Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Last Week in Pictures!

My Surprise Party! The Pirate Family with Susan, Katryn and me.

My grandparents met their third great-grandchild, little Edward.

My honorary nephew Clark celebrated his first birthday in fine style. His "Aunt" Katryn gave him Dr. Seuss books!

Thanksgiving dinner on the sunporch. Did the Norman Rockwell picture feature quite so much wine?

The newest addition to my collection of honorary nieces, Miss Georgia Ramirez. She's a little doll at four months old.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cirque de 35 Ans

Today was my 35th birthday.

I got up for lunch (insomnia last night kept me from dropping off until 4 AM), checked my email (none of my siblings remembered my birthday) and then went back to bed. My parents took me to Cirque de Soliel's Alegria show this evening, and afterwards we went to the grocery store and bought whipped cream and 4 kinds of ice cream, then sat in a silent trio at the kitchen table and did today's newspaper Sudoku.

The parentals just went to bed. I'm going to pop a couple more zinc lozenges (I'm battling an encroaching cold) and toddle off bedward myself. Am I getting old?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Burn Notice

My DC/AC car power converter overheated Tuesday just outside the beltway on I-95, and I charred two stripes on my left index finger on it (the plastic had turned molten inside the power port, so it's a wonder the car didn't ignite, ruining all my clothes and my entire jewelry collection). It's uncomfortable to type, so this will be brief.

Thanksgiving was terrific. We met up at the new "family compound" outside Asheville, NC--my father's brother and his wife, instead of downsizing for their retirement years, just moved into a 4-story, six-bedroom, five-bath mountain retreat with enough sleeping space for a host of relatives (they'd been building it for 2 years, planning it for five--my uncle used to be a general contractor). Many of my cousins had turned the holiday into a long weekend (all the bedrooms were occupied, including the "kids room," with its three bunkbeds for the small fry), and permanent invitations were extended to all and sundry--"Just let us know a week ahead" (I know where I'll go now when I feel like "running for the hills" away from DC!). All thirty of us ate dinner at a George Washington-style single table (1-inch plywood on sawhorses) on the long sunporch overlooking the valley and the Appalachians. Maybe next year the other seventeen or so immediate family members who couldn't make it will be there! A good time, and a good meal, were had by all--it was the first time in seven or so years I'd made it to any family event on my father's side (including weddings and the one funeral), and I'd missed so much--there were new (second) cousins to meet in person, relocations to catch up on (my cousin James and his family have been living in Leesburg for the past three years, and I didn't even know it!), and new in-laws to meet (my oldest cousin has married a Michigan firefighter and relocated to a township 45 minutes Southwest of Detroit; given that his father is the local firechief, I may now be practically "related" to the NPV. Heh, heh.). And there were great stories to hear. I wish I had inherited my paternal branch's yarnspinning skill!

Clearly, my finger soreness is not bad enough to keep this post short--but I'd best quit before I'm forced to. So, more later.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I’d Make a Lousy Spy

My fantasies about being the next James Bond were short-lived, existing for only an afternoon or so in 1984, when the Mondale/Ferraro vs. Reagan/Bush campaign was heating up, and the Evil Empire was still a perpetually frozen tundra punctuated by the occasional onion dome and surrounded by barbed wire, ragged wooden watch towers, and grey men with machine guns. That hot, Southern summer afternoon, I was playing by myself on top of a dirt pile in our yard (my father was in the midst of installing a French drain system on the back of our steeply-graded lot, and what might have been lawn was a mess of ditches, piles of red Georgia clay and coils of perforated black plastic pipe), imagining myself as a secret agent, when it occurred to me that my acting skills were nil, and if asked by a sinister SMERSH operative in an ill-fitting suit and ugly shoes what I was doing skulking around Moscow in a trench coat, I’d immediately ‘fess up. So being a CIA agent was out for me, career-wise. But I always considered my observational skills to be above par. As of Saturday, I can no longer boast of being so perceptive—I was taken completely unawares by a surprise birthday party Susan and Steven had planned for me, this though some of the costumes in my closet were missing (being worn by people at the party, it turned out!), something I subconsciously noted as I was getting dressed to go out to (what I thought would be) dinner that evening, but to which observation I attached no immediate importance.

Saturday, the market was dead. Not a sale in sight. Anita and I debuted a new display system, and the set-up was attractive, but there was no one walking through to attract. And a fellow marketer, an Israeli photographer, spent about twenty minutes at our booth railing on right-wingers, using the same hysterical tone and pejorative perspective that he attributed to those “evil racists.” Conspiracy theories make me tired, whichever end of the political spectrum is originating them. (I was further exhausted, though in a nice way, by an hour-long interview that I did with a free-lance writer for a local paper—I thought she was going to write about the jewelry business, but it turned out that she was more interested in the Russian angle. Hope I didn’t say anything obviously stupid, since our conversation was taped!)

So, when I got home from the market, I was longing for time alone, thoroughly dreading the “really nice restaurant” that Steven had said he and Susan (and our friend Katryn, who’s staying with us for the week) were taking me to that night. Was there any way I could get a rain check on the crystal, china and steak, I wondered? Katryn just listened to me stomp around muttering about this, and was sympathetic and non-committal. I even called Susan to ask if Steven might consider postponing, but she said he had reservations for 6:30, and we were actually going to Medieval Times, rather than some five-star joint downtown. The prospect of yelling at armored men riding horses and eating chicken with my fingers—and not having to make polite subdued chitchat in genteel surroundings—cheered me considerably, and Susan encouraged me to get a nap beforehand. I took a shower and went to bed. Didn’t sleep, but it was good just lying down in the quiet.

About 6, Susan rousted me and told me that we were going to dress up for our evening out. Just for fun, in costumes. She and Katryn were so enthusiastic that I joined right in—Katryn in a Renaissance-style purple gown I got years ago from the University of Michigan theater department via eBay, Susan in a Jane Austenish cranberry and cream dress, and I in a queenly wine velvet frock which I’d finally had fixed just weeks ago (I put my heel through the hem at a Christmas party in 2006 and had just had it hanging around, damaged and undrycleaned, ever since).

I’m probably the only person in the history of surprise parties to have spontaneously suggested that she wanted to go to the place her friends are trying to get her—on the drive to meet Steven at his apartment building, I asked if we had time to see the party room there, since Susan and I want to have our Christmas bash this year in a place with a little more elbow-room than our tiny apartment, and we just hadn’t had a chance to inspect this possible new venue. Susan asked Steven when he met us in the parking garage if we could see the room, and he said sure—it might be under renovation, but we could check. So the four of us took the elevator straight up to the top floor. When we opened the door to the room, and all these people in costumes and masks yelled “Surprise!” I thought we had accidentally stumbled into somebody else’s event, and tried to draw back, embarrassed. But my friends continued into the room, somebody said, “Happy Birthday!” and then I recognized people. Oh, my.

It was so nice—one of my honorary nieces and five of my honorary nephews were there, friends from my old Bible Study, church, undergrad university—folks drove in from as far away as North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and even flew from Switzerland and the Czech Republic (business trip happenstance, but still…). And even my dear college roommate (newly graduated from law school and passed the VA bar) had come, with her new guide dog. It was so great to see her after a full eight years of silence (not a result of hard feelings, just time and distance). I teared up a couple of times talking to people, conscious that for all my financial poverty, I’m really rich in relationships. Just this past Wednesday night, I couldn’t sleep, and so I’d decided (instead of my usual whiny “please God, help me” or “forgive me for [the latest repetitive screwup]” prayers) to just thank God for all the great friends and family he’d put in my life, and here so many of them had come together to wish me a happy birthday! It was awesome. There was a potluck supper (loads of food) and chocolate cake and cupcakes for dessert. The cupcakes had little plastic toppers in the shapes of smiley-faces and butterflies, which turned out to be rings—a big hit with the small fry, who ate their cupcakes and then went around the room pretending the rings were magic.

There was a giant birthday card and a collection of normal-sized ones (half featuring cats—hmm, I wonder how they knew I like them?), many with gift cards, and one addressed to “Fireball,” which is Mr. B’s nickname for me (he didn’t get to come, but he did send the card). Sweet. Taylor, a member of my Scrabbling circle (who also comes to trivia Monday nights) gave me a lovely bouquet of flowers, and the only stranger at the party (the friend of a friend; he told a rather good Polish-Russian rivalry joke) presented a bottle of wine. Besides the six children, there were twenty-eight people there, not including me! I think a good time was had by all—I certainly had a superb time chatting with everybody, catching up with people that I hadn’t talked to in months or years, grinning my fool head off.

After we’d cleaned up, Steven, Susan, Portia, Katryn and I went down to his apartment and drank a bottle of champagne, each of them toasting me, and then I toasted them collectively. I have an unsurpassable collection of friends—they are kind, forgiving, enthusiastic, energetic, and interesting. That they put up with me, and seem amused by my antics, listen to my moaning and rejoice with me at pivotal moments is a source of ongoing amazement to me. Many are godly, sources of spiritual comfort and encouragement, siblings in my Church family (whatever their Christian denomination); all have stuck with me through good times and bad (some have walked with me through extremely dark episodes, holding my hand literally and figuratively at moments when I felt repulsive and unlovable). Each one is a dear, precious to me for his or her character, cheerfulness and charity—and their generosity has been not only expressed toward me, but also toward hosts of other souls in need of friendship and solace. You guys demonstrate Jesus’ love, and I love you all for this. Again, thank you for a great 35th birthday celebration!

Embarking on the second half of my alotted three-score-years-and-ten doesn't seem a woeful prospect anymore!

[Pictures will be posted when I get them—in true KYP fashion, I dropped my camera getting out of Susan’s car in the parking garage (I found it, lying unharmed on the concrete, after the party) and so I didn’t get to take any photos myself. Lots of other people did, though.]

Friday, November 20, 2009

Screaming Teenage Girls at Twilight

New Moon was a lot of fun. The theater was packed (there were two showings at the same time, and both were sold out). Leah and I stood in line for 35 minutes and ate cinnamon ice cream, then snagged good seats. I have never been awash in so much estrogen--there were perhaps 15 guys in the whole 150+ seat room. When Robert Pattinson came on screen, there were shrieks of adoration from all around. When Taylor Launter took his shirt off, I do think some girls swooned entirely away. I was as amused by the audience as I was by the movie, and the movie had a lot of good funny lines. Much crisper, neater consolidation of the book material this time around. I'll probably go with another girlfriend or two to see it while it's still in wide release, and I most definitely will eventually own it on DVD (though probably not until it goes below $6 on can wait). A great chick-flick.

I turned in my grant proposal yesterday.

Leah has arranged for me to do an all-day jewelry show the second week in December at her son's school. I look forward to seeing how well Anita and I do at Georgetown and then the week after at St. Whatsisname's. This afternoon I created, printed up, cut out and distributed 750 postcard-size flyers to staff and graduate student mailboxes for the Georgetown show. I need to distribute about that many more Monday morning before I leave for GA--I only got to one building. And thus far, I don't have any volunteers to assist me, other than the sweet Leah and Anita's husband.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Not So Crappy

The IREX people have extended the grant application deadline to November 20. It seems I was not the only one experiencing technical difficulties with the site yesterday (and, their email implied, yesterday wasn't the only day such problems had occurred). Thank God. This will not only give me the chance to upload what I have done, but to complete any other categories I've left incomplete, and correct any errors in my virtual paperwork. I am vastly relieved.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Crap, Crap, Crap!

OK, so I spent all day (truly productively) on Friday drafting the IARO grant proposal, a printout of which I drove over to my advisor's house at 4 PM. (Then I took him to the liquor store because he was out of cigarettes, but that's another story.)

Saturday, before and after a slow day at the market, I spent a while on editing, Sunday I worked on the bibliography, and Monday the thing underwent more revisions and I met with my Russian recommender (who carefully submitted the required form after quizzing me on the project in that language). Today I finished up making changes, incorporating my advisor's comments, and spent more hours culling and consolidating the bibliography. In the end, I had about six single-spaced pages of works to be consulted, half primary sources.

By 3:30, I was done, and logged onto the IREX system to upload the necessaries. I hit the "save and return" button on the very first subsection, and the server shut down. I don't think I, personally, killed it, but whatever and whoever responsible, it died. And remained dead. The application and all supporting documentation were due at 5 PM.

I prayed, and I telephoned. Neither of the two people responsible for the program were answering their extensions. I left messages on both voicemails. Then I emailed the general contact address, attaching the documents I still lacked in Word format and explaining what had happened. Since I didn't get to hit the "submit" button on the online form, who knows what they'll be able to access, or--let's be honest about this--what they'll be willing to access.

I'm actually remarkably calm and content about the whole technological fiasco. I did what I could--I had everything together on time, a feat considering I'd just heard Thursday that the application was due today. I've effectively got my new dissertation proposal drafted, so that's one more piece of paperwork out of the way. And I just don't have the energy to get upset--I spent hours yesterday crying (not about the application! Repeat after me: "Men are clueless slime."), and my tear ducts are toast. One's eye makeup does go on awfully easily on swollen eyelids, though--an unexpected side-benefit of misery.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dissertation Forward!

I finally met with my advisor Tuesday (our schedules simply haven't matched up heretofore), and he was not only willing to hear my dissertation revision, he was enthusiastic about my new topic--and he knew only a smidgen about Pirogov (mainly the man's proponence of women's rights). I am tickled. More than that, I'm seriously excited. Pirogov was fundamental to Russia's disease control efforts (he published on cholera), an early surgical anesthetist, and an educator who fell afoul of traditional anti-Semitism when he praised (in print) a Jewish orphanage in Odessa. And about a zillion other things. And I'm going to write the first (the Definitive) biography of him in English.

Money, is, of course, the only obstacle standing between me at the realization of this keen ambition. The International Research Exchanges Board grant application (pretty much the one on which all Russianists rely--I don't think you'll find a professor of Russian History anywhere in the United States who has not received a fellowship from them sometime in his or her career) is due November 17. That's Tuesday. I've got to construct a formal dissertation proposal, get the relevant parties to sign it, and create a grant proposal and travel plan between now and then.

Actually, I have to get the research proposal done tonight, after I've finished my scheduled meeting with my Russian conversation tutor (she knows I'm unemployed, so she's taking me on as a charity case), because my advisor says he won't write the recommendation letter without seeing my proposal, and then he needs the weekend to compose the thing.

Wee bit stressed at present, but in a good way--I feel like I am working toward a real, worthy goal. And two other professors have already told me that they are more than willing to testify to my language proficiency (Russian and French). The French recommendation has in fact already been submitted! (I'm on campus, caught the professor at the right time, and she sat down with me in her office and had finished it in a few minutes).

So, God willing, this will work. Steven told me the other day that he and Susan have been praying that somehow my dissertation would be able to be finished. It looks like we'll be finding out! Look out, Russia, Ukraine, Estonia (and possibly), Germany, I'm on my way.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Applications and Placement

Dex is back from Peru and will shortly be collecting his Sprint Smartview, which means I won't have Internet access at home, so I'd best take blogging advantage while I've still got it!

I feel like I'm in a quicksand of applications. After the rejection--however kind--by the first agent I approached with "Two Motherlands," I took Dex's advice and headed off to the library to pull from a list of other possibilities. Just like the job applications I've been trudging through online, each agency (if they are in fact accepting new clients, and not exclusively by referral!) has its own guidelines as to what they are looking for, and what they expect prospective authors to send them to pique their interest.

It's kind of like going through college applications again, except that 1) there is much more information required, and 2) you don't know what makes for a successful candidacy. With college applications, I could count on being admitted to at least one program, but with job and manuscript applications there's no such assurance. It's kind of like dating. You could be perfect on paper, so to speak, but if the other doesn't fall in love with you, it's a no-go.

Although my best efforts have been heretofore insufficient in gaining either employment or publication (or romance), my Monday night Trivia team is experiencing a pleasant period of success. Last week, we finished 2nd, and last night, we came in first. Which meant that my margarita both times was free. And I'm doing better at darts. Which is to say that I usually hit the board these days, rather than the floor, walls, or other players. We are all happy about this.

Monday, November 09, 2009


Enough with the catty comments from the relatives. Yes, I am a packrat, and a clumsy person, too. All the agent correspondence was via email (see? no paper rejection letter to hold onto), and there were no obvious "this is how you use this" directions on the lat machine (so I can be forgiven for pulling the bar behind my head, can't I?). Give a girl a break.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Wrecks of Various Types

I haven't had a car accident, thank God! But I did almost take off my own nose on Saturday evening. Susan had shooed me out the door when I said I was debating between taking a nap and working out, and I am glad she did--I spent 45 minutes on the Stairmaster, 30 on the exercise bike, and then another half an hour on a hybrid glute-buster apparatus that really worked up a sweat (not that I was bone-dry after my previous exertions). My legs having been toned, I went to the Lady Gold's room to work on my arms. The last machine was one with a bar that you could pull down either to your chest or to your shoulder blades, and after a couple of pulls to my back I decided to move to the front. And cut it a little close. The agony. I thought my nose might be broken, and was surprised when it didn't start pouring blood. You wouldn't think that a nose as small as mine could hurt so much. I think it's just badly bruised, though I couldn't breathe much through it when I went to bed last night. The internal swelling has since subsided, judging from the fact that I can now take in air without opening my mouth like a fish. Poor little nose.

After I slammed my schnoz (an incident nobody saw in person), I decided I'd exercised enough for one day, and so I grabbed my keys and waterbottle and headed out into the parking lot. Where I fell in a pothole. It was really more of a "pot-bowl" because the asphalt was sagging several inches down into a depression, rather than cracking. There was one witness to that graceful move, but at least he refrained from any snide remarks. I might have bitten his head off, otherwise. And choked to death on it, given my luck at the time.

Better providence awaited me at home, where Steven and Susan were (unbeknownst to me) preparing a five-star repast of stuffed salmon, garlic bread with rosemary, sauteed greens, and butternut squash. And wine. Oh, my. Our friend Amy came over at 7:30 and the four of us had a relaxed candlelit dinner, and then sat down to watch Star Wars, which Susan hadn't seen since she was about five.

This morning, I took Mr. B with me to early church. I think he was a little flustered by all the paper included with the bulletin (though it's less than previously, as now the weekly updates are distributed via email), and the large-print version of the order of service just added to the stack that he shuffled uncertainly. The collective responses may have thrown him a bit, too--although there's often an "amen corner" in small Bible churches, you don't find the unison reading of formally-worded confessions and professions which are dear to the hearts of Presbyterians. Still, he said he enjoyed it--he really paid attention to the sermon, and remarked afterwards that he liked the preacher--but he wasn't interested in attending Sunday School, so when the service let out we chatted with a few folks and then I took him home. And I went down for a nap. Susan got me up at 2 with the news that lunch was waiting--she and Steven had again produced a nice meal, this one of pork chops, rice, salad and ice cream. Ahhh. My nose would have twitched with pleasure if it weren't still throbbing.

Speaking of good food and wrecks, Amy and Susan and I drove up to Bethesda Thursday evening to attend the most-local stop on the CakeWrecks ("This time, it's personal") "World" Book Tour. We left home 30 minutes before the event started (GoogleMaps said it would take 21 to get there) and arrived half an hour late. There was an accident on the Key Bridge involving a GUTS bus. Jen and John, the authors of the CakeWrecks blog, are clever, friendly and funny in person, too--we got to hear the tail-end of the Q&A session. And then there was (of course!) free cake. And then the opportunity to meet the two of them. Susan and Amy, not being Wreckies, took themselves off to the bookstore cafe to wait for me, while I waited to be called into the Presence. Due to my tardiness, I was close to the back of the line, and given there were about 200 people there, and that Jen and John (kindly and appropriately) took time to talk to each one, it was pretty late before I was done.

Saturday was the first weekend since almost April that Anita and I were actually at the Arlington Market together. The gorgeous, sunny and cool weather didn't work in our favor, however, as all of the DC area seemed to be out walking, jogging, biking or hiking, but not shopping at our little market. We packed early, which meant that I was home in time for a late lunch, and had the luxury of deciding whether to nap or exercise. And you all nose the rest of the story.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

World's Nicest Rejection

I heard back from the William Morris agent this afternoon. I got what could well be considered the nicest first-time submitter's rejection ever. In part, it read:

Needless to say, this is a fascinating historical document. Unfortunately, after reading the manuscript I have to conclude that this will be an extremely difficult book to place with a traditional trade publisher. While the back and forth exchange is an incredible window into these times & places, the lack of a true, binding central narrative will make this work extraordinarily difficult to market to the general intelligent lay reader. I wish I had some relatively easy solutions to this problem, but I can't come up with any, and therefore I think it would make most sense to pursue an academic publication in the US.

Again, I'm so sorry I don't see myself being able to make this work, but thank you very much for your consideration and for the opportunity.

I'm impressed by the kindness of the whole email, although I am thoroughly disappointed by this setback, and I do think that the book does indeed have a "true, binding central narrative," which may not have been obvious from reading just two chapters. Be that as it may, there is work to be done--approaching academic publishers with what is, at its base, an exploration of what God did in the life of a 20th century communist Russian family. This may be a tough sell.

Or should I try to talk to another agent? I truly think the book should be mass-marketed, not produced by a university press with limited distribution potential and high per-volume cost. I could use a neat dose of wisdom right about now...

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Off to the Gym

Government job online applications are their own special form of hell, with more than double Dante's circles, and within each of these spheres, more sub-spheres, like cloves in a head of garlic. It would take any reasonable person hours to complete the process; for a somewhat unreasonable person like myself, that time is exponentially extended. I just finished one application that took me days to assemble--partly because the system crashed on me yesterday morning, when I'd plugged in about half the information, and though I'd been hitting the "save draft" key religiously, it not only didn't save the latest version of the draft, it ate all the previously-inserted data, except for my name, address and telephone number! Susan was home sick yesterday and had to listen to me rant. Poor girl!

One of the checks finally arrived in today's mail! Still haven't heard anything from the book agents.

The weather is superb, bright, clear and cool, and I'm going to revel in this by going over to the gym this afternoon, rewarding myself for my mental exertion by producing some physical sweat. Mr. B has said he wants to go to church with me and Susan this coming Sunday, so that's another reason for rejoicement. And Steven told me and Susan when he dropped by last night that the two of them are taking me to a nice restaurant the weekend before my birthday: another anticipated happiness!

Alright, time to burn some calories (all those mini Snickers bars some diabolical soul brought to Sunday School this week...)