Thursday, May 26, 2011


Another interesting week!

Finally, after a month of planning, I am in Boston. In a lovely hotel room overlooking Copley Square. And last night I had a delicious dinner of lemon sole with one of the best martinis I've ever had. Seafood that doesn't have to be flown in... because they make it near here.... Ahhhh!

This morning was quiet. I was up in the wee hours because I never sleep well in a hotel the first night. I was able to watch the sun come up on the Charles, a few folks out sculling, and gradually note the increased traffic noise. The air is cool and crisp, and the day looks beautiful.

After a lifetime of going to conferences I finally (accidentally) figured out that to fly in one day early is a great thing! I have all day today to relax, putter, tinker with the paper, and tomorrow (at 8:10) I give it. Then drive off to my folks' house.

I may go back to have dinner at the same place tonight. It is only a block or so from the hotel and I didn't get to try the steamed mussles, fried clams, clam chowder, or apple pie. And a second perfect martini? Ahhh.

Being at a conference is excellent: you gain no weight, no charges actually go on your credit card, and people bring you things.  Like, just now, the housekeeper brought me more coffee packets and soap. I remember why I love taxis and room service.

Because this is my HUGE reward for finishing the move out of the Old Apartment. Yes: finito!

Monday and Tuesday I put in the final hours shredding documents, hauling garbage to the dumpster, and token-cleaning the apartment. I could only token-clean because, a week ago, the hot water heater rusted through its base and dumped gallons of water through the ceiling and onto the first floor. Since I am not living there, I walked in on the aftermath: my landlord had heard the deluge and turned off the water, but he hadn't done anything else. I saw the mess (puddles of water on the floor, dripping ceiling, buckled wooden laminate) and walked down to his apartment. "Oh, yeah," he said, "I was going to email you as soon as I sent these important business messages." O-kay.

I went back and mopped, laid out towels, and placed buckets/pans/vessels to catch the drips as best I could.
  • none of my belongings were affected by the water because I had moved out already and the little remaining stuff was out of the way
  • my renter's insurance can't be tapped for it because none of my stuff was damaged
  • the water is turned off in the apartment so I could not clean it
  • I had already cleaned the bathroom and some of the kitchen, which were unaffected by the soaking
The ceiling continued to drip, and two days later a huge portion of it crashed onto the floor, creating a worse mess.  Again, none of my remaining things were affected.

Saturday, one of my students came and helped me move the remaining furniture and papers to the New Apartment. I made three trips that day and two with him: he is a great kid but super-strong and has a truck. Two fantastic qualifications.

Monday and Tuesday I finished off the Old Apartment, including doing my best to clean the refrigerator, microwave, countertops, bathroom sink and toilet, and bathroom floor without water. I swept up a lot of the ceiling pieces (some more than 8 ft. long!) and toted to dumpster. The worst part of the ceiling detritus was stuck to the floor and will require more effort to get it up.

Left keys under mat of landlord (he wans't home) and came home to crash for a few hours. Then pack.

Yesterday, up at 5:30 for the shuttle to the airport, and here I am. On vacation... oh, and yes, I must tinker with the paper, print it out at the business office, check in to the conference, and have dinner (again) at that delightful restaurant.

So happy to be here!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sway with Michael Buble

Just love this!  Live version of a great song, not the greatest sound, but love this on a gray Sunday.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cooking for the Pantry Challenge

Well, I have a full pantry, freezer, and nearly full fridge. But I'm working on it!

What did I cook and bake this week?
  • Blueberry muffins (Fanny Farmer Cookbook)
  • Ground turkey, tomatoes, green olives, and roasted red peppers with oregano, basil, and bay leaves (my own recipe)
  • Cheese omelet
  • Chicken breast with feta, green olives, and roasted red peppers (sensing a theme?)
  • Penne with homemade pesto
  • Grilled corn, avocado, and cilanto salad (Martha Stewart Living: very good!)
and ate lots of cantaloupe, cheese, cherry tomatoes, and apples. The blueberries, ground turkey, the spices, roasted red peppers, chicken, penne and pesto all came from the pantry, the freezer, or the fridge.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Express Checkout Experiment: Summer version

This is becoming the story of My Two Closets, as well as of working at home.

This week, The Daily Connoisseur posted on "Looking Presentable Always," which is a far different thing than "Looking Good Always." As she notes, every day brings its challenges, and some days--days when your water heater bursts and you have to mop a sodden floor and scoop up chunks of ceiling tile--are days when you want to look "presentable" rather than perfect.

Our weather in the Big D has been surprisingly cool. I haven't turned on the a.c. in either apartment, which is a blessing. Nights have been perfectly delicious for sleeping, and moving stuff to and from the Old Apartment/car/New Apartment has been not so terrible.

That said, I am still trying to be "presentable," given that this week I am consistently combining meetings and errands with clean-up/out. So carrying sloppy clothes (sweats, clean t-shirts, comfortable shoes) in a bag and changing in the apartment before I leave or after I get there has been a necessity. Unfortunately, because of the broken water heater, the water has also been turned off, so handwipes and facewipes have also been handy.

At the Old Apartment, I am still seeing neighbors and the people coming by to look at my Craigslist "stuff." I know if I look okay, they are more likely to buy something or to buy it at the price I want than f I look scraggly and dirty.

Next week, I have to go to Boston, my Hometown, and Washington for a week for a conference, family visit, and old friend visit. I'll need clothes to travel in comfortably (Wednesday), two days in Boston--including giving my paper; 3 days at home and 1 day of travel back to Boston/DC, and then 2 days in DC, not only visiting with an old friend and her husband, but seeing former students and dining out, possibly going to the theatre. My goal is to take one suitcase (20", that I can lift and roll)) and one Longchamps pliage (tote). I usually take a backpack, but I want to be more professional in this case.

Conference clothes (2 days)
Black TravelSmith dress plus slip & black heeled sandals
Orange skirt, black cardie, & same shoes in brown

Family visit (3 days)
Jeans plus short-sleeved t-shirts, beige lightweight jacket & same shoes
Khakis plus same
Red/Brown/Black wrap skirt plus same

Washington (2 days)

That's it: 2 pairs of shoes, 2 skirts, 1 dress, and 2 pairs of pants, and t-shirts in white, black, and gray; and I'll bring jewelry, belts, scarves, and a folded purse to effect changes. Obviously, underwear, jammies, and sox, as well as cosmetics. Possibly (probably) I'll add a long-sleeved cotton button shirt or tunic, "just in case." I'll travel in the jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt, and the beige jacket; planes are notoriously cool.

All this in one suitcase and one tote. Pretty good.

If I were in Paris: May 20, 2011

Woody Allen's film, "Midnight in Paris" opens today, but only in New York and Los Angeles... not Paris, tant pis!

I would definitely be reading the papers today, in light of the major news story about ex-former IMF head (and ex-possible future president of France) Dominique Strauss-Kahn. In case you are unaware, Strauss-Kahn is facing charges of attempted rape and other charges from a member of the hotel staff in NY, where he has been arrained, granted bail, and committed to house arrest. The papers in Paris surely carry the story in a slightly different context or with different outlooks than American ones.

This afternoon, at 5 pm, I would headover to the 5th arr. to hear Paul Harding read from his Pulitzer Prize novel Tinkers (which I am reading!) at 37 rue de la Bucherie--yes, Shakespeare & Company.

Being in that area, I would probably take the time to visit some of my favorites there: Notre Dame and the statue of Jeanne d'Arc 3/4 of the way down the far right aisle (no one actually recognizes Joannie in that setting, and the boorishness of most visitors is so huge it is always best to go early, before the tourists flock), as well as the statue of Henri IV and his square on the Ile de la Cite, the lovely garden behind the cathedral (where, again, most tourists are noticeably and thankfully absent!), and the shops along the main street of Ile St. Louis, as well as the original Berthillon shop--where I taste-test new flavors of ice cream. Never found a bad one!

Henri IV on Pont Neuf

St. Michel, near Notre Dame
This is also a great location (throughout the locale of Notre Dame, on the north side of the main cathedral) to purchase particularly kitsch-y souvenirs; things are more expensive here by a couple of Euros, but you'll find some surprisingly fun stuff. Pick over and through the cheap junk, and find some curiosities.

Do not eat here! I recommend the short walk to the cafes along the Right Bank at Chatelet or in the area of St. Paul instead. Better food, better prices, and more charm by far. better people-watching, too, because the crowd will be French, not American and Italian!

On the Left Bank--if you want to go that way--I recommend postcard shopping at Gibert Jeune, the papeterie I love beyond all others in Paris. Best postcards in Paris outside the store, under the awning. I also recommend either of the too-expensive cafes situated between the St. Michel fountain and the Seine: ridiculous prices, great people watching, true Parisian cafe experience.

Then stroll the banks of the Seine in either direction and enjoy the offerings of the bookanistes, who sell tourist junk, postcards, prints, and books. Some sellers are legit, some are cons: I leave it to you to enjoy the discovery of either!

This early it is worth strolling to enjoy Paris in any and all directions from this central site--Shakespeare & Co. or Notre Dame--while observing everything!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What I'm working on right now

Next Friday morning I'm giving a paper at a conference. I sent off the suggestion to a panel just on a whim--to a fellow academic I knew some time ago but haven't been in touch with for some time.

The title of the paper is "Women Writing Women: Herstory in American Drama."

The subject is three plays, each written by a woman, about three famous American women; the larger, more general topic is biography, gender and American drama. The plays are Alison's Room by Susan Glaspell, Alice in Bed by Susan Sontag, and Charm by Kathleen Cahill. As I said, I proposed this paper on a whim, actually just after seeing Charm here in Big D, and really with an interest to doing something in American dramatic literature again.

But funny connections have emerged as I work on these three plays, which will weave into my discussion and, hopefully, into a longer article.

Alison's Room is the Pulitzer Prize play by Susan Glaspell, possibly the first great women playwright in America. You may never have heard of her because she was a contemporary and friend of Eugene O'Neill, and his fame overshadowed hers. But they were the two playwrights first produced by the Provincetown Players, and nowadays Glaspell is often "known" for that. She was, however, also a journalist, short story writer and novelist, and in fact wrote in most genres with an impressive career. Alison's Room is her "biography" of Emily Dickinson, and takes up the subject of Dickinson's legacy as a woman, as much as a poet.


Alice in Bed by Susan Sontag is a freely imagined biography of Alice James, the sister of William and Henry, who was an invalid almost all her life, until breast cancer killed her at 43. Sontag, of course, is best known as an intellectual and writer of philosophy and critique on many topics, but this is her sole play.

Charm by Cahill is about Margaret Fuller, again a kind of imagined biography of the woman who wrote Woman in the Nineteenth Century, the first American document on feminism and a colleague of the New England transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau.

All three women--Dickinson, James, and Fuller--lived in approximately the same period, the middle 19th century. All three playwrights--Glaspell, Sontag, and Cahill--take a less-than-documentary look at their subject matter.

But the major things I realized in starting this project are these:
  • these "imagined" biographies are the only ones I could find by women about famous American women: meaning published, produced, award-winning, "known" beyond a small circle;
  • all of the more famous or successfully produced biographies of American women are written by male playwrights;
  • film offers more biographies--again, written almost entirely by men--and is a more successful venue.
Why? I think--and this is part of my discussion in the paper to come--because famous women are not famous for the same action-oriented, active things men are famous for. Women are neither presidents nor generals, inventors nor explorers, public speakers nor society transformers... and yes, I know that is an inaccurate as well as sweeping generality. When women are famous for the things I've mentioned, it is often in a woman-dominated sphere or for a woman-friendly topic (like birth control) that is somewhat controversial and has little "action" (i.e., violence, fighting, or car chases) associated with it.

And in considering those women who do these things, their biography is most often directed to their personal lives: as mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, or women who give up love, or lose love through their ambitions. Who sacrifice for their family, or who sacrifice their family to their ambition/art/cause.

This is not the focus of male biographies--a fact which is not new.

But I am also curious about the attitude these female playwrights take toward their subjects: Glaspell toward Dickinson, Sontag toward James, Cahill toward Fuller.

Oh, and Sontag includes an "Alice" teaparty where James has tea with Fuller and Dickinson... that's one of those weird coincidences I had forgotten about when I proposed the paper. It is a kind of Mad Hatter meeting among these three American women.

In any case, I am hoping this continues to give me insights into my work with French actresses and the men who "imagined" them.

A weird thing happened on the way to last Wednesday's post...

... it disappeared.


After I posted it.

Completely GONE.

Except for the pictures I'd included, which are still in my photo log for this blog.

I think I was so surprised it kept me from posting for the week...

And what happened? My grades got posted. My students graduated. My dean praised technology and promised lots of dollars to those of us who initiate a project, nearly any project, that uses it. The water heater in my Old Apartment busted and doused the first floor with water, ruining the laminate and (yesterday) crashing the cheap ceiling onto the floor (nothing of mine was ruined, and my landlord is being very "oh, well) about it all--!). I found and shredded documents from 18 years ago I had been hanging on to--like leases and checks and bills!

I slept a lot.

Quite a week. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Frugal Tuesday: The Spiritual Headslap

The second day of my "summer" freedom.

Usually on Tuesday I provide myself with a tally of savings or losses during the past week. This alternately gives me a sense of accomplishment (moving forward) or failure (dropping back), or sets me up with an active goal to attack, like the failed Pantry Challenge. (Is it really a failure if the fridge/freezer/pantry are filled from a friend's generous gifts or the leftovers from a really great party? OK, not so much.) Looking back, I realize that, week to week, I am ahead or behind nearly equal amounts. What has become different is that I think longer and more fully about what I want to buy, eat, wear, read, and how I will address that.

Case in point: yesterday I went out to run errands. I had four, and I planned my driving in a circular manner that would take me to/through each one in a neat circle. (I love geometry -- math that I use!) Then I realized that I wanted to find a book by a favorite writer's other pseudonyms. Thought about buying it as an audiobook (if it existed that way) -- but that depends so much on the performer. Thought about buying it as an ebook (first title in series not available as ebook) or from Amazon at a discount. Ultimately decided (while I was pumping gas) to try the half-price store because my plan is, after all, to sell it back, get rid of it after I read it, to re-circulate it, and it is not possible to share ebooks or audiobooks... yet. The only way to read this book and re-use it was to buy the book and sell it back, later (or donate it). There was a Borders next to the gas station, but there was the half-price store another mile away, where I would find the paperback book (if I could) at 50% cost plus my teacher's discount. Drove there. Found several books: decided to buy one, because I'm simply checking this second line out, although I am pretty certain I'll like them. She's a good writer. And buying it at half-price made sense, in that case.

This whole thought process wouldn't have occured to me five months ago. I would simply have gone to Borders and bought at least one, maybe more, of the books. My investment yesterday? A mile's worth of gas, fifteen minutes finding and buying it, $3.35, and the three hours reading it this morning. personal satisfaction of buying mindfully. And I had a nice conversation with the guy who helped me find it, and ran into a friend I hadn't seen for a while. I got to hear about his trip to London with students and his pacemaker. All in all, a worthwhile investment.

But it gave me the proverbial head slap -- not the real kind, where someone actually hits you but the spiritual kind, where truth or reality or something smacks you around for a while, making you pay attention.
I've been reading a lot of blogs that focus on "frugality" or "minimalism" since October in an attempt to find a few reference points for myself as I worked to de-clutter my apartment and my life. But my goals for 2011 are more about management and change. Head slap!
The first thing I realized yesterday is that I need to make my own definitions of the topics under consideration. There is a huge difference between frugality, declutteringminimalism, and emptiness. Many of the blogs I read are all about getting rid of or managing stuff -- mostly tangible material items -- whether they focus on any of the first three. Some of the people writing about de-cluttering are really writing about organization: finding better ways to manage or maintain or access their stuff, which is not the same thing. Neatly organized clutter is still clutter; it's possible that it is less disturbing to that individual, but not to me. Any more.

A neatly organized hoarder is still a hoarder, and it's only a matter of time before they are, once again, the Collyer Brothers perched among their newspaper stacks. Now incorporating all the fabulous organization/storage products I lovelovelove.

Some people writing about decluttering write about simply emptying their homes and lives of junk. Their struggle is to eliminate the junk.

Both interested me for a while. I read blogs and bought books about organizing, about decluttering, about eliminating. But it is not enough, and I finally figured out why. Head slap!

Here's how I define the terminology:
  • Frugality is actively considering all the costs of something prior to commiting those resources, and trying to "spend" efficiently, be it money, time, energy, or spiritual currency.
  • Decluttering is the practice of moving clutter of any kind out of my life and my space. Permanently (not in my garage or a storage space I rent or my mom's attic).
  • Minimalism is keeping the "stuff" in my life to a level at which it doesn't take over and control me, my time, my future; further, that everything I do own contributes something significant, including beauty (the William Morris philosophy).
But these are all useless without further change on my part. Each of them, when practiced correctly, leaves emptiness.

And that's dangerous. That's where I see the trap ahead of me: the empty space where new "stuff" rushes in.

Because something else will: all the blogs that focus on minimalism, decluttering, or frugality -- or, rather, the good ones -- don't just talk about emptying out the basement. They complete the act of "lessening" with adding something valuable to the free space. Because there is no "empty" space, but there can be a void. If I just have a void, I'll fill it again, with stuff and distractions in order to avoid the void. If I get the distractions and stuff out of the way, the hope of anyone really practicising frugality or minimalism is that there is the time, space, and desire to do something else, something greater or just more fulfilling than the crap you're owning or doing pre-decluttering.

What good is emptying the basement if it just fills up with newer, frugal crap?

Dig a hole. Fill it up. Head slap.

So filling -- fulfillment -- is the second half of the activity... maybe the harder part. After all, we clutter and shop and fill our lives with meaningless stuff to avoid the meaningful stuff, right? We allow others' priorities to derail or distract us because our own needs are scarier than theirs, or more naked, or more confusing to other people.

But what I have noticed about minimalist blogs and frugal blogs is that while there's a lot of advice about eliminating stuff, about the personal call to declutter and detox one's 21st century life, there is much less about how to spiritually/creatively/intellectually/actively fill up the apparently giant hole within us. About either the process of refilling or the "stuff" of fulfillment.

I think this is because when one decides to declutter, it is necessary (if it is to be an effective and complete act) to distance oneself from the "stuff." To depersonalize Aunt Grace's china and childhood stuffed toys and your best friend's gag gifts before being able to donate/sell/trash the stuff. Once you start, shedding is relatively easy and can become almost a reverse compulsion. (Something I've noticed in the language of some blogs: these voices sound like those of anorexics or medieval pentients, punishing themselves for have any but the most utilitarian multi-use items and pride in few tiny material objects still left in their universe... and for how long?) 

But decluttering is only one step, which is where frugality and minimalism come in. To be successful, this has to be a change that I practice daily, for the rest of my life. Thus, it is about mindfulness and envisioning a life that I have ignored or distracted myself from wanting or creating, or something like that. Hence, my goals for 2011 -- and I didn't even know what I was doing when I defined them! Hel-lo, universe!

So now that I have dug myself into a hole, I have to fill it up. Better, this time. Damn it, that means change.

Yes, it was a spiritual head slap.

Photo of the Day: May 9

This is a neglected old queen on a street full of lovely houses. Something about it grabbed me: I think frankly it was the air of neglect and embarrassment of the house, given that its neighbors were all shiny and polished. Couldn't take as good a picture as I would have liked, because of parked cars and traffic.

Something about this house makes me want to use it as a setting in a story.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Today is the first day of my actual summer... ok, this is a transitional week, as there are two My U events and I have one set of grades to post today.

But the main point is: onto the summer schedule!

Which basically means spending time every day writing. Four hours in the a.m., and four hours in the p.m. I am all about product, baby, not process, which will be messy and rough.

Summer is also about getting my house in order, literally -- getting completely out of the Old Apartment and donating/selling/trashing the stuff I no longer use or want and getting completely into my New Apartment, hanging pictures and arranging the several closets. I find myself already resenting the extra stuff I have and the lose of lovely open spaces of "empty" rooms. Oh, well. Once I finish, everything will be still spacious and uncluttered--or so I plan. Target date: 5.25.11.

I have a lot of books to read to get the 50 done this year--oh, what a problem! I am currently working on Rebecca Skloot's study, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, as an audiobook and Van Gogh's letters with his brother, Dear Theo, as a book-book.

I also have to take care of the details for my trip to Boston, DC, and home, visiting family and friends while giving a paper at a conference (more about the paper later: fascinating topic, just by accident!).

This week, just the start-up is enough. By next week, I hope to have hit my stride completely.

The flowers are from my time in Oxford in 2008, from the Botanical Gardens. I recommend this stop when you are in that lovely town.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

My First Party!

Given the sad occasion of my pal leaving town--be it for a great summer gig at Utah Shakespeare Festival and then a much better job at U of U--I had my very first party in my New Apartment last night.

It was a small gathering of nine total, including me--well, ten with Jack, who made several appearances as "Host"--and I advertised the fare as being simple finger food and simple cocktails... an accurate view. My goal was to have no reason for utensils. Oh, and to use the new wet bar.

Success! On all fronts.

Food included:
  • baby carrots, cucumber spears, red pepper strips, and green onions
    • served with raita (Greek yogurt, diced cucumber, and cumin)
  • ripe strawberries, cantaloupe chunks, and gree grapes on the stem
    • served with Greek yogurt drizzled with honey
  • cracked pepper water crackers, wasa, pita triangles, and French bread slices
    • served with hummus
  • tortilla chips with guacamole
  • four kinds of cheese
Friends brought spicy chicken wings and baby quiches, as well as lovely bottles of wine.

And yes, I stocked the wet bar.

The best part, though: everyone initially gathered around the food table, filled their tiny plates, and yakked, but after an hour or so everyone settled in the living room with plates, glasses, and simply chatted, telling stories, sharing weekly events, and ctaching up. A really, really nice group of friends spending Friday night together. Which is exactly what I hoped for when I rented the New Apartment...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Summer 2011

White top
499 DKK -

Blue top
235 GBP -

Striped top
95 GBP -

TopShop crochet top
$80 -

Calypso deep v neck tee
$70 -

Calypso deep v neck tee
$70 -

Old Navy striped top
$7.50 -

Old Navy cap sleeve top
$7.50 -

Burton black top


Limi Feu black wide leg pants
$388 -

Vanessa Bruno printed skirt
330 GBP -

Jacques Vert elastic waist skirt
99 GBP -

TopShop pants
$90 -

TopShop linen skirt
$60 -

Gucci patent leather peep toe shoes
359 GBP -

FS/NY ballerina flat shoes
$100 -

Michael Kors summer shoes
$60 -

Kate spade bag
$295 -

Sensi Studio handbag
140 GBP -

H m sunglass
2.50 GBP -

Daily photo: May 4, 2011

Late, but this is my photo from a couple days ago. The roses are almost all blasted, but don't look it in this picture, again of My U. This rose bank is outside our campus chapel. The live oak in the background, however, shows signs of the late frost damage.

Photo of the Day: May 5, 2011

This is the view from the very middle of My U, facing south through the many, many live oaks that ring the central boulevard. It was about 1:30 pm, clear and sunny. Everything is green right now, but by the end of June you'd see much more brown.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

New Fall Footear

Turtleneck sweater
$239 -

TopShop knit top
$100 -

Victoria s Secret cashmere top
$58 -

White top
$15 -

Xcvi pants
$104 -

Polo Jeans Company indigo denim jeans
43 GBP -

Old navy
$25 -

$20 -

Jimmy Choo round toe boot
625 GBP -

Lace up oxford
$47 -

Wet Seal double buckle boot
$35 -

Nine West zip bag
$80 -

Gold jewelry
$38 -

Stella McCartney sheer shawl
$675 -

Linda Farrow logo sunglass
$265 -

Surface To Air wrap belt
70 GBP -

Old Navy fringed shawl
$5 -