Monday, December 31, 2012

Post-Holiday Doldrums: Beating the After-Christmas Blues

For many of us, myself included, the post-holiday period is a bit of a drag: all the season’s gifts have been unwrapped, friends and family members have puttered back to their respective homes, and the refrigerator is stocked with gelatinous leftovers.  Add to this December’s notoriously grim weather, the post-seasonal malaise comes as no surprise.

While attempting to address my own post-holiday glumness I compiled a list of simple to-do’s that will help keep your spirits high for the rest of the holiday-less winter.
Let There Be Light!

Just because the holiday season may be over doesn’t mean that you have to put all of your candles (scented or otherwise) away.  If you have ‘em, burn ‘em!  Fill your home with the spicy, woodsy scents of winter well into the New Year.  There is a lot to be said for the calming effects of seasonal scents, particularly when your nerves are frazzled; Emily Post isn’t going to jump out of your pantry (if she did, she’s probably a zombie, so you should definitely get a baseball bat!) and tell you that you need to be burning a lemon verbena candle and not a fresh balsam candle.
The soft light given off by candles is also a (very minor) substitute for the natural light we lack during the winter months.  Really, they are a win win.

Relish the scents that make you feel relaxed and stock up on them while they are on offer at Bath & Body Works!
Enjoy the Sales

The period between Boxing Day (December 26) and New Year’s is rife with bargains; many of the year’s best deals can be found during this lovely little “sale window.”  Christmas items are drastically marked down right now and are just waiting to be snatched up for next year’s festivities.  Why worry about next year today?-- because it’s 75% off!

As much as I hate to admit this-- especially since I am of a decidedly Marxist political persuasion-- there is something visceral about shopping: finding the best deal, trolling the aisles (real or virtual), and collecting items.  Really, there is something almost tribal about shopping that appeals to our most instinctive ways of being, something that takes us back to the days of the hunter-gatherer.  While that sounds silly (and I am well aware that it does), it’s a cathartic experience, this bargain hunting.
Do Your Community a Solid

By far, the best way to combat your Post-Crimbo sadness is to do something positive for others.  I’ve harped on and on about the importance of doing good works for others throughout the year. People it seems are at their most generous in the month-or-so between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Just because the calendar clicks over doesn’t mean that you no longer are “required” to be kind or generous to others; rather, this lack of charitability should your (my, our) invitation to do more for those who need our help.  Remember: no matter how deep your funk may be, no matter how bad off you think you are, there is always another person in greater need that could use your assistance-- financial, emotional, or in kind.

Forget your own blues and help someone else get out of their own.

Do you have any sure-fire ways of beating the post-holiday blues?  Let me know in the comments.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Appy Daze: Smile Through The Tears

In light of all of the horror that has affected our world within the last week, when it is easy to lose all faith in humanity and become terribly frustrated by the inertness of our political leaders (Seriously: why can’t we do something to answer the problem of mass shootings?!-- it’s been thirteen years since Columbine and we still haven’t found the answer?), it is more important than ever to find goodness and happiness in the world.  By far there is more love and goodness in the world then there is horror and hate; I am making a conscious decision to focus on the goodness and the love and I would encourage all of my readers and my loved ones to do the same.  
In the spirit of my Appy Daze feature, I am going to give some “travel sized” nuggets of happiness and love that have kept me going lately as a reminder (to myself, to others) that there is goodness all around us, we only need to make a concerted effort to look for it.

  • My Mom: Without a doubt, as I have said dozens of times before and will say dozen of times in the future, my mother is my best friend.  Like any mother and daughter, we have our differences from time to time; however, these differences are only stand as reminders of how alike we really are . . . we’re both so stubborn we both think we have the right answer.  Even in the most challenging of times we know that we have one another’s best interests in mind and are one another’s biggest cheerleaders.  When God was matching up parents and children, he certainly got his pairing right when he put my mother and I together-- and for that i am eternally grateful!

  • Duchess: I waited until I was 28 to get a dog of my own, so I had many expectations about what pet parenthood would be like.  When we rescued Duchess, those expectations were far, far exceeded.  She is the furry love of my life, and my second best friend.  Duchess is a spunky little pug girl with lots of love and enthusiasm for life.  My mom and I like to say that she rescued us, not the other way around; she has made my mother and myself’s relationship stronger and has given our life a greater optimism and, with the strength of her puggy love, has given us a resilience that we have never known.  I am so thankful to have her furry little self in my life; find my true pug love was worth the 28 year wait.

  • The White House’s “We the People” Petition Site: I am proud to live in a country where people have a direct way to let the President and Congress know what legislation is important to them and, through the collective power of the petition, show just how important that issue is.  If you browse through the site, you’ll notice that there are a lot of petitions that have been created and supported by cranks.  While such petitions can certainly be an occasion to roll your eyes, they also stand as a stark reminder that our democracy works-- even the cranky people who don’t have a legitimate point (and no, the succession of Tennessee from the Union in 2012 isn’t a legitimate point) still have a right and a means to make their point.  It’s easy to feel jaded about our nation’s political processes and stop-go way in which they seem to work, but, unlike many places in the world, our political institutions do work.  That, dear readers, is something to be thankful for.

  • The Holiday Season: All commercialism aside, I really do love this time of year.  Beyond the inhumanity of the malls and big box stores, this season does bring out the better qualities of community.  During the holidays, people are more willing to open their wallets and give to the needy or even to lend a helping hand to those that are in the a bad way.  While I wish that this generosity extended to the entire calendar year, it’s heartening to know that people can be counted as generous at least 17% of the year.

  • Holiday Books: I have enjoyed reading the holiday themed books of my childhood to my pug, recently.  Yes, I know most of you will think it’s silly to read a bedtime story to your dog, but she loves to have a little story before she goes to bed.  I had originally started reading her bedtime stories as a bonding exercise when we first adopted her, now it is a nightly tradition.  It’s really great getting to relive all of my happy childhood (literary) memories with Duchess this year!-- what a blessing!

While this is not an exhaustive list, these points really speak to what I am feeling most happy about today.  What brings you happiness, even in the saddest of times?  Let’s share the love!
Sunday, December 16, 2012

What to Say When Words Fail You

On Friday morning, I was in my classroom, surrounded by my high school students preparing to leave campus until January, excited for Christmas and our extended winter holiday.  As we were laughing, exchanging cookies, and wishing one another happy holidays, tragic events were unfolding on the east coast.  While I have no wisdom to add or comfort to give-- nothing beyond what has already been said or given, in any event-- I feel it important to acknowledge the events in Connecticut.

In many ways, I wish that Monday were a school day just so I could go in to work and hug all of my students and let them know that I love them and how much they mean to me.  I always tell my students that I care about them  . . . but I really feel like I need to let them know how special they are more than I already do.  To be honest, I always try to live my life-- both professional and personal-- with the understanding that it is finite: I know that one day I will no longer be here and neither will the people I care about; so, I try to let my loved ones (family, friends, and students!) know how much they mean to me every day . . . not just when a tragedy occurs.  Nonetheless, when something tragic happens, as it did on Friday, it is a sober reminder of how tenuous our life truly is.

Further, as a teacher, I am proud of the brave actions of the educators at Sandy Hook who sacrificed their own lives in order to save dozens of children.  All children, regardless of where they go to school, should have teacher who are that brave and dedicated not only to their learning, but to their safety and well being.  As educators, we should all hope that we have the strength of character and the presence of mind to protect our children.

Make sure you’re saying your prayers for the lost, those that remain, for their community, and for our nation.  Let’s pray for peace and love.  Let’s pray for sanity and a different, safer tomorrow.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Back from the Ozone

The one downside to blogging for the enthusiastic unprofessional writer is the knowledge that, at some point (often, multiple points), you will have your attention diverted by some matter or another that is usually more pressing than your structured, leisure pursuit.  In the last few weeks, a combination of work, family, preparing for the holidays, and a lingering back injury have kept me away from my beloved WordPress.

Luckily, things are beginning to wind down at work and my holiday arrangements have already been made (suck it, day-before shoppers!) so I am beginning to have “found time” that I can devote to my hobby-- blogging from this nifty little corner of the interwebs that I inhabit.

With my evenings looks more open than they have in weeks, I have a few posts that will be coming to everyone over the next week including advice on how to create a vision board for yourself (a long promised and in-progress post!), the second entry in my feminist-approved gift guide, some bits on how to celebrate your pet’s birthday, and my tips for time management (ever a challenge in my world!).

It’s good to be back and I look forward to sharing some amazing ideas with everyone this holiday season.


Friday, November 23, 2012

I HATE Leftovers

While I love the holiday season-- and the holidays feasts-- I have a particular hatred for leftovers.  Fresh off the bird, turkey is a lovely, juicy, oh-so-buttery seasonal delight; warmed over, it is nothing short of betrayal.  Even my beloved mashed potatoes taste frightful the second time around!

[caption id="attachment_343" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The Foosa gets into the holiday spirit.[/caption]

So, while my mother and pug blithely enjoy the remainders of yesterday’s Thanksgiving lunch, I have been striking out with *new* foods that, as the season insists, are comforting and tasty.

[caption id="attachment_344" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Chicken, Mac 'N Cheese, and Salad-- NOT turkey et al.[/caption]

Tonight’s fare include Parmesan and herb coated chicken, traditional Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and a American-style side salad with Italian dressing.



[caption id="attachment_345" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The Foosa in a turkey coma![/caption]

P.S. Leftover pie is ALWAYS an exception to my rule.
Thursday, November 22, 2012

Appy Daze: Thanksgiving

Hello, dear readers!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the US where we stop and consider how fortunate we truly are while gorging ourselves on poultry and watching bags of gas float through the streets of Manhattan.  Cynical as ever, I thought I should probably take a few minutes and share what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving because, quite frankly, I could use the Karma Points.

My Pug
In all honesty, I probably love my dog as much as many people love their children.  Duchess lights up my world and has given me a new lease on life.  Before she joined our family, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I even wanted to be alive-- my life had truly reached its lowest ebb.  Taking care of Duchess has helped me to heal the wounds of the past while forging new bonds with my furry companion.

I’ve written many times about how transformative it has been to have Duchess in my life.  Suffice it to say, she is a magical little person and I am very thankful she is a member of my family.

My Mom
My mother is my best friend.  Like any mother and daughter, we have our differences from time to time; regardless, we have a bond that is unbreakable.  It has always been the two of us against the world, supporting one another, and taking care of each other.  No matter what, we always have one another and we always will.

The wonderful turkey she made for Thanksgiving lunch was only the icing on the proverbial cake; she’s an amazing lady and I am ever so thankful that she is in my life.

My Students
Teaching is a difficult career path to take; it involves long hours and a great intellectual, emotional, and financial commitments.  Even though it can frustrate me and run me down, working with young people and helping to develop their critical thinking skills is both professionally and personally fulfilling.  Whenever I question my professional decisions, all I have to do is talk to my students and I know that I have made the right choice.

It is easy to be pessimistic about the course your country is taking if all you know of young people is what you see on television; however, when you are “in the trenches” with youth like I am on a daily basis, you can truly see the profoundly positive seachange that awaits our country.

My Freedom
I’ll be completely honest, I am a cantankerous person; I’ll say what I think frankly even if it isn’t want everybody else wants to heart.  To put it simply, I am the friend that will tell you your butt looks fat in those jeans before you leave the house.  Now, I don’t see this forthrightness to be a character flaw, but simply as real talk from a person who cares too much to let the shit hit the proverbial fan.

There are places in this world where my mouthiness could get me in a lot of physical and legal trouble, particularly because I am a woman.  I’m glad I don’t live in one of those places and I am thankful that my ancestors got kicked out of a decent country so I could alienate people freely in America.  Hurrah, ancestors!

My President
I am glad that President Obama won reelection.  Yes, yes, yes, I know I am a Progressive Democrat and that I would naturally feel that way; however, I think Mittens’ recent comments about why he lost the election have really put a bow on the national gift that is Barack Obama-- though I am still waiting for my gift basket or whatever we childless women are meant to get for our support.

In all seriousness, I know that President Obama’s reelection means that a large cross-section of the American people will benefit from compassionate policies that seek to grow our nation’s economy, invest in its future, and not renege on the promises made to our older generations.  I’m thankful that our country is on the road to recovery and that so many will have a bright future because my countrymen got it right a second time.

While my life isn’t perfect, and neither is my country, I know that I am well and truly blessed.  Even though I try to be thankful for what I have year round, there is something about a tum full of turkey and fruit pie that makes a gal feel particularly grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, November 16, 2012

'Appy Daze: The Pug of My Life

Yes, dear readers, ‘Appy Daze are here again (although a bit late)!  This week, I thought I would tell you more about my dog, Duchess (otherwise known as “The Foosa”), who just happens to be my best friend and and the coolest person I know . . . even though she has fur.

Like me, Duchess had a rough start; she spent the first six years of her life in the care of another owner who didn’t provide her with proper medical care (e.g., getting her fixed and giving her preventative medicines), fed her a low quality dog food that left her malnourished, and eventually surrendered her to a rescue organization.  When we adopted Duchess shortly before my birthday in March, she was very reserved and seemed understandably uncertain about her surroundings.  While she was immediately sweet and affectionate with us, Duchess took some time trying to figure my mother and I out; she knew she liked us, but she wanted to know she was at her forever home before she committed to loving us.

With lots of love, training, and consistency we have shown Duchess that she is in a safe, happy home that is forever her’s and that she will always be taken care of by people who love her dearly.  She is the light of our lives and every day we strive to let her know that.

[caption id="attachment_288" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Thank you, Washington Irving, for making this moment possible. Sincerely, THE WORLD[/caption]

Since her adoption, Duchess has morphed into another girl entirely: she is very affectionate (never shy about pinning me down and licking every speck of makeup off of my face), playful, and confident enough to voice her opinions (especially when she wants a snack).  Duchess knows what she wants and, more often than not, we are pleased as punch to give it to her.

Having Duchess in my life has truly been a blessing; she gives my life a meaning and dimension where there was none.  Before Duchess, I seemed to have an abundance of time that weighed on me heavily and never seemed to be full enough or spent meaningfully.  Often, the simple act of getting up in the morning was a struggle and the prospect of having to face another day was virtually unbearable.

While day to day life is still challenging for me, I still face each new day because I know that I get to spend at least part of it hanging out with Duchess.  Also, as irritable as I may feel in the morning, I know that Duchess needs me to take care of her and to give her the love and affection she deserves.  Some mornings, she even comes over and wakes me up!

Truly, Duchess gives me a reason to want to face the day.  It is not enough to do something because you need to, not when it comes to living, you have to find a reason to want to live.  Duchess is my reason and it is easy to see why.

As you will notice from my photos of her, Duchess, like all pugs, is ridiculously adorable and has the largest, most expressive eyes.  It is impossible to resist such a sweet little face; she’s just too cute and bear cub-like to ignore.

[caption id="attachment_200" align="aligncenter" width="225"] My lovely pug girl at bath time.[/caption]

When I am feeling low, Duchess is quick to lick me affectionately or jump on the couch to sit with me (or on me as  the case may be).  I don’t have to be crying or expressing my feelings outwardly for her to inherently know that I need her calming comfort.  From the very moment we picked her up, Duchess was affectionate towards me (even licking me senseless on the car ride home); it was as if she knew from the start how much I needed her.

For me, the decision to adopt Duchess was the best choice I ever made.  She needs me and I need her.  We’re two souls who, having been lost in troubled seas for so long, found safe harbor in one another.

The world is a happier, more manageable place for me because of Duchess.  She is more than my best friend and even more than a member of my family, she is my lifeline.

[caption id="attachment_37" align="aligncenter" width="225"] My girl, happy in her summer finery.[/caption]
Tuesday, October 30, 2012

'Appy Daze!-- Kurt Vonnegut Lovefest

Ok.  I had meant to begin the first ‘Appy Daze weekly post yesterday, but personal circumstances (an argument, a headache, and a nasty dog scratch *ON MY FACE*) prevented my update.  As you can imagine, happy thoughts were not forthcoming.

Though my face still hurts and I remain terrified at the prospect of facial scarring (I’m a hypochondriac), I feel entirely better mood today and more equipped to write about happiness.

This week, I thought I would talk to you about my favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut.  Vonnegut (1922-2007) was a novelist and essayist known for writing darkly funny works that fused humor and science fiction into one quickly devoured nugget of zaniness (how’s that for mixed metaphors, eh?).  Today, Vonnegut is probably most remembered for his 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five, subtitled The Children’s Crusade, sub-sub-titled A Duty-Dance with Death, a novel about the time traveling experiences of a World War II vet (and survivor of the 1945 RAF firebombing of Dresden, Germany).  Slaughterhouse-Five, you won’t be surprised to learn, is my favorite book.

For someone such as myself-- someone who has some traumatic events in their past-- Vonnegut’s works really resonate.  Like Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut was a former POW and survivor of the destruction of Dresden.  From some of the autobiographical details that Vonnegut wove into his works, it would rightly seem that being a witness to such unfathomable horror was an event that Vonnegut was never quite able to surmount.  From my personal experience, I believe this to be generally true about trauma: you are never able to “overcome” your trauma, you’re only able to come to terms with its presence.

Vonnegut’s work is a testament to life after trauma; In Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle (one of my personal favorites), and Breakfast of Champions among others, Vonnegut constructs narratives among the ruins of life.  The story goes on even when we know what’s going to happen or what has happened; time is secondary, time stops when the world as you know it has crumbled in front of you.

As depressing as that may sound, it’s terrifically uplifting for people like myself who have struggled to overcome a difficult past.  Often, life seems as though it will never go on, as though nothing worthwhile can emerge from the wreckage of your life.  Not only was Vonnegut able to create works about the wreckage of life, he was able to do so with a sense of humor.  There’s hope, at least for me, among the atomic bomb blasts and super-freezing chemicals that populate Vonnegut’s work.

You may never make sense of your own trauma, but if you can pull an amused, Vonnegut inspired smirk at life’s absurdities and slights, well, that’s half the battle.  
Sunday, October 28, 2012

Halloween Movie Picks for the Squeamish and Persnickety

It’s almost Halloween and you know what that means: being guilted into putting a bunch of horror movies in your Netflix queue by friends who don’t seem to understand a) your distaste at having your renting cycle seasonably disrupted, b) your reticence at watching another person being eviscerated, and c) your desire to eat candy alone whilst watching White Chicks.  Fear not, dear reader, I’ve got you covered:

When in doubt, hipster it out.

What would a hipster do in a similar situation?  While not one myself, I am sure our NHS-spec friends with trust funds would profess to watching either something obtuse, foreign, and gorey (out of the question; “Just Say No to Argento!”); watching a B-grade horror movie that few of heard of (a legitimate possibility); or to watching a classic horror or monster flick from the golden age of cinema.  Well, they might make one of the above choices or make some asinine remark about life being a horror movie (blergh).

So, for the squeamish and persnickety among us (*ahem* moi) there are only two options: to watch B-grade horror-ish films or classic horror/monster movies; luckily, many of these films are readily available online either through on-demand services or from YouTube.  Here are a few of my personal-- and widely available--favorites.  

Night of the Living Dead (1968): This is the original-- and best-- version of this horror movie classic.  Yes, there is violence and gore, but the black and white film, B-grade production values, and captivating storyline make the film less graphic and more chilling.  I would recommend playing the film in the background during your Halloween party; those interested in watching the film can grab their sugary treats and watch away while those more interested in mingling and can listen to the film as background ambiance.

The Phantom of the Opera (1925): This is a silent film staring Lon Chaney, one of the first great Hollywood actors and makeup artists.  Chaney was known as "the man of a 1,000 faces" for his uncanny ability to physically transform into his disfigured characters.  Movie makeup was in its infancy during Chaney's time, so the (to our eyes) rudimentary makeup he uses was cutting edge in the 1920s.  Watch this film before Halloween and impress your friends with your knowledge of early cinema.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920): Here is another classic film from the silent era that is also foreign (two for the price of one!) that's widely considered to be one of the first horror movies.  The film still retains much of it's creepy value almost one hundred years after it's release.  For pretension's sake, make sure to refer to the film by its German title Das Cabinet des Doktor Caligari.

Carnival of Souls (1962): Again, here is another early horror film that, due to it's B-production values is more creepy than scary.  Being familiar with this film (which I also believe is available from The Criterion Collection-- BONUS) will earn you hipster points and make you seem like a real film aficionado.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959): Perhaps the best worst movie ever, this film is a perfect film (like The Room) to admit to having seen and enjoying in all of its horribleness.  This could be another candidate for a Halloween ambiance film to have playing at your party.  Might I recommend a sing-along party (Rocky Horror style) to accompany your festive viewing of the film?

And last, but certainly not least . . .

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961): What would Halloween be without a grand appearance from Vincent Price, hmmm?  Nada, I say!  This is my favorite Poe-inspired film that Price did with Roger Corman, it's deliciously bad. :-)
What are some of your favorite creepy movies to watch at Halloween time?  Share in the comments.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

'Appy Daze are 'Ere Again

Hello, everyone.

I’ve decided to reclassify the “Happiness” posts from a finite series to a regular feature on my blog.  For the time being, I think I have taxed myself out on finding and expounding upon the things in life that make me happy.  I’m not an optimistic person by nature (my handle is, afterall ironic as well as a nod to James Joyce), so this exercise-- while an important one-- isn’t one that I can come by easily.  If you want Oprah’s sage-like musing upon living your authentic life, go watch OWN. If, however, you want a snarky white girl musing about literature, film, feminism, and foosas (read: pugs), then stick with me kid . . . I’m going places (well, Safeway anyway . . .).

Shall we make Mondays our day’s for happiness?  Yes.

Let us call them “ ‘Appy Daze” and “‘Appy Daze” they shall be known.



Looking for Happiness #4: Eating Like an Elderly Toddler

There’s no two ways about it: I loves me my food.  There is nothing that can beat the taste of warm, rich, comfort food regardless of what mood you are in.

Whereas many people carefully watch what they eat, or snob over their plates like they were a foreign film, I prefer to take a more pragmatic approach to my epicurean delights: I eat what I want until I am satisfied, share what tastes good with others (sharing the food love is almost as good as eating it yourself-- almost), and try not to deny myself when I want something.  I’ll never be a supermodel with this approach, but at least I’ll be happy and get to enjoy lovely eats with amazing people-- food is certainly a social lubricant.

In terms of what I like to eat, my tastes are rather conventional; I’ve loads of food allergies, so I dare not eat anything too exotic less I end up in the emergency room. One of my worst fears is dying and then having my harrowingly sad tale end up on one of those medical mystery shows.

I subsist primarily on a diet of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, sandwiches, cheese and jalapeno rolls, salads, and potato wedges.  I also enjoy the odd cupcake or bit of ice cream. Long story short, I enjoy many of the same foods as both the elderly and toddlers.

[caption id="attachment_259" align="aligncenter" width="300"] A chicken corn dog and potato wedges from the Safeway deli. Yumski for my tumski.[/caption]

More than once, I have ordered off the kid's menu as an adult because "grown up food" was too elaborate and heavy for me; more often than not, I could make a meal of a side dish or an appetizer. Give me a corn dog, some potato wedges, and a soda and I’ll be golden.  I’m also not afraid to admit that I still love Happy Meals, especially if there is a good toy theme going on (seriously, how cool was the Paul Frank collection kiddos?); you get well proportioned food, a toy, and APPLE BITES.

In addition to skewing towards the childish, my eating habits are also decidedly elderly in flavor as well.  I love peanut brittle.  I could live off of pickles.  Oatmeal-- who doesn’t love it?  Coffee needs to be milky, naturally.  Tea should be had throughout the day.  Also, let us not forget cheese.  Cheese should be sprinkled liberally on all baked goods, especially breads.  Oh-- I do love a good smoked meat as well (pastrami, I’m looking at you kid!).

In our society we allow ourselves to be “food shamed” out of eating what we like or made to feel as though our tastes are too pedestrian.  I’ve always been one for moderation: eat what makes you happy . . . just don’t eat a factory’s worth in one go.  Food can be one of the great joys of life when you make it and share it with the people you care about.

[caption id="attachment_258" align="aligncenter" width="300"] If you want a sandwich and Goldfish crackers for dinner, go for it!-- it's Foosa approved![/caption]

So, folks, what eats and tasty treats do you enjoy?  Let me know.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Looking for Happiness #3: Moozikz

Wouldn't you know it: I, like most people, enjoy listening to music. There are times, when I am terribly sad, when I have compartetalized my feelings so securely that I can no longer access them, when I have no desire to listen to anything, music, television . . . the orders my neighbors' cat gives me (kidding, kidding!); however, more often than not, I can easily be spotted behind a pair of dark shades listening to my tunes.

For many years, from my college years until rather recently, my music collection was contained almost entirely on my iPod-- this after condensing a massive CD collection to digital files.  Within the last year, I have shied away from purchasing music outright and have instead become a premium Spotify subscriber which allows me to stream music on my computer (both my personal computer as well as my work computer) as well as my iPhone.  Certainly, this approach to music won’t work for everyone; however, if you’re a serious music lover who doesn’t want to worry about storage (physical or digital), Spotify is certainly a great option.

Here is a playlist that I have created for this blog post that will give you a general idea of what music that I, when the chips are down (and they are almost always down), turn to in order to perk up.  I’ve also included annotations for each song so you’ll know a little about what each song means to/for me:

  • “Et Moi, Et Moi, Et Moi” by Jacque Dutronc-- Dutronc’s sound is similar to the Kinks but with the distinct sound of French Ye Ye.  Basically, I love the beat even though I no idea what he is saying besides “and me, and me, and me.”

  • “Emily” by Carice van Houten-- Carice van Houten is one of four famous Dutch people (the others being Rembrandt, van Gogh, and Rutger Hauer) in the world.  She’s amazing and “Emily,” her debut single is catchy.  Did I mention van Houten is a movie star and once retweeted me?  Oh, yes, people.  Oh.  Yes.

  • “Paradisco” by Charlotte Gainsbourg-- Hurrah!  A French person who sings in English!  This is a catchy tune that has a dark undercurrent to it (e.g., “I wonder how long it will last/ Walking through a room full of broken glass”).  I like catchy tunes that are dark.

  • “Dancing With Myself” by by Nouvelle Vague-- Yes, I know this is a cover of the Generation X song (Billy Idol only covered his former bands old song).  However, I love this kitschy chamber pop version of this song.  Did I mention that the video for the tune is a re-edit of Godard’s “Vivre Sa Vie”?  Uh huh.

  • “Lili Marleene” by Marlene Dietrich-- I love a good torch song and Lili Marleene by Dietrich is the best.

  • “Ride” by Lana Del Ray-- Say what you will, the Lana Del Ray aesthetic is captivating as are the contrived short films that are meant to be her videos.  I particularly like this song as it’s classic sadcore ala Cat Power.

  • “Babel” by Mumford & Sons-- I just love Mumford & Sons and this is from the new album.  Woopie!

  • “The Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” by The Smiths-- “I’ve seen it happen in other people’s lives and now, now, now it’s happening in mine!”  Me, too, Moz.  Me, too. :-(

  • “Black Sheep” by Metric-- This song is not only featured in Scott Pilgrim-- which I loved-- but seems to be about a prodigal black sheep.  I empathize.

  • “Punching in a Dream” by Naked and Famous-- Again, another *cute* tune that has a dark undercurrent: “Like punching in a dream, breathing life into a nightmare.”

  • “Little Talks”by Of Monsters and Men-- Imagine if Belle and Sebastian had a sunny holiday every now and again-- that’s this.

  • “Endless Summer” by The Jezebels-- This is just a wistful tune which makes me happy.

If you’re interested in any of these tunes, feel free to subscribe to my WordPress playlist on Spotify, I’ll periodically add tunes as the spirit takes me.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Looking for Happiness #2: Reading *Love*

Given that I am an English teacher, it goes without saying that I love to read.  Whereas the average American (whoever that heathen “every (wo)man” is) reads about three books a year, I average that many a month, even while taking classes and teaching six of my own.

In some ways, I am lucky that I have to ride the bus to and from work everyday as the commute is found time, something that is a godsend for me.  During the drive into work, I often put on my makeup and check my social media accounts; on the drive home, I tend to read a book while on the bus headed home, or while I am waiting at the bus stop.

Blame Dutch industriousness, but I can’t stand to waste time; any moment where I am not actively doing something is, in my opinion, wasted time.  So, I always travel with a book in my bag, whether I am going to work in the morning, popping out for a coffee, or running errands.  I never know when I am going to have some found time and I always want something to do.

Beyond my practical love, I enjoy reading because it was one of the only things I could do as a kid that would, at least momentarily, take my mind off of what would otherwise be a pretty bleak existence.  On days when I would be feeling at my worse, when it felt like my world was tearing apart at the seams, I could pick up a book and compartmentalize my feelings.  As a child, there were lots of adverts that would promote reading as an escape or an adventure; for me, reading was a means for survival.  In many ways, reading remains a means for survival for me.

Here are some of my favorite authors and their works that I have connected with the most-- count a mention here as a hearty recommendation:

  • Kurt Vonnegut

    • Slaughterhouse-Five

    • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

    • Cat’s Cradle

    • Timequake

  • Ernest Hemmingway

    • The Old Man and the Sea

    • The Sun Also Rises

  • Graham Greene

    • Travels With My Aunt

    • Brighton Rock

    • The Quiet American

    • The Heart of the Matter

  • Beverly Cleary

    • Ramona the Pest

    • Ramona the Brave

  • Roald Dahl

    • Matilda

    • The Witches

What do you like to read?  What books bright a ray of light into your life?  Feel free to leave a comment and share some happiness.  
Sunday, October 14, 2012

Looking for Happiness #1: My Family

Hello, everyone.  As promised, here is the first post in my series about the people, places, activities, and things that give me hope and happiness, even in the depths of my discontent.  As this title implies, the entry on my list is my family.

If you have read my blog for a while (both in this incarnation and its previous ones) or follow me on Twitter, you’ll remember that I live at home with my mom and my dog.  Before you start laughing at me, know that I elect to live at home.  I make enough money to live on my own; I prefer the company of my family and are loathed to share my living space, and supply of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, with someone who isn’t biologically obligated to care about me.

When I use the term “My Family,” I am really talking only about the two people I live with-- my mom and my dog.  While I have lots of relatives, the only people that I have any relationship with are the people I live with. I learned at an early age that being biologically related to someone doesn’t mean that they deserve a place in your life.  Family, like food, cosmetics, and clothing, can not only be chosen but chosen for quality.  As such, though my own familial roster is a short one, it is very hearty.

My mother isn’t just my parent-- and my only parent at that-- she is my best friend.  I’ve never known another human being who I liked to spend more time with than my mother.  She’s smart, funny, honest, and genuine.

Even though we have our differences, my mother is the greatest person I have ever known; I am truly lucky to have a person like her as my mother.  While we have our differences-- sometimes very strong, vocal differences-- I know that I can still rely on my mother to support and love me.  When the chips are down, when circumstances seem to be at their most dire, I know that my mother is there for me.  No matter what.

My mother and I have always been close; I’ve considered my mother to be my best friend since I small little.  I was an only child and my mother was a single parent; it’s always been the two of us against the world, both literally and figuratively.  Truly, I could never find another person I love, value or trust as much as my mother.  Really, I am a very lucky person to have my mother in my life.

Duchess, my pug girl, joined our little family shortly before my birthday this March.  In seven months, she has become the light of our lives.  Without a doubt, Duchess is a smart, loving, silly, and ever so sassy little lady; neither my mother and I could imagine what life would be like without her.  In the moments when I feel at my lowest, I know that I can cuddle with Duchess and feel better just feeling her warm little heart beating against mine.  The love and comfort that a dog brings to a person’s life cannot be overestimated.  I am a better, happier person for having Duchess in my life.

Even in my darkest moments, in the depths of my deepest despair, I know that I have the love of my mom and my pug and my life is the better for it.  
Saturday, October 13, 2012


I’ve been gone from my blog for some weeks now; my absence was both intentional and unintentional at the same time.  For the most part, I didn’t blog because I had been busy with work and feeling miserable personally. The start of a new school year is always difficult for me: adjusting to new teaching assignments, new group dynamics, and the inherent stress of starting up a school again for the new year.  In true Sunny Jim fashion, the start of our new school year corresponded with some challenges in my personal life.  As such, in lieu of blogging, I have been spending all of the positive energies I have (real or contrived), for the benefit of my students and our program-- I didn’t have anything left for WordPress?  Really, who wants a perpetually mopey blogger?

Even though I am nowhere near sunshine and roses territory at the moment, I feel like I am on the upswing.  This recent upturn is due in part to some words of advice I received-- look for happiness.  While it seems obvious, to seek out those people and those activities that make you feel happy, it is a task that is often difficult to see through . . . particularly when you are in the depths of despair.  It’s easy to wallow in your own misery, looking for happiness and hope are far more difficult.

I know (intellectually at least) that I am not the only person who struggles to find moments of happiness, so I thought I would devote my return blog post to some of my own bits of happiness, not to brag or to kvetch, but to show that (to paraphrase Camus) “in the depths of winter I found an invincible summer.”

Over the next several days, I write posts about some of the people, places, things, and activities that have brought some sunshine into my life.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The End: "Goodbye, Summer. I Hardly Knew, Yea!" One Teacher's Tale

This, dear readers, is the end.  The end of summer.-- a somber time for all teachers.

After less than a month, I have to march myself back to work and prepare for a new school year to begin.  Those of you who do not work in education are probably scowling at me right now, begrudging my seemingly "extended" paid vacation.  While I will admit that a month is an long time to have off for the average professional, teachers are not the average professional and I did not have an average 2011-2012 school year.

To begin with, due to a scheduling issue last year, and a righting of said issue this year, my summer vacation was shortened.  Our school started more than a month later than most schools last year and, as a result, ended the 2011-2012 school year in July.  As such, what would have otherwise have been an almost two month break was truncated for students and staff alike.  So, almost as quickly as we said goodbye to our students, we are welcoming them back.  Maudlin gal that I am, I always start to miss my students about two weeks into vacation, so it is heartening to know that I will have them back shortly . . . even though I lament the loss of my nine o'clock pug wake-up calls.  As whiny as this sounds-- getting a month off and fretting over not having another month--I would like to make a case for why teachers earn their extended vacations.

During the regular school year (approximately September-June), I work an average of sixty hours a week lesson planning (for five different subjects), preparing for instruction, grading assignments, attending meetings, preparing my classroom for students, acquiring instructional materials (sometimes at my own cost), counseling students, communicating with families, chaperoning student activities, coaching extra-curricular activities, collaborating with colleges, and working on administrative tasks.  On any given day, I have to make dozens of decisions, some major and some minor, and often in rapid succession.  There are many aspects to the teaching profession that extend beyond the time spent in front of students; balancing all of these responsibilities, while a rewarding challenge, can be exhausting.  I do not know a teacher, veteran or newcomer, who isn't staggering into the end of a semester, or the end of the school year.

My work is almost entirely interpersonal, leaving me very little downtime during the workday.  Since I work with young people, their well-being as well as their social and intellectual enrichment is my key concern; being so hyper-aware of the needs of others takes an emotional toll on a person.  Weekends often fail to provide the respite I need in order to recharge my proverbial "batteries."  Teaching, when it is done well, when it is done with the whole heart and deploys an educator's keen professional senses, isn't a job, or even a career-- it is a lifestyle, and an exhaustive one at that.

Yet, though the profession often wears me (and every other educator I have ever known) out, it is an extremely rewarding profession and one that I have been called to join.  Whatever my position may lack in compensation, I am rewarded in terms of personal satisfaction-- I know that the work I do on a daily basis is important and vital to the growth of my community.  My periodic exhaustion is a small price to pay for the rewards that society, not to mention myself, gain from my work.

So, why I may lament the ending of my summer, I ask that you consider a teacher's extended vacation not the perk of an over-compensated public servant, but the respite all altruistic people need in order to fight the good fight.



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Twilight of My Summer Vacation, Days 21-22: Summer Goals . . . Extended!

Hello, hello dear reader!

Well, what a short (by teacher's standards) summer it has been!  As my "freedom" draws to a close (I have to be in at work four days next week, then start teaching again the day after Labor Day), I have noticed that I haven't achieved all of the summer goals that I had set out to meet.  Anyone with a to-do list understands this condition: you mean to do so much with your time off . . . and you manage to complete only a fraction of them.  Like many, I could beat myself up over what I haven't accomplished (like I would normally do during the school year), or I can reassess where my goals are and either continue to move forward with them (turning them into autumn goals) or scrap them in favor of other goals.  That, in my opinion, is a more productive and in keeping with the point of goals: to better yourself and further aspirations.

So, here is where I stand, as yet, with my goals:

  1. Read at Least 6 books-- I've completed 4, so far, and have two books that are nearing completion.  I should be done with both of them by the end of the weekend.  Yes, I will continue reading throughout the autumn.  I am actually behind on the 60 book goal that I set on Good Reads for 2012. 

  2. Try a new activity-- I haven't tried a new activity . . . yet!  I will, however, continue to work on this goal, and expanding my horizons, as we begin to transition into fall. 

  3. Eat more consciously-- I have been tracking what I eat, but I have slacked off some throughout the semester and haven't been as mindful as I should have been.  Moving forward, I will continue to be vigilant . . . more than I have been!

  4. Get a tan—an even one-- I am still rather uneven; then again, I haven't been in the sun all that much either (can you believe it's been too warm to be outside? yes?  ok.).  I will, however, be evening myself out further with self-tanners as we move into fall; I want to keep a relatively healthy glow throughout the season-- a natural glow, not a day-glow-Pippa sort of look.

  5. Go on a road trip-- Toss! I wasn't able to do this over the summer and, frankly, after weeks at home, I am not sure I could stand to spend any more time in a confined space . . .

  6. Get out more-- Toss!  This never really got off the ground and it won't now that I go back to sixty-hour work weeks, ho-hum!

  7. Update wardrobe-- I will be doing this throughout the season. :-)

  8. Watch ten movies-- I, of course, will continue watching films throughout the season!

  9. Complete summer classes

  10. Complete a grand multi-disc miniseries or television show-- Toss! I didn't get the time over vacation, where am I going to find it now?!

  11. Get my driver’s permit Accomplished!

  12. Reward myself for my accomplishments-- We all need to do this, regardless of the time we have set aside for the purpose!  Celebrate the great things that you have accomplished!

How well did you do on your goals? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Twilight of My Summer Vacation, Days 15-20: Bummed Out By aClusterfuck of Trans-Global Misogyny

This week has been both personally and politically draining.  I am sorry that I have been absent for several days; processing all that has been going on has been hard enough to do in 140 characters, let alone 300 words or more.  Anyhoo . . .

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you are well aware of the fact that, in addition to being a first-rate smarty pants and avowed pug lover, I am an ardent feminist.  For those of you operating under any misconception as to what feminist means (to me anyway, I do despise metanarratives), let me clarify: feminism at its most basic level is the belief that women should have social, cultural, economic, and political equality with men.  This definition can, and should in my opinion, be extended out to all genders (I’m not one for binaries); regardless of how we identify and perform gender, we should all have social, economic, and political equality.  As a feminist, I am strongly against structures—be they social, cultural, economic, and political—that stand in the way of equality and actively fight against them.

As a feminist, I know that patriarchy—the social organization in which men are the supreme authority—hurts everyone, women, men, trans folks, and anyone else.  If you want an explanation gender variety and of how patriarchy hurts everyone, which I am not going to get into, might I suggest you look into the work of Judith Butler, Kate Bornstein, and Susan Faludi.

So, what has gotten my feminist ire up lately?  Well, a number of things:

  1. Pussy Riot has been sentenced to two years in a Russian work camp for blasphemous hooliganism.

  2. Julian Assange was granted political asylum by Ecuador and may not answer legally for rape aligations.

  3. Todd Adkin has a non-existent understanding of biology and re-coins the phrase “legitimate rape.”

  4. Politico’s Dave Catanese needless manspalins the Adkins mess.

  5. George Galloway’s comments on the Assange debacle.

  6. 6.    The naming of Assange’s accusers on British Television.

I’m too furious to even expand upon these points at this juncture; they just are for me right now.  Their quick succession really hasn’t allowed me, or many like-minded individuals, to regroup from these events.  It’s just one crack after another.

Meh. :-/

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Summer Vacation, Days 21-24: Lazy Days

Since completing my last summer class on Friday, I have to admit that I have been rather lazy not only in my blogging, but in day-to-day life as well.  I haven't made progress in cleaning up my room after we had new carpet installed; I've boxed up most of my books and sorted through some piles for donation, but putting things away . . . that remains a challenge.  Did I mention, that I have two week's worth of laundry to put away? -- I have two weeks worth of laundry to put away.

How, I ask myself, can I internally feel as though I need to take a break from work when I am already on vacation?  Isn't a working vacation, by definition and extension, a vacation?  Tell that to my subconscious which seems to be in sloth revolt.

What do you do when you can't be arsed to do much of anything?

Seriously, I could use the hints!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer Vacation, Days 21-22: Tips to Get Ready for the New School Year

Hello, everyone.

As someone who has worked in education-- in various capacities-- for almost a decade, I am often asked questions not only about the state of education in our nation, but about what parents can do to get their kids ready/ better prepared for the new school year.  My first answer has always been, contrary to the Target commercials' contention (I like last year's commercial better, actually), that getting ready for the next academic year (be K-12, or even the transition to community college) isn't just about school supplies-- though that is important, too!  In any event, here are some of my tips for getting your child (or yourself!) prepared for the new school year:

  1. Yes, don't forget the school supplies!  Making

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Summer Vacation, Day 20: Let's Network!

Hello, everyone!

I hope your weekends are all very relaxing.  While mine, per usual, has been busy, I have begun to relish having extra time to focus on non-academia activities: reading, writing, pestering my dog, and sleeping.  With more time on my hands, I have decided to start branching my blog out, and begin to connect more with my readers and market my writing a bit more.  There's a lot of information and ideas I would like to share with my readers and not all of that information is suited for the blog format; so, why wouldn't I create across platforms?  Right?  Right.

If you've take a gander at the right-side of my blog, you will notice that I already have linked both my Twitter and GoodReads accounts to my blog; I've been using both of these services for quite some time and update them frequently.  I use Twitter for the same purpose as most folks: it's just me spewing about whatever is on my mind be it political, (not too) personal, or humorous.  GoodReads, on the other hand, is an aggregated indexing of what I am reading and have read.  Since I am not too keen on television, I tend to read a lot and have set a goal of reading at least 60 books this year.  Sadly, I am rather behind on that goal at the moment!  So, if you're interested in seeing what I am reading or thinking at the moment, feel free to connect with my on either service.

I've also just started a Pinterest site just for my blog as well as a YouTube Channel.  For Pinterest, I have started boards to post helpful hints, as well as things I am loving, wanting, and enjoying.  Feel free to follow and share some of your favorite pins with me, too.  I'm always eager to know what my kindred blogging spirits are up to.  On YouTube, I plan to post how-to videos and, perhaps, haul videos later on.  Since I haven't added any of my own content yet, let me know if there are any how-tos you want me to delve into or if you are interested to see what I have been getting and/or liking lately.

Oh!  If any of my readers are super Word Press ninjas, let me know if you have a way to add Pinterest and YouTube widgets to your page.  :-)


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Summer Vacation Days 18-19: How to Search for Textbook Deals on Amazon

Hello, everyone.

I am sorry I didn't post yesterday, I was in the midst of writing a paper for my last summer course which I (finally) managed to complete shortly before eleven at night.; so, as you can imagine, I wasn't feeling up to blogging.  In any event, if you have been following my list of summer goals, you will recognize that I have just chalked up another accomplishment:

  1. Read at Least 6 books

  2. Try a new activity

  3. Eat more consciously

  4. Get a tan—an even one

  5. Go on a road trip

  6. Get out more

  7. Update wardrobe

  8. Watch ten movies

  9. Complete summer classes

  10. Complete a grand multi-disc miniseries or television show

  11. Get my driver’s permit

  12. Reward myself for my accomplishments

So, hurrah for me!  Two goals down, ten to go!

Anyhoo, I wanted to share with my readers some of my tried and true tips for getting the best price on college textbooks.  Since I am in a profession that tacitly expects you to continue to further your education, either to move up in pay scale or to increase your field-specific knowledge, I have spent most of the past decade trolling for the best price on books.  As such, I wanted to share some of my tips for getting the best buy on your books.

  1. Locate the textbooks that you will need for the next term.  You can usually find  these either on the syllabus you are given on the first day of class, via an online syllabus the professor has posted on their website, or by searching for your classes using your course information on your college bookstore's website.

    [caption id="attachment_212" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Find your college's webpage.[/caption]

    [caption id="attachment_213" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Search the college's website for the school's bookstore.[/caption]

    [caption id="attachment_214" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Once on the college bookstore's website, click on the link that takes you to the textbook search page and look up your class using the department name, course number, and section number (see your class schedule for that information!).[/caption]

  2. Once you locate the book(s) you will need, write down the title, author, edit, and ISBN number listed; you will use this information to find the book from online retailers and to verify that you have found the correct edition.

    [caption id="attachment_215" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Write down the title of the text, author, edition, and ISBN number. You'll use this information to look for competitively priced texts on Amazon.[/caption]

  3. Search the textbook section of Amazon for your textbook; search for the book using your text's 13 or 10 digit ISBN number.  This number will (in most cases) help you to locate the correct edition of the book.  Note: Make sure that you double check the edition number, sometimes people make errors when they are adding books (especially used ones) onto the site.

    [caption id="attachment_216" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Amazon often has competitively priced textbooks as well as a HUGE selection of well-priced used texts, too![/caption]

    [caption id="attachment_217" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Amazon's textbook page makes it easy to search for books by ISBN.[/caption]

  4. Once you have located your book, double check the price of the text on Amazon (both new and used) against the new and used prices that your bookstore has listed.

    [caption id="attachment_218" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Check the price for both new and used textbooks.[/caption]

A Few Notes . . .

  • I haven't mentioned renting textbooks which, often, can be cheaper than buying books; however, when you rent a book, you miss out on resale value and often rental prices are as nearly as much as competitive used prices.

  • Many used booksellers list their books on more than one retail site; so, used books that you find on Amazon will probably appear on the Barnes and Noble site, too.

  • Consider joining Amazon Prime Student which gives you free 2-day shipping for free for 6 months with the option of a paid membership after the trial period (it's less than $100 for a year and pays itself off quickly if you frequently buy things from Amazon, like I do!).

  • If possible, when attempting to buy a used textbook from Amazon, look for books that can be "Fulfilled by Amazon," which means that Amazon can ship them to you directly and you don't have to worry about a used bookseller (who can be anywhere in the world) to ship the book to you.  Fulfilled by Amazon is like an added measure of security and will get you your materials way quicker!

  • Try to buy books that are only in excellent or good condition; books that are listed only as being "acceptable" are sometimes a crap shoot.

  • Unless you will need them in another semester, sell you books back to your college bookstore (often, you can sell back books that you didn't buy on campus) or on Amazon.

  • If you are looking for a hard-to-find book that is out of print (professors are notorious for doing this . . .), check Powells, an independent bookseller in Portland that has LOADS of obscure books.

So . . . how do you save money on your textbooks?  Share your ideas in the comments section. :-)



Thursday, August 9, 2012

Summer Vacation, Day 17: An Update to My Summer Reading Queue

Hello, everyone!

Today I am in the midst of writing my last paper for my last summer extension course which is proving to be more irksome than I had anticipated it being.  So, since my meager intellectual resources are being spent in another window on my computer, you'll have to make do with a truncated post from yours truly, an update to my summer reading list.

In true Sunny Jim fashion, any list I make is an organic, evolving creature that far outpaces both my reading and my fluctuating ambitions.  That being said, here are the books on my list:

  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (teaching it)

  • Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West (teaching it)

  • The Inferno by Dante (*yawn* teaching it)

  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes ( . . . you guessed it)

  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert ( . . .)

  • Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (teaching it)

  • The White Album by Joan Didion (fun!)

  • The Illustrated Man by Rad Bradbury (fun, finishing it)

  • In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway (fun?)

  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (fun . . . I think)

  • Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion (fun; defs)

Have you made any changes to your summer reading lists?  If so, what propts you to make additions or subtractions?  Share your experiences in the comments below.



Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Summer Vacation, Day 16: What I've Been Reading

Hello, everyone!

Those who know me IRL or follow my exploits online are well aware of the fact that I do not watch a lot of television.  There are shows that I like (e.g., Big Bang Theory, Antiques Roadshow) but I am not one to simply watch television in lieu of doing other, more productive things.  True to my Netherlander heritage, and despite my claims to laziness, I am pathologically industrious; television, by its very nature, is contrary to my the fiber of my being.  If I am going to do something, I want to do something that will accomplish a goal.  It's nuts, I know.

In any event, I find myself reading a lot of books, in quantities that, even for those who are voracious readers, are considered prodigious.  The average American reads about four books a year; in contrast, since the beginning of my summer vacation just over two weeks ago, I've already completed three.  Here are some of my thoughts on the texts that have graced my shelves recently.

My reviews are on a five ♥ scale.

♥♥♥♥♥ = Excellent; classic

♥♥♥♥= Really Great

♥♥♥= Good

♥♥= Not great; read if you have nothing else at your disposal

♥= Terrible

= Line a bird cage with it

= Poop


Rating: ♥♥♥♥

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="240"] Image Via Wikipedia[/caption]

Though I read most of Dahl's books as a child, I hadn't read this one.  I distinctly remember beginning it at one point in elementary school but having to return it to the school library after illness made me turn it in past its due date (if you pay the fine, why can't you recheck a book, I say!).  Circumstances as they were, I didn't read the book in earnest until recently when I discovered that my pug, who will not go to bed without a bedtime story, LOVES the cadence of Dahl's work.  So, together we tackled this work of classic children's literature.

For those who aren't familiar with the book, the story is about Sophie an orphan who is kidnapped/ rescued from her dreary orphanage by the BFG, the Big Friendly Giant, who uses a gigantic trumpet to blow dreams into the windows of sleeping children.  What sets the BFG apart from other not-so-friendly giants is commitment to not eating humans, n stark contrast to his fellow giants who subsist entirely on a diet of human flesh.  With Sophie's help, the BFG tries to stop the murderous activities of his brethren.

This is a great book to read with children, nieces or nephews, or precocious pets.  In typical Dahl style, novel is clever, captivating, and seriously funny.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Rating: ♥♥♥

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="200"] Image via Tower Books[/caption]

Written at the close of World War II, while Brecht was in exile in America, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is an emotionally riveting play set in a politically unstable nation in the Caucus Mountains during the feudal era.  The play calls upon both the Biblical story of King Solomon as well as the Chinese tale of the Chalk Circle in its depictions of two mothers who lay claim to a child.  Who is a mother, the play asks: the woman who gave birth to a child, or the woman who raises and provides for that child?

Though I wouldn't say that this is the best play I have ever read, it is a thought provoking read and adds another layer of dimension to one's understanding of armed conflict and its effect on the human spirit.  So, if you are more inclined to spend your time at the beach in over-sized Jackie O glasses under a gigantic umbrella, give Brecht a chance.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="369"] Image Via Wikipedia[/caption]

I. Love. This. Book.  I had encountered it shortly after its release 13 years ago (I was in high school at the time) and I remember I paid it fleeting attention.  Earlier this summer, under the gun to assign a summer reading book to one of my classes that didn't disrupt the flow of the curriculum, I selected this book.  The novel is frequently used by Advanced Placement teachers in the classroom and perfectly bridges the curriculum students would have encountered in their previous year of schooling; so, I selected it and decided to tuck into it again in earnest this summer.  Oh my goodness did I love the book.

The novel follows the lives of the five women of the Price family (a mother and her four daughters) across five decades as they go to Africa with their patriarch on a mission trip to the Belgian Congo that quickly goes off the rails.  This is an entirely simplistic summation of a highly nuanced novel that is both evocative and compelling.  In poetic language, Kingsolver manages to not only chart the lives of the Price women, but to paint a vivid portrait of the cognitive dissonance that has long gripped the Occidental world in relation to its eastern neighbors.  I don't want to give away too much about this book because I want you to read it.  It's lovely, touching, it's a must read.

What have you been reading this summer?  What's next in your book queue?  Share in the comments!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Summer Vacation, Days 14 & 15: Errands, Chores, and What's to Come

The past few days, I have been working diligently on some chores around the house and running home and school related errands.  Since I have been busy with mundane activities, I haven't had the opportunity to really prepare an informative top-notch post for my readers.  Now, while I am sure you empathize with the household activities I need to attend to, I am also confidant that they wouldn't rock your world either; so, I won't bother any of you with the details.  Instead, I thought I would let provide my readers with a preview of posts that I am planning to write within the next week or so.

  • My tips for getting the best price on college textbooks

  • An announcement about how you can benefit from my know-it-all-ness outside of Wordpress

  • A revision to my summer reading list

  • An update of what I have already read this summer with reviews and recommendations

  • Review of films available to rent or stream that I have recently watched

  • My tips for getting your high schooler or new junior college student ready for the new academic year

Let me know is there are any more how-to posts, reviews, or commentaries that you'd like me to put on my blog in the comments.

Later, gators!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Summer Vacation, Day 13: Washing Le Pug

In keeping with my theme for this weekend, today was again uneventful.  I ran a couple of errands and did some cleaning around the house.  Really, the only out-of-the-ordinary thing that I got up to this Sunday was washing my pug which, as those of you who are pug parents well know, is no easy task.  Given pugs' propensity to be fussy bathers, not to mention their assorted health challenges, I've become something of an expert on DIY dog bathing.  You don't need to take your pooch to a groomer every week in order to le pup clean.

[caption id="attachment_200" align="aligncenter" width="225"] My lovely pug girl at bath time.[/caption]

  1. Bath your dog regularly.  If you bath your dog every week (like I do) or every other week, you'll help to keep your dog's skin and coat healthy.  Also, when you bathe your dog at regular intervals, the task of keeping them tidy wont be quite so gargantuan.  Plus, the more you bathe your dog, the more use they will be to taking a bath . . . and the less fussy they will eventually become!

  2. Know your dog's challenges and use the correct, high-quality grooming products.  Dogs, like humans, have different types of hair/fur textures and skin challenges; as such, it is important that you select a shampoo and conditioner for your dog that is made specifically for dogs and that addresses your dog's particular challenges.  For instance, pugs as a breed generally have dry skin and thick, short undercoats; so, I use a soothing shampoo that also moisturizes her coast and calms her itchy skin.  Again, also make sure that you are selecting a shampoo that is made for dogs and that is of a high quality; I personally suggest using John Paul Pet Products which you can purchase online or in your local human salon.  Using a product that is made for dogs allows your pup to still smell like a canine; if your dog doesn't smell like a dog to other pups, they run the risk of being attacked.

  3. Don't forget the extras!  When you are preparing to wash your dog, don't forget the Epi-Otic to clean your dogs ears, wipes to clean their muzzle, dental wipes or gauze to clean their teeth, or the soothing ointment, like Bag Balm, for your dog's pads.  Note: I prefer to use Epi-Otic to ear wipes because the solution breaks up excess wax inside of the ear canal, not just in the outer ear.

  4. When not to wash your dog: when they have stitches; when it's raining; when they've just had a flea treatment; when they have been injured and are currently recovering; when they have previously been upset; when you don't have time to do a thorough, careful job; when you don't have all of your materials ready to go; when you're in a bad mood; right before they're due for a bathroom break; any time you don't feel like you can devote your focus to the task.

  5. Have your materials ready to go: Always have all of the materials that you are going to use when washing your dog on hand before you put your pup in the bath.  Have all of your bottles lined up in the order that you are going to use them.  Have your dog's towles already set and ready to go.  Have the bath water (warm, but not hot; no higher than your dog's "knees") already run before you bring them in.  Also, make sure you have a small tumbler on hand to help rinse your pooch. :-)

  6. Washing, Step 1: After you have put your pup into the bath, start with an Epi-Otic to clean your dog's ears.  Squirt a small amount of the solution into your dog's ear canal then massage the cartilage behind your dog's ear, which helps to break up any excess wax.  After you've massaged the ear, allow your dog to shake the solution out of their ear; then take a clean cotton ball and clean any access wax that has now collected on the inside of your dog's ear flap.  Repeat the process for the next year.

  7. Washing, Step 2: Wet your dog down with warm (but not hot!) water and start scrubbing them with your high quality dog shampoo.  Make sure that you keep the suds out of your pup's eyes, scrub their legs, and check their paws for any scrapes or injuries.  Once you've worked your dog into a nice lather, rise your dog making sure to use either your hands or your small tumbler to gently poor water over your pup; I do not recommend using a hose or a shower attachment for this purpose, you run the risk of upsetting your dog or splashing soap into their eyes.

  8. Washing, Step 3: Use a conditioner to help improve the quality of your dog's coat and skin.  Follow the procedure for washing in regards to conditioning.

  9. Drying: Lift your dog out of the tub and place them on a towel; take a second towel and place it over your dog's head; allow your dog to shake themselves.  Using the two-towel system allows your dog to do what they naturally do-- shake themselves when they are wet-- while making the task of drying them far simpler.

  10. The Burrito: If your dog is small enough, use the towel you have placed over your dog to swaddle them up, like in the picture below.  Make sure to not bind your dog uncomfortably, but to swaddle them and keep them in your arms while you tend to their other grooming needs; it is often a good idea to have an adult partner at this phase in the grooming.

    [caption id="attachment_197" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The Burrito.[/caption]

  11. Ointments & cleaning their muzzle: While your dog is in the burrito, carefully take one of their paws out at a time and apply any ointments to their pads (especially important in the cold of winter and heat of summer, when paws can get dry or painful).  Also take this opportunity to use a wet wipe to carefully clean your dog's muzzle; make sure, if your dog has folds on his or her face, to carefully clean between their creases.

  12. Teeth cleaning: While your dog is still swaddled in the burrito, take a piece of soft gauze and wrap it securely around your index finger.  Take your index finger and carefully rub the front and back of your dog's teeth to remove some of the plaque.  Make sure that you aren't rubbing hard and that you keep a careful hold of the gauze-- you don't want your dog to eat the gauze or choke on it, so be careful with this step.

After your dog has been washed, dried, beautified, and covered in lineaments, they are now ready to run around the house . . . and get a yummy reward for their cooperation.

What steps do you follow when bathing your own dog?  Let me know below!

Tot morgen, lezers!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Summer Vacation, Day 12: Laudry, Discounts, Reading, and Films

Today was a lazy Saturday, to say the least.  It's now just past six in the evening and the only real accomplishments I can count are that I managed to wash and dry three loads of laundry and managed to save a bundle on a soda run to CVS, which are hardly the stuff of legendary weekends.  Further, in true milquetoast-Jamie fashion, the only plans I have for this evening involve facial masks, unpacking some things from the great carpet instillation move, reading my book, and watching a film for research.  Yes, everyone, I am that hardcore.

Yet, before I sign off for today, I wanted to reiterate the importance of always keeping your coupons and discount cards on your person; you never know either when the shopping spirit will hit you, or when you will be able to combine a sale price with a coupon and some incentive cash.  Today alone, I saved 75% on my CVS run and I saved about $30 earlier in the week by combining club-card offers, member discount coupons, and manufacturer coupons.  Remember, like I said earlier in the week, you don't need to be crazy and live like a hoarder in order to save big time with coupons-- you just need to think strategically and be prepared.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Summer Vacation, Day 11: Hellish Heat Five Step Survival Guide

It's summer and oy vey is it hot.

Much of the United States is suffering under weeks' (months'?) worth of oppressive heat with little hope of relief on the horizon.  With mother nature apparently on an extended vacation, there is little else to do with one's days other than to persist.  Having lived the entirety of my life in a warm climate my entire life, I've got some tips to help you make it through these triple digit days:

  1. Stay inside:  During the warmest parts of the day (usually from around 2 to 6 in the afternoon/ evening), stay inside and limit any physical activities; I know it goes without saying, but it's worth repeating.  Try to run any outdoor errands or exercise either early in the morning or after the sun has gone down.  I didn't follow my own advice a few days ago and, if you'll remember, I ended up in the proverbial poop.

  2. Avoid using your oven: It's hot outside, you don't really want to eat a hot meal!  What are you-- crazy?  Eat a sandwich or a salad, sheesh.

  3. Keep yourself slathered in sunscreen: Skin cancer is all-too-common in our country; so limit the possibility of developing the disease by wearing a broad spectrum SPF that will give you long-lasting coverage.  Also, remember that no matter how long lasting a sunscreen may claim to be, you still have to frequently reapply less you loose your sun protection.  If, like me, you worry about your sunscreen breaking you out, make sure to pick a day moisturizer with an SPF in it, like Nutrogena Oil-Free Moisturizer with SPF 15, as well as a translucent mineral SPF you can wear over or in lieu of makeup.

  4. Keep your pets inside: Pets aren't able to regulate their body temperatures as efficiently as their human counterparts, so make sure you keep them inside and cool, too!  Also, help your pets stay cooler buy putting ice cubs in their water dishes to encourage them to drink more water or my feeding them frozen bites of their favorite fruits or veg to help cool them down.  Just because your pooch can't (and shouldn't!) eat a Popsicle doesn't mean they can't enjoy their own healthy frozen treat.  Try frozen berries or slices of bananas. :-)

  5. Embrace Peppermint: On a hot day, nothing will cool you down more than a little peppermint!  Add a little extract to a glass of water to make it instantly cooler and more refreshing.  Drink a cup of mint tea or green tea with mint extract and feel refreshed . . . and soak up some lovely antioxidants.  Or, my favorite suggestion of all, wash up with some peppermint-infused soap, or add some peppermint essential oil to your bath to cool down your skin after a long, hot day.

I hope these tips come in handy for you this summer.  If you have some suggestions of your own, share them in the comments below and I'll add them to the list and give you credit for your contribution.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Summer Vacation, Day 10: (Mild) Heat Stroke, Thoughts on (Non-Extream)Couponing

Yesterday, it seems, I over did it with the heat exposure and I have been suffering the consequences since last night.  Yes, dear readers, yours truly suffered what was most likely a mild heat stroke.  After spending most of the day laid up and engaged in minimal activity, I am very nearly back to normal.
Given my current recuperative state, I haven't been up to much today, so I thought I would offer my readers some of my tips for non-extreme couponing.  For those who know me IRL or who follow my exploits digitally, know that I am a bargain mavin . . . and I am extremely lazy.  So, leave it to me to work up a routine for saving money without having to much.   Here are some of my best tips:
  1. If you check the mail, they will come: Every Tuesday and Wednesday, I seem to get coupons and weekly sale ads in the mail.  Most of the coupons I seem to get are for products that I never use; however, there are at least half a dozen coupons per week that are for items I routinely use (like detergent packs, for instance) and that I will be able to use before the expiration date. 

    I also use the weekly circulars to plan my shopping list.  Generally my shopping lists are vague (e.g., veg, fruit, meat), so I look to see what is on sale and where and I fill my cart accordingly.  Shop the sales, people: if there is an item that you eat routinely (Kraft Mac and Cheese, in my case), buy it in bulk while it is on sale.  Really, there is no point to stock up in a sale unless you are really going to use things you are buying. 
  2. Hit the internet: There are lots of coupon sites online that you can look at before you buy.  If you're going to buy something online, check out Retail Me Not for promotional codes you can redeem for your online purchases.  If you're going to the supermarket, also look at coupon sites like for printable savings you can take with you.  Which brings me to my next point . . .
  3. Sign up for discount cards and savings emails: If the stores you frequent offer a discount card or have discount emails they send their customers, sign up for them!  Again, odds are you will end up deleting a vast majority of the emails that you will be sent, but there may be that discount that you just can't pass up.
  4. Double-up: There are some stores that will allow you to use more than one coupon for a single item (e.g., CVS, Target); if you have them, use them . . . especially if they are already on sale.
  5. Don't toss all of your receipts aside: You'll often get coupons with your receipt at check-out, look them over before you crumple them up at the bottom of your bag.  Sometimes you will be given a coupon for a certain amount off of your next purchase or you will be given a promotional offer that is worth your wile.  Check them out before you chuck them out.  And lastly . . .
  6. Keep them organized: You can't use them if you can't find them; keep your coupons handy.  I keep mine in a small freezer bag in my purse so they are always there for me when I need them.  You can never be sure when an urge to shop may hit!
So, what are your tips for saving big without really trying?  Share in the comments!
Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Summer Vacation, Day 9: Films, Bargains, Accomplishments Galore

Hello, hello, dear readers!  I hope today's post finds you in good health and great spirits.  I, for one, am on top of the world because I have made tremendous progress towards my own summer goals.  First, if you have read my updated entry from yesterday, you will know that I had been preparing, somewhat haphazardly, for my driver's permit test.  This morning I had my testing appointment and I thankfully passed.  It's quite a jaunt out to the DMV and I am not sure my resolve to get my permit could have sustained a second trek out to the office in order to retest; so, hurrah for moi!  Also, let me just say that I would, under no circumstances, advise anyone to go to the DMV without making an appointment online; I was in and out of the office in less than an hour, but the other unprepared fools who arrived before me appeared to be in for a long wait as I skipped off to Starbucks.  So, long story long, there's goal #11 accomplished!

This afternoon, I went to the movies and finally saw The Dark Knight Rises which I greatly enjoyed-- more so than The Dark Knight, which I believed couldn't be surpassed in terms of action movie amazingness.  I'd been avoiding seeing the movie for the past few weeks for obvious reasons; it just didn't feel right . . . as though a respectable amount of time hadn't elapsed.  This week felt more decorous, so I saw the film; it was brilliant, but I won't say anything about the film in case anyone hasn't seen it yet.  :-)

Last night, I also watched a documentary on Amazon Prime Instant Video that was nothing to write home about.  The catch with Prime Instant Video is that it's really scatter-shot.  So, for each amazing gem you find, there are twenty more turd sandwiches to make you question your fundamental belief in humanity.  Nonetheless, I was able to knock two films off of my goal to watch ten this summer.

While waiting for today's showtime to roll around, I bought two books at an independent bookshop (one new and one used) that I needed to purchase for my own use at work.  Total, these two finds cost less than $15.00-- a definite bargain as far as books go!  If you're curious about what I am/ will be reading for work, feel free to check out my Teacher Reading List on Good Reads which lets you know what is in my immediate reading queue.  Please note that books in this list are ones that I have often read in the past and are re-reading in order to prepare for instruction.

So, what are y'all reading and have you set any summer goals for yourselves?  Let me know! :-)