Thursday, December 13, 2012

In Which I Am Ill

Here is what I learned last night:

1. Like butter, milk, and bacon, you should always keep a back-up quart of ice cream in the freezer.
2. If all the snot in your head is crowding out the brain cells, put your husband in charge of the garnishes.

I learned this when we had one of my husband's professors and his lovely wife over for dinner last night. I'll be quite frank: I wasn't in a good mood about it. I was looking forward to meeting these people and wanted to make a good impression, but I was also coming down with a cold and wanted to curl up with tankards of orange juice and chicken broth.

But the perfect hostess does not cancel at the last minute, even if she risks getting her guests sick. The perfect hostess knows that if she gives the impression of being organized and hygienic, her guests will never suspect her of giving them the sniffles.

So forward we went. I'd made a big pot of white chicken chili and a sour cream coffee cake the night before, so all I had to do was set the table, light the candles, and warm up the chili after work. Easy. Or at least it gave the impression of being easy--sort of like those messy buns where you need four hands and half an hour of earnest teasing to make people think you just threw it together. (I used to whine about not having a big sister to teach me how to make messy buns, but in the age of YouTube I suppose that complaint is no longer valid.) I was a little concerned about the coffee cake--it had fallen mysteriously as it cooled--but decided that on my list of things to worry about, dessert wasn't nearly as important as "make sure not to leak snot into the chili while stirring."

It turned out to be a lovely evening. Much laughter, and I mostly understood the architecture-talk. (Mostly. There were a few bad moments early on when they walked in and said, "Oh, what a lovely home!" I thought they were talking about our decorating, but then they said it was a great example of modernist something in the something style, as evidenced by the roof joinery, and all I could say was, "Mmm!") We were having such a good time that no one looked at me funny when I cut into the coffee cake and understood the mysterious deflation: The bottom third wasn't cooked.

"Ha! Ha!" said I, giving my husband a hunted look that meant Please tell me we have ice cream and frozen berries in the freezer so we can improvise some sort of berry crumble.

"Yum! Cake batter!" he cried.

So we got through that. We had a nice conversation over tea and none of us even noticed how late it was getting. Eventually they headed out. The hubby threw plates in the dishwasher and I bagged the leftovers to put in the fridge... at which point I noticed the cup of fresh-squeezed lime juice, the chopped scallions, the shredded cheese, the cilantro, the sour cream, and the pico de gallo I'd meant to put out as garnishes for the chili.

"Ha! Ha!" said I, giving my husband a hunted look that meant It is time for me not to be awake anymore.

"Don't worry. We'll use those on the leftover chili and you're taking a sick day tomorrow," he said.

"I don't need to take a sick day tomorrow."

"You sneezed thirty-eight times tonight and you've turned into a mouth breather. You need to stay in bed."

And so I conclude with this question: If you went over to someone's house for dinner and she sneezed thirty-eight times and, by the time you left, was surrounded by her own little sea of spent Kleenex, you wouldn't blame your subsequent cold on her, would you?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

In Which the Best Is Yet to Come (We Hope)

Folks, it's official: As of today there is more pregnancy behind me than before me. Which I call a reason for rejoicing. Although if the Advice Ladies at work are to be believed, I've got plenty of agony left to go. 

"Ohhh, get ready, it's the most excruciating pain you've ever experienced," say the Advice Ladies. "They'll need to stick you with the epidural like eight times and then the baby will get stuck and then you'll have an emergency C-section and the anesthesiologist will screw up and..."

"I'm not having an epidural," say I.

And then they look at me like I look at the people who dance on street corners without enough clothes on--with pity and with concern and with hope that the craziness isn't catching. 

But I'm not going to freak out about labor. If it's the price of a child, I'll pay it. No, more than that--if it's the price of getting my normal body back, I'll pay it. The first twenty weeks of pregnancy have been an accelerated journey back through the best of puberty--the greasy hair (they told me prenatal vitamins would make it thick and glossy), the acne (is this what they mean by "glowing"?), the moods...oh, the moods...

My husband has been a prince about the moods. And they're a lot better than they used to be. There were a few nights when I burst into tears while making dinner, wept that I couldn't handle the responsibility of heating up leftover soup, flung myself into bed, and cried myself to sleep. And then there was the horrible day when he told me, so, so gently, that maybe we needed to start budgeting for all the steak I was suddenly eating. 

Here is the lesson of the second trimester: Not being nauseous is a great mood improver. 

Which is all to say--poor Princess Kate. The benefits of a diamond tiara don't nearly outweigh the awfulness of vomiting. I hope they plunk that dear woman at an estate somewhere in Scotland, give her nice stretchy sweatpants, and then leave her alone for nine months. And then I hope--I really, really hope--she'll be willing to share her Royal Pregnancy Hair Tips. Because my hair just cannot handle another pregnancy like this.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

In Which I Advise Those Who Will Come After Me

I was naive going into this. I admit that. I thought that being the wife of a grad student would be simple. Sure, I anticipated a few changes. I knew that I would have to proofread the occasional paper. I knew that the hubby would usually have to study during our evening coffee dates, but I looked forward to this as a chance to catch up on all the classic literature I missed in college. I imagined myself hosting study parties at our apartment and feeding everyone blondies. (I make very good blondies.) I imagined everyone asking for my blondie recipe.

So far, no one has asked for my blondie recipe. 

I imagine that I am not the only person seeing her spouse through graduate school. In the spirit of solidarity, then, let me offer these five handy tips for surviving the long years ahead:

1. Learn the lingo. This is important. The hubby and I used to have conversations that went like this:

Hubby: ...and the anterior shakes on the Dutchman's joints appeared bilaterally spliced between the midsection and crossbeam, and, as Higgins notes, the brick facade is fundamentally unstable without the stretcher bond touchpointing the spall.
Me: Erm. Can you chop that mango for me?

But after a month or so we had this conversation, of which I am not proud:

Hubby: I'm free Saturday after I get back from field recordation and condition assessment for stabilization at the Watson-Price barn.
Me: The...meh? The what?
Hubby: I've been doing this for two weeks. Remember?
Me: Is that where you're trying to save the barn that they should totally just tear down because it's an eyesore?
Hubby: I'm getting the feeling that you're not particularly invested in my chosen field of study.
Me: Erm. Smoochies?

So I'm working on learning the lingo, because I like knowing what my husband's talking about. I know what a a jalousie window is and where to find it (trailer parks, mostly) and I know that lamb's tongue has nothing to do with soft fluffy animals. I'm still mostly quiet when he's talking about school, but now when I say "Erm" it's an educated erm.

2. Expect to cook a lot of dinners and do a lot of dishes and wash a lot of laundry. I imagine that spouseless grad students just let the dishes and laundry pile up until the end of the term, at which point they burn it all. I see no other option: there simply isn't time in the graduate schedule to allow for normal domestic activities. As the spouse, if you don't want to reside in a hovel you're going to have to take on a bit more than your fifty-percent share of the housework.

Your spouse will feel guilty about this. Every time he thanks you and apologizes for not being able to help, tell him it's your joy and you love being able to help him out. And then, at the end of the term, when exams are in the past and he's had his first good night's sleep in three months, he'll cook you a nice dinner. There will probably be candles. This makes all the laundry worthwhile.

3. There will not be much you can do to help. Get over it now. You can't do the reading and you can't take notes and you can't do the detailed architectural drawings (well, you can, but you will do them wrong). You will wake up at three in the morning and realize that your spouse hasn't come to bed yet because he's still trying to churn out a paper and you will want with every ounce of your being to take some of the load off his shoulders. You can't. You can't even format his footnotes for him because his program uses an incredibly counterintuitive style you've never heard of before.

I may be alone in the desire to format my husband's footnotes.

4. Grad student housing sucks. It's best to get over this quickly. You will dream of drapes. You will imagine all the colors you could paint your walls if you were allowed to paint. You will spend untold hours on Pinterest lusting after the floorplan you can't have. You will wish desperately for a puppy, but the only allowable pets have gills. You will fantasize about having closets with doors on them. You will think about someday, maybe, having neighbors who don't store their trash outside their front door. (Also pans full of grease.)

The day for drapes will come. For now, just be glad you have a door that locks.

5. Remember it will end. This is the hardest part--especially on this side of summer, when the hubby will have an internship 3,000 miles away. But I keep trusting that, as always, many years from now I'll look back on this time and be amazed that it went so quickly.

Well, maybe not quickly. But it sure can't last forever. Until then, I'll keep working on this blondie recipe. Because even if I don't get an honorary master's degree out of this, I will at least keep my family well fed. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

In Which the Government Gets My Money, Even Though I Don't Feel Like They're Doing a Particularly Good Job Representing Me

Here is what it's like to do taxes in high school:

Collect W2 from employer. Give it to Dad. Dad says, "Cool, I'll take care of that." Several months later, receive check in mail. Rejoice.

Here is what it's like to do taxes in college: 

Collect W2 from employer. Lose it in stack of papers. Two months later, panic and turn desk inside out looking for it. Succeed. Give it to Dad. Several months later, receive check in mail. Rejoice.

Here is what it's like to do taxes as a newlywed:

Collect W2s from employers. Add up the two numbers. Write numbers on forms and send forms to government. Several months later, receive check in mail. Rejoice.

Here is what it's like to do taxes when you have one job but that job involves the occasional speaking engagement and you have one W2 but about eight miscellaneous income forms from the different groups you spoke to and your husband is a graduate student and he was a non-resident for the first term of the year and he has a lot of receipts for school-related expenses like books and protractors and and you also moved across the country and have about a thousand receipts documenting the move:

Collect every piece of paper you have touched in the past year. Have a glass of wine. Regard papers. Wonder what would happen if you wrote a letter to the IRS saying "How about we just call it even this year?" Have a cookie. Compose letter. Show letter to husband. Giggle manically while husband deletes letter. Call H&R Block and try not to sound too hysterical on the phone. Resolve to become a hermit next year.

We know what would be easier? We could make taxes proportional to how well we feel the government's done. I'm happy to pay my state and local taxes this year, for example. The roads aren't too pothole-y and the trash is always picked up on time. The state parks are well maintained and they're always careful to post warnings when someone has been mauled by a bear recently. Congress, however, reached an unprecedented level of incompetence this year, and I just don't trust them with my money. 

If you need me at any point in the next week, I can be found on my couch amidst a pile of papers and file folders and ballpoint pens and paper clips and post-it notes, wishing that we were still on the feudal system and I could satisfy my debt to the government (or benevolent overlord) with a few sheaves of wheat and my daughter's hand in marriage. Wish me luck. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

In Which I Make Plans and Abandon Them

I have this friend.

I met her in college. We were both eighteen, but she was already so much older. It was like she was the dorm mother, always there to wipe a tear, always ready to make you a big pot of tea and listen to your sorrows. And she was a great cook. (Still is.) It's funny to think of dorm and hospitality in the same breath, but somehow she managed it.

I had different priorities. I was planning to work for the International Justice Mission at the time. I was working on my French and was certain I'd be using it in international development. I wanted to be important. I wanted to do something big, something that would make a measurable difference in the world. I remember telling a group of friends that I was more interested in planning my career than dreaming about marriage and children.

We got older. My friend travelled. She learned languages. And while she was doing that, I settled down and got married.

Priorities change.

Perspectives shift.

I can't tell you where my friend is today--it would, quite literally, compromise her safety. She's working for peace and she's working for justice and she's working for the restoration of all things. The global community will be stronger, more vibrant because of her life. Whenever I talk to her I tell her to be safe, and I tell her that she's free to come live in my neighborhood so we can swap lasagna recipes and have Christmas present wrapping parties. And I feel like I'm telling Joan of Arc to stay home and churn the butter.

And me? I live in a valley not far from the mountains. I share my life with my husband, and our hopes for the future are for children, pets, a backyard with lots of trees and maybe a creek, and a loaf of bread in the oven. I pray that our home will ring with the laughter of good friends. That's it.

I have a quiet life.

And I can't imagine being happier. I can hardly remember a time when I didn't want this, and not for the world would I trade my life for my friend's. Nor would she trade hers for mine. In spite of our best-laid plans, I think we've both ended up exactly where we were supposed to be.

How's that for happy endings?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

In Which I Give Up Before I Get Started

A friend of mine, through a fluke of gift subscriptions, receives two copies of Better Homes and Gardens every month. She very kindly gives me the extra magazine, giving me a chance to study the lives of people who have too much money and too much time on their hands.

The chief purpose of magazines like this is to make the reader feel inferior. Are there really people who never have dishes in the sink? Whose pantries stay perfectly organized? Who have boxes of craft things and can always find the tape when they need it? Who have matching dishes? Who manage to keep all their children's toys confined to a few tasteful baskets? Who repaint their kitchens every two or three years? Who display orange and pink throw pillows? Who put the bed skirt on the bed instead of tossing it in the back of the closet? Who wear heels and pearls while washing dishes? Who arrange vases and antique-looking knick knacks on their bookshelves instead of books?

This last point is the one that really gets me. Any picture of a home that includes bookshelves inevitably looks like this:

Arrange Perfect Bookshelves Every Time

Seriously. The caption on this photo is actually "Arrange perfect bookshelves every time." On these bookshelves are vases, candles, framed pictures, large shells, and boxes (which probably contain scented pine cones and other out-of-season decorations). Where the poop are the books?

Oh. Here they are.


Very charming and artistic and everything, but what happens when you want to grab a book that isn't on the top of the stack?

Boom. That's what happens.

But magazine people don't have that problem, because magazine people don't actually buy books to read them. Magazine people buy books to fit their décor.

So I flip through the home section pretty quickly and move into the gardens. Which is just another opportunity to feel inadequate, because I can keep a plant alive for about a week and a half before it dies a grisly death. I also skip through the craft section, because I am not the sort of person who should be allowed anywhere near scrapbooking supplies.

But I can make a mean French onion soup. The kind that takes a whole afternoon to simmer. The kind with inch-thick baguettes and melty, bubbly Gruyère on top. If I had the magazine people over for dinner they'd ask questions about calories and fiber content, and they'd note that our books are arranged by genre and author, not color, and they'd politely choose not to remark on the fact that I still have gourds and dried corn on the table from Thanksgiving.

I have genetics working against me here. Twenty years ago my parents were trying to sell their house and they painted the living room a particularly striking shade of blue. It wasn't even dry when the realtor walked in and said, "Well, the first thing that has to change is that paint." Like them, I will never attempt dramatic decorating. I will never have a charming country home. But I'll always have soup and good friends and the man I love, and plenty of books to keep me company on rainy days.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In Which I Humbly Request Your Assistance

My computer got all sluggish again tonight. (More sluggish than usual, I mean. It's pretty elderly, and just like elderly folks it wakes up pretty slowly and likes to take the occasional nap in the middle of the day...usually when I'm trying to watch the new episode of Downton Abbey.) When it gets slow I usually just give up and figure I should have been doing something more useful with my time anyway, but the hubby does this mysterious thing where he cleans out the cache--or, to continue with a metaphor I should probably abandon, gives it Alzheimer's. So it forgets all the things it doesn't really need to know and gets all speedy again.

So the hubby was cleaning the cache, and as he did so he remarked, "Crazy! I'm removing half a gigabyte!"

And I did that thing where I go "Hmm!"

Because here's the confession: I don't know what a gigabyte is. I know it's a lot of bytes. I know that a megabyte is a lot of bytes, too, but giga doesn't really sound that much bigger than mega. I understand both prefixes to mean, "Oh, gosh, a whole bunch." And now apparently I have to know about terabytes as well. Why couldn't they just stick with the metric system?

I start to panic whenever bytes of any size come up in conversation. I never know what I'm supposed to say, so I start examining the other person's face for clues. Do they seem impressed? Appalled? Irritated? Geeked out? I always say exactly the same thing ("Dude, seriously?") but I vary my tone to suit their facial expression. This is the quickest way to end the byte conversation, I've found.

But I've decided to come clean about it, and here's where I'm asking for your help. I need a clever mnemonic device to help me remember the order of the sizes. Evidently it goes:


So I need a B.K.M.G.T. phrase, please. The hubby suggests "Bring Kleenex! My Girl's Tribulations," but this has two strikes against it:

(1) I'd prefer a phrase less concerned with my propensity to sniffle.
(2) I can't remember it.

I was considering "Burger King Makes Great Tacos," but I can't stomach lies on that scale. So I turn to you, Gentle Readers. Please, please, help me sound educated.