Thursday, October 27, 2011

This Week's Activities Postponed Due to Flooding

At the risk of sensationalistic journalism, I have to confess that the flooding here is metaphoric in nature, but I've been drowning nonetheless. I've been trying to stay afloat with 40-plus freshman comp papers hanging over my head, threatening at any moment to descend and pin me, anchor-like, beneath a fast moving current of deadlines, random obligations, and family activities. Happily, my imaginary flood waters are beginning to subside. Accordingly, I decided on a Tuesday rain date for my giveaway, when I can give it the attention it deserves. Just wanted everyone to know was up. I wish I could say that I was taking the weekend to metaphorically towel down, but it looks like there's a fair chance I'll be spending it getting literally soaked, as I'm looking at a rapidly deteriorating forecast for a planned camping trip to the mountains. Regardless, there are good things on tap for next week and I hope to see you back here then-- rain or shine.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Double Chocolate Goodness

Yesterday's guest post for Jade's Pinnacle Moments Series yielded a a couple inquiries about the brownies I mentioned. Here's the recipe that "ruined" all other brownies for dozens of teen girls for 12 years. If double chocolate gooey goodness sounds good to you, then welcome to your new favorite brownie. You can thank me with follows and sweet comments.

Bible Study Brownies (Nestle Double Chocolate Brownies)
3/4 cup unsifted flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 package Nestle semi-sweet morsels
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In small bowl combine flour, baking soda, and salt--set aside. In small saucepan, combine butter, sugar, and water. Bring just to a boil, then remove from heat. Add 1/2 package of morsels and vanilla. Stir until morsels melt and mixture is smooth. Transfer to large bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually blend in flour mixture. Stir in remaining morsels. Spread into greased 9 inch pan. Bake 30-35 minutes.

In other news: I've mentioned that a giveaway is in the works...stay tuned next week for your chance to win free digital scrapbooking software from My Memories Suite. In between dating my husband, sailing, and grading freshman comp papers, I plan to experiment with the software this weekend. I will share my experiments and results with you next week, and then give one lucky winner the chance to win a free software package of your own. Sound good? (Psst--in the meantime, make sure you are a Running With Letters follower, as this promotion is a thank you to my faithful readers--new and old :) )

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pinnacle Moments

I am over at Jade's place today, blogging about teen girls, brownies, and moments of clarity as part of her Pinnacle Moments Series. Please stop on by and comment over there, if you are so inclined.

If you could use a laugh, take a pit stop at yesterday's post while you're here...and if you have a "mistaken identity" story, by all means share! Don't forget that there's a giveaway in the works...stay turned....

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Face Value

So yesterday I headed out to conduct interviews for my monthly newspaper assignment, which, as an aside, never fails to be a calendar highlight. However, the interview in question was notable not because of what happened, but rather, what didn’t. As soon as I rounded the corner and turned off my street, my car lost all power, forcing me to muscle it around the next corner and leave it at the curb of my neighboring street. For those interested in quantitative measures, I was less than a football field away from my front yard.

Of course, my husband wanted a full break down of the, well, break down, which required me to pop the hood and give a play-by-play of what I saw, which happened to be a dangling belt. Being a guy, he wanted as many details about the engine as you or I would about the features of a quality latte or the coupons in the latest Michael’s flyer.

“Can we wrap this up,” I said through gritted teeth. “There’s this creeper watching me. He’s standing by some rose bushes watching me like it’s some kind of show.”

Casting a withering glance in the direction of the gawker, I closed the hood and headed home to reschedule my interview. Even though my kids thought I now had a bonus day off, I actually had to get to the university to teach my freshmen. My daughter was able to take me, and, on the way out, we stopped at the disabled van so I could pick up my books.

“Oh my goodness! I don’t believe it! He’s still there, creeping by the rosebushes. He hasn’t even mov…ed,” I said, my voice trailing off as I got a closer look, and discovered the, um, non-threatening nature of this stalker.

Yep, that’s right. Zoom in, if you can, on this low quality, mobile phone image so you can get the full effect. The whiskers are a dead giveaway. This guy’s a pussy cat.

I’d like to say the story just ends with a little chuckle right here. But that evening, after enduring my son and husband’s the good natured razzing as they tinkered unsuccessfully with the belt, we headed out to get some pizza, deciding at the last moment to go to an old mom and pop that we haven’t been to in a few years, as long as “they weren’t too busy.” Pulling into the shopping center, I groaned in hungry disappointment. “Oh, they’re packed!” I lamented. “Look at all those people just waiting to be seated!”

A hush fell over the vehicle before one of the boys said “Really? Not again!”
I took a second look and saw that all those hungry men waiting for pizza were really just mannequins patiently modeling men’s suits in the shop next door. I am not sure if it is more embarrassing than it is hilarious, but it’s true, nonetheless—I was bested by dummies twice in one day.

Despite the rocky start, we’re set for a big week here at RWL. Tomorrow I will be participating in the Pinnacle Moment Series over at Jade’s place, and be on the lookout for news of an upcoming giveaway!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mail Mayhem and a New Post

As I pulled my van onto our dead end street one July afternoon, my son broke into a vigorous bout of enthusiastic waving. “It’s the mail lady, Mom. She’s so nice. Have you met the new mail lady?”

I had to admit that indeed, I had not made the acquaintance of our new mail person, but I was sure she had to be a vast improvement over the string of grumpy men who had been covering our street’s mail delivery duties over the past decade.

I joined the boy in a cheery wave in the carrier’s general direction, and started inside. I was about to query my son about just how he happened to strike up such a rapport with the mail lady, when my thoughts took a quick turn in the direction of the letters I had put out for delivery that morning, and were now, doubtless nestled in the bag of the friendly post woman.

The letters represented a bold move made in the throes of desperation. I am posting about them today since I said last week that I'd fill in the gap in my blog narrative explaining my career shift from elementary art teacher to university professor. Also my friend Jade at Tasting Grace started a conversation on her blog about life a year ago, so a bit of reflection seemed apropos. See, I had been searching for new employ since April, after it became apparent that my stint teaching art at a pretentious local academy had run its course. Pleading budget and scheduling woes, my former employer informed me that if I wanted to keep my job, I’d have to work more and earn less, and, as I never really felt at home at the hoity-toity institution, I began circulating resumes in hopes of finding another position in the arts, or, failing that, with another worthy enterprise in search of a dedicated, yet part-time professional.

I regarded the whole job search as a Major Adventure. I wanted a challenge, but one that would not take me away from my family or my writing. I imagined all sorts of enticing possibilities, and cast my net broad and wide. Weeks passed, sans prospects. Weeks turned into months, with no interest in any of my carefully crafted cover letters or promising proposals. Not a note, not a nibble. Nothing. It soon became apparent that I was an involuntary resident of some sort of employment leaper colony. Even though it was still summer, a season during which I don’t work anyway, I began to get prematurely funky, shuffling around the house in a disillusioned stupor of vague angst, remembering the good old days when I was a vibrant, active member of the community.

As July threatened to unfold into August with nary an interview in sight, I broached the unpleasant topic of my secondary English teaching certification, the one that came along as a bonus add-on with my masters degree, not unlike the stuffed sleeping toys that come free with the purchase of select pajama sets. In short, I had never aspired to be an English teacher, at least in the all-day, full time, public high school sense. But faced with the prospect of going funky long-term, took the plunge and applied for not one, but two, such positions.

My reasoning was that, based on recent historical data, I wasn’t going to hear back anyway, and at least then I could say that I truly did all I could to find employ, so folks could grasp the enormity of my circumstances when I hit the skids.
My early experiences with my letters of introduction should have conveyed all I needed to know about my suitability for the positions. I printed the wrong drafts of the letters and dribbled leaky pen across the good versions when I went to sign them. I botched the addresses on both envelopes—twice, and when I finally got them properly addressed, I realized I did it upside down.

In my own defense, I have to say that I was assembling this mail in the company of my son, who was eager to get going on a lunch and biking adventure, and did not stop talking the entire time—a detail that astute readers will read as partial explanation for the boy’s familiarity with our neighborhood’s community helpers.

Upon our return that afternoon, however, my thoughts turned to the wording of the letters I’d put out for post that morning. A particular turn of phrase had entered my thoughts, and I was wondering if I’d had the presence of mind to actually use it, or if it was like those great comebacks that come to you about an hour after they would have been poignant. I glanced at my computer and realized the letter was still on the screen. Partway through the second sentence, I cringed at a small gaffe in word choice; nothing too serious, but regrettable, nonetheless. I gave an audible gasp when I reached a bad cut-and-paste in paragraph two, and when I reached the closing sentence, I flew to the front door, yelling “Buddy! Come! Help me find your mail lady friend!”

“I dunno, Mom, she could be anywhere by now,” my son said, as we beat the pavement on the neighboring street.

I made the decision to resume the search by vehicle. I was prepared to go all the way to the main post office and wait it out, but hit the jackpot when I saw the mail truck parked two streets down. The mail lady herself was just a bobbing dot at the end of the road, so I pulled behind the truck to await her return.

“Buddy says she’s nice, Buddy says she’s nice,” I chanted to myself.

And, you know what? The kid was right. She was a peach, patiently sorting through the day’s collected mail until we found the offending letters.

I took the letters home and added them to the pile of accumulated rubble from earlier in the day. I paused for a moment to consider the pile of pulp which represented the sum total of all my day’s efforts. I’d love to tell you that I learned my lesson and tossed the whole mess into the recycling bin and never thought of the whole affair again. But, writer that I am, I made the appropriate corrections to the letter and sent it off a second time to both prospects. Which subsequently led to an interview, a job offer, and, ultimately some of the funkiest, angst-iest behavior I’d ever displayed.

Fortunately, I left for vacation in Florida without signing a formal contract for the unwanted post because a different kind of mail reached me there, as unexpected as it was welcome. It was a belated reply from one of my very first queries way back in April. One of my former professors had a surprise opening for a part time professor in her department and I was her first choice—was there any chance I was still available?

I didn’t make a single mistake in my reply. It’s hard to mess up yes.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Pumpkin Lattes and Professor Pants

The fact that it’s October means I’m pretty much into pumpkin everything these days. As I type this, I’m nibbling away at the season’s first batch of pumpkin bread, and wearing a pumpkin colored shirt. I’m also pretty into my new job as a professor at the university at which I earned my masters degree and which served as the setting for oh, so many of my 2008 and 2009 posts. I realize that when I was last blogging regularly, I was an elementary art teacher, and Regular Readers may note a gap in the narrative, but trading in my paints and smock for papers and textbooks is a story for another day.

So what could be more fitting than to celebrate my penchant for pumpkin and my passion for my new post at the university than to sit in the campus Starbucks with a steaming pumpkin latte while grading my first round of papers? I plunked down my five bucks, and sat down to crank out a couple papers before a professor meeting which I was expected to attend. In light of the meeting, I had opted to wear a semi-expensive pair of pants I’d recently purchased for an interview for a job I almost took, but didn’t, a story which is, again, best withheld for another post. As most of my colleagues actually double as my former professors, I always like to make a good impression, partly so they feel like they did a good job, and also so they can adjust to seeing me as something other than the points-hungry student in the Eeyore T-shirt waving her hand aloft from the front row.

Alas, it was meeting time, and I found myself with a still mostly full latte. I grabbed my papers, headed out the door and down the cement steps toward the cross-campus meeting. It’s hard to say exactly what happened next. I seem to remember making some sort of adjustment to the drape of the interview –slacks-turned-professor-pants and, be it a shift in balance, a gap in concentration, or just plain clumsiness no one can say. All that I can say is that next thing I knew, warm latte was raining down from above, and splashing into Jackson-Pollock-like splatters across the Professor Pants.

Fortunately, I was carrying a very large handbag which I gamely positioned across my waist. If I really were as bright as my former- professors-turned-colleagues would have hoped, I would have sat in the back, by the door, but I suppose walking into a classroom filled with professors caused my instincts to kick in, and I marched to the front row. After possibly waving my hand in the air one too many times, I realized the meeting was running long and I actually had to leave, which of course meant walking through the middle of the assemblage with a large bag positioned awkwardly across my midsection.

o make matters worse, the stain took on a reddish hue, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since the Warm Colors Unit I taught in my art room last spring. After 24 hours of intense Oxy-Clean action, I was still looking at stains that seemed more likely to result from a Bad Kool-Aid Episode at a preschool than a bobble with some errant brew.

As disturbing as that was for the pants, I was perhaps, as somewhat of a purist, even more upset as I pondered what went into the latte to produce such a stain. I decided to try my hand at home lattes, which seemed not only a more nutritionally sound option, but considering my balancing skills, safer, and less expensive all around. Accordingly, I have been tweaking with home versions of the pumpkin spice latte, using the linked recipe as a base. So far, my taste buds and my clothes are happier.

Oh—and, happily, my clothes still include the Professor Pants, which came (almost) completely clean after a second day in the Oxy-Clean. I’m wearing them now—they pair perfectly with the pumpkin shirt.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Feeling Equestrian-A Pictorial Post, Because I Am, Well, Hoarse

Saturday afternoon, my husband and I drove down to North Carolina's Outer Banks to meet up with some friends at their beach rental. When we got there, we took a drive down a 20 mile stretch of shoreline--yes, that's allowed--in hopes of seeing some of Corolla's famous wild ponies.

It is October, though, even at the beach. Overnight the weather and my sinuses took a bad turn. I had planned a full post for today, but alas, I am headache-y, congested, and , well, hoarse. But as I want everyone to know that Running With Letters is back--really, really back--I decided to let the horses do the talking today in a pictorial post. Enjoy!


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