Sunday, March 30, 2008

Publishing Fest!

Coming soon: an entry on the publishing fest.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

I borrowed this image from a Catholic web site. Isn't it pretty?

It's Easter, so today I wanted to do something simple: go to church. I just wanted to gather with other people and pray and sing. I went online and found a United Methodist within walking distance. I put on nice clothes and set off. About half an hour later, I was there though a bit chilly. The church was gorgeous.

I went in, got a bulletin from the usher and sat down. Next thing I knew...tap, tap, tap. A young man had sat down behind me. I shook hands with him and we exchanged introductions.

Now I must admit that I have complained more than once about not being able to meet any nice young Christian guys. Heck, nice young men of any faith. I got so discouraged by all the atheist guys that at one point I would have been happy with a nice Jewish guy or even a Buddhist. At least they believe in something, even if it's not what I believe in. Well, be careful what you wish for.

This guy, Bradford, started asking me for information. I told him I went to ODU, getting an MFA in poetry. He shared that he is a theology student at some other university in town. He was decent-looking, but during the course of this brief conversation, he had already touched my shoulder more times than I was comfortable with. Then he said something about graduate studies seeming endless, "like perpetual dripping [or something equally weird] from the lips." And then he touched my bottom lip! Eeeeewww! We'd known each other for two minutes! We were in church! What? Seriously, WHAT!?!

In a bar, a dating-type-place, that would have been inappropriate. I would have told him off. In church, it was much more inappropriate, but telling him off felt inappropriate, too. I must have looked horrified. Instead of catching the hint, he said, "I hope you'll let me take you out to dinner after church." "Oh, er, no," I stuttered, "I have plans." Plans to go home. Plans to not go out with you. "Well then I hope you'll let me take you out later this week." "Oh, I don't know," I replied awkwardly, feeling trapped. Luckily, the service started.

The congregation was really small. I thought it might just be because they'd had a sunrise service, but I was informed "We're small on people, but big on heart." During the sermon, the pastor (who has a lovely voice) informed us, "People complain, 'So-and-so just passed away, and no one new is coming in.' I don't put up with that. I say, 'Bring people in!'" Good point, but on the other hand, way to pass the buck! I had to work hard to find his church online, and since getting home I've examined the site more closely. It's the most old-fashioned Methodist Church I've ever come across. They're not using any innovative methods to attract new members. The minister's preaching in general doesn't seem to mesh with the the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (understanding religion as the interplay of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience). Whatever.

Meanwhile, Bradford, as a future minister, felt the need to pray louder than the minister or the congregation during shared responses. Unfortunately, he was faster than everyone else. When we sang, he sang loudest, even though he was faster than everyone else and slightly off-key. He would even mutter corrections to the sermon. Okaaay....Even if he hadn't hit on me, I would have found him annoying. I kept thinking to myself, "Being annoyed at him isn't Christian. God in everyone..."

When the minster went out of his way to say that a fetus is a person, Bradford called out, "AMEN!" Oh, see, Bradford? You think you like me, but you wouldn't really like me. I'm pro-choice. If I'd known his feelings on the matter sooner, I would have lead with that:

Him: I hope you'll let me take you out to dinner after church.
Me: Oh, er, no, I'm pro-choice.

He might have tried to save me from my heathen beliefs, but at least he would have stopped hitting on me.

I didn't find my new church home, but I got to worship, pray and sing. That's what matters most. Then, the minute the service was over (while Bradford was chatting with someone else), I booked it! I was halfway to the door when he called out, "Erin!" I turned, smiled a friendly smile, waved and just kept going...quickly! On the walk home, I enjoyed the sunshine, the flowers in people's gardens, the trees in bloom, many robins and a blue jay-- spring, and new life all around. Happy Easter, everyone.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Care Package!

I spent the second half of Spring Break occasionally exploring the neighborhood, but mostly alone in my apartment. It was a bit depressing. Classes started again, and I enjoyed teaching. I also got back two midterms. I got 98 percent on one and an A- from the tough grader. Not bad at all!

My Thursday class was canceled so I snagged a ride and got to hear the visiting poet-in-residence, Richard Jones read at a local book store (photo from It was a funny reading, because he's from the area, so his family was there...kind of heckling him! Well, not heckling, exactly, but it was like there was no fourth wall. Before starting a poem, he'd explain something about it to his mom. His sister would add a funny comment after a poem. It was a lot of fun.

Jones is giving a class, which I couldn't afford. It's an extra class, so it isn't covered by my tuition waiver, but there were limited spots available to submit poems and meet with him one-on-one and get his feedback on our work. I was the first one to sign up. Jones was nice. He made some great suggestions on two poems and really loved the third as-is, which is helpful, because I've been having a little crisis of confidence. We also discussed my career options, and he gave me some good advice.

Unfortunately, things are not going as well for Moxie. Her leaves look fine, but she's lost all but two blooms. Too much water? Not enough? Does she need fertilizer? I've heard they bloom nine months and rest three. Is it resting time? Oh, poor Moxie. I just hope my brown thumb hasn't struck again.

Mom called recently to alert me that a care package was coming "for Easter and also to give you a chocolate fix." Music to my ears! Then on Friday the package arrived. Inside were four boxes of Thin Mints (!), two bags of jelly beans, four Cadbury Eggs, five Milky Way eggs, twenty peeps in pink and yellow, three books and a DVD set of Snowy River: The MacGregor Saga.

My family has a fondness for The Man from Snowy River (photo at left stolen from the internet). It's a 1982 Australian Western based on a poem by Banjo Paterson wherein a really valuable horse is lost, and it's fallen in with wild horses. All the mountain horsemen gather to find it, including a teenager (Jim Craig) on a scrubby mountain horse. At first they don't want him to come, but they let him, and he's the only one brave enough to chase the horses straight down the steep face of the mountain. He brings back the horses on his own.

The movie features Kirk Douglas in a dual role, a love plot, beautiful cinematography, and fabulous music, which was used as the music for the recent Olympics in Australia. Sometimes it plays like a cheesy made-for-TV movie, but sometimes it's just...awesome. The love I have for the movie is a nostalgic love, born of the many times my family watched it with our friends the Van Arkels. One of the girls once commented that she's looking for her own Jim Craig. It's short hand for a smart, reasonably sensitive, yet tough-and-outdoorsy guy. Amen, sister.

In the TV version, the rider's name was Jim MacGregor. The action takes place twenty years after the big ride, and centers around his life with his family and other people around town, including a young Hugh Jackman. It's a cute show and adds to my depleted DVD collection.

As for the junk food, I was thrilled and proceeded to give myself a tummy ache. I quickly stored the rest in a plastic bin in my closet (out of sight, out of mind). The next day, I worked out for an hour to burn off the extra thousand pure-sugar calories I ate. Now I'm trying to ration it sensibly. Warming a Peep in the microwave, then eating it between two Thin Mints is sensible, right? Thanks, Mom and Dad, for yummy Easter candy goodness!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spring Break, WOOO!

(At left, two dead blossoms I trimmed from Moxie)

Spring Break, woo?

I admit, I've had a love-hate relationship with this Spring Break. I wanted to visit my family, but plane tickets were in the $900 range. I wanted to visit my friends in NYC, but we're all playing phone tag. Everyone I know here is out of town for vacation. The weather's not nice enough to be worth the hour-long bus ride to Virginia Beach (It's only half an hour by car). I also realized I have 54 three-page papers to grade and reading to do. My vacation suddenly seems a lot shorter!

I spent the weekend recharging and being quite lazy. I ordered Chinese food for the first time in many months (Restaurant food isn't generally in my budget.) and proceeded to eat portions of it for the next five lunches and suppers. It was awesome. I also watched 300 and had a Veronica Mars marathon. I've come to love the television series so much that it's one of the few things I've replaced, post-burglary. Luckily, had an amazing discount. Humor and teen-angst film-noir style? Yes, please.

Yesterday, I ran out of fresh fruit, veggies and Chinese leftovers, so I strapped on my backpack and hiked over to the grocery store in Ghent. I've been told Ghent is Norfolk's answer to the Village in NYC. Well, there are some ethnic restaurants, bourgeois (read expensive and fancy) grocery stores, a theater, and an art-house movie theater, but that's where the similarities end.

On the walk back, I realized why walking here creeps me out in a way that it never did in Des Moines, Storm Lake, Sevilla, Harlem, Spanish Harlem or the Bronx. I live pretty close to the university and fifteen minutes from Ghent. My apartment is in a "transitioning" neighborhood, surrounded by a mixture of student housing, low-income housing and family housing. The thing is, the buildings are widely spaced, but there are lots of fences and trees blocking sight-lines. Between my neighborhood and Ghent is an industrial district. In other words, there are all these areas where bad things could happen without witnesses. It also bothers me that as a strong, independent woman, I still have to think about these things. I hate feeling afraid just to walk around.

In my Harlem neighborhood, there were lots of weird guys loitering in front of the liquor store at all times, but they didn't make me nervous the way the loitering guys here do. These guys just stand there, alone or in clumps, all day long. At first I thought they were really bad at being homeless. (Skillful homelessness is done either in high-traffic areas with lots of opportunities for donations or in areas that provide lots of shelter from the elements.) Then I thought they were residents of the local Christian housing unit that doesn't allow alcohol or cigarettes. Perhaps they were just out on the street where they could enjoy a beer and a cigarette and occasionally run into friends. Last week, though, one of them just stood out there in the rain all day long facing the gas station on the corner. Say what?

Now I suspect it's drug-related. You see, quite often, a car is parked at that gas station, and people are always getting in and out of the backseat of that car. When the car isn't there, a cop car usually is. So there's a drug-ring on the corner that the cops are really unsuccessfully trying to stop. Fabulous. (There were dealers in NYC-- and Iowa-- but they always worked really hard to be subtle!) On the plus side, I've always been polite to the standing-around-guys, so they're friendly to me. I feel it's always better for the neighborhood criminals to have vaguely-positive feelings toward you.

When I got to the apartment, I tried cooking stir-fry for the first time. Before I broke down and ordered Chinese food, I'd been craving Thai. I don't know if any of the local Thai restaurants even deliver. Anyway, I wanted to learn to make some myself, so I bought some peanut sauce. Yesterday, I finally got the chance to use it. I found a recipe online. It actually would have allowed me to make my own peanut sauce, but using the stuff from the bottle was easier (not to mention comparably priced and probably spicier). Yum! It tasted so fresh and less fatty than restaurant Thai food. Here's the recipe from, including the make-your-own-sauce. Enjoy, my friends!


2 whole chicken breasts, skinned, boned & cut into bite-size pieces (I suggest slicing before it thaws completely. It's easier.)
1/2 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. water
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
3 to 4 c. sliced broccoli or spinach

In a small bowl, blend peanut butter, water, soy sauce and sugar; set aside. In a wok or large skillet, heat oil over high heat. Add garlic and pepper; stir-fry 30 seconds. Add chicken, stir-fry until firm and white, about 5 minutes. Add broccoli or spinach, stir-fry until bright green, about 3 minutes. Stir in peanut butter mixture. (If you use the bottled kind, just drizzle it on to taste. I used half of an 11-oz. bottle.) Cook, stirring constantly until sauce is smooth, about 3 minutes. Serves 4. (I served mine on a bed of spaghetti noodles. Rice would also work well.)

It's quick, easy and tasty. Enjoy!