Category Archives: Life

Trying to Get Some Procrastination Out of My System

What I Need to Be Doing Right Now:

  • Grading my 89 students’ papers
  • Finalizing lectures for tomorrow and Wednesday
  • Preparing for my dissertation proposal meeting on Tuesday
  • Preparing the materials to submit to the Institutional Review Board, pending my dissertation proposal’s approval on Tuesday
  • Cleaning every square inch of this apartment

What I Want to Be Doing Right Now:

  • Baking chocolate chip cookies to test out the Smoked Chocolate Chips I got from MOUTH.com
  • Taking advantage of Nick being out of the house on a Sunday and using his turntable
  • Anything outside in the sunshine
  • Planning a menu for Mother’s Day
  • Shopping for new shoes for summer
  • Playing with these guys

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What I Am Doing Right Now:

  • Absolutely nothing worth noting
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Accomplishments

November has been a productive month.   Well, not in terms of blog writing.  But in the rest of my life, things are getting done.

Most importantly, I submitted my portfolio, which is my program’s version of doctoral comprehensive exams.  It’s basically a sample of the work I have done so far in grad school: an in-depth review of the existing theory and research in my area of interest, and other documents that show that I have actually done something in the last three years: a manuscript submitted for publication, a poster presented at a conference, and a proposal that I submitted to an organization trying to convince them that what I intend to do for my dissertation is worthy of their funding.

So a little over a week ago, I printed out all 100+ pages comprising these documents, and organized them into binders to submit to the faculty members on my committee.  The binder organization was the best part.  It wasn’t until I saw all these printed pages, which contained nothing but words that I had written*, that I realized that, okay, I have done something with my life in the last few years.

I still have to wait several weeks to hear whether what I’ve done these last few years meets the approval of my committee members.  Consequently, I’m hesitant to do too much celebrating quite yet.  But assuming that I do pass, this means that I will advance to candidacy, and need to get going on my dissertation.  We shall see.

Is it odd that changing my own brake light, which I did earlier this month, felt like almost as much of an accomplishment as turning in my portfolio?  Perhaps I should explain.  Nick usually jumps on any sort of at-home car repairs and I usually let him, because, hey, that means I don’t have to do it.  But I like to know that I could do something if I needed to.  Sure, I still needed Nick to stand behind the car and confirm that I fixed the brake light, but I replaced the light bulb myself, dammit.  I swear I felt just as much pride in that moment as when my advisor told me my lit review was complete.

Also, I have a tendency to procrastinate on car-related things.  I almost always request an extension for the emissions inspection, mainly because I forget until the day before the deadline and I don’t have time to go.  I usually have to tape a printed-out temporary registration in my rear window because I waited to renew my registration online until the last day possible.  Once I even registered on time, but didn’t bother to put the new sticker on my license plate until the end of the expiration month.  This was a bad idea because in rushing to take care of it, I didn’t pay attention to all the dirt and salt (it was winter) on the license plate, and surprisingly, the sticker did not stick.

When I talk about things like this, it amazes me that I ever get anything done.

Anyway, the fact that I purchased and installed a new brake light within 24 hours of being pulled over by a state trooper felt like a pretty big accomplishment.  I would also like to note that this is the first time I did not feel like I was on the verge of crying and/or having an anxiety attack when being pulled over by a cop.**  So much growth this month.

Finally, I got a Fitbit.  I’ve learned that my walk from the parking lot to my building on campus is not as substantial as I thought it was.  But two Sundays in a row, Nick and I have gone for hikes and exceeded the goal of 10,000 steps.  This is very unlike us, but we like it and might do more of it.  Given the forecast tomorrow for a high of 33 degrees, I am not sure we’ll make it 3 in a row.  That’s okay, though, because we are seriously behind on figuring out this year’s Christmas card and we should spend some time on that.  Perhaps I’ll get my steps in while wandering through the Goodwill….

*And a handful of tables which I lovingly constructed.

**To be clear, in the 15 or so years that I have been driving, I have gotten pulled over maybe a total of 8 or 9 times, more often for burnt-out lights than for speeding.

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Welcome Home Scones

If your Facebook feed looks anything like mine, you probably are under the impression that everyone in the world is:

a. buying a new house

or

b. getting pregnant and having babies

Seriously, my Facebook feed is nothing but photographs of fetuses, bellies, and babies, and exterior house shots, stacks of boxes, and shiny new house keys.  Oh, and there are still a lot of photos of cats and food (but not cat food).  These are my friends, after all.

Because these are my friends, fortunately I don’t see a ton of the inappropriately first-person-plural updates about infant waste elimination. (You know what I’m talking about: “We’ve already filled five diapers with poop today and it’s not even noon!”  We?? I really hope that’s not something you’re doing with your baby.)

In fact, I felt rather proud of one of my best friends when she posted something referring to a poop situation as a “pants disaster.”  Understated, humorous, and leaves something to the imagination, even if I choose not to imagine it.  Now that’s what I’m looking for in classy baby-related status updates.

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I actually still owe this classy new mom and her husband (also a wonderful friend) a post-baby dinner.  I have a terrible habit of offering to make things for people and then not following through with it. Not because I don’t want to follow through or because I’m flaky and forget about it.  I end up with performance anxiety about the final product, whether it be a painting or vegetarian enchiladas.  There’s something unsettling about trying a new recipe and sending it off for someone else to consume, without having tasted it yourself first.

So, when our friends moved to a new house with a baby, I remembered that I had told them several months before that I’d make them a meal after the baby was born.  Oops.  In the midst of packing, moving, and unpacking, knowing dinner was waiting in the fridge or freezer would probably be really helpful. But I still hadn’t had a chance to test an enchilada recipe. Guilt and obligation versus perfectionism and procrastination.

I ended up compromising by baking scones.

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In their old house, we shared lots of evenings together. Games were played, movies were watched, and bottles of wine and pounds of cheese were consumed.* For some reason, separate nights eating strawberries and gingersnaps also stand out to me. So strawberry & ginger scones seemed like a good idea.

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Something sweet with a little spice.

I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe.  She calls them biscuits, but also refers to them as scones. I just think they’re delicious. I’ve made buttermilk scones before, but these use heavy cream instead. They really do taste creamy, which is lovely with the strawberries.

I followed the recipe exactly except for also adding in about a tablespoon of fresh grated ginger.  They did not turn out very gingery, although I wondered if I just did not thoroughly stir in the ginger and someone got a very gingery bite.

If I was going to make them again, I might sprinkle a little raw sugar on top.  I like when scones have a bit of crunchy crust on top, and since these are not very sweet to begin with, a little extra sugar wouldn’t make them too sweet.

Oh, one more thing. I didn’t feel like using biscuit cutters, so I shaped the dough into a rectangle, about 3/4 inch thick, and divided it into 8 squares. Further halving each square diagonally yields a good scone portion, in my opinion, but if you want a larger, more indulgent scone, I fully support your decision.

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*Let’s just assume I mean cumulatively over the years, and not per evening.

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Sometimes You Have to Be Flexible: White Bean and Farro Salad

I love working with preschoolers. One minute you’re listening to a five-year-old answer a question, demonstrating a shockingly advanced level of metacognition that a lot of adults probably don’t possess.  The next minute, another child is telling you about how they learned that some beetles poop when they get angry. And then a third child solemnly informs you that she owns a sword. A real sword.

It’s seriously like being in one of those AT&T commercials.

The weird, funny things the kids say are certainly part of the fun. But what I really love is those moments when a preschooler says something that is amazingly insightful or thoughtful.

We’ve been asking kids about how they would solve different problems by giving them hypothetical scenarios. We’re interested in how they adapt when they encounter obstacles to completing a goal. When you ask preschoolers to explain their problem solving strategies, you get a lot of “I don’t know” and “Because it would work.”  But sometimes they surprise you, like this five-year-old the other day who explained to me, “Sometimes you have to be flexible.”  She elaborated with examples showing that she was not just repeating something she heard – this is something she is fully aware of.  Impressive.

So maybe you’re thinking, “Um, Sarah?  This is some awfully research-y talk for a blog that claims to avoid such discussions….”

Be patient. I have a point.

She’s right.  Sometimes you have to be flexible.

Like when Matilda wants to wear a fancy hat, but realizes she doesn’t own a fancy hat.  She might have to adapt her definition of a fancy hat to include “sparkly cat toy”.

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Or like the other day, when I was craving my favorite lentil and Israeli couscous salad.  I went to Trader Joe’s to buy some steamed lentils, because they are way better than any lentils that I have ever cooked.  I’d pick them up, go home and make the salad, and healthy lunches for the rest of the week. And they were completely sold out.

I was really tempted to just throw up my hands and grab a burrito bowl at Chipotle for lunch.

But I’m trying to eat more healthy meals, and I had spinach and tomatoes at home needing to be used up. So I had to be flexible, and buy a can of cannellini beans instead. Since I was changing the recipe anyway, I used farro instead of couscous (or a blend of the two).

Sometimes, being flexible works out pretty well.

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The Seven Faces of a Hungry Cat

Or, Bailey’s repertoire of strategies for getting me to feed him, along with my interpretations and evaluations of their efficiency.

1. The Lovey B Cat: Usually around 10:15 pm, if I am sitting on the couch, Bailey will suddenly appear snuggled up next to me.  There is purring and kneading, or “biscuit-making” if you will.

The Intended Message: “Mommy, I love you.  I love you so much that you remind me of being a kitten, and kneading on my birth mother, and getting noms.  And I know you love me, too.  You know how my birth mother showed me she loved me?  When I got all snuggly and lovey and started kneading on her, she fed me.  So, if you really loved me, you would feed me. Now.”

The Effectiveness: Not effective at all.  Because this is one of the few times Bailey shows me love.  And unlike a real cat mother, in order to feed him, I have to get up and go into the kitchen, prematurely terminating this rare display of affection.  So instead I promise I will feed him in just a few more minutes and milk (no pun intended) as much of this empty cat love out of him as I can.

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2. The A**hole: Just as the Lovey B Cat is typically reserved for evening feedings, Bailey typically saves The A**hole for 5 am.  Or maybe he tries being lovey, and I just sleep through the subtlety.  The A**hole consists of a subseries of incredibly obnoxious behaviors:

  • The Obsessive-Compulsive: Locating any paper bags or cardboard boxes with loose flaps and pawing/scratching at them furiously.  If you don’t understand how this can be noisy or irritating, I will be happy to demonstrate.  Just give me a shopping bag, a key to your house, and permission to come into your bedroom at 4:30 tomorrow morning.
  • The Golfer: Finding items on the nightstands (jewelry in a bowl; loose change; small, heavy things that I cannot identify but know they are somehow related to Nick’s musical instruments, although more often than not they seem to be in his pockets) and putting them around on the table before driving them right off onto the floor.
  • The Trampoline: Bailey has used my stomach as a springboard or landing pad on more than one occasion, but he usually aims for Nick’s man parts.
  • The Big Bad Wolf: Never underestimate the force with which a cat is able to pound on a closed door.  Even if you close him in one room and close the bedroom door as well, the second door is not sufficient to muffle the sound.

The Intended Message: “I will keep doing this until you feed me.  Sure, you can throw a pillow at me, but I’ll be back in thirty seconds.  What are you going to do, lock me in the office?  I’ll just bang on the door.  I might even pee on the desk chair.  So just get out of bed and feed me, okay?  This doesn’t have to get any uglier than it already is.”

The Effectiveness:  It’s effective.  Very effective.  As much as I try not to respond because I really don’t want to reinforce this behavior, inevitably my desire for a few more hours of sleep wins out.

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3. The Infant: Did you know there have been empirical research studies showing that cats use high-pitched purrs where the frequency is in a similar range to that of a crying baby, thus triggering humans’ instincts to nurture?  While I have not noticed differences in Bailey’s purrs, he does have a distinct chirp/cry for when he is hungry.  (He also has a specific cry for when he is about to throw up, which is useful for guiding him away from the carpet.)  The hungry cry is desperate and questioning, and he almost always does it when he is in a separate room from everyone else, which just makes it seem more desperate.

The Intended Message: “Hello?  Is anyone out there?  I’m alone, and hungry, and scared.  Don’t you want to rescue me?”

The Effectiveness: Pretty good, as long as he doesn’t start it too early in the morning.  But there is clearly something to the research on cats manipulating their cries to evoke responses from humans, because Bailey has perfected his hungry cry to the pitch that simultaneously irritates me and stirs some drive to take care of him.

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4. The Mime: Bailey is excellent at charades.  Anytime I walk towards the kitchen, he zooms past me towards his food bowl.  If I actually enter the kitchen, he will pace between his bowl and the container of dry food, staring at me the entire time.  This is the one phase Matilda will participate in.  She will actually put her paws on the food container, just in case I couldn’t tell what they were referring to.

The Intended Message: “Hey, you’re in the kitchen, we’re in the kitchen, and hey, look at that!  Our food is in the kitchen!  It’s right here!  All you have to do is open the lid and scoop it out.  So easy.  Also, we’re hungry.  You haven’t fed us in an entire hour.”

The Effectiveness:  This is my favorite of Bailey’s strategies.  It’s useful for when I actually do need a reminder that they need to be fed.  But it’s also easy enough to ignore when the cats are asking for their third breakfast.

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5. The Great Communicator: If Bailey does not come snuggle with me around 10:15 in the evening, he mostly likely will sit on the coffee table, attempting to block my view of the television (as fat and fluffy as he is, he’s just not big enough to do this successfully).  He makes direct eye contact with me, tilts his head to the side as though engaged in conversation, and mumbles.

The Intended Message: When I say he mumbles, I mean he moves his lips and tongue around, but no sound comes out.  It could be nothing more than a Pavlovian response of salivating as he anticipates food, especially since I usually respond with, “Are you hungry?” and he knows that means I’m getting ready to feed him.  But I prefer to think that he is trying to break the greatest barrier between cats and humans, and attempting to speak to me.

The Effectiveness:  It’s not immediately effective, because it’s really funny to watch, and I try to draw it out as long as possible.  “Are you hungry? Do you want your dinner?  You want food?”  I tilt my head, and he mimics it.  It’s adorable.  But eventually I feel guilty for teasing him, so I will actually feed him.

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6. The Puss-in-Boots: Bailey does not frequently resort to this.  I think it is because he knows that you should keep your most powerful weapons hidden away in your arsenal for only the most urgent of circumstances.

The Intended Message: “I do not think you fully appreciate just how cute I am.  Let me dilate my pupils fully to reveal my optimum cuteness.  If that does not convince you to reward my cuteness with heaping piles of noms, I think I might give up on life.”

The Effectiveness: Oh, it’s pretty damn effective.  If Bailey can suffer through a minute of being scooped up and squeezed and hearing, “OMG you are the cutest little B face.  I love my favorite boy cat!”, his cuteness and his tolerance are likely to be rewarded with heaping piles of noms.

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7. The Temper Tantrum: Fortunately we don’t see this one too often.  But sometimes, if Bailey really feels like I am ignoring him, he will sneak up next to me, give his shrieking warning cry, and bite my arm.

The Intended Message: “I hate you.  I am a vicious animal.  Feed me, or I will eat you in your sleep.”

The Effectiveness: It is not effective.  This results in a timeout, in the bathroom so that any spiteful peeing outside the litter box will be easy to clean up.

He wasn't always so eager to snuggle...

In case you are wondering what Matilda is doing during all of this, other than occasionally taking part in The Mime, she feigns indifference to eating until the food is being served. While Bailey is busy knocking stuff over and jumping on us, Matilda is typically curled up at the foot of the bed.  I have heard about younger siblings sometimes starting to talk at a later age because their older brother or sister will often talk for them.  I’m pretty sure that’s essentially what is going on here.

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Coming Soon… The Return of Anything but Academia!

Well, I knew that this semester was going to be a busy one, and that my blog writing time would likely suffer, but I did not think it would be several months without a single entry. Wearing the Student, Teacher, and Researcher hats all at the same time (not to mention trying to keep the Wife, Friend, Sister, and Daughter hats on as well) has been really tough. And then there’s that whole “taking care of yourself” thing.  Actually, I’ve managed fairly well on that end. But yeah… there were a lot of days in February and March that I would be driving home and the only word I could find to describe how I was feeling was defeated.

Fortunately the last month or so has been a lot better, and now all that stands between me and summer is one paper, one take-home exam, and two final exams to administer and grade (after I finishing writing the exam, that is).

You can rest assured that even while I have not been actively posting, I’ve been accumulating ideas to write about and blowing up my Pinterest account with about 500 recipes I want to try. Oh, I also finally discovered The Kitchn. And yes, I’ve already been informed that I’m a little late to the party on that one.

I’m starting to think about my summer to-do list. My list for school-related goals is already made. For my personal list, I’m thinking this might be the summer of quality, not quantity.  Maybe I’ll just pick a handful of things I want to do, and get totally immersed in them, rather than having a lengthy checklist. We’ll see.

One thing you can be sure of: there will be lots of tomatoes.  I can’t wait for tomatoes.

Before I return to paper writing and tackle the 16-page take-home multilevel modeling exam, let me take a moment to catch you up on the last few months of my life, told through Instagrams.

The cats are doing just fine.

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During a mostly work-oriented Spring Break, Nick and I managed to sneak away for lunch on the Eastern Shore one day:

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I learned that a Bloody Mary is even more delicious when there is avocado blended into it:

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I went to Seattle for a conference. In addition to the conferencing, we managed to see some sunshine, check out the Chihuly Gallery, and eat a lot of good food, although the only time I thought to document the food was the last night in a fairly dark but delicious pizza and microbrew place.

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And on a few occasions, I’ve managed to cook a decent meal.

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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:

2/7/07

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.

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