Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Etsy: Fairy Princess

I meant to do more of these posts about Etsy, but never really got around to it. I thought I should do at least one more though (Since lists must be at least three items, I guess? I just felt this compulsion.) and took my inspiration from Eleanor, who was running around in her fairy princess costume, having recently turned me into a newt and refusing to turn me back into a Mommy.

So I looked for "fairy princess" on Etsy, and here's a few things I found.
  • First I sorted by most expensive and found a Fairy Tale Ball Wedding Gown for almost $10,000. It was a reminder of just how much money people are willing to spend on their "special day." I really hope Eleanor doesn't get caught up in all that, because we have a college fund but not a wedding fund.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, there were some cute Princess Magnetic Bookmarks for less than $1. This is another reason why I like Etsy. You can always find something in your price range!
  • Next I did a local search on Etsy stores based in the Cleveland area and found these beautiful "Blossoming Romance Arm Warmers Cream White Steampunk Lace Wedding" (lots of keyword search terms in there) at a much more reasonable price than the dress (a mere $25). What is steampunk, anyway? I keep seeing the label on everything from clothes to cakes to books. I'm going to have to do some investigating, because I'm getting a sense of it as an overall style, but I don't entirely understand what the word encompasses.
  • Finally, the dress pictured above is more of what I was expecting to find. A Custom Pink Rose Fairy Tutu Costume Set (complete with wings, corset, tutu and wand) that can be made to order for babies 12 months to size 12. It's $160, which is closer to the reasonable end of things .... but still more than I would pay for a dress-up outfit. As soon as I become independently wealthy, though, I'm buying one. Or two: one for Eleanor and another one for me!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Cards

Keith read an article on Slate the other day called "Did Facebook kill the Christmas Card?" The subtitle is "Our mailboxes are practically empty."

He told me about the article and its premise as we sat at the dining room table. I looked around at the numerous Christmas cards we've received, hanging on ribbons across doorways, windows, and the mantle. I think we sent out about 60 cards, and probably received nearly the same.

I'm not really convinced by the author's argument that no one sends Christmas cards anymore. First of all, the author admits to not sending out cards. I've definitely taken people off our Christmas card list if I don't get reply cards from them for a few years in a row. It's not that I'm angry or anything; I just figure that they don't really care much about the tradition, so why would I keep sending them?

Therefore, if I were friends with the author, I wouldn't be sending her Christmas cards, even though I would be sending and receiving plenty of my own.

I like the photo Christmas cards (clearly, since those are the ones I send myself). It's nice to get a tangible reminder that someone is thinking of you at the holidays, and take a moment to look at the card and think about how the little ones have grown, etc. Hanging up the cards around the house helps get me in the Christmas spirit in terms of acknowledging and appreciating all of the friends and family we are privileged to have in our lives.

I disagree with the Slate author. I don't think the Christmas card is dead, because Facebook is something different; it's all about the sender and not the receiver. There is no real receiver. Having said that, however, I don't feel like I can predict what's going to happen in the next 5-10 years. Will people stop sending real Christmas cards? Will something technological come along that actually replaces the feeling of getting envelopes in the mail and admiring the Christmas card in your hand?

If something came along that felt as personal and friendly as a Christmas card, I would probably switch. But I haven't seen it yet.

*Isn't this clip art picture creepy? I think Santa's had a stroke or something; there's just something not quite right with his eyes.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

I have a very high tolerance for Christmas music, as Keith can attest. I pretty much listen to it constantly from the day after Thanksgiving until after the New Year.

But every year, I get annoyed at the beginning of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." That spoken intro part, that goes:
You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen,
Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen.
But do you recall ...
The most famous reindeer of all?
Isn't that a stupid question? It's assuming that you know all of the lesser reindeer, but that you might forget the "most famous reindeer of all?" The illogicality of it bothers me every time.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Ornament 2008

This is what I suspect will be the first of many Eleanor ornaments. We sent off a picture of our chubby 5-month-old baby (so hard to believe it was only 2 years ago!) to a now-defunct Etsy shop that made these ornaments. We got one for ourselves and I think just for the grandparents. I'm looking forward to the ornaments that she makes, by herself, in the future.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Ornament 2006

We moved to Cleveland in April 2006 and into our house a few months later, so that year was our first Christmas in our very own home.

I offered to host Christmas, which was an adventure. I even cooked a turkey! (And haven't done it since.) Keith and I spent Christmas morning in our own bed, in our own house, which was heavenly.

Even when we weren't living in Cleveland, my Mom and I have had a long-standing tradition of a museum day around the Christmas holiday. I think it started when I was in college and home for a few weeks. We'd pick a day after Christmas to go out to lunch and visit one of the local museums. Before we left, we'd stop into the museum gift shop and buy a few Christmas ornaments at ridiculously marked-down prices.

In 2006, we went to the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. Funnily enough, I've never actually been there when it's warm outside, and have yet to see the outdoor gardens. Ever since that first trip, I've always gone in the winter to see their gingerbread house display. They have a competition and the houses range from fabulosity to monstrosities, built with love and pudgy little toddler fingers. They put me in a Christmas mood, even after the actual day has passed.

We haven't talked about it yet, but hopefully we get to a museum again this year. And that it's a tradition that Eleanor will want to continue!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Survey says ... Good job!

My final class was this afternoon, and right now I'm grading the last of the essays from this semester. Less than 10 to go!

Of course, even with the finish line in sight, I'm still dallying. Watching a bit of "Bones," grading an essay, posting a blog, grading an essay .... you would think that I'd feel this super urgency to get through the grading and be Done. Done for a month! But the lethargy of grading wins out. There's only so many essays I can read on the same topic without zoning out.

One really nice thing about the end of this semester has been the class surveys. I created a basic survey to find out whether my students thought my teaching was effective or not, and maybe give me some suggestions on what to change or keep. Overall, I've learned:
  1. No one agrees on whether they liked the readings or not. The feedback on nearly every one runs the gamut from "completely ineffective" to "best ever!"
  2. No one agrees on whether some online activities were helpful or a waste of time. This was something new this semester, and I was really hoping the surveys would clarify whether it worked or not. But clarity is not to be had.
  3. They like me, they really like me! Even the class that was the most challenging (cell phones out, staring at me when I asked questions, not wanting to do activities) gave me overwhelmingly good feedback. The answer to the question, "What should I change?" was almost always "nothing," or something very minor. What students wanted to change most often was themselves: "I should have been in class more" or "Paid more attention!"
My first reaction, of course, is to float on Cloud 9. I will always keep these surveys. It definitely ends the semester on a high note, and actually makes me look forward to the next semester (which doesn't usually happen for a few more weeks).

On the other hand, as a pseudo-scientist, I doubt their objectivity. For several reasons:
  1. I am their only ENG-1010 professor. (Not true for all, but for many.) It's hard to rate me compared to other ENG-1010 profs or compare this course when you don't have experience with anyone else. Particularly when, for many students, this is the first college-level English course they've taken.
  2. I handed out the surveys in class, stayed in the room while they filled them out, and collected them at the end. They may have tended toward positive remarks either because they didn't want to hurt my feelings, or they didn't want to hurt their grades.
  3. The students who had really bad things to say about the class most likely didn't make it to class, had given up on participation points long ago, and just emailed in their essays.
It's a good feeling. Everyone loves positive feedback! But I am taking it with a grain of salt. There were differences in all three classes, but all of them said to not change a thing. I think that students like what they know, and because this was their English class, they want to believe that it was a good one.

But I'm not completely a Debbie Downer, I swear. It was really important to me that they all felt like I was available outside of class and that my expectations (and subsequent grades) were clear, and those issues were definitely affirmed.

Anyway, that's probably all of the dissecting of the surveys I should do. I could keep going, except it would read like a 12-year-old girl's Pro/Con list for asking Sean to slow dance on Friday night. Every positive would have a negative, the list would never end ... and all of the i's would be dotted with cute hearts.

Back to grading. After I get a glass of wine ....

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Ornament 2005

This ornament represents kind of a best and worst moment in my life. It was purchased in November or December 2005, from the Ten Thousand Villages store in the O'Bryanville area of Cincinnati. This ornament might look quite familiar to some, because we bought a lot of them and tied them onto everyone's gifts that year.

We were living in Cincinnati at the time. Since February, I had been working at a job that made me completely miserable. I was so depressed, actually, that I was taking antidepressants for the first (and still only, up to this point anyway) time in my life. I cried all the time. When I tried to enter the work building, I could feel the tears building up. My boss was horrible, there was too much work to do, not enough time to do it in, and no recognition that I was given an impossible task, with an impossible manager, and doing the best I could with hardly any training or support.

I stuck it out for as long as I could—much longer than was reasonable, because I'm stubborn like that. But I finally handed in an ultimatum at the end of November to the department head: You've been promising me for months that you would remedy all of these complaints, which you have agreed are an issue. I'm tired of promises, so either fix it or consider this my two weeks' notice.

She called me in for a meeting the next day and said she accepted my resignation and it was effective immediately. She gave no acknowledgement that the situation was in any way her fault or responsibility. I was unreliable and a quitter was the undercurrent in the room. I had the rest of the day to clean out my desk and get everything in order.

I started crying because I was so shocked, even though I shouldn't have been. I was not treated well the whole time I was there—why should it start now? But I got myself together and went back to my desk. I only told one co-worker what happened and asked her to keep it quiet, and then spent the rest of the afternoon working away on my computer and pretending like nothing had happened. I hung around until after 6, when most people had already left. This wasn't unusual, since I had regularly been working 50-60 hour weeks ever since I started. I cleaned out my desk, said "good-bye" to a couple of people who were still there, and left.

I went home and told Keith and cried. I had no idea if I was relieved or upset or which way was up. This horrible job had been consuming my thoughts and emotions for months—many days it felt like it was consuming me—and suddenly it was gone. What next?

What does one do after essentially getting fired? Go shopping, of course! Keith took the following day off work and we went Christmas shopping. We had a really nice day together, because every time we are together we enjoy it, and we bought most of our presents from small shops close to our apartment. We walked, we talked, we shopped, we ate.

Slowly, the anxiety that had been squeezing my chest into a knot 24/7 started to ease. I began to think that there would be life after this horrible job. Something would work out .... and no matter what it was or how long it took, it would be worth it because I wouldn't be at that place anymore!

This ornament reminds me of just how dark that time was for me, but how far I've come since. I learned a valuable lesson that if the whole situation seems bad from the beginning, it probably is. I should trust my instincts and move on! And I should also know that I'm a good, hard worker. If I'm trying my hardest and I can't meet someone's expectations, those expectations just might be unreasonable. So instead of working myself into the ground to meet them, I should take a step back and think about what's feasible, and recognize that I need a work/life balance (emphasis on the "life" part) to be content.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Yesterday was a crazy, crazy day. I thought Monday's snow was bad, but yesterday was so much worse. It was fine overnight, but it started snowing at about 9 o'clock in the morning and still hadn't stopped by 7 o'clock that night, when I was trying to get home from work.

I really shouldn't complain about my drive, however. It usually takes me 20-30 minutes to get home from campus. Yesterday was more like 45 minutes (an hour if you could the time that I spent even cleaning off my car before I could get on the road). On the other hand, my sister drives across town to watch Eleanor for me on Wednesdays. It normally takes her about an hour to get home. Yesterday it took 4 hours. 4 HOURS! She could have made almost to Cincinnati in that amount of time.

Today, however, there's a beautiful blue sky and the sun is shining brightly—blindingly on all of the pristine white snow. I do think that all of the snow (once it's off the road) is beautiful and festive. After all of this, we'd better have a white Christmas!

Image Credit: "Photos: Feet of Snow Bury Great Lakes" article at Weather.com

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Christmas Ornament 2002

... and back to the post I originally meant to write yesterday, if I wasn't battling the snow. This is an ornament I picked up for Keith when I was in Savannah, Georgia at a work conference in 2002. And by work conference, I mean I worked for the organization that ran the conference, there was only 3 or 4 of us full-time staff, and we worked the entire time. We never saw the outside of the hotel until long after the sun went down.

What I did see of the city, I really liked though. I loved the architecture and the parks. One night we took a ghost tour (what else do you do at night in a new city? with co-workers?) which was fun. On the last day, I had a few hours to myself to wander around, shop, and be touristy before we flew back home.

So many cute shops! Since the conference was right before Thanksgiving, everyone already had their Christmas items on display. I bought this ornament for Keith as a, "Hey! I was thinking about you! Even if I hardly ever got the chance to call you."

The whole time I was walking around, I kept thinking of how much more fun I'd be having if Keith were there, too. I did like the city, but I feel like I saw and experienced very little of it. I'm still hoping to go back there one day, with Keith, and see and do a lot more. But still take the ghost tour!

Christmas Ornament 1987

It's hard to believe I haven't done this before (and I haven't—I just checked), but I thought for this week I'd feature a few of the ornaments on our Christmas tree. It took us a week, but our tree is purchased, on display, and decorated. And of course, one of the best parts is pulling all of the ornaments out of the box and memories surging forward with every one.

I figured I'd start with the oldest ornament I wanted to feature, and one of the oldest ornaments I have. My Grandma Stroh gave it to me in 1987, when I was 9 years old. I'm a little shocked it's lasted this long, knowing my klutziness (cue the Christmas tree taking-down disaster, now that I've jinxed it).

I have so many fond memories of Christmas with my grandparents on both sides. We (parents and sisters) were also home on Christmas morning. The first time I woke up somewhere other than my parents' house on Christmas morning was when I was 22 years old, and in Scotland. With both sets of grandparents living locally, we never traveled for Christmas and I was/am glad of that tradition. I think we would usually go to one grandparents' on Christmas Eve, spend Christmas morning at home, and then go to the other grandparents' on Christmas afternoon.

For Eleanor it's a little different, since Keith's parents and family live over 4 hours away. We do always go visit soon after Christmas, but not right on the day. We do, however, always spend Christmas morning at home, in our living room, gathered around our own Christmas tree.

This ornament from Grandma Stroh reminds me of the traditions of both gathering with extended family, and making time to enjoy immediate family who I may take for granted on a daily basis. Eleanor has already decided that Santa is bringing her a baby doll and doggy pajamas. I'm really looking forward to seeing her face this year when she rounds the corner and sees the presents under the tree.

*Many thanks to Keith, my wonderful photographer, for these pictures and all the rest.