Sunday, January 31, 2010

Images of a Saturday

This is what Jasper and I saw when we walked outside this morning. Two days ago I was running laps in a short-sleeved shirt and no jacket.

Nope, not done yet. I decided last night that Albert, the "houseguest" who has been cluttering up my freezer for the past two months, needed to get cooked today to make room in the freezer (things were falling out every time I opened the door). I can't eat stuffing anymore, so I decided to stuff him with onions. I also coated his outside in a thin layer of olive oil, pepper, and garlic. I don't own a cooking dish large enough to hold a turkey, so he got cooked on a cookie sheet. I drained some of the drippings midway through his cooking, and it worked out well, with no spills in the oven.

View of the wretched snow from the conservatory. At the time of writing this post, we now have about a foot of it. Church will probably not happen tomorrow, since Virginians are terrified of snow.

This week's reading, with the exception of the large volume on the bottom of the stack (I just used that to look something up). No, I'm not kidding; grad school is murder (but strangely exhilarating at the same time).

Dismayed by the weather today, Jasper found solace in cuddling with his bedtime companion, "Spidey".

Nothing like some scented candles and a good jigsaw puzzle when you're snowed in, sick, and tired of reading about Napoleon. The atmosphere was made all the more pleasant by a stack of my favorite records, including my "Bullwinkle and Rocky" record.

Jasper kept gazing out the window, clearly perplexed by the return of that white stuff.

A lovely and delicious turkey, and it only took an hour longer than I had expected (Albert was a stubborn bird). The outside was nice and crunchy, while the inside was mouth-wateringly moist. The onions that I stuffed him with gave excellent flavor to the meat.

Now a large portion of the turkey has been turned into a delicious turkey noodle soup (even better than Mom's version), which will feed me for the rest of the week. It's the perfect thing for a sore throat. I mixed eight cups of water with a heaping tablespoon and a half of chicken soup base, added the drippings from the turkey, whole wheat noodles, and all of the dark meat. I also stirred in a finely minced white onion, some finely minced celery, chervil, black pepper, and several finely chopped shallots. The result is a soothing and heavenly soup that is still healthy.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Cough, Cough, Hack, Hack - Gee, I Want My Wellness Back!

WARNING! If you are in the middle of consuming anything edible and wish to continue doing so, read this post later rather than right now.

Okay, just remember, you chose to keep reading. Don't try to say that I didn't warn you!

Ever since Wednesday's PT, I have been coughing like a chain smoker. At first I thought it was just from running, but soon my coughs developed that unpleasant aftertaste that usually indicates something equally unpleasant developing in the throat. Yesterday, I entertained myself by trying to figure out what shapes the white splotches on my throat resembled (you know, like normal people do with clouds). Today, I'm hacking up green and yellow globs, coughing worse than a chain smoker, and starting to sound a bit like Bette Davis again. My throaty laugh might be considered sexy if it weren't followed each time by yet another spasm of rib-shaking coughs. My nose is leaking more prodigiously than an infant child, and my chest feels like there's an obese Clydesdale standing on it. My sinuses are like overinflated balloons. This does not bode well for my weekend.

I have been trying to write my latest paper, but it gets a bit tedious having to clean my computer screen after each coughing or sneezing fit (yuck). Why do illnesses always have to include so much flying liquid (or, in some cases, semi-solids)? I actually considered tying a bandana around my lower face to catch it all, but then realized that would mean that I would have to breathe through all that nastiness. I'm surprised that no entrepreneurs have tried to figure out how to power a car with all this nasty gunk; sick people could make a fortune off it and use the money to pay their medical expenses, thereby eliminating the need for insurance and solving the healthcare crisis. Yes, being sick certainly does put some interesting thoughts into my head . . .

But wait, I'm not sick. After all, that's what I've been saying since Wednesday. I'm not sick, I can't be sick, there is no time to be sick, thus, I refuse to be sick. Funny, you'd think denial would work. And I really have been desperately trying to treat my symptoms with denial. Denial is cheap, readily available, and comes in much better flavors than cough syrup. Unfortunately, I seem to have caught a denial-resistant strain of this whatever-it-is. Moreover, this whatever-it-is seems to thrive on heavy workloads: the more I read, write, or try to work out, the worse I feel. Bed beckons welcomingly, but instead I keep ingesting more denial, futilely hoping that this illness will get the message and go infect someone more deserving, like a terrorist or a politician.

On the bright side, my area has a snowstorm predicted for this weekend. Virginians, like most southerners, are mortally terrified of snowflakes. With luck, the snowstorm will cancel class for Monday, and I'll get extra time for all this reading, and a one-day reprieve on my latest paper. Maybe I could even try that thing where you place your body in a relaxed position on a bed and close your eyes . . . sleeping, I think they call it. I think I remember doing that before I resumed grad school. Knowing my luck, however, I can't count on the snow helping me out. Snow is a duplicitous creature; it promises to come when you need it, then holds off and doesn't pay a visit until you really don't want it.

Well, time to get back to reading about Napoleon. I've been spending so much time with him lately that we're developing quite a relationship. Already he's proven a more engaging and supportive companion than my last boyfriend (yes, I have demonstrated very poor taste in men in the past). I wonder if he knows of any good treatments for colds . . . well, considering he tried to invade Russia in the wintertime with hardly any supplies, I guess Napoleon is not the man to ask for health advice.

First PT (dum da dum dum)

Yesterday, dark and early at 0500, I was bleary-eyed and pouring my orange juice, while Jasper continued to sleep in his nice, warm bed. He perked up a bit at the sound of the toaster, and finally roused himself, clearly still annoyed at me for insisting on getting up so early. I pulled on my new PT uniform, downed my toast, and at 0540, I was out the door and on my way to PT.

The instructions were to meet outside the Vines Center, and to be sure to wear our reflective belts. The unlucky people who did not have their belts were given "something else to do;" which, I have feeling, was probably not something fun. The rest of us got our proverbial (and literal) butts kicked by a mega work-out.

I knew that I am still not in tiptop Army shape, but I had sort of assumed (never assume!) that the first PT wouldn't be too tough since they would want to ease us in a bit. Foolish Stephanie! I did very well at the 30 jumping jacks (which we apparently do not refer to by that name, but I can't recall what we do call them in the Army), moderately well at the wall-climbing exercise, and fantastic at the stretches. By this time, I felt confident that I would do all right. Then . . . it was time to run.

I am not a runner. I have never been a runner. I desperately wish that I could be a runner, but every time I see those people dressed in ridiculous costumes running for fun, I find myself unable to comprehend how any human being can possibly get any enjoyment out heavy breathing, chest pains, side cramps, and leg cramps. I pray to God that I could get some small measure of enjoyment from running, or at least not hate it, but that's one prayer that has yet to be answered. I ran the best that I could, at first doing pretty well staying in formation. There was no way that I could call out cadence with everyone else (breathing was more important to me), but my feet managed to keep moving at the same speed as everyone else.

Eventually, unfortunately, my body couldn't do it anymore. I had a horrible side cramp, my lungs felt like they were being roasted on a spit, and I kept having to battle to keep from becoming reacquainted with my toast and orange juice. Breathing was a futile struggle. I had to break ranks and walk the majority of the remaining distance, although I did manage to jog again at the end. I was humiliated, but at least the other cadets were really nice about it. One girl stayed back with me when I had to walk and kept encouraging me to keep going.

I've decided to now start trying to run or jog laps around the apartment complex every morning, so that next PT, I can stay in formation the entire time. On the bright side, although I am definitely the slowest cadet, at least I managed to finish yesterday. And, I keep my outlook positive by reminding myself that I stand a good chance of earning recognition for being "most improved" at the end of the semester!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Worst Night - Epilogue

The good news is, after a few hurried hours of diligent work and a great deal of frustration, I managed to finish my paper, and even got to go to bed at 6:00 am. The bad news is, my upstairs neighbors picked that time to do aerobics with their elephant, so I only managed to snatch less than two hours of sleep. I honestly have no idea as to what, besides an elephant, could make the amount of booming noise that I heard down here. I'm hoping to catch a little catnap this afternoon, but with my current luck, the upstairs neighbors and their elephant probably have a few rounds of leapfrog scheduled for then.

Although he's still unhappy (probably mostly due to having to sleep in the bathroom), Jasper seems better now, with no further incidents of diarrhea. I'll probably still stick him in the bathroom today while I'm gone, just to play it safe.

I just hope I can keep from getting a migraine from my lack of sleep today.

The Worst Night

Tonight has been horrible. Absolutely horrible.

It started off innocently enough. Classes went well, ending at about 9:30 pm, which is ten minutes early. I hit the library quickly, then picked up groceries for the week, then came home at last. An unhappy little dog greeted me, but I assumed his mood was simply owing to loneliness (I had been gone since shortly after three).

After brewing some coffee, I sat down to finish writing my review of arguably the worst book I have ever read: a postmodern feminist's revisionist opinion of women's involvement in society during the French Revolution. I have both a paper and a presentation due on this horrid creation, and I knew I would be up late trying to figure out what the heck I just spent the last week reading (no kidding - I honestly cannot understand most of what this woman wrote). Then I smelled something horrible . . .

Yes, my dear little Jasper has been a sick boy tonight (well, technically this morning). He had putrid explosive diarrhea, which he managed to get all over the carpet in both the dining room and living room. In addition, a large quantity of it was coating his behind. I immediately shoved Jasper into the bathroom and closed the door. Then, I tackled the carpet.

From the hours of experience that I gained through scrubbing my carpet, I can recommend the following for cleaning up dog diarrhea: First, spray the area with Scrubbing Bubbles (I used to use this to clean carpet stains in college and have found that it is quite safe, although Fantastic is actually better), then let it sit for about a minute. Then carefully wipe away as much of the liquid doggy poo as you can. Next, pour some Dawn dish soap into a bucket. Add some Mr. Clean with Febreeze cleaner (this both cleans and deodorizes, and is safe for all surfaces - I use it to mop my floors normally), then pour in a small amount of hot water. Next, pull on rubber gloves. Grab two dish clothes that you don't mind throwing away. Then, proceed to spend the next few hours scrubbing carefully and thoroughly, locating all the spots on the carpet that the dog managed to hit. Follow up this procedure by spraying fabric deodorizer over the entire carpet. For the record, the smell will continue to linger long after cleaning.

After taking care of the carpet, I dealt with Jasper (I know this may sound a bit cruel, but the smell was so nauseating that it had to be dealt with first). During his internment in the bathroom, he had had another round of diarrhea, so the floor in there was nicely coated, and the rug was ruined (there is just no way to get that amount of staining off). I stuck Jasper in the bathtub, then cleaned up the floor to the best of my ability. After I was safe from the danger of stepping in anything horrendously disgusting, I gave Jasper's behind an intense scrubbing, then followed it by giving him a bath. After drying him most of the way with the hairdryer, I stuck him back in the bathroom, where he will be spending the night. He's terribly unhappy there, but I can't risk him having another accident on the carpet. I don't want him to ruin his beloved bed either, so I stuck one of his towels in there for him to sleep on (I know it may get ruined with more diarrhea, but I just can't force a sick dog to sleep on a cold tile floor). I also put in a bone and two toys, in case he starts feeling better, as well as his food and water. He just now stopped crying, so maybe he has fallen asleep. If he's still ill tomorrow, I'll call his vet for advice.

Now that nearly four hours of time have been snatched away from me, I still have to finish my paper, prepare my presentation, and then make it to Liberty in the late morning to pick up my ROTC equipment and get help with some paperwork. A few hours after that, I'll have two classes, with a one hour gap in-between them. In other words, there is no way that I can get any sleep at all tonight - I'm going to have to pull an all-nighter. I've got coffee and No-Doze pills, so I should be able to make it until this evening, when I plan to collapse into bed at a very early hour. I don't know how people manage to raise children and attend grad school at the same time - having a dog is work enough!

Report: First "No-Poo" Attempt

Today, for the first time, I washed my hair with baking soda and conditioned with vinegar. I had been warned that hair has an adjustment period of about two weeks, during which it tends to be a bit oilier. This, however, is not the case for me. My hair is shinier than ever, full of volume (which, actually, it really didn't need help with since it is so full), bouncy, and (gasp) manageable for a change! I am really impressed. It felt odd to rub in the baking soda mixture, and the lack of a lather bothered me a little (I worried that my hair would turn out limp and dingy), but the result is really nice. So, I am sticking with this switch! I'm planning to get my hair cut a little shorter this week, in order to get rid of split ends and lessen my styling time each day, so I'll probably post some pictures after that. We'll see how this continues to work. So far, I am happy!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Danger - Cleaning Products!

While cleaning today, I just happened to glance at the instructions on the product I was about to use, and then proceeded to scare the daylights out of my dog with the resulting burst of laughter. What caused this ruckus? The safety information, of course! That made me check a few more products . . .

On the back of Bowl Fresh automatic toilet cleaner:
"Safe to use around pets and children, although it is not recommended that either be permitted to drink from toilet."
--Seriously? You mean it's not healthy to let my kid drink out of the toilet? Also, note that it says "not recommended" - implying that it's okay, just not recommended.

On the back of the Clorox Toilet Wand package:
"Not for personal use."
--Because I'm sure that many people buy a toilet brush intending to use it to reach those hard-to-reach spots on their back when they're showering.

On the back of my Lysol disinfectant:
"Do not spray in eyes."
--Well how else am I going to kill those nasty germs on my cornea??

On my Swiffer Sweeper (the actual sweeper, not the pads):
"Keep out of reach of children and pets to avoid accidental ingestion."
--I would really like to see a child able to swallow an entire broom. That would indeed be impressive. What are people feeding these kids?!

On the back of a box of off-brand disposable dusters:
"Do not ingest."
--But dusters are so temptingly tasty with just a little mayo!

On the back of my toothpaste:
"Intentional misuse by deliberately concentrating and inhaling the contents can be harmful or fatal. It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling."
--Okay, I realize that one is not terribly comical. But can't you just picture some dumb, desperate kid sniffing and sniffing for hours trying to get high off of toothpaste, and then keeling over and having to be taken to the hospital? Imagine the poor doctor trying to keep a straight face while treating the kid! And, not only would the kid be thoroughly stupid; he would also have broken federal law!

Just think, they actually have to put these warnings on products because of real people. And these real people have the ability to drive, vote, and bear arms (and bear children...shudder!). Anyone else feeling a little frightened?

The Great "No-poo" Experiment

No, I am not trying out new ways to either attain or resist constipation. I have a diet rich in fiber and vegetables, so . . . okay, we're just not even going to discuss that topic (sorry Aunt Diane, I know that opening got your hopes up).

Actually, "no-poo" refers to no shampoo. For the past year, I have wanted to try the experiment of making my own products for my hair. No, I do not have secret aspirations to be a smelly hippie. I actually have a couple of very good reasons for wanting to try this:

1. My hair is extremely thick and difficult to manage. Previously, I used spiral perms as the solution - having curls meant that I could just coat my hair in a few layers of mousse each day, and took away any need for heat styling, which can damage hair. My last spiral perm, however, was poorly done and damaged my hair, while also increasing its frizziness.
2. In addition to frizziness, my hair is also plagued by split ends. I can get them within less than a week of getting my hair trimmed! I kept hearing and reading about how damaging shampoo really is to hair, and the amount of split ends seemed to attest to that.
3. Hair products are so blasted expensive! I can't use any of the cheap shampoos and conditioners anymore, as ALL of them (and believe me, I've tried them all) make my hair dry and even more unmanageable. So, I keep having to buy the expensive salon brands. Something in me balks and shudders at the thought of paying twelve dollars for a bottle of shampoo.
4. I kept hearing about great results from friends who decided to stop buying shampoos and conditioners, and instead made their own from natural products. Not only have friends of mine been reporting vast improvement to their hair, they are also saving a lot of money each month.

So, I have decided to take the plunge at last. I looked over several different options, and the one that seems to get the most success (and is the simplest to do) is this one:

For washing hair - Mix one tablespoon of baking soda into half a cup of water, then massage this into your scalp and the roots of your hair. Baking soda, as we all know, is used in pretty much all deodorizers and many cleaning supplies, so it makes sense that it would do a thorough job cleaning the scalp. This treatment is supposed to be done about two or three times per week. According to a few different websites that I have checked, this treatment not only cleans and deodorizes well, it also stimulates hair growth. I don't know yet from experience how reliable that claim is, but I will find out soon.

For conditioning hair - Mix one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into one cup of water, and pour it over your hair. Let it work for a few minutes, then rinse the hair thoroughly.

In addition, since I like to have my hair smell pretty, I found a few different recipes for leave-in conditioner which use essential oils. I found a website where I was able to order a couple of essential oils for only a few dollars each. In place of mousse and other styling products, I will be using coconut oil, which several people have recommended to me.

I'll be posting regularly on how this experiment works for me, for those who may want to also try it. In addition, if you would like to know more, I recommend reading one of my favorite websites for DIY projects, Instructables.

I am also planning to experiment with homemade deodorant, which a few friends have tried and found success with. There's nothing wrong with the stuff that I normally use; I just think it would be fun to try making my own, plus it comes out cheaper. A few of my friends swear that the homemade stuff actually works better than store-bought. Since I still have plenty of store-bought deodorant left, I'm going to finish using what I have before trying homemade. I'll probably be starting that experiment in about a month, so I'll post more about that later.

In honor of my new "projects," I am adding another post label: DIY Experiments. So, in the future, if you want to view only posts about different homemade product attempts that I have done, just click on the DIY Experiments link under the "Posts by Topic" heading on my sidebar.

The Cacophony Upstairs

For the most part, I have very quiet, conscientious neighbors. One person a few apartments down has kids that get a little excited during the day sometimes, but the only time I can hear them is when they're going outside, so they really aren't a bother. Then, the other day, the new people upstairs moved in . . .

From the noise upstairs, I have been able to draw a few conclusions:
A. These people are professional tumblers from the circus.
B. They have moved in with their very own elephant, which they are currently teaching to tap dance.
C. He's a bit clumsy though, so they are having little success in this pursuit.
D. The elephant got lonely, so they bought a few yippy dogs for him to play with.

It is really hard to focus on a poorly written assessment of women in the public sphere during the French Revolution when you are constantly jolted away from reading by the ceiling sounding like it's about to cave in. Poor Jasper is a nervous wreck, alternating between growling "ferociously" and hiding in the recliner (the one he hides his bones in - I'm guessing he hides there in an effort to protect his treasures as much as for his own protection).

I'm really hoping that all this noise will cease once these people finish moving in. If not, I may just shoot their elephant!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Slowly, but Surely Getting Fitter

Yesterday, I managed to do 96 sit-ups (not in two minutes, though) and 7 push-ups (without touching my chest to the ground). It's not happening overnight, but I am definitely getting into much better shape. So confident am I about my fitness regime, that I decided to sign up for a 5K run on February 20th. It's being hosted by Liberty, and one of my cadres emailed me about the opportunity, since several cadets will be doing it. I figured that at the rate I'm going, I should be able to run two miles of it and walk the remaining mile by then - or who knows, maybe I'll actually be able to run a full three miles by then.

My appointment to get my body fat measured was postponed until next Wednesday (praise God!), so I have a few more days to get my measurements down more. I have been doing some form of workout almost every day. Last night, I decided to sign up for the Presidential Fitness Challenge to further motivate myself (it's something you can do individually, and it only lasts for six weeks - at the end, you get a certificate).

I am noticing quite a few changes in my body now that I have been living differently for almost three weeks:
1. The protruding tummy is pretty much gone.
2. My upper legs don't jiggle merrily as I walk; rather, they and my lower legs are becoming hard and solid.
3. I have higher endurance, able now to push myself much more.
4. I can concentrate better.
5. My upper body is much stronger - four weeks ago, I couldn't do more than one push-up without my chest touching the ground in-between. Now I am up to seven.
6. My moods, even in the midst of stress, are brighter and more optimistic.
7. I sleep better.
8. My appetite is smaller.
9. I have no cravings for soda - in fact, I hardly drink it anymore.
10. Still no migraines yet in 2010!!!!!!! This is the longest I have gone without a migraine since the age of 12, when I first started getting the dreadful things.

So, maybe a few other people should take a cue and hop on the fitness bandwagon! It is well-worth any sacrifice, and is certainly also worth the work. Just remember, you get out of it what you put into it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Exhausted Already?

I have to say, this heavy graduate workload is already taking its toll! Three books to read, three book reviews to write, and a presentation to prepare . . . all by Tuesday. On top of that, there's all the working out to get in proper army shape. In the name of sanity, I have decided to make it an early night tonight. I'm going to splurge and have a "forbidden" bowl of popcorn (I know, I know, not on the Sugar Busters diet, but honestly, I need a reward), watch a little TV online, and then go to bed by 9:00. No, 8:30. Maybe 8:00. Sheesh, I really am completely whipped!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Spinach and Artichoke Soup

Today, sadly, is a cold, rainy, unpleasant day. I had originally planned to make a chicken caesar salad for my lunch, but after experiencing a bit of that weather on my way back from Liberty earlier today, I knew it was a soup day. And not just any soup would do; I wanted something creamy and comforting. A glance into my cupboard inspired me - there, I saw three cans of artichoke hearts that I had purchased the last time I bought groceries. The resulting creation was too delicious to keep to myself, so I'm sharing the recipe here:

Stephanie's Spinach and Artichoke Soup

4 tablespoons reduced-fat butter
1/4 cup olive oil
2 small white onions
1 heaping tablespoon minced garlic
Three cans artichoke hearts
5 cups fat free milk
3 1/2 tablespoons chicken soup base
1 heaping tablespoon chervil leaf (you can use parsley if you don't have chervil - I like chervil better than parsley)
1 teaspoon garlic and herb seasoning (I used McCormick "Perfect Pinch" Garlic & Herb Seasoning)
2 cups fresh spinach leaves (baby spinach is always the best fresh spinach)
2 cups 2% mozzarella cheese
8 oz fat free sour cream
2 heaping tablespoons whole wheat flour
3/4 cup water
Grated parmesan-romano cheese

In a large pot, place the butter and the olive oil. Cook over medium-high heat. While the butter is melting, finely chop both of the onions (I used my electric chopper). As soon as the butter has melted, stir in the onions and the minced garlic. While the onions and garlic are cooking, finely chop the artichoke hearts. Once they're chopped, add them to the mixture. Give the onions, garlic, and artichoke hearts a couple of minutes to cook together in the butter and oil mixture. Next, add the milk and the chicken soup base (you'll want to turn down the heat to medium at this point). Stir the mixture well, then add in the seasoning and chervil. While all this is cooking together, pulverize the spinach leaves in an electric chopper, then add them and stir well. Allow the soup to come to a low boil, then stir in the cheese and the sour cream. Let it cook for about five or six minutes. While this is going on, stir the flour into the water, then add to the soup. Turn the heat down to medium low and let the soup cook for another five to six minutes. When you serve the soup, put a few pinches of the grated parmesan-romano cheese on top.

This soup is rich and creamy, but not too fattening (since I use olive oil rather than lots of butter, you get a little bit of the flavor needed from butter, but with the benefit of the omega-3s and mono-unsaturated fat from olive oil; the bulk of the fat comes from the cheese, which is not terribly high in fat since it is made from 2% milk). This soup is rich in vitamins from the vegetables, has high calcium and protein from the milk and cheese, and is very filling. I expect to get about six to eight meals out of it; maybe more if I use half a bowl as an appetizer for a few meals. It would go very well with some sourdough bread, which, unfortunately, I cannot have.

Bon appetite!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

An Unfortunate Choice of Late-Night Activity

Staying up really late to write papers is not a good idea for me. I was up until four getting my first paper written for Dr. Saxon so that I can have him look it over today and tell me what I need to improve. Unfortunately, that put the subject matter at the front of my mind when I finally went to bed. As a result, I dreamed that I was involved in Napoleon's disastrous 1812 campaign against Russia. Thankfully I woke up just before I could eat the raw horsemeat I had fought six other soldiers for.

Day One of Being a Student Again

Having had three years away from the hallowed halls of academia, I was justifiably nervous about going back to grad school. I worried about being the stupidest person in class (particularly after I started getting into my assigned reading), or about getting a two-year bout of writers' block, and a whole list of other less significant concerns. Today was the first day back, and last night, I barely slept at all!

I really needn't have worried so much. Yes, the work load seems ridiculously overwhelming, and yes, I have no idea how I'll ever manage to do it all AND get in shape for the army, but at the same time, I know that I am where I should be. And, nearly as importantly, I am where I want to be. This for me is bliss, sitting in classrooms with people who actually appreciate rather than mock the things that fascinate me. Being able to indulge in deeper conversations about topics that most people, honestly, have never even heard of. Having brilliant professors with years of experience in the field and multiple publications, who believe that I am worth investing their time and talents in. This is my Shangri-La.

Tonight went well. My first class, Modern European Military History, was with my favorite professor and mentor, Dr. Saxon. I knew he was going to aim some difficult questions at me, and sure enough, he did. I drew a blank on the first one, but when he questioned me on the reading, I was able to redeem myself. Our assigned reading for the week was the first three chapters of Townshend's Oxford History of Modern War, which, I am sorry to say, is not very interesting reading, and Jakob Walter's memoirs Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier, which was so riveting that I was unable to put it down and wound up staying awake until nearly three in the morning (two days ago) reading it. The memoirs covered Walter's experiences serving as a private in three of Napoleon's campaigns (1806, 1809, and 1812). The 1812 campaign was the disastrous attempt to take over Russia, during which 600,000 troops went to Russia and only 25,000 returned. Most starved or froze to death, rather than being killed by the Russians. Walter's account tells of using dead bodies to sit on by the fire at night (to keep from freezing), eating such things as cow entrails or congealed horse blood because there was nothing else, and being constantly tormented by thousands of lice. Considering how desperate the men were for food, there is no doubt in my mind (nor Dr. Saxon's, when I asked him) that cannibalism also took place, although Walter does not mention it (but then, since the memoirs were written for his family, it is unlikely that he would have).

My other class tonight was Historical Methods, with Dr. Melton, whom I never before had the chance to take. I learned tonight just what I missed by never taking any of his classes - he is a terrific professor! His lesson was engaging, humorous, and highly applicable to all of us in the class. His requirements for the class are tough, but reasonable. I am really excited about having his class this semester, even though methodology classes are, by and large, quite dull. I think Dr. Melton is creative enough that he will make this the exception to that rule. I only wish that we had class more often than just once a week!

Tomorrow I have my remaining history class, Reading Seminar in Modern European History, and my first ROTC class. My reading seminar looks promising, although the reading for the class is arduous. I still haven't quite finished Cosmopolis, so that will be how I spend the early part of my day. Too bad I can't just put it under my pillow and learn the material through osmosis!

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Great Light Study Snack

Tonight I stumbled upon a delicious, healthy, and simple little snack that really blends nicely with studying. Although I had tasty zucchini lasagna for dinner, two hours later, I felt the need for a light snack that would not derail my health plans. And, after giving the matter some thought, inspiration struck!

Since carbs give energy, and I do have a fair amount of studying left to do tonight, I wanted something with some good whole wheat flour in it. Naturally, I thought of the delicious bread in my refrigerator (I keep it there because it lasts longer and maintains better flavor). Since switching to the Sugar Busters lifestyle, I have a new bread in my life: Nature's Own Double Fiber Wheat bread. It contains five grams of fiber per slice, yet only thirteen grams of carbs per slice (excess carbs convert to sugar, which turns to fat, so it's a good idea to keep carbs low after about 5:00 in the evening). In addition, there are only fifty calories per slice and less than one gram of sugar.

Now a slice or two of plain bread would have been too boring for a study snack. And the idea of toast just didn't seem to excite me either. Instead, I poured a little bit of olive oil in a skillet, then cooked two slices of bread until they were an attractive golden brown on each side. Then I sprinkled about 1/8 of a teaspoon of Splenda on each slice. Since my body is no longer accustomed to sugary treats, my lightly sweetened bread tasted like a very pleasant desert, with none of the guilt. I served it with a piping hot cup of my current favorite tea: Celestial Seasonings "Perfectly Pear" white tea.

Not only was my snack delicious, it was also extremely healthy. In that one snack, I got ten grams of fiber, which aids in weight loss (my Aunt Diane would be delighted to know that it also gives tremendous gas to people unaccustomed to a high-fiber diet), as well as a healthy dose of Omega-3s (both from the bread and from the olive oil). My snack had very little sugar (under two grams), gave a small dose of carbs (which perked me right up), and also got another eight ounces of water into me (from the tea). Now I can resume studying with vigor, rather than with a belly bloated from an unfortunate snack choice.

I had a lot of fun with my new Sugar Busters cookbook yesterday. I made the Cheese and Green Chillies Quiche for lunch (the remainder of which was breakfast today) and then the Chesapeake Crab Cakes, along with homemade salsa, for dinner (the leftovers will be a nice meal later this week). Tomorrow, which is my first day of classes, I plan to have the Tarragon Chicken Salad for my lunch. I'm eating so well that it's hard to believe it's all healthy!

Mondays are going to be interesting for me this semester. The way my classes are scheduled, I have Modern European Military History from 4:00 to 6:45, and then Historical Methods from 7:00 until 9:40. In order to park in a space within sight of the building, I'll have to get there by 3:30. That means that dinner on Mondays will have to be something portable that can be eaten in fifteen minutes, and I'll probably want to pack a light snack as well. The rest of the week will be much easier.

Well, time for my copy of the Oxford History of Modern War and I to head on down to the gym!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Jasper's Latest Escapades

My dog is odd. Not just odd in the normal quirky way of many other dogs, but downright, beyond-belief, odd. As a puppy, he enjoyed wearing boxes on his head. He got stuck inside of an empty cereal box, a decorative pot, and a boot as a puppy. His favorite toy as a puppy was a plastic spoon. He pulled out his own stitches after getting "fixed". He plays soccer and even fetch by himself - no human assistance necessary. He loves to eat vegetables more than meat. He has staring contests with a stuffed monkey, or with humans. He loves to play with empty water bottles. He climbs inside of open cabinets. He sleeps with a stuffed spider. He uses my recliner as a hiding place for all of his bones. He is ODD!

The other night, I was sitting on the floor studying. I got up to get a cup of tea, and left my books unattended. When I came back, this is what I saw:

Jasper had selected this book as the perfect snuggle buddy. He was rolling back and forth with it, happy as can be. He had no interest in chewing the book, surprisingly. Nevertheless, I took it away after I grabbed the camera and took a few shots. I have to keep my camera in a very easily accessible place owing to the crazy antics of this little boy!

Today, Jasper really topped himself. Ever since I moved in to this new apartment, Jasper has been fascinated by my washer and dryer. He likes to sit and watch the clothes go around and around. I thought that was pretty cute, and snapped a picture of him doing it. Then I set the camera down and took the load of clothes out of the dryer and into the bedroom. When I returned, and went to put the next load into the dryer, look what I found:

Yes, a sock had been inadvertently left behind, and "Jasper the Wonder Pup" had gone to its rescue. Unfortunately, our hero could not figure out how to get himself back out of the dryer, and required assistance. Naturally, I had to photograph him before I could let him go, as I knew people would doubt this story without photographic evidence!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Three Surprises in One Evening

This evening, I was treated to not one, but three terrific surprises. Oh, and one big accomplishment.

I went down to the gym to work out and weigh myself late this evening. I was delighted to discover that I have lost another three pounds (that was surprise #1). That's nine pounds off since January 3rd! My Sugar Busters eating style and regular work-outs are paying off. Plus, as I noticed while doing some of my weight-lifting, my legs are getting nice and hard again. I have an appointment next week to have my body fat percentage measured to see if I am fit enough for the Virginia National Guard, so I am stepping up the work-outs. I think I'm going to start doing two per day instead of one. If I'm not in good enough shape at my appointment next week (on Wednesday, in case anyone would like to pray for me), then I will have to wait a while longer before being able to sign up for my Basic Training. Potentially, that could mean not getting a spot during the summer, in which case I would have to take a semester off from school in order to do Basic. However, I think I should be okay, since all I have to do at this point is be under 32% on my body fat measurement. As one of the officers pointed out, Basic will sweat the rest of the necessary weight off of me!

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I had a major accomplishment at the gym tonight. For the first time, I managed to do two miles on the treadmill (that should give you an idea of how bad of shape I was in before I started working out). I did one mile walking fast with the treadmill set to a high incline, and the second mile running. I am finding that it is quite easy to do some of my graduate reading while walking on the treadmill or using the exercise bike. Tonight, I decided that I needed a break from Cosmopolis, so I got started on The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier, which is pretty enjoyable so far. In case you were wondering about the vastly different topics of the two books, they are for different classes.

Surprises two and three came when I got back to my apartment, following my work-out. I picked up my mail, and found two packages waiting for me. I just ordered six more textbooks two days ago, so I was quite shocked to have two arrive so quickly. I opened the first package, wondering which textbook it would be, and was pleasantly startled to find a copy of the Sugar Busters book. The second package held an even better surprise: the Sugar Busters cookbook. A glance at the slips inside the packages revealed that my very generous parents apparently decided to further support me in my new lifestyle. I can hardly wait to try out some of the new recipes tomorrow.


Cosmopolis Has Me Buried!

With the exception of a few well-needed breaks, I have spent the entire day today working through Toulmin's Cosmopolis. For the past two hours, I have been researching the impact of the Cartesian dichotomy on 17th century philosophy. Surprisingly, I'm absorbing the material pretty well, and am actually fascinated by what I've been learning. The trouble is, I now have an insatiable itch to discuss what I've been reading and researching, and of course, no one to discuss with! Class hasn't officially started yet, and none of my close friends are big enough history nerds to know anything about this subject matter (my close friends are very intelligent people; they just have not studied this area of history). So, I keep spouting off to Jasper, who turns those large eyes on me curiously, perhaps wondering why I keep telling him about the Thirty Years War or Newton's view of the sensorium commune, rather than throwing his ball.

The trouble with Cosmopolis is, while it is very interesting to read, it is also quite heavy. Each time I put the book down for a break, I feel like I have to dig myself out just to return momentarily to present day concerns (such as eating or taking Jasper out). I have little background knowledge of the subject matter, having previously tended to avoid Descartes and Leibniz, which leaves me at a slight disadvantage that I have been battling to overcome. I just don't want to be the stupid, ill-informed one in class. Unfortunately, it feels like my brain has been soaking up so much new knowledge today that it has swollen to uncomfortable proportions. How on earth am I going to balance not one, but three classes of this magnitude?

Do all history graduate students feel like this, or am I just special?

Ah well, time to get back to work. I need to finish this book up tonight; for tomorrow, I have a date with Napoleon.

The Illegitimate Child of the Graduate School

Orientation yesterday reinforced my belief that the history MA program is looked upon by Liberty as the illegitimate child of the graduate school. I've gotten that feeling in the past, mostly because the history MA program took three years longer to start than it was supposed to, and because it still is not listed on any of the graduate school paperwork (I even had to write it in on my application). History was also not listed on the writing assessment that I took earlier this week. At orientation, every program in the graduate school was mentioned and praised/joked about. . . except for history, which never seemed to come up during the two hours of multiple speakers. I know it's a small program still, and not a big money-maker like counseling, business, or seminary, but honestly, the poor little history program is nothing to be ashamed of!

Graduate orientation was required for all incoming students. Naturally, they scheduled it for 8:00 in the morning (they were kind enough to provide coffee and breakfast, though of course I could not eat any of it owing to my special dietary restrictions). In Liberty-land, that means that if you want to park your car anywhere within sight of the building, you need to get there about 20 minutes to half an hour earlier than the start of the event. I have found that I am emphatically un-charming prior to 9:00 in the morning, so I did not anticipate making a good first impression on the other incoming history students. I really needn't have worried, as you shall soon see.

After the many speakers had filled us in on the latest developments at Liberty, some of which are pretty exciting, and after giving us a great deal of information about the special help available to graduate students (such as the graduate writing center), AND extolling us to set a good example for the little undergraduates, we were dismissed to our break-out sessions. At the break-out sessions, we were to meet with the other incoming students in our programs. Naturally, the largest exodus out of the room was the group going into counseling (seminary has even more incoming students, of course, but they were being kept in the same room we had been in). Then I saw Dr. Smith, one of the heads of the history graduate program, and ran over to him, looking forward to meeting the other incoming students in my program. . .

I am the ONLY incoming student in Liberty's history MA program this semester! So much for my concern over making a good first impression! Dr. Smith chuckled and told me that instead of meeting in the assigned room, we would just meet in his office. So, I got a much more personalized orientation than any of the other incoming graduate students. Dr. Smith and I went over my graduation plan and discussed my options (thesis vs. non-thesis track). I decided that I would like to go the thesis route, since I may want to get my doctorate someday. After that, I met Dr. Mann, the one prof I'm taking this semester whom I hadn't already met (he seems very nice) and then headed over to Dr. Saxon's office, where we had one of our very long and enjoyable history talks.

Although I still say it was unkind to schedule anything for that early in the morning (after all, all of the graduate courses are held in the afternoons and evenings), orientation reinforced the biggest reason that I chose to go back to Liberty rather than to a different school. I don't think there is any other university of that size, with that amount of available resources, where a student can expect such individualized treatment from his or her professors. I know every single professor in that history department, and am always greeted warmly whenever I stop by any of their offices. I can go in and just talk history with any of them, or I can ask for, and receive, advice or counseling from them. The three history profs that I'm taking this semester will likely kill me with the amount of reading that they have assigned, but they'll sure be nice to me while they're doing it!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

2000 vs. 2010

This is a survey that I wrote for Facebook, but I thought I would post it here as well. I had the idea the other day that it would be interesting to see the differences a decade makes. Several of my friends have now taken my survey, and the results are both enlightening and optimistic. Despite the current economic situation in our country, everyone who took this survey felt much more confident and hopeful in 2010 than they did in 2000, and each person has clearly changed for the better in those ten years. Those of you who follow my blog might want to take this survey on your own, just to see what changes have happened in your life in ten years' time.

2000 VS. 2010 SURVEY

Rules: You're supposed to answer each question twice. The first answer is what you would have answered in 2000, the other is how you are now answering in 2010. You are supposed to give careful thought to each answer. The point is to see how you have changed or stayed the same in ten years' time. The first few questions are the deep, difficult ones; the rest are more light-hearted.


1. What challenges are you facing this year?
--(2000) I was a new Christian, struggling to put the ghosts of my past behind me and manage to live a normal life. I was terrified of messing up, and embarrassed by my looks. The hardest thing, sometimes, was just getting up in the morning.
--(2010) The year has only just begun, but it has had its share of challenges already. I've moved again, started over again, and am preparing to remount the grad school "bicycle," even though I fell off the first time around. I'm working hard to get into the right shape for the army, as I will be doing ROTC on top of grad school. I'm also trying to follow a stringent new sugar-free eating plan in order to finally get the blood sugar and migraines under control (which, by the way, is working really well). So far, it's all surmountable. Not easy, but not horrible - I'm actually feeling quite good about this year.

2. What is your biggest fear?
--(2000) Failing my parents again. Actually, I had a lot of fears back then.
--(2010) I hate to admit it, but my biggest fear right now is honestly my fear that the other students in my program will all be smarter than me.

3. What are you most grateful for?
--(2000) God's gift of salvation.
--(2010) God's gift of salvation.

4. What is your biggest goal this year?
--(2000) I think my biggest goal was to get an A in English. I also wanted to lose weight.
--(2010) I want to pull straight A's and score above 60% on all of the physical tests for ROTC.

5. What will be the biggest life change for you this year?
--(2000) I think that was the year I got my wisdom teeth out, which was rather traumatic.
--(2010) I'd say joining the army is about the biggest life change I'll have this year! :0)

6. What is your favorite Bible verse?
--(2000) Proverbs 3:5-6
--(2010) Matthew 5:16 and Luke 5:13

7. Besides your parents, who do you most admire?
--(2000) Lucille Ball, Sarah Edmonds (Civil War nurse and spy), and Franklin Roosevelt
--(2010) Virginia Hall (WWII SOE and OSS agent), Deborah (from the Bible), and Sarah Edmonds

8. What do you most want to accomplish in your life?
--(2000) I wanted to be an author, wife, and mother.
--(2010) I want to be an officer in the US army, have children someday, and be a historian in one form or another.

9. Where do you see yourself in five years?
--(2000) Going to college at Evangel Christian University, majoring in English.
--(2010) An army officer with an MA in history, possibly stationed in Germany or Egypt.

10. What is your career or current job?
--(2000) High school student (sophomore, then junior) and babysitter.
--(2010) Graduate student


11. Who is your favorite actor? Favorite actress?
--(2000) My favorite actors were Desi Arnaz and Van Johnson. My favorite actresses were Lucille Ball, Ginger Rogers, and Doris Day.
--(2010) My favorite actor is Cary Grant and my favorite actresses are Olivia de Havilland and Irene Dunne.

12. What is your favorite color?
--(2000) Blue
--(2010) Yellow

13. What pets do you have?
--(2000) A lovebird named Chance, and three cockateils in succession: first Christy, then Poppy, then Oliver. I also occasionally had fish, the only one of which I can remember is Dmitri, who committed suicide later in the year (amusing story).
--(2010) A shih tzu named Jasper.

14. Who is your favorite author?
--(2000) Agatha Christie
--(2010) Jane Austin and Dorothy Sayers

15. What is your favorite TV show?
--(2000) I Love Lucy
--(2010) NCIS and Frasier

16. What type of car do you drive?
--(2000) I didn't own a car yet, but occasionally my dad forced me to drive his car (I was TERRIFIED of driving).
--(2010) I have a yellow Chevrolet Aveo5.

17. What is your favorite type of cuisine?
--(2000) Italian
--(2010) Thai and Korean

18. Do you keep a journal or diary?
--(2000) I kept a journal.
--(2010) I keep a journal and have a blog.

19. Who is your favorite singer or group?
--(2000) Avalon
--(2010) Idina Menzel and Jo Stafford

20. What is your favorite salad dressing?
--(2000) Thousand Island
--(2010) Raspberry vinaigrette, but I can't have it anymore because of the sugar.

21. What is your favorite season?
--(2000) Summer
--(2010) Autumn

22. What is your favorite holiday?
--(2000) Christmas
--(2010) Christmas

23. Name one exciting thing that you hope will happen this year.
--(2000) I had high hopes of getting asked out on a date by a boy I liked. Sadly (at the time), he barely knew of my existence.
--(2010) I'd really be excited to get an assistantship in the fall.

24. How often are you on the internet?
--(2000) My dad took away the internet because I went in a chatroom once (I was not allowed to go into them).
--(2010) I am on way too much, but I do use it for research frequently, so I guess that part is justified.

25. How often do you drink coffee? How do you take your coffee?
--(2000) I almost never drank it, but when I did, I liked it black with tons of sugar. I preferred cappuccino, actually.
--(2010) I love a good mocha with an extra shot, but I can't have them anymore because of the sugar. Instead, I have one very large cup of coffee each morning. I put in a little bit of my low-sugar International Delight creamer and two sweet n low packets.

26. What do you like on your pizza?
--(2000) Pepperoni
--(2010) I have yet to find a pizza recipe that I can eat with my new dietary restrictions. If I could eat it, I'd like it with chicken, shrimp, sweet potato, olives, tomato, corn, and bell peppers. I hate pepperoni!

27. What is your favorite sport?
--(2000) I despised sports.
--(2010) Volleyball

28. Where are you living?
--(2000) Kalamazoo, MI
--(2010) Lynchburg, VA

29. Where would you most like to take a vacation?
--(2000) Australia
--(2010) Morocco

30. How do you spend most of your time?
--(2000) Writing poetry
--(2010) Doing graduate reading and research

31. Who do you spend most of your time with?
--(2000) Duper and my parents
--(2010) Jasper, but only because classes haven't started yet and I don't know very many people here.

32. What is your favorite type of animal?
--(2000) Crocodiles
--(2010) Adele penguins and red pandas

The Writing Assessment

If a person can't write, there is no way they would be able to make it into a competitive English or history masters program at an accredited university. Thus, it is ridiculously superfluous for Liberty to force a graduate writing class on incoming students in either English or history. But, superfluous though it may be, Liberty has made that the policy. The only way to get out of the class is to take a long, exceedingly dull online writing assessment.

So, for tonight's exciting evening, this "swinging single gal" poured herself a glass of...water, pulled on a sexy pair of....fuzzy slipper socks, and indulged in a....writing assessment. There was certainly a hot time in the old town tonight! Naturally, I passed with a 98%, which means that the spring of 2010 graduate writing course will be minus one incoming grad - me!

There is another happy part to this tale: While taking the assessment, I noticed an unintentional error in the test. So, I figured if Liberty gets to waste my time making me take an unnecessary test, I get to rub it in their face that their test writer made a mistake. I gleefully set about sending an email to the correct department, letting them know that they might want to consider having someone revise that one question. Score one for Stephanie!

Apartment Photos: Part 4 (Master Bathroom)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Church Hunting: Attempt #1

Going to church alone, like going to restaurants, movies, or amusement parks alone, takes a fair amount of courage. To some people, it is akin to having the word "LOSER" tattooed across one's forehead. To me, it is normal, but is still like being whacked over the head repeatedly with a reminder that I am single and don't know anyone in town yet. In other words, it's not something that I enjoy. But, I do need to be spiritually fed, and I know that my responsibility to go to church is in no way lessoned by my being alone. If anything, I am in greater need of a good church right now, since it will not only continue my spiritual growth, but will also help facilitate meeting people and making a new life for myself here in Lynchburg.

Last night, just before going to bed, I searched online for a church to try today. Sadly, there are no Reformed Baptist churches in the area. I had expected that that may be the case, since my denominational preference is not a common one here in the South. When I lived in Manassas, I went to an Evangelical Free church (that is, after I decided I was through letting my despot of an employer force me to go to a church that I hated). I really enjoyed that church, so I thought I would see if there were an Evangelical Free church here. I don't agree with 100% of their doctrines, but it is rare to find that at any church, and minor disagreements are no fit reason to discard a particular church or denomination. I found an Evangelical Free church online that was close to my home, and thought it might be a good one for today.

When I work up this morning, however, I changed my mind. I did not sleep well and had a headache, so I decided to try a church with a later morning service so that I could try to sleep off the headache (sometimes that works). Thus, when I got up finally, I did another quick search online and found a nearby Baptist church that looked promising.

The church was nice, but quite large. I have had a few bad experiences at large churches in the past, so I usually tend to avoid them. In my opinion, once a church reaches too large of a size, they stop serving their full purpose. I don't think that churches were meant to be just a place to hear a message on Sundays. I believe that God intended for the church to serve as a larger form of the family - a place where Christians know each other well enough to let down their defenses and be real with each other, and where each individual has their own niche. In a large church, that's next to impossible, and people become just numbers rather than individuals. The church, in that case, is just an institution rather than a warm familial environment that fosters true inner growth. So, the size was a deterrent, but I decided to give the church a chance anyway, since I was already there, and since I had a headache and didn't want to have too far to drive after the service.

The message was pretty good, and was applicable to me personally. I liked the pastor, and I liked the fact that worship consisted mainly of hymns. It's not that I hate modern music or anything like that; I just find that most contemporary worship seems to be little more than simple repeated choruses with little meaning behind the words, and lots of drums. Drums are great, but they cannot take the place of meaningful lyrics. There are, of course, several very stupid hymns that I can find absolutely no meaning in, but for the most part, hymns tend to be more reflective, worshipful, and even comforting than most modern worship music (and again, yes, there are exceptions). So, despite the size, the church definitely had its good points.

The thing that made me decide to keep looking, however, was the congregation. They were a pleasant enough crowd of cheerful, sincere-looking people, but there was one very obvious problem for me. I was, without a doubt, one of the youngest people in that about forty years. Now I do enjoy the elderly, but when it comes to church, I really want to find a place with at least a few people my own age that I can make friends with. Also, I would like to find a place with a youth or children's group that I could occasionally help out with.

Fortunately for me, I'm now living well within the Bible Belt, so there is no shortage of churches for me to try next Sunday (maybe even the one I had originally planned to try today). I'm hoping it doesn't take too long to find a new home church, but as long as I keep getting good sermons like the one today, the "church hunt" shouldn't be too unpleasant for me. I know that Liberty has a good church on its campus (Thomas Road Baptist Church), which I attended before when I was in college, but I would prefer not to go there now. Again, it's a matter of the church's size - Thomas Road Baptist is overwhelmingly HUGE. If worse comes to worse, I can always give it another try, but I really, really dislike being in a church so large that it feels more like a stadium. So, if you're among my Christian readers, please pray that I can find a good church soon. And now, it's time for me to go lie down and attempt to get rid of this nasty headache before it becomes my first migraine of 2010.

Have a refreshing Sunday, everyone!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Goodbye, Curls!

I've been unhappy with my American spiral perm ever since I got it. The girl who did it didn't seem to know what she was doing, and as a result, the curls are varying sizes, the back turned into messy waves, and my hair was so frizzy that I looked like the bush queen. And so, today I finally did something about it. Rather than start grad school looking like a freak of nature, I found an inexpensive place to have my hair straightened and cut. I love the new look! The gal did a great job and was probably one of the friendliest people I've ever had do my hair. I didn't want to pay extra to have it styled and dried, so it's a little messy right now, which is why I'm going to wait until later to post pictures. It was a great boost to my self-esteem to have an entire hair salon calling out their approval at the finished product!

The Sugar Busters diet continues to go well. It's not an easy new lifestyle, but it is well worth the effort. I've already lost six pounds! Plus, I have not had a migraine yet in 2010 (which feels like a miracle to me), I'm sleeping much better, I don't have any food cravings or soda cravings, and I feel terrific. My moods have been great everyday, even with the stress of preparing for grad school and the army, and with all the studying I've been doing. Best of all, my feet and hands are no longer going numb at night and my blood sugar feels stable at last. It's like I've been given a different body! Believe me, it's worth saying no to cookies, ice cream, and white bread (among the other hundreds of things) when you can feel like this every day. This is, for certain, a permanent lifestyle for me now.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Jasper and the Stoned Monkey

It just occurred to me that the title of this post would make a great children's book....if the mother of those children were Lindsey Lohan or one of those other recent Hollywood train wrecks!

Jasper has been having a marvelous time here in the new apartment. He likes my couch much more than Mom and Dad's because of the heavily padded armrests, and he's thrilled with the enormous windows that he can peek out of. There's a long corridor past my apartment, and Jasper enjoys running down it and back about six times per day (each time, he has the most exhilarated expression on his face). Jasper also likes my recliner, which he discovered is great for hiding bones. But no item here brings him as much joy as his newest favorite toy...

When I was out looking for a towel rack at Big Lots the other day, I noticed that their Christmas items were all fifty percent off. As I glanced through the Christmas section, I came across an odd dog toy - a white stuffed monkey, wearing a santa hat and a scarf. Now I realize that so far this toy sounds pretty normal, but bear with me. The odd, eye-catching thing about this toy is its eyes. This monkey has enormous crazy eyes that give him the expression of someone who is completely stoned (no Mother, I do not know what a stoned person looks like from personal experience seeing one). In a way, the monkey is actually pretty creepy. However, since it has long arms and legs and a squeaker in its tummy, and only cost a dollar, I thought Jasper might like it.

It was love at first sight! Jasper absolutely adores his stoned monkey! He runs races through the apartment, with his monkey flapping in his mouth. He takes naps with his monkey serving as a pillow. He even taught his monkey how to play fetch: Jasper grabs the monkey by an arm, leg, or scarf, and then flings it as far as he can (which is surprisingly far). Then he joyously races after it and retrieves it. Finally, a completely interactive dog toy!

The funniest thing is the staring contests. That's right, my Jasper, who loves to have stare-downs with me, now engages in them with a stuffed monkey. He sticks his monkey on the couch, and then stares deeply into its swirly, doped-up eyes. Usually these bouts last for a few minutes. Unfortunately, the monkey always wins. After minutes of staring intently into the stoned monkey's eyes, Jasper whimpers, averts his gaze, whimpers again, and then either flings the monkey for the initiation of another game of monkey-fetch, or he crawls into my lap for comfort. I'm not sure if the monkey's eyes frighten Jasper, or if he just feels sad about losing the staring contests.

Photographic evidence of the Jasper vs. Stoned Monkey staring contests. About a minute after I snapped this picture, Jasper admitted defeat with a whimper, and then hid his ashamed head in my lap.

Isn't this the creepiest toy monkey you've ever seen? No wonder Jasper whimpers after every staring match!

Having engaged in a staring contest, played a rousing game of fetch, and wrestled ferociously together, Jasper and his stoned monkey settle down for a lengthy cuddle.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Textbook Shopping

Yesterday I drove out to Liberty to use my book voucher to purchase all of my remaining textbooks. In total, for the THREE graduate classes I am taking, I have TWENTY-SEVEN books - plus the twenty to forty additional books that I will read for EACH class. Isn't it a good thing that I'm a fast reader? Each professor has said that I'll be reading a book per week for them, minimum. Yikes!

All total, my remaining textbooks, minus the two that are on back-order, came to $735. I cannot adequately describe the strange feeling that came over me as I spent that much money in less than fifteen minutes. I almost felt dizzy! Thank goodness it's not my money, but Uncle Sam's. I guess it's only fair, since I'll be quite possibly risking my neck overseas in a few years for dear old Uncle Sam. I am really grateful for how much financial stress the army is alleviating for me.

After getting my textbooks, I decided to pick up my parking permit. Since all the spots at LU require a permit, I parked about three quarters of a mile away from LUPD (in the area of parking spaces that I fondly call "no man's land") and left a note under the back wiper on my car begging that my car not be towed and explaining that I was there to pick up my parking decal. Then I hiked up to the correct building with the bitter wind slashing me like a whip. After my lengthy walk up to LUPD, I did not find it amusing to learn that I had left my vehicle registration in the car. So, back to car I tromped, collected my registration, and then b-a-c-k up the long road to LUPD. Naturally, I couldn't get the decal. Turns out Liberty has an online form that you have to fill out (of course they couldn't have told me that in advance). I think I'll try for the decal again on a warmer day.

Sugar-Busting My Way to Better Health

I have decided to go on the Sugar Busters diet in order to improve my health, lose the necessary weight for the army, and get my blood sugar and migraines under control. Sugar Busters is a diet designed particularly with diabetics in mind, but it has been proven highly beneficial for hypoglycemics as well. In this eating plan, you have to give up sugar as close to entirely as possible, as well as anything white (white bread, white flour, etc.). You also have to stick to foods that are low on the glycemic index. It's not easy, but I know that it will do me a great deal of good, plus it may help prevent me from becoming diabetic someday. I've seen what diabetes has done to several of my relatives, and I want to avoid that horrible disease at all costs. In addition, I have also switched over to a five meal per day eating plan as well, as per my doctor's advice.

I am now on day three of my new lifestyle, and I am doing pretty well. I got a bit dizzy for a little while yesterday, but some protein-rich cottage cheese soon made me better. To keep myself from cheating, I threw out any food that didn't fit the plan, and purchased a great deal of sugarless chewing gum in case my sweet tooth needs assistance. I am already noticing that my blood sugar is not plummeting as much as night, which is a vast improvement. I need to work on cutting back on carbs still, but at least the only ones that I'm consuming are the whole grain ones allowed in the Sugar Busters diet.

West Virginia is Not for the Faint of Heart

The drive down on Sunday went much better than expected...for the first half. Ohio was exceedingly dull, as always, but at least the roads were clear and the weather, though teeth-chatteringly frigid, was clear. I had cleared a nice space in the front for Jasper, with his bed, blanket, and two toys, but he decided ten minutes into the trip that he preferred to ride on top of the luggage in the back.

Since things were going so well, I decided to just drive straight through rather than stopping for the night in Parkersburg as I had previously planned. (Cue the sound of creepy organ music, indicating trouble ahead.) So, trying out a new route for the first time (cue up the music a little louder), I continued on through West Virginia.

I think the first hint that things were going to get "interesting" was when my TomTom (GPS) completely lost me. On the screen was a map of the road I was supposed to be on (which, for the record, I was still on, unbeknownst to my TomTom), with a little dotted line pointing out a little yellow car (representing me), which was in the center of a barren wilderness. Apparently, highway 35 is just a bit rustic. Just a bit. The poor TomTom struggled in vain for over twenty minutes trying to locate where we were, with no success. Since I knew I was still on the correct road, I chose to be amused, and enjoyed the local scenery (trees, abandoned farms, and occasional dilapidated mobile homes, included one which had somehow split in half). I don't think any other humans had passed by the way in quite some time.

Eventually I came upon 64, which I knew was the next road that I wanted, so I got onto it and the TomTom gave a little squeak of delight as it finally figured out where we were. I stayed on 64 for awhile, until my TomTom directed me to get off onto 60. Little did I know that while this new route was certainly shorter than my usual route, it would also give new meaning to the phrases "hair-raising," "sharp turn," "no guard rails," and "deadly drop."

Upward and upward my little car drove, through steeper and menacingly steeper terrain. The amount of snow on both the surrounding countryside and the road increased the higher I went. The road narrowed to two anorexic lanes, bordered on one side by snow-covered cliffs and on the other by an extreme drop that would have made my dear little grandmother keel over in a dead fright. Jasper heaved and vomited in the back, making me grateful that I had put a towel over the luggage. The turns become more and more sudden, and my heart decided to take up residence in my throat, where it shuddered silently. The TomTom periodically lost us, keeping things "amusing". Occasionally I had the added excitement of large patches of ice or puddles of thick slush, which bore a startling resemblance to some of the fare they served in my elementary school cafeteria.

For nearly two excruciating hours my tenacious little car did her best to stay on North America's candidate for the prestigious award of "Most Nauseating Road in the World". I stopped for gas at a station so old that "pay at the pump" had not yet been envisioned (nor teeth either, from the sight of the five customers inside). I felt like kissing 64 when 60 finally rejoined it, but my relief was short-lived. This section of 64 was like something out a Poe anthology (well, perhaps a bit more slippery). The Virginia border has never looked so beautiful to me. Little did I know what the last hour held in store for me.

Having survived my harrowing escapade through West Virginia, I was not in the mood to deal with idiotic fellow drivers, but fate decreed that I must meet with one. An apparently-homicidal maniac with more fingers than brain cells decided that his night would not be fulfilling unless he could spend a full hour of it following me, as close to my bumper as possible, with his bright headlights on. No matter whether I sped up or slowed down, he would neither retreat nor pass me. I dared not stop, for fear of what the imbecile would do in the dark. Once I got into Lynchburg, I was able to duck in front of another car immediately following a curve, then pulled off onto an exit. My charmless companion mistook another car for me, and continued on his merry way, riding on the new victim's bumper with his brights ashine.

It was with a sigh of relief that I pulled into the drive of my new apartment complex. Jasper was thrilled, too (he was still a bit unhappy from our drive through West Virginia). Both of slept well that night!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Change in Departure

The Midwest has some rather nasty weather headed for it, so I've decided that that, coupled with my dislike of crossing the Appalachians after dark, is sufficient reason to alter my departure plans. I had originally planned to leave on Monday and drive straight through. Based on the weather, I have decided that it will be much wiser and safer to leave tomorrow, drive halfway (or more) and then finish up the driving on Monday. The Appalachians will be slippery, so I think hitting them in the morning would be much better than hitting them in the evening. Also, this gives me the advantage of getting in early enough to pick up more than just "immediate survival" groceries when I get in on Monday.

Michigan is one of those states that is usually quite easy to leave. While the state does have its charms, on the whole, it's become a dismal, depressing place. The gray, soulless skies of winter, the frigid temperatures, and the fatally wounded economy have braided themselves together to create an environment of depression and resignation. The snow can be lovely, but the slush negates a great deal of the beauty. I know that I have personally found it a poor place to recuperate from the mental anguish wrought by events in Manassas. Lynchburg, Virginia, on the other hand, can sometimes be every bit as cold, but is usually milder, and is nearly always sunny with blue skies. Believe me, sunshine and blue skies make nearly every situation seem more hopeful. In addition, the multiple layers of mountains in varying shades of blue are calming and comforting, bringing a feeling of internal peace when viewed.

Michigan certainly has its glory days of beauty in the spring, summer, and fall, but winter in Michigan is like being sucked into a black hole of seemingly endless melancholy. I've often noted how nearly everyone becomes shorter tempered during the winter months, and present jobless economy is doing nothing to help all that. It's hard watching the state you grew up in shrivel up and die, but unless an economic miracle happens, that looks to be the continuing pattern here. It will be very good to get away.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I Have Willingly Entered the Infernal Abyss...

That's right, folks, I joined Twitter! For months I have mocked those who tweeted, but after intense nagging from several friends, I bowed to peer pressure, swallowed my self-respect, and set up an account. Now if you're desperately in need of a Stephanie-fix, or just want to know if I'm still alive, you have means at your disposal. I am known, appropriately, as historygypsy.

Ten Resolutions for 2010

In honor of this nice, fresh, unsullied decade, I'll be making ten resolutions this year. It's a tall order, but "where there is no vision, the people perish." (Proverbs 29:18, KJV) I know that many people look down on New Year's Resolutions, but that is largely because so many fall into the trap of making unattainable or unrealistic goals for themselves, which it is then only natural to break. I view making resolutions as an exercise in planning and goal-setting, which motivates me to ascend to higher standards in my daily life. So, without further ado, allow me to present my ten resolutions for 2010:

1. I resolve to earn straight A's in my graduate classes. Since C's are the same as F's in the history MA program, and B's are the equivalent of C's, I need top marks if I want any prestige at all. Also, I am determined to have two honor cords when I graduate with my MA: a Phi Alpha Theta cord (which I earned as an undergraduate) and a Magna Cum Laude or Summa Cum Laude cord.

2. I resolve to lose the appropriate amount of weight to make it into the ROTC program, and to attain the physique necessary to not only pass, but excel in the physical tests.

3. I resolve to actually read my graduate textbooks, rather than skimming like I usually did as an undergrad.

4. I resolve to spend more time in daily devotions, since I am horrible about reserving time for them on a daily basis.

5. While we're on the subject of time, I also resolve to improve my time management skills. I waste far too much time, so I am forcing myself to be more disciplined, and to live according to schedule.

6. I resolve not to fall into the same habit of procrastination that I had as an undergraduate. I am not going to put papers off until the night before they're due anymore - I'm too old for that level of stress!

7. I resolve to work harder on maintaining a five or six meal per day diet. My doctor has repeatedly told me that I need to do so, as my blood sugar is so low, particularly at night. I need to cut my portion sizes and eat more often, so that I keep my hypoglycemia under control. I do not want to wind up diabetic, like several of my relatives have.

8. I resolve to keep better hours and get enough sleep in grad school. No more all-night study sessions, like I did as an undergrad! Also, I will not fall into the habit of popping caffeine pills to make up for lack of sleep. I spent my last semester of college doing that, and it wrecked havoc on my migraines.

9. I resolve to make time for Jasper to have a walk at least every other day. Being a small dog, he does not require a great deal of exercise, but I know that I have not been giving him as many walks as I should. More walks will keep him happier and healthier, and I'm sure will serve as a good stress reliever for me.

10. I resolve to get more involved. As an undergrad, I studied and researched, and had absolutely no social life. I missed out on a lot of activities that would have been fun and/or meaningful, with the result that I often fell into periods of lonely melancholy. This time around, I'm going to force myself to go out at least once per month. I'm also going to look for a volunteer activity that I can devote a few hours to each month (I know that sounds shamefully small, but considering the amount of time-consuming graduate work I will have, a few hours a month is the most that I can give).

"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"