Monthly Archives: January 2013

Wise Words From Myself, Six Years Ago

Last January, my sister (who is far more organized and on top of things than I am) volunteered her time on a Saturday to be my moral support while I worked on cleaning out our office.  By moral support, I mean that she helped me from getting too distracted, or rewarding thirty minutes of work with a three-hour “break”.  And thanks to her guidance, one year ago, we had a functioning office where I could sit by the window and read, work on the computer, or clear out enough space on the desk to do some painting.

One year later, the reading chair has a two-foot-tall pile of books and random stuff on it, I choose to use my laptop in the living room, and while there technically is room to paint, the overall clutter and dust (oh, the dust…) makes it a less-than-inspiring space.  About the dust- the office unfortunately also serves as the home for the litter boxes (joys of apartment living).  Thus this room accumulates dust about 20 times faster than the rest of our apartment.  I try to keep up with it, but once the chair got reclaimed as a clutter receptacle in the fall, there was less motivation to enter that room for any reason other than cleaning the litter boxes.

I really didn’t intend to tell you all that. This is not supposed to be about my disorganization and questionable cleaning skills.

What it is supposed to be about is the fact that I do enjoy office cleaning and organization because of all the fabulous things I find. Today I decided to make some effort to get the room back in order.  So far, I have found the following:

  • a lock that Nick gave me two years ago so that I could safely stow my laptop while at school.  Only this past fall when I started teaching did I really feel a need for it, and of course at that point I could not find it.  And somehow between now and then I created a false memory that Nick asked if he could use it for something. (I have no idea what. Sorry, Nick.)
  • an X-acto knife that has been missing for several months but I gave up on because I created a false memory that Nick broke it and promised to buy me another one.  (Seriously, Nick, I’m really sorry. Don’t worry, I didn’t hold it against you.)
  • a book that one of my favorite friends gave me for Christmas several years ago. This wasn’t necessarily lost, but anytime something reminds me of Katie it makes me happy.
  • a card that another friend/former coworker gave me when we were both leaving our jobs.
  • a journal with two entries, presumably when I was wanting to start a new journal, perhaps one that focused more on personal growth instead of boyfriends. (Note- I have since returned to writing in the latter, about 4-5 times a year.  I’m happy to say there is a good balance between talk about personal growth and husband, but not boyfriends.)

The first entry is from November 2006, just after I graduated with my masters degree in psychology, got my nose pierced, and started what would be almost nine months of temping in the legal department of a national food distributor while searching for a “real job”.  The nose piercing lasted just about as long as the temp job- on the first day of orientation for my real job, I was quickly informed that the piercing had to go.

Anyway, this first entry is a list of goals, not unsimilar to about 100 lists I have made since then:

11/21/06   Things I Want to Work Toward:

  • Painting on a regular basis (That coming year I definitely did. Since then… well, see above about the office.)
  • Writing more often (Oh honey, I don’t think you meant scholarly papers, but yeah… you’re writing more often, trust me.)
  • Reviewing Spanish (Does our honeymoon in Mexico count?)
  • Finally reading the wine textbook I have (That hasn’t happened. I think it’s in a box in the basement. Also, you’ll be shocked to know that your wine consumption has decreased greatly.)
  • Reading more. (Not always, but probably averaging more books/year now.)
  • Taking care of myself: less time at the computer, more time outdoors or exercising; cooking more and eating less pre-prepared foods (Let’s start with the good news: cooking more and eating better? Yes, absolutely. Unless you’re talking about during finals. The computer vs. outdoors and exercise thing is still a constant challenge.)
  • Starting to review for the GRE’s in case I want to take them next year (Well, you don’t take them until 2009, but I can tell you that you rocked them.)
  • Continue expanding my social circle and maintain the positive friendships I have right now (Some of the friends are the same, some that seemed positive at the time really were not. And you’ve accumulated some amazing newer friends since then, too.)

The second, and final entry:


Enjoy right now. Enjoy having a job you don’t care about because it means you’re not tied down. You can take a day off in the middle of the week and sleep in, have a late lunch with a best friend and a bottle of wine.

(Yeah, that probably was not the best idea.)

Enjoy not feeling pressured to find someone to date and being content to be at home on a Saturday night. Enjoy knowing what’s ahead of you: A great job or an experience at another school;

(Done and done.)

A man (or a woman) who makes you forget the one who got away;

(Yes. Well, the man part. The woman part never happened, but nice to know I was open to possibilities.)

Fantastic trips and adventures that you can only imagine right now.

(Some, but still imagining others.)

Inevitably, there will be a time 5, 10, 20 years from now that you miss where you are in this moment. So enjoy it. Embrace the challenge (ok, fear) of barely living paycheck to paycheck. Embrace not having anyone else to worry about and getting to do exactly what you want to do. For the first time you’re checking off the things on your to-do list. And constantly finding new things to add.

It concludes with some cheesiness marveling about how it had been four years since I turned 21 and how time moves so quickly. Oh, 25-year-old Sarah, you have no clue. But despite that, you had some admirable ideas and aspirations. It’s good to see I haven’t let you down.



Filed under Family, Life, Love, My Crazy Mind, Writing

My Take on “Things Not to Say to a Graduate Student”

Early on in my blogging, I started to write something about the questions that I was tired of hearing since starting graduate school.

Just before Christmas, I discovered that someone beat me to it.  Ben Deaton’s Things You Never Say to a Graduate Student was shared by one of my classmates, and within a day, approximately 30% of the students in our program re-posted it.  (That’s a very rough estimate.)  But clearly a number of us felt like we could relate to at least something in the post.

Since I’ve been wanting to write something about this anyway, and there is a decent amount of overlap with Mr. Deaton’s perspective, here are my thoughts on what he had to say with some additional musings and pictures of cats on textbooks.

Graduate School is as Similar to College as College is to High School

When I was in college I ran into a high school classmate who was finishing college a year early and going right into a graduate program at a university that just happened to be where a substantial portion of our high school class was going to college.  I said something along the lines of, “That’s kind of funny that you’re going to be back with a bunch of people from our school.” Her response was “But they’re in college. I’m going to be in graduate school.”

At the time it struck me as being obnoxious and kind of snotty, but I now get her point. (Although I still think she was kind of snotty about it.)  Graduate school is a very different experience from college.  And having been in both a masters and a PhD program, I can tell you there’s a big difference there, too.  I don’t like explaining that to people because I can’t figure out how to say it without trivializing their experiences.  But Ben is very straightforward in his blog, and is able to do so without sounding at all condescending. Why is it so hard for me to do that?


B thinks he’s smarter than everyone.

Ben’s first thing not to say: “You must be so much smarter than me.”  Oh right, that‘s why I feel uncomfortable emphasizing the difference between college and grad school.  I’ve gotten responses like this from enough people that I often avoid mentioning that I’m working on my PhD when I meet someone. Of course doing so just makes it worse, as it usually results in an awkward conversation like this:

Person I’m just meeting: So what do you do? (which is a crappy question to begin with, by the way)

Sarah: [trying to downplay it] I’m in school.

PIJM: Oh, cool. What are you majoring in? (I admit that I do find it flattering that they so quickly assume I’m a college student)

Sarah: Actually I’m in graduate school.

PIJM: Like a masters degree?

Sarah: Actually it’s a doctoral program.

If I don’t get a “oh wow, you must be really smart” type of reaction, the second-most common is “Good for you!” I have no idea how to respond to this. “Thank you” seems most appropriate, but… weird. I know that about 95% of the people who say this are genuine and mean something like, “That’s really awesome that you’re doing that.” (I suspect the other 5% are trying to quickly shut down the conversation because they are afraid you’re about to launch into a 20-minute monologue about your dissertation on The Influence of Barn Swallows’ Mating Habits on Architecture in 17th-Century Germany.*)

*I do prefer these people, however, to the people who proceed to ask, “What are you studying?” and then cut you off and/or wander away before you finish a single sentence.

“When are you going to graduate?” I was so happy to see this included, as it is the most common question, and it sucks to answer. There are some goals that can’t be perfectly planned out on a timeline. “When are you going to get a job?” “When do you think you will finally lose twenty pounds?”

That being said, I know pretty much anyone who reads this and also knows me in person is going to worry that they’ve asked me this. Yes, you have.  It’s okay. Just don’t ask again.  Safer questions, if you’re interested in my progress: “So what are you working on this semester?” or “Anything new at school?” Believe me, if a graduation date is in sight, everyone will know.


See? Matilda is in no hurry to graduate.

“Aren’t you tired of being in school?” I have to say that I have not heard this very often. It usually comes in a more indirect form like, “Oh, I could never go back to school.” But more often, I hear, “Oh, so you’re one of those perpetual students.” To me, a “perpetual student” is someone who collects degrees. The person who already has a masters degree in psychology and then goes back to get two more in art history and zoology (which I would totally do if I had a way to fund it and live on more than a student stipend). “Perpetual student” also sometimes has implications that you’re hiding out in school to avoid the real world. But choosing to get an advanced degree as a means to get the job that you want is not avoiding the real world. If anything, it’s a decision to delay a lot of gratification that the real world and a real job can offer (i.e., buying a house, going on trips, actually having paid vacation time to go on trips).

Which ties in quite nicely to Ben’s next thing…

“Do you have such and such holiday ‘off’?” What Ben says about there being the potential to work all the time is absolutely true. Yes, my schedule is more flexible than having a 9-to-5 job (which is why I can get away with firing off several blog entries on a Thursday afternoon).  But having undefined working hours means also having undefined nonworking hours. And choosing to spend a Thursday afternoon doing fun things means that I will be working on Friday evening or Saturday afternoon.

Which brings me to my final thing not to say to a graduate student:

At 5:30pm: “Hey, we’re all going out to [fill-in-the-blank with preferred fun activity] tonight. Come with us!” Actually, it’s okay to say this. Just understand that there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll be able to say yes. It could be a day where, at 5:30 pm, I am still in my pajamas, have been working on research for six hours straight, and will likely continue to do so for six more hours if someone does not intervene. On those days, these types of messages are very, very welcome.  But it also might be a day where I decided the afternoon would be best spent painting my nails and watching four hours of Alias, and now I really need to spend the rest of the night working on a paper; however, had I known there were more enticing options for the evening, I would have decided to be more productive earlier on in the day.  Because as much as I enjoy procrastinating by watching Michael Vartan and Bradley Cooper, it’s way better to see friends. Plans that are made even further in advance are even better; I might be able to get things done so I can spend all of Saturday not working. Because it’s good for me to see sunlight, too.


It is also good for me to get out of the house so I might take pictures of something other than my cats.

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Nick and Sarah’s (Almost) Conflict-Free Lasagna

(Or, A Very Belated Christmas Recap, Part 2)

As I’ve mentioned in the past, Nick and I both like to cook, but we don’t cook together. Generally our worldviews on food (foodviews?) are pretty different. Remember the Chicken Maryland argument of 2009?

Sure, sometimes we’ve divvied up a meal and each worked independently on separate dishes. And we have collaborated on pizzas but that usually involves a lot of compromise and more inner turmoil on my part than you would ever imagine. I just go to my happy place and smile and nod while Nick applies the cheese in a way that goes against all my culinary and aesthetic sensibilities. (And to be fair, it turns out great.)

Somehow, however, we can make a great lasagna together. And by together I mean absolute 50/50 effort, putting things into the same pan, and having to coordinate with each other.

We did this for Christmas dinner to take over to my parents. There was a moment when Nick got impatient with my meticulous layering on the spinach, one leaf at a time. But instead of making an issue of it, he just suggested that he work on the spinach and redirected me to preparing the next noodle layer. His impatience did get the best of him later on when he grabbed a spoon from me and dumped out the rest of the sauce that I was carefully pouring out. I resisted throwing a handful of shredded mozzarella at him and simply explained I had been trying to reserve some sauce for another layer, but no problem, we’ll improvise!

So we rode out those momentary glitches. In the end we still liked each other and we produced a beautiful lasagna for dinner.

It was a Christmas miracle.


I was too excited about the lasagna to remember to take pictures until we had devoured the majority of it. For those of you who feel cheated and are terribly disappointed to not see the lasagna in its entirety, this is a different, but similar-looking and equally delicious, Nick and Sarah lasagna:


Back when I started writing this right after Christmas, I had planned on including the recipe. Now… I don’t remember the recipe, since we kinda made it up.  I did not eat a lot of lasagna growing up, but I know a lot of people who are very picky about lasagna. Typically, the criterion for these individuals seems to be whether the lasagna was prepared by their mother, and if it was not, it’s no good.  I’d love to hear what others think makes or breaks a lasagna, but in my limited experience, it seems like if you have decent, fresh ingredients, it’s pretty hard to mess up.  We used Giada’s recipe in Everyday Italian as a guide, if you happen to be looking for a recipe.

Oh, I made an antipasti* platter for Christmas, too.  And since it looked pretty, I had to share it. Best appetizer ever- no cooking and the prep is limited to finding some yummy things at Wegman’s olive bar (which you might remember that I love), cutting up some cheeses and veggies, rolling up some meats, and making it look all fancy.



*Okay, it is antipasti, antipasto, or antipasta? I came across all three when I was looking for ideas. Can someone who is familiar with the Italian language and/or cuisine explain this to me?

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