Saturday, December 6, 2008

84, Charing Cross Road

I found a GREAT book in the school library, and read it in one sitting. It reminded me of the process I go though when buying used books online.

• The book I really want is out of print.
• I order online from a seemingly reputable seller.
• The book does not come as soon as expected and I email to find out what’s going on.
• The seller emails to say that the book has been sent and should arrive any day.
• The book finally arrives in perfect condition and I feel guilty for only having spent $2 on it. Five stars!
• I order another book from the same seller.
• This time the book arrives on time, but it’s a yellowed, ten year old, mass-market paperback that is missing the front cover.
• I pound out an angry email to the seller threatening to give him only one star!
• The seller writes immediately to beg my forgiveness …
• etc.

That is basically what this book is – letters back and forth between a book buyer and a book seller. The difference is that Helene Hanff’s experience is so much more charming and funny and poignant. I laughed all the way through … and then cried at the end (real tears).

Without giving too much away, it taught me a valuable lesson about friendship and living for today rather than putting off ‘till tomorrow.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Elinor Approves the Rent

I found the perfect apartment. It is (almost) everything I wanted – good price, nice location, plenty of space, charming woodwork. Yep. I found the perfect apartment. But it wasn’t easy.

When I first started my search everything I found was too expensive, too small, too hot, too cold, too far or too dangerous. I learned the real meanings of words like rustic, cozy and beautifully redone (rundown, small, expensive). I learned that the most wonderful prospect can be disqualified by one fatal flaw – like one that had no lock on the front door, or another where you couldn’t stand upright in the bathroom.

After a while, I had a system. I narrowed down the neighborhoods that I would allow myself to look in – based on average rent, proximity to work and interest. Then I started calling, looking for the apartment with the best combination of factors. When I got a call back I would start with THE most important element and work my way down the list.
* RENT - It had to be within my budget, or I would end the conversation there – no need falling in love with a place I can’t afford.
* UTILITIES - I wanted a place where I could control my own heat since I like it on the cool side.
* FLOORS - I really needed a place with carpet since I don’t have any rugs.
* SECURITY - The door needs to lock. Pretty simple.

So, after finally knowing what I was REALLY looking for, I set out to fall in love with an apartment … and I found one! It meets all my basic needs, plus I like it. (More to come.)
All in all the apartment hunt was a rewarding experience. I came away with what I wanted, and I came in under budget. I feel like Elinor in Sense and Sensibility:

The house … was on so simple a scale, and the rent so
uncommonly moderate, as to leave her no right of objection …

In other words, she found a place SO perfect that she HAD to take it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Smart Art

I am learning the art of living large on a small income. This past Thursday I had a chance to go to a reception for solo art show at St. Norbert College featuring the work of a fellow teacher. Since it was on a school night and far from Milwaukee, she rented a bus to take all of those who wanted to attend … and she ordered pizza.

Around 4:30 we boarded the bus. I took along a stack of papers to grade, two magazines, a book and my iPod -- just in case the trip was really boring. But boring it was not. Right after the bus took off -- POP -- the champagne was opened (no I did NOT have any) and the pizza was passed. I handed out napkins and then chatted with teachers, students and some other really funny people. Needless to say, the papers went ungraded.

When we arrived, we were treated to a wonderful show. Everything was done in/on/with paper. One collection was made up of pressed flowers representing each month of the year. There was another collection of pieces that represented trees in various seasons. Finally, "Common Threads" was my favorite. Hard to explain, but very beautiful.

The ride home was less eventful. A friend helped me grade the papers, and then I fell asleep to the sweet strains of an NPR podcast. All in all, it was a great evening. Really great. And the price could not be beat (free).

The invitation.

Waiting for the bus. (Jill on left, Rissie on right.)

Art lovers.

Passing out napkins.

Sam's steady hand.

A toast!

Visiting with students.

One of the better storytellers.

At last!


The artist speaks.

I loved "Common Threads" because of its beauty ...

... its intricacy ...

... and its symmetry.

Thank you to Jeff K. for many of these pictures.