August, 2013

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Compass Points

As I mentioned last week turning 40 might have been affecting my brain a little. Nothing too terrible, but some general malaise and discontent with where I am in life, you know. Nothing terrible, actually I think it is in someway just another thing they don’t prepare you for in graduate school. How, even if you get a job, it can take so long to get your life on track. For the last few months, however, I have been a little more willing to take risks and make changes, which was clearly illustrated in my last hair cut. In about an hour I went from this:

to this:

Keep in mind my hair hasn’t been shorter than my chin since 5th grade, when I tried an ill advised Dorothy Hamill wedge cut. The other thing to understand about this hair choice is that, for me, it was an incredibly fast decision. Normally, making a decision about my hair takes months. I took about a week to decide to go for this cut.

Which leads me to the next part of whatever mid-life crisis I’ve been having. For many people, the DH include and you dear readers, this one masquerades as a quick decision, because once I started talking about it I got it done. Last week was probably the first time I talked about getting a tattoo, but actually I have been thinking about this for a couple of years now. I have had the basic idea and image on my iPad for over a year. In fact when I went to the IWCA conference in San Diego last fall, I got a henna tattoo of the same general design in the same location to test it out.

After graduation I was very tempted to act on this decision, but life just kept getting in the way. With my birthday approaching, this really just felt like the right time. A way to commemorate, not one but two milestones — finishing the PhD and turning 40.

So, I began yesterday with an arm that looked like this.


And after waiting two hours at the tattoo shop, which was interesting to say the least, my arm looked like this:


The most descriptive thing I can think to say about the tattoo shop is that it was a decidedly masculine environment. I’m pretty sure your imagination can take it from there. In the end though, the wait wasn’t that bad, and I am happy to say that I tolerated my tattoo experience better than the young kid in front of me. The most disturbing thing to me was the 20-25 year old kid working the front counter that kept calling me sweetie. As much as I might not be in love with being called “Ma’am” most of the time these days, the sweetie from a much younger man is definitely not preferable.

And this morning after the swelling went down some, my arm looks like this:


Many people have already asked what the alternate letters mean. The thing is, I chose those letters in part because they can stand for any number of things. There are so many people in my life who’s name start with, or contain B’s that it seemed a natural element for the North point of my compass. At this point in my life however, it also serves to remind me of the importance of being my own North, my own guiding point on the compass.

For me, there was never any other choice but to put an H in the NW spot, because the more and longer I live elsewhere, the more deeply I know that the Pacific Northwest is my home. The DH spent some time this week probing and questioning me about my letter choices, which I was a little grumpy about at the time. In the long run, however, it was nice because it made me consider all the other “H” words that inform both my work and myself: hospitality, host, hostess, hope, etc.

Part of the DH’s probing about the letters I would choose has to do with a distinctly Grabow quirk, which is that the family seems to have a genetic need/desire for symmetry. The Captain and my sister-in-law couldn’t even look at a house down the street as they passed it without being annoyed that a decorative window in the garage was not appropriately centered under the peak of the roof. When I showed the DH the compass I wanted to use for my tattoo he was concerned that if I replaced NW with just an H, then the other NE, SE, and SW would look unbalance because they had two letters instead of just one. Yep, these are the things the DH thinks about.

In the end though, it at least got me thinking about the other points of the compass. The only other point that I would want to replace with a letter is the SE, but I couldn’t think of a letter for that — S for stroke didn’t really make much sense and would just be confusing. G for graduate school, ummm … given my current feelings about it, the less said/thought about graduate school the better. I really didn’t want it carried around on my skin forever. PhD feels the same way — plus it would put me in the same letter symmetry quandry. The other night it came to me – V. V could stand for so many things; something cheesy like Victory for my recovery from the stroke and graduation from graduate school, something a little sardonic like the vissitude and vagaries of fate, or a word I had forgotten how much I love — verisimilitude.

Versimilitude, to me captures my current relationship with the SE. It is like home in that I have developed friends and family here both in graduate school, and in my current position, but it is not really home in the way that the Northwest is. So, V it is because it does mean everything I’ve just said, and is also undetermined enough to allow for change over time.

At at the tattoo shop last night I also solved the problem of letter symmetry by having them just leave out the NE and SW points of the compass, which I think was the best choice because it kept the tattoo relatively clean and simple. And who knows where I will end up next. Maybe I will have letters to add in the future. As Ouiser said when I texted her the pictures, “It’s all about direction, isn’t it.” It is, it is about remembering where you’ve been to guide you to the path to follow.

The work that never ends.

Every semester someone from the Writing Center visits all the ENG 100 & 101 courses at my school.


Every course. Every semester. Have I mentioned lately that I work at a large university?

Typically, I pawn off many of these visits on the consultants. It is good for the students to see the people with whom they will be working. This semester, however, things are different. For the first time in quite a while I have an almost completely new staff. The consultant training course I’m teaching actually has more than 3 people in it! I know I mentioned that before.

Being the soft hearted person I am, I decided this semester I wouldn’t ask any of the new people to do any of the classroom visits. Occasionally, students actually ask questions and I didn’t want anyone to have a bad experience. So, now I am looking at the first of many 12 hour days on campus. I really have to learn how not to be so nice.

The thing is though, as exhausted as I will be by September 12th, I kind of like getting to see the shiny new faces. Since I only teach consultant training now, I don’t really have the opportunity to see first year students much anymore. Sure, I know this is wildly altruistic, but I miss the wonder, excitement, and terror in their faces during the first few weeks of class. Remind me of this post when I am dead on my feet next week.

When Your (Brown) Body is a (White) Wonderland

Everyone should read this piece by @tressiemcphd and if you aren’t following her on Twitter, you should be.

One week …

Apparently, in celebration of my 40th birthday I get to return to my 10 year old look. This week I went to the eye doctor and had to get a pair of reading glasses for work. I’ll post pictures when I get to pick them up.

Also, I think I am having the proverbial mid-life crisis. Nothing like buying a sports car, or anything like that. But the crisis is the only explanation I can come up with for my recent willingness to cut my hair, and the general malaise I seem to have going on. To borrow from my insightful little sister, Lucy Little, I am a woman in search of inspiration.

So, no inspiration yet … just new hair, new glasses, and next weekend a new tattoo and 40.
Seems like at least the next year will be interesting.

Under the Dome – Missing Frank

If I remember correctly, when Under the Dome first came out I was working in a bookstore that no longer exists. I’ve never been a big enough King fan to pay for a hard copy of his books (even with employee discount), and as I waited for the soft cover of Under the Dome I got busy with grad school, and it just dropped off my radar. Recently, all the hype about the television show reminded me of the book.  I had an audible credit available, so I decided to listen to the book before watching the tv show. From what I have heard, I don’t think I will be wasting my time with the tv show.

There is a new series of Law & Order: UK on BBC America right now. That, plus Hell on Wheels, have all my television time wrapped up.  Any extra will be devoted to watching The Fall on Netflix. In short, since I no longer have to worry about a dissertation I now have brain space for good television, which limits my tolerance for bad television.  Really, I haven’t watched a single episode of Rizzoli & Isles this season. Posts about each of those shows will probably follow, but this one is about a book.

My feelings about Under the Dome could be summed up like this … eh.

The book certainly isn’t King’s worst, but I wouldn’t rank it among his best either. Even if you limit your best of list to King’s epic door-stopper genre, Under the Dome is just there, not fantastic, but not bad enough to really complain about either. Once you meet all the characters, which takes a good portion of time, the rest of the story is fairly predictable.

In all fairness, however, I have to admit Under the Dome had a hard row to hoe.  Because I didn’t really read it, I listened to it and, while the narrator was passable, he was no Frank Muller. Muller was the first audiobook narrator that made me pay attention to his name, and then go find other things he read. I can’t tell you any more which came first, my decision to listen to/read Stephen King & Peter Straub’s Black House, or my love of Mr. Muller’s voice. Muller’s voice and characterization are the standard by which I judge all other narrators, and while many get close, few make me want to listen and re-listen to books the way Muller does.  At one time I actually owned Black House on cassette, and when I lost one, I used an Audible credit to download it.  Even having paid for it twice, I have gotten more than my money’s worth from Muller’s recording. Seriously, go check out Muller’s narration list. I guarantee you will find something you like on there.

Black House is not such a great story that I want to listen to it over and over, it is that Muller makes me love the characters, makes me ignore the faults in the story.  Under the Dome’s narrator is fine.  He does an okay job, but he is never quite able to make me love the character’s enough to forgive the plot twists I could see coming/the canned story arcs/or King’s obligatory unnecessary sex scene. All of this is just my long way of repeating my initial review — Under the Dome, eh.

Vacation Details

My mother-in-law sent me a few of her pictures from vacation. Eventually, there may even be a picture of me being towed behind the boat. Thankfully, my sister-in-law’s phone was running out of battery, so there is no footage of my header into the lake.  Your imagination will have to suffice. My father-in-law described my performance as the epitome of “ass over teakettle,” if you needed any help.

The in-laws are known far and wide for their love of lawn games, so one afternoon an Olympics course of corn-hole, ladder golf, horse shoes, bocce ball, frisbee toss, and football toss was set up.  The other thing the in-laws are known for is how long it can take to get an activity started.  From conception to the start of the first event, the family yard Olympics took over 2 hours to get started. Eventually, though everyone gathered in the back yard.

Yard Olympics waiting area.

Given that I spent more time in airplanes than on the ground in the week before this trip, I unsurprisingly developed a head cold during our time at the cabin.  I served as the Olympic crowd/dog & baby wrangler. It was pretty fun. Whoever had the least amount of points at the end had to go down to the lake, shout loud enough for the whole lodge to hear “I’m a fish. I’m a really big fish. Come and get me,” then jump in the lake.


He’s a really big fish

To make sure the loser didn’t feel too lonely, everyone got to vote for someone to jump in the lake with the loser.  Since no one had ever seen the Captain’s (my father-in-law) perfectly coiffed do, known as the “dome,” wet, he was of course picked to accompany the DH into the lake. Some one did get a video of the big moment, which I will share when it comes my way.  Amazingly enough, the dome looked just the same wet as it did dry.

As we left Wednesday morning my mother-in-law got a few pictures of us with our little nephew. Of course, there isn’t one in which we all are looking at the camera.


The DH is skeptical.


Everyone look stage left.

There were however, some nice pictures of us individually.


snuggling Uncle DH


Enough pictures! Put me down already!

There was even a rare picture of the DH and I. Given that it was 7am and we were about to drive 1800 miles home, I don’t think we look too bad.


Day light’s wasting … let’s go!

Vacation Round Up

It’s been quiet around here lately for a couple of reasons. First, a long shot of a job application resulted in a sudden campus visit. While that was the only thing on my mind for a bit, it was also not something I thought I should be writing about. Then right after that visit I went on vacation. The vacation was at a lovely cabin in the wilds of Wisconsin where I didn’t have access to internet or phone. It was great.

I kayaked for the first time, and I loved it. In fact, I loved it enough to give myself blisters going out as often as I could. It was also great to see all my in-laws. At nearly every family vacation a story emerges at someone’s expense. For example, at our reception party my father in law tried to open a can of cashews and ended up throwing them all of the room. He has to this day not lived down the cashew incident.

This trip it was apparently my turn for such a story. In addition to kayaking I also tried tubing for the first time. It all went well until my ride was over. No one told me that when the boat stopped I would need to reposition my weight backward. The result was that in exquisite slow motion I felt the tube slipping forward more and more until I went head first into the lake. As I spluttered my way to the surface all I could hear from the boat was laughter and gasps as they asked if I was okay. Apparently the look on my face as I went in the water was priceless.

Between time on the boat and game nights we all had such a nice time I don’t mind being the entertainment for the week.