March 2009

I promise I am trying. REALLY trying. It’s just that I want to sort of quit. Immediately. Here’s a brief run-down of my glorious failures:

  • Hubby’s car is broken. Part of my task-list involved following him around in my car in attempt to find a car repair shop that was 1) open on Saturday and 2) even capable of repairing a transmission. We found not one such repair place. Finally, we took the darn thing to a dealership this morning, only to find that the necessary repairs would cost more than the car is even worth. Blurgh.
  • My house is not as revolting as some I’ve seen on TV, so that’s a plus. But trying to clean it on my own without the help of a lovely TV crew is a minus. In a big way. I REALLY cleaned 2 rooms on Sunday – the laundry room and the kitchen. The laundry room is only accessible by leaving the main house and has a cement floor. Our German shepherd sleeps there and he’s a big mess most of the time. Thus, the laundry room required bleach and hose. I shudder at the memory of this 1.5 hour long adventure.
  • My work had to be put on hold to deal with Hubby’s car. We are NOT a one car family. It just doesn’t work with me traveling. Fortunately I didn’t have any appointments scheduled for today, so it could have been worse. But still, not the best start to my grown up work ethic.

But there have been some wins in the past couple of days. My sink is seriously the most beautiful I have ever seen it. It only took two hours and a moderate amount of elbow grease. In general, my kitchen looks fantastic, which is a great feeling. And my laundry room smells great, which is a feat in and of itself. Yay! Stay tuned for more!


Today I did taxes. All the day long. Sure, I’ve been paying taxes since 1999 (ugh) and it’s never a surprise. And sure, I think I got more back from the good ole government than in recent years past. But good grief… why does it have to be so difficult? And complicated and painfully, painfully time consuming??

And in other news, I also spent some time this afternoon with my receipts since January. The picture isn’t nearly as grim as I’d imagined it to be, which is very fortunate. In fact it gave me a lot of hope. And some serious m0tivation. I know I can spend parts of my day more wisely than I do. I suppose it’s time to grow up and be responsible for my own time management, since there really isn’t anyone else to do it for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m already a grown up and have been for awhile now. But I guess there have been some instances where I’ve not acted the most grown up I could act. Denial is ever so much fun. So much fun in fact, that I’m rather displeased I ever sat down to write this post. It was supposed to be a rant about how much the income tax stinks! Where did I go wrong?

So it’s come to my attention that I read a heck of a lot of books and ought to share my favorites with the world. I’m not including anything I was forced to read before college, because we’ve all been there and read that. These are all either from my college days as an English major or from some of the freebies I got working as an assistant buyer for a bookstore chain. If you haven’t read any of these, consider them my personal recommendations to you!

  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: I know I’ve mentioned it in a previous post, but it bears repeating. This book is truly beautiful. Haunting. Perfect pacing and phrasing. I didn’t “skim” any sentence – I wanted to absorb it all.
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield: I recommend this one as highly as I recommend the previous title. A fascinating story reminiscent of Jane Eyre with a mystery that will keep you thinking and won’t fail to surprise. Beautifully written.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: I know some people read this one in high school, but somehow I missed it. And I think Mr. Darcy was probably the first fictional, male protagonist that ever caught my fancy. What a lovely story. If you haven’t, you really must read it immediately. It’s short and sweet – just give yourself a few pages to adapt to the different style of writing – trust me, it’s worth it.
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: Another book that I surprisingly missed in high school. If I’d written it, I’d have cut out huge chunks of this one, but either way, long or short, it’s pretty fantastic. Love and mystery combine to make a classic that everyone should probably read.
  • Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood:  Okay, allow me to get on my soap box here. Margaret Atwood is my hands-down favorite author of all time and it was really a struggle to only put one of her books on my list. Usually, the most recent book of hers I read is my favorite. But this is the one that can’t help but move the reader. Psychological drama, murder, and historical fact make this book the best of the best. Start here. If you love it as much as I did, email me and I’ll tell you where you should go next 🙂
  • Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley: This book is HUGE. Don’t let that scare you. It’s fantastical. Literally. King Arthur, mystical priestesses, romance and intrigue. It’s got it all. It’s got around 900 pages and when I got to the end, I cried because I wanted more. Check it out!
  • Harry Potter series by JK Rowling: Duh. I couldn’t post this list without mentioning this publishing phenomenon because they qualify as my favorites, for sure. But as many of you have probably already been there, read that, have the t-shirt and seen the movie (literally), I won’t hassle you with a prolonged analysis of why it is so great. It just is. So, for goodness sake, READ THEM.
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov: This is a tricky one. It’s a freaky book with a truly screwed up main character. There’s nothing I can say to validate my approval of this book because it really is abhorrent on a lot of levels. Skip it if you can find no sympathy for a murdering, conniving pedophile. I guess it makes me look pretty bad that somehow, I found sympathy for him. Must be something about the way it’s written, I guess.
  • Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer: Stephenie Meyer is the author I currently want to be. After all of the thousands of books I’ve read (surely I’ve read thousands by this point?), Twilight is the one series that gave me the oomph to actually write my own novel. There’s an approachability to these that made me feel comfortable. She doesn’t write the most beautiful prose. Sometimes the plot pacing is a little off, she admittedly and blatantly rips off Shakespeare and Bronte… I guess it just makes me feel as though I can do it if she can. But regardless of her faults (such as they are), she’s written a gripping series of books that have really caught on with those teenage girls in need of a romantic story with a courtly and respectful hero and a bumbling and goofy heroine, just like they are.
  • Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd: It’s been awhile since I read this, but I know I loved it. And a great creative writing professor of mine had us read it as an example of plot pacing and scene changes, so I can tell you it’s both technically great and a heartwarming story.
  • Holes by Louis Sachar:  Kid Book alert! It’s good, it’s funny, and I recommend it. Especially if you like kid books!
  • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk: The makers of the movie did a fantastic job with this – if you loved the movie, you’ll love the book. Maybe even more. Mr. Palahniuk is one freaky guy, or at least his writing suggests that he is. This is a mind-bending book. I highly recommend it.
  • The Princess Bride by William Golden: Another good movie that was a good book first. And it sort of feels like a Kid Book, but I don’t think it really is. Also, it’s big. But I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll want more by the time you get to the end of it.
  • Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire: I really sort of disliked the book Wicked. I feel ashamed to admit that, but it’s the God’s honest truth. It was boring. It was full of political undertones that went WAY over my head. I am hoping the musical is better, since I’ve paid what I consider to be a ridiculous amount for tickets when it comes to Birmingham in April. Fingers Crossed. Anyway, back to the point; it took a leap of faith for me to read another of his books. But I’m glad I did, because this retelling of the Cinderella story is terrific. I think I have a thing for haunting books, because this one has some definite haunting aspects. I liked it a lot, and recommend it highly!
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles: I read this book once every five years or so because it really touches my heart. It’s set right before the onset of WWII in America. It’s a story about friendship and guilt and all the things that happen to a young guy dealing with life and death. Like I said, a very touching story and worth reading. I hear from others that it’s boring, so maybe you should skip it if you don’t have a lot of patience. But I really enjoy reading it, and am pretty sure I won’t be alone.
  • The Thief Taker by Janet Gleeson: I can almost guarantee that very few of you have read this book, but it surprised me with how well written and fascinating it was. Historical fiction with a good solid mystery and a dash of romance to keep readers on their toes. It’s one of those unfortunate books that most likely didn’t have its publisher’s full monetary support and didn’t get the publicity it deserved. It was published in paperback in 2006, so there are probably still copies out there to be found!
  • The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani: I’ve read this book twice in as many years and loved it both times. Another one of those haunting novels that is both beautifully written and well plotted. It’s got some “adult” content but if you were able to stomach Lolita this won’t bother you at all.

And there, friends, are seventeen of my favorite books that I think everyone should read. I think I have a career as a book reviewer, don’t you?

I had the good fortune this past weekend to spend loads of quality time with some very good friends. This makes me very happy. I would like to make a few comments about said Fun Times:

  • I am a complete lightweight when it comes to drinking wine. It takes almost less than a glass to make me the silliest person on the face of the planet. Think… Lydia Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. Or… Phoebe from Friends.
  • I love red meat. I have been quasi-attempting to give up red meat for Lent. As I quipped to Dear Friend last night while I scarfed down a terrific hamburger, I’ve now given up Lent for Lent.
  • Awkward waiters make me anxious. More anxious than normal, that is. While I’m usually unlikely to go out of my way to ask a favor from a waiter, this weekend I flat out refused to ask for a to-go cup of my drink because 1) our waiter needed a hearing aid and 2) I’m already awkward enough for the both of us.
  • My supermodel runway walk sucks.
  • Possible job dis-satisfaction is not limited to me. Nor is the overwhelming desire to return to school, even for no reason whatsoever.
  • I really need to make some progress with this stupid diet I’m doing. I’ve been “fat and happily married” for a few too many years now. My skinny married and skinny unmarried friends are beginning to put me to shame. Plus, I think with a little work, my supermodel runway walk could become really kickin’ and I could apply to America’s Next Top Model “Short People” edition after all.

Special Thanks to: Dear Friend and Young Buck (her lovely husband, as named by my Hubby, whom they call Pappy for his over-thirty status) for some killer hamburgers, Funky Friend (more on her to come in future posts, I’m sure) for inviting me to dog-sit, eat and become ridiculously intoxicated, and Fabulous Friend for the dash of culture and deep conversation that rounded off a lovely weekend with friends! Y’all rock!

At this moment, I would probably fall on the side of pass rather than fail. And I want to be clear: any inclination toward failure would be my own inability to look beyond my expectations.  A Fabulous Friend of mine is all about some opera and performed this weekend in a spectacular one called La Traviata. I say spectacular because in many ways, it really was. The costumes were over-the-top fantastic. The talent was amazing. The vocal range of the principal soprano (heaven knows if I’ve got that phrasing right, but what I’m going for here is the female lead) was like none I’ve heard before. Dang.

Today I saw my very first Real Opera. As I’ve mentioned rather excessively in the past, I’m a huge fan of Soap Operas without being able to fully justify my love for them. The over-the-top aspect of Soap Operas reflect so much about the Real Opera I saw today… Fashion, Emotion, Undying love. There were so many things about the performance that truly rocked, as I mentioned above. There are two things I would have changed: I would have really loved to have been able to discern Fabulous Friend’s voice from among the chorus she sang in, because I know for a fact – girl can sing. She looked phenomenal on stage, though, and I’m sure she contributed solidly to the chorus. I’m very proud of her success and abilities.

And I had an entirely different expectation of the plot. I was expecting action and conflict and believable, relate-able characters. What I got wasn’t a disappointment by any stretch of the imagination; the musical aspects were above and beyond my expectations, as were the costumes. But I think I went into it with one idea of what the story would be like and sort of missed the point. I got distracted from the truly amazing music as I searched for a deep and complicated plot. Maybe it was the fact that the whole thing was in Italian (I guess? I suppose since it took place in Paris it could have been French, but either way I was way out of my comfort zone linguistically), but the subtitles that were displayed above the stage were a little … flowery and repetitive. Being something of a (written) story-teller, I was expecting something entirely different in the plot and lyrics department from what I got. And I think my expectations made me completely miss the point. Opera is all about the music. This being the case, Real Operas get a Grade A: PASS. I just need a few more operas under my belt to fully grasp what to look for in terms of plot. The other day I gave a nice long list describing the basic plot formula for a Soap Opera. I’m a Soap Opera expert. I know exactly what to expect every day. Perhaps that explains my full appreciation for Soap Opera as an art form.

This Operatic experience has given me a new insight to my beloved Soap genre. I now understand why Soap Operas are called Operas… over the top emotion that can’t really be justified and the audience really doesn’t care. They are too busy paying attention to ________. Fill in the blank. With Real Operas, the music overpowers the plot. In Soap Operas, the “hot” actors and actresses overpower any need for a smart plot-line. Or the ridiculous belief that a smart plot-line lurks somewhere just beyond tomorrow’s episode, which seems to be my particular distraction from the drivel I insist on watching daily…

Fabulous Friend, thank you for inviting me to this opera. I feel that I have been introduced to a new aspect of civilization and culture that I had no idea existed in Birmingham. I really wish I could explain better how La  Traviata made me feel… it was beautiful – visually and audially (oh, lands… there is no way that’s a real word, but you know what I mean… spell check suggests aurally, but that sounds snooty). And I may be entirely wrong about plot not being so important. Clearly, one Opera cannot fully define one’s opinion on the subject. So please, PLEASE invite me to see another, as I hope you will continue with this classy and cultured activity!!

It’s 3:30 Friday morning. I’m wiped. And I’m waiting for the police to arrive at my parents-in-law’s house. Wait, there they are – a knock on the front door.

Hubby is walking our hero through the house and through the whole scare… 3:00 AM, Abby, Hubby’s parents’ German shepherd starts barking downstairs. She is a pretty docile dog in general so barking in the middle of the night means one of two things. 1) She’s got to go potty. Bad. Or, 2) something lurks in the night.

Hubs went with the potty option and pulled himself out of bed and downstairs to let her out. To make quick work of this interruption to our sleep, he sat outside with her while she went. While seated on the back porch, he noticed something that looked oddly like a baseball cap hovering between the two fences separating us from the back-yard neighbors. Assuming this was just a baseball-cap-shaped shadow, he didn’t think much of it. Until it moved.

Because this shadow was backlit he only briefly caught the reflection of eyes in the light when it became obvious that whoever was between the fence was either looking straight at Hubby or in the opposite direction. Hubs was freaked.

Being a dutiful husband, he roused me to full waking consciousness and got on the phone with his Mother and Father who are staying the weekend in Mobile while we dog and house sit. He requested the location of the nearest firearm, just in case. He would call them back with the details.

Gun at the ready, he went to investigate, sort of. He wasn’t going to take matters into his own hands, but he did want to be armed in case something “went down” (oh, how I love the language of the crime drama). He took Abby the dog with him and they didn’t see anyone. Of course, crouching sinister figures are just as reasonable as standing ones, so he didn’t take any chances. He phoned his parents to let them know that he was alive and to fill them in on what prompted his need for the weapon.

At this point I’m sitting on the stairs, elbows on knees, chin on upturned wrists, praying. In the midst of my prayers I hear Hubby relay the story twice, once to Mother, once to Father – who insists that he call the police and report what he saw.

So he dials that unforgettable series of digits, 911 and speaks with the operator. I hear the story a third time. She instructs Hubby to put the safety on the firearm and stay inside, she was dispatching a unit (this language is purely a mixture of my imagination and a CSI-type narration going on in my sleep deprived head) to check things out. She inquired about the dogs, about who was home, about what the strange man looked like, about when all of this happened. She made Hubby laugh. I haven’t the faintest idea what she could have said to make anyone laugh while in the heights of panic mode, but she’s obviously quite good at what she does. Especially for 3:15 in the morning.

Anyway, that leads us to now. The nice policeman has come, inspected, chatted with Hubs, and gone, promising to drive around for a bit to make sure any threat has gone. The doors have been re-dead-bolted. The alarm has been re-set. It’s nearing 4:00 AM. And I am wide awake.

All I’m sayin’ is that we may need to re-prioritize the bills for awhile and invest in that alarm system after all…

At heart, I am an incredibly clean person. I was raised to believe that there is nothing so sinful as a dirty room. In the home of my youth, illness was no excuse to not scrub clean a toilet one vomited in  only moments before.

In college, I used cleaning as a tool of procrastination, which worked to my advantage, as well as my roommate’s. But being away from my mother’s watchful gaze gave me plenty of opportunity to show my more slothful side. Things like dirty sheets on the bed (thank you, dear friend and roommate for washing those for me more regularly than I would have on my own) and dirty dishes hidden in the microwave were my silent rebellion.

In my first apartment with my new husband, I struggled to keep things clean to the standards of my youth and mostly succeeded. I managed to keep up with the clutter and trash until such time as I graduated and began work in the real world.

I’m not too fond of the real world. I had so much determination and endless energy to read books for classes, stay up all night writing papers and still cooked dinner most nights and kept a nice clean house. Then came work. Working has destroyed my health and my home. All I feel like I have time and energy to do after working is eating something (fast, unhealthy) and sleeping. If I get to spend a few hours on the sofa with my lovely husband, I count the day as a success. Cleaning doesn’t regularly figure in to my week. And my weekends are always intended for the sole purpose of cleaning but instead involve more sleep, food, and TV than anything else. It’s a problem. My mother would be (and probably is) ashamed of me.

I started all this by saying that I’m clean at heart. I really really am. Not so sure which part of me is so insanely NOT clean, but my heart is sparkling clean!

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