What’s Going On

Fall semester starts today, technically, but for me it starts tomorrow. I’m in back-to-school mode, which is one of the best modes of all. I love the start of a new school year, don’t you?

Here’s what’s been happening this spring and summer:

I went to New Orleans with my BFFs! we all turned 40 this year, so we decided to ring in the new decade with a ladies’ trip. We rented a lovely and perfect house on the bayou where we could hang out at night listening to the noises of the wildlife or relaxing in the hot tub. In town, we ate all the delicious food and drank all the beautiful drinks and had generally an amazing time. We need to do this every year now.

My kiddos started a new daycare/preschool. They started attending at the beginning of the summer, during the “summer camp” mode, which meant they got to have splash days and popsicles on Fridays and they loved it. Now the daycare’s new preschool year has started and E&L moved up to a new class and started taking Gymnastics (they offer classes as part of the preschool extracurriculars) and it feels like basically the next time I turn around they’ll be off to college. They’re doing wonderfully. They’re mostly daytime potty trained at this point now, too — one twin completely; the other uses a pull-up at naptime — and that’s probably not something I’ll write much more about here on the wide-open internet, but suffice it to say: YAY.

We took our summer road trip to Iowa to visit my in-laws and survived the long days in the car thanks to my iPad and Netflix’s selection of animated movies available for offline viewing. The kids had a blast playing on the farm and riding all the various farm vehicles with Papa.

I’ve been reading exclusively women writers this year, and although there are a couple of books on my shelf waiting for when the man-ban is lifted, it’s been completely refreshing. These are a few of my favorites so far.

So what’s new with you?

Minnesota and Iowa

I spent the last week in the Midwest for a combination of work and personal travel — I had the opportunity to present at a conference at the University of Minnesota and I jumped at the chance. My junior year in college, I did a combination of national and international student exchange programs, spending the fall at the University of Minnesota and the spring at the Bildungswissenschaftliche Hochschule Flensburg Universität. (Got all that?) They were both such great experiences, I came out of the year wishing I’d had some way to spend a full year at each school instead of only a semester.

Since Fall 1998, I have only been back to the Twin Cities once, for a couple of hours, while on the way to Sioux Falls. Needless to say, I was quite happy to get the chance to spend a bit more time there this week. A lot has changed since my days there — the juice bar where I worked part time, the Crazy Carrot, is no longer in business, and there is now a very convenient light rail, for example — but I was happy to feel easily at home again on campus.

The conference was held in a brand new university building that houses state-of-the-art classrooms, which happens to be located just a stone’s throw away from my old dorm and right next door to my favorite campus building, the Weisman Art Museum.

My favorite building in Minneapolis! In Fall '98, I lived right next door, in the brick building you can see to the right.

I do love me a big, shiny, ridiculous Frank Gehry building; I just can’t help myself. Before the conference got rolling, I had time to spend in the museum, which was such a treat.

WAM

Off campus, I also enjoyed that wonderful feeling of being in a “real city” — you know, the proximity to a variety of interesting restaurants, shopping, and things to do. My first night in town, I checked into my hotel feeling exhausted and starving, but it was a matter of just a short walk to a delicious Thai dinner. Not too shabby, Minneapolis.

Taking myself out for Thai food.

Academic conferences can be both invigorating and exhausting at the same time. I met a lot of interesting people from all around the world, exchanged ideas, got great feedback on my presentation, and came home with a head full of thoughts about things I can do going forward. On the other hand, I had to talk to strangers all day every day the entire time. The only opportunity to recharge was the thirty minutes of waking solitude I managed at the end of each day before passing out in my giant hotel bed.

Downtown from the East Bank

One great highlight, though, was the evening I got to spend with Alexa, whose blog I have been reading for years and years but whom I’d never met in person before. She picked a fabulous restaurant downtown and we got to sit and chat and eat delicious frites, spaetzle, and strudel. Alexa is just as smart and funny and kind in person as she is online, so it was easy to while away the evening while letting the stress and work of the conference fade away. I haven’t often had the chance to meet my online friends in person, but this summer I’ve gotten to do that twice – I highly recommend it.

Dessert

The next morning, I was up at 3:15 to catch a 4:00 town car to the airport for a 6:00 flight. Oof. I was meeting my husband in Moline, IL on the way to his hometown in Iowa. This was the first time I’d been to Iowa in the summer (we usually go at Christmas), so it was my first time seeing the family farm when the corn was high and the ground wasn’t covered with snow. He picked me up and we made our way to his parents’ house in time for lunch, after which the 20-year high-school reunion festivities began. It was his reunion, not mine, of course. I am much, much younger than that. My 20-year nigh school reunion isn’t taking place until *mumble* next year *mumble*.

We connected with friends that night for dinner and games, and the official reunion was Saturday. Since CW was one of the event planners, we showed up early to help set up and were planning to stay late to help clean up, but our tiredness (well, my tiredness) eventually won out and we had to sneak out a bit early. The experience of being at someone else’s high school reunion where I knew almost no one and was sober as a judge all night was…well. Let’s agree to call it “a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” The time in Iowa was brief, but we managed to pack it with as much family and friend time as we could, so it was worth it.

Goodbye, cornfields

After a very long 16 hours in the car, we got back home last night at 1:00 AM, making it the third night in a row I’d been up that late. Today I’m spending the day at home catching up on work emails, laundry, and some other household stuff. Classes start in a week and I am in no way ready. Tomorrow, back to work.

Kansas City Snapshots

I wish I could blog in detail about my adventures scoring standardized tests in Kansas City, but I can’t. Instead, I thought I’d share a few snapshots and tidbits from the week.

All in all, it was a really good experience. With thousands of other teachers taking part, I got to meet a lot of colleagues, both those who teach at universities like I do, and those who teach in high schools. I learned a lot about how the high school English programs work and got some interesting perspective from those teachers. Mostly, I really got a broad picture of where high school students are coming from in terms of their writing as they get ready to start college.

Kansas City, here I come. #latergram

On the way to KC, I was an online check-in pro. I logged in to Southwest’s site precisely 24 hours before my flight and got myself into boarding group A, allowing me to snag a sweet, sweet window seat in a row where no one wound up taking the middle seat: my ideal scenario. On the way home, I completely forgot to check in. I guess you can’t win ’em all, right?

Le déjeuner sur l'herbe

We spent each workday (8-5 from Thursday-Wednesday) at the KC Convention Center, which has this lovely little greenspace area right outside the room where our meals were served. After each meal, I went outside to enjoy a little natural light and fresh air before going back in to resume essay scoring. As you can see here, I was not the only one who felt the need to get outdoors whenever I could.

The convention center is right across the street from the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, which I enjoyed photographing, perhaps excessively. The design reminded me a bit of a Frank Gehry (when I lived briefly in Minneapolis I was right next door to the Weisman Art Museum on campus), but I found out it was in fact designed by Moshe Safdie, so now I have another architect to learn about. Bonus!

Dramatic sky on my lunch break. I love sitting outside in the middle of an otherwise dull day of work.

On a few different occasions, I observed a crew rappelling down the building and cleaning it, which, well, frankly looks like the exact kind of job I could never do. Nice work, rappelling crew! I’ll just be taking deep, calming breaths over here from a safe distance.

Lunch break, watching this crew rappel down the building while cleaning it.

Here are a couple more snaps from right outside the convention center. Sitting out on the lawn and taking in the view was definitely the highlight of my usual work day while I was there.

Another lunch break outside.

See? I really took too many photos of the Kauffman center. But isn’t it so pretty?

My view during dinner. Not too shabby.

One of the perks of this test scoring job is that they provide all three meals a day for all the teachers — there’s a huge room in the conference center that gets turned into a cafeteria serving all ~3,000 of us breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s fairly impressive. Of course, cafeteria-type food can get old pretty quickly. The salad bar starts to look a little tired; the vat of reconstituted “scrambled” eggs becomes a repulsive necessity for anyone who needs protein at breakfast. Just cast your memory back to your college dorm’s cafeteria and you’ll know what I mean.

Luckily, I have a very sweet friend in town who picked me up one evening and took me out to a great Kansas City BBQ place for the local specialty, burnt ends. I have been online friends with Elsha for a while now, but this was our first time meeting in person — it was so much fun, and just the break I needed from the monotony of work and the cafeteria. If you ever get the chance to meet an online friend when you’re in the same town, I definitely recommend it! But don’t be like us — remember to take a photo of more than just your dinner!

Kansas City Burnt Ends (delicious) with @vandeblogger, who is, to no surprise, lovely and fun in person just as she is online!

These are burnt ends, if anyone is curious. I had never heard of them before visiting Kansas City. They were pretty great. (Elsha and I? Not pictured. Whoops.)

This is inside my hotel. The windows at the top look into the gym.

The hotel I stayed in was the Westin, which was, over all, very nice. I was most appreciative of the soft sheets, multiple down duvets, and approximately 87 pillows. After each day of essay reading/scoring, I found myself tired enough to climb into bed right away, create a cozy nest, catch up on some social media and reading, and fall asleep by 9:30. So the bed was basically the only aspect of the hotel that mattered. It did have this “fancy” indoor waterfall, however, which I think must have been about 2 stories high. If you see the windows near the top of that photo, they look in on the gym, which — ha! — I never once visited.

I feel I have to add, though, that no matter how fancy and pretty this indoor waterfall looks, that it not natural. It is gross, recirculated, stinky water. It smells. Indoor waterfalls: not recommended. So by my 8th morning waking up in the Westin and walking out past that huge waterfall, when I had to hold my breath until I got past the smell, I knew it was a good thing I was heading home. Besides, I missed my husband, my dog, and my cat.

Now that I’m back and recovered from the trip, it’s time to start my second summer job — my five-week summer literature class starts tomorrow. Current status: bracing myself.

Spring Break in Florida

We spent a few days in Florida over spring break, which now feels like a thousand years ago. It was a great, much appreciated little getaway, though, and I thought I’d share some of my favorite pictures from the trip.

CW went down a few days ahead of me for a huge conference in his field, and I stayed here in town to finish out the school week, then drove down to Tampa to meet him.

Jellies
Us & Shark

That night, we attended a work-related party at the Florida Aquarium, where I got to get up close and personal with all kinds of sea creatures. (Yes, that’s a shark in the background above.)

Seen on the run this morning. Tampa, you're all right with me.

Just Browsing

The next day, I spent my time running along the riverfront, browsing used bookstores, and drinking wine at lunch. It was lovely.

Saturday Market

Sunflowers

Tomatoes

The next day, after the conference was finished, we moved across the bay to St. Petersburg for a little recreation. It is such a lovely town! We lucked out in that our stay there coincided with their big Saturday Market, so we got to browse around, eat arepas from a food truck, and drink Bloody Marys while shopping.

Light

We spent the afternoon in the Salvador Dalí Museum, which is completely lovely. A few snaps of the fun architecture, incredible art work, and, beautiful gardens:

Spiral Stair
CW
Bubble
Purple
Mustache

That night, we basically ate our way through town.

Appalachiacola Oysters

Ceviche at Ceviche

We ate fresh Appalachiacola oysters (I rarely eat animals, but these were a nice treat), drank wine at an adorable wine bar with a little balcony overlooking the street, and then had tapas at the restaurant adjoining our hotel, Ceviche. Recommended.

Winter is Coming (and Other Good Things)

Grrrreetings, friends!

I’d hate to jinx things, but I feel like I am on the mend. The new meds I got at the doctor on Thursday seem to be helping, and my cough has turned from crazy, incessant, uncontrollable attacks into something slightly more controlled and productive. Never mind the fact that last night I woke up and had a horrible coughing fit that led to my unwilling ejection of a piece of leftover wedding cake from my stomach. Sure, that wasn’t fun, but on the whole I feel like things are improving. I will return to good health! At some point!

In other news, I am just really ready for the holidays this year. I’m of course excited about Thanksgiving, as I’ve kept mentioning, but Christmas! Winter break! Cold weather! Snow? Bring it on.

I am already itching to bust out my holiday lights and paper snowflakes and pine cones and appropriately scented candles. I think this year I am going to splurge and buy myself some Voluspa candles. They are so pretty and smell so amazing. Yup. That’s it. I’m doing it. Someone please alert me when they have their winter scents available. (For some reason the “branche vermeil” scent is $45 on Amazon right now and I’m assuming that reason is that it’s last year’s leftovers? And when they have more supply the price will go back down?)

I think I’ll go ahead and set the Christmas wheels in motion right after our Thanksgiving celebration. Never mind that we won’t have time to get a tree that weekend (see family-related delay of Thanksgiving until Saturday). I won’t need a tree in order to start Christmassing this place right up. I feel happy just thinking about it.

Here in Alabama we’ve finally gotten some genuinely cold weather in the mornings (in the 30s, I believe) and I am so enjoying it. Winter is my favorite. I think people often assume I’m complaining if I come in from outdoors and yell, “DAMN, IT’S COLD OUT THERE,” but no. That’s a cry of joy you hear.

When the weather stays in the 80s well into October, it’s easy to feel like there may never be relief. Winter may never come. Perhaps this is how life is now; perhaps in moving to the Deep South, one has given up any hope of ever feeling a bracing wind or smelling snow. But no. Winter is coming.

Even if it doesn’t snow down here, we’ll surely see some in Iowa this Christmas, where we’ll be traveling to visit my in-laws. Christmas is the only holiday break long enough for a substantial trip up there, so that’s become our standard holiday plan (my family at Thanksgiving and/or spring break, his at Christmas).

I love traveling up there to take part in all of the big-family activities — visiting aunts’ and uncles’ houses, little nieces and nephews coming by to go sledding in the fields, and of course the caroling. I come from a smaller, more scattered family, so I never grew up with this kind of tradition going on. It’s so lovely.

That said, I also somewhat long for a future time when we can stay home for Christmas and maybe have our families come visit us. I feel like that’s the kind of thing you can expect only after you have kids, though. (So basically I only want to get pregnant for the following reasons: to not have to clean the litterbox anymore and to have an excuse to stay home for the holidays. I kid. Mostly.) Really, I just think it would be nice to set up our Christmas tree and such and then be able to stay here and enjoy it throughout the season, rather than having to leave it for 10 days and come home to a dried-out bunch of kindling.

Either way, though, I am ready for the season. I’ve just got to get through two more weeks of classes and a week of final exams. I can almost see the twinkling, pine-scented, egg-nog-soaked finish line from here.

Travel Fantasies

Today I’m going to respond to a prompt I got from the awesome Miss Zoot on the subject of travel.

In the context of these travel fantasies, money and jobs are not an issue. So, you can go anywhere, do anything, and when you come back, your life is waiting there for you. Feel free to play along in the comments or on Twitter!

1. Where in the world would you like to spend one week?

Paris

Paris. I’ve been there once before, but the trip was sort of a disaster. The city was amazing, because how could it not be, but the company left something to be desired. This time I’d go with my husband and we’d explore, eat, drink, and generally have a lovely time.

We’d peruse flea markets and bookstores and I’d buy some kind of overpriced scarf in a snobby boutique and try on lots of perfumes and we’d drink coffee all morning and wine all night and eat bread and cheese and snails. Vive la France!

2. Where in the world would you like to spend one month?

Scandinavia. The land of my people. I would go in the winter, when things are at their most hyggelig. The cozy fires, candlelight, and amazing sweaters. Maybe at Christmastime.

canal-tours-copenhagen

I would spend a lot of time in Denmark, seeing the sights in København and Odense and then maybe sailing around from tiny island to tiny island. Or maybe not, since it would be December (the only crimp in this otherwise great plan!). I would eat a lot of smørrebrød and drink Danish beer.

Norway3-The-carefree-Traveler

I’d love to see the mountains and rocky coasts and fjords of Norway — I’ve never been there and the geography is amazing. There would be snow and all kinds of winter sports to try. I don’t care for downhill skiing, but I feel sure I could amuse myself otherwise.

icel12

In Sweden, I’d have to spend at least one night in the famous ice hotel, a hotel north of the Arctic circle, built of ice harvested from a nearby river. The hotel melts away every spring and is redesigned and rebuilt every winter. According to the website, the village where it is located, Jukkasjärvi, is “a small village in Northern Sweden with 1,100 residents and 1,000 dogs.” I am obsessed with it.

3. Where in the world would you like to spend one year?

Greece. When CW and I were there for our belated honeymoon this past summer, we fantasized about moving there or living there for a year doing some kind of teaching or research or writing work. What a dream that would be! We could be based in Athens and still have time to explore the rest of the country at our leisure.

Swiming Area

I’d want to spend some significant time in a little house on one of the charming tiny Aegean islands like Hydra, with little to do except read, write, swim, drink wine, and climb hills.

[195/365] Porch of the Caryatids, Erechtheion

We’d get to visit and revisit all the ancient sites that are so inspiring, learn the language a bit more, learn to cook some of our favorite dishes, and become regulars at our favorite places. Think of the sandals I could acquire! Think of the olives! Sigh.

Okay, where would you go?

In Which My BFF Gets Married

I met my friend Mel in August 1996, half a lifetime ago. It was the fall semester of our freshman year of college. Classes hadn’t started yet. We were sitting and waiting outside the modern languages office to be advised on what language courses we could register for based on our AP credits — she was registering for Spanish, I was trying to register for French but wound up in a German class instead (unrelated long story). The following week, we found out we had two classes together: art history and world literature.

Together with our other BFF, Claire, we made a great triumverate. (I wrote here several years ago about how I met them and some of our exploits together.) The three of us have stuck together long beyond the college years, and have somehow — even after 18 years of aging, growing, and changing — still stayed close. Claire was there as a bridesmaid this weekend, too, of course. In fact, we took the opportunity to recreate our wedding-day selfie from my wedding last year:

My BFF is getting marrrrrrrried!
This Year

Claire, Me, Mel
Last Year

Back in college, Mel and I became friends quickly that first semester and then started rooming together after Christmas break, when my original roommate moved out in search of an off-campus apartment. Mel and I continued living together for the rest of our time in college. In fact, she’s the last person I lived with before my husband and I moved in together before our wedding.

Living with someone for four years, you get to know a lot about them. I know what her snores sound like. I know she will never, ever manage to leave the house with all the necessary items on the first try. I know what to do if she has a bad asthma attack in the middle of the night. I know she’s the kind of person you can count on for advice or just a listening ear any time you need it.

I know she’s an incredibly intelligent, quick-thinking, funny, poised, and determined person. She also has the biggest & strongest heart of anyone I know. In her job, she fights for justice for people who need someone to fight for them — people others would turn their backs on. Their lives literally depend on her work. When I think about what her job entails and how hard it is, I am just so impressed and moved by her.

For the past few years, she’s been a single mom, raising her two beautiful kids on her own. She moved with them to a new state for a fresh start for their little family, which is where she met the man she just married this past weekend. To match up to someone like Mel, you basically have to be a pretty amazing person — and Mike fits the bill. He’s hard-working and kind and funny, warm-hearted and happy and honorable.

It was such a wonderful experience to be part of their wedding — to get to stand up beside my friend of 18 years and watch as they said their vows to each other. Fine, I got a little misty, but I blame Mike. It was the look on his face when she walked in that did it to me. I fear all the photos of the ceremony will reveal me grimacing in the background as I tried not to cry too hard. Let’s hope the photographer went with a shallow depth of field there.

IMG_2746

The weekend was wonderful (full of crisp fall weather and beautiful leaves up in Viriginia, and), full of families and friends coming together to make the wedding happen. We worked together to set things up and organize; we helped each other get ready; we combined our efforts to keep the champagne glasses full, the lipstick blotted, and the mother of the bride calm. Well, we tried, anyway. All in all, it went off without a hitch.

And now, the happy couple is off on their fabulous honeymoon and I’ve come back to reality, aka work. Speaking of which, I’d better get back to it.