Life and Other Nonsense

2013 Texas Book Festival

My buddy Mitzi got to see Sherman Alexie. I am dying a little of jealousy.

The Baraza

For those of you who don’t know me, I am an misanthropic recluse at heart.  It takes a lot to pry me from my happy nest.  However, this weekend the Capitol hosted the Texas Book Festival.  I spent the Saturday portion of the festival holed up at my house watching episode after episode of Arrow and drinking fruit punch Kool Aid.  I thought about traffic snarls and hordes of people so I held my ground.  By Sunday my desire to see Sherman Alexie overrode my desire to stay home.

I started my Festival Sunday with a session in the House Chamber (sitting at the same desks the politicians do) to listen to author Sherman Alexie speak.   **Please allow me a brief moment to squee like the fan girl I am.  SQUEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!** I discovered Alexie’s work during grad school and loved his collection of short stories The Lone Ranger and Tonto…

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Snap: Ten Things I Tell My Kids

I’ve previously shared the wisdom and gifts I receive from my children; here are a few things I say to them.

  1. I’m sorry you don’t like it. Write your congressman.
  2. Is it broken forever or just for a minute?
  3. Dude, hands out of the pants. (mostly to my son, although my husband has been busted a few times)
  4. Is this really how you want this to go down?
  5. Stop!
  6. Holy cow, really?
  7. Stop micromanaging your brother. (to my daughter)
  8. When [doggie, kitty, bird, etc] goes in it’s house, it wants a time out. Respect it’s wishes.
  9. What is that?
  10. I love you so much, no one else will ever be good enough for you.

Have a wonderful weekend!



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Writing Away

Summer is officially upon us which for many means vacation time. I have been fortunate enough to have had travel as a continued opportunity in my life. My first international trip was to Greece when I was 9-months old; the most recent to China in 2007. In college I was able to participate in study abroad in England and Spain. One thing that all this travel has instilled in me is a love travel journals. I always keep a travel journal, even on domestic trips, because I like to capture those moments in ink and paper.

Even if you are not a  natural writer, travel journals are a way to remember beyond photographs what the experience felt, smelled, and tasted like. For those interested in starting to journal your travels, I highly recommend Writing Away by Livinia Spalding. It is an inspirational text that works as a wonderful guide for finding your voice. In the coming weeks I will be posting excerpts from my own travel journals.

If you find yourself taking a stay-cation and want to explore the world through other writers’ experiences, I can recommend the following travel literature (both fiction and non-fiction):

The Odyssey Homer

Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift

Thomas Jefferson Travels Thomas Jefferson

A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland Samuel Johnston

Empire of the Czar Marquis de Custine

Roughing It Mark Twain

Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes Robert Louis Stevenson

Bitter Lemons Lawrence Durrell

Travels Michael Crichton

Under the Tuscan Sun Frances Mayes

The Motorcycle Diaries Che Guevara

Slow Boat to China Gavin Young

On the Road Jack Kerouac

And I’ll end this list with a little plug for The Best Women’s Travel Writing series. All the books in the series are wonderful; check out Vol. 8 or the forthcoming 9 for offerings from yours truly.

Happy reading!



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Some Like It Nude: What I Learned Hawking Bras At Victoria’s Secret

In honor of summer jobs, I’m happy to repost one of my favorite pieces about what you can learn about life and thongs while working at Victoria’s Secret.

Like many people (particularly those who major in the liberal or fine arts), I have had a bevy of jobs. Not careers, mind you, but jobs where I punched clocks for cash. Along the way I have learned some odd yet important skills that find themselves useful in my everyday life.

It was the summer of 1998 and I was an 18-year old working three jobs to fund a trip to Ireland with my new college bestie. I literally drove from teaching elementary kids theatre to sell khakis and practical polos at Eddie Bauer, ending my days with a quick change in the bathroom into a skirt and black blazer to fulfill lingerie needs at Victoria’s Secret. Aside from taking away a loathing of khakis, I learned little at Eddie Bauer, except how to exploit their return policy. Victoria’s Secret was a different animal (I would later work there after college too, calling into question why I interrupted my blossoming career with all that learning). Here are six things I learned. Sadly, none of them are the actual secret.

  1. Most women wear the wrong bra size. Victoria’s Secret taught me not just how a bra should fit, but how to measure to ensure a proper fit. I don’t know that they even do this at VS anymore. They seem more focused on selling sweats, make up, and sometimes borderline raunchy lingerie (crotchless!). If they don’t, find a locally owned lingerie store (every town has one). There will be an older woman there who will measure you. Suck up your embarrassment and let her do her job. Don’t get hung up on the size because no one will know but you. Your clothes will hang better and your back will feel better.
  2. There is no reason to own a white bra or underwear. “But wait,” you say. “What about my white shirts?” Go to your closet and get out a white shirt. Now get another piece of white cloth and layer it under the shirt. Rather than blending, you just get a more intense white, which clearly shows the outline. Same for white under light colors. Unless you just have to have Carnival colors, buy nude (as near to your skin tone as you can find) and black.
  3. Men spend more money when they are uncomfortable or embarrassed. My favorite VS customer was the Shy Guy. This poor guy, after years of his wife claiming he never bought her anything pretty, decided to suck it up and venture into the terrifying world of lace and satin. By the end of my second week I could spot these guys from the back of the store. They would enter and then stop about two feet inside the door, glancing around, sheer horror painted on their features. That was my cue to swoop in: “What can I help you find today?” (Please note the open ended question–I was good at shilling bras.) They would stammer something about an anniversary or birthday. I would smile and ask them questions they didn’t know the answer to: size, shape, fabric. No idea. Shy Guy didn’t know anything except that his wife liked Victoria’s Secret. Some VS associates hated these kind of guys; I adored them. The more clueless the better. I’d navigate them through the store like Sacagawea, keeping them from feeling lecherous. We’d talk about what music she liked, what kind of clothes she wore, and end with the obligatory comparison of women in the store to establish size. Then things got good. Because these guys never realized they could buy just one thing–they figured they had to buy whatever was shown together. You would not believe how easy it is to talk a man into a matching robe or garter belt and stockings. The clincher was my assurance that anything that didn’t fit or she didn’t like could be brought back with the gift receipt. Sold!
  4. People are animals. In the summer, VS runs a Semi-Annual Sale which is code for Grown Women Pawing Through Bins Like Pigs Rooting for Truffles.  Neatly sorted bins would be turned upside down, things strewn all over, unwanted items discarded in the middle of the floor. We’d try to keep it picked up, but it was a losing battle. And forget about keeping the regular price panty tables neat. At the time, VS was using a technique called size and bunch on their tables. While this technique is striking when first done, it goes to hell with one browsing customer (I don’t think they do it anymore because it was so hard to maintain). Now, no matter what store I’m in, I try to return things exactly as I found them. Yes, it’s the sales associates job to fold the jeans and size the racks. But doing it twelve times an hour–they don’t get paid enough for that.
  5. People are animals, part two. Customers have sex in VS dressing rooms. Seriously. Then they leave whatever lingerie they were “trying on” tossed on the floor, usually slightly warm. Seriously. (Hopefully that’s the only parting gift; I had to use a sponge one time.) That’s why most of them have attendants now. Or should. Don’t have sex in dressing rooms. It’s not cool or thrilling. It’s just nasty. And some poor college student who only wants to have Guinness in Dublin with her friend will have to clean up after you.
  6. Most men love their women, no matter their size. I helped a number of husbands and boyfriends (not just Shy Guy) during my tenure at VS. Sometimes the woman was present, sometimes not. I sold everything from size 32A to 38DD, XS to XXL. One thing all of these men had in common was love of their partner’s bodies. There was never a mention of wishing for more or less of anything. My favorite customer ever was a man who wanted to buy something for his wife who had undergone a double mastectomy.  His reasoning? “I know her body is beautiful. Most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. But I think I might need something to help me remind her.” I hope it worked.

What about you, Cakesters? What have you learned from your odd jobs?



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Avoid the Black Bra: Seven Tips for Job Interviews

In a prior life, before I entered into academia, I once spent a few months working at a temp agency. Not like they sent me out on jobs, but I actually temped at the agency as a hiring and placement specialist. My job included interviewing and testing people, matching temps with positions, and training people how to be appropriate employees. Limited as that experience was, it taught me some good basic skills about interviewing. I’ve been on a number of interviews in my life, most of which I landed (although some, thankfully, I didn’t). Since those days as a temp, I have been on the other side of interviewing for both business and academic positions. One of the things I find fascinating is some of the stumbles people make that may not be deal breakers, but don’t do them any favors. Some of these things might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised.

  1. Know where you are interviewing. No matter the job, know the company. Someone is going to ask why you want to work for their company (not a company, but theirs) and you should have an answer to that. That doesn’t mean you need to memorize their information, but today most companies have websites with some sort of mission statement indicating their goals and values. Answering why do you to work here with, “My husband does and I want the same vacation time,” or “I need a job so the bank won’t take my house,” may seem honest to you; however, it is incredibly off-putting to potential employers.
  2. Know the position for which you are interviewing. Not just the title, but the actual job requirements. If you aren’t clear on what something is, ask before the interview if at all possible (probably before you apply). Companies would rather you ask for clarification early in the process than waste their time interviewing someone who clearly has no idea what the job will entail.
  3. Know who you are interviewing with. Most of the time when the interview is scheduled someone will tell you the name of the person(s) you will be interviewing with. If they don’t, just politely ask who you will meet with and if there will be any others present. Interviewing with an HR screener is different than interviewing with a manager. While both should be taken seriously, knowing the interviewer(s) helps you prepare. When the interview is over, within 24 hours, send thank you notes or at least emails to all the people you met with.
  4. Use that website to set the tone. Many companies have images on their websites. Look at those for how people dress and present themselves. One of the number one complaints I hear from managers is people showing up to interviews looking like they are going to the movies or the beach. We once interviewed a girl who claimed to be a professional administrative assistant who showed up to the interview in leather flip flips, a white blouse, and a black bra. I would go so far to say that even if the company doesn’t have a website, avoid the open-toed shoes, visible underwear, jeans, anything dirty or worn out, overly bright make up or distracting jewelry, and anything too low or too short. An interview is not a fashion show; be clean, comfortable, and professional. (Of course if you are interviewing at Vogue, that’s a different animal.)
  5. Be honest, but not Judd Apatow honest. Don’t lie in interviews. If you do, it more likely than not will come back to haunt you if you’re hired. That being said, keep your jokes and your self-disclosure to a minimum. If you didn’t work for a year because you were dealing with your alcoholic brother who ruined your life, rephrase that into something like, “There were some family issues with my brother that required my attention. Once those were resolved, I was ready to return to work.” This type of answer indicates that it was a personal issue (and rarely will anyone push for more information) and it is now over, so the company doesn’t need to worry about you leaving for more family issues.
  6. Have extra copies of your information. Many times, the interviewers will be seeing a number of candidates. They may have been emailed your information or seen it in passing, but don’t have it at a glance. Bring several copies of your current, error free resume, list of references, and any other supplemental information you were asked to provide. You don’t need a fancy briefcase or anything like that. Buy a nice, simple black portfolio (you can get one at an office supply store for about $20). Use it to bring copies of those elements. It should also include a working pen and notepad for . . .
  7. Your questions. Every interview I have ever been on I have been asked, “What questions do you have for us?” When asking those questions from the other side, I am shocked when people have no questions or ask something completely inappropriate like if the schedule can be adapted to their needs or what the salary will be. Avoid HR questions unless you are talking directly to HR. Instead, ask for clarification on something that was brought up in the interview (“Would you elaborate on the training program you mentioned for your networking software?”). Always, always, always have something ready to go if nothing comes up in the interview for follow up. Some of my favorites are “What qualities would your ideal applicant for this position possess,” “Why do you enjoy working here,” or “What do you find most challenging about working at this company.” These all show interest in not just the job, but the company and your potential place within it.

Happy Hunting!



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Snap: Ten Things My Son Gives Me

Mommy and AlexLast week, I gave you ten sound bites from my six-year-old daughter, Liliana. While I would love to provide the same for my two-year-old son, his would consist of mostly growling (as he is part dinosaur) or saying his cheek is “broken” in order to get a kiss. He is a giver though, and here are some of his favorite things to pass on to me:

  1. Boogers (either handed to me or wiped on my face)
  2. Poop (animal)
  3. His favorite toys (which he wants me to kiss and hug, but then when I do, he gets mad, pushes them aside, and takes the hugging/kissing for himself)
  4. Poop (his)
  5. Pants (his)
  6. Pats on my back when I hold him
  7. Gravel (or any other rock, including chunks of sidewalk)
  8. Dead mice (regifted from our cat)
  9. Food (half-eaten)
  10. Kisses (pretty much anywhere, although my face and hands are his target zones)
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Five Things that Rocked May 19-25

  1. I’ve been looking a great deal at blog design for inspiration and come across a number of fab destinations. My current obsession is with A Beautiful MessSo many fantastic ideas.
  2. Lucky me was published twice on Cinefilles this week. Check out my review of Star Trek Into Darkness and my retrospective on Cleopatra.
  3. Next week, aside from basking the glory of Margaret Atwood, I’m getting my second tattoo. While looking for the perfect font, I found this fantastic piece about why a mother got a tattoo with her daughter.
  4. It was also my week on The Baraza where I share my favorite graduation themed pop culture moments.
  5. On The Review Review, this article on Twitter Fiction had me thinking and working on my brevity.



Categories: Feed the Belly, Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Snap: Ten Things My Daughter Says

Photo by Amy Cerka

Photo by Amy Cerka

At age six, my daughter Liliana already has a mouth on her. This is probably not a surprise to people who know us, but sometimes the things she comes up with leave me battling to keep a straight face.

  1. “It came from my own imagination.”
  2. “Awkward.”
  3. “Do we really need this drama?”
  4. “If [blank] happens, I will cry to death.”
  5. “Just let me be who I am!”
  6. “That was 100 awesome!”
  7. “Oh, you’re tricksing.”
  8. “Winner, winner. Tofu dinner.”
  9. “You are repressing me!” (usually coupled with number 5)
  10. “I am a delight.”
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Five Things that Rocked May 12-18

1. I wrote this post about The Blind Assassin. I got this tweet in reply. Swoon.

2. My Wromance (writing romance) A.J. Kandathil wrote about the Five Pillars of Place using Park and Rec on Ploughshares. ‘Cause that’s how she rolls ( awesome, that’s how she rolls).

3. While you are on the  Ploughshares blog, take a gander at the piece I wrote about Cowboy Poetry. You should read it. It’s okay, you can click now. This list will wait.

4. The Office aired its final episode. I cried. I’ll write about it next week. In the meantime, rewatch The Office or watch it for the first time. Either way, win-win-win. In the meantime, enjoy this:

5. Two of my favorite shows growing up were Designing Women and The Golden Girls. This article reminds me why I loved Dorothy and may be like her in about thirty years.



Categories: Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Last One on the List

Last Friday marked the end of another year for me. Although I have a summer of online teaching, reading and writing, and program review ahead of me, for now the tide of never ending responsibility is ebbing. Since my kids are still in school, today I have the pleasure of time to myself. In taking stock, I realize I have let myself sink to the bottom of my list of important things. My professional life, while certainly an important part of me, has overrun the rest. What has suffered is my mental and physical health. Bottom line? I’m burnt out.

Beauty may be only skin deep, but health and well-being manifest in the physical in addition to the mental. Case in point, my high levels of stress and poor eating habits have caused my face to break out. My muscles ache and my digestive system feels off. I need to reboot. Therefore, the first order of business is to return to the eating habits my body needs–simple, unprocessed foods, water, actually sitting down to put things in my mouth. Physically I crave walking, which has always been a reprieve for my body and mind. And mentally, well, the best cure for me is reading.

I hate that I let myself get to this point, that I become so consumed with work and stress that I can’t stop and help myself. Perhaps because of the nature of the academic year, I feel like I need to ride out the semester and pick up the pieces later. What a triumph it would be to balance my personal needs with all of the other elements of my life. Here’s hoping one day I figure it out. Until then, I’ll take my summer reboots.

Excuse my brevity; I have a border collie in need of a walk and a book that won’t read itself.



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