Girl Talk Thursday: Collections

Hi, my name is Beth and I collect a lot of stuff. I’m deathly afraid that someday I’m going to be a candidate for Hoarders because I can’t seem to get rid of my stuff and I can’t seem to give up my collections. And now, I have a daughter, so I don’t see the reason to get rid of some of them because she is a girl and she might want these someday. Yeah, I know justification when I see it. So, what do I collect?


I’ve been collecting dolls since I was about 7 years old. My grandmother gave me my very first Madame Alexander doll that year (Austria) and then gave me at least two a year until I was 13 (maybe 12, I’m kind of fuzzy about precisely when the family blow up happened). I have a lot of country ones (Brazil, Spain, France, China, and so forth). I have a Bride. I have a few from Little Women (an original/old school Beth in a fluffy pink dress). But I also have age dolls (figurines with ages). I have Ginny dolls and clothes and accessories. I now have two American girl dolls with some clothes and accessories.


My husband would say there’s no rhyme, reason, or logic to my book collections, but I think there is. There are certain authors whose books I automatically buy when they come out, in hardcover. Jasper FForde, for example (though truth to tell, my best bud bought the last two at signings he was doing near her home, no I’m not jealous . . . much). I collect cookbooks. When I travel, I try to find a cookbook from the place that I’m in. I have some really interesting cookbooks as a result. My favorite is likely City Tavern Cookbook: Two Hundred Years Of Classic Recipes From America’s First Gourmet Restaurant. I went there with a group of academic friends, had a wonderful time, and bought the book specifically for the recipe for Thomas Jefferson’s Sweet Potato Biscuits. I have some great collections of children’s books and writing books. Also, knitting, quilting, and general craft/art for kids books. My office is nearly over-run with books. Seriously.

craft projects

I don’t collect supplies; I collect projects. For example, I found patterns for quilts for my kids that I want to make. I found some of the fabric. Then I pursued the rest of the fabric. When am I making the quilts? Likely not for a couple of years. Ben is heavy into character bedding and I figure Katie will go through the same thing before she’s willing to sleep under a quilt made by mama. I have cross-stitch kits that I put together — the pattern, the floss, the yarn — ready to stitch. Enough so that I could never buy another one and be stitching into my 70s, I suspect. I have yarn and needles for projects I want to make set aside for the projects. Yup. They’re collections. Seriously.


Many of my friends will not be surprised to discover this as they’ve been commandeered to send me postcards when they travel. I don’t like them pristine. I want them to have been mailed with a note about why this postcard. It’s lots of fun and I have some great cards from great friends. If you’re going somewhere cool and want to send me a postcard, I won’t say no :).


My master closet looks like a toy store exploded in it. I find things I think my kids will like, I buy them and put them in the closet. Then, I wait. I always have something to bring out if the kids are anxious or having a tough day or if I desperately need them to be engaged, I have things I can pull out. I do need to do some toy rotation so that they’re not overwhelmed by stuff.

So, yeah, I collect a heck of a lot of stuff. If you want to see what others are collecting, head over to Girl Talk Thursday and find out!

GTT: If I could save time . . .

at which point, I date myself if I finish the line. So yeah, we won’t go there.

My absolute best time saver is P. He does so much stuff for the house and for me that I honestly don’t know how anything would function if he weren’t around. However, most of my big time savers are the result of someone else’s hard work.


Motivated Moms. I currently use this for my cleaning and organizing, though I’ve been considering switching to ListPlanIt because there are more lists (and I’m a girl who loves a good list). The point being that lists help me save time because I look at the list, follow what it says, and get things done. Without lists I am lost. And without lists I waste a ton of time looking around trying to figure out what I need to do first.

Meal planning. This used to be such misery. We would stack up a bunch of cookbooks and try to figure out what we wanted to eat. And we’d argue. Lord, how we argued. Now? We use Relish! and we don’t argue about menus anymore.

Shake-n-Bake. Not the stuff on the shelves, no. But, when I cook anything that requires hand dipping and coating, I read very carefully to decide if it *really* needs hand-dipping or if I can get away with dumping everything in a ziplock bag and shaking away. 90% of the time, you can shake and bake with no discernible difference in quality. I love that.

Errands. I’ve learned not to do them with kids along. I wait until P’s day off and I go out and do as many as I can at one time. I have a loop. Library, post office, Target, mall, JoAnn’s, home. I want to try Alice, but I’m not convinced that it would work for me. Of course, I spent almost six months looking at Relish! before I decided it would work, so maybe I should give it a try and see.

Planning ahead. First of all, I make appointments for things weeks ahead of needing them so that I can get exactly the time that I need. It is not unheard of for me to call our vet a month before I need an appointment to get the exact time I want. I also have a planner. Paper, yes, I’m retro and somewhat proud of it. I use one from Daysteps that I’ve really liked. It lets me get all the things that I want in one place and has a great layout for the various parts of my life. It really works for me.


Believe it or not, there are ways to save time as an instructor in online courses.

Files. I have an intense filing system for my classes. Every term has its own file, every seminar has its own file, and every assignment has its own file. Put all that together, and it takes me a couple of minutes to find anything from any term for the last couple of years.

Posting. There are some required posts or things that I really need to discuss each term. I have some prewritten material that I can put in for those posts. This doesn’t mean that all I do is copy/paste. But, honestly, who is going to write a new post about writing an introduction every term? Someone with more time on her hands than I have, that’s who.

TextExpander is my secret weapon. Okay, so it’s not so much of a secret anymore, but it’s how I get around the other part of my job that makes me a little nuts. Let’s say you’re teaching two classes of thirteen students. And let’s say of those 26 students, 20 of them make the same apostrophe error in their first paper, do you type over the apostrophe rules 20 times? In the old days, yes, I did. Now? I type my code with a pound sign and the apostrophe rules show up where I want them. There are days when I would sell my soul for that kind of efficiency, and I mean that. If only they could make the same thing happen with my laundry :).

My iPad. I know it sounds crazy, but the thing saves me time. I use it as a second screen and can check things in one place while I’m working in another without rotating through a bunch of windows. It’s awesome!

And that’s how I save time. I wish I had great little tricks, but I don’t. I use tools to make life easier and to save time. I mean seriously, who wouldn’t? Now, go check out the other Girl Talk Thursday folks and find out how they save time, too.

Dickinson, Derrida, and Frost, Oh, my!

I know that a lot of the folks who are writing this today are talking about teachers from K-12 who influenced them in some way, but if I’m utterly honest about who I am and what I’ve become, then I am forced to admit that I was more influenced by two college professors than I was by anyone else in my entire academic career. Irv and Dr. Figg could not have been more different. Just the way that I refer to them indicates that.

I had my first course with Dr. Figg when I was a sophomore in college, and I was scared to death. He had a reputation as a GPA killer, and I wasn’t sure my GPA could take that kind of death blow. But, I have never been one to back away from a challenge, and so I registered for the class and braced for it. Several of my friends were taking organic chemistry that term and set up study times for that. I horned in for the quiet. I made notes of notes and worked my butt off in that class. Then we got to Jonathan Edwards and I nearly died. I could not make any kind of meaning come out of that reading. I didn’t get it and I was pretty sure the situation was hopeless. I finally broke down and confessed to him in a quiet voice that I just didn’t get it. I knew I was going to fail the next test because Edwards not only didn’t make sense, but I’d spent so much time on trying to get it that I wasn’t caught up on the rest. I expected impatience at my slowness or irritation that I was keeping him from his afternoon, but instead Dr. Figg stopped, turned around, and went back to the chalkboard. He started drawing pictures (rather crude drawings; a great artist, he wasn’t) and tried to make the link come alive for me. He spent two hours at this before a very small glimmer of light came on. I realized there was a connection between what we were reading and Plato’s theory of forms. I’m not sure who was more relieved that I got it, but I did get it. He helped me because I was trying, and I’ve never forgotten that. It’s a principle I apply in my own teaching. I will do what it takes to help someone who is making a legitimate effort, but woe to those who don’t try and expect me to hand over the goods.

I took several more classes with Dr. Figg over the years, and I loved them even when I struggled. I figured out that while he was a tough instructor who had incredibly high standards, he was also, at heart, at least as committed to helping his students learn as much as they could. He was a teacher and a true scholar of his discipline, but if you search for articles by him, you won’t find many. The sad truth is that he would not survive the publish or perish academia of today, and I consider that the greatest loss. He was amazing. He had more depth of knowledge on a wider range of subjects than any other professor I ever had. I absolutely adored him.

He also had a wicked sense of humor, just wicked. He knew that I knew his son from high school, in that general way that you know people in a class of over 500, and he was pretty sure that his son didn’t recognize me. More than once he’d see his son coming from over my shoulder and ask me to give him a hug and walk away, just to give his son something to grumble about. Dr. Figg would invariably show up in my office the next day laughing about his son’s supposed outrage at the young girls hanging on his dad. Based on how easily he recognized me at his dad’s funeral, I’m guessing that the outrage was more to humor his dad, but it was fun anyway.

And then there was Irv. I still have a hard time talking about Irv. If there was ever a man I would have considered leaving my husband for (aside from George Clooney, of course), it would have been Irv. He opened my mind to possibilities. He helped me understand the utterly unstable nature of discourse and to privilege written text over just about every other medium (except film and television). He helped me find the words for the questions that I didn’t even know I wanted to ask, and helped me to find the courage to ask them.

When I took my first class with him, we watched “The Trouble with Tribbles.” For someone with deep Trek roots, this was an awesome experience. I do not know how to explain how much I adored him. He was always willing to listen and willing to listen to my nutty ideas. My fondest memory is from that first class. Poor Irv was so totally open-minded, except for one thing, he hated Star Wars. Despised it. Couldn’t stand it. So, let’s guess what I wanted to write my paper on. And the amazing thing was that he let me. Not only did he let me, he forced himself to watch the movies so that he could adequately respond to my paper.

There are many, many students who have benefitted from Irv’s insistence that literature is more than books in Middle English, more than Byron, Keats, Shelley. More than Dickinson and Frost. I have taught everything from Rap to rock, from Star Trek to The Matrix. He gave me the courage to start teaching Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael (public service note, if you haven’t read this book, you absolutely must find a copy and read it). It was thanks to Irv that I believed it was important to teach The Laramie Project in the Deep South. I did these things because he convinced me that the point of literature is not just to read but to be challenged in some way by what you read.

He taught me that what the critics think is important, but what I think is at least as important. The reader’s experience of a piece of writing trumps the writer’s intent for the piece of writing. My son is learning this at four. Can you imagine the havoc he would create in the average classroom?

So Irv’s legacy is alive. It’s in my kids and in the students I teach and it’s in how I approach the world. At the end of the day, when I meet my maker, I firmly believe that Irv will be there and he’ll be asking, did you make a difference? Because that’s what his kind of teaching, reading, and learning does. You can’t help but make a difference once you understand that absolutely nothing is as it appears and everything is subject to interpretation.

These men made me the teacher that I am. They made me the parent that I am. They made me the person that I am. I’m eternally grateful to both. I miss them both.

Oh, why the title? My favorite class that Dr. Figg taught was Dickinson and Frost. He made these two authors, as opposite as they were, fit together seamlessly. And, Derrida? Well, Irv was always a sucker for a good French theorist.

GTT: What did I want to be when I grew up

Oh, man. When I was a kid, I really thought I could do anything. Absolutely anything I wanted to do. I wish I could say I held onto that feeling, but I didn’t. I don’t know when or how I started seeing my life in more limited bubbles, but I did. And I think it’s sad.

I wanted to be somebody important. I wanted to do great things. For a while, I thought I wanted to be a heart surgeon. I don’t know why I settled on that, specifically, but I did. I guess it didn’t occur to me that blood would be involved (yeah, the thinking process there is stellar, isn’t it?). I held onto that as the big dream because, well, it made my dad very happy.

But there were other things underneath that that I wanted to do, that I believed I could do or would be good at. I wanted to be a journalist at one point. I wanted to be part of getting important stories out. Then I wanted to be a photojournalist. I love taking pictures. I still do, but I don’t think I could keep my camera going in the face of tragedy. I just don’t think I could.

At some point or another I wanted to be a politician. I know where that came from. I was fascinated by women in politics. Geraldine Ferraro was someone I was really impressed with. I was furious when she had to take the blame for her husband’s idiotic choices. I’ve never understood why women are to blame when men do stupid shit, but men aren’t even responsible for things like childcare in their own homes.

I always, always wanted to be a writer. I submitted short stories to contests, but never even received a thank you note. I wanted to write a great novel and be a huge success. I’ve never managed that. I have drafts of things on my computer, but none of them are going to win any prizes or make a splash, and now I’m so tired all the time, I’m not sure I have the energy, drive or focus to write. I have been through periods where I needed to write, but right now doesn’t seem to be one of them (blog writing aside).

And then there’s the teaching thing. I played school with my sister as soon as she was old enough to sit reliably in a chair. We played all sorts of variations, but I was always the teacher. And, in that whole look where I landed thing, that’s what I do. I don’t teach the age I thought I would and I don’t teach what I thought I would. I don’t even teach where I thought I would, but I teach. I get some satisfaction from doing it. I still love the light bulb moment, but students are changing. Students are changing in ways that I don’t like and so is education. I don’t know if I’ll still be teaching in ten years.

Maybe by then, I’ll feel like a grown up and I’ll be who I wanted to be when I grew up. In ten years, I’ll be 50. I’m hoping by then, I’ll have this figured out and be who I want to be doing what I want to do. A girl can dream, right?

Make sure you head over to Girl Talk Thursday and check out what other people are saying.

GTT: $10 Dinner Twofer (plus 1)

Okay, so once upon a time, P and I were young and broke, with no kids. Now, we’re older, less broke, and have two kids. Once upon a time, we survived on a food budget of $25 A WEEK. Yeah, we don’t do that anymore. But cheap and easy are my favorite things to do, so l have a top three favorites that all come in under $10, I think. Now, one of these presupposes that you have flour & yeast in your pantry, though even adding those to the bill won’t make it impossible. Or, you know, but a pizza dough ball, that too would keep it under $10.

Option 1: Pasta with Special Sauce

1 box of spaghetti (I’ve used angel hair, fettuccine, and linguine with equal success, but a short pasta struggles here).
1 jar of spaghetti sauce (I use whatever is on sale, seriously).
Garlic powder
1 onion (a real one) (slice in half; cut one half into strips or half rings; save other half)
4 to 5 strips of bacon
hot sauce (for year’s it was Tabasco and only Tabasco, these days I like Frank’s Red Hot)

Cook the spaghetti according to package instructions.

Cook the bacon in a pan. Remove when cooked to your preferred level of doneness. Remove from pan. Drain off some, but not all of the bacon grease.

Put onion into the bacon grease and cook until desired level of doneness is achieved. Add spaghetti sauce and garlic powder. Add hot sauce to taste.

Mix cooked pasta into sauce. You can either crumble the bacon at this point and mix it in, or as P prefers crumble your bacon over individual servings.

Option 2: Barbeque Bacon Pizza

(or a dough ball if you have the cash)
Barbeque sauce
Mexican 4 cheese blend (the big package)
1/2 onion
4 to 5 strips of bacon

Make a pizza crust or get your dough ball out. I go with dough balls. I figure you have your own recipe for dough, so I’m not going to give you that part.

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Press out your dough on a pizza pan (or if you’re fancy a pizza stone). Cook on both sides until golden brown spots are showing up.

Cook bacon. Drain off most of the bacon grease. Once cooled crumble bacon.

Chop onion. Cook in remaining bacon grease.

Spread barbeque sauce over the crust to desired level of thickness. I like a significant amount of barbeque sauce.

Sprinkle some cheese over the sauce (about a 1/2 cup). Sprinkle crumbled bacon over the cheese. Spread onions over bacon. Cover with remaining cheese.

Put in oven and cook until cheese is slightly golden and bubbly.

As an aside, both of these recipes work with turkey bacon or with vegetarian bacon. You’ll never know the difference :).

Option 3: 11 cent soup

1 potato
1 cup rice
1 onion
1 can chicken broth
olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced (don’t sub powdered)

Peel and chop the potato. Chop the onion. Put onion and olive oil in a soup pan and cook until onion is translucent; and garlic, cook til golden. Add potato and cook in the oil for a couple of minutes. Add rice and chicken broth. Add water. Cook until the potatoes are done. Add water as necessary (or more chicken broth if you have it).

This is a take off on Dom Deluise’s Potato-Rice Soup that P and I called 11 cent soup because it was really that cheap.

So, there are my solutions. You can see other solutions at Girl Talk Thursdays. There are a lot of clever women out there, go meet a few :).

Edited to add: Crap. I left the clove of garlic out of the 11 cent soup. It’d be good without, but it’s better with. Really, it is. It’s been added in now.

GTT: I Get to Bitch

Oh, what an excellent day for this. The only problem is most of the things I want to bitch about, I can’t talk about. Sigh. And I just did that whole ranting post the other day about how I’m tired of being sick, so yeah, maybe I was two days early with that one.

Ah, but I do have something I can bitch about: kids’ clothes. I hate that t-shirts for my son are impossible to find without either tons of crappy advertising on them or stupid slogans. I’m sorry, but I don’t want my son running around with “Lock up your daughters” scrawled across his chest. I also don’t want him to be a product advertisement for Mario Brothers. He has a couple of character shirts (Cars and Toy Story), but the majority of his t-shirts are plain WalMart t-shirts because at least they don’t have slogans on them.

I hate that clothes for my FIFTEEN MONTH old daughter have things like “diva,” “princess,” “spoiled” etc., scrawled across various parts of her anatomy. She’s a sweet little girl with a great temperament, but even if she wasn’t I would not want her to have that stuff written on her. It’s easier, though, to find little girl clothes that aren’t as obnoxious, but you have to pay serious money for them. As if good taste is something you can only have if you have money.

What is WRONG with people?

I’m beyond mad about the health care reform situation. I do not understand how it can be so hard for people to understand that something has to happen and that the Republican “option” isn’t truly an option, it’s NOTHING. They’ve got NOTHING. All they have is the ability to say, I don’t think X or Y or Z is a good idea. And if that’s all you’ve got, then you’re not bringing ideas and you should probably shut. it. Simultaneously, I do not understand Democrats at all. They have the majority and they act like they’re still in the minority. The Republicans never had the mythical 60, and yet they managed to get things passed all the time. What is the hold up here? I understand they want to be bipartisan, but that requires the other team to be willing to play. They’re not suiting up, they’re not getting on the field, they’re not playing ball, so take the ball and SCORE with it. Why is this so hard? They’re not going to like you because you’re trying to get them to play, so stop trying to be liked and do the job you were “hired” for.

And don’t get me started on homeschooling in the state of Florida. I’m seriously considering buying a boxed curriculum just to be able to show checked off lists of stuff that he’s learned. Trying to do this on my own is making me crazy. Crazier. I can’t actually teach like that, but I could try, I guess. I don’t know. I’m utterly not sure what to do.

Oh, and I hate how women’s clothes are sized. I’m a bunch of different sizes depending on which store I’m in and which manufacturer I’m dealing with. Why can’t there be a consistent form of measurement. I’m also sick of return policies that don’t make sense or that make me jump through a half-dozen or more hoops in order to return something.

I’m stressed, I’m tired, and I just don’t want to think about all the participation I have to grade. My final point that I bitch about on a regular basis. I hate grading. I love to teach. I love to help students develop their ideas and gain skills, but I HATE grading them on those skills. I hate having to evaluate participation in particular because it’s just a pain. I mean, if you participate, that’s great, but if you don’t spell check and you don’t do all the other things that are required, you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t get full points for your post, and yet so many are. Very irritating.

I really get tired of the notion that if you made an attempt you should get full credit. My son gets “credit” for trying, but he doesn’t get total adulation for trying UNLESS he also does it right. (whatever it is).

Man, I am so glad I didn’t give up complaining for Lent, you know?

Now, if you want to know what ticks off other people go check out: Girl Talk Thursday, you’ll get a laugh at the very least.

GTT: Scaredy Cat

Today’s Girl Talk Thursday question is pretty tough. What are you too chicken shit to do? Oh, there are so many things.

Rock climbing. I think it looks cool. I’d love to try a rock climbing wall, but I’m seriously scared. I hate heights and the idea of the only thing between me and a serious fall is a little piece of rope, yikes. I’m just not sure I can handle it.

Falling. I know it sounds crazy, but I’m terrified of falling. Every time I’ve fallen, I’ve done serious damage to myself (sprains, knee surgery, etc., etc., etc), so any kind of a fall makes me completely petrified. Which means I haven’t ridden a bike in years. I haven’t used my roller blades in so long, I don’t even know if I could skate anymore.

Trying new things. I’m terrified of new things. Especially new things where I don’t know if I have any skill or not. I have always had such impossibly high standards for myself that the thought of failing at something makes me physically ill. This, clearly, is not a great attribute, and not one that I want to pass on to my kids, but I’m still working on how we get around that.

Go to conferences. I used to go. Hell, I was on the academic circuit for quite a while. I LOVED going to ASECS (American Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies) every year, and now I hyperventilate at the thought of going. Even to a conference like that one where I know a lot of people and would be fine. The thought of BlogHer or Blissdom makes me so panicky I can’t think.

Do something different with my life. I spent many, many years getting my degree. I, for the most part, love what I do. But part of me really wants to try doing something else. Except I don’t think I know how to do anything else and I’m scared to try to find out if I do or to try something else because, oh yeah, I might fail. I’ve always loved taking pictures, for example. But I don’t think I’m good enough to do it for living or even as a “professional” hobby. Sigh.

Deal with unresolved issues. There are unresolved issues in parts of my life that I am just too scared to deal with. I’ve tried and had things shoved back at me pretty damned hard, and I just don’t feel brave enough to try again. There are times when I really hate that, but the rest of the time, I’m reasonably good with it.

Just thinking about all of this is tiring. So, I’m going to go grade. You make sure to go check out the other Girl Talk Thursday entries. I know I will be between papers.

GTT: My favorite “beauty secret”

Okay, first of all, the disclaimer: I am not known for my amazing beauty or the fact that I look super well put together. I do have a fantastic hairdresser who knows what the heck to do with my hair. But, if you don’t have curly hair, that’s not going to help you. I have amazing hair products that I use, and I’ll talk about those, but again, if you don’t have curly hair, you might not find much help. However, I do have a secret. A family secret. That I’m going to share with the whole wide internet (or at least those who read Girl Talk Thursday).

So, what’s my secret?

Fruit of the Earth Vitamin E Cream

Fruit of the Earth Vitamin-E Cream 4 oz. + 4 oz. Jar

Yeah, that’s right, Vitamin E cream. Now, first, I don’t have dry skin. My skin is pretty oily usually, but every night before bed I put really small amount of this stuff on my face. Every night. I have also been known to use it on my feet, my elbows, my hands. Anything that seems to be dry or whatever.

Why do I use it? Well, it’s like this, my grandmother, my father’s mother was 96 years old when she died. No one, including the doctors who worked with her, believed for a second she was a day over 70 until near the very, very end. Why? Her skin was not entirely smooth, but not nearly as wrinkled as you would expect for a woman in her 90s who had lived a rather hard life. This? Was her secret. It became my mother’s secret. And now it’s mine. And it works.

Now, for those of you with curly hair. Here are my “bonus” secrets:

Ouidad’s Climate Control. This stuff is a pure miracle with my hair. The humidity in Florida makes me look like I’m sporting a blonde ‘fro. It’s not a pretty sight AT ALL. However, put this stuff in after I shower, and my hair separates into curls and I look cute.

Ouidad’s Botanical Boost. Okay, so when I first bought this I figured I’d never use it and I’d fallen prey to marketing. And then I tried it. First time, was when I was going to the pool. My hair looked even better than it usually did. Then I found out that it revived my curls when I skipped a few days washing it. Um, this stuff is the bomb. It’s usually the only thing I travel with for my hair. It’s that good.

Now that you know my secrets, what are yours?