Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Year in Review/The Year in Preview

Anno Domini Two Thousand Eight has ended, and it is time for a brief retrospective of the past year and then an equally short prospective of the coming one.

This last has been a rough year, in many respects, but even in the difficulties I have, by God's grace, been able to seen "up sides". For instance, I managed to get my heart broken for the second time in my life, and although it was thoroughly unpleasant, it may not take me ten years to recover from this particular setback. I'm a bit tougher, my faith is stronger, and I didn't have a mental breakdown. For this I am grateful. Another example: early in the year, my little niece was diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder), but intensive therapy since has worked wonders, and she has come out of her shell, talking up a storm and interacting with company which formerly would have rendered her silent and withdrawn.

God healed my little nephew's kidneys, which prenatal sonograms had indicated would be impaired. He enabled me to pass my comprehensive exams in the spring and to finish the "Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands" translation in the summer (two "wild ambitions" on the 2008 list), and he gave me a good job for the fall. He spared the lives of my uncle and of my brother's fiance, who were both in serious car accidents in the last month. My dear boss was able to return to work full-time, feeling healthy, after completing chemotherapy for breast cancer in October. I have a dissertation topic. My niece healed after infections almost took her life (and required two surgeries). I have a group of excellent Christian friends (particularly I am grateful for my terrific roommate!), and several delightful non-Christian buddies. I am blessed.

Nonetheless, onward and upward! Here is my fourth blog list of ambitions for this coming annum...

1. See the "Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands" manuscript accepted by a major American/British publisher to be produced for the English-speaking market.

2. Submit my formal dissertation proposal to the Georgetown University Graduate School by the end of Spring Term and apply successfully for dissertation research-grants by the end of the year. Go to Russia to visit friends and archives.

3. Go to Arkansas and dig for diamonds. Maybe, find a monster one that will pay for room, board, and dissertation-completion!

4. Learn to solder and cast silver. Learn to throw pottery.

5. Sell at least three pieces of my artwork at a gallery.

6. Write a short story or essay and get it published in a subscription magazine.

7. Learn to speak French at least as well as I can read it and write it; become really fluent in Russian.

8. Become trim and muscular--actually use that gym membership I bought over a month ago!

9. Learn to dance. Better. Didn’t happen last year, or the previous year, or the year before that--maybe this one! Hope, if not coordination, I have plenty of.

9. Visit Ireland, Canada, and the Czech Republic--or three other countries to which I've never been before.

10. Buy a house (hey, if prices go low enough, and I find a big enough diamond...).

These possible improbabilities are all dependent on me, insofar as anything can be--the whole romance/marriage/motherhood thing, or meeting a famous person, to which I have aspired in the past, really haven't been anything but vain hopes. Especially given my realized ambitions of last year, I've decided to list more things that I'd really like to accomplish in this one (OK, buying the house is rather a long shot), rather than purely idealistic fluff. I look forward to seeing how many things I can tick off as "done" at the end of 2009, Lord willing!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Third Day of Christmas

S Dawg and her family finally arrived here in GA after midnight last night--I met them in the airport in Columbia, SC, at 10:30 (they were supposed to arrive at 6:30, yet as was to be expected, the usual holiday travel woes beset them), but it took a full hour to arrange delivery of the baggage which had not arrived (despite steep surcharges to assure its carriage) and to arrange the two carseats in my mother's vehicle.

My little nephew was snoring loudly within minutes of our leaving the airport. My niece stayed awake the whole hour's drive home, and was downright sprightly at 1 AM, when we ate a quick and late evening meal. We were all in bed by 2 AM, and I was the latest riser this morning, at 9:30. When I came downstairs for breakfast, Brad was busy smearing banana on the table and floor, and Rita was cheerfully scattering cake crumbs hither and yon, having carefully decorated a slice of her grandmommy's pumpkin bread with a thin layer of applesauce, but leaving both bread and sauce otherwise unmolested.

The children, my mother and sister are off on a shopping excursion at present. The remaining three adults, including me, are indulging in separate silences, each in a different room and engaged in solitary pastimes, from Internet surfing to reading.

Christmas Day my parents and I spent briskly baby-proofing, my father installing gates at the top of the stairs, I blocking off electrical outlets and power cords, and my mother figuring out sleeping arrangements. She also cooked and baked all Thursday and Friday: the aforementioned pumpkin bread, sweet potato pies, a Mexican chocolate cake (it has cinnamon in it), kale and cabbage soup, assorted casseroles, dozens of meatballs, a pot roast, and the applesauce, among other things. We're not going to starve while the pipsqueaks are here, that's for certain.

Wednesday and Friday Mums and I spent hours at the gym, me mostly treadmilling, and she on some sort of climbing machine, then pumping iron. She's lost a scary amount of weight being ill the past six weeks, but is still more buff than most of humanity.
After both gym excursions, we made stops at a nearby grocery store to pick up provisions and her steroid meds. Both times we saw a woman who we'd rather avoid.

Not that she isn't a pleasant person, but she's classically middle-class Southern to the tips of her flower-fancier-society-leading fingertips, and we've not seen eye-to-eye on many things over the years. I was a bridesmaid in her daughter's wedding almost a decade ago--she made all the dresses. They were perfect. Her four children are married, all gainfully employed, all in the area. The men hunt or golf. The daughters have two children each, the sons four. They attend a very proper, very upright and very uptight church. They never laugh at our jokes. There's always been an implication floating in the air in our interaction that we are not quite good enough, though they have always been too polite to say so outright.

So, we managed to avoid being noticed by this lady on our Wednesday grocery trip--we saw her in the store before she saw us, and were able to duck down an aisle unobserved. Yesterday, her minivan pulled up in the parking lot right next to ours as we were stepping onto the pavement, and there was no escape. Mums and I made the best of it. "How are you!" my mother said in her best intensely jovial manner. "Did you have a good Christmas?!" Mrs. N responded that she had, that the grandchildren had all been there. She then fixed her eyes on me, "What are you doing now?" Painfully aware that I'd sweated off all the makeup I'd put on that morning, and that my gym clothes looked like crap, I responded briefly and (I hoped) devastatingly. "I'm working on my dissertation." "Where?" she asked. "At Georgetown." She fell back on another tactic: "X and Y (two sisters whom S Dawg and I have known since early childhood, but from whom we have gradually grown apart--they have both made delightful marriages to impressively wealthy men--Mrs. N's daughter was also a friend, and the three of them have kept in touch) are in town. Y is pregnant." Golly, the woman knows how to pour salt on a wound. Thank the Lord I was able to respond that I had seen Y in Baltimore a couple of months earlier and so had known that she and her husband were hoping to start their family soon. My lack of surprise seemed to take the wind out of Mrs. N's sails.

The three of us parted ways at the entrance to the store--Mums and I went off to the pharmacy, and Mrs. N went toward the deli, no doubt to pick up some ingredient for some perfect family dinner. If I were more mature, perhaps I would not be so annoyed by this sort of person, operating in her comfortable sphere of correct behavior and predictable outcomes, whose family does not indulge in the literary and thespian drama of mine. Her relatives all have safe, dull jobs in a familiar place, and they never seem to struggle with fears and tears and curiosity. Notwithstanding all these features that render them entirely dissimilar to me and mine, the fact that they don't even find us amusing is to my mind the most damning characteristic, and the one thing I find most difficult to forgive.

I shall now mutter snide remarks, chuckle madly to myself, and go down for a nap.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lucky Shamrock (The Stones are Real!)

Congratulations to my Atlanta brother and his girlfriend, who got engaged on Saturday, while they were celebrating my Granddaddy's birthday in Dublin, GA. Nate and Laura were out in the backyard searching for quatrefoil clovers, when she found the ring in the patch of green. Irish eyes were smiling and crying all at the same time!

Back in GA for Chri'mas

I got here at 7:30, and am plumb tuckered. Stopped twice for gas and twice for bathroom breaks, and listened to yet another Christopher Buckley novel on CD (this one was Boomsday, which I didn't like as much as I had Thank you for Smoking, Florence of Arabia, or No Way to Treat a First Lady, though it did have its merits--Buckley has an Ecclesiastical view of the world, such as King Solomon would have portrayed it had he been profane and less lyrical--Buckley's writing embodies a keen sense of blackly humorous exaggeration of those elements which typify the lives of power-haves and -wannahaves and the wealthy and/or witty of the American politico-cultural hubs of DC, New York and Hollywood). Sadly, I ran out of Buckley before I ran out of road, and so the last hour and a half were spent radio-surfing, which is frustrating at all times of the year, but especially so at Christmas, when one is subjected to one secular carol after another, including various bastardizations of "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

My first load of laundry is on "rinse and spin" in the machine downstairs, and I am sitting here at my parents' desktop contemplating what tasks I can conceivably accomplish before the arrival of the Chaos Squad (my sister, her husband, and their 2 small fry) on Boxing Day. Primarily, I am looking forward to catching up with the friends (both here and in DC) that I've missed over the last couple of weeks: Leah (whose two phone calls this morning were lost due to weak cell tower signals), Kara (a think-tank member in DC who has left two messages on my phone, neither of which I have gotten around to answering), and my South Carolina buddy Susanna (who has left two blog notes here, but with whom I have not spoken directly in a while). And then there's my other South Carolina friend and former roommate, from whom I received a nice birthday card saying that she missed me and that she'd just had to have her fourth back surgery in as many years--all due to having 2 vertebrae in her back ruptured in attacks by elementary school students whom she was attempting to help as a social worker. Some children are poisonous little swine. Thank God my small relatives are sweet, and carefully disciplined--though I expect they'll be a handful when they get down here to their grandparents and great-grandparents' houses!

Besides the social re-connection, I need to do my year-end business taxes (oh, joy!) and further clean out my room. And maybe I'll procrastinate a bit and read a couple of the novels I checked out of the library this morning on my way out of town... There'll be no grown-up reading when the pipsqueaks arrive, I suspect!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Happy 92nd Birthday!

Today is my dear Granddaddy's 92nd birthday!!! He has been a great blessing to me and the rest of my family for many years, and I hope he continues happy and healthy for a long, long time to come.

(He and Grandmommy are supposed to see their little great-grandson, my nephew Brad, for the first time in person at the end of this month, when he, his big sister, S-Dawg and her husband all fly down on the day after Christmas for a week-long visit.)

Bleh, And Other Schultzian Scroogishness

The atmosphere is the color of an old dishrag outside, and just as wet and yucky.

I got to work at an unheard-of 7:55 this morning, with the expectation that the department's new Xerox machines would be delivered sometime twixt 8 and 4.

But then the Secret Service intervened.

The people who were to have brought in our magnificent upgrades (these Xerox monsters are supposed to do everything, including document scanning and remote faxing, so rumor has it) had an earlier delivery to make at Boling Air Force Base, and somehow the proper clearances had not been obtained...

So, my poor sweet boss, who had expected to be able to stay home to decorate her house on Tuesday next, will have to drive all the way in from Maryland to hope they don't run into other unexpected delays.

Meantime, I plan to be driving to GA, or having already arrived.

Oh, today while I was helping him with photocopying, a young adjunct professor from Africa asked me what I was doing January 20. I told him I planned to go to the beach. He said that he'd like to ask me to one of the inaugural balls. I think he's a thoroughly nice person, but I confess I a bit concerned about the "date-like" qualities of the invitation, as I haven't any personal attraction to the man. That was, I was concerned about his intentions until just seconds ago...when he emailed me the invitation, which mentioned that the tickets were $40 a pop! A girl doesn't pay her own way to a ball, even if it means sitting at home in the cinders while the handsome prince dances the night away with other girls!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

There's Gotta Be a Punchline in Here, Somewhere

This morning, as I was waddling workward and mentally looking back over the events of the past semester, the old joke about the optimist and pessimist children came to mind.

There were two little brothers, one an optimist and the other a pessimist. Trying to bring some balance to their children's perspectives (and totally ignoring local, national and international laws concerning child abuse and general sanitation), their parents decided to see what would happen if the pessimist were presented with a room full of horse manure, and the optimist with a room full of the best toys money could buy.

To their surprise--and the eternal confirmation of their children's warped psychology--their little pessimist burst into inconsolable tears when introduced into the toy room. When asked why he was crying, he sobbed, "I'm afraid they'll all get broken..." Meanwhile, the optimist was happily rooting through his horse poop--"With all this manure, there's got to be a pony in here somewhere!"

This has been a semester best described as "challenging". The latest: my brother Nate and his girlfriend both lost their jobs last Friday morning, my great-aunt died last Wednesday, and my uncle was in a severe car accident over the weekend. And in the minor irritation corner: I got a parking ticket two nights ago, and last night, whilst attempting to shift it from a high shelf, I dropped a boxful of summer clothes on my head (further evidence that room cleanup is dangerous to the health!), making my neck sore today.


Which is not to say that there hasn't been silver lining. My mother is channeling her post-hospitalization 'roid rage into housecleaning, and my little niece offered to share her chocolate (which she gets as a reward for putting up with her twice-daily blood-thinner shots) with her little brother (a generous gesture which S-Dawg and I agreed neither of us would have made, being in the same circumstances).

And there have been several lovely moments thanks to and in the company of friends: Last Wednesday night, as a much-anticipated belated birthday gift, my friend Paul took me and Susan to see Cirque du Soliel's Kooza show at Washington Harbor. It was excellent--I felt like a little kid, awed at the sights and sounds of the impeccable performances of classic circus acts--the high-wire troop, the woman on the flying trapeze, the juggler and the acrobats, all swathed in gorgeous costumes, and interpolated with clowning and live music. Le Cirque is in the Russian style--no elephants or tigers competing for attention in multiple rings, just successive examples of human dexterity appearing on a single central stage--but with an exquisite artistic sensibility, high Western technology electronic and safety systems managing a show choreographed down to infinitesimal detail, so a humorous or thematic distraction occupies the attention of the crowd during scene changes. For a detail-oriented person like myself, even deliberately watching the seamless movement of the show's literal and metaphysical machinery was a joy.

The next evening, I went to a "cocktail party" (no cocktails, just wine and desserts) over on Capital Hill in the basement flat of a girlfriend. It was fun talking to old acquaintances and meeting some interesting government-related folks, and chatting with a well-traveled recent college grad who was looking for a cushy DC job. The Wiggle, the NPV and I had all been invited, but as the first was out of town, I carpooled over with the second, charging him with the job of designated driving (in the possible, but ultimately unrealized case that I had more than half a glass of wine over the course of the evening). But feeling mellowed by the society, if not by alcohol, I decided to let the NPV drive home as planned. I now know that vampires are absurdly conservative drivers--it was like riding shotgun with my 91-year-old grandfather, although we generally stayed in the correct lanes. Generally. We crawled through DC at a rip-roaring 25 miles an hour, tops. Terrifyingly, we approached stoplights at this same deliberate, inexorable pace, without any sign of braking, which made me panic on a couple of occasions that he didn't see the red, and was going to plow right on through, crushing the late-night pedestrians on each corner which seemed poised to leap into the roadway. Meantime, he told me how he'd gotten pulled over by the cops on the highway when coming back from home after Thanksgiving...for going too slow. I am SO not surprised.

Friday evening Susan and I went out to get a tree. It was below freezing outdoors, so our shopping was necessarily curtailed. The branches are somewhat thin, but serviceable. We scrounged up a few ornaments, and festooned it with white lights; I still need to make a star out of wire and crystal for a topper.

Saturday evening Susan, her former roommate Sparkle, a Chilean Presbyterian named Alejandro and I drove up to Annapolis to hear the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club sing Handel's Messiah. The music, the municipality's unfortunate decision to release a barrage of holiday fireworks during the tenor soloist's soulful intoning of the words "...that her warfare is ended..." (that prompted the little boy in the pew ahead of ours to whisper loudly to his grandmother, "Gramma--are we under attack!?"), and my enormous Russian fur hat all contrived to make it a memorable evening.

And the reason that I got the parking ticket this Tuesday was that I was out at a late-lunch-turned-early-supper for the History Department front office people at a nice restaurant in central Georgetown called Papa Razzi. There's two-hour street parking, and we dined for almost three. But at least I had had an appetizer (mozzarella patties and a few nibbles of calamari), the steak tenderloin entree, and a dessert (tiramisu), so I was essentially "paying" for a meal (the food having been courtesy of the department, but the $30 ticket being my responsibility) that had been worth it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Perfect Storm(s)

I am not quite up to snuff, health-wise. Went to work for several hours this morning and just couldn't concentrate, felt dizzy, weak and disconnected. As they were overstaffed, I took the opportunity to return home, take a hot lunch and a hot shower, and go to bed. To which inviting spot I shall shortly be returning.

I suspect that this physical totteriness is due to the incredible effort I expended last week, and the simultaneous distress I felt at learning of several family members' more fundamental health concerns. My immune and psychological systems have taken a blow, and I figure it will be a few days before I am back to my usual bounciness.

Last Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday was the Phi Alpha Theta Arts and Crafts Holiday Sale at Georgetown. Despite my efforts to outsource such tasks as flyer-posting, this work fell entirely to my lot, and after an hour's worth of moving material into the History Department Sunday afternoon (in the rain), Monday evening's hour's worth of moving more saleable material into the department was followed by another two of flyer-posting on bulletin boards in classroom buildings around campus. I wasn't home until almost 11 PM.

Tuesday morning's setup was a mess. It took about three times as long as I had thought it would. Then customers didn't start trickling in for hours. Huge anxiety: What if they don't come?! We eventually had a decent day, and I got home about 9.

Wednesday, I was up earlier, and setup was a breeze. The day was spectacular, sales-wise. I was calmer, we were more organized, and adrenalin had kicked in. It still took a while to pack up, and I wasn't home until after nine.

Thursday I drove in (the previous two days, I'd walked, but this time I needed to be able to pack the car with the leftovers), arriving about 7:45. Setup was proceeding reasonably well--though I was having to do all the hauling--when I got the news via my sister that both my Grandmommy and my mother were on the way to hospitals in their respective towns, each with serious symptoms. I was pretty exhausted already, stressed out from 48 hours of pleasantries to strangers, little sleep and much heavy lifting, and concern for the health of these two dear women almost did me in. To keep from thinking about that which I could not change, I threw myself fully into the sale, but by pack-up time I was in tears. Which precipitated problems with my two non-Christian friends, who attempted to cheer me up by teasing me, "Are you going to curse now?" Argh.

Friday I was flat, and further depressed by the news that my small niece had developed a 103 fever. Again. I called the NPV to tell him that I was going to occupy the couch in his common room for at least a few hours--I desperately needed to be in the vicinity of a friend--and in a fit of culinary gallantry he fed me strange sausages and delicious homemade bliny (he was aiming for standard American pancakes, but they turned Russian on him). Thus gastronomically cheered, I toddled home to brush teeth and nap.

I had another jewelry show on Saturday, at Washington-Lee High School, and it was horrible. The one good thing was we were indoors, but everybody at the so-called "Winter Bazaar" was selling jewelry. We're talking some five dozen vendors. Even the honey-sellers were plumping earrings. Some of the stuff was lovely, but most was crap, and it was priced cheaply. And unlike at Georgetown, at W-L, people were in the mood for cheap. Anita's and my sales were abysmal. And she wasn't happy with me because I'd cried instead of being cheered by the cursing comment the previous day. So I felt awful, like I was a lousy witness of my faith, as well. Plus, there was no cell-phone reception at the school--it was like being in a bunker--and so I couldn't check on my mom to see how she was doing.

I re-packed everything at the end of this depressing event and went home to refresh before going out to a party I was obligated to attend. Susan went with me, and did the driving. It turned out to be a lot of fun--superficial, but innocent--and I was vastly relieved that I hadn't sat home and felt sorry for myself, but had made the effort to be sociable.

Hiro, my Japanese friend from Georgetown, and his roommate Mark were the hosts of the "sushi soiree," as they termed it. Hiro created a "make your own sushi" bar, which included a stack of purple seaweed squares, a pot of sticky white rice, a bowl of bright orange roe, another of slimy green pickled seaweed, plates of rosy raw fish and raw filleted shrimp, a tube of wasabi sauce (which he'd bought at the farm back in Japan, so he knew it didn't have any of the Western horseradish additives) and a few other garnishes, including cooked eel and raw cucumber.

It was delicious--I made myself four such Asian "tacos" and Susan ate her fill of sushi with the anachronistic accompaniment of hot chicken wings, which were basted and cooked by a guy there who looked and sounded like an American good-ol-boy--he's from the Midwest, and works for a Republican group here in town--but has a Turkish name and turned out to be a non-observant Muslim (who intends to convert to Presbyterianism because he's heard they rarely go to church, and he wants to run for public office some day and doesn't think someone with a Muslim background can get elected--all this he volunteered in conversation with a tall skinny Muslim guy from Somalia who asked him if he were fasting these days).

In one of those "it's a small world" moments, the man who found my lost cell phone in a snowdrift a couple of years ago (and who turned out to be a fellow Russian-speaker) came to the party, too--he's a friend of Hiro's Russian-speaking roommate! [We didn't get a chance to talk to one other, but as he was leaving the party he remarked that if I found a lost cell phone anywhere, it was probably his.... I guess this'll hold true the next time I'm in Moscow, as that's where he's been of late, working for one of the major Russian banks]. Susan and I were engrossed in talking with a historian of US foreign policy and a friend of his who is in Georgetown's International Security Program. The friend, a Slavic-looking Italian guy with a feminine name, was a perfect foil for the foreign policy expert's pontifications, making hilarious remarks and flirting with me in seductively-accented English. It's nice to be treated as a good-looking woman by a witty and attractive man every now and then, and particularly after a trying week! I doubt we'll cross paths again, but it was a pleasant diversion for a relaxing evening.

And best of all, Susan and I were home by 10:15 and in bed a quarter of an hour later. Frequently, the best experiences are those that are not overindulgences, but selected savories, like the food which frequently accompanies them.