Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2012 Reading Challenges

In 2009, I read 88 books; in 2010, I read 87. The count for 2011 will be 53 or 54, which is disappointing. I also failed to complete my reading challenge for 2011, which was to read four classic novels: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I only read two of the four (Atwood and Vonnegut). Still, I’m not too upset. I set a new challenge for myself in July, and though I’ve revised it slightly, it has kept me on a path and encouraged me to read more than I was in the first half of the year.

Now it’s time for me to think about what I want to read in 2012. Each year, I like to challenge myself, but I don’t set strict rules. I just want to set a goal that I can accomplish while broadening my horizons a little bit.

My goals for reading in 2012:

Read a minimum of 52 books (one for each week of the year).

At least 75% of all books read will be from my to-be-read list. As it stands today, the list contains 103 books, so if I read 52 books in 2012, 39 will need to come from the TBR list.

31 of the books on my TBR list are (what I consider) classics. I’d like to read ten of these in 2012.

I always set a big goal, one that would be really hard to reach but also really cool if I did. My big goal for 2012 is to read 90 books. Since I started keeping track of books I’ve read again in 2009, my high is 88, and I’d like to top that. However, since reading 90 books would mean a pace of 1.75 books every week, I seriously doubt it will happen.

Still…goals are good, and I look forward to beginning work on these!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

November 2011 Book List

Everyone knows I’m a voracious reader, and I’m often asked for recommendations. I decided that on or around the first of each month, I’ll post a list of the books I read the month before. I give each book a numeric rating, from 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides – Rating: 4

What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman - Rating: 4

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley – Rating: 4

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain – Rating: 5

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

(Not So) Thankful

In this season of Thanksgiving, it is important to recognize and acknowledge our blessings. I have so much to be thankful for:

The most perfect husband (for me) in the entire world.

A family that cares for each other, whether or not we agree on a particular topic.

In-laws - and an extended, by-marriage family - who love me as if I were born to them.

Wonderful friends who truly understand me, laugh with me, hold me up when life beats me down, and *always* know an out-of-the way spot to hide the body.

A job that suits me and makes me happy, even when it makes my brain hurt.

Three precious kitties that never fail to make me laugh.

But let’s be honest: it’s not always fun to be thankful. And I’m all about fun, and about finding joy in life. So here are a few things I’m *not* thankful for:

J.’s classes this semester. His professors are inept, snotty, and unfair, and they are destroying his desire to be in school.

Commercials which are three times louder than the television show.

The obvious conspiracy among publishers to keep me buried in books I want to read (ok, maybe that’s something to be thankful for, too)

Reality tv

Big business

The beyond-crazy holiday shopping season, and the rude behavior that will inevitably come with it.

Well…I could keep going, but this week really is about thanksgiving. One more thing I’m thankful for: the internet, which has opened up so many doors and given me greater access to friends and a platform to share my thoughts.

Thanks for reading along.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Day in the Life

I “borrowed” this one from RoseAnn…not sure my daily life is very interesting, but I thought it would be a good exercise.

5:00 am – alarm clock goes off – hit snooze.
5:09 am – get up or hit snooze.
5:18 am – get up or hit snooze.
5:27 am – drag my butt out of bed and grunt at J.
5:27 am – 5:35 am – drink coffee and achieve consciousness.
5:35 am – 6:15 am – check email, Facebook, and a few other sites I read every day.
6:15 am – 7:00 am – shower and prepare for the day.
7:00 am – leave the house. Run errands if needed.
7:15 am – 8:00 am – arrive at work (sometime in this window).
8:00 am – 8:30 am – Get breakfast from cafeteria. Check mailbox. Boot up computer and open work and personal emails.
8:30 am – 8:45 am – Review the day ahead: check office calendar, to-do list, and upcoming due dates. Determine which items, if any, must be done today.
8:45 am – 10:00 am – Work
10:00 am – 10:30 am – Take cigarette break. Walk interior of property; check in with tenants. Walk through construction areas, check progress and status of any inspections performed the previous day.
10:30 am – 12:00 pm – Work.
12:00 pm – 12:15 pm - Get lunch from hospital cafeteria or prepare lunch that I brought from home.
12:15 pm – 2:00 pm – Eat lunch while checking blogs and other favorite websites. Work as needed.
2:00 pm – 2:15 pm – Cigarette break.
2:15 pm – 2:30 pm – Review list of must-complete items.
2:30 pm – 4:00 pm – Work.
4:00 pm – 4:15 pm – Address all work emails and reply as needed.
4:15 pm – 4:30 pm – Verify that all tasks on must-complete list are done.
4:30 pm – 5:00 pm – Prepare for the next day. Straighten desk. Look at personal to-do list for things I need to do after work.
5:00 pm – Leave work.
5:20 pm – 5:45 pm – Arrive at home. Greet J. Greet Keke. Ask Monkey why he ran away when I tried to greet him, as if he doesn’t remember me (yes, this happens every day). Hunt for Bo, say hi, try – and fail – to pet her. Unpack all the junk I take back and forth every day: cell phone, cigarettes, book-in-progress, to-do list, planner.
5:45 pm – 6:00 pm – Fix and eat a small snack. Ask J. what’s on tv tonight. Ask J. what’s for dinner.
6:00 pm – 6:30 pm – Watch tv and/or read while J. finishes studying.
6:30 pm – 7:00 pm – Sit on my butt while J. makes dinner. Offer to help, knowing he won’t let me.
7:00 pm – 7:30 pm – Eat dinner.
7:30 pm – 8:00 pm – Clean up kitchen. Try to help with dishes, knowing J. won’t let me. Tidy up house instead.
8:00 pm – J. and I go to bed. Play with cats (bedtime requires play with the laser pointer). Read and/or watch tv until we fall asleep.

Wow…this was difficult to write, not because I’m so exciting, but because my days vary so much! My workday is especially hard to pin down, because there’s just no predicting how a given day will go. A day can be moving along smoothly and then an issue arises that derails the rest of the day – or the rest of the week. I may be working at my desk one moment, then be running all over our campus for the next two hours (with no notice!). I have one week of the month that is especially busy, with items due to our corporate office. During the rest of the month, on a quiet day, I may spend most of my time playing online. And in the early part of the month, I often leave at 3:30 pm to take rent payments to the bank. I love the flexibility, and that every day is different, but for someone who is such a planner, that’s also part of the challenge of my job.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Bad Habits

As everyone around me is talking about the approaching holiday season, I’m thinking about the coming of a new year. Since I tend to be introspective, I often think about who I am and who I want to be. I’m sure I’ll be writing about that a great deal over the next six weeks. Today, though, I’m thinking about my bad habits.

I smoke cigarettes. I began smoking at age 15 for an incredibly stupid reason: I was a good kid, and I wanted to do something bad. I needed to rebel, so my high-school best friend and I bought a pack of cigarettes and off we went. Twenty years later, I’m still a half-pack per day smoker. I know it’s bad for me; I know all the reasons I should quit. J. quit about a month ago, and I want to quit soon, but I’m just not quite ready. It’s more of a mental thing than a physical one. I like smoking (even though that makes me a pariah these days), and I just don’t *want* to quit yet.

I use language that would offend sailors in a brothel, and I’m not ashamed of it. I think this stems – in part – from my mom’s efforts to control my language use. I wasn’t allowed to say pee, darn, or dangit. As far as my mom (and her parents) were concerned, those were just lite versions of swear words, which made them swear words, too. I think the strict rules placed upon me as a kid made me a lot more prone to swear as an adult. Of course, I know that there’s an appropriate place for “bad” language, and I can control myself. But for many years my favorite curse word was Jesus-fucking-Christ. I’ve mellowed a bit in my 30’s; now I say “sweet baby cheeses” as often as I say “motherfucker.” It’s all about progress…right?

I drink coffee, and soda, and wine, and liquor. I don’t drink any of them to excess, and I rarely drink liquor, but I like – even love – all of them. I like good food: rich pastas, and thick steaks, and lots of starches. And I’ll be damned if I’ll eat fat-free cheese. I try to eat the really bad stuff in moderation, but enjoying a meal is one of the greatest pleasures in life, and I’m not going to have regrets for doing just that!

Patience is not a virtue with which I was blessed, nor is it a virtue I desire to have. As far as I’m concerned, patience is for people who can’t keep up. My lack of patience makes me organized (because I can’t stand wasting time searching for things) and productive (because I rarely procrastinate, since that just keeps things on my to-do list longer). The downside is that I become irritated easily when things aren’t going as quickly as I think they should, or when I feel that people are making things harder than they need to be.

Do you know what dermatillomania is? Until Saturday, I didn’t either, even though I’ve had it since I was a child. It’s also known as neurotic excoriation or compulsive skin picking. It can manifest in lots of ways, but in my case, I pick at scabs. I cannot tolerate the feel of a scab, so I have to remove it. (I find this very interesting, since I know that I’m a very tactile person, and I wonder how much the two things are related). Dermatillomania is a type of OCD, and is often found in people who suffer from other mental illnesses, including depression. The picking is worse during times of stress, and (not surprisingly) I’ve been picking much more often during the last three months. It’s a comfort, in a way, to find that this thing I’ve always called a nervous habit actually has roots in my mind, and that it’s *not* just a bad habit.

I’m sure I have other bad habits, but these are the worst. As I reflect on 2011, I’ll be making plans to work on some of these habits, and try to find ways to better myself in 2012.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

October 2011 Book List

Everyone knows I’m a voracious reader, and I’m often asked for recommendations. I decided that on or around the first of each month, I’ll post a list of the books I read the month before. I give each book a numeric rating, from 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent. I do not generally rate non-fiction works; those will be shown with a rating of N/A.

Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris – Rating: 4

It’s Okay to Miss the Bed on the First Jump by John O’Hurley - Rating: N/A

Shakespeare’s Landlord by Charlaine Harris – Rating: 4.5

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian – Rating: 5

Devil’s Knot: the True Story of the West Memphis Three by Mara Leveritt – Rating: N/A

Push by Sapphire – Rating: 5

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What's Left Behind

My maternal grandmother was born on November 30, 1920. She was only nine years old on Black Tuesday, but she remembers that day. Her parents took her to get new shoes, but when they stopped by the bank, they found the doors chained and panicked people on the sidewalk outside. I asked if she still got new shoes, and she said she did. She doesn’t remember much about the Depression, saying that her parents shielded her from whatever hardships they experienced.

She married my grandfather in September 1947, and had her first child (my mother) in November 1949. While in labor, there was concern that both my grandmother and her baby would not survive childbirth, and my grandfather was brought in to say goodbye, just in case. She delivered my mother via C-section, then remained in the hospital for two weeks, and in bed at home for another four. My great-grandmother stayed with my grandparents during that time, since my grandmother was confined to bed. When I asked if this long recovery was due to the complications she experienced, my grandmother replied that six weeks of bed-rest was normal after childbirth. I was surprised at how differently doctors saw the recovery process then.

I was born in 1976, and was close to my grandparents from the start. Since I was their only grandchild for the next nine years, they doted on me. My name for my maternal grandmother is Mema (Meemaw), and she was – and is – my favorite grandparent. For 90 years old, she has been healthy, especially considering her diabetes and high blood pressure. Her mind is strong, and we’ve only noticed it beginning to slip in the last two years.

As I write this, she is very ill. She was hospitalized on August 23, but returned home after two weeks. Mema was better, but not the same as before. On October 12, she was hospitalized again. I went to the hospital immediately, and talked with her while waiting in the emergency room (for her to be admitted to the hospital). I was able to say all the things I needed to, in case she took a turn for the worse. But she improved, and even though she was still experiencing pain and needed oxygen, she was moved to a rehab facility on October 18. Her condition has deteriorated, and each day seems to be worse. On Friday, she had difficulty recognizing both my mom and my uncle. I was delighted that she said my name as soon as she saw me, but then she started asking where she was, over and over again. Late on Saturday evening, she became combative with the nursing staff as they tried to medicate her.

It is apparent to the entire family that her time is short. She has lived a long, happy life (as she told me herself in the ER last week), and we don’t want her to suffer. Of course, this is difficult, but it has made me reflect on all the time I spent with her, and all the wonderful memories I have. I realized that, although I don’t know nearly enough about my family’s history, what really counts are the parts of my grandmother that will live on in me.

My grandmother gave me unconditional devotion. She bought me animal crackers every time I went grocery shopping with her. She encouraged my love of reading by renewing magazine subscriptions for me year after year. She cooked separate meals for me when I was a picky eater and didn’t want what the rest of the family was having (how I wish now that I’d tried her Shrimp Creole just once!). She made 24-Hour Salad and Chocolate Icebox Pie every time there was a family dinner, because she knew I loved them. She made Date Loaf every Christmas, just for me, and there was always a LifeSavers Storybook in my stocking. She never told me “no,” but she didn’t spoil me. She bought me my first pair of pantyhose, and took me to get my first contact lenses. She didn’t even frown - much less get angry - when I spilled bright red nail polish all over a set of white sheets. And she never told me that I’d disappointed her, even when my life was in shambles, and I was a disappointment to everyone (especially myself). I have her fingernails, and from what I can tell, as an old woman I will have her crepe skin and snow-white hair. And I have her name; my middle name is the French deviation of her first name.

Her life was devoted to her family. Our happiness made her happy, and as strange as it seems to me, it was all she ever wanted. She loves J., and never fails to say what a nice man he is. She sees the goodness in him, and I think it gives her comfort to know that I’m cared for. Her three grandchildren are all married now, but I don’t expect she’ll live to see great-grandchildren. As much as I don’t want to, I’m prepared to let Mema go. She’s told us that she’s ready, but what really hurts now is that we can’t do anything to ease her suffering. The doctor talks about “making her comfortable,” but they can’t. She’s not physically sick enough to have IV painkillers, but she fights taking pills. Two years ago, I wrote very briefly about euthanasia; then, it was an abstract concept. I believed it was a tragedy to let humans suffer in ways we would never inflict on our pets, but now that I’m seeing that suffering first-hand, I realize that "tragedy" doesn't even begin to describe it. It makes me angry, and it hurts much more than the idea of losing her. Mema gave to her family for the last sixty years, taking nothing in return. She doesn’t deserve this.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Playing Favorites

They say confession is good for the soul, and it seems I’ve been confessing some of my sins lately. Here’s another: among our furbabies, I have a favorite.

I love all our cats. Keke – even though she is J.’s cat – is my snuggle-buddy at bedtime. And having Bo in our home has been a wonderful challenge for all of us. But Monkey…he's my favorite.

Monkey was our first foster. He was born to a feral mama behind our house, and we kept an eye on their little family. Mama was tiny, and couldn’t keep all four babies nourished, even though we were feeding them, too. Over a few weeks, two of the babies died and one disappeared. We caught the last of the babies and brought him in, intending to socialize him and then make him available for adoption.

J. and I had never fostered before, so we kept him in a crate the first two nights. He cried non-stop, even though I stayed close and tried to soothe him. On the third morning, he’d lost his voice. He would move his mouth, but most of the time, no sound would come out. Occasionally, there would be a tiny, pitiful, precious squeak. After a visit to the vet and a bit of time to acclimate, we took him to two adoption events. He slept through both, and we joked that he’d never get adopted if he didn’t show off a little (like he did at home). We had named him Monkey; he would climb anything, and since he has the standard tabby “M” on his forehead, it seemed appropriate. We realized he just wasn’t going to show well at adoption events, and we were enjoying having a second cat, so we decided that his forever home was with us.

That was over a year ago. Monkey is 18 months old now, and has grown into the sweetest cat I’ve ever known. He got his voice back after a couple of months, and he is the most vocal of our cats. He still sleeps about 18 hours a day, and he plays like a crazy kitten the other six. That can be very entertaining, since he doesn’t seem to realize that he’s not a two-pound kitten anymore. Now, he’s a 17-pound Baby Huey. He romps around the house, driving his sisters crazy, and making me laugh.

I don’t know if Monkey will ever be a lap-cat, but he loves skritches. In the morning, he cries and cries until he gets petted. And he loves to have belly rubs when he’s sleeping; he’ll stretch out to his full length, then curl up tight around your hand. He's always sweet (and a little dumb). Monkey has only scratched J. or I a handful of times, and then only when he was overzealous during playtime or was very scared. Unlike Keke, he never uses his pointy-parts in anger. I'm not sure he would even know what to do if he were ever in a fight.

I know a mama shouldn’t have a favorite, but look at him…how could I not love him best???





Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Happy Hour

From Mental Floss: "Every Friday, I post a series of unrelated questions meant to spark conversation in the comments. Answer one, answer all, respond to someone else's reply, whatever you want. On to this week's topics of discussion..."

(Now that I actually have followers of my blog, I’d love to see your responses in the comments here. Tell me what you think, friends!)

Are there any intentionally misspelled — or unintentionally, I guess — business names that make you reach for your red pen?

~ All of them! I know that sometimes businesses do this intentionally, and that it can actually bring in customers, but it has the opposite effect on me.

Is there any movie whose preview initially gave you an entirely different picture of the film?

~ I know this has happened, but I can’t think of an example right now.

If TV characters competed in an elaborate Fictional Jeopardy! tournament, who do you think would come out on top?

~ I’d love to see Peter Griffin from Family Guy, Michael Scott from The Office, and Phil Dunphy from Modern Family in a Jeopardy! tournament. I don’t know who would win, but it doesn’t really matter. It would definitely be entertaining!

Time for another edition of What Are You Reading? Do you recommend it?

~ I just finished The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian, and I highly recommend it. I was extremely hesitant to read this book; I loved some earlier books of Bohjalian’s, but detested the last book of his that I read (Skeletons at the Feast). However, this book sounded so interesting that I gave it a chance, and I’m so glad I did!

I just started The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Poking a Tiger

Oh, I love dumb people - especially people who are too dumb to realize they're poking a sleeping tiger. If you’re not up to speed, please read this.

J. and I moved into our new place on the 23rd. We informed our former landlord (FL) that the unit was vacant and clean on 9/26. The keys were mailed to his post office box on the 27th, meaning he received them no later than 9/29. On Thursday (9/29), J. drove by the old place to check the mail one last time, and could see that FL had already begun renovating our unit. Since FL hadn’t bothered to reply to our email, I wrote him again and asked when we could expect our security deposit to be refunded.

He replied this morning, stating that he intends to comply with the terms of the Texas Property Code in relation to the return of our deposit. Having been a renter for the majority of my life, I’m aware that the TPC only applies if 1) an item is not specifically addressed in the lease agreement or 2) what is stated in the lease is illegal. So I reply to FL with a strongly worded email. I said that his “refusal to return our security deposit in a timely manner is further evidence of (his) unscrupulous business practices,” and that “we expect the return of our security deposit no later than October 29, 2011.”

Well, that set him off. His next email had a much more stream-of-consciousness feel to it. He wanted to know how we had the “gall” to say that he has unscrupulous business practices. And then he said that the lease agreement was the primary contract, but since we broke the lease by not giving one-month notice before vacating, now the TPC governs. Umm…we didn’t *break* our lease. We requested – and FL agreed – to voluntarily terminate our lease on September 30. We did this because his representative threatened our lives. We did not want to move; in fact, we’d been discussing that we might renew our lease for another year in May 2012!

Still, at this point, my patience was gone. Here’s my full reply to FL:

“Your attitude towards this matter, in which we have been entirely professional, shows the type of landlord you are. Continuing to employ a property manager who is abusive and threatening to your tenants = unscrupulous business practice. Refusing to refund our security deposit = unscrupulous business practice. Requiring that the tenant at (omitted for privacy) be evicted before you would close the sale with our original landlord, and then not actually evicting her = unscrupulous business practice.

Our lease agreement was not broken, since you agreed to the termination of our lease. The only reason we requested the termination of our lease is because of the threats made by your property manager. We did not want to move. We fulfilled every requirement in the residential lease agreement. It was the violation of our "quiet enjoyment" of the property by the guest of a tenant that led to this situation. Since we did not violate the lease, it is the primary contract, and Texas Property Code is secondary.

It is pointless for us to continue to debate this. You will either return our deposit or you won't. We will either pursue legal action or we won't. We will not accept further emails from you. If you wish to contact us, you may do so at the previously provided forwarding address.”

J. and I have talked this situation to death, and we decided – prior to this exchange of emails – that we were not going to pursue FL in court. Even to us, it’s just not worth the hassle (our deposit was $250). We love our new home, and we really just want to forget that the entire situation happened.

Here’s where the story gets funny.

I started to wonder what, exactly, the TPC says about situations like this, so I looked it up. And guess what? As far as I can tell, it backs us 100%!!!

The code states that, “The landlord has 30 days after the tenant surrenders the premises to refund the security deposit.” Okay, fine – he can make us wait. The TPC also states that, “If the landlord makes any deductions from the deposit, a written, itemized accounting of how much is being charged for each item must be sent to the tenant. If the landlord fails to provide such an accounting within 30 days after the tenant moves out, the landlord may forfeit the right to withhold any part of the deposit.” So FL has to contact us within 30 days, one way or the other. And we have the right to dispute any deductions he takes. Since we took photos after the unit was cleaned, that would not be an issue.

TPC goes on to state, “If a new owner buys a house or apartment and it is tenant-occupied at the time, all lease agreements and deposits should be transferred from the previous owner to the new owner.” Then it says, “Unless there are records of the move-in inventory, the new owner will probably not be able to establish the condition of the unit when the tenant moved in. Therefore, it may be difficult for a new owner to deduct damages from the tenant’s security deposit. The new owner should not keep any part of the deposit for damages unless the new owner can prove that the tenant damaged the unit.”

We did not fill out a move-in inventory; our original landlord (who is also our current landlord at our new place) did not require it. And we left the unit in better shape than it was in when we took possession, since we agreed to clean it upon move-in, in exchange for a break on our first month’s pro-rated rent.

Here’s the best part: “If the security deposit or itemized list is not mailed within 30 days after the tenant vacates the premises and turns in a forwarding address, the tenant has several options. The tenant can attempt to recover the deposit through mediation or the tenant can sue the landlord. A landlord can be held liable for $100, three times the amount of the deposit which is wrongfully withheld, reasonable attorney’s fees, and court costs, if the tenant can show the landlord acted in bad faith.”

So if he doesn’t send the deposit or the itemized list within 30 days, we can sue in small-claims court, and end up with $850 (plus court costs), instead of $250. It will be very interesting to see what FL does next. All I know is…this isn’t over. FL poked the tiger one time too many.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

It's My Job

I have a confession to make: I am good at my job.

That may sound silly, but the truth is that it feels like a confession. I have received a ton of compliments on my work over the last eight weeks, from several different people. Each time, I’ve felt proud, but the pride is overshadowed by embarrassment. I don’t feel like I do anything special, or at least like I do anything that should be seen as special.

I have had many jobs since I took my first office job at the age of 19. Over the years, I’ve learned that my strength is in serving a customer base. I am highly organized and detail-oriented. I love people, and it pleases me to make someone else’s job or life easier. I work best for a manager who includes me, teaches me, challenges me to grow, and then leaves me alone to do my work.

When J. and I moved back to Dallas in April 2010, I signed on with a staffing agency, which placed me as an administrative assistant at a commercial property management company (specializing in medical office buildings). After three months, I was hired on by the company. It was a complete fluke that I landed in this industry, but it is a perfect match to my personality and skills. It's a dynamic workplace; I have changed offices four times in the last year, and I’ve worked under four different property managers. I have been blessed to love each one more than the last. My current boss began work on September 12. She lauds my work daily, and she's already working to promote me. For the first time, I see myself in a career, not just a long-term job.

I’ve received compliments on my work over the years, but never in the quantity of late. And while it brings me joy to be recognized, it also feels strange. I believe in working hard, and in doing a good job. I’m being paid to accomplish certain tasks, so I have a responsibility to earn my keep. And my name is attached to those tasks; I want them to be done well! I’ve worked with a lot of people who do the bare minimum, and I have no patience for that. If I can do an extra minute or two of work that makes the next person’s job easier, I do it. I don’t believe in job descriptions; if something needs to be done, and I’m capable of doing it, then it’s my job.

My current office manages a brand-new building. That means that most of our interior space is still under construction. I deal with contractors for the bulk of each day. I also assist with our tenants’ needs, including coordinating everything for their move-in. On some days, it’s a very complicated dance – not so different from juggling a set of flaming bowling pins. I have days when I’m busy every second and yet cannot name a single thing I accomplished that day. Other days, I get several projects finished in one swoop. Either way, when I leave work each day, I’m happy.

So why do I blush when I receive a compliment? That reaction seems to be typical for American women. “They” say we don’t get raises because we don’t expect them the way our male counterparts do. It’s difficult for us to accept, or demand, recognition for doing our jobs well. Or maybe women are just hardwired to work hard for no gratitude. Perhaps that’s part of my embarrassment, but I think it’s more than that. I work hard because that’s the right thing to do; I do my job well because I would be ashamed not to. And it seems that I receive such gushing compliments because those traits are rare in 2011.

Now there's something to be embarrassed about.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

September 2011 Book List

Everyone knows I’m a voracious reader, and I’m often asked for recommendations. I decided that on or around the first of each month, I’ll post a list of the books I read the month before.

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson - Rating: 4

Flash and Bones by Kathy Reichs - Rating: 3.5

Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris - Rating: 4

Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich - Rating: 4

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Mailman Will Not Be Pleased...

When I was a kid, I was blessed to have family that encouraged my voracious love of reading. One way they did this was to keep me in magazine subscriptions. Over the years, I received several magazines, including Cricket (which I still think is an amazing children’s magazine) and Writer’s Digest.

As an adult, I’ve subscribed to lots of different publications. I still love magazines, and I especially love receiving them in the mail. In the last year, I’ve found some great deals on magazine subscriptions, and I currently subscribe to Redbook, Glamour, Everyday with Rachael Ray, and O: the Oprah Magazine. Since J. also loves to read, he gets Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. I have several magazines on my wish list: Mental Floss, National Geographic, The Bark, and Games Magazine are among the items on that list.

Amazon has been running specials on subscriptions. I have a fairly large credit with Amazon. Today I ordered us two new subscriptions: Cat Fancy and Smithsonian.

I’m beginning to think I have a problem.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

If it's not one thing...

...it's my mother.

You'd think that, by the age of 35, I would be accustomed to my mother’s particular brand of crazy.

Mom isn’t nutty like a character in a movie. She’s not psychotic like Norman Bates. And she’s not eccentric like Dwight Schrute. She doesn’t view the world normally, but she can’t see that the way she thinks about things isn’t normal. Since she's functional, and since some of her ideas even seem logical (on the surface), it’s hard for outsiders to understand why she drives me so batshit crazy.

Let me give you some examples. After my dad left when I was five, my mom never cooked another meal. Never. Not once. Her logic was that the time it would take for her to cook for the two of us, including grocery shopping, preparing meals, and cleaning afterward, wasn’t really justified for only two people. It was cheaper, in her mind, to eat fast food for every meal. So that’s what we did. Here’s another one: your clothes don’t really get dirty if you don’t leave the house. I may use this idea to justify wearing the same pajamas for a couple of nights. Mom uses it to justify wearing the same shirt and pants around the house for days on end. Literally. J. and I went over there not long after we’d moved back to Dallas, and she had on a shirt that was so filthy it had a sheen and smelled awful! The worst part is, she doesn’t get that it's not normal, so she's not embarrassed. J. and I were already married, so he knew all about her, but I was still horrified for him to see her like that.

Over the course of my life, I’ve often wished that she could just be a normal person, even if she couldn't be a normal mom. But I've mostly adjusted to her craziness. I know it takes her forever to do anything, and I can plan for that. But her narcissistic behavior is appalling, and it still hurts. I called her last week to let her know that we would be moving, and the first thing she said was, “Oh, but I didn’t get to see the house you’re in now!” And if that weren’t enough, she sent me a text an hour later asking if I’d take some photos of our current home. She lives 20 minutes away, and has had a open invitation to visit (with notice) during the entire 16 months we’ve lived here! I didn’t reply to the text, but a week later, I’m still stewing over it.

I’m so exhausted by everything always being about her. I know it’s part of her illness, but sometimes I want the mommy I've never had. When J. told his mom the story about our crazy landlord and impending move, her first words were, “How can I help?” Not only were those not my mom’s first words, she hasn't said them at all. This isn’t the first time her narcissism has upset me. When I married the first time, it was all about her, which led to me not being able to have a traditional wedding. And when I got divorced, it was all about her, which led to me having to comfort her (since she was grieving her own divorce all over again) instead of her comforting me.

I really shouldn’t be surprised by her reactions anymore, but every time this happens, it hurts. And it brings up all the old hurts that I can't get over. I just don't know how to get past them. I would do anything to help mom if she sought treatment, but after all this time I've given up hoping for that. As she gets older, I'll always make sure she's cared for, but my feelings for her are such a tangled mess. The honest truth is that I strongly dislike the woman who gave birth to me. That feeling stirs up guilt, which stirs up anger (because I know I shouldn't really feel guilty, since I didn't make her the way she is), which makes me like her even less.

Sigh. Maybe *I* should go to therapy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Vacation Question

Thanks to RoseAnn for the following challenge questions:

Do you have a vacation coming up? This includes long weekends, trips to visit family, anything that has you staying a night anywhere but your own bed.

~ There is no vacation in sight. We planned to travel this Christmas, but we’d already decided it probably wasn’t going to work out. And my new boss is going on a cruise with her entire family over Christmas, so I definitely won’t be able to take time off. The only time I may stay a night out of my own bed is this Thursday, if we take the cats to the new place that night. I don’t want to leave them alone, so we may sleep on the floor there (the movers are coming Friday morning).

If money/work/pet care weren't obstacles, where would you go on your next vacation?

~ If money, etc. were no object, I’d find a tropical resort where I wake up in the morning and have breakfast in bed. Then I ring a little bell and two large men would carry me to the beach, where I’d sit all day with a fruity drink in one hand and a book in the other. When I was done with relaxing on the beach, I’d ring the bell again and be carried back to my room to enjoy an amazing dinner with J. I would be completely, utterly, totally lazy for four days or so. I think I’d be ready to get back to real life after that. Surely such a place exists…right?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Anyone Out There?

It's been so long since I've written regularly that I'm having trouble getting back into the habit. I find it difficult to get my thoughts on paper, so I'm asking my readers - if any of you are left - to help me.

Ask me a question, please.

It doesn't matter what the question is; I doubt anyone could ask something that I'd consider too personal. And it can be silly, too. I just need some help getting my creative juices flowing again.

Any/all replies are appreciated.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What a Nightmare!!!

Life has been crazy lately - way crazier than I'm comfortable with. The transition at work has been chaotic, to say the least. J. lost eligibility for financial aid 9 days before the fall semester started. The earliest he'll be eligible for more aid is spring 2013. So that was a major stressor. My grandmother was hospitalized, and I was very afraid we might lose her. She's home now and is doing better, but she's almost 91; reality is setting in that we don't have much more time with her. And then there was this past weekend. I've told the story so many times this week, and I simply don't have the energy to write it into a narrative again. Here's the very concise version of what happened:

Sunday, mid-morning: our cable signal cuts off

We contact the cable provider, who says the signal is fine on their end

J. goes around our house (a four-unit rental) to check the lines

Our cable line is cut (not disconnected - cut). A brand-new coaxial cable runs from the port we had been using into the unit behind us.

We contact our landlord's representative via text message. (Our actual landlord lives in Trinidad.) No response.

J. reconnects our line as best he can. We get a partial signal back, enough to manage until Thursday, the earliest time our cable provider has an appointment available.

Ten minutes later, our signal goes out again.

J. goes around back again, where he catches our neighbor (of less than 2 weeks) and his friend unhooking our cable and hooking in their line in again.

A discussion and then confrontation ensues. Because of the tone of the argument, I call 911.

I call landlord's representative. No answer.

J. call's landlord's representative. No answer. J. leaves angry (but not abusive) voice mail.

Four patrol cars arrive in quick succession. Police find drugs, a shotgun, and two handguns (at least one of them stolen) in the cable-cutter's apartment.

90 minutes later, landlord's representative (LR) calls J. back on his cell phone. Neither J. nor I are home at this time, nor are we together. When J. says "Hello," LR is instantly screaming obscenities, calling both J. and I names, and threatening us physically. LR says that we have to be out of our apartment by the end of the day.

Since we have a lease and are not in violation of it, we tell him to go fuck himself. He threatens us both again, says that he will do whatever is necessary to get us out of our home, and says that he is encouraging the cable-cutter to file criminal charges against J. for threatening him with a knife (even though J. did not have a knife or any other weapon when the confrontation happened, and even though the cable-cutter didn't mention a weapon when the police were on-scene).

As you can imagine, Sunday night was bad. We got very little sleep, and my stress level was so high that I couldn't even keep water down.

When we originally rented this place, we had a different landlord, but he sold the property in December 2010. We called him Sunday night, and he said he had some units available. I called in sick to work on Monday, and we met with our former landlord. We rented the first apartment he showed us, and are moving next Friday.

Our current landlord has been notified of all that happened, and we've asked him to voluntarily terminate our lease. He hasn't given us an answer yet, but we'll move regardless. We simply don't feel safe here anymore. And it certainly doesn't feel like a home anymore. If he refuses to terminate our lease, we'll let him begin eviction proceedings when we don't pay our October rent, and we'll see what the judge has to say about all this.

With all this craziness, we're excited about the new place. It is 33% larger than this apartment, and it's laid out better, so it feels much larger. It has room for both our stand-up freezer and a washer/dryer, so we will be able to have both down the line. It has wonderful windows for the cats, and much better storage space. It has the biggest kitchen of anywhere we've ever lived, and I get to have a real pantry again!!!

Of course, there are some downsides. The new apartment has carpet (we prefer wood floors). It doesn't have a dishwasher (very common for this area), but we've lived without a dishwasher before. And it's upstairs.

The pros outweigh the cons by a lot, so we're happy overall. But it's going to be a stressful - and expensive - couple of weeks. I've really had about all I can handle of both stress and extra expenses. I'm trying to just take it day by day, but I'm concerned that if life doesn't give me a break soon, I'm going to have to up my dosage on my meds. I only wish I was joking.

Sigh...we'll get through this...we always do.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering

I have never been to New York. For almost ten years, I have known that when I finally get to visit, I will see Yankee Stadium, Rockefeller Center, Tiffany & Co., and FAO Schwarz. I will eat a hot dog from a vendor on the street, and try to decide if New York pizza is the best. And I will visit a firehouse – maybe more than one – and say, “thank you.”

But a few days ago, it dawned on me that “thank you” is not at all what I want to say. I want – and need – to say “I will remember.”

On September 11, 2001, I was 25 years old. I was single, having emerged from a 5 ½ year relationship a few months earlier, and I was enjoying being unattached. I indulged my wild streak; I drank entirely too much. I had fun with my friends, and I was planning a trip to Las Vegas in October for my best friend’s wedding. It would be the first time I flew. Like it was for most people, that morning was utterly normal. I was getting ready for work and listening to the local morning show when one of the on-air personalities broke in with news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but the announcement was given almost in passing. At that point, everyone thought a small plane had hit the tower accidentally.

As I drove to work, coverage of the events was nonstop. By the time I arrived at work, a few minutes late as usual, the second plane had hit. I went to my desk, and the two girls who reported to work before me asked what was wrong. They had no idea what had happened. I remember not being able to access news websites; the fact that I couldn’t find out what was happening added to my anxiety. Someone located a television and put it in a conference room in our area, but watching the coverage was worse, in some ways. I remember that I was watching the tv when people began to jump from the burning towers; a woman was eating at the conference table, and I wondered how she could keep her food down while watching people die.

Very little work was done that day. I spent the evening with my friend R.J., the man who would become my boyfriend and then husband. We watched continuing coverage, but I was numb. On October 11, 2001, I flew to Las Vegas for my friend’s wedding. When we arrived at DFW Airport, there were soldiers with machine guns at every entrance. It was real then; life would never be the same. In Las Vegas, we went to the New York, New York hotel. A makeshift memorial had been established along the railing by the Statue of Liberty. There were lots of unsmoked cigarettes woven among the notes and flowers. My friend made a comment about “why the hell are people leaving cigarettes???” I looked at what I was carrying: my ID, a little money, a camera and extra film, the hotel room key, and my cigarettes and lighter. People left cigarettes because they needed to leave something, and all they could leave behind was a cigarette.

In the news over this past week, I’ve heard reporters say that 9/11 was a dividing line: there was Before and now we live in After. I believe that; I know that 9/11 changed me. The thing that struck me then, and that still strikes me now, is that Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was just another day. The people who died woke up and went about their lives. I picture a husband and wife, bickering in the kitchen that morning. She leaves for work, and because of their argument, doesn’t kiss him goodbye. As she gets onto the subway, she thinks how silly the fight was, and how she’ll kiss him twice that evening to make up for it. But she doesn't come home that night, or ever again.

I say, “I love you” to J. at least five times a day. We say it so often that some might say it loses its meaning, but that is not true. I say it so often because I do mean it so deeply, and if something happens to me or to J. while we are apart, it’s important to me that those words were said. I’ve always been an emotionally-present person, but 9/11 made me even more that way. When I care for someone, I tell them. I celebrate the lives that matter to me every single day.

I will remember the lives lost on 9/11. I will remember the heroism, the loyalty, and the compassion for fellow men that was shown by so many during that time of crisis. And I will remember that the names carved into those fountains are not just names. Each one was a person, someone who had a favorite food, a pet peeve, a silly thing they were afraid of. Each one had embarrassing personal stories, and regrets, and dreams for the future. Each one was a life - a life that deserves to be remembered.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Taking a few minutes...

I haven’t had time to even think about blogging in ages. My office move has kept me very, very busy, but – for the most part – has been a good experience. I love being so much closer to home, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with an interim property manager who is an amazing person and who will be a wonderful resource as I continue to build my career in property management. The new, permanent property manager starts work on Monday. I’m a little nervous, but she seems nice enough, and she has a great deal of experience in the industry. I’m hoping that working for/with her will be a good thing.

J. started the fall semester, and he is enjoying his classes. We had a major hiccup with his financial aid, which caused a ton of stress, but we were able to sort out this semester. And we have some time to figure out how to handle it going forward. I’ll write more about that in a separate post, because it will definitely be a rant, and I don’t want to get my blood pressure up right now.

J. and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary on August 28. We had a quiet day, just enjoying each other’s company. In some ways, I can’t believe it’s already been two years; in others, it feels like we’ve been together forever, and I’m amazed that it’s only been two years. I am still so happy; I’m more in love with him now than I was the day we got married. It’s difficult to put into words, but being with exactly the right person is amazing. He is everything I needed in a husband – and that’s a strong statement. What I mean is that he’s not necessarily what I would’ve wished for, and he might not have all the qualities I would have wished for if I’d made a list for “my perfect husband.” But the universe knew exactly what I *needed* and which man would be the perfect husband for me. J. is that man, and I feel blessed beyond measure every single day to be his wife.

I’m reading as much as I can, but I’ve been trying to get a few projects done around the house, so that has cut into my downtime some. I decided to import all our cd’s into iTunes over Labor Day weekend, and was shocked by how long it took! I’m really happy now that it’s done, but I’ll be buying an external hard drive very soon, so I don’t lose all that work if our computer crashes! With work and life being so busy, I’m trying to take it easy and relax as much as I can. I know that I don’t do well at 90 miles per hour for an extended length of time, so I’m babying myself when I can.

I’m excited for the day I can write regularly again. I miss it; I think that alone says how good writing this blog has been for me! I hope that I still have a few followers, and that you’ll read and comment when you can. Wishing you all the very best…

Thursday, September 1, 2011

August 2011 Book List

Everyone knows I’m a voracious reader, and I’m often asked for recommendations. I decided that on or around the first of each month, I’ll post a list of the books I read the month before. I give each book a numeric rating, from 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent. I do not generally rate non-fiction works; those will be shown with a rating of N/A.

Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva - Rating: 4

Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris - Rating: 4.5

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch – Rating: N/A - this was a *phenomenal* book, and I highly recommend it to all bibliophiles.

Club Dead by Charlaine Harris - Rating: 4

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Our Fairy Tale

If I hadn’t started smoking, I might never have met J.

My best friend H. and I started smoking when I was 15 and she was 16. No one in our families smoked, so we had to be careful not to smell like smoke too often (and to have an excuse if we did). We started hanging out at a pool hall. One day, I saw a guy walking towards us, with a friend tagging along behind. He was cute, and I remember rolling my eyes because I assumed he was coming over to talk to H. (as was often the case). Instead, he talked to me. I was 17 and J. was 20.


Over the next several months, I saw J. at the pool hall. He’d occasionally call me, but we never got together. In early 1994, J. told me he was looking for a job, and I helped him get one at the restaurant where I was working. We worked with a great group of people, and had a ton of fun. J. was a player, and usually had several girls hanging around, in addition to his on-again, off-again girlfriend. I didn’t care that he had a girlfriend, so we often snuck into the walk-in cooler to make out. One night at work, J. asked if I wanted to go to the park with him after we got off. He says now he didn’t think I would go, but I was wild back then. It was very late when we got to the park, and we ended up having sex on a park bench.

I was a senior in high school, and had zero interest in getting serious with a guy. In fact, I deliberately dated guys who had girlfriends, just so I didn’t have to deal with a full-time boyfriend. Still, there was something different about J. He had a way of getting under my skin; I hated the fact that I liked him so much. We spent a lot of time flirting and kissing, and a lot of time arguing. I even threw a heavy ceramic platter at him in the restaurant kitchen one night. I just couldn’t get him out of my system, no matter how crazy he made me.

In December 1995, I left Dallas to attend university. J. and I lost touch, but I never forgot him. I still remember exactly what I was wearing when we met. I’d think of him at random moments several times a year. And I always thought of him when I saw a pool table.

In early 2008, my life was in shambles. I’d gotten divorced, moved away from Dallas (again), and been dumped by my loser boyfriend. One night, while thinking of how happy I’d been when I was younger, I thought of J. I immediately looked him up on Myspace, and before I could talk myself out of it, I sent him a message. I honestly wasn’t sure if he’d remember me, but he replied to my message within a day, including his phone number and asking me to call him. I was so nervous before calling, I almost couldn’t do it. Over the next two months, we talked as much as possible. One day, I was talking to J. during my lunch break, and a coworker asked who I was talking to that made me glow, which of course, made me glow even more.

J. had moved to Illinois to be near his older son, who was 19. In early May, he asked if he could come visit me, and we planned for him to come down over Memorial Day weekend 2008. He would travel by bus from Illinois, through Dallas, down to Bryan. I was excited about his visit, but I was also very nervous. Even though I felt a real connection to J., I hadn’t seen him in over 13 years. Now we would have three full days together! When J. was somewhere in Iowa, he received a message from me telling him not to come. Of course, he couldn’t just get off the bus in Iowa, and he didn’t know what was going on in my head, so he thought he could change my mind. J. continued on to Dallas, where his family is. I also drove into Dallas that weekend to see my mom. I never replied to any of J.’s text messages or answered his calls.

J. went back to Illinois after the weekend in Dallas, miserable. He’d had a horrible trip, first with me bailing on him, and then spending the entire weekend arguing with family. He kept trying to reach me, and we finally talked a little. I couldn’t explain why I had canceled on him, and he was understandably hurt and upset. Somewhere in the conversation, he let slip that he was staying with a girl. When I pushed, he admitted that he’d been seeing her before he came to Texas to see me. I was furious. I called him every name in the book, and told him he hadn’t changed one bit in all those years. He said that he hadn’t made any commitment to me; hell…we weren’t even dating! He couldn’t understand why I was so angry. I told him it didn’t matter, because I’d obviously made the right choice by telling him not to come. I said I didn’t want to talk to him anymore.

Over the next seven months, J. would occasionally send me a brief message on Myspace. I would reply, but I was still hurt and didn’t want to talk to him. I’d gotten back together with the loser boyfriend, but things were really, really bad. He and I finally broke up for good in January 2009, and he planned to move out of our apartment while I was in Dallas over a long weekend. By chance, J. sent me a text message on that Friday, and asked when I was planning to be in Dallas again. (He had moved back a few months earlier.) I told him I was coming on Saturday afternoon, and he asked if he could see me. We made plans for Sunday.

I was very nervous that day. The date with J. was a big deal, and I was scared to death. My relationship track record was awful, and my ex was moving out of my apartment that day! The timing couldn’t have been any worse. We went to a local area with lots of bars and restaurants. We sat and talked at a couple of different places, but after a couple of hours, I started to panic again. I told J. I needed to get back to my mom and grandma. I know now that he was very disappointed, and went home that night thinking I didn’t like him at all. We sent texts back and forth all evening, and J. asked if he could take me to breakfast before I left town on Monday morning. I agreed, and we had a great breakfast. When I was leaving, he took my hand and said that he knew I had a lot on my plate, and that he didn’t want to complicate my life, but that he liked me and wanted to see what might happen. We shared a very brief kiss, and I was gone.

That was January 19, 2009. It was all downhill from there.

J. and I talked on the phone for hours every day during the next week. We were brutally honest with each other about all the baggage we were bringing into the relationship. We both knew that this wasn’t the beginning of an everyday relationship, and we put everything on the table. I drove to Dallas again on Saturday, January 25, 2009, and we said “I love you” that night.

J. proposed to me on February 14, 2009 in the park from all those years ago. The bench was gone, but we still managed to find our spot. It was so romantic – I couldn’t have imagined a better proposal!

After much back-and-forth, we decided that J. would move to Bryan. I had a stable job, and his job was about to end, so (we thought) it made sense. J. moved to Bryan on April 5, 2009. We were married on August 28, 2009.

Our first year together was very, very hard. It was extremely difficult for J. to find a job, and the loser boyfriend had ensured I was behind on all my bills. We had no money. J. was struggling with a chronic illness. Life was overwhelming, but our relationship was strong. We never argued, even during the most stressful times. In April 2010, with the help of our families, we moved home to Dallas, and our life improved incredibly fast.

We now live in the area where we had our first date. Our family has grown to include three cats. J. is a full-time student and spends all his spare time tending to our home and family. I have the easy job of going to work every day – I wish we could stay like this forever! In many ways, I’m glad that our first year was so hard. It was hell at the time, but we got through it together. If a brand-new relationship with as much baggage as ours had can survive that, then we have a real shot at “til death do us part.”

I know now that when J. was on the bus in 2008, he never intended to return to Illinois. The girl he’d been seeing loved him, but he didn’t feel the same. I know that I panicked and told him not to visit me because I saw the same thing he did: once we were together, we would never be apart again. After my divorce and relationship with the loser, I didn’t ever want to love again. I thought my heart would never heal; if it did, I sure as hell wasn’t giving it away again.

But here’s the thing, and I know it sounds so corny, but J. and I both believe it: we were meant to be together. I sometimes wish we’d gotten together when we first met. We could be celebrating our 15th anniversary by now! But if we’d been together then, we would not be together now. We weren’t ready in 1994. And we weren’t ready in 2008. What we have now is so good; it was absolutely worth waiting for.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking this is a strange fairy tale. Every girl grows up watching romantic comedies and Disney princess movies, but it doesn’t take us long to figure out that real life isn’t that way. I was jaded about love before I graduated high school. Then, when I was 32, I learned that fairy tales *do* happen. They don’t involve glass slippers or poisoned apples or mermaids with legs, but J. is my Prince Charming. We tell each other, “You're not perfect, but you’re perfect for me.” In this relationship, even when things were at their worst, I never gave a thought to leaving, not for a second. Neither did J.

It’s still difficult for me to believe that this much happiness is possible. Sometimes I worry that it will all go away. But I don’t let myself think that way for long. Will we live happily ever after? I don’t know…but we are happy now, and that’s plenty.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Friday Happy Hour (on Saturday)

From Mental Floss: "Every Friday, I post a series of unrelated questions meant to spark conversation in the comments. Answer one, answer all, respond to someone else's reply, whatever you want. On to this week's topics of discussion..."

(Now that I actually have followers of my blog, I’d love to see your responses in the comments here. Tell me what you think, friends!)

What are some things you learned the hard way?

~ I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way, because I’m the type of person who has to make every mistake for myself. I think the most valuable thing I’ve learned is to not place much value on material things. It’s important to have enough money, and not having to watch every penny is wonderful. And, of course, it’s great to have money to play with and to spend on nice things, but in the end…it’s just stuff. It doesn’t really make you happy.

What’s the oldest food product currently in your house?

~ Probably a can of pineapple chunks in the very back of my refrigerator. I think they have been in there for a year, but they don’t expire until 2012. I’m sure I’ll get around to eating them before then.

If you could ask any plot question to any famous screenwriters or directors, what would you ask?

~ I could come up with a specific answer to this question if I thought about it for a while, but I don’t feel like doing that. So I’ll give a general answer: I’d like to ask how they didn’t catch some of the glaring plot errors that have made it onto film. I’d also like to ask a few writers/directors why they chose to end a particular film in a certain way.

If you had to go back and attend one fictional high school in the time period it was featured, where would you enroll?

~ I would not go back to high school in any way, shape, or form - period.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Friday Happy Hour

From Mental Floss: "Every Friday, I post a series of unrelated questions meant to spark conversation in the comments. Answer one, answer all, respond to someone else's reply, whatever you want. On to this week's topics of discussion..."

(Now that I actually have followers of my blog, I’d love to see your responses in the comments here. Tell me what you think, friends!)

What was the going rate for baby teeth in your house?

~ I don’t remember what I got for most of my teeth, but when I lost my last baby tooth, I got $5. I guess mom figured she would give me a bonus, since it was the end of the line.

Have you ever prevented a robbery?

~ Yes – see the story here.

Have you ever taken a class online? Did you have a good experience? Did you learn as much as you would have in a traditional classroom?

~ I’ve never taken an online class, because I don’t trust myself to be disciplined enough. Also, I don’t think I would get nearly as much out of the class as I would in a traditional classroom.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

100 Things...

This is my 100th post. In honor of that milestone, I wanted to write a list of 100 things that make me happy. This was *much* harder than I expected; it has taken me weeks to put it together.

Here's the list (in no particular order):

01. Having a BFF who has known me forever.
02. The first page of a new, eagerly anticipated book
03. "Then" by Brad Paisley
04. Crossing the last thing off a to-do list
05. Happy hour margaritas on a patio on a beautiful, early-spring afternoon
06. Finding the perfect card or gift for a loved one
07. The Itty Bitty Kitty Committee
08. The beginning of the Christmas season
09. Seeing a formerly close friend and realizing the inside jokes are still funny
10. Trying a new recipe and having it come out perfectly
11. Receiving mail that isn't bills
12. Dallas Farmers Market
13. Baseball
14. Scrapbooking
15. Independent book stores
16. Crate & Barrel
17. Finding that a friend shares an uncommon opinion with me
18. Online friendships
19. When J. makes a joke that makes me laugh so hard I cry and my stomach hurts
20. "History in the Making" by Darius Rucker
21. Loving and being loved in return
22. Being silly
23. The fact that J. only takes off his wedding ring in the shower
24. Making a friend smile
25. "Modern Family" on ABC
26. Giving the stink-eye to snooty bitches
27. The first day with a hint of cool air in the breeze after a long, miserable Texas summer
28. British comedy (especially Eddie Izzard and all things Monty Python)
29. Weddings
30. Sitting on Santa's lap
31. Weekend marathons of tv shows I love, containing episodes I've never seen
32. Really good, really bad movies
33. Chocolate-chip cookies fresh from the oven
34. Getting to payday with money left in the bank
35. The realization that my fingernails are shaped just like my grandmother's
36. Naps
37. Puppy kisses
38. Baskin-Robbins ice cream
39. Coming home to J. every night
40. Receiving a compliment on my work from a customer/client/tenant
41. Whole Foods Market
42. Exploring my feelings while writing posts for my blog
43. Wearing my wedding dress to work
44. Floating in my in-laws' pool on a gorgeous summer afternoon
45. Slow, steady, cool rain on a day when I can stay home and curl up with a book
46. Breakfast at Original Pancake House
47. Getting a new handbag
48. Days when my boss says, "We're closing early today," for no good reason
49. Being accepted into the family 100% by my in-laws
50. A compliment from a stranger
51. Hearing a family story I've never heard before
52. The Container Store
53. Kitty voices
54. Cook-outs
55. Storehouse Furniture
56. Watching J. play pool
57. Performing random acts of kindness
58. Fresh fruit in the summer
59. Hearing my dad say, "I love you, kid."
60. Re-reading emails and text messages from when J. and I were first together
61. Spending a few hours with all the memories packed away in my cedar chest
62. Daydreaming with J. about the house we will own someday
63. Siciliano's
64. Learning something new
65. Classical languages, especially Latin
66. Roller coasters
67. Driving through downtown Dallas every day on my way home - I love this city!
68. Godiva chocolates
69. Garden gnomes
70. Flowers
71. Beautiful graffiti
72. Dallas Museum of Art and Nasher Sculpture Center
73. Fireworks shows
74. Schnauzers
75. Jim Shore figurines
76. Photography
77. Watching sports: MLB baseball, NBA and college basketball, and college football
78. Magazine subscriptions
79. Northpark Center mall
80. Animal rescue groups and people who foster animals
81. Getting lots of groceries for a little money thanks to ad-watching and coupon-cutting
82. The first day of feeling better after being sick
83. Robert Fulghum
84. Bedtime snuggles with J.'s cat, Keke
85. Conspiracy theories
86. Doing touristy things in Dallas
87. Invisible Cats
88. Knowing that I can take care of myself (but that I don't always have to)
89. All things Rachael Ray
90. Random kitty craziness
91. Talking about books with other bibliophiles
92. Falling asleep next to J. every night and waking up next to him every morning
93. I Can Has Cheezburger
94. Shopping for scrapbooking supplies
95. A perfect cup of coffee
96. Plotting my revenge, and then being the bigger person
97. "Love Song" by Tesla
98. Perfectly-timed attitude adjustments from the universe
99. Hearing a song I really love on the radio
100. Counting my blessings

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Daydreaming...

I need a break from the craziness that has been my life for the last couple of weeks. It’s nothing bad; things have just really chaotic at work because of our impending move. This is also a very busy time of year for J., since he’s finishing up his second summer class and getting ready for the fall semester. This is the time we have to get everything lined up for his 2011-2012 financial aid, and his school is difficult, to say the least, so it takes real effort.

With that said, I thought I’d daydream a little.

I was raised on cars. My dad has worked for a local Ford dealership my entire life. His favorite game to play in the car with me was “What kind of car is that?” He would point to a nearby car and ask me to identify it. When I was three or four years old, we were playing our game, and I identified the car as X (I have no idea what kind of car it was). He said, “No, sorry, it’s Y.” And I said, “No it’s not, Daddy, look at the hubcaps!” Baby Carol was right, and a family legend was born.

I love cars, especially American muscle cars, and most especially the Ford Mustang. My first car was a 1988 Mustang with a 5-speed transmission. I also owned a 1999 Mustang and a 2002 Mustang, and a 2004 Mustang convertible. These days I drive what will get me from point A to point B, and that’s fine with me. J. and I have way more important things to do with our money right now than blow it on a car payment. But someday, I look forward to having a completely impractical sports car again. That car will probably be another Mustang, and that will be fantastic.

However, in my daydreams, that car is this – the Audi TT Roadster:


Sigh...I love this car way more than I should.

Monday, August 1, 2011

July 2011 Book List

Everyone knows I’m a voracious reader, and I’m often asked for recommendations. I decided that on or around the first of each month, I’ll post a list of the books I read the month before. I give each book a numeric rating, from 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut - Rating: 4

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness - Rating: 5

The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen – Rating: 4.5

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – Rating: 4.5

Game of Secrets by Dawn Tripp - Rating: 4

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Happy Hour

From Mental Floss: "Every Friday, I post a series of unrelated questions meant to spark conversation in the comments. Answer one, answer all, respond to someone else's reply, whatever you want. On to this week's topics of discussion..."

(Now that I actually have followers of my blog, I’d love to see your responses in the comments here. Tell me what you think, friends!)

What was your first move after college? If you’re still in school, what’s your plan?

~ I left home in September 1993, just after I started my senior year of high school. I stayed with my dad for a few months before I went away to college in December 1994, but I’ve essentially been independent since I was barely 17. At this point, we’re not ready to buy a house, but J. and I are both sick to death of moving. We just renewed our lease a month ago, and we’re already talking about renewing it for another year next May.

Do you have any favorite obscure words you’d like to share?

~ I have lots of favorite words, although they’re really not obscure. Since I can’t think of anything that’s really on-topic, I’ll go with this: Francisco…that’s fun to say! (Bonus points if you get that reference!)

While you were in college, who was the most impressive speaker or musical act to come to your campus? I don’t necessarily mean the biggest name. Could just be someone who inspired you.

~ I was so excited when I returned to Texas A&M in October 2007. I intended to go back to school, but figured until that happened, I could at least benefit from being around such a prestigious university. Nothing interesting happened until we decided to move back to Dallas. Stephen Hawking delivered a lecture the day after we moved, literally. Argh.

If a cable network were to green-light a mental_floss game show, who should be the host?

~ It wouldn’t matter to me. I hate game shows, so I’d never watch.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Baaaaaa

Sheep: an adult who cannot – or does not - think, reason, and decide for themselves; the most useless thing on earth.


If I didn’t look just like both my parents, I’d swear I was switched at birth.

It drove my family crazy when I started having strong opinions (about pretty much everything) around the age of 12. Girls are supposed to be quiet and ladylike and defer to the opinions of their elders. They didn’t have a clue what to do with me. Growing up, I could never figure out why my mom thought saying, “Don’t do ____,” would make me not do _____. If I wanted to do something, I thought about it and made a decision. My mother’s opinion didn’t factor into it at all. Granted, I didn’t always make the best choices: I started smoking at age 15 because I was sick to death of being a “good kid.” But I’m proud of the fact that I made every decision (and mistake) for myself.

Now that I’m older and have had more heart-to-heart conversations with my mom, I know that she raised me the way she was raised. It would never have occurred to her to do something her parents said not to; she believed they knew best, and never, ever questioned what they told her. When she told me that, I was stunned. I would never *not* have questioned my parents. I don’t take things at face value; I believe only what I can see for myself. As I grew up, that behavior expanded as my world did: from my parents, to teachers, to government and other forms of authority.

When I hear people say they do something (vote a certain way, attend a certain church or attend church at all, raise their kids a certain way, etc.) because that’s the way their parents did it, I always think, “WTF…don’t you have a brain? Can’t you decide what you believe for yourself? Don’t you *want* to decide for yourself?” In my world, these people are called sheep. Calling someone a sheep is one of the worst insults I use. (I’m sure I’ll be talking more about that in future posts.)

Don’t worry, though, the family traditions aren’t dead. I have two cousins: M., female, is 26-ish and her brother, L., is 23-ish. They are happy to toe the family party line, and since they’re both married now, I’m sure there will be a new generation of lambs anytime. For a multitude of reasons, M. and L. and their parents think I’m the devil incarnate, which always makes me giggle. I’m going to continue making up my own mind about life, even if that means making mistakes along the way. We’ll see who’s happy in the end.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Friday Happy Hour (on Saturday)

From Mental Floss: "Every Friday, I post a series of unrelated questions meant to spark conversation in the comments. Answer one, answer all, respond to someone else's reply, whatever you want. On to this week's topics of discussion..."

(Now that I actually have followers of my blog, I’d love to see your responses in the comments here. Tell me what you think, friends!)

Have you ever been hypnotized? Or watched a friend get hypnotized? Or hypnotized someone yourself? For what purpose?

~ No, I haven’t. I would consider it, though, since I believe hypnotism can be effective for things like smoking cessation or as a part of talk therapy to deal with past trauma.

What’s a word or phrase you say too much? What new (made up?) word or phrase could replace that?

~ I still say “like” too much, which is ridiculous for a 35-year-old woman, especially in a professional environment. I don’t want to replace it with anything. I’m trying to break the habit, but it’s a work in progress.

If you had one extra hour in the day just for you, how would you spend it?

~ Reading. Now that I’m working with a finite list of books TBR, I’ve fallen in love with reading all over again.

Have you ever read a magazine, saw one of those “to see __________, go to thenameofthismagazine.com” callouts, and actually went to the site? (I don’t mean times where you liked a magazine and figured you’d give the website a shot.)

~ No, I don’t think so. I love reading magazines, and I do occasionally look at the magazine’s website, but that is a very rare occurrence.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Facebook Friends

I will admit that I resisted Facebook for a long, long time. I didn’t want to keep up with two profiles, and since I already had a Myspace page, I couldn’t be bothered to set up a profile on Facebook. But more and more of my friends *only* had Facebook, so I set up a profile.

I never looked back; Facebook was designed for me. I’m not the kind of person who has one circle of friends. Instead, I have a group from this job or that job, and I have a group from school, and a group from the time I lived in College Station, and certain members of J.’s family. It is physically impossible to keep up with everyone. Facebook allows me to participate in the lives of the people I care about, even though we all have crazy schedules and don’t see each other very often. (In fact, even though I’ve been back in Dallas for 15 months, and the majority of my friends live within a 25 mile radius, I’ve only seen about 15% of them in person. Yes, it’s very, very sad.)

Because of the way I use Facebook, and because I cannot tolerate anything extraneous, I can't wrap my mind around the desire to have 736 friends. I have around 60 friends, and I’m always editing the list. I deny way more friend requests than I accept. I’ve also been known to accept a friend request and then delete the person the very next day (hey, even I don’t like confrontation all the time!). Here are some things to keep in mind if you're thinking of sending me a friend request:

If I don’t know you in person, don’t bother. If we went to school together, but did not speak once after graduation, and you’re adding me now only because we have mutual friends, don’t bother. Or if were friends in school, but have *absolutely nothing* in common now, don’t bother. If we work together in any capacity at the present time, don’t bother. There are occasional exceptions to these rules, but I’m pretty ruthless when it comes to applying them. And if I deny your friend request, and you keep sending it, you will receive a harsh, but nicely worded, private message from me.

(And now a question for my readers: is there a nice way to tell a friend who plays seven different games on Facebook that they should block the status updates because their friends can’t click “block posts from…” quickly enough? Or am I the only one who gets a twitch when their news feed is full of Farmville updates?)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Is *THIS* My Maternal Instinct???

(WARNING: sailor language ahead)

When you’re a redhead, having a temper comes with the territory. I’m a lot more mellow than I used to be, and it takes a lot to make me angry. If I get to that point, though, you’re going to want to get out of the way.

I find that as I get older, things people do to me don’t really upset me that much. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t care less what people think of me. Or maybe I’ve realized that *I’m* happier when I let things roll off my back. Or maybe it’s the low self-esteem I’ve dealt with my whole life; I think I deserve to be treated badly sometimes. It's really a bit of all three, with the first two making up the vast majority.

On the other hand, you do not want to fuck with someone I love. Seriously. I am five feet tall and have never committed any kind of violence in my life. (Throwing inanimate objects doesn’t count, right?) But I’m sneaky. And I’m smart. And I will fuck up your world. Try me.

Here’s what’s got me riled today: one of my oldest friends (we’ll call her H) recently had a foster child placed in her home. H., her husband, and two sons have been anxiously preparing and planning for the day they would have a little girl in the house. The child (let’s call her FC) was placed with them in June, and a legal adoption was planned as soon as the six-month waiting period was over. FC is five years old, and has been through the wringer in her short life. She has bonded with H.’s family, and they have bonded with her. Now, FC’s biological relatives have filed legal action in California to have her returned to that state and placed into their CPS system, so that they can eventually regain custody of FC. She could be removed from H.’s home anytime, and unless something changes, will be removed within 20 days.

It’s ridiculous. H. and her husband are the most stable family I know. They're almost like Stepford people. They have been married for nine years, and have lived in the same house for ten years. Her husband has had the same job for 15 years. Who does that these days? Removing FC from H.’s family and sending her back to California could not possibly be in her best interest. And I am angry about it.

H. requested letters of support from her friends and family, as they are hoping to have the legal action dismissed. I wrote a letter as soon as I received her email and, so far, I’ve sent it to about five different people. I told her to give me more names if she has them. She said she knew I was busy and didn’t want to take up too much of my time. I said, “You were my first best friend. No one is going to fuck with your family on my watch.”

And that’s when it dawned on me. I am absolutely CFBC, but I still have a maternal instinct. The cuddly, loving side of it is expressed with my pets. And the fierce, Mama Bear side of it is expressed when someone I love is hurt. I like this part of me; it’s sort of like having a super power. I don’t look very tough, but people only underestimate me once. Trust me on that.

So here's my advice for today: be nice to my friends, or you’ll get to meet Mama Bear. And no one wants that.

Friday Happy Hour

From Mental Floss: "Every Friday, I post a series of unrelated questions meant to spark conversation in the comments. Answer one, answer all, respond to someone else's reply, whatever you want. On to this week's topics of discussion..."

(Now that I actually have followers of my blog, I’d love to see your responses in the comments here. Tell me what you think, friends!)

What high school or college class have you found most useful in your adult life?

~ I’m going to say “none.” I didn’t get a college degree, so I don’t use my college classes in day-to-day life. However, the classes I took in high school and college, and some of the teachers I had, definitely helped shape the person I am today.

What was your most special birthday or birthday party as a kid? As an adult?

~ As a kid, I’ll say my 14th. My mom agreed to rent this little community center room at the local park, and I got to invite a ton of kids. The most exciting part was that we hired the DJ from the skating rink to play at the party. Yeah…it was 1990…what do you expect?

As an adult…my 25th. I ended a 5 ½ year relationship nine months before, so I’d had enough time to process that and begin to enjoy being single. I was finally going through my party stage (that most people go through at 21 or so). I went out with all my friends to a bar and had a blast. It was really special because some old friends I never see came that night, and my step-brothers and their wives and friends were there, too.

Pretend it’s 2021. What will car audio look like?

~ I can’t bring myself to care. I know I sound like an old fart when I say this, but gadgets and technology just do not excite me. I still don’t even own an MP3 player!

What was the nerdiest moment of your life?

~ Oh, I’m always making obscure references that no one understands, but I think this one is probably the nerdiest. Hopefully this will translate to a written story ok.

When I worked in the admissions office at Texas A&M, we used large date stamps to mark incoming mail. They broke all the time because they got so much use. One day, I was asked to audit all the stamps in the office to find out how many were broken so we could repair or replace them. Eventually, I had one pile of all the good ones and several separate piles of broken ones, all with sticky notes attached stating how they were broken.

As I’m explaining to my boss about how they’re broken and which ones I think can be repaired, I made a reference to Anna Karenina. You know…“all happy families are alike; all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.” Except I said, “all the good date stamps are the same; all the broken ones are broken in their own way.”

Yeah…I’m a nerd.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

No New Books!

I love a challenge. The largest ongoing problem in my life over the last year has been a lack of reading time. My TBR (to-be-read) list always grows more quickly than the list of books I’ve finished, but the gap is widening at an alarming rate. I’ve purchased several books at garage sales or at the library for less than a dollar, and I want to read them and get them out of my house. Half a dozen times over the last year, I’ve had to return unread books to the library and/or inactivate books on my hold queue because library books were coming in faster than I could read them. Considering books are checked out for three weeks and I read very fast, that’s pretty sad. Also, after wanting to join a book club for a few years, I found one I want to try out. I plan to attend my first meeting in August, which means I’ll have a monthly deadline to complete a book. Finally, my BFF came across the list “1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die,” and we’ve begun a sort of loose, two-person book club based on the list.

All these are things I *want* to do, yet they are a bit overwhelming. I’m happiest when I’m crossing something off my to-do list; having a list that grows faster than I can complete tasks (or books) is stressful. Because of this, I’m establishing a new challenge for myself. I have compiled a TBR list based upon my Amazon wish list, my library hold queue, the “1,001 Books” list, and upcoming book club meetings. Tonight I will add the books I’ve acquired over the last year to the TBR list. I expect the total will be about 100 titles.

At that point, the list will be closed. Until I complete every book on the list, no titles will be added, and I will only read books from the list. (Exception - new releases, not yet announced, from series in which I have read all titles.) To keep me honest, here’s a list of the series which fall under this exception:

Alan Bradley – Flavia de Luce series
Janet Evanovich – Stephanie Plum series
Linda Fairstein – Alexandra Cooper series
Philippa Gregory – 15th century Plantagenet series and 16th century Tudor series
Charlaine Harris – Sookie Stackhouse series
Jonathan Kellerman – Alex Delaware series
Kathy Reichs – Temperance Brennan series
Daniel Silva – Gabriel Allon series

Considering that I’m on track to read about 50 books in 2011, I expect that completing the list will take 18-24 months. During that time, I will inevitably get recommendations for books. These titles will be added to a new list, but I intend to be extremely selective. Even if I could read for hours every day, I could not read all the books I want to read during my lifetime. And I don’t want to always feel that I’m trying to catch up. Having a TBR list that stays relatively stable at 20-ish books is fine. Having a list of over 90 books (and growing all the time) feels like an insurmountable task.

Reading is a joy to me, and I will lose that if it becomes stressful or feels like a chore. I’m going to use this challenge to try to focus on the present, to fully enjoy the book I’m reading, and to not worry about how many books are on hold at the library or stacking up in my house.