Monday, December 31, 2012

Real Resolutions

It's the final day of 2012 - seems that translation of the Mayan calendar was off a bit - and 2013 looms ahead of us, bright with promise.  I don't claim to have any clue what this new year will bring, but I can tell you what I'm hoping for and working toward.  (Side note:  lots of folks leave off that second part.  No wonder their plans fall apart quicker than a designer bag bought off a truck tailgate.)  There are a few resolutions that seem to be especially popular, so here are the "Big 5" New Year's Resolutions and my reaction to them.

1.  I want to eat better this year.  I solemnly vow that I will no longer kid myself that green apple Now 'n' Laters, despite having the word "green" in the name, count the same as kale.

2.  I want to lose weight this year.  I solemnly vow that I will only consume organic vegetables, free-range meat, fairy dust and free trade club soda.

3.  I want to exercise more this year.  I solemnly vow that I will begin cross-training in the sports of BASE jumping and tiddlywinks.

4.  I want to keep a tidy house this year.  I solemnly vow that I will stop issuing hunting permits for dust bunnies.

5.  I want to travel to the farthest reaches of the known world this year.  I solemnly vow that I will take steps to get my Cleveland County Corn Maze and Knobby Spotting excursion package put together.

Well, it doesn't seem that I'm going to do too well on the "Big 5" resolutions, so what do I expect to accomplish with the upcoming 365 days?

1.  I hope to remember that the small stuff is actually the Big Stuff.
2.  I hope to remember that I impact more people than I know, often when I don't think I'm doing anything worth noticing.
3.  I hope to remember that we all can use a kind word.  Period.
4.  I hope to remember that, when the choice is between screaming like a vengeful banshee and having a frosted cookie, it's okay to have the cookie.
5.  I hope to remember that I feel better when I eat real food, exercise in the sunshine, and take time to ponder things - and that these are not frivolous activities, but are rather sound investments in myself.

May 2013 be good to us all.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Yes, Virginia . . .

That's my dad, the Piedmont Santa!

Back in 1897, the New York Sun printed an editorial that should have put to rest, once and for all, the question of whether or not there is a Santa Claus.  Eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon was quite concerned about some things her friends had been telling her and her father, probably panicking just a little bit, told her to write the newspaper, because "if you see it in The Sun, it's so."  (Would that we had so much faith in the media today!)  Well, she did, and Francis Pharcellus Church took the reindeer by the horns and, in reassuring Virginia that there was indeed a Santa Claus, he created what has become history's most reprinted editorial.

I wasn't around in 1897 and I'm glad Mr. Church was able to answer Virginia's sincere question.  However, I can vouch for Santa's continued and robust existence in today's increasingly suspicious and cynical world.

Pull up a toy box and listen to the tale.

Long ago and far away, my father was a Navy pilot.  After he left the service and married my mother, he grew restless with his secure, yet somewhat dull, job in the insurance business, which led him to come home one day and proclaim, "Honey, I quit my job.  I want to be an airline pilot!"  There is speculation that my mother may have considered packing up my sister [my brother was on the way and I hadn't even been thought of yet] and retreating to her home state of Virginia until he came to his senses.  Then again, fortune indeed favors the brave, and my dad went out the very next day and got a job with Piedmont Airlines, where he stayed until he retired.

Now, in those days, pilots used a seniority system to bid on the flights they wanted to pilot every month, which meant new hires got the lousiest runs as a way of paying their dues.  Of course, everyone wants the holidays off, so throughout my childhood, we got used to a sort of "moveable feast" approach and celebrated whenever Dad was home, usually somewhere between the 23rd and the 27th.

I come from optimistic, "lemonade from lemons" sort of folk, so sometime around my seventh Christmas, Dad got hold of a cheap Santa suit and beard and began wearing it for his Christmas flights.  It was an instant hit, so he added an after-Christmas shopping trip to load up on discounted toys for the next year and began handing out trinkets from a plastic bag emblazoned with the Piedmont symbol, the "Speedbird."  (You'd be shocked to discover how many kids fly alone over the holidays, usually shuttling from one parent to the other and often traveling lonely and a little scared.  Think about the kids, people - your ex might have hurt you deeply, but put it aside for the children, please!)  When Dad had a little boy run up to him in the airport, hug his leg, and say, "Thanks for the bike!" - well, at that point, we were all in.

The suit was replaced by a higher quality one, the beard and wig were upgraded (yes, my father has his hair styled for the holidays!), and we got a nicer sack for the toys.  Mom even made us elf costumes so we could authentically serve as "Santa's helpers."  By now, Dad had accumulated enough seniority that he could have stayed home on Christmas but, after a family meeting, it was agreed that we'd kind of gotten used to it and Christmas in the airports was part of our family tradition.  So Dad took it to the next level and started going up to a newbie pilot with a young family and taking his (they were all "his" back in the day) flight so he could stay home.  Dad even sent the pay for that trip to the pilot.

Captain Baldy
It didn't end when Dad retired.  Dad turns 80 this December and he still plays Santa all through December.  One of his most meaningful trips is arranged through an organization called Pilots for Kids, whose primary purpose is visiting hospitalized kids.  (That's the PFK mascot, Captain Baldy, over there on the left.)  I've accompanied Dad on this trip, which was dreadfully hard as it involved being cheerful and upbeat while visiting a pediatric oncology ward.  Dad was an absolute brick.  FryDaddy went with Dad this year (my Mom went, too) and he said it was a wonderful experience.

Yep.  Santa's real, folks.

But he doesn't use reindeer - he prefers jets.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

If I Can Make It There . . .

So a couple of weeks ago, the Great New York Adventure was commenced.  You already know how this trip came to be (if you've forgotten, I wrote about it here), so I thought you just might be interested to know how things went.

The secret of the trip was kept - my niece knew nothing about the trip until she had been whisked out of a last-period test to go to the airport - and I arrived at the airport just a few minutes after the rest of the crew, who shall now be known simply as Sister, Niece, and Mom.  Niece was about to shimmy with excitement at the mere thought of going to New York.  I still had a reservation or two, but I was resolved.  I took my iPad, but not my computer, determined to vacation and not work.  My classes would be fine.  (I will admit that I repeated that a few times over the next few days.) Sister had planned things very carefully, while still allowing for last-minute changes of plan.  Niece had made up her list of things she really wanted to do whilst in New York,  knowing that the trip would happen someday - I'm proud to say we hit every one of them, or at least came close enough to make her mark it as a hit.

So what did we do?  Walked a lot, that I can tell you!  We stayed out by LaGuardia (Queens) and got to know the bus and subway system - which really isn't (a) hard or (b) dangerous.  While I'm on that note, let me sing the praises of New Yorkers.  Keep in mind that we took our trip not two weeks after Superstorm Sandy had tap-danced all over the Tri-State area (the Statue of Liberty is still closed from Sandy - we took the free Staten Island Ferry to get our harbor view).  Garbage was piled up, since city sanitation trucks had been diverted from usual "pick up bagged trash" duty to "pick up house-sized heaps of what had been houses."  The tourist areas of Manhattan were up and running, but our hotel was full of FEMA types making appointments to see homeowners who had lost everything - especially hard hit areas included Staten Island and parts of Long Island.  Yet - and this is very important - everyone went out of their way to help us.  (Well, the lone exception might be the guy cadging change from us on a street corner in Flushing who compared me to Sharon Osbourne.  It was our first night in the city and we missed our stop and had to wait a good long while for the bus.  Safe to say, we stuck out a bit to the after midnight crowd.  No one hassled us, but it was clear that we were Not From Around Here.)  Seriously - all the bunk about New Yorkers being rude, short-tempered, and having no time for anyone else - disregard.  People helped us figure out which way we needed to go to get to the museum, how to put more money on a subway pass, how to USE a subway pass, etc., etc.  New York - it's a great city and go see it!

And don't be shy about playing tourist!  New York is one of the greatest cities in the world - dive into it!  We took a carriage ride in Central Park (pulled by a horse named "Charley" - get the joke?), we took one of those hop-on/hop-off bus tours to get an overall feel for at least part of Manhattan, and we gawked.  We gawked at the view from "Top of the Rock," we gawked at the twinkly Christmas lights strung up in Saks Fifth Avenue, we gawked at the sheer mass of humanity in (the now Disneyfied and perfectly safe) Times Square, we even stepped into the Gilded Age glory of the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria to gawk.  We took in the Broadway production of Wicked and even cynical backstage me got lost in the magic and the wonder.  We saw progress on the Freedom Tower which is being built on the site of the vanished Twin Towers and made an unexpected stop by St. Paul's, the oldest church in Manhattan which became a staging site for recovery efforts following 9/11.  (Make a point of going there.)  We took in both the Museum of Modern Art (sigh - "Starry Night" and a early version of Munch's "The Scream") and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (really - there just wasn't enough time.)  We took in the Lindt chocolate store (I joined the club) which is next door to the Swarovski crystal store (where I bought a pair of sparkly earrings that I will probably wear nearly every single day to justify how much I spent!)  Niece also spent hours in the American Girl doll store, blissed out of her gourd.  And all of us discovered how much fun a wax museum can be.  History, culture, and commerce - we hit it all!

Yeah, I missed a day of work.

But I didn't miss this trip and, by any scale you care to use, I believe I made the right call when it mattered.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Take a Walk!

As a kid, I was pretty active, although I was never especially athletic.  I grew up out in the country and my family had a firmly-held belief that small children were best kept out of trouble by frequent weeding of v-e-r-y long garden rows.  We also kept horses throughout most of my youth and I could curry a pony before I was taller than said pony's ears.  Further, my mother grew up in the mountains of southwest Virginia and instilled a love of hiking in me.  So it's reasonable that I grew up being quite happy tramping through the woods, roasting marshmallows over campfires and shivering in my sleeping bag knowing that the awful ghost stories probably weren't true, but still feeling my heart jump at every snapped twig.

Then I got older and More Responsible, which seems to involve spending a great deal of time in a stuffy office, hunched over a desk.  It's a funny thing, but after a certain height is achieved, it seems acceptable to "work out," but not to just "play outside."  Everything needs a goal, I suppose.  So, over the years, I've tried to have goal-oriented workouts, usually involving trying to get to that magic mark of ten thousand steps a day.  But I'm cheap, so I always had lousy pedometers that (a) didn't work, (b) broke easily, and/or (3) weren't especially accurate.  The pedometer would give up the ghost and, soon afterward, I'd quit, too.

About two weeks ago, I had the brainstorm of looking into whether the App Store had a free (I'm still cheap, you know!) pedometer app.  I don't have an iPhone, but I have an iPad through the school's technology initiative and I have to say, I've found it to be a very useful tool, although I still don't think it's the end-all, be-all. Not having an iPhone meant whatever I chose, I was going to have to carry the iPad with me so it could count my steps.  Would there by anything out there that could convince me to lug the iPad with me while walking the dog or turning laps on the college's walking track?

Turns out yes.

Let me recommend (and my technical services support guru is going to beam at the very idea of me recommending an app!) a lovely free app called Striiv.  This app not only counts your steps, it gives you frequent encouragement and points.  You can accept little challenges like "take 100 steps in the next 10 minutes" to earn points (more on that later) and when you figure out how easy it is to win a challenge, you grab the next one.  I've been using Striiv for not quite two weeks now and my average step count is over 8,100 steps (I've cracked 10,000 daily steps once).  It's not a race, but I have to admit that I like seeing the numbers go up.

What to do with those points?  Well, Striiv also comes with a game where you build an island.  I admit, I thought this was just lame, but now I'm hooked.  I've never gotten hooked on a game - I enjoyed video games Way Back When, but I've never been a real gamer.  (Exception noted for the movie quote puzzle game Enscripted, which I play every day over my first cup of coffee.)  But with this, I find myself forming strategy - what can I plant or build to earn enough coins to buy a Fire Maple?  Now how can I earn enough points to grow the Fire Maple to full size?

See - you start with just a hut and a tiki torch (OK, it's a "Prometheus Torch," the game has a certain Classical Greek vibe) that generate some coins.

Where I started - a hut and a torch!

You can save up the coins and buy other plants or structures, but you have to build/grow your new stuff through three additional stages before it's finished and will then generate more coins to buy more stuff.  And some things come with critters to roam your island.  Tap on those and they wave at you, the tiger swipes at you with a paw, and I now have an ostrich who (you guessed it) buries its head.

Plants, a fishpond, a vineyard, and a half-built Fountain of Youth!

Might be crazy, but for me, it's working.  Oops!  Gotta go - I need to earn enough points to build the next stage of my Fountain of Youth!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Personal Development Days

A (Big) Apple for the Teacher
There's a story I need to tell you.  Please - pull up a chair, hunker down, and hear the tale.

So things have been going well here at the Nest.  Life is full and maybe a little overly busy, but it's with Good Stuff.  My classes are up and running and seem to be going well - that includes my online one which has its own set of challenges as I try to get students to interact with the material and with each other - the Breaking Bad book is chugging along, and I'm working to throw a conference in June that seems to be mushrooming into something a little bigger than I had originally envisioned.  FryDaddy and I are getting a handle on the commuter marriage/grad school situation, as well.

That's a lot of plates to spin.

In late September, I worked and worked to get my classes prepped for the couple of days my classes wouldn't meet due to a conference I was presenting at in Nashville but still felt I needed to check in while I was gone.  Now my students are full-growed adults; not fragile baby pandas, and I know I have tendencies to "helicopter teach" sometimes.  But that's only because I want them to do well, right?

Envision the scene, if you will.  My loving, handsome, funny, and talented husband and I are in this luxurious hotel for the conference (seriously - robes and slippers, twice-a-day maid service, and an espresso machine on every floor in case you ran out of coffee.  Country mouse was in high cotton, indeed!). Nashville is a majorly fun city - for one thing, they have the world's only full-scale model of the complete Parthenon (not even Athens has that!), complete with 42-foot-high Athena covered in eight pounds of beaten gold.  We're seeing old friends and promoting "Joss In June" and perusing book tables.  Only I'm also madly checking e-mail and Blackboard morning and night, even though I'd told students I'd check in only once a day.

See, I'm that indispensable.

In the middle of this, my sister calls.  My lovely, accomplished sister who never calls.  (We get along just fine, we just don't usually talk much outside of family functions.  I'm very busy, you know.)  In my family, there's a tradition that the grandchildren plan a special trip with my mom (their grandmother, so it's called the "grandmommie trip") when they turn ten. These trips sometimes take a while to plan, and my niece is quite a bit past ten. She finally settled on New York City as the destination. "Right, uh-huh," I say, all the while looking over at the laptop screen.  They're going to go over Veterans' Day, because the school system has that Monday off.  "Yeah, sure," I mutter.  They want me to go.

"Go?  To New York? But I have school that Monday! I can't miss that.  I mean, I'd like to, but, but, but . . . I'll have to call you back."

I am, on occasion, about a thick as a brick.

Readers, it took me two days to figure this out.  TWO DAYS.  Bless his heart, FryDaddy let me suss this one out on my own, although after I explained my non-dilemma dilemma, he looked at me as if I was something that people ought to be paying two bits for a gander at inside a tent at the carnival sideshow.

This is how it is:  My mother is in her mid-seventies, quite capable of making and enjoying such a trip, but the future is always uncertain.  My sister and I finally get along well, after a childhood of thinking the other was a complete pest.  My niece is just about to hit the age where she doesn't want to have much of anything to do with adults of any stripe, much less the ones she's related to.

A trip with just the four of us - my mother, my sister, my niece, and me - to New York.  Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Broadway show, Museum of Modern Art, etc.  And it took me two days to figure this out?  Sheesh.

It seems that maybe I ought to switch which side of the desk I'm on sometimes.  With my job, we're expected to rack up a certain number of "professional development" hours each year - generally in the form of workshops and seminars that enhance our skills in the classroom.  I've decided I need to have a few personal development hours as well - time devoted to enhancing my skills as a human being.  From what I see in this little episode, I probably need to start in the remedial classes, but that's okay - at least I'm starting.

I called my sister back.  We fly out on that Friday.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembrance & Resolve

Eleven years ago today, my world - along with the worlds of many - changed forever. And as strange as it is to say, I think we need to be sure to pause and remember. I realized that need existed when it struck me that many of my students were in elementary school when the events of 9/11 unfolded.  I was a full-grown adult and I couldn't fathom what my eyes were taking in - and I have days in which that is still true.

Readers of this blog know the great admiration I have for Father Mychal Judge - I've written about his life on the last two 9/11 anniversaries (here and here) and I encourage you to learn a bit more about this incredible man who rode with "his boys" to the fiery Towers and whose name adorns the first death certificate issued for that terrible, terrible event.

For some things, there is no logic, there is no reason. Seeking one will drive you around the bend.  So what do we do? How do we go on in a world which can seem to be driven by madness and chaos?

We stand. And we stand tall.

J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) considered the cosmic questions raised by the horrors that we now call "9/11" and he, along with the artists John Romita Jr. and Scott Hanna, issued his answers in an unusual format.  At the time, Straczynski was writing The Amazing Spider-Man. It makes sense - Spidey is a hero closely associated with New York City; he always has called the Big Apple his home.  But how could a comic - a child's plaything - make sense of or find order in the midst of Hell?


I've included only a few panels here - you really should find the story for yourself.  I'll freely admit to tearing up as I read it and I can be a hard case sometimes.  Go seek it out - it's The Amazing Spider-Man, issue #36. You can find it in the trade paperback "Revelations" for about ten bucks.

It's so worth it.

Spidey arrives at the Twin Towers.

"Only madmen could contain the thought, execute the act, fly the planes.  The sane world will always be vulnerable to madmen, because we cannot go where they go to conceive of such things."

"Whatever our history, whatever the root of our surnames, we remain a good and decent people, and we do not bow down and we do not give up.  The fire of the human spirit cannot be quenched by bomb blasts or body counts.  Cannot be intimidated forever into silence or drowned by tears. We have endured worse before; we will bear this burden and all that come hereafter, because that's what ordinary men and women do. No matter what. This has not weakened us. It has only made us stronger."

"We stand blinded by the light of your unbroken will. Before that light, no darkness can prevail. They knocked down two tall towers. In their memory, draft a covenant with your conscience, that we will create a world in which such things need not occur. A world which will not require apologies to children, but also a world whose roads are not paved with the husks of their inalienable rights. They knocked down two tall towers. Graft now their echo onto your spine. Become girders and glass, stone and steel, so that when the world sees YOU, it sees THEM. And stand tall. Stand tall."

On this day of somber remembrance, be at peace. Heroes walk among us. And they don't wear Spandex tights or masks.

Resolve to be worthy of them.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Labor Day Weekend

Well, the Road to Hell has another paving stone, as I meant to post all last week.  However, the fall semester is just now getting into full swing - classes started two weeks ago, but my online just went live Thursday - so it's been a wee bit busy around the Nest.  And now it's the long Labor Day weekend!

I enjoy Labor Day, but I think it deserves to be more than the last day you can wear white without guilt.  Begun back in 1882, Labor Day is supposed to be a day to commemorate "the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being" of the United States.  Seriously, it's without a doubt the most "commie" holiday we have and most people don't even know it.  You should probably wear red instead of white, if you know what I mean.

Labor, especially union labor, gets a bad rap these days and I, for one, think it's about time to knock that off.   In the interest of full disclosure, I should reveal that I live in the least unionized state in America (that's according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012).  I do not belong to a union; in fact, state law prohibits public employees from unionizing in my state - see NCGS Section 95-98.  However, I realize the benefits I reap that have come from union activity.  Unions brought us the five day work week, the 40 hour work week, safety regulations, an end to child labor, workers' compensation, and a host of other improvements to the workplace that we take for granted these days.  I mean, you didn't really think the robber barons of the 19th century and the titans of the Industrial Age just woke up one morning and said, "You know, the words of Charles Dickens really got to me.  No more five-year-olds working the looms and the mines!"  Nope, improvements in society come because enough people band together and demand change.

That's the lesson of Labor Day.  Beware those who try to sell you snake oil labelled "trust those in charge to do the right thing" when profits are threatened.  Stand strong and stand together.  Labor is not the enemy.

So go enjoy your cookout - I know I will - and let me suggest the following to add to your playlist and movie queue for this weekend:

10 Songs that Still Power Social Change

Movies about the Working (Wo)Man - ever think about Alien as a Labor Day movie?  It works when you think about why that crew is off in the middle of nowhere.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Notes from Abroad

Well, not really abroad so much as not here.  You see, FryDaddy and I have just returned from vacation - the first one we've taken in quite a while that didn't also involve taking work with us.  (We cheated on that just a little, but no hard core writing/research was done.  Promise.)  How strange is it to feel like you're playing hooky when you're on vacation?  But such is the life of the typical American.  And nuts to it, I say.

It's true.  As a society, we work more hours than the rest of the developed world, have fewer days off, and rarely take all of the one we have.  Even then, we tend to be wired into the world, so we check e-mail, the office has our phone number, etc., etc.  I'm telling you, this blurring of home and work is not healthy.  Many workplaces don't quite trust working from home (how can we be sure they're not just goofing off?) but nearly everyone I know does it, they just do it for free.

This is why we need vacations that are actually vacations.  Speaking only for myself, it usually takes me a good, solid 24 hours to unlock enough to realize that I don't have to go in the next morning.  So here are a few things I learned this time around - and I was quite surprised by them.  Let's call them "beach epiphanies."

  1. I've been going to the same beach for (gulp!) 35 years and in that time, I've been the sun-bleached kid who thought lifeguards were practically God on a tall chair; I've been the teenager hesitantly trying out flirt moves; I've been the "too cool to be here" college girl; I've been the young adult using the beach to escape adult responsibilities I wasn't quite ready for; and now I'm the older, more certain of herself woman looking at the lifeguards thinking, "They're just kids."  Life is transition.
  2. You know what?  People just aren't that bad.  I had gotten in a very bad habit of starting my day with the news, which - let's face it - is driven by ratings, so the stories tend to be sensationalized and awful.  On top of that, I had gotten in the even worse habit of reading my news online, and taking in the comments.  I'm all for letters to the editor, but anonymous comments are atrocious.  Far from elevating the conversation, they disintegrate nigh-instantly into name-calling, political posturing, and cut&paste festivals.  The human race doesn't come out too well there.  My fall resolution - I'll keep reading the news, but no comments, and not first thing in the morning.  (By the way - this is going to be hard for me.  Encouragement is welcome.)
  3. Walking on the beach with no particular goal to reach in no particular time is a Very Good Thing, as Pooh-Bear might say.  It's also a great place to people watch.  It makes me feel better about the human race to see so many people reading.  (I don't really care what they're reading, as I subscribe to the idea that good books are what you make of them.  Personally, I'm hip-deep in an English murder mystery right now and I'm loving it.)  It's also great to see hulking teenage boys carefully guide their football practice around the little kids splashing in the tidal pools, oblivious to the NFL tryout four feet above their heads.  It's charming to see teens trying on adulthood and gaggles of colt-like girls giggling in the surf.  And I am reminded that most people are hard-working folk who just want to provide for their families and be happy in their work and lives.  We're not so different as the political spinmasters would like us to think.  Oh, and I also enjoy catching up on local news, such as discovering that "AMBER LUVS HUNTER 4 EVER."  Or at least until high tide washes away the evidence.
  4. I got married for some very good reasons and a bone-deep belief that God gives us chances, but it's up to us to seize them.  Work brings value to our lives - it may be up to us to find it somedays - but just as all work isn't equally valuable, not all idleness is equally useless.   FryDaddy and I needed some unstructured time to spend together and remember a few things.  We succeeded.
  5. Pencil in - on second thought, use ink - some time for you and yours over the next two weeks.  Yes, you can do it.  No, time spent snarking over bills and chores doesn't count.  Whatever it is, it has to be fun.  Nothing work related.  Remember why you work so hard in the first place.  And remember that you, too, need to be cared for.  Think of it this way - sometimes idleness is sacred.  When's the last time you went to church?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Lifestyles of the Frugal & Anonymous

I've always thought that Jimmy Buffett's song "Cowboy in the Jungle" was a cautionary tale.  I don't want to find myself being one of those people "tryin' to cram lost years into five or six days," so I'm working to build more down time in to my everyday life. As you know, one of those steps was to step back from this blog for a bit.  Posting twice a month here is my goal, but remember that you can always go over to Unfettered Brilliance to see what I'm up to with movies, television, and publishing.

While I've recently been all caught up in presenting, networking, and a touch of mentoring (Slayage 5 in Vancouver was a blast!) and the Breaking Bad project (all of which you can read about over at Unfettered), I wanted to spend some time and energy on the "Down Time Project" instead of falling into the trap of just giving it lip service.

So this past week, my gal pal Barefoot and I took our moms to a spa.  A real, honest-to-goodness spa.  The kind where you drive through the gates onto meticulously manicured grounds and are given plush robes at check in.  Hmm.  I don't know if a girl could get used to this or not, but I'm willing to try!

As a result of one of those Groupon type deals, all of us had luxurious facials in dimly-lit rooms performed by soft-spoken professional estheticians.  We spent all day hanging around the indoor saltwater mineral pool, had our shoulders pounded by warm water flowing off an artificial waterfall, and talked while sitting in large whirlpools.  I caught up on tawdry celebrity gossip from glossy magazines (Tom and Katie - tsk, tsk!).  A lovely lunch was brought to us poolside and we also indulged in gigantic chocolate-dipped strawberries.  I discovered that I quite like cucumber water - which in no way is to be confused with pickle juice!  In short, we treated ourselves and it was marvelous. It's so easy to get pulled into the riptide of doing for others (an important and valuable thing to do) and forget that we also need kind treatment to recharge our own batteries.

With that in mind, FryDaddy and I are fitting in a few days at the beach this week at my family's place.  My sister and her family go down for an extended vacation during July, but there's room for us this week and we jumped on the opportunity with both feet.  After all, once we come back, it'll be Busywhirl Central as we both get ready for the start of the academic year.  There is also a book to finish drafting and papers to prepare for presentation at the end of September.  Those obligations will be there whether we take the time to dig our toes in the sand or not.

So there's really no reason not to, is there?

That's what I thought!

And I encourage you to do the same - maybe a spa or the beach in August isn't your thing, but find out what it is and build some time to enjoy it into the next two weeks.  As a wise, wise woman once said, "Life is meant to be enjoyed, not saddled with."

Monday, July 2, 2012

Good Night!

It's time for this Mockingbird to have a rest.  I've been occupied with (too) many projects lately and something's gotta give.  Don't misunderstand me; I'm grateful for the opportunities I've had come my way over the last year or so, but they're demanding a large share of my time and attention lately and I've been either neglecting this blog or posting here has seemed like a chore.  And that was never the reason I started it.

I'm weary of feeling like a Baked Bird, but no fear - I'm not going away for good.  I like writing this too much.  But I'm going to take some longer breaks between posts.  My goal right now is to cut my posting here down to twice a month rather than every week.  I'll see how that works and adjust accordingly.  It may be that, after a few months with a lighter schedule, I'm ready to come back more frequently; we'll just have to see about that.  So I should be back here just after FryDaddy and I return from Slayage 5 with a pocketful of tales to tell.

Meanwhile, I'm continuing to post twice a week over at Unfettered Brilliance - mid-week, the "Walter White Wednesday" post focuses on Breaking Bad  (Season 5 premieres on July 15!) and there's a weekend post that discusses movies - sometimes new releases, sometimes an old gem, sometimes something else entirely that just happened to catch my fancy.  Please join me over there.

And be kind to yourself this summer.

Back soon!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, Joss!

Talk about a convergence!  Today, June 23, is the birthday of Joss Whedon and (totally coincidentally, I’m sure) often called the “happiest day of the year.”  (It’s the truth, at least amongst those who celebrate Midsummer.)

So I thought it would not be completely inappropriate to muse a bit on Whedon today.  It’s no secret that I like the man, despite never having met him.  His work has been an inspiration for mine – the big one is Faith & Choice in the Works of Joss Whedon, but in the last six years, I’ve also presented and published work dealing with other aspects of Whedon’s work, such as using Buffy episodes to teach concepts of morality, the link between Dollhouse’s Rossum Corporation and the 1920s play by Karel Capek that entered the word “robot” into common usage, and what the Japanese anime series Cowboy Bebop has to do with Firefly.

Whedon fans are an unusual bunch.  We knit Jayne Cobb hats, we dress up as Malcolm Reynolds (this one is his TV daughter on Castle surprising him at last year’s Comic-Con), and we raise money – lots of money – for Good Causes.

All that being said, I thought I’d re-post something I wrote for last year’s Great Buffy Rewatch – you can see the archive of all those posts here.  At the end of the year-long Rewatch, several of us were asked to contribute something about the impact Buffy had made on us.  This is mine:

It’s not going too far to say that Buffy changed my life. Really, it did – and no one was more surprised at that development than I was. Through a show that I at first resisted watching due to the silly title and ridiculous premise (I was a heathen back then), entire worlds have opened up to me. I’ve written blog posts, articles, chapters, and a book devoted to the creations of Joss Whedon and that all started with Buffy. I’ve talked about Whedon’s work in locations ranging from map-dot-small university towns to the metropolis of Istanbul. I’ve signed books and asked for autographs. I’ve met people whose intellect, kindness, and creativity could power the space station if you could figure out a way to harness it. Moreover, I met my husband through Buffy and for that alone, I should send Whedon a fruit basket.

In addition, through Buffy I’ve learned a few things. Among the lessons:
  • Darkness can be fought, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll win. That’s why you fight in the first place.
  • Family matters – and that family extends far beyond the one we’re born into. 
  • Courage is found on battlefields, but it can also be found in high school hallways.
  • Libraries matter.
  • We’re better off not knowing what other people think. 
  • Love is stronger than death. 
  • Souls are pesky things, but life without one isn’t really life. 
  • Humans can be worse than demons and better than angels. 
  • Everyone – always – is dealing with their own pain and that’s why sometimes they don’t notice yours.
  • Sometimes, no matter how hard you try and how skilled you are, you lose.
  • And sometimes, despite the odds and the prophecies, you win.
Happy birthday, Joss.

And thanks.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Fools, Mortals, and Teaching Magic

If you're lucky, you like your day job.  If you're very lucky, you have days during which you absolutely know that you're doing a Good Thing.  I haven't always liked my day jobs (I began my official work life as a teenaged dishwasher when minimum wage was - well, truly minimum.  Even so, I maintain that job was better than waiting tables), but I've tried my best to find the positive bits within them.

Somedays that's not too hard to do.

This summer, my teaching load consists of two "cafeteria" drama classes.  You know the type - a little history, a touch of acting, a jot of design, and chocolate pudding at the end.  At such a pace - I have five weeks with three lengthy sessions per week - you often just cross your fingers and hope that the class is getting something worthwhile out of it.  Medea one day and Chinese opera the next.  Today, they performed scenes from A Midsummer Night's Dream, an assignment that I'm always hesitant about.  Like most folks (in college or out), my students are polite in the face of my unbridled enthusiasm, but are convinced that Shakespeare is boring, hard, and pretty much a one-way ticket to Snoresville.  So I've got an uphill climb and I'm not afraid to use bobbleheads and plot maps, to explain bawdy jokes, and demand that they read out loud - early and often - to get them up the hill!

I flippin' love teaching Shakespeare - and Midsummer during summer is a great way to go with such an abbreviated class. There's SUCH a tremendous payoff when students get the jokes and appreciate the beauty of the language.  When the play-within-a-play clicks and they can laugh at the absurdity of Nick Bottom and his no-talent friends - well, that's just nifty.  To give credit where it is due, I am greatly aided by the lessons collected by the Folger Shakespeare Library - yes, I've replaced my usual text with Folger crystals and yes, my students do notice!  Maybe their involvement with the Bard ends here, but maybe they take in a production (The Tempest is being done for free over in Charlotte - click here!) or rent a DVD or seek out (squee!) Whedon's upcoming version of Much Ado.

Good storytelling doesn't go out of style and that's a lesson worth learning. And seeing students get excited and engaged about learning - call me a geekess, but that's cool.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Speaking Out!

Today, the little town of Newton was the site of a protest that drew about 1,200 people, as estimated by police who were on hand to keep things calm.  Of those, about 20 seemed to be "counter protesters," and I'll get to them in a bit.  Newton is the county seat of Catawba County in North Carolina and usually is home to about 12,500 people.  By the way, I daresay the restaurants were quite happy that a protest was being held on a holiday weekend.

So what were FryDaddy and I doing up that-a-way?  Well, back on Mother's Day, the head of a little Baptist church in nearby Maiden said some pretty awful and hateful things from the pulpit about putting American citizens behind electrified fences and letting them die off.  (Oh, but he offered to have some food flown in.  Compassionate feller.)  I'm not posting a link here - search out hate on your own time, please - but it's easily findable. That was part of the problem.  Even though the church took the sermon down off its (currently crashed) Website, with YouTube, stupid lives on forever.  (Look for footage from today coming soon!)

So thanks to one intrepid woman who thought enough was enough (thanks, Laura Tipton!), the plans for a protest were launched.  Again, thanks to the Internet and social media, plans grew.  And grew.  And grew!  Originally, the plan was to protest at the actual church.  But that's in the middle of nowhere (and speaking as a native North Carolinian, we've got a lot of nowhere in this state) and it became obvious that there wouldn't be adequate parking for so many people, plus the protest needed to be on public property.  So the grounds of the Catawba County Justice Center - which, it turns out, is NOT the home of the Justice League - were requested and permission was granted.

It was my first large-scale protest.  We were sent information about what to do (be positive) and not do (don't engage the counter protesters).  We made signs* and dressed for hot late-May weather.  With a cooler of water and snacks, off we went.

Did we change anyone's mind?  I doubt it.  The people who thought whats-his-name was a nutjob still thought he was when they left.  The people who thought the Bible's "clobber verses" (so called because they are often used to "clobber" gay rights activists) were not the end-all and be-all still thought that when they left.  And, unfortunately, the few folks who showed up to convince the rest of us that we were going straight to hell, do not pass go, still thought that when they left.

So why bother?

Because speaking out matters.  And because silence implies consent.  Every time I stay quiet because I don't want to stick out my neck, I'm saying that what happened to Matthew Shepard was okay.  Every time I look down at my toes instead of telling some jackass using the Bible like a shillelagh that he is not to presume his line to God is any more direct than mine, I'm saying that it's okay to belittle and degrade people just because they're different.  And it's not.  It never has been.

And fighting the Triple Demon of bigotry, ignorance, and hatred with nothing more than magic markers, posterboard, and glitter feels pretty darned good.  Even with a little sunburn to go with it.

Thanks, Newton!

*You like that?  One part of the pastor's remarks went along the lines of:  "I'm agin it!  God's agin it!"  ("Agin" being the presumed slang word for "against" - we had to improvise a little on that.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

In Praise of Doing Not Very Much

During the Victorian era, the best known and most influential art critic was John Ruskin. (He also possessed a quite commanding set of whiskers, but that's a post for another time.)  Ruskin was not without his faults, but I find this quote especially useful:  "In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed:  They must be fit for it.  They must not do too much of it.  And they must have a sense of success in it."  Wise words, indeed.

FryDaddy and I had gotten off that track.  Speaking only for myself, I was fit for the work I was doing, so I had that going for me, but I was doing too much of it (certainly in too short a time span) and I wasn't feeling much of a sense of success in it.  Vacations are good places to reset those sorts of clocks. We were fortunate enough to have a place to go where there was very little to do.  I know that many people enjoy doing this&that on vacation and we've had that sort of trip before and enjoyed it greatly.  But there's often a problem with those trips - there's so much to see and do that you tend to be checking things off a list the whole time and to do that, you need to gogogogo.  Therefore, I tend to come home tired from those experiences and need a vacation from my vacation.

We were also helped out by the coastal weather which had plenty of drizzle and overcast conditions that seemed to whisper, "No, not yet.  Just hunker down here - where's that novel you brought?"  I can't really explain how lovely it was to just turn off the phone, sleep in, pad about a lovely home with a second cup of coffee and spend the day reading, playing games, strolling under the Spanish-moss-draped trees wondering  if we'll see an alligator basking in the lagoon and then doing it all over again the next day.

So we're back now and bills and phone messages need to be attended to, writing deadlines are beginning to strain against their chains, and I have two classes to teach that mean three 10 hour days a week for the next five weeks.  And it's all doable.

I like to pick up souvenirs when I travel and this trip I brought home a heavy diner-style coffee mug to remind me of the importance of "zero tasking." (You can see the picture at the top of the post.)  As soon as I finish my coffee, I'll rinse it out and take it to the office, where I think I need it.

Fit for it + Not too much of it + Sense of Success in It = Happy at Work

Now that's math I can support!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sand, Sea, and Sun!

FryDaddy and I are taking off for a few days.  Some friends very generously lent us their beach house as a graduation present for the newly-minted alumnus and we're heading out for a few days of watching the waves and worrying about absolutely nothing more strenuously than whether or not our chairs are above the high-tide line.

Should be good.

Once we're back, it's into the whirl with us as we get the Breaking Bad draft off to the publisher along with a couple of other projects - one of which has just GOT to involve the house!  Ever wake up and wonder how the place got so disorganized overnight?  Well, that's pretty much where we are just now.  Looks like Goodwill is going to benefit from a couple of massive closet-cleanings.

But that's for later.  The next few days are all about not worrying about classes and politics and writing and, and, and.  We all need a few of 'em.  And about four of them are coming our way.  Someone asked me if I'd checked the weather for the trip and my cheery reply was, "Nope.  We're going no matter what."  And it's true - no hurricanes are forming (for that, I must admit, I'd leave) and we're pretty good at making our own fun in the case of inclement weather.  (Wowr!!)

Now, where'd I put that sunscreen?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Somber Celebration

To begin with, woo-hoo!  FryDaddy's two years of jumping through a series of increasingly-difficult hoops (Fire!  Spin this plate!  Juggle these geese!) has come to a close and he's an official graduate of the university.  He was decked out in bling from various honor societies and looked quite academic, not to mention handsome and thoughtful.

We have a few months here at the Nest before he heads Up-and-Over the Mountain to graduate school.  It should prove to be an interesting summer - we have some vacation at the coast planned, I teach two summer courses, our first draft of the Breaking Bad project is due mid-June (Can we write together?  Hmmm - heck of a way to find out!  Click here for updates), and the biennial Whedon conference (Slayage 5 - for which papers[ahem] still need to be written) is mid-July.  Lots going on over the next two months.  (I'm hoping we spend the end of July hunkered down at home doing very little.)  It's busy, but I'm trying to look at the bright side.  We have some amazing opportunities that we said "yes" to and now it's time to pony up.

In far less celebratory news, my fine state of North Carolina voted "yes" to Amendment One this past week, which makes me both sad and resolved.  Oh, I know the tide of history is turning towards equality and dignity, but I was hopeful that we could nudge the tide a bit.  I'm a little amazed at how "activated" I've become.  It wasn't this one single issue; it goes back to the hack-and-slash job my state legislature did on the budget last year.  In the past, I've been a very quiet, politely political person.  I think those days may be over.  No one pays attention to you when you're quiet, so Those in Power think it's okay to ignore you.

Not any more.  This is my state, too.  And I'm not leaving.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012


It's May First today, which is a day filled with portent and mystery.  The Russians parade artillery, the neo-Druids gather in oak groves, the French hand out lily of the valley to ladies and here at the Nest, we observe the second anniversary of the smartest day of our lives.  Yep, it's been two solid years since FryDaddy and I said our vows and declared our intentions in front of God and witnesses to travel this road together, no matter what the potholes may bring.

This year, we're combining anniversary celebrations with his graduation festivities in a couple of days.   It's a regular workday for me (sigh), although I have the prospect of a home-cooked dinner waiting for me at the end of a long, grading-filled day.  Well, not all anniversaries can fall on weekends, can they?

The traditional gift for the second anniversary is cotton and, while it's not about the gifts, handing me a bunch of Q-Tips at the end of a semester may not be among the best of ideas.  I took a more symbolic route with this one, but that's all you get to know about it.  (It's still a secret, and he reads this blog.)  You see, there's a lovely Southernism to denote being in a state of good fortune - on such a happy occasion, you're said to be in "high cotton."  This past year has been all about high cotton for us.  We've seen our professional careers continue to blossom to the point that we're in the midst of co-authoring a project together.  He's worked hard (and I mean hard) at school and is about two days away from donning a dark-blue robe and very flat hat and striding with confidence across a stage to receive his degree.  I haven't hit anyone with an office chair.  (Trust me, that should count as an accomplishment, although I've yet to find a place to put in on my CV.  Suggestions are welcomed.)  There has been tribulation and trial - it's life, after all - but work is good, friendships are rich, and home is cozy.  We've had the opportunity to travel and laugh and continue to build a life together.   

It's been a good year - and one filled with "high cotton" moments.

That's well worth celebrating, any day of the year.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hair on Fire! Hair on Fire!

OK, my hair isn't actually on fire, but it feels about that way these days.  No big deal - it's the end of the semester for me, plus it's the end of the undergraduate journey for FryDaddy, plus I'm coming off two and a half big work projects, plus one huge writing project deadline is beginning to loom menacingly, plus, plus, plus.

It's at these times that it becomes very helpful to remember to breathe.

No kidding.

And to also realize that, as much as I want to be Super-Duper-Girl, my cape gets caught in phone booth doors when I try that gig.  You have to say no, even when you do it with regret.  I've had to bow out of several things I'd really have enjoying doing/going to/etc. but it's for the Greater Good.  I simply am no good to myself or anyone around me when I get so caught up in the whirl that I can only see the whirl.

So, while I'm going to try mightily to keep to my "post on the Nest once a week" schedule, it might turn out like this post - which is considerably outside those parameters - for a few weeks.

You'll forgive me, I'm sure.  In fact, I am willing to bet you've had your own "hair on fire" days or weeks.

Those of you in North Carolina, please don't forget to vote on May 8 - in fact, beat the rush!  Early voting has already begun.  If you're uncertain on the "Amendment One" issue, here's a link to a very thoughtful site put together by a friend of mine.  I have to admit, he's done a nice job of actually presenting both sides of the issue, something my own biases would have prevented me from doing.  Therefore, I will say nothing else - check out the site.

More later - I smell smoke.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Of Detaching & Decisions

FryDaddy and I have just returned from a couple of days away.  While this was partly a working trip (more on that later), it was also partly not.  I am pleased to report that both portions seem to have been successful.

Let me elaborate.

FryDaddy is about four weeks away from finishing his first round of higher learnin'.  He's thrown his weight into it and done extremely well.  We've made jokes about the commuter marriage (especially the "we-got-married-and-now-he-lives-with-the-in-laws" part) and we've done well overall with that.  So we're headed into Round 2.  A bachelor's degree carries nearly no cachet these days and going further is required if you want to work on the other side of the desk.  When the dust settled, it looked as if University A was going to be his landing place and we were both happy with that decision.

Then along came University X with a letter of acceptance and a full tuition scholarship.  As monkey wrenches go, it was a very nice one.  We looked over University X's Website and got as far as we could go virtually, then set up a campus tour and an information interview with the head of the graduate program in history.  We decided to make it half vacation, so we booked a room in a nice hotel and a few days ago, up and over the mountain we went.

The weather was not conducive to forming a favorable impression.  Thunderbolts and lightning, very, very frightening.  Rain sluiced down so hard that I half-expected to see some fellow gathering animals by pairs.  But we made it to the Carnegie Hotel and everything got a little bit better.  The hotel was built by some railroad baron back in the 1890s and renovated in 2000 and seriously - it's a showstopper.  Twelve foot ceilings, huge, double-sink bathroom with actual honeycomb tile, etc., etc.  We also found out they have a special University X rate which makes it just a few bucks more than the cookie-cutter Comfort Inn, so there's that to keep in mind for later visits.  They train their staff to provide a nearly ridiculous level of service and we loved every minute of it!  (We even had cookies and milk delivered to the room our first night there.  Real milk, not the skim stuff I usually drink.)  Due to the storm, we ate dinner at the hotel restaurant and I wasn't sure about that.  Hotel restaurants are often overpriced and under-impressive, but this one was worth the considerable coin we decided to spend.  The food was magnificent and we both caught ourselves talking about "flavor profiles," something our at-home dinners don't usually inspire.  Again, impeccable service.  (The server-in-training was the one who delivered our nightly cookies and milk, too.)

Our tour of University X the next morning (the storm had passed, thank goodness) was impressive.  Everyone - up to and including the woman who directed us to the stairs - was friendly, wanted to help and to ensure that we got what we needed.  The campus was impressive in terms of facilities and layout (and really, aside from the face of a loved one, is anything much more lovely than a Southern campus in spring?).  And whatever University X is paying their archivist, he deserves a raise.  University X has a very impressive archive of all things Appalachian (oral history, music, diaries, family histories, etc.) and the archivist knows exactly where the contents are of everything.  Plus - he's funny.  (He claimed he grew up in a part of the state that was so far back in the woods that "even the Episcopalians handled snakes."  Thank you.  Tip your waitress.)  The information interview may have sealed the deal - University X places nearly all students who want to go on to a Ph.D program in one - with funding, thank you very much - and they have faculty members who focus on several areas of great interest to FryDaddy that University A lacks.  He'll do a thesis and have a tough committee to guarantee his writing reaches its full potential and (thank you!) there's money for conferences.

The decision isn't quite made yet, but University X is looking pretty darned good.

We had decided to extend our stay instead of rushing back down the mountain after the campus fact-finding was done and had decided to splurge, so we headed to the spa for our appointments.  OK, I see the appeal.  And that's all I'll say on that matter, aside from yay, spa!  Dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant (and a side trip to an auto parts store - even nice folks there) then back to the hotel for a restful night before a leisurely trip back home today.

We're home now, better connected than we have been for the last few weeks.  We had said "yes" to too many other people and "I'll get to you in a minute" to each other too often lately.  A dent in the bank balance is a small price to pay for correcting that imbalance.

And you know what?  Not a single student seems to have missed me all that much.

Lesson learned.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Broken Shoelaces

You know, some days things just don't break your way.  It's nothing personal; happens to everybody.  This happened to me last week, almost immediately after posting my first day of spring "lalalalala, trip through the flowers" remarks.  There's nothing like realizing that, as a fully-grown adult, you've forgotten how to read the gas gauge to cause you to tuck into a big ol' slice of humble pie.  And I'd really run out of gas - if "F" stands for "full" and "E" stands for "empty," the needle of my tank was so far over on the left that it should have read "D" (for "duhhh").  Dorothy Parker was right - it's not the tragedies that kill us, it's the messes.  Or, as I've put it, give me a legitimate crisis and I'm fine, it's the broken shoelace that'll send me screaming into the night.

So - silver linings.  First, I was safely at home, not on the side of a darkened, shoulder-less road.  A friend kindly gave me a lift to work.  Another friend dropped off a gallon of gas at my house.  A third friend gave me a lift home and even followed me to the gas station to make sure I got there - just in case.  And no one I talked to made me feel like a colossal moron because I'd run out of gas.

Lessons learned?  Friends are good.  It's okay to ask for help.  And fill up the tank when it hits the half-way mark.  Nothing earth-shattering, but sometimes we need to be reminded of the small stuff - after all, it's mostly what life is made up of.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

First Day!

. . . of spring, that is!  Those who know more tell me that today is the day in which the sun seems to sit directly over the equator as the earth travels around our star.  (It's all about appearances.)

It's been a bit of a strange winter here.  I live in the American South (not to be confused with South America) and our winters are usually on the mild side.  Oh, you want a nice warm coat and we know what snow is - although not how to drive in it.  Many the joke is made about hordes of people heading to the grocery to load up on bread and milk at the mere prediction of the White Stuff.  At any rate, we usually have some days that we consider to be cold and a little sleet or snow or ice.  Generally, schools are closed for a day sometime during the winter season.

But not this year.

It's been very mild.  I had jonquils blooming before Valentine's Day and I've already had to dig out the summer clothes.  I've thought about where to plant tomatoes.  I contemplated the wearing of sandals instead of the wearing o' the green on St. Patrick's Day.  And it looks like it's here to stay.  (Just typing that could be a jinx and a White Witch of the Arctic may now sweep down and encase us all in ice for five days.)  This isn't just an early spring; it's downright balmy outside.  My azaleas, under-cared-for as they are, are in riotous bloom and I've seen a few bluebirds taking the place of winter's buzzards.  (Seriously - a tree creaking under the weight of dozens of buzzards is just creepy, even in the age of wi-fi access.)  Plenty of folks are grumbling dire warnings of plagues of bugs and stupefying heat to come in summer, but I'm not sure I care.  It's glorious outside and I can't do anything about the weather in any event.

So go enjoy.  It may get warmer and it may even get prettier, but it won't be the first day of spring again for an entire year.  It'd be a shame to miss it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Of Spring & Breaks!

As of late, Dear Readers, I've had too much on my plate.  What's worse, I've been trying to spin those plates on tall sticks like those talented folks you sometimes see in the circus.  The main difference (aside from a distinct lack of sequins on my clothing) is that the circus folks know what they're doing and they don't add more plates to the act than they know they can actually spin.

Alas, I tend to learn my act in public.

Don't get me wrong - I am truly grateful for the opportunities that have come my way in the last twelve months or so.  It's just that I'm experiencing the first warning signs of plate-dropping.  And I like to think that, over the last few years, I've learned to stop at that point and re-adjust rather than stubbornly soldiering on.  (Crazy, I know, but I used to think, "Well, that's okay!  If I work harder, I can keep the rest of them from dropping!  Hey, let me add another one over here!  Whoops!"  Did I mention crazy already?)

So this post is a few days late.  Trust me, it's better this way.

I have a few days off from school and I'm trying to be very strict with myself.  I've already said "no" to at least two get-togethers and I'm (trying to) only check work e-mail once a day.  (Shouldn't do it at all, but one class is an online and they don't have break, so there's my justification.)  I took the Spookster for a long walk in the sunshine today and am ignoring the dirty kitchen floor.  I have a couple of old movies that I plan to watch and some "non-work work" I plan to turn my hand to over the next few days.  There's a book on the nightstand and a kitten at my ankles.

Billy Joel had this one right.

See you soon.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Two Months Out and Counting

On May 8, North Carolinians go to the ballot box to vote in the primary elections for our state.  (The deadline to register to vote in this primary is April 7, by the way.)  About  a year ago, it didn't look like it would be that interesting a primary - then the planets either aligned or spun wildly off their respective axes, depending on your point of view.  As evidence, I submit:

The Republican presidential primary might still be a corral-less rodeo.  Usually, the nomination is well sewn up before the May primary in NC.  This year, however, the party seems to be trying on a new candidate every three weeks, much like a woman going through her closet to find something to wear after the holiday feasting season.  (Yes, Newt Gingrinch does make you look fat and what were you thinking, buying Santorum?  Even a wispy supermodel doesn't look good in that style!)  Therefore, NC's primary (and its resulting convention delegates) might actually matter.

Since there is no Democratic presidential primary, it looked to be an extremely low turnout election, which was going to be a shame, since it's also the primary for other offices.

And then in late January, our governor, Bev Perdue, decided not to seek re-election.  (It's been a tough term.  Let's leave it at that.)  That decision sent Democrats a-scurrying to fling hats into the ring for what promises to be a short, relatively inexpensive campaign.  Gov. Perdue's decision is one that's going to be debated after the fact, I can tell you.  Her decision has guaranteed that what should have been a low turnout of nearly all Republican-registered voters became far more open.

Which brings me to Amendment One, the badly-misnamed "Defense of Marriage" Amendment.  I've gone on record here on this blog (it was a four-parter - One, Two, Three, and Four) as well as on video (here and here) regarding why I think this is a bad amendment and one every freedom-loving, small-government-preferring citizen should reject out of hand.  And two months out from the vote, this matters deeply.  When it was "just" the Republican primary (which it never was, by the way), passage seemed nearly guaranteed.  It was assumed that most Republicans supported this hare-brained, overbroad exercise in how NOT to write legislation and that many people who were against it wouldn't come out to cast a vote.  Gov. Perdue's decision to not seek re-election was a game-changer.  And others have noticed.

The National Organization for Marriage ("NOM," I just love it - sounds like a hungry Muppet) has decided to get involved in a big way in this campaign and they are bringing their checkbook to the party.  Read a little more about these folks here.  And don't be fooled by the name - these people are for marriage like I'm for dog-fighting.  NOM is for a very restrictive view of marriage and gender roles, and the mere fact that I'm typing this instead of baking a bundt cake probably qualifies me for condemnation by the maniacal-laughing-Muppet Coalition.

Also, read up on the official language that will be used to explain the amendment at your local polling place.  Please note that this is not partisan - the language was crafted by the NC Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission.  Notice the phrasing such as "the courts shall ultimately determine."  This is particularly galling, since so many sleekly smug legislators have said, "Well, they are free to make these arrangements by contract."  Two problems with this, Drake.  First, just who are "they," anyway?  I thought this state was made up of "us."  Second, the official explanation of the amendment makes it clear that any private contracts to secure the rights that simply go with marriage (such as domestic violence protection, the right to hospital visitation, and inheritance to name but three) may or may not actually secure those rights.   So sure, go ahead and make those private contracts - the courts will determine if they're worth anything.

Why, oh why, do we do this?  Make no mistake - this is not solely about gay marriage (which, no matter what happens on May 8, will still be illegal in North Carolina on May 9 due to an existing state law).  This ill-conceived, hate-cloaked-in-piety abomination seeks to codify discrimination and second-class citizenship into our state constitution.

I say no.  And I sincerely hope you'll research the issues and vote AGAINST bigotry, fear, intolerance, and hatred, all of which you do when you VOTE AGAINST AMENDMENT ONE!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Of Date Nights and Diets

FryDaddy and I like to do "Big Date Night" on a regular basis and it had been a while.  So this weekend, we got ourselves all slicked up and headed to the closest Greater Metropolitan Area ("GMA") to attend a performance of Orff's Carmina Burana.  I was very much looking forward to it - I think it's a rich, robust, over-the-top piece that serves Date Night well.

Turns out this one took some work and some attitude adjusting.  Driving into the GMA is often an adventure due to ever ongoing roadwork and an odd predilection for travel lanes to become "oh, but you can park here during the day and this jackass hasn't moved their car yet" adventures in merging.  We were both a tad grumpy by the time we'd parked our car (in a garage, mind you.  Not on the street, which would have added to the merging problem.  Part of the solution, that's us).  But things were about to look up.  The venue turned out to be spacious and the staff welcoming.  Heavy pick-up snackerels were provided and you could even take your beverages into the performance hall.  We sat down front again and saw our friend who plays that wonderful composite viola.  There were a couple of bumps - people who used the front row to cut across to the other side of the theatre, one youngthing who didn't understand the rudeness of tweeting throughout the performance (really, chickie?  In the front row in full view of God and the performers?) and a quartet who came in and blundered past us - I kid you not - a half hour into a hourish show.  (On the plus side, they blocked my view of Text Girl, who was seriously annoying me.)


Carmina is best known for the opening piece, "O Fortuna" which went through quite a vogue in the 90s and is found in many a film soundtrack.  Here's a fun version mocking the lyrics of the piece, but I must admit to a fondness for the sheer "bigness" on it.  Carmina also features a nearly hysterically funny bit told from the point of view of a roasting swan (I know, but trust me - scroll down for the English translation of the lyrics) who is gifted with a pure tenor voice.

I enjoy having the opportunity to get dressed up and go out with  FryDaddy  - we both clean up pretty well, once you get shoes on  us.  Nevertheless, I was pleasantly stunned by the number of comments from strangers about my dress, hair and overall "non scaring of the horses."  It pointed out something I'd been feeling lately.  This will sound strange and odd, but such is the life of the contemporary American woman.

I'm just fine.

Really.  Just as I am.  While I'd like to see the scale's needle come to a stop at a number lower than the one it hovers on, I really am just peachy.  I'd like to continue to build on the better diet habits I've been developing over the past year - water and vegetables are my friends - but cupcakes aren't the enemy, either.  I like walking for exercise and it's fine if I stroll with the Spookster instead of feeling like we have to gogogo.

It's a new feeling, this sense of being okay with myself.  I think I'm going to explore it for a while.