I'm teaching has been translated. The big confession here is this (lean in closely because it's a secret)...I've never read Beowulf.

Has the initial shock worn off? I think everyone and their mother has read this text but me. Somehow, in the advanced lit class I took in high school, we skipped this stuff and worked with modern authors and poetry instead. In college, my creative writing major called for craft, workshop and critical courses rather than literature courses and I think my final lit course tally by the end of four years came in at four (two required, two for my film minor). When I divulged this to my husband, his brother admitted that he, too, had never read it. (It can slide with him, though, since he's not an English Lit. professor.) So D launched into a basic summary using the following words, phrases and definitions:

mead hall: place where men drink honey wine (aka-mead) and where they pass out; created by the king for the people (there was a lot more to this, but I'm going for "short" here)
King Hrothgar
Grendel: some sort of fucked up monster whose arms is ripped off by our hero, leading to his eventual death
tears limbs off drunk people: what Grendel does at night by sneaking into the hall when the people are passed out
Grendel's Mom: even more fucked up than Grendel who resides in a cozy cave and is really pissed off when her son dies (bitch should've headed Beowulf's threats...this is my additional commentary, not the husband's)
Beowulf: an arrogant warrior type who eventually becomes king; when he first busts on the scene he brags about swimming for hella long time, like twenty days, and to put his money where his mouth is, he brings down both Grendel and his mom (almost single-handedly). However, he later becomes king, but is more of a fighter than a thinker, the kingdom's not at its peak, a dragon is threatening the well-being of the land and Beowulf takes some guys, fights the dragon, becomes mortally wounded and dies. Oh, and only one guy stays with him to finish off the dragon, but the kingdom benefits from this dragon's death.
The End 

I considered whipping out our mini voice recorder and getting this all on tape to play to my class next week, but thought better of it, not wanting them to think this summary would suffice and they'd no longer have to do the work of reading. Sigh. One thing his summary did accomplish, though, is getting me stoked to read Beowulf. I haven't gotten past the introduction quite yet, but will let you know how it goes. Plus, we have a bottle of mead wine at home that I'm now dying to try out (I've been eyeing it between revisions and home-upkeep).

Have any of you read Beowulf? What'd you think?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Good Fortune and Safety to All Who Enter Here

My brother-in-law recently visited our home for the first time and christened it as being both "calm and peaceful." He commented on liking the greenish hued paint and said he thought the house suited us well. Coming from Coire (pronounced "Corey"), this is a huge compliment. It's not because Coire doesn't offer compliments often; it's because he is something of an inherent interior designer. As Dustin says, "Coire can come into a room, decide that a red stripe needs to be painted vertically down the wall and when he's done it, it looks really good and you're left wondering how the hell a random red line down a wall could work. Somehow, he just has a knack for it. He just knows what will look good." 

This can be proven by merely stepping foot into Coire's own home. There is a fluidity to the setup and furniture, a cool feel to the rocky-faced living room tabletops and tan leather couches that makes one think of an Asian rock garden, carefully crafted. At one point, there was a rock-fountain against the wall that seemed to whisper "serenity" and the home felt like nature domesticated. There is something about the way Coire views the world that allows him to take something otherwise bland and boring and make it pop. I often think if I were to simply name an emotion, Coire could design any room to portray it perfectly.

Coire's also quite observant and one of the few, if not the only, people to have commented on the swastika that can be found on the floor at every entrance of our home (image to the right). Most people don't notice it since the sticker is quite small and blends in with the tile beneath it, not to mention most people aren't looking at the ground when they enter a house. My brothers each wear a gold necklace with a swastika pendant that stays tucked into their shirts, but my eldest brother told me he has nearly gotten into fights with people who don't understand the true meaning behind the symbol. When Coire mentioned it, I feared he might think I was a Nazi-sympathizer or racist so I explained the origin behind the symbol.

The swastika is a Hindu religious symbol (it might also be good to note that Hindus are pacifists), second in strength only to the Om. It comes from the Sanskrit "svasti" meaning "good fortune" and is common in India. Various translations can be "good fortune," "auspiciousness," "harmony" or "welcome," among others. To stereotype, Indians tend to be fairly superstitious and when I moved into my home, my father put an "Om" above two of the three doors and a swastika at the main entrance, telling me that it would keep me safe and protect the house. I, for my own part, am superstitious, as well, but became more superstitious when "friends" would "let themselves in" (translate to: break into) my house, but always through the side entrance, the one without a swastika or Om. After coming back from a trip to India, I stuck an Om and swastika at the remaining entrance, the one people used to let themselves in through, and have since had no break-ins. (Hence, my superstition was gratified.)

Coire's logical next question was, why did Hitler take and use the swastika? The answer: because he thought it was a symbol of racial purity and superiority, perpetuated by the speculation that early Indian inhabitants were white invaders. So Hitler took this Aryan symbol and used it to represent his ideal, as well as playing on the idea of "harmony" (believing the world would be harmonious under his rule and the extinction of Jews...etc.). In doing so, he re-defined a revered religious symbol meaning harmony and good fortune to be recognized, instead, as a symbol of hatred and genocide.

We both agreed this was a sad result for a peaceful symbol.

When Coire left, he took an extra swastika with him to place on the floor at the entrance of his home and I couldn't help but feel as though we'd taken something back somehow, by spreading the symbol and using it for good. I just hope the rest of the world can follow the same pacifist, harmonious suit.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Good List

It's so long, 2009, and hello 2010, but not without a nod toward all the blessings the year brought. So without further adieu, the Good List (on a personal level) of 2009.

1. The Michael Family Established 2009: Welcome to our love. June 13, 2009 was the day Dustin and I joined together in marriage with 130 of our friends and family as our witnesses. There was never a more perfect day and each day feels as new and exciting as the last. We were so blessed to have so many people travel from extreme distances to be there to celebrate with and join us in our special day. In fact, we had so much fun, we plan on doing it again every few years in varying locations. I'm so thrilled to have married my best friend and love of my life. 

2. The Passing of my Comprehensive Exams/Attaining ABD:  What a long, hard trip it's been! For the last four years, I've been preparing for this exam, in some ways. For the last year, I've been reading as many books as I could possibly get into me while taking careful, detailed notes on every aspect of them in preparation. All semester, I wrote a preparatory essay (with one major, overhaul revision), then I sat for two hours for an oral exam with my intelligent and knowledgeable committee. One catch, one of my members was sick, so I had to come back and sit for another hour-long oral exam with he and my committee chair a few days later. The consensus: unanimous passes. Again, my thanks to the committee, my family and husband who, as my mom put it, "was there in the trenches" with me. So much support for one girl is more than I could have imagined.

3. Sara's Engagement: Woah there, little Sara! Who knew my sister would be getting engaged only six months after Dustin and I married!?! Sara had been dating her boyfriend for 2 years and eight months before they got engaged. Her newly minted fiance got her parents and his parents to the same restaurant so after he proposed, the host asked them to move to another table. Sara freaked out a little bit, but agreed to move...and voila! They were moved to a table where their parents were. Anthony's a great guy who loves my sister very much. So congrats to the two of them and thanks for asking me to be your Maid of Honor! :) What an honor it is.

4. Cousin Rachel's Admission to Law MIZZOU: This is pretty exciting news since we go to Mizzou and Rachel will be JUST down the street from us. Rachel is Dustin's first cousin. She has been wanting to go to law school forever and applied early admission to no other schools and now...she's in! A dream come true! Congrats, Rachel! We are so proud of you and excited to have you at Mizzou!

5. Coire Graduates: My brother-in-law, Coire, manages a local gas station, raises his 7 year-old daughter, had an internship and took on full course loads every semester until finishing up his bachelor's degree this December. It hasn't been an easy task, but Coire has completed it nobly and we are incredibly proud of him and all of his hard work.

6. Health: 2009 was a year without death or serious sickness in our family (both Navare and Michael sides). We feel blessed that our family is growing with marriages and births and we are thrilled at the blessings of continued health we have.

As 2010 is at hand, we greet it with joy and hope. Dustin will be taking his comprehensive exams this year; we will both be looking for tenure track and spousal appointments. Sara will be preparing for her wedding. Rachel will be moving away from home for the first time and taking on law school. Coire will be on the job market. We hope for nothing more than continued health, love and success for all of our friends and family and thank you all for coming along for the ride.

Here's to 2010!