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29. Earn my MA in English October 6, 2010

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Earning a Master’s degree is much less momentous than getting your bachelor’s in anything.

This is a funny thing to say, I know.  I’m not saying that it’s less important–that’s obviously not the case.  I’m also not saying that it’s less rewarding, less work, or somehow easy.  That’s not true either.  It just…comes and goes with little fanfare.  With your undergraduate, you and your friends are lamenting the end of your college days together, and the closer the end of the semester comes, the more nostalgic you are.  Finally, you graduate, hug, and go your separate ways.  A new chapter opens.

For me, this was certainly true.  I went from having two weeks of graduation festivities to getting married, and within the course of a month my whole life had metamorphosed into something new.  My MA wasn’t like that.  I finished, defended, and then went straight back to work.

This sounds like I’m really down on my degree.  I’m actually incredibly proud of myself.  I’ve never worked so hard for anything in my whole life, and I can’t wait until I get my piece of paper that proves I’ve accomplished something great.  I loved writing my thesis on Doris Betts and the American West.  Though it was incredibly stressful, and the most I’ve ever written in my whole life, I think I could easily revisit that subject and write *more.*  It was…fun, in its own way.  I pretty much wrote nonstop from May until the beginning of August, and I logged 50+ hours a week on that thing.  It’s my baby, and without trying to sound pompous, it’s good.  Not great, but good.

When I finished my BA, I thought I was pretty smart, that I’d stretched my skills about as far as they could go.  Getting my MA has proven to me that my abilities can be pushed to almost limitless standards, and as long as I’m game, I can keep learning. Improving.  Growing.  I was telling John last week that when I was a junior, a 7 page term paper scared the bejeezus out of me.  Now I look at 25 to 30 page papers like they’re normal, and often find myself having to *cut* ideas and information.  I’m a much better writer, critic, and thinker, that’s for sure.

The biggest blessing of this journey, though, has been my teaching experience.  I love it.  It’s something I could picture myself doing for the rest of my life, and if I stick through my Ph.D, I just might be.  That thought is scary and exciting.  It’s sublime, even.  On top of that, the support from my family and loved ones has been tremendous.  I really know who I can count on now.

My MA is something I knew I wanted since high school.  Having it feels good–really, really good.

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Life List: 91-100 July 2, 2010

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Here’s the “end” of my life list.  I set a goal of 100 things, but don’t be surprised if I go over!  The point of a life list, in my estimation, is to create a cohesive guide that helps you achieve your dreams.  There’s no set number to fulfill, and as I get older, I might remove things from my list and add others, too.

91. Own a sports car.
Mama likes to go fast.

92.  Swim with whale sharks in the wild
Biggest fish in the world, and they just so happen to be the hardest to find.  However, over the summer they head to the warm waters off the coast of Mexico to mate, and if you time it just right, you can strap on a tank of O2 and jump in the water with them.  Totally harmless, but absolutely beautiful.

93.  Be part of a choreographed flashmob
I have no desire to converge on the Union Mall with glow sticks.  That’s too easy.  What I want to do is join a giant, impromptu dance recital.  Here are a couple of examples of fabulous flashmobs.  Honestly, I hope it’s a Glee one.  Geez, I love that show.

94.  Attend the Chincoteague Pony Swim
Ponies.  Swimming across a channel.  Seriously, this looks awesome, not to mention that I read all of the Chincoteague pony books when I was a kid.

95.  Learn to decorate cakes a la Rick’s Bakery
Rick’s is like…Fayetteville’s Cake Boss.  I want to learn to make gorgeous, high-end style cakes, mainly for my own amusement.  But let’s be honest, I love to “wow” at parties.  Whip up some awesome, professional cupcakes, and there you go.  Instant favorite-person-in-attendance status.

96.  Make 100 lovely things
I love to craft, and this gives me a goal.  I have so many projects floating around the back of my head/computer hard drive that it’s really kind of ridiculous.

97.  Get in the habit of writing thank-you notes…

98. …and write notes to everyone who has shaped me into the person I am today.
Thank yous are so important.  I love getting thank you notes in the mail, but for some reason, I seem physically incapable of writing them myself.  I just forget, and it really is incredibly rude.  I also think I owe huge thank yous to a lot of people in my life.  There have been so many teachers, friends, and colleagues that have taught me so much that a card seems like the least I could possibly do.

99.  Learn calligraphy
A friend of mine from high school recently started a calligraphy business, and she is awesome at it.  (Even when we were in school together, I would envy how neat and perfect her handwriting was).   I figure I have nice enough handwriting, why not?  And what a skill to have when addressing all of those lovely thank you notes.  It just occurred to me, though: if I really learn the skills on my life list, I would be the most rockin’ wedding coordinator EVER.

100.  Learn to pick locks
I already know how to syphon gas and hustle.  Why not have a trifecta of delinquent skills?

BookLust: A Tale of Two Cities June 5, 2010

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I read this one a while back, but it’s taken me a while to get around to posting the review.  If you’re interested, this was on the BBC Top 100 list.

Let me say, I entered this reading expecting a lot.  I’m not a Dickensonian or anything like that (is that what they’re even called?), but I really, really liked Great Expectations.  I mean, A LOT.  Let’s just get this out of the way now: A Tale of Two Cities is not Great Expectations.  Not even close.

The plotline itself is interesting enough and centers around the French Revolution.  The main character has been imprisoned in the Batille for years and reenters the world a changed, desolate man.  Only finding his long lost daughter can bring him out of his revere, but he finds himself pitched back into chaos.  The story moves from England to France and back to England in parallel storylines, which can get confusing at times; overall, though, I found the book easy to navigate.

The main problem is that, for being about the French Revolution, the book is just so incredibly dull.  We see little of Dickens’ wit here, and compared to Great Expectations, it’s practically nonexistent.  Even more problematic was how heavy-handed Dickens was here.  He practically bashes the reader over the head with his “Pro-England, the French are savages” message.  There’s little delicacy, and I found myself balking at Dickens’ agenda here.

2 out of 5 stars (not Dickens’ best)

Life List: 81-90 May 17, 2010

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I’m trying to get to 100 on my list, but it’s taking a while.  Only one more installment (and subsequent bonus rounds!) to go.

81.  Plan and host a large reunion with my closest friends
This needs to happen somewhere really, really awesome, like the mountains in Colorado.  I don’t know…I always imagine this happening in a cabin.  I would totally be open to a beach, especially if there’s someone to bring us refreshing drinks and cool towels.

82.  Watch AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list
You know the one.

83.  Have a stand at a Farmer’s Market
I want to sell flowers and vegetables.  Hopefully I’ll do this when I’m old and adorable so that I’ll actually make MONEY.

84. Hula in Hawaii…
wearing a coconut bra if possible (and not culturally insensitive)

85.  Attend a writer’s conference

86.  Get involved in a home church
John and I are so involved in our collegiate ministry that we haven’t tied ourselves down to a home church.  I know this is really important, and I want to make sure we have strong roots in one before (if?) we have kids.

87.  Ride a waterski
This looks like a blast, especially because I wants to go FAST.

88.  Horseback ride in Ireland
When I was a kid, I used to get Horse Illustrated magazine every month.  They used to have ads all over the place about international horseback riding vacations, and I always wanted to do the Ireland one.   Riding ponies by castles?  I’m in.

89.  Learn to identify the native trees of Arkansas.

It frustrates me that I don’t know how to identify trees.  I’m pretty good with plants and flowers, but if it has bark I’m clueless.  Unless it’s a maple or an oak I’m at a loss, which is a real shame seeing that I’m fascinated by trees in general.

90.  Take an art class with John.
But not like, a drawing class.  The class needs to be in some medium that we’ve never worked in before, like paint, clay, ceramics, or glass.  If we do a clay class, maybe we’ll end up being all sexy like in that scene from Ghost, only John won’t be dead.

Life List: 71-80 May 12, 2010

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71.  Visit Oxford and Cambridge
These universities have so much history (did you know that Byron kept a pet bear during his stay at Cambridge?).  I’d just like to walk their hallowed halls and hope all that knowledge can be absorbed through osmosis.

72.  Watch an Olympic event live, in person!
For real.  I’m sort of in love with the Olympics for whatever reason, and I can’t imagine any more intense sporting arena (except for maybe the World Cup).  I’d much rather go to the summer games, for obvious reasons.

73.  Watch the University of Arkansas compete for a National Championship in any sport (though football or basketball, preferably)
Maybe this will happen before I die.  Emphasis on maybe.

74.  Plan a vacation on Monday and go somewhere fabulous on Friday
John and I are not known for our abundance of spontaneity, so I think it would be nice to grab life by the balls, if you will, and just go somewhere incredible. Ideally, money should not be a concern here, because worrying about how you’re going to pay for stuff sucks the fun out of traveling.

75.  Learn to play bass guitar
Admit it, chick bass players are HAWT.

76.  Retire with a million dollars
Did I already write this one down?  I can’t remember, nor can I bothered to go back and look right now.

77.  Wear an expensive, gorgeous gown to the Addys
This, of course, hinges on John going to the Addys for his work.  He’s already won a bunch of regional awards, and his team has been covered in national trade magazines.  Guess that’s what happens when you work for the largest shopper marketing agency in the world/the third largest advertising agency in the world. (Yes, I’m bragging because, yes, I’m immensely proud).

78.  Participate in an election campaign
I don’t do enough voting and/or volunteering to suit my tastes.  Hopefully really, really working and advocating on behalf of a candidate that I truly believe in (one day, hah!) will restore my faith in the government.

79.  Buy nothing but organic/eco-friendly for a month
This will be expensive, I know.  But I think I need to figure out how much LESS cost effective this is than what we normally shop for in order to figure out how organic/free range/eco-friendly products and produce can better fit into our lives.  I know it’s better for you and I truly do encourage sustainable farming practices, so this will be a step in the right direction.

80.  Institute five “green” changes in my life
This dovetails with number 79, of course.  These don’t have to be huge changes, but they need to be changes that I know I can make permanently to my lifestyle.  In other words, this is going to be less “sell my car and get a bike” and more “change all my lightbulbs to LED bulbs.”

The Baptist Farmer May 10, 2010

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Hey, I’m putting off working on my (already behind schedule) thesis.  What are you doing today?

I thought I’d take a few minutes to introduce you to my very first container garden.

Here's one half, anyway.

Ah, there's the rest!

The containers are courtesy of my grandfather’s friend Kenneth Swift, who gave them to us for free.  They’re originally cattle feeders; John and I drilled holes in the bottom of them and painted them to make them a little less…well, royal blue.

So far we’re growing mostly herbs: basil, oregano, chives, rosemary, and a bunch of cilantro.  We’ve got a few roma tomatoes, bell peppers, and some lettuce thrown into the mix too, though.  Grandpa also gave me some garlic, which I need to pot sometime today.

So far everything seems to be happy and healthy, though I’ll let you know how it’s progressing in a few weeks.  I’ve only gardened with lots of supervision, so this might end up being a practice in futility.  Hopefully not, though.

Life List: 61-70 March 30, 2010

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61.  Throw a dinner party.
I’m talking the works here.  Multiple courses, intelligent conversation, neat-o table settings, the whole nine yards.  You know, a real grown-up party.

62.  See the sun rise or set over the Grand Canyon
I don’t know if it’s because I’m neck deep in my thesis or what, but I’ve suddenly been struck by the compulsion to see the Grand Canyon.  I can’t see myself hiking to the bottom or anything like that, but I’d certainly like to see its grandeur as its painted by the colors of the sunset/sunrise.

63.  See Courtney perform in a college play.
I will make all of my students go see her performance for extra credit.

64.  See a Broadway play while it’s actually on Broadway
Oh man, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to go watch a play in its original form.  I see off-Broadway, local, and touring productions all the time, but I think there’s something special about visiting big, ostentatious theatre at its source.  I would have to go see a musical, I’m sure.

65.  Own ten signed books
I’ll admit it: I’m a celebrity whore.  When I meet one, I pretty much babble incoherently then swoon (really, you should have seen me around Apolo Anton Ohno.  I was an idiot).  So far I have a few signed books (Frank Warren, Edward Albee, Luis Alberto Urrea), but I’d like to improve my collection.

66.  Read all of Entertainment Weekly’s new classics

67.  Pick a pumpkin from a pumpkin patch
This sounds like so much fun!  I’ve always loved “harvesting” stuff, which means I’ve pretty much been free labor during every growing season OF MY LIFE, so picking my own pumpkin is right up my alley.  Also, then I can choose the most perfect and adorable one for my Halloween jack-o-lantern.

68.  Enter a craft/food/textile in the County Fair
I love fairs (right Lindsey?).  I like looking at all the neat stuff people enter, and I desperately love winning blue ribbons.  Well, scratch that.  I love winning.

69.  Learn how to make tempura shrimp
These look complicated, which is a shame because they’re so delicious.  John and I first had them on our honeymoon, so it would be nice to be able to make that special meal over again in my own kitchen.  Too bad I won’t be eating them whilst gazing out over the ocean.  Le Sigh.

70.  Go parasailing
This looks like so much fun.  I’m never going to hurl by body out of an airplane, so this is the closest I’m ever going to (willingly) get to a parachute.  Too bad I’ll have to do it by myself since John’s afraid of heights.  Volunteers?

Life List #38: Progress as Promised December 18, 2009

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I can’t wait to show you all of the progress I’ve been making in my quest to conquer CS3 (Photoshop, specifically.  When John tries to talk to me about Illustrator, by brain explodes).  I’ve been wanting to edit some pictures from Cancun for our bedroom for two years now, but John’s usually busy with other projects.  I decided to seize the bull by the horns and work on the images myself.  So, behold, a before image:

The Original

What I love about this picture is the contrast of the sky.  The palms and the clouds totally pop.  But look at all of that OTHER CRAP running around.  Way to ruin an awesome shot, Mexican Junk.  Anyway, so with a little help from Scott Kelby, I’ve been working on it.

It's like a whole new picture

Not only did I remove a Tiki Hut and a flag pole, but I also color adjusted and used a vignette.  I know!  Amazing, isn’t it?  Now I’m going to go through all of my pictures and make myself look 15 pounds lighter.

BookLust: Jane Eyre October 7, 2009

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Jane: Just Plain Wonderful

Jane: Just Plain Wonderful

When Jane Eyre popped up on my Victorian Novel syllabus, I had two immediate reactions:  a) it is on the BBC 100 list I’m working on and b) ugh.  I’d like to say that I had no expectations when I began the book, but that would be a lie.  I seriously thought it would be awful.  No, I mean, a “pulling teeth” kind of terrible.  Many of my friends had been forced to read the book in high school, and when I asked them about it, they stared off into the distance like a Vietnam vet and told their horror stories.  My hopes?  Not high, to say the least.
However, dear readers:  I.  Loved.  It.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Jane.  She was saucy and strong-willed without being one of those characters that just has to make life difficult for herself.  Her charm is subtle but present; it’s easy to like Jane, which makes it easy to like Jane’s story.  The book is written in first person, so as the reader you walk in Jane’s shoes.  I can’t say what this would be like as a male reader, but as a girl it was just so natural to follow through with Jane’s narrative.
And a narrative it is.  For a book that’s just shy of 600 pages, Jane Eyre was a book I couldn’t put down.  Unlike Les Miserables, there are no random, boring interludes.  Bronte sticks to what she knows–Jane–and adeptly skips chunks of time to keep the story engaging and relevant.  In addition, Bronte paints gorgeous, Gothic pictures of the English countryside as Jane moves from Gateshead to Rochester’s estate.
All said, Jane Eyre is still a sweeping romance (despite its fascinating commentary on the position of women).  Rochester is a poor substitute for the Mr. Darcy I wanted this narrative to have.  As a reader, I didn’t like him one whit.  As a reader walking in Jane’s shoes, her love for him was totally understandable.  For me, Rochester was one hiccup in the plot.  The best way to describe him is “House-ian”: he does just enough to make you like him but is pretty much detestable through the rest of the narrative.  Let me just say, he gets exactly what he deserves at the end.
There’s so much to say about the book, but I think I’m going to leave it there.  It’s delightful but not for everyone, and if you’re looking for another Austen-esque jaunty romance, this isn’t it.  Regardless, there is certainly a reason that Jane Eyre remains on syllabi everywhere.
5 out of 5 stars (a winter month classic)
P.S:  I have no idea what’s up with the paragraph spacing.  I can’t seem to fix it.  Sad day.

Life List #49: Fly a Kite on the National Mall July 17, 2009

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Woo hoo!  Cross one off the Life List!

One of the items on my Life List was to fly a kite in Washington DC–specifically, on the national mall.  If you have seen Night at the Museum 2, you will note that in the opening 30 minutes there are some kids flying kites in Washington DC.  The minute I saw that, I was like “Oh my God, I absolutely have to do that!”  And…I did.

Just our luck, our hotel in Rockville, MD was right next door to an REI (by the way, if you’ve never been in an REI, you are missing out on life).  I cannot believe how many kites they had, and all of them were awesome. After some debate, John and I purchased the Atom, made my Prism Kites. Let me tell you, it is the coolest. kite. ever.

So the first day we went into DC we left the kite at home.  We hadn’t really figured out how we were going to schlep it around yet.  That particular day (of course) the wind was great, and there were like, HUNDREDS (really, just ten) kids flying kites all around the Washington Monument.  I was so excited; so, the next day, I made sure that we were able to pack the kite.

And the wind didn’t blow.

Okay, no problem.  I just took the kite the next day.

And the wind didn’t blow.

I didn’t get to fly my kite until the day before we left, because there just wasn’t any breeze.  But let me tell you, once John and I had the chance, flying that kite was the most fulfilling–and the best–part of the whole trip.  You can see some of the best photos here, on Flickr.

Here’s the thing: I knew crossing an item off my list would be exciting, but I didn’t know it would be so rewarding.  There have been a couple of times as I’ve been composing this epic list that I’ve considered how arbitrary and impossible it is.  You know what, though?  If I feel like this every time I scratch off another number, I won’t stop working towards these goals.  That, in and of itself, is worth it all.