Friday, December 27, 2013

Parties for hosting, marshpillows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow...

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

To start things off, Mr. Awesome and I went with my mom and her Mr. Wonderful to see the Kansas City Repertory Theatre's production of David Sedaris's The Santaland Diaries. So funny, but my favorite part was the terrific set. It was a huge gift-wrapped present that unfolded to reveal a little miniature Santaland. Good job, set designers and builders!

Shopping done and most presents wrapped, we had Christmas #1 with Mr. Awesome's family on Christmas Eve. We gave and received excellent gifts, and had a terrific time laughing and celebrating with everyone. When we got home, we watched A Muppet Christmas Carol, starring Michael Caine as Scrooge. As a Muppet fan, I'm a bit ashamed to admit I'd not seen it before, but I was also grateful to have gotten to experience it for the first time as an adult. It's right up there now in the list of my favorite holiday movies.

Christmas day (aka Christmas #2) was spent with my mom, bonus dad, and bonus sister, along with Mr. Awesome's parents. Mom made a turkey and we brought sides and everyone enjoyed a terrific meal and even more terrific company. We then exchanged presents and everyone got everything on their lists and then some.

Christmas #3 is this Saturday with my dad, sister and bonus mom, along with lots of other various family and friends.

Oh, and everything is on sale at the GAP.

It's the most wonderful time of the year!


Thursday, December 19, 2013

I finally read a book this year.

My appeal was approved - I'm officially a college graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in English!


So now I'm thinking I haven't been reading enough lately. In fact, I haven't read a single book this year. But -- I recently got a Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet that came with the Kindle app installed, so I joined the ranks of the 21st century literary set and finally figured out how to check out electronic books from the library.

Oh. My. God.

This is the greatest thing since bookstores with comfy chairs. I have a whole library at my fingertips, all the time!

I looked through my Goodreads Want to Read list for ideas and decided that the first book I'd read on my device is Alice Walker's The Color Purple.

Again, I say: Oh. My. God.

I can not believe it's taken me this long to read that book. I've seen the movie many times, and think it's very good. But the book is really a masterpiece. It is structured as letters, first from Celie to God, and later as letters between Nettie and Celie. This structure gives more intimacy to the story, like a window into the lives of these characters. While the first part of the book is represented well in the movie, the latter half of the book is really not represented at all - and it's this latter half that really shines. The first half, and what we see in the movie, is all about hurt, and struggle, with a little love thrown in. But in the books, the characters grow more, love more, share more, and forgive more. Nearly all of the characters find redemption and peace.

Towards the end of the book, Celie says of Shug's potential homecoming: "If she come, I be happy. If she don't I be content. And then I figure this the lesson I was suppose to learn." It's a powerful scene, with Celie on the porch, sewing next to the man who she hated, but who has found his own type of redemption in overcoming his loneliness. This is what's missing in the movie - real, true, heartfelt forgiveness and growth.

Not to say the movie isn't excellent. It's just much more different than I realized.

Next on my download list - Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin.

I vow to read more in the next year!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Weekend warrior!

What a great weekend.

On Friday, I participated in the UMKC Commencement ceremony. Before the ceremony, I took a pre-graduation selfie (I hate this word, but it's in the dictionary now, so I am trying to accept it) and noted the following on my phone before handing it off to Mr. Awesome for safekeeping:
"I'm sitting here in Pierson Auditorium waiting to line up for graduation. There are so many young people. I'm feeling old. But the conversations I am overhearing are filled with uncertainty about the future, and I'm already solidly into mine.

I feel weird, and a bit out of place. I earned this, but it's still weird. That's the only word I can think of right now to describe any of it.

The hat is weird. The tassel keeps twisting. I should have curled my hair."
The ceremony was thankfully short due to the threat of ice and snow. Afterwards, I found my mom and Mr. Awesome in the sea of people.

Friday night we ate homemade beef stew - it was okay. Does anyone have a good beef stew recipe? You know - the kind with gravy-like broth and lots of savory flavor? I've not found one I like yet. After dinner, we headed to Alamo Drafthouse for their Movie Interruption presentation of Lethal Weapon. Neither Mr. Awesome nor I had ever seen that movie (I know!) and having comedians make fun of it MST3K-style was a great way to experience it for the first time.

On Saturday we did a bit of Christmas shopping before preparing to run in our first-ever evening 5K, the North Kansas City 1st annual Christmas Light Run. This was probably my favorite run so far, because there were so many people dressed up with bells and lights and Santa hats. It was great! The course was great, too - nice and flat on streets with lots of decorated houses.

The only downside was that it was really, really cold - about 25 degrees. We both dressed in lots of layers, but it was still a bit rough starting out. Once we were running, though, we warmed up nicely. Because of the cold, I didn't expect to have a very good run - my goal was to finish in under 38 minutes, if possible.

Mr. Awesome had another personal-record-setting run - he's on a role, people! Here are his stats:

  • Finish time: 24:00

  • Age group place: 4th of 23

  • Overall place: 57th out of 588
I told you he rocked it!

As for me, I tried to keep a good pace, and pushed myself hard at the end, managing to fly past four or five runners just before the finish line.

My mom surprised us at the finish line - I was so glad to see her!

It was so cool to have her and Mr. Awesome cheering me on at the end, and for once, Mr. Awesome had someone there to cheer for him!

I ended up doing better than I thought I would:

  • Finish time: 36:59

  • Age group place: 40th out of 60

  • Overall place: 425th out of 588
It wasn't my best run, but it was my second best run. I'm satisfied with it :)

Afterwards, Mr. Awesome and I had dinner at P.F. Chang's, then went to the Cheesecake Factory for dessert - we ran so we earned every bite of that Key Lime Cheesecake! Thanks to reservations at one and a hidden bar table at the other, we didn't have to wait at either restaurant at all. It was incredible, because the wait at each was well over an hour and a half.

Sunday found us doing a little more shopping and finishing putting Christmas decorations around the house. Our tree is so pretty - I need to remember to take some pictures.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The long and winding road.

I work at a university, but I don't have a college degree. Not yet, anyway.

I have been a college student for all of my adult life. When I first enrolled at UMKC in 1995, I did so as a vocal music performance major. I lasted two semesters before my lack of piano skills and realization that I had no idea what I would do as a career with such a degree made me switch focus to computer science.

When I got a full-time job on campus, I took classes as I could, on weekends or during my lunch hours. Some I took online, before online classes were en vogue. With the help of Mr. Awesome, I racked up several semesters worth of computer science classes before I hit another stumbling block - I'm not good at math. Just thinking about that sort of problem-solving makes me hyperventilate. So with most of the computer classes under my belt, but just barely having passed Algebra I and needing four more advanced math classes to fulfill the degree requirement, I changed majors for a third time.

This time, I went not with a career-focused degree - I already had a good full-time job that was leading to a career - but instead picked a program of study that matched my interests - English Literature. Semester after semester, year after year, I chipped away at the degree requirements one by one. As an employee, I receive tuition assistance, but only for 6 credit hours per semester, so I never took more than that at a time.

I took classes I loved, and learned so much about books and authors I appreciate and admire. I had some inspiring instructors in the English program, and worked on interesting and challenging projects. I even got a grant to visit Washington, D.C. to present my work related to Charles Dickens and Hard Times.

As the list of requirements dwindled down, I finally could see the end of the road and over the last two years have been solidly focused on getting this thing done.

Then I hit a couple more road blocks.

First, the Arts and Sciences program requires three years of the same foreign language. If I'd taken three years of one language in high school, I would only need two. But stupid me - I took one year of German and two years of French. Quel stupide du moi. So I needed three years of college French to graduate.

I took the first semester as an evening class in 2006 at Maple Woods Community College. By time I really got my stuff together and enrolled in second year French, five years had passed and I barely remembered anything. But I pressed on, and with the help of an understanding teacher, I took second-year French during the evenings in Fall 2012. My very last class, then, for a degree, was third-year French. Unfortunately, it wasn't offered during a time that I could take it in Spring 2013, and while I could have tried to test out of the class (took the final as a pass/fail) I was not confident enough in my skills to put it all on the line like that. So this semester, Fall 2013, I was lucky enough to enroll in a section that met three days a week over my lunch break.

I took my final exam today. I am confident that I passed, and can finally say that J'adore le langue français, mais il est très difficile pour moi. Je voudrais continuer à apprendre, cependant. D'ailleurs...

Now the second road block.

To fulfill a lab-science course, I took geology at Maple Woods in 2008. I couldn't find a course at UMKC that met during my required times, and this one met after work close to my house. I transferred the credit to UMKC and went on my merry way. Then I learned about something called the UMKC Residency Requirement, which states that a student's last 30 consecutive credit hours must come from UMKC. Since transferring the lab-sciences course, my last 29 consecutive credits have been from UMKC. I am one consecutive credit hour short of fulfilling that requirement. Mind you - I am not short of UMKC credit hours at all - far from it. I probably have enough accumulated UMKC credits to graduate twice. But my last 30 consecutive did not come from UMKC. Just my last 29.

Good gravy.

So I have written a heartfelt appeal to the committee that reviews such matters, and have been assured that they will take the matter under advisement in the next four to six weeks.

Good gravy again.

Commencement - that is, the whole thing where graduates walk in robes and hats and all that - is this Friday. Therefore, while I have all the required courses out of the way, while I have taken all the necessary exams, while I have completed the capstone course for my major signifying that I am indeed a scholar of English Literature, I am not sure if I will legitimately graduate for four to six weeks.

But you know what? I don't care.

Because I'm going to walk in the commencement ceremony anyway.

I bought the cap and gown and tassel today (which, by the way, was yet another road block, as they were all out of my size and I had to go short on the robe - no heels for me). And on Friday afternoon, instead of going to lunch, or class, or to get coffee, I am going to put on that regalia and walk in my graduation.

It's been almost 20 years. A lot has happened since I first started college...

Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. The DVD was invented. Michael Jordan played baseball, then had a repeat of the 3-peat, then retired.

The iPod, iPhone, Furby, hybrid car, and Viagra were all invented.

Google and YouTube and Facebook and Twitter all exploded all over our lives.

The World Trade Center towers were there, then they weren't, and they were replaced with a new normal.

They cloned animals. The human genome was sequenced.

Teletubbies happened.

We had pets come and go. We had cars come and go. We bought a house. We got married. We traveled. We gained and lost weight. We pursued interests, then pursued different interests, then pursued different interests.

Lots of life and love and laughter happened in the last nearly-20 years.

And on Friday, I am graduating.

It's never too late, people. It's never, ever too late.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thanks and full!

Sometimes you need a few days off after taking a few days off, amiright?

Wednesday evening was the first night of our Thanksgiving holiday. To begin the festivities, we ate some sushi, drank some eggnog and watched one of my all-time favorite holiday movies, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I will probably watch it again in the next few weeks. I laugh harder every time I see it.

Mr. Awesome and I began a new Thanksgiving tradition this year - a Thanksgiving Day 5K - which meant we had to get up bright and early on Thursday morning. There are many 5Ks to choose from on Thanksgiving Day in our city, and the one we picked was the Pilgrim Run 5K through historic Hyde Park. The race benefits the youth and children's serving component of Pilgrim Center, which provides activities for children and youth in the midtown Kansas City area. After grabbing some coffee at Starbucks (a huge thanks to them for being open on Thanksgiving Day!) we made our way to the race site.

There were about 1,100 participants in the run. The weather was great - sunny, if not a little chilly. We dressed in layers and stayed comfortable.

Mr. Awesome had another excellent run - he finished in 24:55, shaving 30 seconds off his previous best time! He placed 109th out of 724 timed runners.

I finished 525th out of 724 runners, with a time of 37:19. While this is not my best time, it's my second-best time. I'm really happy with it, considering that there was a serious hill in this run.

All in all, it was a great route and lots of fun. We can't wait to see how we improve our times next year!

After the run, we were ready for some Thanksgiving dinner. This year was a repeat of last year - dinner out with our parents at Houlihan's. They serve a great dinner with salad, turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, dinner rolls, and pumpkin pie. The best part - they do the dishes!

Thursday night we watched another Thanksgiving classic, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

Friday we did a little bit of shopping, but not too much. So. Many. People. Friday night, we had dinner at Pot Pie where we shared the best mussels in town. On the way home, a deer decided we were in its way and ran into the front corner of our car. It did just enough damage to be noticeable, but both the car and the deer were still running in the end. We have to get it to a body shop this week, but the damage isn't too bad. Just inconvenient. We ended the night with The Breakfast Club, which Mr. Awesome had never seen.

Saturday morning, we got up early and went for a run at Macken Park. It's a great 1-mile track, and we each did really well and rewarded ourselves with breakfast at The Big Biscuit. Saturday night, we used a Thai Place gift certificate for Pad Thai. Meh. I'm not a big fan of Pad Thai. I think I should have ordered it spicier, because all I tasted was fish sauce and ketchup. Bleh. Saturday night we decided we needed more John Candy in our lives and watched Uncle Buck.

Sunday was tree-trimming day. I got most of it done and did some random errands. We cooked dinner at home and finished the evening with what turned out to be yet another film in our unintentional John Hughes weekend marathon, The Great Outdoors.

Our next run is scheduled for the middle of December, but we'll do lots of training before then. In the mean time, this is my favorite time of year and I'm really looking forward to Christmas lights, holiday music, colorful wrapping paper and all the rest.

Happy Holidays!