Saturday, December 31, 2011

Let's Talk Resolutions!

As noted in Hilary's previous post, 2011 rocked for the Lemons! We married in April, and had a whirlwind eight months of matrimony. Now, 2012 is rearing its ugly glare, so it's time to make some resolutions!
Yea! Resolutions! A word synonymous with "failure to launch," "the gym's how far away?" "reading's hard!" and my personal favorite (I actually spelled favourite, but Blogger's spell check is not an anglophile) "What's a resolution?"
Now, we all know that the Internet is a place of certainty, and what's registered here is assured (my attempt at written wit). So, without further ado, a list of proverbial resolutions, with mid term goals to help me achieve:
Lose Some Weight: I went on record earlier tonight saying "Life's too short for diets." Not a good combination for slimming down. Since April, I've gained about thirty pounds. I first noticed a need to change when, as a joke, I shimmied for Hilary. And my man boobs (couldn't think of a more appropriate term. Leave suggestions in the comments) complied with the laws of physics! So, my goal is to lose 20-5 pounds this year.
-Mid term goals: Eat more vegetables and fruits than meat and dairy. This sounds easy, but I live in the heart of Texas. There's a barbecue shop at every corner, adjacent to the First Baptist Church. But, this is doable. A cautionary tale: Sauteeing green beans in butter, and sprinkling bacon salt on them does not count towards this goal. It's a delicious sham!
-Exercise: For the record, I hate the word exercise, in all its various definitions or functions. I don't like physical exercise, exercises in mathematics, or exercises in another, even funnier form. Maybe if I disguise it. I used to: it was called soccer, a delightful game which concealed a lot of running. I don't have time to take that up, but I think I can fool myself into running, by focusing on the scenery. That might do it: I'll get back to you on this.
Almost Finish My Masters Program: I finished the first semester of my Masters' program, and I have to say, I'm terrified. In the past four months, I have learned that I don't know anything. I feel like a fraud, that one day the professors and fellow students will discover my lower middle class heritage, and will banish me to working the What-a-Burger grill (a fate that will not help me lose weight: see above resolution). Yet, here I am, readying myself for round two. The goal is 33 hours, leaving the MA exam (written and oral), a creative writing class, and possibly a dissertation for Spring 2013.
-Present at Conferences: Something that will help me most in the "I'm not a fraud" category will be presenting at an academic conference. I have two abstracts ready and sent, but I will be checking out UPenn's CFP site for more opportunities. A side note: These conferences are not only chances to network and stay on the cutting edge of research, but I also can travel! Who wouldn't want to go to Ohio State for a hip hop conference, or Oxford for a video game symposium?
-Publish Something: I will be submitting poems, flash fictions, short stories, etc., with the hopes of seeing my name in print. I really need validation (I'm a narcissist like that). Another reason to attend those conferences is that I could possibly publish my paper in an academic journal. So, this goal means I'll be writing more in the upcoming months and years.
-Doctoral Programs: I need to find ten schools to apply for PhD programs. At the moment, I have these schools in mind: Michigan State, Wisconsin, Oregon, UT-Austin, Indiana, UNC, and UPenn. Most of these universities have an early deadline date, and I have to apply, in faith that I will be on track to getting my MA.
Other Goals:
-Spend an hour of quality time with Hilary: We see each other a lot, that Hilary and I. Yet, I feel the time we spend together could be better used. You know, instead of watching Hulu, we could have meaningful conversations, walks, or explorations of South-Central Texas.
-Explore South-Central Texas: Let's face, I already mentioned this. We are only in San Antonio for as long as my graduate program takes. After that, it's on to another school. Let's take advantage of this time. The weather works in our favor (air conditioning on Dec. 31?), so why not go to the Missions? Or see why Castroville has to offer?
Those questions will hopefully be answered in time, but Hilary is calling for me to go to bed. Happy New Year from the Lemons, and expect more from us in 2012 (barring meteors or Mayan calendars).

2011 in review.

What didn't we do this year?

Mike and Hilary:
got engaged
eight weeks later, got married
graduated from BYU with our BAs in English
moved to San Antonio
were accepted into graduate programs
spent our first Christmas together (last year we were on different continents!)

Mike:
started his MA in English
enjoyed endured his first (and last) job-less semester of school

Hilary:
completed an internship with the Friend
became a Texan
sent her parents off on their mission

The list may be short, but the items are doozies. 2011 treated us well, and we look forward to more adventures (and mishaps, I'm sure) in 2012.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

End of the Year Book List: Hilary Edition

Woot, lists! Good idea, Mikey.

So I'll get these first few out of the way:

Bossypants, Scott Pilgrim. The Pleasure of My Company (a reread, er, listen, for me). Oscar Wao. Ditto what Mike said about those.

It's embarrassing, but I've had to go back to my Goodreads and look over what I've read this year. Heeere we go, my list of recommendations for 2011.

Clementine series, by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee. For fans of Ramona Quimby, check out this 21st-century third-grader. I hope we have a kid like Clementine: messy, weird, creative, and spunky. It was so nice to have a young reader series about good values without the cookie cutter feel of Dick and Jane. Clementine comes from a loving family, with parents who love each other and their children AND their jobs. And they face legitimate problems; none of that "I can't find my dolly!" dilemma set that no one buys.

Pretty much anything by Marla Frazee. I'm a little obsessed with her. Marla, I bolded your name, y'hear? Recommended reads include Roller Coaster, a cute book ostensibly about one kid riding a roller coaster, though each page shows the experiences of every last person in line for the ride. Frazee is subtle; you have to pick up one of her books to understand how hilarious she is. I'd also recommend Boss Baby, and Walk On!: A Guide for Babies of All Ages. It's literally a guide on walking for babies, but it reads like a self-help book for a middle-aged man, a la the old-school Goofy shorts (How to Drive, How to Golf, etc.). Check out Marla Frazee. She's a delight.

Binky series, by Ashley Spires. Oh my. Get ready to wet yourself a little. Binky is a cat. And he is 100%, all-cat. And he goes to space. So.

I also have to recommend Small Saul by Spires as well. Saul is enchanted with the sea, but when he tries to enlist in the navy, he's dismiss because he's too short. So he becomes a pirate instead. In his own way.

I've also been on a self-sufficiency/homesteading kick. These books all talk about the same subjects: kitchen gardens, animal husbandry, home dairies, etc. My favorite reads in this category include the Homemade Living series by Ashley English, the Storey's Guide series, and The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It  by John Seymour.

A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove by Laura Schenone. A (not totally) academic look at the history of women in relation to food cultivation, preparation, and culture in America. Schenone starts at the beginning. Literally. Like, creation myths. So, it was thorough. And very informative. I loved all the artifacts she included. Lots of great old ads and product labels.

I'm not finished reading yet, but I've been working on The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I also read Reading Lolita in Tehran this year, but I had a hard time working with the author's philosophies. She bugged me, honestly. But with the courage and frankness of a child, Satrapi communicates with much more facility the reality of the Islamic Revolution. Her sense of humor is at once moving and snarky and clever and devastating. It's one of those great reads that is too good to put down, but every page haunts or shocks me. Or makes me laugh out loud in the bathroom.

Looking over my list, I feel like a spastic reader. And I feel like I read more grown-up books this year. Didn't I? It was a goal (unofficial, though) for this year. Epic FAIL. But no regrets.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

End of the Year List: Books

Since my youth, I have always wanted to make lists. You know, like VH1 before they went to the Dark Side (Tool Academy, (fill in the blank) Wives, etc.). So, starting this year, I'm going to make lists!
This week's list happens to be my favorite books from this year. For my undergrad and graduate program, I read upwards of fifty books this year. And that was just for class! That number does not include the books I read in my spare time. So, here's a list of my 15 favorite books from this year (in no particular order)

Mrs. Palmfrey at the Claremont (Elizabeth Taylor): A charming novel about Mrs. Palmfrey, a widowed Senior Citizen who moves into the Claremont, an assisted living facility, and her relationship with Ludo, a young man who poses as her son. The book explores the relationships that can be made across generation lines. Has been adapted into a delightful movie starring Joan Plowright and Rupert Friend (though the book's better).

Scott Pilgrim series (Brian Lee O'Malley): As most of you know, I'm a sucker for comics, video games, music, and short hair. I'm also one of those pretentious people who will say the book is much better than the movie. In the case of Scott Pilgrim, the above statement emphatically applies. O'Malley spends six volumes getting the reader into the complicated relationship of Scott and Ramona, and there are insights into the kind of lives most people my age live. The movie is good for what it is (Michael Cera), but I recommend the book.

Song of Solomon (Toni Morrison): I read this book for two classes, and I am surprised each time with how powerful a novel SoS is. The characters are well developed, and the explorations into the human experience are incredible. If I were to recommend a Morrison novel to someone looking to read her work, my recommendation would be Sula (to get a grasp of her style and tone), then Song of Solomon.

The Pleasure of My Company (Steve Martin): Hilary and I listened to the audio book of this novel: Steve Martin performed it. It was hilarious and dangerous. Several times we had to stop the car, we were laughing so hard.

Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life (Steve Martin): Two books from a comedian? Why yes, they are that good. Martin's comic memoir details his theories into his stand up, and I highly recommend his observations to anyone interested in comedy, how it functions, and how today's stand up comedians are indebted to Steve Martin.

A Girl Named Zippy (Haven Kimmel): Recommended for anyone who grew up in a small town. Kimmel's memoir is skillfully written, and the way she address difficult subjects is not so much an adult reflecting back. Rather, she envisions those times through her younger self, a move which allows the reader to reflect on how much children perceive.

The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd): This has been on my Goodreads waiting list for a few years, so when I picked up a copy at a library book sale, I immediately went to reading it. Kidd does a good job showing the politics of Civil Rights Era South Carolina (although I know there was a good amount of criticism about a white author telling the story of black women. similar to The Help's criticism). There was a movie produced, but it is not recommended, because I thought the casting was not well thought out, i.e., I did not see Queen Latifiah as August.

O, Pioneers (Willa Cather): Any novel that creates in me a desire to move to Nebraska must make this list!

Bossypants (Tina Fey): The only book published this year, Fey's memoir was another delightful experience for Hilary and I. Not wanting to read the book before the other, we decided to read it to each other. What happened usually boiled down to the one reading giggling/laughing so uncontrollably that the other started laughing, in mere anticipation of the joke. Plus, the memoir spawned the greatest Halloween costume to never hit the shelves: Don Fey. He's one bad motha!

Brother, I'm Dying (Edwidge Danticat): Danticat's moving tale of her father and uncle's deaths and her first daughter's birth makes for one of the best new books about American immigration (and its complications) in the last decade. Danticat's prose rolls smoothly on the page, and as noted above, the true story is one that ought to be told and remembered.

Domestic Work (Natasha Tretheway): A collection of poetry from Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Tretheway. The poems are clear and image packed. Tretheway employs plenty of ekphrasis poems, poems in which she uses photographs to construct her poems. Tied for my favorite collection of the year, with...

A Mayan Astrologer in Hell's Kitchen (Martin Espada): Espada's poems are a beauty to look at. The topics are interesting, and the title's crazy good. This collection of poems is for people who don't like poetry.

The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears (Dinaw Mengestu): Another contemporary immigration narrative that works. Mengestu's novel follows the life of Sepha Stephanos, and his move to Washington DC. Plus, the novel has one of the craziest trivia games I have heard of (it involves African dictators, the date of their coups, and the country involved).

World War Hulk (Greg Pak and John Romita, Jr.): I finally read the story arc involving Hulk's return to revenge the death of his wife. The amount of damage he does to Manhattan is frighteningly drawn by Romita. Pak's story is well thought out, with the surprise twist at the end. Plus, it makes this list because I love the Hulk (and if you don't, then I might turn green and smash YOU!).

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz): 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner. Diaz employs footnotes, citations from fantasy and comic books, and multiple narrators in a novel which blends Oscar and his family's cursed lives with the Trujillo moment in the Dominican Republic. It is not a novel for those who do not like foul language.

There you have it. Leave your choices for favorite books this year in the comments. Hilary, it's your turn to post some of your favorite books from this year.

Friday, December 2, 2011

In Defense of the Season: A Tale of Two Falls

When I read Hilary's previous post on the lack of a fall, I was dismayed. I agree with most of her statements, yet I feel I must say a few words for the "strangest fall" either of us have experienced. (Another preface to this post: I am not from San Antonio. Texas, if you remember your rudimentary American geography, is the second largest state in the US. Where I grew up is a six hour drive from where we live now.)

No leaves turned. This is true in San Antonio, which to me is a weird ecosystem where oaks and other deciduous trees live side by side with various cacti. A note on the weather: the weather is warmer than we are accustomed to. However, I think the weather should be placed into this year's historically hot context (read the link). If you don't read it, know that it was HOT this summer. Upwards of 100+ for days on end. So for me, when it gets as high as the 80's, it's uncomfortably warm for November, but also significantly cooler than the summer.
I reminds me, just a little, of being a missionary for our church. I served for two years in Mozambique, and my first experiences in the country happened around Christmas time. Now, because it is in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are reversed. So, imagine my surprise to wake up Christmas day, the sun up at 4:30 AM, the day's temperature quickly rising to the mid-90's, no Christmas trees (a palm tree seemed a nice alternative!). It certainly was an eye-opener.

No desire for "fall" foods. I guess we haven't baked many pumpkin pies, or had our lion's share of hot chocolate. Once again inciting the warmer weather, maybe our climate clocks did not go out for these food items. Yet, Texans and some of their businesses have thought this through. Blue Bell, which I believe makes the best ice cream in the nation (if not world), rolled out holiday flavors. One of them, Spiced Pumpkin Pecan, melted our hearts. While it is ice cream, this flavor was warm to the taste: it must have been the spices. And we did eat our fair share of pie at Thanksgiving, which brings me to another point...

None of the old Thanksgiving traditions. Thanksgiving was a blast at Merrimack! It was nice to visit with family, and for Hilary, it was her first time meeting these relatives. The food was excellent, and included a mesquite-smoked turkey (a family tradition). I had such a good time, that I did not stop to think whether it was the same for Hilary. I did not know her family listened to the Carpenters Christmas Album or Nat King Cole. I suppose she didn't know my mom likes to bake Christmas breads, and make hot cocoa. We both didn't stop to think of my friend Parker's family's tradition of making gingerbread houses Thanksgiving night.

What I am getting at is all family's have different holiday traditions. As Hilary and I are newly married, we have an opportunity to institute our own. I like the idea of having Christmas music in the kitchen (might I suggest the John Denver-Muppets Holiday Special?), while we bake and prepare a Thanksgiving meal. Hilary hasn't mentioned it, but she made a Christmas wreath for our door. Wouldn't that be a wonderful tradition for us and our kids? While there are rarely (and I mean very rarely) snow flurries in San Antonio, the town still strings up the lights, plays the music (did you know a radio station here started playing Christmas music at least two weeks before Thanksgiving? I mean, 24-hours!), and gets into the Christmas spirit. Next week, Hilary and I will go downtown, to see the Riverwalk's lights. Hopefully, we will remember a camera for the occasion.

What are some suggestions for holiday traditions? How can we make the season feel like Fall or Christmas?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fall: the good, the bad, and the meh.

This is Hilary. Solo. I shall not speak for my husband in this post. For he is a southerner.

This has been the strangest fall of my life. Because it wasn't fall. Even today I had to chuck my sweater due to the temperature spike we seem to have every afternoon. I love you, San Antonio, but this ain't no fall.

No leaves turned. In fact, most leaves went from dead brown to vibrant green with the rainfall we waited for all summer.

No real desire for "fall" foods. It's not cold. No one wants hot chocolate and pumpkin pie. Well, I mean, if you set it in front of me, I'd eat it, but it's still pushing 80 outside.

None of the old Thanksgiving traditions. Turkey day was still wonderful; the extended Lemon family hosted a great lunch out at Merrimack, the family property in Winnsboro. And it was nice. Truly. And some of the trees out there looked a little yellow, so that helped invite some fall feelings. But it still wasn't my mom's Thanksgiving. It wasn't a day spent with my family in the kitchen, listening to the Carpenters Christmas Portrait and the Nat King Cole Christmas album on my parents' record player. And that made me feel a little depressed.

Total apathy in the face of Christmas decorating. We have no money. Really. So Christmas decor is out, plus we'll be out of town for 10 days this month, including Christmas, so there's really no point.

And still, I miss it. Whatever "it" is.

I don't miss the places. I don't miss the things. I just miss the magical feeling that was the holiday season of my childhood: crisp air, snow flurries, a world in hibernation, anticipation. I miss being little, when the holidays stretched luxuriously in front of me, instead of speeding by with little recognition.

Meh.