What are we talking about today?

Normal topics suspended for the A to Z Challenge. It's all books from April 1-30.

If you're here from the A to Z Challenge hoping I'll comment back if you comment first: Sorry to disappoint, but that probably won't happen. I work full-time and I grad school full-time, so I can't give the time to blog commenting that I would like. I'll visit after the end of the semester, I hope.

31 December 2011

What Have You Done?

I decided to revisit my 2011 resolution list before the year was out, to see how I did. And: It's not too bad.

Here are the ones I missed:

  • For some reason, last January I thought I wanted to be a vegetarian. I don't eat much meat as it is, but my semi-vegetarian ways have remained.
  • I still haven't done the 100 Thing Challenge.
  • I haven't finished either of my previous WiPs, but I did manage to start at least one more.
  • And I met no goal times for my running. I'm not sure why I bothered to resolve that, since we're not currently running any races.

And the ones I hit:

  • I can now make my own yogurt. Also my own bread, granola, granola bars, and pasta. Plus all the things that I was able to make before-- I'm not sure that resurrecting my cookie- and brownie-making abilities was a good thing.
  • I read 100 books for the Goodreads challenge. Actually, I read a lot more than that, but I didn't change the dates on any of my re-reads.
  • Thanks to us being hosts on Airbnb, my house is much cleaner than it used to be and stays cleaner with a great deal more consistency than ever before.
Okay, when I list it out like that, it looks like I did not have a banner year. But I guess I met the ones I wanted to meet and the others were just for decoration? That's what I'm choosing to believe, anyway.

Did you make any resolutions for 2011? Will you make any for 2012?

30 December 2011

Seeds for a New Year

I wanted something New Year-related, or at least something that could tie everything together or be a bit of an inspiration for my end-of-the-year green post.

Yeah. Not so much.

Source.
So, here's a bit of what I have planned for Chez Cheeky this year. Chad & I have been composting for a year now, but thus far have done nothing with our compost, which is sitting on our back porch, getting all nice and crumbly for when it is called into action. That's going to change in a couple months' time, when...

... I plant things. Yep, this year I will finally have that container garden I've been thinking about for my entire adult life. Hot-weather plants do really well down here (naturally), so I'm thinking we'll have some tomatoes and peppers growing on the porch. And probably some potatoes, too, for no other reason that they're extremely easy. I don't think you can mess up potato-growing. And some herbs. I've never used fresh herbs in my life, and I think it's time for that to change.

I had some inspiration the other day from one of the books that I'm reading for my undergrad research: Apparently, marigolds attract pests that might otherwise decide to feast on my tomatoes, so I think I'll have some of those, too, just to give the pests something to look at. Besides, there is no way that I'm getting any kind of anti-bug chemicals anywhere near my asthmatic husband, so we have to look for chemical-free alternatives. I've heard that spraying soapy water on the leaves works too, with the bonus that--once again!-- it's not harmful to us who already eat off of plates that are washed in soapy water. Nice.

Do you have a garden? What do you like to grow? Any other suggestions for a pest-free balcony?

25 December 2011

In Grateful Chorus

I would be hard-pressed to name my favourite Christmas carol. I like pretty much all of them. But my favourite verse lies hidden at the end of "O Holy Night":
Truly he taught us to love one another
His law is love and his gospel is peace.
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise his holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise his name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
Source.
I thought this was the second verse, but when I went looking to make sure I had all the words in the right order, I found out that it's the third verse. And I don't remember ever hearing the second verse before.

I love this verse for a lot of reasons (I have to say that it's the "sweet hymns of joy" bit that really gets me), not the least of which because it's more or less fiction. Yep, I'm going to be a killjoy on Christmas. Christians have not, alas, lived up to the standard of breaking chains and stopping oppression. We're as guilty as anyone else for starting wars and spreading hatred. And I'm not okay with that.

I'm not exactly setting out on a personal quest to fix all the wrongs in Christendom. Among other things, that's not really my job. I am setting out to be sure that I am doing all I can to live at peace with my neighbour. To love those who don't love me. And to be a light in my little corner of the world. And I encourage you to do the same.

The happiest of Christmases to you and yours. And have a safe and fun week between Christmas and New Year.

22 December 2011

Teaser, erm, Thursday?

So this isn't a proper teaser, not least of which because I've shared from this book before, but also because I'm not finding the passage at random. And it's a passage, not a teaser. I've been proclaiming the wonders of Dash and Lily's Book of Dares all over Facebook, because I really want all my friends to read it and revel in the delight that it is. Word lovers, Christmas lovers, and happiness lovers should all enjoy this book even more than the average person.

So this is the passage that, even if I hadn't previously fallen prey to the charms of this book, would have had me hooked. It's a conversation between Lily's Great-Aunt Ida and Dash:

"Before I ask you some questions, perhaps you would like some tea?"
"That would depend on what kind of tea you were offering."
"So diffident! Suppose it was Earl Grey."
I shook my head. "Tastes like pencil shavings."
"Lady Grey."
"I don't drink beverages named after beheaded monarchs. It seems so tacky."
"Chamomile?"
"Might as well sip butterfly wings."
"Green tea?"
"You can't be serious."
The old woman nodded her approval. "I wasn't."
"Because you know when a cow chews grass? And he or she chews and chews and chews? Well, green tea tastes like French-kissing that cow after it's done chewing all that grass."
"Would you like some mint tea?"
"Only under duress."
"English breakfast."
I clapped my hands. "Now you're talking."

First: Would that I could write that well. Second: This is exactly how I feel about tea. Well-meaning friends have pressed all the above-mentioned flavours upon me at one time or another, but I only drink breakfast tea. It doesn't strictly have to be English; I'm perfectly happy with Scottish or Irish breakfast (although those three are the full extent of my experimentation with breakfast teas. Why mess with a winning formula?).

Anyway, this is great holiday reading. Run out and get it now before your local library/bookstore closes for the weekend. But I do want to add my usual caveat that it really is young adult; it's probably not a good one for your younger kids. And really, I can't imagine anyone younger than about 12 having sustained interest in this plot line anyway.

Have you read Dash and Lily? Did you like it? Do you have any other good holiday reading recommendations?

21 December 2011

Owning a Choice

As I've shared many, many times before, we are car-free at the Cheeky house. We made this decision when we moved to Austin in July 2010, deciding to rely on the local public transportation and cycling. Since then, we've also added a local carsharing scheme to our repertoire, and we've taken a taxi or two in the past 18 months. Apart from the occasional snafu (usually the reason for the taxi) or having to turn down an invitation every now and then, it works.

Yep, this is where I live. Source.
Sometimes, though, it doesn't work. Sometimes we get an invite to a Christmas party with people we really enjoy hanging out with but they live out of reach of the bus system. Sometimes we forget to buy Chad a new bus pass and have to scrounge for change when we get on board. Sometimes we'd just like to go downtown on a Sunday evening but dangit, the buses stop running at 9:30 PM. And sometimes we just like getting home from church in a timely manner without having to wait 30 minutes for a bus.

A lot of times, people will offer us a lift to or from wherever we're going. A lot of times, we accept. Every now and then we'll outright ask for a lift. But I don't like doing that, because being car-free was our choice. It wasn't forced upon us. And I don't feel like we have the right to allow our lifestyle choices to become a burden on other people. Besides, I feel that as an advocate for non-car alternatives, I shouldn't be turning to car-owning friends every five minutes and asking for a bailout. I can hardly say that I'm living without a car just fine when I'm not.

And there's that little detail that for the majority of the country, choosing whether to have a car or not is not even on the radar screen. There's the group that can't possibly afford a car, no matter what, and have to get around however they can. Then there's the group that lives or works in areas where there are no alternatives to car ownership. And some fit into both categories, which is even more a cause for concern. And that's one reason why I advocate for alternatives to car ownership in this country: We shouldn't be forced into one default mode. We should have choices. And no one should have to feel that their choices or circumstances make them a burden on others.

Do you ever take car-free trips? Is it even feasible for you?

20 December 2011

Funny Thing, Education

Remember that stack of books I showed you all a couple of weeks ago so you would be 1. impressed and/or 2. sympathetic? No? Well, here it is again:


This is the stack of books that I'm reading through over Christmas for my undergrad research project that I'm doing in the spring semester. My supervising instructor (or whatever she's called) approved my proposal last week: I'm reading a bunch of environmental stuff to find the common rhetorical devices. And then I'm going to write about them. She tells me this is called generic criticism. I call it a great way to beat insomnia.

I kid! Only one of the books put me to sleep so far! And I finished it yesterday. I have all the books sorted by due date, because that seemed like the most sensible way to read through them. And as I'm reading along, I've made this magical discovery: They're all talking about the same things.

Okay, I probably should have know this ahead of time, being as I picked the topic and all, yes? But for some reason, I get really excited when I learn about an incident in one book, and then see mentions of it in other books. Because, hey! I know what they're talking about! And as I understand it, this is in fact the point of education, that you learn something, and the next thing you learn builds on your knowledge of the last thing, and so on in this great long chain until eventually you wear a funny hat and someone with a funnier hat gives you a piece of paper.

So, education works. Good to know I'm not wasting my time and money here.

Have you made any magical and/or obvious discoveries lately? Are there any good rhetoric or environmental books I've left out? Do you want to come and help me read them?

19 December 2011

A Part By Any Other Name...

So the other day a friend at church-- okay, it's time for nicknames. This particular friend is responsible for (among other things, I'm sure) keeping everyone abreast of stuff going on. Seriously, she posts a bunch of cool things on Facebook about concerts, service events, and family-friendly stuff going on in town. And so I dub her Social Butterfly. Please only think of the nice things related to butterflies and totally ignore any possible negative stereotypes associated with the term.

So, Social Butterfly said she has a "bike thing" that she can't use but I might be able to, so she wanted to pass it on. I said "Sure thing!" as is my wont, but I was really concerned that I've given anyone the impression that I know about bike things. I assure you, I can operate a u-lock and an air pump, and for anything more complicated than that I call Chad.

I got the bike thing home and we had this conversation:

Chad: What is it?
Me: It's a screwdriver and... (opening the little box)
Chad: A key holder?
Me: A patch kit. A key holder? Really?
Chad: Well, I didn't know.

Aside from the fact that cyclists have pockets, panniers, saddlebags, etc. for holding keys, I can't really fault Chad for thinking the little box with the patch kit inside was a key holder, because as you can plainly see, the pointy thing is not a screwdriver, at least not in the traditional sense. And I've mulled it over for quite a while and still can't think of what it's called. We don't use proper names here in the Cheeky house. So, screwdriver it is!

Actually, the non-use of proper names is my fault, anyway, because much like the Smurfs, I replace any word I don't know (or can't remember) with an all-purpose word: in my case, "thingmy". I did this so often in the early days of our relationship that Chad picked up on it, and our memory has gradually worsened ever since, to the point that I barely know what anything is called any more. To paraphrase Tolkien, I only know my own name because people say it all the time. If my friends and acquaintances suddenly start calling me anything but Su, I may have an unofficial name change. Which will be very problematic if I ever get called to jury duty again.

What do you do when you can't remember the name for something? Do you know what that pointy thing is called?

16 December 2011

Wrap It Up

In the spirit of the holiday season, let's talk about wrapping paper.

I don't use much wrapping paper. I've managed to amass quite a collection of gift bags over the years, and I like them so much that I use them almost exclusively. So, yes, my lesson here is: Reuse those gift bags! And if you must buy a new gift bag, please choose one that is durable and nice-looking enough that the recipient will want to reuse it.

This is wrapping paper that is totally
worth rescuing. Source.
So, wrapping paper. My obvious suggestion is of course to remove the paper from your gifts carefully, fold the  tape under, and roll or fold it neatly for reuse. If all the gift recipients in your house are old enough to do this, brilliant. If not, don't toss that ripped up paper right away! You'll need confetti for your New Year party, right?

For paper that is ripped too small for reuse later but is too large for confetti-making, get creative before you toss. Save the pieces with your gift bags to use as tags next year. Do you have a kid at the paper-tearing stage? You just got a few minutes of non-destructive amusement. Use the non-colourful side for scrap paper or for the kids to draw on. Wad it up as packing in your next package. If all else fails, recycle.

And it wouldn't be Christmas without one more bonus suggestion. If you have some scrap fabric laying around, or a colourful t-shirt that has outlasted its usefulness as a shirt, or a scarf that you don't really wear, consider using those to wrap a gift instead of paper. Break out the hot glue or the string to hold the bottom together and tie it up on top. This is an especially good option for the crafty friends in your life, who will likewise not throw the fabric away but will find something creative to do with it! Even if the friend uses your old t-shirt for dusters once the gift is put away, you've still saved one more thing from the landfill plus relieved your house of a tiny bit of clutter. And I don't know anyone who doesn't love that.

How do you wrap gifts? Do you have another environmentally friendly, stress-saving, creative suggestion?

15 December 2011

Still Time-Travelling

Yep, I'm still attempting to go backwards in time and share all the thoughts I didn't write down during November. But I think I've reached the end of actual memory, so I may have to start making things up now.

On Thanksgiving Chad and I ran the local Turkey Trot with some new acquaintances from church. (I hope they don't read this and get offended, but I'm kind of European when it comes to calling people friends.) This was our first race since the weekend we moved to Austin, but you know what? It was pretty much the same. Right down to my really awful race pictures. Seriously, I do weird things with my fingers while running.

Chad was disoriented at the finish line, which is also pretty much the same, so he didn't meet us at our prearranged meeting spot. I was a bit worried, because he has been known to seek medical attention during races and we were both seriously undertrained for this one. Fortunately, our pal Guy For Whom I Do Not Yet Have a Nickname (now I really hope he doesn't read this. Good thing he has a busy schedule and doesn't spend a lot of time online, huh?) is tall, so when he went looking for Chad, Chad spotted him. Which was just as well, because I didn't want to have a full-blown panic attack in front of people we don't know that well.

Also in November... The Celtic Festival! I love the Austin Celtic Festival. We looked at pretty jewelry, laughed at all the jokes, and heard some fabulous music. And we heard a guy lecturing about William Wallace, which was not only cool, but also stuck me into Scottish accent mode for the rest of the day. I probably should have written things down about how much fun I had that weekend. But hey! Come to Austin the first weekend of November for the foreseeable future and see with your own eyes how great the Celtic festival is.

That's probably everything... now maybe I can finally catch up with all those Book Festival posts I never got around to writing.

What is your preferred method of time travel?

14 December 2011

NaNoWriMo, UT Version

So I may have mentioned once or twice (or never-- it's been that kind of semester) that I started a NaNoWriMo/Script Frenzy club on campus with TARDIS Girl, co-conspirator extraordinaire. We decided to call ourselves Frenzied Novelists, because that was the best we could come up with to encompass both events. A couple of other people came along for the ride, and we have something like 55 people who have joined us in our noveling and other writing craziness (we're the only creative writing group-- that we know of-- at UT, so we've flung open our figurative doors to any creative writing types, not just novelists).

Our recruiting poster from earlier in
the semester.
The Sunday before NaNo ended, I got a couple of text messages from TARDIS Girl that someone from the Daily Texan (the campus newspaper) wanted to interview her. Which I thought was all well and good and fabulous-- the more publicity, the better, right? I was just sad that they waited until the end of NaNoWriMo to write about us, but hey, I'll take what we can get.

Later that afternoon, the intrepid reporter called me as well, so I spent the rest of the afternoon in an excited frenzy while I was also trying to do homework, finish my grad school applications, and write some more of my novel. The article (you can read it here, if you are interested) went live before I went to bed that night, and I read it quite happily until I came to this line: “I’m taking more hours this year than I did last year, but it’s actually been easier,” she said. “It’s definitely been an exercise in time management. You kind of get this feeling like you’re on drugs, like you always have to be doing something.”

Yes, that was me that said that. Or rather, me that didn't say that. I said the bit about time management, and I said the bit about always doing something, but I most definitely did not say anything about writing being like doing drugs. First of all, I have no basis for comparison, and secondly, that's not the sort of thing one says to a complete stranger who is writing down one's every word.

So the next morning, TARDIS Girl sends me as text wondering why on earth the reporter had chosen my quote about doing drugs. I told her I didn't know, considering that I never said it in the first place. And once we were done being mortified, we decided to have some fun with it, posting it all over Facebook and Twitter (we even made it onto one of the Twitter daily round-up things), as well as cutting out the article, highlighting my quote, and hanging it up in the Undergraduate Writing Center for the amusement of our coworkers.

A couple of days later, one of our coworkers told us about how last spring, the Daily Texan grossly misrepresented some activities of one of the fraternities on campus, so that the organization got lots of hate mail. Yikes! That makes this little goof seem rather small by comparison, being as we've yet to receive any mail at all.

Have you ever been interviewed? Misquoted? Both? What do you think I should say next time?

12 December 2011

Heard at University: Semester's End

I completely forgot about compiling a list of goofy things I heard on campus as the semester went by, which is a pity, because there were some good ones. So, instead, some things from the last day of class:

Caffeinated: You can never have too much coffee! That's ridiculous!
He went on to tell us that caffeine is what gives him all his energy. And quite frankly, I am so envious, because I need about three cups of tea in the morning just to be functional. It never gives me his level of energy. Mind you, there is a lot less caffeine in three cups of tea than in three cups of coffee.
***
The next one needs some background: On the next-to-last day of class, Honours Teacher was giving us some pointers on our final papers, including that we should not use "continuance" for "continuation". He went on to insist that "continuance" isn't a word anyway. I turned to the girl next to me and said, "Isn't it a legal term?" She wasn't sure, so I didn't say anything. So, on the last day of class:
Honours Teacher: I was wrong about the word "continuance". It's something you ask a judge for, so it is a word.
Girl next to me: Hey, that's what you said!
Me: Yeah.
Teacher: Why didn't you say something if you knew it was a word?
Me: Because I was getting this information from the movie Liar, Liar.
***
French teacher: You really need to come to the study session on Tuesday.
I decided that this was because he believed there was no point on giving up on me altogether, instead of it meaning that I needed all the help I could get.
***
Linguistics teacher: Do you even know what time class starts?
Okay, this one didn't happen. But it probably should have. When I ride the bus, it's a crapshoot as to whether I'll get to campus by 9:30, unless I want to be very very sure and get there an hour early. I was rarely in class on time.

And that was the last day of my semester. So, what memorable quotes have you heard lately?

11 December 2011

New Church

I'm so far behind on things I want to blog about. I may have to sit down and make a list. Tomorrow may be Write Lots of Blog Posts Day in addition to be Catch Up on Blog Reading Day.

(Follow-up on Friday's post: I'm done applying to grad school! I still need to get my transcripts and GRE scores sent, but the part that involves me writing statements of purpose and begging teachers for letters of recommendation is finished. And now, I wait.)

Chad and I decided a few months ago that the church we were attending wasn't quite the right fit for us. It didn't really feel like home, and since when we moved to Austin we left behind a church that had been a family to us in every sense of the word for our entire marriage, feeling like we were at home is pretty important. You might say we have ridiculously-high standards, and you would be correct, but the former congregation wasn't doing it for us.

The church we go to looks nothing
like this. Source.
So, we started looking. And a few weeks into our search, I took a wrong turn on the way home from UT one day, and ended up on a very busy street during rush hour. I was considerably freaked out, since this street had no bike lane, and was relieved when I got to the street that I had actually been aiming for (a much quieter street with a bike lane). I got a good look at the building across the street while standing at the red light, and since that building was a church, I Googled it when I got home. Chad and I liked the looks of it, so we went to visit. And kept going back to visit. We went off-and-on all summer long, and finally decided in October that this church that I found by accident is the one for us. We really do feel at home there.

I'm sure I'll end up giving them nicknames eventually. Maybe I'll wait and see if any of them decide to start reading my blog first. In the meantime, they're all lovely people.

What's important to you when choosing a church? And for my non-church-going readers... What do you like to do on Sundays?

09 December 2011

Crickets

So, since we last met...

  • I finished NaNoWriMo. (71129 words! Beat my goal by 1129!)
  • The semester ended. Final grades are still pending.
  • I finished applying to UT grad school, and made a sketchy start on the other two schools I'm applying to.
  • Chad and I went to Lubbock to see a friend get married.
  • While there, we also got to have a look at some brand-new twins.
  • And the Christmas Tea, which I was chairwoman of for a couple of years, has new life and a new name under some new leaders. I got to go to that, too.
  • I've already started reading for next semester.
  • And I went back to volunteering more often than once a month at Bike Texas. A surprising number of them still recognise me.
This is my stack of
books for undergrad
research. Minus one book.
And ten scholarly
articles. Holiday reading
at its finest.
The thought of everything I managed to finish in the last couple of weeks makes me want to go lie down, because it didn't seem so bad when I was in the thick of it but looking back I'm surprised more people don't hate me from me being ├╝ber-cranky at them. 

This weekend is Grad School Application weekend here at the Cheeky house. And also Finish my Research Proposal weekend, because that reading I've started is for my undergrad research project for next semester, but I haven't turned in my proposal yet. I'm hoping my thesis adviser is patient and understanding. 

What does all this mean? Well, I hope that next week can be Catch Up with All My Blogging Friends week, once I get through this weekend and finally feel like my semester really is at an end, instead of mostly at an end. Wish me luck.

What are you doing this weekend? Anyone else applying to grad school? Do you think we should organize a Let's Take A Nap blogfest?

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