Friday, October 31, 2008

Hippy Halloween, Y'all!

The weirdest thing has happened: a veil of calm has settled over me.

Whatever's going to happen with this election, with this country, will happen. I have strong survival skills and, if all else fails, contacts all over the world in case I need to escape. But I'm not afraid anymore.

I just got paid today and it's all gone already. Pushing numbers from one column to another, in essence. But hey - I'm paying my bills, you know? I live pretty well, the way I see it.

I had my grandmother (hi Mommom!) over for dinner tonight. She makes me so proud. She's never stopped growing and learning. I can't imagine what it must be like for her, growing up in rural south Arkansas in the 1930s, and now, you know...emailing her family. She's awesome.

There's a lot going on tonight but I need quiet time, and enjoy this eerie sense of peace.

Breathe in deep, exhale long.

Then, because I still can, dork it out and dance alone around the living room - "Little Mascara" by The Replacements, "Everyday People" by Sly and The Family Stone, Erykah Badu, "That's All" by Genesis, etc.

Count your blessings instead of sheep tonight.

I Love This

I pass this handmade Obama/Biden sign every morning when I take Stella to school. Every morning I remark how much I love it and need to take a picture of it before the election.

Today was the day I pulled over and got the shot as quickly as possible without looking too stalker-y.

PS - In case you're curious about the woodsy setting, we take the back roads to school.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Engine Slowly Sputters To a Stop

Would you believe that it's taken me a whole week to compose this one lameass post?

Work has really been....a lot of work lately. I think the pace of it is getting to me. A big part of my job is to facilitate the bonding of a group of people, ranging in size from 13-20 people with varying degrees of common language skills who range in age from mid 20s to early 60s. And I have to do it all over again every nine weeks. When I type it out I realize how big that is. It's huge! When I taught school I had a whole year to develop a group identity...and that was with kids the same ages and skill in language! So yeah...I'm tired, y'all.

That said - these new students are awesome. I mean it.

Friday night I hosted a Halloween party for all our students, the whole school. Huh? Am I crazy? If you're a reader of this blog then that answer should have been obvious long ago.

There must have been 120 people in my house Friday night. There was nearly an international incident over what music was best suited for the dance floor. Turns out? All of it. Really. I saw everyone dancing to everything, even Celine Dion.

The costumes were hilarious and wonderful. We built a fire in the backyard and people played music. The patio table was piled high in pumpkin guts at the end of the night. I (stupidly, stupidly) handed out rolls of toilet paper to students who had no costume and told them to make themselves into mummies. At the end of the night my floor looked like a subway station's. But it was fun, in a whirlwind, spectacle sort of way. My house has not quite recovered though...still plenty of cobwebs and orange lights strung up. I can get away with it for three more days.

New game for this year's Halloween parties: make every Sarah Palin do a shot. Punch every Joe the Plumber in the nuts. Scream every time you see a pun costume. That's what I plan to do.

I had lots more to write, anemic theories of how the stock market crisis of the late 80s led to nesting as a trend which led to home decorating and house porn magazines and HGTV and then predicting what this crisis might introduce, trendwise. But then I ran out of juice. Kaput. It's past my bedtime.

PS - Do NOT listen to last week's This American Life episode if you want to stay positive and hopeful about the election. Unless, you know, pervasive racism peps you up. And if that's the case - I'm fixin' to unload a few decades' worth of bottled up anger, stress, and frustration on your bigoted ass. Better run.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

First Chilly Night of Autumn mush, right? BUT JUST WAIT.
See, here's how it happened: it got progressively colder and rainier today so by the time I left work I wanted to make some serious comfort food for dinner. I was thinking butternut squash soup with homemade bread. By the time we got to the store, that idea was evolving into butternut squash ravioli with sage and browned butter, a recipe I've seen dozens of time but never tried. I decided on this recipe from epicurious. Luckily they have bags of frozen butternut squash at ONF. And (relatively) cheap! That saves a lot of time. I couldn't find hazelnuts so I thought, "Butternut squash...similar in some ways to pumpkin....oh hell, I'll just use pumpkin seeds - not as rich and flavorful as hazelnuts but still good, right?"

Okay so I dumped the frozen squash in a skillet and just let it thaw and cook. Then I sautéed shallots in butter and added those to the squash and mashed it all together with some sage (from my sad little cold herb garden) and goat cheese. That's the unappetizing goo you see above.

Then I made the ravioli with wonton wrappers (such a corner-cutter I am, no shame or guilt either), with enthusiastic help from Stella and Stephanie. As I watched them dry a little I encouraged Stella to literally cut the corners. She found a cookie cutter and hence, star-shaped ravioli.

Okay so then I heated some water to a stage between a simmer and a hard boil (would that make it a soft boil?). I dropped the ravioli in and cooked them until they rose to the top, about 4 minutes. In the meantime I had the butter, pumpkin seeds, and more fresh sage sizzling away. I took the butter/seed/sage combo off the heat after about 3 minutes. The seeds were a toasty brown, as was the butter.

Slapped it all on a plate with some zesty arugula (extra Elitist-flavored!) and a few slices of shaved parmesan on top. Holy Toledo, was it ever delicious.

And here's the final shot, with the softer, romantic lighting. Awwww yeah.

There's plenty more for lunch tomorrow, too. Stephanie - can I bring you some? You should at least try it, since you helped make it.

This Crazy Land of Wires and Tubes

So the other day I was faced with a dilemma that I can confidently say no one had to face a generation, or even 10 years, ago.

My daughter's father asked to be my friend on Facebook.

Can I get a wha what??

Did it make me feel uncomfortable? To quote Sarah Palin, "You betcha!"

Some might argue that online communication is better than none at all. But to go from zero communication for a very long time, to sending me "I Love The 80s" quizzes and "Li'l Green Stuff" applications is just TOO WEIRD FOR ME, PEOPLE.

I accepted it. But I don't really like it. I have a policy of not accepting friend requests from people I've never met (you'd be surprised how often this happens to me - friends of international students do it all the time), but this brought up a whole new slew of questions and issues. I have no residual anger towards this person, only a glowing ember of disappointment and hurt for my daughter who never knew him and probably will never want to at this point. And it all feels a little too easy...clicking a mouse and entering someone's life again. But I didn't decline because I don't want to be that person who is petty or takes Facebook too seriously. doesn't sit well with me.

Any thoughts out there to add? Any input to ease my burdened spirit?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday Evening Stream of Consciousness

Hannah and Her Sisters is on. As a teenager living in the country outside Eureka Springs, about as rural as you can get around here, I was fascinated with anything urban and urbane. I was also painfully self conscious about appearing to be a poser of any kind, so my love affair with everything New York was more just as an observer. I think I might have actually read every page in the Andy Warhol Diaries. Now that's some tedious dedication bordering on obsession.

The day I discovered Woody Allen was a monumental one. One of the highlights of my adolescence was seeing Manhattan on the big screen in a theater in Williamstown, Mass. I wanted to live in his world, a place where people talk about art, philosophy, history, and architecture, live in comfortably interesting and sophisticated lofts, go to the symphony and listen to jazz, and are openly and proudly neurotic. I loved these people - so fussy, casually brilliant, and hilariously given to their basest desires. His characters walked alone around the city, threw lively dinner parties, read voraciously, and had deep inner lives. I acutely wanted that sort of life as an adult. I was an Elitist poser! Maybe I still am!

Woody Allen movies (the classic ones) could never work today. All the women would have blogs and all the men would be addicted to online porn.

I slept on the couch Friday night (I always do when D. is out of town) and I don't even remember going to sleep last night. My body aches and groans. I know I’m not treating it right. I’m getting better on making healthy, vegetarian meals but on the other hand I’m eating baked goodies at work at least twice a week and craving things like frozen Cokes and Nutter Butters. Gross! That’s not me! And yet….it is.

Stella is vacuuming right now. Today it so happens to be my favorite sound in the world.

In the car on the way home today I did something I never do. I turned off the stereo. Late afternoon sun made the RED RED leaves of the Bradford pears even more extreme in their redness. Lucy stuck her head out the window, sniffing to beat the band. The silent drive felt wistful and private; a sigh of summer’s final surrender to autumn. If I leave right now I can have both a nice long walk and catch the sunset.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Outline of Letter to Bravo TV Executives

I. The Real Housewives of Atlanta
A. Hasn't this whole franchise worn out its welcome? How many more geographic regions of women whose IQ is inversely related to how much money they've married into can there be??? Don't answer that.
1. Announcer, in all ominous seriousness, says, "It's war between the Housewives..."
2. Idiotic, mean-spirited, shameless flaunting of excess knows no racial boundaries.

II. The Rachel Zoe Project
A. Is she for real?
1. Employees, in all seriousness, refer to their place of employment as "Team Zoe"
2. Rachel's voice. Can it possibly be dubbed? The stilted, sarcastic, rude, invented slang, Valley Girl-style of her speech makes me howl and whimper in agony.
B. The name of the show - what, exactly, is the project? The life of Rachel Zoe? The mysterious "brand" she keeps referring to? Why the silent "e?"

III. Tabatha's Salon Takeover
A. Surprise! This show is genius! Who knew that watching a wickedly tough Australian lady tell people to STFU, get back to work, keep their workspaces clean, and act like a grown-up would be so satisfying?
B. Tabatha scares me. She even dresses like a dominatrix witch.

IV. Embarrassed proclamations of obsessive love.

White-Knuckled Times

This week is all kinds of crazy. Work-wise, current events-wise, you name it.

I got my IRA statement in the mail yesterday and was afraid to open it. Anyone else freaked out by our increasingly socialized financial system? That's kind of a rhetorical question - I know we're all freaked out. And numb from being freaked out so many times for so long.

I've got big, big hopes for this election. But I also know better than to underestimate the sneaky, dirty, underhandedness that can happen when elections are close (ex. 2000).

Here's what helps me cope:
  • Snacking on yogurt-covered pretzels from ONF. The bulk bin makes them super easy and tempting.
  • Plucking gray hairs from my dark roots. You know...trying to hold back the tide.
  • Walking at sunset
  • Driving by the young colts at the University Equine Center on my way to school/work in the mornings
  • Coffee...IV drip
  • Falling asleep with my work clothes still on - classic coping mechanism
  • The old standby: self medication
  • Denial
  • Project Runway/The Office/30 Rock/International House Hunters
  • Taking pictures
  • Planning vegetarian meals (tonight: spaghetti squash w/ fake meat tomato sauce)
  • Seeing D. open for The Maybelles tomorrow night at George's. If you're in Fayetteville you should go! Seriously! You won't regret it. I know it's a Wednesday night...but I'm going, and will be at work at 8:00am on Thursday. If this gray-haired, exhausted, cranky, overworked, old lady is going then you can too.
  • Stella. She's so awesome. She's doing really well in school, learning all sorts of cool things, has been helpful around the house, and continues to amaze me at how un-13 she acts (compared to me at that age). Most of the time.
  • Getting new music in the mail!
  • Snuggling with a pet on each side of me. Peace in the animal kingdom! Everyone gets my attention!
  • Thinking that, compared to 96% of the rest of the world, I've got it real, real good.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Taking Advantage of Perfect Camping Weather

Last night our school organized a camping trip to White Rock. I took Stella and two of her friends (plus the dog!).

Here are most of the students around the campfire. From left to right we see the following countries represented: Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Iraq, Korea, Uzbekistan, and Indonesia. I think.

Most of them will return home this next week. I sure will miss these faces! From left to right here we have students from Iraq, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, and China. These students, in particular, have demonstrated the best possible attitudes - eager, adventurous, open-minded, hard-working, curious, and a whole lot of fun.

Saturday morning Stella and her friends and I slept way past everyone else. I won't lie - it felt great to comfortably sleep in a tent. We woke up at 9:30 and everyone had made breakfast, cleaned up, and had already broken down camp. We took our time, missed out on the group hike and, since we'd missed everything else, decided to leave later and take our time. We walked down to the overlook and I think the girls were equally as excited to take pictures at White Rock. Stella has a great eye for photography. Maybe she'll let me post some of hers sometime.

Here are the girls on the ledge.

I hadn't been to White Rock in over ten years. That's just crazy! Look how pretty it is...the colors are just starting to change.

Lucy making me nervous by one of the bluffs.

Looking toward the northwest.

Looking straight down.

Trying to get a good shot of Stella the Photographer.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Well I'll Be...

Check it out - D. is the Musician of the Week in this week's Fayetteville Free Weekly!

Way to go, Sweetie!

Only one thing, though..."muse?"

That explains why there haven't been many new songs in the past year -D.'s got himself a faulty muse.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

You Might Need To Take A Bathroom Break At Some Point Herein

Shit, y'all...I don't even know where to START. Get ready for some horrendous verb tense problems and one monster of a blog post.

I guess we'll go back to last Thursday. The night of the vice presidential nominee debate? I don't think there's anything really left to say about that. We played Palin Bingo at Liz & Sean's where Audrey was visiting with Dash, who might be the cutest baby in the world right now. Liz made a fab dinner (roasted pepper bruschetta, pesto blended with ricotta on farfalle, parmesan baked chicken). D. was recording Opal Fly in our living room that night.

Oh but WAIT...before all of that. Thursday afternoon around 4:15pm..I'm tying up loose ends at work, thinking about going to Liz's for dinner, seeing Audrey and Dash, and playing Palin Bingo. My phone rings and it's one of the doctors at our university health center. She tells me that a student of mine has an infected lesion in her jawbone and wants me to take her to the Emergency Room. My heart sinks. The last time I took a student to the ER, we were there for eight hours and I didn't get home until past 1:00am. I ask her if there is anything else we could do. Okay, she says, she'll call to see if we can get in with an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor first thing in the morning. She calls back; that'll work.

So Friday morning I pick up my student, and we go through the whole paperwork-wait-wait-oh here's our name, go into an exam room-but still more-wait-wait routine. The doctor finally sees my student and immediately declares that he can't do anything for her, that she'll need to see an oral surgeon. So he calls the oral surgeon's, where they're able to fit her in, but we have to get over there RIGHT NOW. I drive her across town for more of the same hurry up-wait-wait mentioned above. All sorts of other people, going up the chain of command, come in to look in her mouth. Finally the surgeon comes in and decides he wants to do a biopsy. She's had tumors in her mandible before but he wants to know why they seem to come back. She's had a biopsy before (benign), but that was in another country and she doesn't have the slides from that procedure.

We make plans for the biopsy - the doctors and nurses speak in English, I translate into ESL for her because I don't speak Spanish, sign paperwork, discuss billing, medication, and clarify the instructions.

We drive home. As soon as she's settled back at her apartment I have to bust ass to get finished at work so that I can run home, change into a rehearsal dinner outfit and then drive the 3 hrs to Little Rock.

(Wedding weekend covered in the post below)

Monday morning I rush Stella to school, pick up my student, take her to the oral surgeon's, read three issues of People (feeling progressively ickier as a result), then get her recovery instructions, medication, milkshake, and ice pack. Someone has to keep watch over her for six hours. I guess that'll be me. I stop to get the laptop so I can do satellite work while looking after her. I take advantage of the quiet apartment coupled with stormy weather by getting a lot of writing done for work. Her roommates return in the evening. I hand over the duties and rush to pick up Stella and take her with me back to work. Another student due to arrive in two weeks had her visa denied. I have to write a quick letter in her defense and fax it to consulate in China. Sometimes it can take 30 minutes to send a fax to China. It goes through. It's now nearly 6pm.

I decide to call my mother, to whom I haven't spoken in nearly 2 years. I invite her over for dinner. On our way home D. calls; he'll be home much sooner than I thought. "My mom's coming over." I announce. He hasn't met her yet. He had a 30 minute warning.

Stella and I walk into the house and are bombarded by THE WORST SMELL EVER TO BE SMELLED BY HUMAN NOSES. Oh no. Please, no. But oh yes, there is a puddle in the living room. Lucy must've had a case of explosive diarrhea. Who knows how long it's been there. Long enough to give this vilest of poops a chance to seep into every carpet fiber. The smell makes me gag. But I clean it up, scrubbing the floor on my hands and knees. I lit every candle in the house. D. and my mom walk in at the same time. Introductions are made. Conversation flowed, for the most part, with not as many awkward lags as you might think.

On to Tuesday (was that really only yesterday?). I got to work early and, first thing, jotted down a massive to-do list. Methodically I ticked it off. One foot in front of the other; a task at a time. I went home that evening and was too tired to watch the debate. Nooo!! But it was physically impossible to keep my eyes open. My cell phone rings at 9:30pm, waking me up. The sick student's roommates are calling. They relay that she wants to see a doctor - right now. Sigh. I throw on clothes and go to her apartment, stopping at Walgreen's for OTC remedies.

We give her Russian acetaminophen, Chinese diarrhea medicine, and good ol' American Pedialyte. I stay long enough to make sure she has started to relax and her fever went down and she has been reassured that she won't die. (aside: I really didn't mean to mention diarrhea twice - oops three times now - in this post. How thematically apropos). Of course then I was awake and couldn't get to sleep until past 2am.

6:00am this morning, NPR blares about another financial institution crumbling, if you consider Iceland a financial institution. I miraculously have time for a shower, a cute outfit, makeup, AND breakfast. At work I get word from the roommates that my student is still running a fever and not feeling well. I put out a bunch of fires, answer approximately 25 emails, buy a ticket from Guangzhou to XNA (the Chinese student got her visa on her 2nd try - and we got a personal letter thanking us for our effort from the consulate! That never happens!), and finalize the calendar for our upcoming term. Pant, pant. At 10:30 I go to check on the patient. She's drinking plenty of liquids and even eating a little. Things are looking up! I go home to collapse for a short cat nap I'd planned for my lunch break and accidentally sleep until 3:00pm. I decide I'll stay late at work to make up for it.

At 5:00pm the nurse from the oral surgeon's office calls. Seems my student called and is incredibly anxious because she still feels pretty sick. So I GO BACK to get her and take her to the MediServe clinic. She gets a shot and MORE prescriptions and I take her shopping for soft foods. I can hardly stand up at this point. Holy crap.

I take her BACK HOME, cross my fingers that this will be the last time I see her tonight, and stop by the health food store on the way to my home.

Stella and I have decided to go 90% vegetarian - for health and ecological reasons. The weather has turned crisp this week. I can't wait to cook fall foods. The health food store had a ton of colorful, inspiring produce - local too! I knew I wanted to make some sort of fast, easy homemade pizza. I grabbed whatever looked good and the recipe started to form in my head.

If I had to describe my fantasy restaurant menu, I would use the words "rustic," "healthy," and maybe "a little surprising." I think those words could apply to this meal. I wanted to bring out the richer, sweeter, mellower flavors so I roasted whole garlic cloves, heirloom cherry tomatoes, sliced red pepper, and sliced fennel bulb. I brushed all the veggies in olive oil and sprinkled then with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. I roasted them at 450 for about 20 minutes.

In the meantime I toasted pine nuts, sliced some crimini mushrooms and plucked some basil leaves.

I couldn't resist this rainbow chard. Pretty food is so good to eat.

I blanched the chard and sliced it up. I peeled the roasted red peppers. I used a pre-made whole grain pizza crust, found in the tomato sauce section at Ozark Natural Foods. I brushed the crust with olive oil, sprinkled some mozzarella, parmesan, and asiago cheeses on it and then sort of spread out the mushy, roasted cherry tomatoes and soft garlic cloves around on the crust. Then I layered the sliced fennel, chard, crimini mushrooms, pine nuts, basil, and the sliced roasted peppers. On top went more cheese. Stuck it in a 425 oven for 15 minutes.

OH MY GOD, Y'ALL. Smoky, sweet, garlicky, crunchy....and good for you too!!

Check out this impulse buy - ice cream made from coconut milk!? I nearly died when I saw it because it combines my two favorite things on earth: coconut and mint chocolate chip ice cream. So it's completely non-dairy but has a rich, full flavor. It definitely tastes vaguely of coconut, but the good, pure kind of coconut - not the nasty, sickly sweet tanning lotion flavor you find in, say, Almond Joy. The mint was crisp and clean. The chocolate chips are thin and crunchy and dark chocolatey. Perfect. This gets an A++ in my book!

The meal was ideal for collapsing on the couch to watch Korto hang on by the skin of her teeth. But she made it to the top three and will show at Bryant Park! I begrudgingly accept that Kenley is also in the final three. That feathered wedding dress was breathtaking.

Tomorrow is another doctor's appointment (but of course...). Friday is camping with 20 students at White Rock. Saturday is hearing new music and meeting new people. Sunday is a farewell brunch. Then it just keeps on going....

Monday, October 06, 2008

Gettin' Unionized

D. and I had a much-needed weekend of out-of-town fun when we attended our friends Allison and Adam's wedding in Little Rock. I first met Allison about five years ago when we were the only two single ladies, surrounded by couples, at a cabin that a group of our friends rented for the weekend. She is this sharp, hilarious, kicking-ass-and-taking-names kind of a woman, so naturally she's a lawyer! As if planning a wedding weren't stressful enough all on its own, she also recently passed the bar. Who does that sort of thing?? But that's just the sort of challenge she steps up to and conquers, barely breaking a sweat.

The reception was held at The Capitol Hotel, which, oh just the perfect, lovely, most elegant setting.

I would love to see this photo painted as a portrait, and hung in some grand hall.
Carrie, looking pensive. I made this necklace thinking of her, so of course she had to have it.

Dick took nearly everyone for a spin on the dancefloor...

...even me!

D. and I are the lone representatives for NW Arkansas...everyone else from central region. Here's our "cabin group." I love how happy Adam and Allison look here.

Awww. We really do have fun at weddings. It's amazing how being in a happy relationship made all my wedding phobia/cynicism disappear.