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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Well, Drat: 2014; Hoo, Boy: 2015

Really, although I proffered the standard ten on January 1, 2014, I had only two goals for this year: get the book I co-translated from Russian into English published and find a job.  I failed on both counts.  

I applied to over 100 jobs, interviewed for half a dozen, and worked at a tractor factory for five 60-hour weeks, and tutored for a while twice a week in English.  But I finish the year as innocent of employment as I began it.  Similarly, I sent off appeals to 7 presses and 13 literary agents, but I haven't gotten a positive response from any.  I'm not giving up on either account--there are probably 70 more presses and 130 more agents I will accost in 2015, and I've already written the author to ask her about her feelings re: self-publication on Amazon (I would still rather have the work issued by a refereed press, but if push comes to shove, I'll go via this internationally-networked print-on-demand and e-book service).  

I did not work so long and diligently translating that book to have it languish unread in a MS Word file.  Nor did I accumulate so much advanced education to be scraping for scraps in the economic wastebin.  I sometimes wonder if it's more likely that I'll be married and expecting quintuplets by this time next year than reach my employment and publication goals, but I'm stubborn and refuse to believe that hitherto hath the Lord helped me only to see me flounder forever.  Of course, I also realize based on documented historical examples that I may have to wallow impotently for a while (learning assorted other needful lessons)--seventeen to forty years, in fact.  I really hope that my muddling won't be that long, and that I will see success in my lifetime, but the Almighty is not obligated to crown my human efforts with success that I can measure or appreciate.

I am substantially ticked off at the moment by an event of more than a month ago, when a fellow on whom I'd had a crush in elementary and high school (we'd crossed paths early, then again, what with my parents transferring me every few years so I'd get the best education available--being the eldest child, I was the pedagogical guinea pig) messaged me out of the blue to say, after some initial flirting, and pouring out of his soul (I had suspected a chemical component to this openness, which guess was subsequently confirmed--not just a serious substance abuse issue, but also the fractured familial relationships that usually accompany it) that he'd "had a crush on me" since we'd last been classmates (25 years ago). Oy. I was initially amused, later angered, especially since a week or so ago he announced that he was "in a relationship" (with a tired-eyed mother of two who favors me superficially), as to why people can't follow Kipling's counsel to "never say one word about their loss" (hah!). I know I am an empress in the realm of Overshare, but how does my knowledge of that particular unrequited love benefit either of us? I clearly did not inspire him to better behavior, to more noble action, to temporal self-denial in hope of eventual joy!  Frankly, it's no more than ironic that we both fantasized about the other as secondary school students, and with this fresh revelation all I can think is "thank God, I was so painfully shy back then--too impaired to act on any attraction--or my life would now be a true disaster!"

Truly, as Grandmommy has told me since I was a little girl, there are worse things than being not married.  I can also say, "there are worse things than being unmarried, unemployed and unpublished." Good grief.  And I am relieved not just for myself--I think about the one boyfriend I had almost 18 years ago, who did want to marry me, and how glad I am for his sake that I decided to break off our relationship.  Even in my current impecunious situation, I have expensive taste, and I have no doubt that ours would not have been a long or happy marriage, given his economically poor background and my affection (which I am slowly, slowly learning to challenge) for beautiful (often costly) things.  I hope he and the nice lady (I knew her vaguely) whom he eventually did marry will be happy and content for the rest of their lives.  They probably have well-adjusted children.  My offspring would have been predestined maladjusted from their genetic makeup alone, no matter how carefully they were raised.

Enough mournful hypotheticals. Let's turn to "mondo beyondo" hopefuls! My 10 ambitions for 2015 include the following:

1) Get a good job with solid benefits.

2) Get the book translation published.

3) Finish the novel that I started several years ago.

4) Translate all the sources that I gathered for my dissertation and rough out the biography of Pirogov that I'd planned to write.

5) Get 3 dozen of my lamps sold in galleries (I didn't make this goal in 2014, ending up with just over a dozen sold).

6) Find a Picasso for $5 and sell it for $50,000,000 (well, probably not, but this is my metaphor for my art collecting ambitions)!

7) Adopt a cat.  A nice striped lapcat who likes to purr and doesn't regularly puke on my rugs.

8) Go abroad. Canada. Ukraine. South Korea. Peru. I'm not picky!

9) Receive more than 100 (positive and thoughtful) comments on one of my blog posts.

10) Keep going to the gym (and actually achieve the non-bubble-butt that was my goal for last year) and be able to do 5 unsupported pullups by December!

Should I add anything?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas 2014

I dreamed last night of being taken on a virtual tour of a Canadian winery area on the upper shores of Lake Michigan. I have no idea if this is wine country--I would think it too cold. But anyway, as rumble strips on the roads warning traffic to slow for stops, they had imbedded King George sixpenny pieces. Oftentimes, I can trace elements that have gone into constructing my dreams--the virtual reality tour was from the last episode of the Japanese TV serial The Perfect Insider, and the allusion to wine country was from a conversation I had with my brother Nate last night, but the Canada angle and the sixpence in the pavement were singular innovations.

Nate, his tiny dog (who bounded around like a maniac for a while and got sick several times as a result of all the Christmas ham she consumed), and his girlfriend drove in from Atlanta yesterday and stayed last night with me.  I told them there was an open pack of coffee in the freezer door for their morning use, but apparently this information didn't percolate; when I wandered into the kitchen around noon, I found a new bag of grounds had been opened, and when I went to put it away until the next coffee-drinking guest came over, I found not just one, but three others in the freezer. So, now I have four almost full bags of grounds waiting to be brewed and drunk. Come all ye coffee addicts and I will caffeinate you! 

Nate's girlfriend is a blonde bombshell from Hell's Kitchen who flips houses for a living, many of them the ex-dwellings of deceased hoarders--she says the structures tend to be fairly well-preserved under all the trash. I told her of my own experience of the hoarder with the black mold in the basement. She said there were certainly some exceptions, and was amused by the thought of the half-gross of mermaid Christmas ornaments.

While I was in DC two weeks back, I went shopping with my friend Leah, her infant son, and her parents, searching for a nice artificial Christmas tree. We went to Sears and to Home Depot, and were horrified at the prices--hundreds of dollars for a decent one between eight and nine feet tall. I love the aroma of real trees, but cut ones are a fire hazard, and for potted ones you have to have a a place to plant them after the "holiday season" is over. So, given the fact that I am close to destitute, but still have decorating ambitions, I was happy to hear that my mother had left her artificial tree for my use. "At last," I thought, "I'll have a full-size tree." (The four-foot version I got at Target years ago doesn't hold half of the ornaments I've gradually accumulated).

On Tuesday, I went into the attic and extracted the boxes of ornaments and the two containing my mother's tree and mine.  And I found that hers was only 5 feet high, including the weighted urn base! So, it wasn't a case of choosing one faux fir over the other, but of needing to use both. I wish that the combination of a four foot tree with a five footer meant that they could together accommodate the volume of decorations achievable on a nine-foot tree, but unfortunately, that's not the way math works. I set them up next to one another, the taller on the floor and the larger on a stool. Double the festivity!




Nothing says "Christmas!" like a toy Harley Hawg suspended by its neck in a noose from a hook on the wall, like the body of a hanged cattle rustler. My father used to have it dangling from the rearview mirror in his big diesel truck (I think it was a secret Santa gift from a hospital coworker).

There have been multiple moments over the last fortnight when I've thought wistfully about how I would have liked to have had children--people share what their offspring are doing, what they've said, post cute pictures, and I've observed siblings interacting, and I think, "Gosh, I'd have liked to share that parental experience." It's odd, being outside the norm of society, neither married nor employed at 40, yet still relatively capable of self-expression (as opposed to drunk and slurring on a park bench somewhere). Childlessness is not a pain that plagues me, but I do feel a sort of wistful spirit every now and then, a mildly melancholy mood from speculating what it would have been like if I'd had the opportunity to be a mother. It's odd to be past the age of certain abilities, from too old to join the military under normal circumstances to too old to easily bear healthy children, not that I really had a yen to pursue either course when I was younger!

In that vein of vanity, I have been wondering sourly if is it better to have one's best physical feature marred by surgery before it can be destroyed by advancing age? I was always unreasonably proud of my neck, and now there is a scar stretching two inches across my throat.  More immediately, there is the inescapable fact that the frenetic, fundamentally indolent period between Thanksgiving and New Years inflates the waistline and festoons the hips with unsightly panniers, tending to the silhouette of a packmule or eighteenth century duchess. I look at the shapely nude in the painting opposite my bed and wriggle my bulk despairingly under a concealing stack of warm covers, cozy in environment but uncomfortable in my own stretched flesh. However, I was too overstuffed with good food (and fundamentally lazy) after today’s midafternoon Christmas dinner with my stepdad’s family to bother to go back out to the gym. 

I did exercise yesterday, and discovered that the gym managers have changed tactics in their ongoing effort to get unthoughtful male lifters to replace the dumbbells:



Casting aspersions on the muscle men’s masculinity may work where all else has failed.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night! 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Conversations

I almost choked on my pineapple-cheese casserole when my friend Maggie's mother asked me, "What's it like, not to have to worry?" It took me a minute to figure out from what sort of worry she thought me free, since I'm fairly pessimistic overall. She was referring to my weight, as if I were some lissome creature, rather than the ordinary middle-aged mortal who occasionally has trouble zipping her jeans. I don't pig out, but I do have to watch what I eat, and as much as I might have enjoyed a glass of wine at the Christmas party where we were chowing down on heaping plates of good home-cooked food, I knew I couldn't afford to have it and dessert--refined sugar wins over alcohol every time. I did have two helpings of the casserole--whoever made it deserved a knighthood. And it was all I could do to resist a second helping of butterscotch cornflake clusters.

The Christmas party was so much fun that when Maggie's mom began pulling on her coat and saying it was late, both of us realized we hadn't looked at our watches once all evening. It was 10 PM, and we hadn't thought we'd be there past 8:30 or 9. Her family, large, Irish, half-Catholic and gregarious, had welcomed me into the fold (I was initially mistaken for a cousin), and I had a wonderful time getting to know an assortment of relatives and watching a trio of two year old boys giggling and running around among the adults. Santa came early for photos, and after we all ate (and some had consumed considerable liquid courage), the men stood up in the living room and sang carols lustily for more than 20 minutes, while the women snapped photos and applauded. One of the older guys looked like he'd just stepped out of a pub in central Dublin, while a young fellow (who, like me, was a non-relative) wearing a dress shirt with the top two buttons undone, proved to be a Miami-based fashion model.

"He's fifteen years old, blind in one eye, and missing an ear, and so we don't want to leave him at home alone," my friend Maggy's cousin explained while he, she and I stood in the doorway, carefully avoiding the ball of faux mistletoe. Neither she nor I knew who he was talking about at first, and hoped it wasn't his absent brother; it turned out to be the elderly family dog, with whom the brother and his fiancee were staying, having a quiet evening away from all the family revelry.

Maggie said that I'm good at talking to people, which isn't a skill I was born with. Working at Georgetown, with the estate sale company, and at the Arlington Market all helped to foster this ability, which I still find sadly lacking, as often my introductory sallies leave people confused rather than inspired. But the last couple of days, at least, I've interacted with charitable souls who have been inclined to talk, notwithstanding my awkwardness. For instance, after church this evening, I met the parents of a Jordanian-born acquaintance, both of whom used to teach Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in California. His mother and I had a great time talking about market bargaining, how in the Middle East (as at street markets in Eastern Europe) it is expected that the merchant will ask more for an item than you are willing to pay, that you will offer less, and that you will eventually settle somewhere in between. Bargaining is a skill I was born with. I remember my mother being very surprised when I began collecting antiques at age 10 or 11, and was relentless in my wheedling the store owner for discounts, eventually talking her down from $300 for a large lot of depression glass to just over $100. In the US, the only acceptable places to do this are at antique markets, and estate and garage sales. Frankly, I am glad that shopping for staples is straightforward, priced as marked, but in other cultures it seems even these things must be bargained for. Maggie, who was also with me tonight, said that sometimes she wished she could bargain for staples, as it's really obnoxious to be forced to pay so much for things like toothpaste, so I suppose there are trade-offs for convenience.

I am applying for a teaching job in Ukraine with an IT company. The FBI background check I requested in preparation for Korea (South!) still hasn't come back, but it may be of use after all, if these technology folks want to hire me to assist their programmers with their English. I would most definitely be taking a large quantity of long underwear with me if I got the position--it's cold there, and although Ukraine has significant coal deposits, the Russian Federation's supply of natural gas to the country for its winter heating needs is even less predictable than usual.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

40 Days Of Thanksgiving--Final Dozen

My mother and I had discussed assembling dueling pans of baklava for a family taste-off this afternoon. I contend that baklava preparation is more an art than a science, and use unorthodox (hey, I'm Presbyterian) ingredients, from orange juice in the syrup to pecans in the filling, and I usually almost double the volume of nuts my most decadent recipe calls for. I've never had anyone complain. Mums, on the other hand, is parsimonious with nuts, stingy with honey, and religious as to recipes, choosing those favoring smaller portions.  Which explains why her baklava is so much less expensive to make than mine is.  But does it taste as good?

I didn't end up making any, as the robust Hamilton Beach food processor my brother gave me years ago, which has served me well through pounds of pecans, walnuts and unblanched almonds, gave up the ghost this morning, and I was forced to mince a kilo by hand. At least I had a spring-loaded chopper--wielding a cleaver and shooting nut meats all over the kitchen would not have been an encouraging start to the day. I did help Mums bake cookies, and the two pans of baklava she made were good, just different from mine, with more lemon and butter and less spice.

This evening was our choir Christmas party, at the home of our director and his wife.  June called me shortly before it was to begin. She was shaking and panicky--someone had run into the back of her car, and though no one was hurt (thank God!) both she and the girl who'd hit her were stuck in the dark on the side of a highly-trafficked two-lane road, shell-shocked and unsure of what to do next. I threw on the vintage velvet dress I'd selected for the party, got into my coat and sat down behind the wheel of my mother's SUV (in the rush, I couldn't find my own car keys), leaned forward to crank the engine, and riiipppp....the seam tore off my zipper from the small of my back to my shoulders. So glad my coat concealed this major wardrobe malfunction! After a nice policeman sorted the paperwork and the disposition of both disabled vehicles, I dropped off June at the party and hurried back home to change.

Our choir director's wife is an incredibly talented decorator. There were two full-sized Christmas trees and several smaller ones, lovely wreaths, garlands, and tasteful white lights festooned throughout the house.  The children's play area upstairs actually had a wardrobe, complete with coats, through which small folk could crawl to reach "Narnia", a well-lit reading nook with a multicolored rug and a stencil of a fruit tree on the wall.  In the larger room, there were life-size cardboard figures of a storm trooper and Boba Fett.  And a huge plush giraffe, books, blocks, and other necessaries.

I'd eaten so much cookie dough during the day, I couldn't fully appreciate the catered savories and sweets covered the dining room table, but I did like the fire they had burning in a grate on the patio, though my hair smelled like I'd bathed in smoke afterwards.

There were some carols playing via the flat screen TV in the family room, but aside from this, no music at the party, where several of my fellow singers confessed that pieces from our Sunday concerts had been running through their heads for weeks.  I've been whistling and humming selections non-stop, the brass and organ having blasted the tunes into my brain.

I have enjoyed some world-class, and international, music over the last couple of weeks! Between the Russian Embassy concert and Sunday's candlelit services, I had the pleasure of a Tuesday midday interlude at the Church of the Epiphany, just a block or so from the White House.  The program was music by Edvard Grieg, piano and violin, with lyrics by Henrik Ibsen.

Nick, the Chinese guy I'd enjoyed chatting with at Friday's party, told me about the Tuesday music series, and we agreed to meet there and then have lunch--he slipped into the pew just seconds before the first notes rolled out from the piano, while I had for once misjudged my transit time properly, arriving half an hour early, rather than proportionally late.  It was cold and raining outside, and inside, a dozen depressed and isolated African American homeless were dotted around the church, bundled in heavy coats and clutching overstuffed bags of belongings.  Middle-aged and elderly White music lovers slowly trickled into the sanctuary, supplanting the homeless, who shuffled out.  Most of the male audience sported mustaches and glasses, stereotypical upper-middle class academics. While waiting for the program to begin, some clutched the white trifold programs, others poured over thumbed paperbacks and "serious" magazines; one was reading a section from the New York Times while across the aisle three elderly fellows talked loudly about their ancestry, which one traced to the Mayflower. Truly, classical music lovers of venerable lineage.  Until Nick arrived, I was the youngest in the audience by some score of years.

The black grand piano was set up in the center of a huge parquet maze, behind it, a lacy ironwork gate replaced the pre-Reformation iconostasis in the archway between the transept and the chancel. At noon, the steeple bells began to sound ten minutes of chimes, some seeming hymn-based, but the squeak of wet footwear on the dingy marble center aisle confused my sense of the melody. When the bells fell silent, a British-accented gentleman thanked the pale and damp congregation for coming out in the "English weather", and the concert began.

Whenever the pianist paused, either of the two infirm individuals who had been assisted to the front row by their minority attendants groaned wordlessly, but it was not until the violinist--his strength evidenced by his economy of motion--applied tremendous pressure into the crescendo of a duet, as if fighting the piano for supremacy, did both disabled become agitated simultaneously and have to be earnestly soothed. When not rapt on the musicians, I stared at the stunning triptych-style stained glass window behind the altar, an intense combination of reds, blues and oranges in an upsweeping triangle, which I initially mistook for a Last Judgment or an Assumption, but which was in fact a Nativity.

The soloist (like the pianist and the violinist, a musician from South Korea), sang in an exquisitely clear soprano--I could almost hear the birds twittering and chirping in the background of the arboreal landscape she described. And then there were the inevitable references to waterlilies.  What explains the Impressionists' obsession with waterlilies?  Grieg did capture the liquid, sorrowful spirit of Ibsen's Song #4 perfectly, though.

Nick and I ate at a Korean restaurant just outside McPherson Square Metro. He proved a thoroughly comfortable person to be around, easy to talk to, and I ate an enormous plate of bulgogi with rice while we chatted about religion (he's Roman Catholic) and politics (he'd just met with an opposition leader from his home country, who was facing renewed house arrest on a trumped-up morals charge).  I did not attempt to use chopsticks with my meal, having severely embarrassed myself thereby on my last dinner out with an Asian guy!  It was a pleasant afternoon, and general well-wishes and "look me up if you're in town" suggestions were exchanged on parting.

I wasn't so comfortable at Sunday's candlelight services--not because of anticipating the advent of the fellow I'd invited (he didn't show), but because the children's choir members were carrying lighted tapers, and some wore robes so long that they were tripping on the hems.  I almost had a panic attack, visualizing the horrible burning scenarios. Happily, we all made it through without setting ourselves, anything, or anyone else on fire!

While the twelve days of Christmas have not yet begun, I need to finish my 40 Days of Thanksgiving with the final dozen that procrastination and melancholy prompted me to skip until this concluding post!

I am grateful that there were no accidents at Sunday's Lessons and Carols, and that the Muslim friend of a neighboring alto came to the second service--wearing hijab and with her five children!

I am grateful that neither my sweet Grandmommy nor my friend June were hurt in their respective recent car accidents, and that the necessary repairs to their vehicles are comparatively minor.

I am thankful for occasions to enjoy beauty, that these spots of joy need not be entirely divorced from pain to be recognizable.

I am glad that, even after a year, there are some people who are still praying faithfully that I will find a good and worthwhile job.

I am grateful for people who have had financial mercy on me and my unemployed (or underemployed) friends, from buying us groceries to writing off medical debts. God bless you many times over!

I am thankful that Anita's and my shows went well, that I was able to be reimbursed for my travel and components expenses.

I am happy to see pictures of my niece and nephews regularly! Their smiles brighten even the darkest winter days.

Befriending nice fellow believers, especially those who share my loves for classical music and intercultural communication, is a special blessing!

I am pleased that I have had opportunities to paint and make jewelry lately; I've used components that had been gathering dust for years, and I found a perfectly good wood table discarded near Anita's apartment that I brought home, stripped of its heavy mahogany varnish and am refinishing in red, black and gold.

I am grateful not to be homeless (I want to learn how I can help those who are).

I am thankful for dreams and hope! Many people become disillusioned and complacent as they grow older, allowing their worlds to shrink and their ambitions to falter. I am glad that as a Christian, the opposite can be true of me, that as I learn more of the height, depth and breadth of Almighty grace, my universe will continue to expand.

And most of all, I am grateful for God's gift of his son, Jesus, completely human and completely divine, to save me from my fundamental screwedupness. I am glad that he knows me!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Still Alive & Grateful

I think I am about a week behind on my "40 Days of Thanksgiving" series, not to mention ordinary blog posts, but these will have to wait until Monday, as I've been booked with social and sales engagements since my last writing, I drove back to GA from DC yesterday, and tomorrow I've got regular church in the morning and our "lessons and carols" Christmas concerts all afternoon and evening.

Since last Sunday, I've helped Anita with three jewelry shows, accompanied a friend to buy contraband candy, shared two lunches, a breakfast, an afternoon tea and a supper with various old comrades, attended a Scandinavian music concert performed by a trio of Koreans with a Mandarin-speaking Malaysian, shared hours of conversation and Armenian hors d'ouevres with one Greek, several Russians, two Hungarians and a German, and contributed to my team's second place finish in a bar trivia contest. I've sampled homemade Polish sausage and small batch Michigan maple syrup, wines, cheeses, and uncountable desserts (I probably gained a pound a day during my travels--so many opportunities to enjoy good food!).  A dear friend gave me almost 50 books to list online, and I returned to Augusta to find that though customers had not denuded my booth of items, enough had sold to justify bringing more from my stash at home.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Packing List & Parties (Or) 40 Days of Thanksgiving: Days 26-28

Almost every time I go on a trip, I forget something. I will have gone back indoors half a dozen times, grabbing items that I remembered just as I was shoving the key into my car ignition, but still I will completely overlook something obvious--or several. This time, I forgot business cards, price tags and my razor.  Previously, I've forgotten my medicine, or toothpaste, or makeup, or socks. I am religious about packing underwear, because once when I was little, my mother forgot to bring any for me, and I had to borrow Grandmommy's.  Never again.

I am glad that for the most part (medication excepted), if I forget something, it has been fairly easy to find a store that sells the product at my destination. But this can be a pain--it takes time and money better spent elsewhere, and on returning home, I have unnecessary duplicates.

Sometimes, finding replacement items can lead to interesting adventures, like when I ran out of certain toiletries at the end of my summer stay in Poland, before a week in Vienna, and the only Kmart I knew of where such things could be had was in Bratislava, Slovakia. So I took a train to Bratislava, did some sightseeing, almost got squished by a tram (a matter of inches between me and the precariously-parked car against which I was leaning), and got the things I needed at the Kmart before heading back to Austria.

I need a master packing list, kind of like the laminated preflight checklist cards that small-engine pilots carry (mine, with my old flight book, is still in the armrest between the front seats in my car--maybe, just maybe, I'll get to use it again someday...). It should have domestic, international and business variations. There's probably an iPhone app, but I think an analog, hardcopy version would be prudent to have as well.

The Russians know how to throw good parties. I spent yesterday evening at one of the reception halls in the embassy compound along with perhaps 500-700 others at their 2014 holiday party. Grandfather Frost and one attendant snow maiden were there for photos, and upstairs the catered savories (hot and cold) preceded the musical centerpiece, Tchaikovsky played by pianist Yuri Shadrin to accompany various Pushkin, Tolstoy and others' lyrics sung by Askar Abrazakov.  The concert was followed by dessert (apple blini with honey, sugar cookies iced to resemble matroshki). All points were thoroughly enjoyable--it was an exquisite example of soft power diplomacy. For one thing, there were no long speeches--the two before the performance were three minutes or less--and the closing remarks comprised maybe two sentences.  The atmosphere was festive, and the musicians superb (I'd heard recordings by Shadrin on classical radio, and liked hearing him in person). And, I met a nice Chinese Malaysian guy in the security line who was good company all evening.

I've been wined and dined (appetizered?) three nights straight. Thursday, I took a selection of Anita's and my pieces down to a posh ninth-floor law office overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue for a benefit to raise awareness of child sex trafficking. Unfortunately, not only was it tending to drizzle outdoors, that was the same evening as the Capitol Christmas Tree lighting, and so traffic downtown was horrible. Only about a third of those who'd RSVP'd actually showed up, and sales were correspondingly slow. But the catering staff treated us vendors like guests, regularly approaching to proffer trays of tiny spinach quiches, bacon-wrapped dates, and the like, so it was hardly an unpleasant experience. And I met a nice Russian painter from St. Petersburg, with whom I enjoyed talking.

Tonight, I had dinner with Susan, Steven and Theo. After the marble halls of the law office and the crystal chandeliers in the Russian embassy, as much fun as visiting them was, it was a relief to be able to (literally) take off my shoes and enjoy the company of old friends.  Theo's vocabulary is extensive, and he showed off his ability to sing several nursery songs and the first verse of the hymn "Silent Night." He'll turn two in three weeks. He and I played with blocks and cars, then I was permitted to share in the bedtime ritual of singing, prayer and hugs. Such a sweet little guy!

Thus far, I've been able to spend time also with Rachel (tea Thursday), Leah and her family (baby clothes and Christmas tree shopping yesterday), Hannah (baby shower this morning for her soon-to-appear little girl--I went a trifle berserk buying tiny pink outfits and accessories) and my dear former estate sale boss (tea this afternoon). Tomorrow is a show to benefit a battered women's organization in Alexandria. The nice Chinese guy I met last night (he gave me his card--as aforementioned, I'd none with which to reciprocate) emailed me to ask me to the 7:30 PM mass at his Catholic church, but given that I'm attending the 8:30 AM service at my old Presbyterian church and then serving Mammon throughout the afternoon, I declined on grounds of sure exhaustion.

Cold rain has been slapping against the window of my room for hours.  I am grateful for warm, weather-proof vehicles and buildings, for unanticipated opportunities to meet friendly, multitalented people, and for the cheerful company of small children who guide you through their games.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Safe Travels; 40 Days Of Thanksgiving: Day 25

Although I was listening to a good audiobook (Death of An Expert Witness by P. D. James, the excellent mystery writer, who died just last week), my brain seemed determined to shut off during my drive to DC today, and I caught myself starting to doze several times before I made myself stop for a large cream-topped chocolate mocha and a refill of my Camelback water reservoir. The necessity of regular bathroom breaks thereafter, if not the caffeine, kept me alert the rest of the 9 hour trip.

I am thankful for safe travels--in 40 years, I've driven over 250,000 miles, flown overseas ten times and domestically much more (including 50 hours of personal piloting), ridden trains in the US and abroad, managed to stay in the saddle on numerous horses, sailed on small wind- and engine-driven boats, and of course walked and hiked many miles. Other than a few minor (in that nobody was hurt--the same couldn't be said for the cars) auto accidents and a pile of flat tires, all of this movement has been completed safely. Truly, this is a blessing from God--from inclement weather to equipment failure to human idiocy and error (my own and other people's), short of common grace, one couldn't expect to emerge unscathed. I hope I will continue to do so, but returning to DC traffic is terrifying! If nothing else, the adrenaline pumping through my system from even short periods on the Beltway will keep me fully awake when behind the wheel.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

40 Days Of Thanksgiving: Day 24

Today I am having a bout of melancholia, and wish devoutly that I had some warm and furry creature to whom to pour out my miseries. So, today's thanksgiving is for all the fuzzy beasts--some dogs, mostly cats--who have served as comforting confidants during some of the lonelier and sadder times of my life, as well as comfortable companions in happier periods.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Color! 40 Days Of Thanksgiving: Day 23

I am thankful for color, for its variety and intensity, and the creativity with which it is combined in various media to produce lovely images. Life is too short for dull, mass-produced artwork. I'm going to brag a bit, with selections from my own collection!


This oil of three apples and a milk pitcher was in our kitchen when I was growing up. When my mother sold the old house after my father died, she didn't want it, and so I transferred it to my own kitchen.


A Ukrainian lacquer box I bought in Kiev. I've always been fond of frogs, and the realism of this painting was incredible.


Even traditional-style lacquer box paintings can incorporate an amphibian theme--the whimsy of the frog blowing a dandelion puff was too pretty to pass up.


A consignment-shop coup, this oil on wood panel of the Archangel Gabriel came from late 18th century South America.


Detail of above.


My Jonas Gerard nude study, which I have hanging opposite my bed in my room.  Encourages me to go to the gym regularly!


A watercolor seascape--I'm particularly fond of the spiny urchin.


An antique Asian silk-on-silk floral embroidery with butterflies. Well before I got sucked into the addiction to K-Dramas, I was unconsciously assembling Southeast Asian artifacts.


I do not have a career in portraiture, but 13 years ago, I looked something like this. 


I never knew a Coke Zero can could be transformed into a quilted tapestry, but this combination of metal, fabric and buttons was awesome. 


The first piece of original artwork I purchased, this was acquired from my friend Anita within days of our meeting (I can't believe we've known each other for almost a decade!). This acrylic collage reminds me of Van Gogh. 


I've not yet been married nor been to Japan, but a silk Japanese wedding kimono called out to me almost ten years ago, and I've had it displayed on my wall like a giant pinned butterfly since.


Some of my friends don't like non-representative art, but as you can see, I'm an artistic omnivore; I got this abstract composition with its dripping orbs at an estate sale.


My mother hates this picture. She said I put too many colors into it, but I like it.


A portrait of my friend Paxifist (the cowboy in the back recalls her fondness for country music).


A portion of a map of Greece, three stamps and the greater and lesser lights make this seascape a reminder of and inspiration to travel.


My latest painting project has been entirely monochromatic: I finally finished refurbishing my oak desk chair!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

40 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 22

When my thoughts churn ceaselessly, I am grateful for the distraction of creative activity, the better if coupled with listening to some diverting story, though I will say Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus does little to soothe the soul.  I think I must have missed Titus on my first run through of the Shakespearean canon, because it's so memorably gruesome that it would have left a scar. Good ol' Will's tragedies often conclude with multiple deaths, but this tale is so loaded with rape, murder, deliberate disfugurement, adultery, cannibalism, betrayal and torture that it surpasses all the rest.  Four pairs of sons are killed--two have died before the curtain rises, and on their tomb another two are sacrificed, two more are beheaded on being wrongly accused of murdering their brother-in-law [meanwhile his wife is raped (and her tongue cut out and her hands lopped off) by the last two brothers, who will eventually have their throats slit in retaliation, their blood mixed with their entrails and fed to their mother]. Titus is tricked into chopping off one of his own hands in a futile bid to save his wrongfully accused sons' lives.  He manages to kill the evil queen after he feeds her a pie made of her sons, and knifes her cuckold husband.  Prior to this fatal meal, the revengeful one-handed father kills his tongueless, handless rape survivor daughter, and is himself killed thereafter. Finally, the queen's lover (the father of her bastard child) is half buried in the earth and left to starve to death.  There are only about four major characters that survive when the curtain falls--Titus' brother, son, grandson, and the unfortunate baby of the dead queen and her tortured paramour.  I'm not sure all this bloodshed made me less anxious, but I did get a few more pieces of jewelry made in the meantime. I wish I had another week to prepare for these DC shows!  I don't have nearly enough things made.  I need a massage (and a facelift and liposuction...the only thing I can semi-afford is the massage!).  I am not looking forward to the long drive north on Tuesday, but I am looking forward to seeing many of my DC friends once there.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Unanswered Prayers (Or) 40 Days Of Thanksgiving: Day 21

There's a country song (which I may have referenced before) that contains the line, "sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers," and today I have been considering how "many dangers, toils, and snares" I've either come through or avoided entirely by virtue of the Almighty's not returning an affirmative to some of my cherished wishes or heartfelt entreaties.

There are many fond desires that I have enjoyed being fulfilled in larger  measure that I could have imagined, from chances for travel to glimpses of the weird or beautiful which stun me.  And then there are those moments in which the motto "God is my shield" seems to burn itself into my brain, when I meet a "what if" of the past and find it terrifying in its current aspect, an illustration of how badly off I could have been, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and otherwise, had only my tendencies at the time been permitted to express themselves.

Truly, the lines of my life have fallen in pleasant places.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving Dinners (Or) 40 Days Of Thanksgiving: Days 19 & 20

This was my first Facebook birthday, and I was pleased that so many of my real friends and virtual comrades wished me glad tidings on my personal Ruby Anniversary. I, personally, am horrible about remembering birthdays of any except immediate family members, and so rejoice that others were reminded automatically (as I have been about their own important dates).

Mums and Freya (a choir friend from church) and I went to Columbia, SC, on Thursday for my dad's side of the family's Thanksgiving celebration. John had been supposed to come with us, but had been on call all night and had only gotten three hours of sleep by our noon departure time, so we left him to rest. The usual gargantuan potluck included several traditional Greek dishes (spanikopita, lamb, baklava), as well as the standard turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, green beans, and so forth.  I took tiny portions and had still only made it 2/3 of the way through the buffet when my plate was full to overflowing. It was all delicious. Before everyone (about 40 people--at least 15 of the family were elsewhere) launched into the 10+ dessert options, my mother lit the "4" and the "0" candles on the cream cheese frosted cranberry cake she'd made for me and everyone chimed in on "Happy Birthday" with several older relatives later exclaiming that they thought I was much younger. Which of course I am in soul, though not in body!

This morning, Bob called me from "above the Arctic Circle" (a snowbound farm in North Carolina) where he was spending Thanksgiving with his best friend and his family. He wished me a happy birthday and assured me that he was eating well.  My phone then started beeping with a steady chorus of message alerts from my Facebook timeline that would continue for hours, as other folks far and near acknowledged the day.  "Noonish" we went to John's sister's house for a barbecue meal with her family, followed by the lighting of candles on my second, "real" birthday cake, a six-layer rainbow-colored vanilla one with chocolate frosting and sugar lettering.  Yum.

Then I went to the gym to start easing off all the calories I'd accumulated over the two days...

Back home, I made several pieces of jewelry, talked to three friends on the phone for 45 minutes each, applied for two online teaching jobs (history), and was sorting out my mind regarding a surprising (and unsuitable) suitor when my other brother, Nate, called me with a final birthday greeting, nicely bookending the day.

These two days, I praise God for the friends and family he has given me!  They are faithful and fun.  I hope those now afar off will soon be brought near, as I miss them dearly.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Baking, Not Cooking (Or) 40 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 18

I've written before about how much I dislike cooking. Mind you, I love eating, but I'd prefer someone else to do the food prep and I do the washing-up afterwards. Hence, I usually exist on popcorn, steam-in-a-bag veggies, peanut butter apples, and other quickly-assembled one-step dishes. Many male bachelors eat better than I do, and I don't resent this--to each his or her own. But I really do like to bake occasionally, namely sweets in quantity, and this time of year I love to prepare my own specialty, baklava.  It's my contribution to the Greek(ish) side of the family's Thanksgiving potluck.

Baklava is the queen of desserts--it has everything: honey, sugar, spices, nuts and pastry, not to mention a ton of butter. I love it. Baklava is the apple pie of the Mediterranean--you can do all sorts of things to it and it always turns out delicious. Being a Southern Greek, my personal recipe includes pecans. Out of all the kinds I've sampled, I think mine the best, if I do say so myself!

I still can't Photoshop very well--I was trying to blot some distractions from behind my copper mixing bowl, and it came out all choppy.  At any rate, I chopped up pounds and pounds of almonds, walnuts, and pecans, mixing in some demerara and refined sugar, and hefty portions of cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg...

Melted a full pound of butter to brush over the filo leaves (every few layers got a generous sprinkling of spiced-sugared nut mixture)...

Cut the pastry into pieces (I couldn't decide what shape I wanted them, that's why it looks like a drunk with a knife had at the pan--I swear I was sober as a judge!) and stuck a whole clove in the middle of each, then baked it until golden brown...

Poured lemon and orange-infused honey syrup over the hot panful, and extracted a small corner piece for sampling (had to make sure that it was OK to serve, you know). It passed the test (in about three seconds...it's hard to take a selfie of yourself licking your plate, though).

Today I am grateful that I don't have to cook everyday, and that so many of my friends and family members enjoy doing so instead!  Thank you to all who have served me and others faithfully in the preparation of meals plain and fancy, enduring the tedium of kitchen work, and creating tasty dinners day after day, oftentimes for decades, with many of us taking your considerable efforts for granted. I really appreciate it!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

40 Days Of Thanksgiving: Day 17

Well, tomorrow I'm applying for a job back up in the DC area. I've tried for other positions thereabouts and failed, but I cannot just quit making some effort.  Lightning might strike--God knows!

Rain has been falling since Saturday, and a tiny tornado ripped the roof off a storage facility just a block over from the consignment place where I have my booth. I saw some unfortunate renters trying to salvage sodden belongings out of the wreckage of their locker today. I don't think the mini-twister touched anything else besides a single Bradford pear tree near the post office; the tree was lying in the middle of the road, broken in half.  Despite weather delays, Mums and John got safely back from San Diego just an hour ago. I went grocery shopping for them this afternoon--the small print on the bell pepper stickers contradicted the claims in large print on the shelves beneath them...they were not all "product of USA", but the yellow ones were from Canada and the red from Mexico (NAFTA peppers!).

I don't know what to say about the Ferguson mess. I know there are white policemen that unfairly target black Americans (years ago, I blogged about the experience of the husband of my then-boss: while driving his package delivery truck, in his corporate uniform, he found a purse on the street, went to find a policeman to turn it into, and the racist--and terminally stupid...hello, a delivery guy in uniform complete with truck, not a likely suspect for purse-snatching!--white cop acted like the black man was a thief and ransacked his delivery truck!), and this has got to be identified and eradicated. But torching cars and businesses certainly isn't a constructive reaction.  And aren't thousands more innocents killed by fellow civilians than by police?  Where is the outrage and nonstop media attention there?  I realize I've been spared from some negative experiences simply by being born a white female, and developing empathy across racial and cultural lines can be really difficult. Somehow, I would like to contribute to spiritual and social peace and fundamental reconciliation in my own city.

I am thankful that in Jesus we can be one body, even if we come from different backgrounds, speak different languages, suffer from different weaknesses, and display different strengths. I am grateful for pastors who are determined to see the Gospel worked out into everyday living, from bridging ancient racial divides to providing for the poor, all the while keeping clear theology of our desperate need for the redemption and new life that only the Jewish Messiah can give.  We are seriously screwed up without the grace of the Almighty, that's damned sure.

Monday, November 24, 2014

40 Days Of Thanksgiving: Day 16

Several of my friends have given me birthday cards already, and Mums plans two cakes with numerical candles on them (there wouldn't be enough surface area for individual candles, and besides, by the time the last was lit, the first would have burnt level with the icing). Paxifist told me that I'd been milking my "40th" for years, referring to myself (echoing my father's habit) as a "forty year old woman" far in advance of the date. I love birthdays--probably because I'm a narcissist addicted to sweets who loves receiving gifts--and milestone ones like this can offer special opportunities for celebration.  Thanks to all and for all who indulge me thus!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Crisis Management (Or) 40 Days Of Thanksgiving: Day 15

The time between the call to 911 and the arrival of official help seems to stretch into eternity. Every second drags with wait, and bystanders are left anxiously shifting from foot to foot and wringing their hands, straining to hear approaching sirens. Our choir sang in morning church and I left after the offertory in the second service to drive home through the rain to lunch and a much-anticipated semi-sacrosanct Sunday afternoon nap. On the parkway, two stopped vehicles on the shoulder drew my attention to another, further up the wet embankment that was steaming. A small tree was wrapped over it. I pulled off and asked if anyone had called emergency services and if anyone was hurt.  The call had been made, and the involved driver was dizzy but ambulatory. I left when the fire trucks hove in view what seemed like ages--but was actually only a few minutes--later.  I am very grateful that we have a functional 911 system. I also realized that I need to get EMS training. I would like to be useful should I encounter situations like this.

Tonight June and I made it to the first half of the Thanksgiving service (it was in reverse order from normal, so we got to hear the homily) and then came back to my house so she could use my computer and Internet connection for an interview with an overseas organization hiring English teachers.  To my irritation, and her sorrow, the interview basically tanked when the guy asked her what the other half of her double major was in college (one was International Studies), and she told him "Bible" (she went to a Christian university).  You'd have thought she'd said, "The dissemination of bubonic plague."  He didn't even ask her any further technical questions, just ended the interview at  that point.  She was pretty upset, so I suggested watching a movie--the Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Suzanne Collins and the team of actors and technicians that made that movie got so many things right. I love the multiple historical allusions to various coercive imperial systems, from the Romans to the National Socialists to other more recent totalitarian examples. That the designers were wise enough to incorporate Napoleonic and Federal-style furniture (festooned with martial motifs) into the domestic sets was a perfect touch.  And Collins' characters do not emerge from their ordeals psychologically unscathed, but struggle with the emotional aftereffects of their forced violent behavior.  I think it was a good distraction for June, though I'm not sure how much my contextual commentary benefited her--sometimes I feel compelled to lecture, whether my would be audience is interested or not...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

40 Days Of Thanksgiving: Day 14

My Frankenstein's monster of a rug pad is finally sewn together (of scraps cut from the edges of the pad in my bedroom) and in use upstairs. I've cleaned up numerous piles that have been cluttering my house since the day I moved in. I am so grateful to have been unprecedentedly diligent today, and gotten several important items off my "to do" list.

I wrote three more literary agents about Ira's and my book (have yet to hear from any of the previous ten) today and noted with some distress that not only had my annual health insurance payment (more than $3800--it doubled under ObamaCare) posted, so had that for my car insurance (a little less than $400), leaving me, in one costly weekend, $4200 poorer--more than I've earned this year, as a matter of fact.  And, today I got a bill for an X-ray from a doctor's visit in the summer (almost $300).  And I don't qualify for unemployment benefits because I worked in one state while living in a second and have since moved to a third, which requires at least two years' residency of recipients.  Sometimes I think our government is determined to have me end up on the street.  At any rate, I hope that Anita's and my DC area jewelry shows are madly lucrative, or there'll be no way for me to pay my bills next month!

Friday, November 21, 2014

40 Days Of Thanksgiving: Day 13

How grateful to God I am for good health! I've been mostly headache-free since I moved back south, my fingers are all working, I'm in better physical shape than I was (not that it shows externally--my stamina has improved, and I can get through my weekly Refit class without gasping like a landed fish).  Even the cough which had been nagging at me for weeks has subsided.  Physically, I feel positively bouncy!  I know that, willy-nilly, my emotional health would be in a much more fragile state now than it is were I not in such good corporeal trim, and  this makes me even more grateful to the Almighty for this general condition of well-being!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Misery Loves Company; 40 Days Of Thanksgiving: Day 12

It's not that people who are miserable always want other people to be miserable too--the company that the sad crave is often just simple companionship.  I admit to being bummed today--everyone else seems to have a decently-paying, if not indecently-paying job, and I have no idea where to apply next, and Irina's book translation still sits in manuscript form in my Documents folder.  Thanks to the friend who gave me a hug after choir practice this evening.  For a moment, I was less lonely and isolated.

Mums and John are enjoying warm weather and sunshine in San Diego this week (he has a medical meeting).  I am grateful that despite my deplorable employment situation, I need not fear being homeless nor hungry.  And my car, bless its little Honda 6-cylinder engine, is still running like a top. And I've actually finished the pile of paper Christmas ornaments I'd been working on for months:


Decorating the satin-covered balls with ribbon, crystals and sequins are another ornament project, still ongoing...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

40 Days Of Thanksgiving: Day 11

Today, I am grateful my pointer fingertips are sore, not from some sort of schadenfreude but because it means that I am almost done with the pile of paper Christmas ornaments that have been scattered around my house in various stages of completion since early summer!  Bending pins to make hanging loops is not easy on the hands, and snipping them with wire cutters has shot sharp steel bits all over my dining room area (an additional thanksgiving is that I've not stepped, sat or knelt on any this far!).   I look forward to vacuuming up the metal debris and a portion of the gold and silver glitter that has made many horizontal surfaces in my house twinkle madly.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

40 Days Of Thanksgiving: Day 10

Winter has arrived in Augusta, GA. Looking out the windows today, the weather was beautiful--clear blue, sunny skies--but setting foot out of doors was a severe shock--hats and gloves mandatory.  The chill kind of took the breath away (I have completely reacclimatized to the warm South, and this blast from the frozen North is a rude reminder of what I must endure in two weeks' time).

My thanksgiving today is for good insulation and central heating. When I was young, I would often fall asleep at night imagining Laura Ingalls Wilder's experiences in The Long Winter, when she and her sisters would shiver their way to bed in rooms where the exposed roof-shingle nails were covered with frost. On my first trip to Russia almost 20 years ago, we were told that the students at the university where we studied left their coats and gloves on indoors during the colder months.  And in the Korean War of 1950-1953, some wounded survived terrible injuries because their blood froze on exposure to the frigid air.  I am glad to be able to sleep where it's cool but not frosty, to not have to wear my coat indoors from November-April, and to not fear exsanguination whatever the weather (well, I hope to see Rachel and the NPV in DC, so I shouldn't celebrate that last just yet!).

Monday, November 17, 2014

40 Days Of Thanksgiving: Day 9

My stepdad loves gardening. He even carefully sprouts and plants avocado pits, though they'll never yield avocados and resemble large plain potted weeds. His backyard is a jungle of camellias, roses, a banana tree (with larval green bananas which never grow more than two inches long), and dozens of other bushes and trees, including a high (approx. 14') leafy hedge around the perimeter.  As a general rule, he resists evening mild pruning, but the other day, he decided that the hedge needed serious trimming (the hope is that it will thicken if trimmed--at thrice the height of the average person, it's become "leggy"). Not a small task, and one one person could only carry out on a limited basis. After lofting an extension pole-clipper ten feet and sawing at the hedgetops for hours, he ran out of energy, and his neck was stiff. This morning, we found out that (unbeknownst to him) several branches had fallen onto the neighbor's pool cabana, which didn't thrill her, so while John was at work, Mums and I went into the thicket to start clearing out the debris (and get that which we could out of the neighbor's way).

The neighbor recently had a new 5' wood privacy fence constructed along her property line, paralleling John's 3.5' chain link fence, which sits eight inches inside. Since the bushes were so thick, there was no way to get a ladder among them, and so I climbed up and stood balanced on the top of John's fence, resting my bum against the wood beyond it and staying remarkably stable for all the yanking of vines and untangling of detached branches I was doing.  I got the greenery down from the heights and Mums hauled it out into piles in the yard. We worked fast for three hours without pausing, and there was only one mishap, when my foot slipped on the wet metal and I landed hard astride the bar above the chainlink. All I could think when I found myself sitting after the fall was, "Well, thank God, I'm not a guy." If I had been, I'd have been in agony for hours--if not days--from the impact.  As it was, I laughed, swung back up on the bar and started yanking down overgrown wisteria again.

Since it would probably be a bit tacky to list "lack of testicles" as my thanksgiving today, I'll go with blessings on the inventors of cut-resistant gloves and safety goggles.  Other than a few scratches around my wrists and a scattering of tiny bruises over my arms, I'm unscathed. I probably will find leaf and twig bits in my hair when I take my shower tonight, however.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Weekend Reflections, 40 Days of Thanksgiving: Days 7 & 8

I am grateful for friends who know that they can invite themselves over to my house of an evening, and for friends who invite me over to their houses on the spur of the moment as well.

Of course, advance invitations are nice, but I am glad to know people who are comfortable enough with me, and with whom I am sufficiently comfortable, to know that if the either of us wants or needs company, or a place to sleep, we can call on the other.

One of my friends came over and spent the night last night, and then another girl invited me to have soup with her after church tonight.

The friends who have hosted me in sickness (surgery recovery) and health, in wealth (ah, the good ol' days, when I had money!) and poverty (letting me stay after I lost my apartment last year), in happy and sad times, are numerous, and I praise God for each and every one.  Thank you for your gifts of hospitality, from couches to futons to beds, from home-cooked dinners to take-out to just letting me raid your fridges. Thank you for letting me stay with you in Chicago, Moscow, Mebane, Rockville, Alexandria, and other spots near and far--I hope you know you are always welcome wherever I am!

Oh, I cut open the largest of my two (unripe) cantaloupes yesterday, as the forecast suggested they might be frozen solid overnight:

Since it did look actually cantaloupish inside, I scooped out the seeds and ate it.

It tasted exactly like cucumber. Cool and refreshing, but not fruity. If I am still around here next year, I am going to plant my cantaloupe seeds much earlier!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Poor Introductions & 40 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 6

This afternoon, I went to a different branch of my local gym, which unlike the others did not have the local WiFi password posted on the wall, so I was forced to peek into the office and ask the manager what it was.  The manager turned out to be a handsome young man, and I only just stopped myself from blurting, "You look familiar. Did I babysit you when you were little?"

Sheesh, I'm getting to that age.

Mums and I went to a series of estate sales this morning.  I got a half-slip, a note pad, a tube of wood filler, and a bottle of spray adhesive (for making glitter stick to the paper Christmas ornaments which are still lying half-finished in the garage).  She got four almost new suitcases (ours are almost worn out), some old tools, a Polish pottery casserole dish, and a scarf. Combined, we spent less than $90.  A decent haul.

Grandmommy fell getting out of a chair a couple of days ago, but realized in time that her ankle wasn't supporting her and managed to angle her descent so she hit the couch rather than the floor.  She's got a sore foot, and some bruises, but is otherwise OK.  It helps that my aunt drove her to Jacksonville, Florida, to be with her newest great-grandbaby right after the incident, so she's been off her feet most of the time since, cuddling him and giving him bottles. I lay awake the other night thinking about ways to make her house handicapped accessible--I am so glad it's not immediately necessary!

Today, I'd grateful for the number of times my other accident-prone family members and I have been spared serious injury (whether self-inflicted or otherwise). A list of all the near-maiming and near-death incidents that we've survived relatively unscathed would be appalling in content and scope.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

40 Days Of Thanksgiving--Day 5

I used to think I had to maintain a spotless spiritual veneer at church. Then, I got hit over the head with the reality of my deficiencies and God's providence, and realized that in the midst of other Christians was the one place where I was truly comfortable letting my hair down. It's gotten to the point where I almost never use bad language except in front of believers (not that I go around cursing like a sailor in Sunday School or anything). But these people know I am fallible, and we share the same Father, and screwed up as I am and they are, by God's grace we are siblings, simultaneously dedicated to loving each other through the rough spots and tough times, and to knowing the Almighty better.  So, my thanksgiving for today is for my church. Not just my home church here in Georgia, but that in Northern VA I attended for 10 years, and for fellow Christians in general. I am so grateful for the people who have prayed for me, gone with me to the hospital, patted my back when I cried from misery, just hung out with me and told stories over long, pun-filled lunches. Even the people in choir who have refrained from obviously cringing when I bungle the contralto notes are ministers of grace!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

40 Days of Thanksgiving--Day 4

Side note: Chairman Mao's son died as a result of an air strike during the Korean War (he was serving as a Russian translator), not the Vietnam War--must remember to clarify this with my ESOL student next week!  The guy didn't know anything about World War I, either. To quote The Magician's Nephew, which some of his schoolmates are reading, "What DO they teach them in these schools?" Little history in China, it seems.

Today, I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to learn and to teach language.  I am so grateful to have studied French and Russian, and Polish and German (though I recall very little of these last two).  Knowing where I tend to mess up, where I've gotten lost in translation, has really helped me to appreciate where non-English speakers tend to get stuck in our language. Our articles are wicked, but at least not gendered like those in French.  Would that we had only to add a past-indicator word to a whole sentence like Mandarin does to indicate tense rather than conjugate a bunch of irritatingly irregular verbs.  One of these days my Chinese vocabulary will extend beyond Shehsheh-ni and Dobochiye.  And there is so much lexical cross-fertilization from English these days, from wholesale lifting of terminology to the "naturalization" of foreign words in pronunciation and spelling.  Explaining roots and relationships between words takes me on an historical tour through Greece, Rome, and terra Franca and Germanica.  I hope that my enthusiasm for language and history will be absorbed by the single Chinese student who remains to me (the Russian lady quit--truly, she didn't need me, just real-world practice), and that he will learn to see a world beyond just basketball and video games!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

40 Days Of Thanksgiving: Day 3

Given that it's Veterans/Armistice Day, I suppose I ought to list such folks as the subjects of my gratitude this evening, and so I'll do, but only indirectly.  I am thankful for my late father and grandfather, both of whom served in the military (Daddy in the Army and Granddaddy in the Navy).  Theirs were more constructive roles than one imagines of the typical military person: Daddy was a doctor and Granddaddy was a machinist, so they were each tasked with keeping things in running order, and continued to pursue such careers in civilian life.  They were both redeemed sinners, and though each struggled with his own demons were observed to be on a heavenward trajectory thanks to the Almighty's intervention in their respective lives.  I am really grateful for their love and care, their examples of faithfulness and diligence, and the positive results of their work observable even these years after their death.

Monday, November 10, 2014

40 Days Of Thanksgiving: Day 2

Dairy products. And sweets. I am thankful that I am neither diabetic (yet) nor lactose intolerant (thus far). Obviously, these things are well down the gratitude list below Grandmommy, but I thought it would be counterproductive to even attempt to order my appreciation (besides, I would not presume to establish a pecking order among my family and friends). So, I'll be alternating between serious and silly as I count up to my birthday and beyond!

I drink an average of more than 100 gallons of skim milk a year; 4000 gallons of milk is a bit less than two full years' worth of production for the average American dairy cow.  I don't like to think how much sugar I consume.  Grandmommy told me that an uncle of hers kept bees, and when he was a boy her youngest brother once ate so much honey in a day that he made himself sick--he never ate honey again for the rest of his life.  I similarly overdosed on sugar when I was 13, but though I no longer eat it plain, this unpleasant experience hasn't kept me from consuming it in all sorts of baked and frozen mediums!

I could celebrate this particular set of thanksgivings by having a cup of hot chocolate before bedtime, but I've already had a shot glass full of candy corn with a pint of milk while writing this post...


Sunday, November 09, 2014

40 Days Of Thanksgiving: Day 1

I was born on Thanksgiving Day, and will celebrate my 40th birthday in just a few weeks.  I had hoped to have a big party, invite all my friends to a feast accompanied by live music and gifts for everybody, and individually recognize all those dear folks who've blessed me with their comradeship thus far, but that grand plan was effectively skuttled by my severe lack of funds (maybe this can be realized if and when I reach the half century mark).  So, what to do?

Forty is a prominent Biblical number, often associated with trial or testing, which in turn is preparation for bigger challenges ahead. For example, the Israelites spent 40 years in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land before moving into the latter, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting before beginning his earthly ministry, the Flood's rains continued for forty days and nights, Moses stayed on Mount Sinai receiving the Law for 40 days, Goliath taunted the Israelite armies at breakfast and suppertime 40 days before David took up the challenge, the Prophet Elijah traveled 40 days away from the wrath of Jezebel on the strength of divinely-provided food (an awesome MRE).  There've certainly been challenges over my first 40 years, but looking back, I've got a tremendous number of things to be thankful for, and so in honor of my own ruby anniversary,
I want to observe 40 days of counting my blessings.

Today, I am grateful for Grandmommy.  I got to spend the last three days with her, as the two of us drove to Marianna, Florida, to visit her 96-year-old sister in a nursing home there. Grandmommy always looks on the bright side, keeping her eyes on the Whom (God), rather than the why of what can be seriously trying circumstances. She always hopes and perseveres.  She is so cheerful and grateful for even small things, and her attitude and actions add beauty to others' lives on a daily basis.  I love her smile.  I hope I become more and more like her as I grow older!

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Cantaloupes Kaput

Alas, my cantaloupes have been killed just a few weeks short of ripeness.  I went out Monday to check on them and found all but three leaves on the vine withered from freezing. Aargh!

My body chemistry is meantime messed up so that I smell like marigolds.  It beats smelling like garlic, but it's really weird, as I've not been eating anything unusual, except scrambled eggs (three double-yolkers in a single carton of a dozen! Maybe it's due to the mutant eggs...). And it's not doing any good as mosquito-repellant because those have gone for the winter.

I don't want to turn on my heat just yet, and so have been forced to pile more Grandmommy quilts on my bed to keep warm at night. It is delightfully snug, like an inverted version of "the princess and the pea," though, truthfully, one could probably pile rocks on top of the quilt layers and at this point I wouldn't notice anything, they are so thick and comfy.

I am glad my church has a YouTube channel, though it's certainly second-best to making it to services in person...but I slept through both morning and evening the day before yesterday.  In fact, I was conscious for only six hours between Saturday and Monday.  I haven't slept that well in ages.  Maybe it's the stack of quilts--nothing like twenty pounds of cotton pressing you into your mattress  to make for sweet slumbers.

I didn't have a single trick-or-treater come by my house on Halloween! I'd bought a large bag of candy, mostly stuff I don't care for (so I wouldn't be tempted), and now I'm stuck with all of it.  Perhaps I'll put a bowlful in my booth at the consignment mall.  And go to the Walgreens to stock up on the stuff I do like, now at a discount...

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Keeping Frost Off The Cantaloupes

A guy at the gym told me the temperature is to drop to 26 tonight.  I have covered my cantaloupe vine with two ragged towels and a tablecloth, and I pray that it and the two adolescent fruits attached to it survive. One is five inches in diameter and the other is six, and neither is ready to pick for another two weeks. Meteorological scuttlebutt has it getting warm again in a few days. I thought about sticking a tiny heater outside next to my flowerbed, but that seemed a little silly.

Mums and I drove down to south Augusta Thursday, to a swamp by the municipal airport (approx. 6 flights a day--a far cry from Hartsfield), to go bike riding. Perfect sunny, slightly cool, clear weather.  We saw six large (between 6 and 8 feet length overall) alligators sunning themselves next to a fenced pond. They looked fat and self-satisfied, their permanent snaggle-toothed grins leering up at us on the path 20 feet away. This was the first time I'd seen alligators hereabouts.

I've gotten several more rejection letters this week from job applications (no correspondence of any kind from the six literary agents to which I've sent queries regarding the translated manuscript).  And I've gotten a "you're nice, but no dice" phone call from two other places. One said they'd found a more suitable candidate, one was an international recruiter who'd initially been thrilled in print that I wanted to use their services to go overseas as a teacher. Then they'd gotten my full application, that included a nicely-worded personal essay and a formal lesson plan (which took days to complete). Those weren't what sunk me, but instead the two tick marks I'd put in the boxes nect to the "have you ever been treated for an emotional or mental disorder" and "do you currently take any prescription medication?" questions.  They could legally ask this (and my height, weight and age) because it was a foreign government form, not a US one.  I do have (totally managed) OCD, for which I (I joke, "almost obsessively") take medication daily--I even included a signed physician's note to verify these claims.  But it turns out that this particular Southeast Asian government won't accept any candidates who have pharmacologically-neutralized issues like mine. "They won't tell you why you've been rejected," the recruiter told me. " This is a 'dirty little secret' only associated recruiters know."  It was pretty much a kick in the teeth.  Rather than going through the recruiter, then, I submitted my paperwork directly to the government program website. I figured I didn't have anything to lose, and heck, they might as well reject me outright. In the meantime, I have a Sunday evening Skype interview with a recruiter for another country who doesn't anticipate problems, despite my stated psychological issues.  Sheesh.

I've agreed to go up to DC at the beginning of next month to help Anita with a series of holiday shows, both indoor and outdoor. I hope the weather will cooperate and that I'll have a lot of saleable creations to take up with me. Yesterday I spray-painted a huge quantity of paper ornaments silver and another lot gold. Once they are completely gilded, I plan to cover them with glitter and then seal them and attach loops of string so they can be hung up.  I will eventually post pictures of the results and of my sequin and bead embellishment of satin-covered styrofoam balls, some of which have ended up being really lovely!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Three Cat Day

I got twelve pairs of vintage gloves--all of which fit my small paws--at a garage sale for $15 on Saturday.  I am looking forward to wearing them (perhaps they will keep me from indulging in my  ongoing trichotillomania, which leaves my cuticles raw, and will keep my skin from drying out easily during the winter months, which condition only encourages me to pick at it).  I also met a nice orange tabby, who was overseeing the sale.  It consented to have its head rubbed after it had observed me for a bit.

Saturday afternoon Susanna had invited me to go on a walk with her in Hitchcock Woods, a large swath of undeveloped land in Aiken, SC, restricted to pedestrians and equestrians.  A brown tabby touring the neighboring paddocks presented itself for admiration and affection before we went in among the trees, attention which I was glad to bestow.

The woods were lovely, green (most leaves here haven't turned their autumn colors yet--the exceptions being the gloriously scarlet maples at the entrance to my subdivision), and crisscrossed with hoof-printed paths, and featured the occasional ominous sign tacked to a tree warning of possible quicksand after heavy rain.  Susanna assured us that she'd never encountered quicksand, but I hastened over the "sand river" a bit nervously.  I would love for my mother and I to go there to bike-ride, but the only wheeled contraptions permitted are horse-drawn.

The other lady walking with us shared the recent adventure of her musician son, who is principle trumpet for a large European orchestra. His instrument was stolen weeks ago, and he was eventually contacted by the thieves, who wanted him to pay a hefty ransom for it.  He went to the police, who (after making him go through considerable paperwork) went undercover nearby when he met the extortionists, and he was able to get the trumpet back without losing any money.  Yet, one of the arrested thieves had the crust to call him later to complain about him breaking their deal (to pay up).

At Susanna's house, her lovely Raisa, her all-year-round Halloween cat--lovely thick black coat, black whiskers, black toe pads--was waiting for us to lavish her with praise and strokes.  I told Susanna that her furry companion needed her own personal pumpkin as Raisa purred and preened under my fingertips, then arranged herself artistically on the brick patio in front of us.  If I had access to a kiln, I'd make her a food dish in the shape of a jack-o-lantern, but as it is, she'll have to make do with just the human face-pot I made for her ten years ago as a water bowl.


She's handsome and she knows it. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tutoring

I've accumulated two local ESOL students over the last fortnight: I am tutoring one from Russia (a married woman with children) and one from China (a high school guy).  The former is determined to improve her already considerable language skills, while the latter may require being dragged by his lapels into the broader world of knowledge.  Both are thoroughly nice and extremely intelligent; just their level of motivation is vastly different. The guy is addicted to League of Legends--much to the frustration of the adults in his life (both here and overseas--his guardian led me to believe that his parents threw up their hands and packed him off abroad in hopes of breaking his online gaming habit)--and I've got to come up with a way of engaging him in learning away from the computer.  The woman is actually a medical doctor fluent in three other languages prior to English, and she looks forward to becoming comfortable in the culture, and possibly employed in research in her field, as she and her family are due to stay here for at least five years.  The high school student ultimately needs to pass the TOEFL and get into a decent university (his math and science skills are great).

I was once told that when you are trying to figure out how to teach material to someone, you study more than you did when you were a student yourself, and this has been proven true.  Since these two students are wholly dissimilar in terms of stage of life, interests and social background, not to mention home country and native language, each requires an individually-tailored plan to address his or her needs.  Yesterday, I decided to have Katya read through a selection on the history of Halloween, both to practice her pronunciation and to introduce her to the American holiday.  In preparing for the lesson, I read several articles about how we got our contemporary celebration, and discovered that its current incarnation is only about a century old.  As an historian, it's fascinating to me see how traditions that we take for granted as having been passed down from ancient times are, in fact, of relatively recent genesis.  For example, trick-or-treating as we practice it today was only first mentioned in the 1920s.  And, contrary to popular understanding, Halloween was usually a fairly benign, if not relatively positive holiday in both the old pagan and the Christian traditions--although it marked the remembrance of the dead, there does not seem to have been the level of gruesome terror associated with it that many people now incorporate in their decorations.  As a matter of fact, the theatrical qualities of festooning houses with elements evoking dismembered murder victims is probably more an influence of Hollywood than heritage.

Teaching someone your language can feel like a game of Taboo, where you have to describe an object or concept without using particular off-limits words, since you realize they don't know the "clarifying" words either.  And there are so many basic concepts that one language takes for granted as universal than in fact are not.  For example: the case of the color red.  To some it symbolizes blood, to others Communism, and to others, (particularly in Asian countries) good luck.  The American good luck color, by way of contrast, is green (thanks to our Catholic Irish influences and the general hue of our currency).  I suspect the phrase "capitalist running dogs" is somehow a grave insult in Mandarin, but to us it's a funny image, not a hurtful one.  Neither of my students knows much about American history (world history is not a subject on which they are tested in China, I was told today), and though I do know a pretty fair amount about Russian history, I can't say the same for that of places further southeast.  At any rate, I am going to try to "elicit" (a good TESOL instructional term) as much language from my students as possible while teaching them about the United States and general English vocabulary.

My friend June and I hope to complete our initial applications to work as ESOL instructors abroad by the end of this week (we've been saying this for more than a month now, but by golly...).  My international teaching CV has to be topped with a head shot, and list my age, number of dependents, and marital status--all data technically illegal to ask for here in the US, but essential to any attempt at finding employment overseas.  I hope 40 is considered a lucky age number in some places!