Sunday, December 28, 2008

Conference Spouse Day

I've spent a lot of the day working on syllabi. Making hypothetical syllabi is like writing hypothetical novels. The idea is so clear and substantial, but when you go to actually put words on paper you realize how thin it was, how little you know, how much more you need to know. I can't put any of my hypothetical course titles in this blog because that will make me a google-magnet, but let's just say they're all over the place, and in various skeletal states.

Working in a hotel room is nice, although the wireless is extremely weak. I have to sit in one particular chair by the window to get it at all. I worked most of the morning and them went out shopping--catching after-Christmas sales at Macy's. Things were impressively marked down. I ended up with two $35 sweaters, variously marked down from $70 and $170. It's a tremendous indulgence (I rarely spend as much as $20 on a single item of clothing), but it just felt really fun. Then I wandered around a little nearby market and eventually got myself some lunch. I also made a squished penny (pardon me, elongated coin) with a pig on it. And ate a cupcake. I am about ready to decide that cupcakes are overrated and over-priced. Except there was that one incredible red velvet cupcake from Bourgeois Pig (coffeeshop in Chicago) that makes me hesitate to say this definitively. Probably it depends on how much or little fat one has been eating lately.

Meanwhile Pocket of Bolts had two job interviews today. On the one hand, I feel for him--all that stress!--but on the other hand, at least by tomorrow night it'll be all over, whereas my ordeal is still ahead.

I napped and wasted time in the afternoon, then got back to working around 7. I was still full from lunch, so I didn't eat dinner. It's so funny when PoB and I are on different schedules; I feel like I'm off the leash! I'll probably have to have a midnight snack. Now I guess I'll go work out in the 24 hour exercise facility at this fine establishment.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Family and Family Dogs

At last, a quiet hotel room in East Coast City where Pocket of Bolts is having his convention interviews. I am just along for the ride on this one, though my own trial by fire is fast approaching. For now... just time to unwind.

I have been in a state which I tend to characterize as "over-socialized." Too many people (and dogs), too much thinking about how to interact with them, and who they are, and why. It's like even after I am not with them anymore I keep thinking about them because their lives are so novel to me. However, it is difficult to stop thinking about them and that makes me feel overwrought.

It has not been an especially productive day but I have been sitting quietly with my computer, sometimes doing work, sometimes playing games, sometimes just tidying things up. Tomorrow I am going to be a tiger.

About the last few days...

I was a little sad on Christmas because PoB's mom's family does all the festivities on Christmas Eve, so by Christmas it seemed like everything was over already. We sat at the rarely used dining room table in PoB's mom's house and did work. I polished up my syllabus some more... So yes, I worked on Christmas Day. Anytime I am tempted to accuse myself of laziness, I should probably remember that.

In the afternoon we went to PoB's maternal aunt's "open house," a fairly laid back holiday hanging out. I met one person I liked very much, the aunt's eleven-year-old step-daughter. She was a shy little adolescent but she did seem interested in interacting with PoB and me. I talked to her about this and that, and we ended up playing Trivial Pursuit, which was one of the things she had gotten for Christmas. We taught her how to play our own simplified "more fun" version. Trivial Pursuit is a bit rough for an eleven-year-old but she was game. She also let us play with her new electronic rubik's cube. It was pretty fun (internet comparisons between it and the original tend to miss the point--it's a totally different thing, more like Simon Says than anything). Later when PoB and I were talking to the grownups again, the step-daughter got a large paperback (complete Chronicles of Narnia in one vol.) and sat by, half listening half reading. She reminded me so much of me!

We had a quiet night after we got back. I stayed up late doing who knows what. Reading web comics. Poking around. Playing games. We also finished watching the first season of Deadwood. One of the main characters, Seth Bullock, is such a dead ringer for someone we know that it's downright funny. It's not just in looks: in personality, ethical make-up, temper, you name it. It makes the show about ten times funnier and more interesting.

PoB's mom and step-father left early the next morning, that was yesterday morning, and we were left to take care of the little dog and slowly pack our stuff. More on little dog: we decided that part of her problem is over-sensitivity, though the cause is unclear. She has an overdeveloped flinch response: you reach out to pet her, she flinches. It's like her first assumption is that you're going to attack her. Part of her barking problem seems to be over-excitement. I tried not only ignoring her while she was barking but also standing stock still. Then when she stopped barking I moved very slowly and quietly. That helped some. PoB and I both worked on petting and praising her only when she wasn't barking. And a lot of the barking subsided. Still, though... really a strange dog.

I confess my encounter with the step-daughter caused me to have a strong desire to make a friendship bracelet. Who knows why THAT particular throw-back to my adolescent days, but it was one of the things the girl was quietly doing on the edge of things, making a friendship bracelet or rather learning to make one. It's funny to know that girls are still doing that, and making the very same ones too. So I made PoB take me to the Walmart and got the materials for this activity. It is much faster and easier than I remembered, ha. I think as an adolescent I was probably prone to a certain impatience and dreaminess which made the projects take longer and often not get finished at all. Of course, I still am; projects on the order of a friendship bracelet seem doable however. I finished one and got about halfway through another on the three hour drive. I was thinking I might send one to the step-daughter with a little note. I'll put a picture up when I get around to it.

Anyway, we arrived at the next stop on our journey, PoB's paternal uncle's house. He's married to an Italian-American gal and they have two kids (ages 9 and 11) adopted from Korea. Also two dogs, a young male golden retriever and a slightly more mature shiba inu. (The latter was exceedingly adorable; it looked like a teddy bear crossed with a fox, somewhat like this.) And a cat. In addition to this crowd an Italian uncle who lives nearby was visiting with his two kids, not sure their exact ages, maybe 5 and 7? As you can imagine, there was a lot of chaos. Everyone talking a mile a minute, Christmas presents flying. Stilts! a weird roller-skate type of scooter! video games! Ipods!

The golden retriever was so strong it was tearing open chew toys and gutting them of their stuffing. Then he'd poke disinterestedly at the rope and squeaker and dead little cover. If he got his mouth around something that the shiba inu was also chewing on, a massive and hilarious snarling match would ensue. Meanwhile we all tried the stilts. Also some big semi-automatic nerf guns.

I would write more but it makes me tired just thinking about it all. PoB's aunt (by marriage) talks a mile a minute and had a lot on her mind. I think we heard a goodly proportion of it. We also saw a documentary on adoption made by one of her nieces. This was about the last thing we did before going to bed, dropping with tiredness. Once in bed though I couldn't sleep at all. Adoption is disturbing. I kept thinking about it. The older kid has Tourette's syndrome and I kept thinking about that too, especially since we were sleeping in his (extremely handsome and immaculate) room. I finally got to sleep but didn't sleep too terribly well. Had many "escaping from bad guys" dreams.

It was not a long drive from there to here and as I said, I've just been chilling out. Eating inexpensive but reasonably healthy food. May even go have a short workout in a bit.

I have been thinking about how I may change this blog in the new year. I was thinking I might try to do something more fun and systematic, maybe something to do with a new Yijing project I've been contemplating. We'll see.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ordeal Upon Ordeal

Trip to grad school town: fairly disastrous!

Plane out of Chicago was much delayed; didn't arrive in grad school town until after 1 AM. Fortunately the friends I was staying with were able to just leave their porch light on and door unlocked. I slipped in quietly and fell into bed.

Slept in some and then got to work preparing for the convention interview advice meeting and mock interview, all of which were starting at 3. I did do my best to prepare, but ...

Went to the meeting, having changed into my new suit. On the up side, the suit was praised as being absolutely appropriate. Hurray! On the down side, at least the dissertation spiel part of my mock interview was disastrous. I REALLY need to work on that. Our profs can be really scary when they try. I mean, they're scary even when they don't try, so ...

Although there were people I hadn't seen in a long time, and it was a real joy to see them, I also felt the mass accumulation of stress in the area to be far too much for me. I think we got each other more wound up rather than being able to give each other any real comfort.

So I opted for dinner with some other friends who are not on the market. We went to a restaurant I have always been rather fond of and considered reliable. My food didn't taste so great. I figured I'd just mis-ordered and ate it anyway. It was fun chatting with my friends, but I was increasingly distracted by strange feelings of discomfort and hot and cold. I thought it was just residual stress and tiredness, so we didn't linger much and went our separate ways (fortunately opposite directions).

Then I walked half a block and was very sick in a convenient garbage can. It was very surprising because I hadn't been sick like that since I was a kid. I have a strong stomach and even in China I got off pretty lightly, with only the occasional "spicy tummy" (diarrhea).

I walked around a little bit to calm down, but felt fine so I went back to the place I was staying. I didn't feel like eating anything at all, though those friends were having a late dinner of pizza. I hung out with them, drank some hot water. But pretty soon I was feeling pretty bad again. Anyone who's had food poisoning can guess at the gory details ... Fortunately they're good friends and I made it to the bathroom every time.

Originally I had planned to walk to small trunk station to catch the first train out for my early morning flight (about a twenty minute walk). But as the night progressed I realized that that plan was getting increasingly unrealistic, even if there weren't my bags to contend with. So around 2 AM I called to reserve a taxi to the bigger station. No, he couldn't come at 4:30, he was already booked up. Stupid small towns. He could do 3:30. Whatever. I wasn't sleeping anyway.

It turned out to be a van, a sort of shared ride thing. We had to pick up a lot of people, everywhere. He went around corners fast. I made it all the way to the train station, and even managed to pick up my bags before walking over to throw up discreetly in the bushes. By this time nothing but water. The taxi man walked over and looked at me with concern and distaste. I told him I wasn't drunk, just food poisoning and asked what I owed him. He said $20, which for a shared ride on a route that should take 10 minutes, was an extreme rip-off. I wasn't exactly in any shape to debate it though.

The train ride was better than I feared. Mostly I was just really thirsty. Security at the airport was much worse, a 40 minute wait in a crawling line. I hate flying United. I was so weak that moving my bags a few inches forward every minute or two was a major trial. Occasionally I sat down right on the floor and just inched forward on my ass. But I was worried that I would do something suspicious and make them think I was too sick to fly. Probably I was, but I just desperately wanted to get home.

The security guy when I walked through the metal detector did look rather suspicious. He said, Are you all right? I summoned my haughtiest, bitchiest manner and said, Yeah, I'm just totally exhausted!--with an accusing tone, as if it was his fault security was so slow etc. He lost interest fast.

After that things improved. I bought a bottle of sprite and drank it in small sips, which made me feel a lot better. The flight went fine although again much delayed. (Ground stop on the Chicago side due to nasty ice-storm.) When I finally got there, the train/bus ride home wore me out completely. But Pocket of Bolts was there (in a frenzy of worry) to take my bags from me and put me to bed and ply me with sprite and chicken soup.

The sprite and chicken soup were handy to have on hand, because PoB was himself coming down with something flu-like, and of course I caught it due to my weakened state. We basically stayed in bed for the next two days subsisting on saltines and soup, sprite, water, and advil. I even had a fever over a hundred. We did a lot of sleeping.

By the time we recovered, we barely had time to do our last minute Christmas shopping and packing before hitting the road again (yesterday), this time to fly out and have Christmas with PoB's mom's family. Travel and sickness have effectively eaten up the best hours of the past week and my interviews are looming.

It's all right here, at least reasonably relaxing. But today we were again pretty wiped out from the trip. We still had a bit more shopping to do and in the afternoon we tried to do some work. But it was an uphill battle, since we were a bit still headachy and bodyachy from the flu thing. Or maybe just from travel. We are both nervous about our interviews but too shaken out of our normal calm routines to do much in the way of preparation. Sometimes I think we should have just skipped Christmas altogether, just stayed home and got ourselves physically and mentally prepared ... but I guess that would have been sad.

Anyway, at least we went running today, offsetting some of our rather unvirtuous eating. We managed 25 minutes at a decent clip. Those gym-honed muscles are good for something after all. It's below freezing here, but at least not below zero as it is in Chicago. Even PoB did admit to being cold though ...

PoB's mom has a weird neurotic little dog, a year old now, who's a bit of a holy terror. Furious barking anytime anyone moves around in the house. She was very displeased at our arrival, barking and growling despite repeated reassurances. Now, we have been told, she has gotten used to us and is mostly treating us like she treats everyone else, barking loudly at the slightest relocation.

The only thing that stops her barking is picking her up and carrying her like a baby, which she of course very much enjoys. (I have resisted doing this, but PoB's mom is a pretty reliable vehicle.) Barking is an almost infallible way to attain this goal, so the conditioning's pretty well set. She is alternately fawned upon and scolded so much that neither reward nor punishment have any discernible effect on her. So, it is frustrating to try to interact with her. Any attempt to play with her (chew toys, tug of war, fetch) just leads to furious barking. She finds the activity more upsetting than interesting. Ugh. Both Pocket of Bolts and I have decided to try my parents' strategy of ignoring her barking so she'll know it won't work. Some success, pretty limited though; her patterns are pretty well set. Tomorrow we're going to try taking her running though. Supposedly exercise has a good effect on her. The whole thing reminds me of Nanny 911. They need Dog-Nanny 911.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Post-Midnight Oil and Snow

I have been up late working again. It's after 1 AM, and the apartment is very quiet. I am listening to soft piano music on Pandora. Pocket of Bolts has been asleep for hours.

Today all day it snowed, with heavy accumulation starting around noon. Snow plows and snow blowing machines and shapeless men with shovels have all been struggling against it, but they mostly gave up around midnight.

In the early evening I took the train down to the nearest post office, sending Christmas presents to the dear ones I will not be able to see this holiday. The sun (I assume) had already set, but the twilight sky was an improbable shade of purple. Snow was swirling through the high intensity lights over Wrigley Field, bright and silver like cold flying sparks. The world seemed strange and quiet. The sound of the train when it came was muted too.

I hope the snow does not prevent me from flying tomorrow. I am going back to grad school town for a practice interview. I am in no sense prepared for this, and have been putting off the preparation very assiduously. Given that my greatest fear is being unprepared, why don't I take steps to ensure that I am properly prepared? I have no idea.

In any case, I've spent the last two hours working on a syllabus. It's not easy making a syllabus. Clearly potential tinkering is endless. I have to come up with a dissertation spiel as well, a five minute summary/description. I haven't done that yet, probably because it's the thing I'm most anxious and insecure about. Or maybe second most--the job talk really takes the cake, but it's hard to say if I'll even need one of those. I know for sure I'll need the dissertation spiel.

Well, enough babbling. Back to work I think, or perhaps to sleep.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

'Tis the Season

I spent yesterday in a tremendous editing fervor. It is as my mom says: though I complain about stress, when it's coming down to the wire I can work with great intensity. I had promised a revision for my adviser by yesterday and managed to deliver, writing about 2000 words (probably more) of new stuff in the process. That's all in one day mind you.

Around three, I finished that up and headed down to meet Pocket of Bolts in his office. There we finally took care of my airline ticket problem. After exploring all the options, we decided that the best (and cheapest!) one was actually a THIRD trip to the East Coast for me--i.e., three trips in less than three weeks, but at least I get to have the comforts of home for a few days in between each trip. I am getting to be pretty good with plane tickets on Priceline.

In the late afternoon we went downtown to do some X-mas shopping. I had a bit more stamina for this than Pocket of Bolts did, perhaps because I won't have much chance to do it any other time, while he has the stretch of time I'll be gone this week, time to kill. He went home and made dinner, with the result that there was a lovely Portuguese sausage and kale soup waiting for me when I got back.

I was very tired from the stressful morning and afternoon of shopping, so I took a postprandial nap, something I usually try to avoid... I woke up really groggy, and Pocket of Bolts had to prod me and half drag me to the gym. I'm glad I went though. Late night workouts give me so much energy. I felt great by the end.

Today I have two big, time-consuming and anxiety-producing tasks to do. What I really want to do is go back to bed, but there's no help for it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Have fallen down on the blogging lately. Things have been hectic. There is a lot of preparation to do for this interview. It makes me feel less ready than ever for real adulthood.

Let's see, Wednesday I spent almost the entire day shopping for a suit. Untellable trials and tribulations. Settled on this one. Hope it's okay. Hours and hours lost that I'll never be getting back...

After that I stayed up half the night finishing up the presentation for Prof. Blue-eyes' class Thursday. Not that I had to do the presentation, mind you, but he had encouraged me to and I wanted to look good. He had also told me to come in half an hour early so he could give me some interview advice. Between that, catching a few hours sleep, and putting the finishing touches on the presentation, I never even got any lunch. Life is that kind of hectic. It pleased me to get his advice though. The presentation went fine. We ended up running out of time, so mine was condensed to only about 10 minutes. That was okay; it made me look better than it would have if I hadn't been rushed (and everyone had realized how little thought I'd put into it). As it was, I just seemed rushed.

After the class, I had drinks with an old grad school classmate of mine who got a job at U of C. One of those things--we should get together more often but somehow don't. I was pleased that we finally managed it though. It was fun. I'd grabbed a Leanpocket in between class and drinks, but still I got pretty tipsy with two beers on a relatively empty stomach.

Then I went home to Pocket of Bolts and we had delicious relaxation time in our cozy warm house, chattering together and watching Deadwood, an HBO show we've been getting from Netflix. It's about a gold-rush town in a state of semi-anarchy, the wild old West. After we watch it, we both talk like hicks. I guess it brings out our rural upbringing.

Yesterday I spent most of the day working peacefully, then went in the afternoon to get a haircut and do a bit of X-mas shopping. From there I met PoB at his office and we grabbed a quick dinner (Greek fast food) in Greektown. Then we got some supplies and headed over to my former office-mate's apartment for one of his movie nights. It was a night of "lasts": The Last Dragon, the Last Starfighter, The Last Unicorn, and Fern Gully (the Last Rainforest). PoB got extremely sleepy halfway through The Last Unicorn, so we took a taxi home. I have very nostalgic memories about the Last Unicorn, I should add, though I notice the animation lacked the majestic brilliance that I had somehow remembered it having. Animation has come a long way since the 80s!

Today was a pretty lazy day. Slept in, did a fair amount of work, interspersed with lazing around the house and a little cleaning. Nothing much else to say. It's been quite a week.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Holiday Spirits and Work Worries

It's late and I'm very tired, but I didn't want to let another day slip by unrecorded. I succeeded in posting every day in November, but lately morale has fallen off a bit... I will mention only a few things briefly...

First, I got us a miniature Christmas tree and decorated it with miniature lights, as well as various small knick-knacks I had lying around or in boxes. If I ever get a spare moment at the same time I have an ounce of leftover creative energy I'll make some origami ornaments...but that hasn't really happened yet. Anyway, this is the picture of me in my birthday cozies beside the tiny tree.

Second, we were sad when we finished off the Thanksgiving leftovers, and decided to make another Thanksgiving dinner yesterday. I'm not kidding. We made a whole second roast turkey with stuffing (wild rice and sausage this time rather than cornbread and celery), as well as homemade rolls and gravy. Pocket of Bolts also made a small cake. It was a hilariously elaborate meal just for two, but extremely jolly. I guess it's just that we had so much to be thankful for it couldn't be contained in just one Thanksgiving. Alternatively, we were just greedy for turkey, take your pick. We drank several glasses of wine each and got very jolly and lazy.

The result was I didn't do any work yesterday afternoon or evening and then had an awful anxiety dream about not being prepared for my interview. I had to get up at 6 AM (on a Sunday, mind you... though all days are reasonably alike to me), and drink some hot water, write down my dream, update my to do list, and do a few other tasks before falling back asleep.

Today was fairly productive, at least in a sense. I did some concentrated preparation for my language exchange meeting with the Reporter. He had asked me to proofread a short paper he had to write for his class, which I did. It was quite interesting, actually, all about the inner workings of the newspaper he had been with before changing careers, the ways it which it was less than ideal and how it could be improved.

In turn, I had asked the Reporter to help me write a good e-mail to YHz, my teacher in Beijing. It has been so long since I have been in touch with her that, first, I needed a deadline, and second, I have fallen terribly out of practice with writing in Chinese. Most reluctantly, I forced myself to produce a draft this morning, and brought it to the meeting. As you might expect from someone who had spent a large part of his life as a journalist, the Reporter was superb at helping me improve the letter. We both left very satisfied I think.

Then I went to work out, which I hadn't managed in a whole week!! My face and figure definitely show this neglect, and also I was not able to do my usual hour of hard cardio but could only manage a little over thirty minutes. It is disheartening, how fast you lose all your progress if you don't keep at it. Guess that's true of everything, but how finite my energy is, compared to my multifarious ambitions.

Speaking of ambitions, over the course of the day I did do some very rudimentary preparation for my interview, but felt deeply terrified. Sticking to my "slow band-aid" approach, I am planning to try to do a little each day.

After dinner (leftover turkey!), I succeeded in forcing myself to put in a couple more hours work on this and that. Much less focused than in the morning, but it's important to keep one's hand it.

Well, I'm tired. Pocket of Bolts has been asleep for hours. Bedtime for now, maybe a sleeping pill to head off further anxiety dreams. :P

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Cold Day/Surprise/Pandora

Today it was incredibly cold--16 degrees. I gave it almost everything I had in the bundling up department: wool socks, wools slack, a wool sweater, my down coat, a scarf, a hat, gloves, and the hood of the coat. I was still cold, but only a little bit!

I went down to U of C today for a talk. It was by someone I did not know, but talking about the text my dissertation is on. At first I listened very politely. Gradually I thought to myself, they should have hired me instead of this guy. Still polite, though, I raised my objections in a gentle manner. The guy himself was also disarmingly humble. Afterward, I went up to talk to him... and it turned out that he was not faculty as I had thought, but a first year graduate student! Then I was really really glad I hadn't been meaner with my objections. I talked to him for a long time, and gave him as much advice as I could think of.

Got good news today: my application for a dissertation writing support grant was accepted so I have a little extra money with which to arrange my interview (logistics are nightmare due to my unwarranted pessimism) and do things like: buy a suit. (Eeek.)

I have been playing with Pandora. It is online radio that learns your preferences and it is incredibly fun. You start by giving it a song or an artist, and then it gives you songs that it thinks are similar. You can give them the thumbs up or thumbs down, and gradually it learns your taste. I love it. Who needs to even own music anymore? But it's also a good way to get to know new music. I used to like listening to the radio in my car back when I drove. This is better though, no ads.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


Yesterday I only posted about food instead of about my day because the only noteworthy thing that happened was that I got some interesting news. I was still "digesting" it, however, and wasn't quite ready to write about it here.

I suddenly found out that I got a job interview.

Having already made up my mind that I was going to be unemployed for another year, it was very startling, and at first almost unpleasant. I will have to work, and face things that make me anxious. Floating along the way I am, with work and new friends down at U of C and my wonderful husband, spending every other day at home in pajamas--frankly, it's really great. I feel like I could happily do it for another year.

Now twenty-four hours after getting the news, though, I am starting to work up courage and a little enthusiasm. Who knows what my chances are, but someone's giving me a chance, and that's actually pretty cool.

I won't say anymore for now, but I feel like a fire is lit under me. Whether it will just energize me or burn me too, I guess we'll just find out.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


I interrupt my steady stream of fairly mundane every-day posts for a list break. Stole this list from here. I just thought it was kind of fun, though the selection principle strikes me as a bit mysterious. All the foods that person could think of that might strike anyone as at least slightly unconventional, together with some highly conventional ones? Anyway, things I have eaten are in bold.

If I have not miscounted, my score is a pathetic 69/100. Got to work on that.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle (a bit underwhelming)
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries (roadside blackberries in Oregon)
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters (not a fan of raw ones, though smoked ones are tasty)
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi (disgusting)
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (have had each separately, but not together)
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail (Oxtail soup, a mainstay of my grandfather's winter cooking)
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk (easy to digest!)
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone (chewy!)
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini (the only kind of martini that counts)
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong (tastes the way medicated band-aids smell)
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. (I don't keep track of stars, so not sure)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Grown Up and Tired

Pocket of Bolts and I stayed up really late last night for no particular reason. PoB was worked up about writing a response to some listserv message he got, and I was trying to figure out how to "borrow" Chinese electronic books from this site that my grad school has subscribed to. It's an interesting concept. I crashed the reader a lot of times. We didn't get to bed until half past one.

I had to submit my chapter this morning by eleven, so I was under a lot of pressure. Life must be pretty good, though, because even in the midst of my stress I still felt that there was a lot to be happy about and thankful for. In any case, I submitted the chapter. There were a LOT of footnotes missing, but I'm betting they won't mind too much. If they do, oh well.

After lunch I headed off to U of C. I felt extremely tired, on account of the midnight oil I'd been burning, and let-down from the stress. Still, I learned some interesting things, such as that the character for "love" (a very late character) is closely related to one that originally meant "to have trouble breathing due to excessive eating or drinking." Go figure, huh?

It's very cold now. The snow has melted and refrozen in a cruddy slick on the sidewalk. I have been thinking about growing up, what it means to be an adult, why I don't quite feel that I am one, how it happened that I'm in this strange liminal state. I guess it's because I had a birthday and feel like I ought to be more grown up at 33. Of course, maybe this comic is right about the matter...

Update: anonymous reader suggests this comic too, on the same theme. It's pretty funny, even though 27 is so... 6 years ago. Guess the repo man is behind schedule.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Snow and Chai and Klok

We woke up to a few inches of snow outside; that was different. I imagine we'll get used to it before long. Then I'll say: we woke up and there was no snow; that was different.

Today is my half-sister's birthday, two days after mine. I never remember until the day of, but I never forget either. When my mom was pregnant with me, her due date was today, 12/1. My half-sister, I'll call her M2, was very worried and unhappy at the thought that I would be born on her exact birthday. Imagine having to share a birthday, as well as a dad, with your nine years younger half sister. I came two days early. I can't recall the last time that M2 has acknowledged my birthday, nor for that matter the last time I have acknowledged hers. Lately I have realized that I have complicated feelings about her, left over from very young childhood long ago. Though it is hard to see that thinking about them has any purpose.

I don't have too much to say for myself today.

Five PM, Pocket of Bolts comes home. Zapaper is sitting on the couch in her bathrobe, exactly in the same spot where she was sitting when he left at 7 AM. "Zapaper, did you get dressed today?" "No."

That was the day. I spent it in a long work coma. I succeeded in getting an extension on the "dissertation writing support" application, until tomorrow. I wrote most of the application. I did some editing. Then I succeeded in wasting a lot of time.

A bright spot was that I brewed up a big pot of the homemade chai that my brother gave me for my birthday. It was a nice thing to sip on all day.

Another bright spot is that same brother sent me a link to a completely awesome time-tracking program called Klok. It is a free download and incredibly easy to use. I've been using it a little over 24 hours, and according to Klok I have logged almost 9 hours of dissertation work, 2 hours of solitaire, 4 hours of Gemcraft (tower defense game) and about half an hour total of e-mail and blog posting. So folks, it turns out that that's where my time goes. Or at least that's where it has gone in the past 24 hours.

Outside the snow turned to slush and then refroze. Despite some fairly sinful eating, I did not succeed in getting to the gym. All I can say is, I'm going to try to be better tomorrow.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wintry Mix

I woke up this morning full of determination, and made the trek down to U of C to track down some books I needed and hopefully have a good work day. As often happens when I go down there, I didn't need the books quite as much as I thought I did, but I guess that's a good thing to find out.

Sometimes I catch every bus and train just as it's arriving. Today I missed every single one. It was cold, too, especially waiting on the Garfield overpass. There's something of a covering, but snow was being blown straight in. Fortunately I was bundled up--the new sweater mom gave me, warm socks and boots, hat and gloves, wool coat. The weather is supposed to get worse, lots of "wintry mix" (rain and slush and snow), maybe even some accumulation tomorrow.

I got distracted a lot at the library, looking at this thing and that thing. Also, I am starting to come down with a cold, so I had many sneezes.

Back at home, I did manage a workout though. There has been the best TV lately, back to back Star Wars trilogy (4-6, the good ones) and Lord of the Rings trilogy going on both at the same time so you can flip back and forth during commercials. Why can't there be good stuff like that all the time?

We are still dining happily on leftovers and some various thrown-together soups for variety. Looking forward to seeing how long this can last! We decided that making whole roast turkey is a really cost-effective way of getting protein and we're going to do it more often. :)

Pocket of Bolts went to bed much earlier than me. I have been staying up trying to work on my draft. It is rough going. I hate editing so much, and I am nearly out of time.

The wind is rattling against the windows. Tiredness is thick in my chest. I guess it is really time for me to get some rest.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Today is my 33rd birthday.

I have been so happy all day. You'd think I wouldn't be happy; you'd think I'd be worried about getting older or something. However, I can't help comparing this birthday to my 22nd birthday. My life is so much better now. Things are so right.

This is how the day went: I woke up and had some leftover carrot cake for breakfast. Then I did some work (still editing that draft...) and played my game some.

Our gym is having a special temporary free multi-club deal, where we can go to any of the clubs for free. So my plan was that we could go play racquetball at the one club that has a court. Pocket of Bolts called and reserved the court for 2 o'clock. I grabbed a turkey sandwich and we headed down there. We used to play so much racquetball, and now I remember why. It is SO MUCH fun! We are in better shape now. We played for something like an hour and a half. No one can accuse Pocket of Bolts of going easy on me because it's my birthday. He beat me four games in a row, including one that I had decided was "my game." Sometimes I can do that and psych him out. It almost worked, but then he beat me 16-14. It didn't matter; it was such a great time. Leaping and twisting and dashing like a couple of strong young animals.

For dinner I decided I wanted pizza and beer. We hardly ever have pizza and beer because it is so unhealthy, but why not--it's my birthday after all. Went to a cute little place called Pizza Rustica, which we had never been to before. It was really good, and BYOB, so we could get whatever kind of beer we wanted. (I decided on Fat Tire amber ale.)

After dinner we came home and at the cake that Pocket of Bolts had made for me. It was Red Velvet (at my request). Yum! I also opened presents, which were all related to keeping me warm and cozy. Then we lazed away the evening, because that seemed like a birthday sort of thing to do. It was a really special day and I was so happy all the way through it.

This is a turtle hat. That's the head in front, and the tail is behind. (From my mother-in-law, who definitely understands my taste in hats. I also got warm pants and a sweater from my mom, as well as some socks that are wool on the outside and terry on the inside. Mmmmm.... My bro sent me a big box of chai tea mix that he had made himself. Can hardly wait to try it. And Pocket of Bolts made me a fine new mixed CD, which has become a yearly tradition. He makes the best mixes of anyone I know.

Friday, November 28, 2008

No Shopping for Us (+Pix)

We didn't get out of bed until eleven this morning. We were hungover and still full, but in a really great mood! There's nothing like a holiday. Our fridge was full of delicious leftovers, we didn't have to worry anymore about the party, and it was a brilliant sunny day. I mean, not that we went outside or anything. We lazed around the house, got dribs and drabs of work done, but also played and were mellow.

Having gone for the environmentally reprehensible plastic plate option for the party, we weren't awash in a sea of dirty china. Still, there were a good number of serving dishes and pans clogging up the kitchen. Pocket of Bolts washed them all! He is amazing. We agreed that the party had been a success.

We had had a very modest brunch when we got out of bed. When it was dinnertime we weren't at all hungry. We went and worked out instead, then came back and had some soup for dinner--around 10 PM. Now it feels like the evening is just starting, but if we're going to get back on track, we have to go to bed really soon. We're going to see how long we can go without grocery shopping, just eating up leftovers. Our leftovers are SO tasty.

Now, as promised, some Thanksgiving pictures (starting with me mopping the floor in preparation):

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Jolly Holiday

It's true what Pocket of Bolts says, that Thanksgiving is pretty much the best holiday. I admit it was a lot of work putting everything together. In total, we made: one roast turkey with stuffing, Parkerhouse rolls (from scratch), a quiche, mushrooms and other vegetables stuffed with a spinach/artichoke heart mix, a (small) pecan pie, two types of cranberry sauce, and gravy. We had been planning to make mashed potatoes, but the luck of the potluck brought some with one of the guests, so it was one last minute thing we didn't have to do. We were also brought three kinds of cookies, a carrot cake, and many sorts of beers and wines. I didn't taste the vegetarian stuff, but it seemed decent. The turkey was good though a little overdone. The gravy came out so delicious, though, that it didn't matter.

From nine AM, when I started the day by sticking my hand inside a big partially thawed dead bird cavity, to noon when I was kneading bread dough and making pie crusts, to two PM, when I was mopping all the floors--it was already a full day's work by the time the guests showed up at three. The last of them left at 10:30 or so, which shows that we managed to give a fun party and/or had a good combination of people. I mean, no one stays in a place for seven and a half hours unless they're having a reasonably good time, right? To me, that is success enough. But boy am I beat.

At least I am well-fortified. I probably consumed an entire week's worth of calories. Whatever. Good motivation to eat sensibly and start getting the gym back into my schedule. I feel approximately like I never need to eat ever again. I will try to post some pictures tomorrow.

Tower Defense

I confess that I stayed up until 3 AM playing a type of game that Pocket of Bolts calls "tower defense." In this particular version, you create gems and install them in your towers. The towers then shoot at an endless stream of nasty and varied bug-monsters. It's lamentably addictive. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever grow up. Also, I am in a vicious cycle of being too worried to sleep, then to sleepy to do things very well during the day, then worried again about the things I didn't do.

That being said, I did do some very good editing work on my chapter this morning. It's very slow going, but makes me feel better about the final product. Writing footnotes is an equivocal art, but when it succeeds, it has a certain elegance all its own.

In the afternoon, Pocket of Bolts and I got the I-Go (car-sharing car) and went to Target, where we spent one of our wedding gift cards on (among a tremendous miscellany of useful things) a new DVD player. We realized that we have been using our current DVD player almost every day, and almost every day it freezes and skips at least once, even on discs that aren't that damaged. The irritation this causes seems really to justify the purchase of a new one. After all, the one we had came from the thrift store and cost about $5.

We also got things for our Thanksgiving potlock--decided to go with classy-ish disposable plates rather than the wedding china due. For one thing, we want people to feel all mellow and relaxed rather than all formal. For another, it's enough work to do all that cooking let alone dishes for seven! That's the kind of volume where not having a dishwasher actually becomes a serious disadvantage.

So I guess we're mostly set for tomorrow. I'll try to take pictures some of the feast!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Turkeys are Intimidating

I have been too anxious lately, bad sleeping and waking up in the middle of the night. Making a Thanksgiving dinner is really stressful for me, even though it is going to be a low-key deal, just a potluck with a few friends. Still, I have to make the turkey. Turkeys are intimidating. Added to that, I have a chapter due on December 1--due in the sense that I can get some extra funding if I get it in by then. I can, but it will be tight. And, foolishly, I have been spending more mental energy than I ought on the hexagram presentation.

The U of C classes are 100% worth it, though. I went down there today and enjoyed it so much that I felt a strong wave of gratitude that they allowed me to be there and participate just as if I really belonged. There's not reason for them to, necessarily; it is just the goodness of their hearts. I learn so much, but more than that, it cheers me and reminds me that it's possible to finish graduate school.

After dinner, we went shopping for Thanksgiving dinner stuff. I have now become worried about turkey defrosting (the package says thaw for 3-4 days!). Is it too late? Pocket of Bolts says we can thaw the rest of the way in the sink on Thursday morning if necessary. I'm hoping so. How was I supposed to know it would take 3-4 days. It is only the second time I have made a turkey, sigh. I should make extra ones just to practice. It's funny, it's such a Thanksgiving-only type of food, but PoB loves it. Now that I think of it, that sounds pretty fun. ...But first this one.

Tomorrow I am going to do good work. I am NOT going to stay around the house all day in my pajamas. I am at the editing stage. I'm going to take my computer somewhere that has no internet and work on editing.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cooking for One

Today it was the old Lean-pocket and Milky Way routine. Is there something contradictory in that? Well, rob Peter to pay Paul. They say that all that really matters is the total number of calories. Oh and the pajamas, that's part of the routine. Today an especially absurd red bathrobe, the kind that has not a single natural fiber in all its fluffy thickness.

I did some work, but also I just kind of slacked off. Outside there was a freezing slush falling. I never left the house. One thing I did work on was the hexagram project I am supposed to do for Professor Blue-eyes' class. After several days of waking up before dawn in meaningless anxiety about it, I finally chose one: Zhun, difficulty in the beginning. It's a nice sexy one.

Pocket of Bolts had a talk to go to and a dinner afterwards, so I cooked just for myself. I tossed some chopped up vegetables (turnips, parsnips, carrots, a sweet-potato, and some baby red potatoes) with maple syrup, soy sauce, olive oil, and chopped ginger root, then roasted them in a hot oven. To go with it, I had a simple but delicious dal (Indian lentil soup). It is the kind of food PoB is not keen on, so kind of fun to have when he's away. I actually was inspired by regular lunch special from the student union of the university where I got my MA. I remember always craving the roast veg and lentil soup, but it was some ungodly expensive thing, like $7 or something, so I only got it once or twice. Very much cheaper to make it myself.

That's about it. Perhaps something more lively will happen tomorrow.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Progress of a Sort

Today was a momentous day. I'm not kidding. It started innocuously enough, with Pocket of Bolts and me going to good Caribou before breakfast. This is a way to really maximize the morning productivity burst, because the morning caffeine happens at the same time as the beginning of work, rather than taking a half-hour or so away froom it. Pocket of Bolts was still full from last night, and I had a piece of gingerbread cake (with frosting).

Research wasn't going especially well, though. I mean, I was doing the work very diligently, but I was just feeling overwhelmed. Walking back from the coffeeshop, I was talking about this with Pocket of Bolts. The problem was, I had written about 70 pages of a chapter, and had only covered the first thirteen hundred years. There were six hundred or so more years to go. Then suddenly I said, Maybe I should just scrap the final six hundred years. (This would make a lot more sense if I gave the details, but I'd rather this blog not be googleable!) It amounts to roughly a third of my project, but that third all lies in the half that I haven't done yet. Pocket of Bolts said: That's a great idea.

It is a great idea. The more I thought about it, the more wrought up I got. It's a strange confusion of feelings, guilt (it's like cheating), disappointment (in myself, because the project turned out to be beyond my strength after all), intense relief (because what's left seems orders of magnitude more doable), and general nervous energy. When I got home, I wrote to my adviser about it. He wrote back almost instantly, as is his wont, that it's a great idea, adding various additional arguments in favor and suggesting that my hypothetical obstacles to the plan weren't so important.

So it seems almost like a done deal. I feel really strange, almost (but not quite) more upset than glad. However, on the up-side, you could say I finished two chapters today (in the sense that I eliminated them from the plan). As Pocket of Bolts says, If you keep on at this rate you'll be ready to defend by the end of the week.

In the afternoon, I went out to chat with the Reporter. He gave me a present (at right), a silk table-runner made in his home town. Chinese people, in my experience, tend to be really good at giving thoughtful interesting presents. I am not so good at it. For one thing, I am really unclear as to when one should give presents. For another, it's typical in China to give presents that come from your hometown, the specialties of the place so to speak. Almost every place has some kind of specialty. But I'm not sure what my place is, that is to say, where I'm really from. Is it where my parents live? where I went to graduate school? Chicago? To Chinese people, I suppose it's where my parents live, but even my roots there are loosening considerably. Then there's the problem of what that place specializes in, and how to get some, and whether the recipient would like it even if I did manage to get hold of something. It's all very tricky. Anyway, my general policy is to thank the person with sincere appreciation but not reciprocate in any material way. Instead, I try to be as helpful as I can with my, ha ha, intellectual capital, as it's the only resource I actually possess.

It was fun talking with the reporter. The piece of paper also visible in this picture is a cool thing--we got to talking about a very famous Chinese fiction-writer, who has written a great number of books. It turns out, someone made a poetic couplet in which each character is taken from the title of a different one of his books. It's actually a pretty good couplet, having the proper parallelism and such. As usual with Chinese poetry, it's difficult to translate, and of course the whole game is lost in translation. But it goes something like:

Driving snow day after day. He shoots a white deer--
That warrior god of comedy, beside the jade green mandarin drake.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Today was a tremendously lazy kind of day. I confess that I spent the greater part of it playing computer games, which reminds me of my wasted youth. I think the problem is that the big burst of diligence and creativity yesterday wore me out completely. It was pretty much time for a day off.

We had Japanese food for lunch: miso soup, rice triangles wrapped in nori, and edamame. It's a surprisingly satisfying lunch for how low in calories it is. Also, it reminds me of the very early days of my relationship with Pocket of Bolts: it was a healthy vegetarian meal that I could make and he appreciated as an interesting novelty. As I recall, I made it rather often!

After lunch we tried to go out to a coffee-shop and work, but it being Saturday afternoon, all the coffee-shops were really full! Because one day is just like another to me, I was shocked and irritated. We ended up working in the Borders cafe for a while, but their bathrooms were not working and anyway it was a bit too bustling to be a good place for working.

On the way home we wandered through the sporting goods store looking at dumb-bells (we are considering getting some) and through Linens and Things, which is going out of business but didn't have anything we couldn't live without. We went to two different grocery stores to pick up various things, and by the time we got home it felt like we'd been walking half the day, and not much to show for it.

The one nice, fun, and productive thing I did was read a draft of a paper that the Lama sent me, and sent it back to him with comments. I really like reading other people's drafts. Collegiality in general is one of my favorite parts of the whole endeavor, even though I'm not especially good it at. It just gives me a warm and happy feeling.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Coq au Vin

It has been a difficult week for blogging. This is mostly because nothing much has happened externally. Aside from going to the gym twice and down to U of C once, I have mostly been sitting at my desk in my pajamas working on my dissertation.

We went out to a bar tonight, celebrating with a friend and former neighbor who just had her dissertation defense. (I'm hoping that a year from now it'll be mine we're celebrating.) They asked how I've been doing, and I said the thing about the pajamas, and Pocket of Bolts chimed in that he comes home and finds the house strewn with Leanpocket boxes and Milky Way wrappers. I think they thought he was joking, but he wasn't!

Professor Blue-Eyes' class yesterday was pretty fun. We went through a Song dynasty description of how to do an actual divination, which we proceeded to act out with handfuls of plastic coffee stirring straws. That is a lot more work than flipping three coins six times. It was interesting though and amusing.

I should also mention that after the class I came home and Pocket of Bolts made coq au vin. He claimed it was inspired by this strikingly appropriate Married to the Sea comic. I thought it was really funny, though he had to first explain the allusion to the following lines from Snoop Dog's "Gin and Juice":

Now, that, I got me some Seagram's gin
Everybody got they cups, but they ain't chipped in
Now this types of shit, happens all the time
You got to get yours but fool I gotta get mine

I suppose that's about all there is to say. I wrote seven pages today, but was robbed of satisfaction by the conviction that it should really have been two pages and I was just waxing inappropriately long-winded. At least I have safely met my November goal.

Also, there is a cold snap here. I got out my down jacket for the walk to the bar, and wore leg-warmers under my jeans. It's going to be a cold winter.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lamest Post this Month

It is too late at night. I am too sleepy. This is a blog post in name only. Sorry! Better one tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Favor

Pocket of Bolts dragged me out of the house yesterday morning, since I hadn't been outside in more than 36 hours! We went to Caribou and did a bit of work. In the afternoon, I worked also, because my usual Tuesday class was canceled--the teacher was sick. The classes do me very good, as I realize when the routine gets interrupted. I get very stale without them. In the evening Pocket of Bolts made us Asian beef wraps, one of our favorite quick and healthy dinners: beef seared, sliced, and marinated in siracha, fish sauce, and lime juice, then wrapped in lettuce leaves with strips of carrot, red onion, cilantro, and hot peppers. Rice on the side. A great dinner. After dinner, I got an e-mail from a grad school classmate. I'd promised him I'd send him a certain document some time ago, then realized I needed to put more work into it then I thought--so put it off. In the e-mail he said, never mind if it was too much trouble, so of course I was galvanized into action. Pocket of Bolts has been having a hard time writing his job talk. He came to talk to me about it when I was several hours into preparing this document. I said: Write it as if you're doing a favor for someone else. Later he said that turned out to be really good advice!

I've had so little to say lately that I'll make up for it by posting this silly picture of my bedhead, taken very early in the morning.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Soup and Study

There is nothing to say about yesterday. The whole day, I never left the house! I sat and worked, mostly the research stage. I took a nap in the afternoon.

For dinner, I made an extremely miscellaneous soup for Pocket of Bolts and myself. It consisted of: barley, white beans, turnips, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, broccoli, kale, and nice chicken stock, together with fresh thyme and oregano. For dessert I made apple pie.

While the pie was baking I happened to open the back door, and noticed that a thin layer of snow had covered our back porch. But I didn't step out and make any footprints in it.

I planned to work out in the evening, but I got on a roll with researching and ended up just staying at my desk. A very quiet day.

Monday, November 17, 2008

First Snow

Yesterday I slept in late as usual on Sunday. I had arranged to meet the Lama for coffee in the early afternoon. Somehow or other, I actually managed to write two pages of my dissertation in between breakfast and heading up there. The power of routine!

Actually, I think it has to do with the phase I was in. I have to gather materials, make translations, figure out basically what I'm going to say and in what order. This is a really frustrating process for me because I always feel that I am going too slowly, running in place, not making progress. Once I have done that step correctly, however, I can write quite a decent amount. Not to say "effortlessly", but at least the process isn't painful. I guess it's good to take things apart like this and figure out which parts are hardest and why.

Lunch kind of fell by the wayside. I had an apple and a soyjoy bar before leaving, and a scone at the coffeeshop where I met the Lama. We had a really fun conversation. It reminded me very much of our friendly meetings in Beijing. We talked mostly shop, but with some personal chatter thrown in. It made me realize how much time had passed since we'd actually sat down like that, informally, outside his campus, and really just hung out. I hope we get a chance to do that sort of thing more often.

It was a very very cold day. The wind, in particular, was quite bitter.

Four years ago, in Grad School town, it was not nearly so cold. Four years ago, I was on my way to a reading group. I was late. I almost decided not to go. But because I went, I met Pocket of Bolts. We talked a lot during the informal discussion after the group proper. Then he invited me to the lounge in his department where they tended to hang out and party. It turned out we lived in the same building, so he offered me a ride home, asked me in, gave me a beer. We sat talking, looking at his books. I won't say it was "love at first sight" but the interest and attraction were definitely there. Four years! Has it really been that long?

Last night, to celebrate the anniversary of our first "date", we decided to go out for sushi. We've never properly eaten sushi together, since Pocket of Bolts was a vegetarian until recently. As we walked out into the cold night, big flakes of snow started falling. It was romantic and beautiful. We sat inside the rustic, wood-paneled restaurant and drank hot sake. The sushi was delicious, and we were full of smiles, proposed many toasts. Sake is good for toasting, since the cups are so small. The whole evening was really charming, and snow was still coming down as we walked back to our cozy little home.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Flowers of the Day

This is kale, the middle of the kale "flower" after we had used the rest of it to make a totally delicious baked kale and gruyere dish. That was a few days ago, but I only just got around to going through the pictures.

Yesterday we slept in, had a leisurely breakfast. But a routine has set in for me now, quite a pleasant routine. After breakfast, I go into my study, put on a little music, play a couple games of solitaire (until I win), and then I'm set to go, dissertation writing time. It has started to work surprisingly well for me, this little routine--to the point where I want to do it, feel unhappy if something prevents me. We'll see how long that lasts, but for now...

In the afternoon, I met the Reporter at close Caribou. It is fun practicing my Chinese with him. We talked for a while about a Song poet we both like, and then about a text he was reading for one of his classes. It was in English, but it was written in 1856. Even I had a hard time understanding it, but in the end I did manage. It was all about railroads. Actually, it was fairly enjoyable explaining it to him. I also heard about his wife and daughter--she is five years old. I did not know he was married, but I'm pleased that he is. He explained to me very carefully about his daughter's name, which is an allusion to the Book of Songs, the ancient poetry Classic of China. It was pleasing.

Had a fairly short workout at the gym, and then home to a nice dinner of broccoli and tofu stirfry over black rice. It was another nice day. In the evening I got some things done--e-mails, etc. Then I read a chapter from a book that the Reporter loaned me, a book in English written by a Chinese person, a biography of the poet we both like. It was relaxing to read, and I slept really really well.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Friday Movie Date

This is my handsome husband in his new blazer. Doesn't it look nice?! He had gotten a somewhat similar (but not as good) blazer about a year ago, but has lost so much weight that he finally had to give up and trade it in for a different one. That's okay, the new one's better anyway. :)

Yesterday I got up early for the reading group. It went pretty well actually, surprisingly well. As usual, I didn't have many thoughts about the sort of poetry we were reading (landscape stuff, etc.), but it turned out that E.T. did. In fact, she made quite an interesting mini-lecture on one of the poems. She said she just had a lot of thoughts about it. I was really impressed by what she said. It reminds me that I should never write anyone off. You can learn something from absolutely anyone.

After the reading group, I walked some ways to get to the nearest copy shop. I had to print out my second to last job application. Yes, I've been drawing out the process as long and painfully as possible. Pocket of Bolts and I are opposite in that way. He tears the band-aid off fast, all at once. I tear it off slow, a millimeter at a time. I fully admit that his way is better, but I can't help myself.

Anyway, I got my things printed out and then walked back to the post-office, stopping on the way for a Subway sandwich and a Milky Way midnight bar. I just can't help myself. It's a food fad. I mailed off my application and then rode the red-line downtown to the library. There, if you can believe it, I actually succeeded in writing two pages of dissertation as I was supposed to. There was some procrastination in there, but what counts is that the work got done. I also learned a hexagram, "Sun", Decrease. It's an oddly positive one, I suppose because decrease very naturally leads to increase.

Pocket of Bolts met me at the library after work, and we chattered together, then wandered over to the Blick Art Supply store nearby. We get a 10% discount there, and love to wander around. I am working on a mathematical sculpture/diagram project, and was wandering around brain-storming about materials. I got some wire, but have pretty much decided that for the rest I need to visit a hardware store instead. More on this soon!

Back at home, we actually managed to get a workout in before the gym closed. I did a whole body resistance work-out, which meant lots of yucky squats and leg-press, also push-ups and back extensions. But I am getting stronger again.

Finally, to cap off an already pretty good day, we went to the late show at Brew and View, the movie theater where you can get beer instead of Coke with your popcorn. I ate a lot of popcorn, which was bad of me. Pocket of Bolts ate even more popcorn. (But at least we'd made it to the gym.) The movie was Burn After Reading, which was not nearly as amusing as the preview suggested. It had its good moments, but it was really hard to decide how to feel about any of the characters, and the tone felt very inconsistent. It was set up like a comedy, but it as too painful to be really funny overall. On the other hand, the denouement was pretty amusing. In any case, the fact that it wasn't a great movie did not at all reduce the enjoyment of our date. We like going on dates so much. If we had more time and money, we'd surely do it every weekend!!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Rasta Flower

Our lipstick rasta plant is blooming. Isn't it beautiful?

Having had such an incredibly productive writing day on Wednesday, yesterday I couldn't help cutting myself a little slack. I spent the morning mostly doing small things. I also went back to my alas long neglected study of the hexagrams in the Book of Changes. Yesterday's hexagram was "Bo", splitting apart or flaying. A rather disturbing one, really, but interesting.

In the afternoon, I went to Professor Blue-eyes' class on the Changes. The topic for the week was something he's actually doing research on and he had given us his manuscript to read. I had to revise my opinion of him yet again, because he was disarmingly modest and pleasant about the whole thing, honest about his uncertainties, and so on. I really enjoyed the class, also some of the stories he told as digressions. There was a tomb which had caught fire at some point (presumably an accident caused by early tomb robbers). When it was excavated, the fire turned out to have been really good for the preservation of the bamboo strip texts that had been buried there--they were turned to charcoal. But still readable!! I couldn't believe it. It makes sense for fire to be good for clay tablets, but for bamboo strips!? Then Pocket of Bolts says that the same thing happens with papyrus sometimes, as at Pompeii. Well, you learn something new every day.

I had to do some preparation for the reading group after dinner, so I did that. Didn't get a workout in, but since I feel like I'm fighting something off I thought it would be best if I took it easy.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


This squash came in our organic produce box. Pocket of Bolts doesn't much like squash but I like it. I had the first half roasted with salt and pepper and olive oil. I had the second half roasted plain then topped with brown sugar and butter. Pocket of Bolts roasted up all the seeds with oil, salt, and red pepper and we munched them. So delicious.

There is almost nothing to say about yesterday, which is why I'm posting the awesome squash pictures. I stayed in all day. I wrote, four pages in fact. I didn't leave the house until after dinner, when we went out to do some work at a coffee shop. After that, a late long cardio workout on the elliptical, got back around 10:30 PM. It was just a day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Very Quick Post

Uh-oh. In my time zone I have less than five minutes to make this blog post. Where does the time all go!!!

I did very little work yesterday, even in the morning, which is usually productive time. I think I just hadn't had a day off in a while, and it was adding up.

In the afternoon, I went down for paleography class. I learned stuff. It's hard to keep up full concentration for four straight hours, listening to a foreign language and very technical material as well. But I always come away feeling that I got something out of it.

One thing I thought of on the long ride home was a way to integrate foreign language teaching with some engaging and fun information on the history of the script. I think that for the right type of learner, it would really be exciting. I mean, assuming I have to teach Chinese again someday. Certainly it would be exciting for me!

Pocket of Bolts made me delicious polenta for dinner. He is the best husband ever.

Okay, must post this before it's too late!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Simple Day

Yesterday as often happens on Mondays I got up early to eat breakfast with Pocket of Bolts and fell asleep again after he left for work. I did manage to sit down at my desk by nine. I did some stuff. In the middle of doing stuff, I started worrying about some e-mails I REALLY should have answered days ago, so I wrote those. Then did some more stuff. Still no progress on the diss-o-meter! But I hope for a big jump soon. I'm piling up all these preparations.

I had a miscellaneous lunch--acorn squash, a boca burger with cheese, an Asian pear. Lately I have had extreme cravings for Milky Way bars. Why Milky Way bars in particular I have no idea, but nothing else will do. I got some fun size ones thinking that would be a good compromise, but I must confess that what I keep really wanting is a full size one. Why can't I crave... salad, or carrot sticks or something?!

After lunch, I dragged myself out of the house and met Pocket of Bolts at the coffeeshop known as "good Caribou" (as opposed to "close Caribou"). Good Caribou is about 15 minutes walk from our place, but it is more spacious and interesting inside, also they have a big fireplace that actually gets warm in the winter. Pocket of Bolts and I sat and did some more work but neither of us were particularly on a roll.

We had the simplest ever dinner: lettuce, cold leftover jangjorim (Korean soy sauce beef), kimchee, and white rice. Our rice-cooker is great; it has a quick setting and I can't even really tell the difference. Pocket of Bolts makes good jangjorim! We watched Battlestar Galactica, which was the stupid boxing episode. Otherwise known as "we've been over budget lately"? Still, it was amusing.

After we digested for a while, we managed to get to the gym. I did a really like triceps focus resistance workout. One of those workouts takes me nearly two hours. And boy am I sore today. But I feel strong.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tasty Biscuits

Yesterday I started off like a ball of fire.

I have adopted Pocket of Bolts' way of doing a to do list, namely, one large text file with done items moved to the top. I decided to go straight down the list from the top. This was kind of fun because I tend to add items in random order, which meant my tasks were unpredictable and heterogeneous. Of course I always get hyper-focused on the wrong ones... Dissertation work has not been going very well lately. It's especially unfair because I really HAVE been putting in the time. It's just that I keep going round in circles.

By noon I always seem to run out of steam. This time I did a reasonably good job of using that time anyway, though, by cleaning the house. Pocket of Bolts came back in the early evening. I was just starting dinner, one-pot chicken slow cooked in the oven with root vegetables, onions, peas, and stock; also polenta cheese biscuits put on top during the last twenty minutes. It was so grand having my husband back!! I liked how he came in and the house was clean and smelled like dinner. The little white holiday lights were on over the mantle. I was wearing my apron and bustling around. It was like the 1950s but better because I'm only "the perfect homemaker" on rare special occasions--so he appreciates it more, ha ha.

Also, the biscuits came out pretty darn tasty, if I do say so myself. I was in rebellion against measuring anything on that particular occasion, so I couldn't tell you just what I did right. But I'm pretty sure they were the best ones I've made yet. Alas, biscuits are not very diet friendly. We have slipped lately, but vowed to go back to it. After finishing off the biscuits.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


Yesterday is brought to you by Caribou coffee. They have their new holiday napkins and java jackets. While I am generally unimpressed by business' holiday decoration-type things, I find the Caribou efforts kind of endearing. It's a startling variation in something whose visual sameness is usually so completely ingrained that it's invisible.

Anyway, I ended up having breakfast at Caribou today because the milk in the fridge soured and I forgot to go get more. I figured, if I had to go out anyway I might as well go out and get started on my workday.

I had a very pleasant morning at Caribou as it turned out. Coffee and pumpkin pecan bread. I find that I enjoy coffee shops in inverse proportion to the amount of time I've recently spent there, and since I hadn't been to "close Caribou" in quite some time, I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Also, owing to my mounting pessimism about the job search and various other factors, I have changed my attitude toward my work. I can't make myself do it from grim determination and self-loathing anymore. Mind you, grim determination and self-loathing can get you a long way. Probably almost anyone who's written a humanities dissertation knows what I mean. You can get a lot done fast. But lately I've instead been returning to the root of the project in my psyche, the feelings about it I had in the beginning, why I initially decided to do it. Thus the work I do is slower, more circuitous. I have gone back to running with tangents, following up on little puzzles, translating delightful but unrelated anecdotes that I happen to run across. Here's one I found yesterday morning (Chinese names abbreviated to prevent sinologists' Google searches from landing them there.

When [ZG] was young, he went around with WA. When WA’s reputation was not yet established, ZG commended him to [his own teacher, an illustrious statesman of the day]. But when WA become successful (because of this introduction), he dropped ZG. The emperor once asked [ZG], “Who does WA resemble?” ZG answered, “In literary learning and moral conduct, WA is not inferior to [the brilliant Han dynasty philosopher] YX, but because he is miserly, he is not quite as good [as YX].” The emperor objected, “WA thinks nothing of wealth and honor. In what way is he miserly?” [ZG] said, “What I mean by ‘miserly’ is just to say that he is bold in his actions but miserly in correcting his faults.” The emperor concurred.

It may be a "had to be there" sort of thing, but I found this little tidbit rather delightful.

In the afternoon, I went downtown to have coffee with my Chinese acquaintance from the bus stop. My instincts proved correct about him, by the way. He was extremely pleasant, polite, respectful, and friendly. He is also well-educated and really good with words. I'll call him the Reporter, although really he is a former reporter. Apparently, he worked for a rather important newspaper in China (I won't name it here, though he did tell me) and worked his way up to become an editor. However, it was a really demanding and high-pressure job and in the end he resigned and took a job in the government instead. Now he is here doing a one year program at IIT. I had told him what I work on, and he had gone to some pains to learn something about it. We had a really pleasant chat about that and the recent election and all sorts of matters.

He had, incidentally, been very curious about the voting process, and even managed to talk his way into one of the polling places, at least for a moment, so he could see what goes on. His overall impression was that voting is too difficult and complicated. (I could just see him thinking: how could Chinese peasants possibly manage to do this?) I asked him what he thought about freedom of speech and the press. He said that owing to the internet, people already have it in a de facto sense, and there's really not all that much the government can do about it. I asked him if he thought that was a good thing and he said yes.

We conducted our conversation in a funny mixture of languages. It is common in language exchange relationships to try to set a period of time for talking in English and a period of time for talking in the other language. However, in practice that hardly ever works; one language or the other just takes over. The Reporter proposed that we each do the hard thing: he would speak English and I would speak Chinese. You'd be surprised how well that works. We both get plenty of passive listening comprehension practice in our classes, but very little practice actually speaking. I brought a pack of notecards for us to write on, vocabulary words, things we didn't understand, etc. It worked better than most language exchange efforts I have engaged in, mostly because the Reporter was an interesting person with a lively mind.

Incidentally, it is so useful being married. Marriage is something that people respect in a way that they don't respect "having a boyfriend." As Pocket of Bolts said, "I have a boyfriend" sounds like a challenge. "I'm married" is--or should be--an incontrovertible "no trespassing" sign. I like it that way, very much. With the Reporter, or in fact any male I encounter now, there is no element of potential sexual tension, mixed signals, or what have you.

Anyway, I think I will continue doing language exchange with the Reporter. It seems like a worthwhile use of my time, and he is certainly grateful. He reports that it is hard to meet Americans because most of his classmates are also Chinese! I was amused.

I did some grocery shopping on the way home. Over dinner (pasta with red sauce from a bottle and chopped up boca burger), I watched the first episode of Dexter. It had been recommended to us by some friends who are not especially good recommenders--as in, our tastes don't really match theirs. So we hadn't tried watching it. But then I noticed it was available for watching online through Netflix, so I decided to try it. It was dark, really dark, but fairly successful I thought. There was this element of black humor to temper the horror. I'm interested to see if Pocket of Bolts will like it or not.

As usual, I didn't use the evening very productively. I miss PoB, in the evening most of all. Good thing he is coming home today. I hope very very much that we won't have to work in different cities next year.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Reading Group Etc.

For some reason, yesterday was a mostly gloomy day for me. It started out all right I suppose. I woke up before the alarm and lay in bed for a while. Then, because my computer was sitting right there, I turned it on and picked up where I'd left off the night before, studying poems for the reading group. I find "preparing" Chinese poetry in this way very tedious. I never learned to enjoy Chinese poetry at all until I went to China and started learning it the way Chinese kids do, just by memorizing it and not worrying so much about allusions or hidden meanings. But for this reading group stuff, for me at least, it was back to the old way, the grad school way, lots of dictionary work. At least my classical Chinese has improved.

The reading group itself though... well, the Lama canceled at the last minute, so we had it without him. It's just never as fun without him. Add that to the fact that the subject matter doesn't do much for me... On the up side, I did sort of "lead" the discussion by virtue of the fact that I probably know the material best. Or at least the culture. Another positive aspect of the experience was that one of the group members, a painfully self-effacing "permanent adjunct" art historian--I'll call her SoSorry--really came out of her shell and gave us a bit of a presentation on our poet's connection with Chinese painting, complete with pictures. I like it when SoSorry does things like this, despite the profuse apologies that usually come with it.

Near the end of the session we got into an involved discussion of whether poets in the Tang edited or altered their poems (shi) after writing them. It's an interesting question, probably an empirical one, but none of us knew the answer so we argued from various related ideas. I argued that they didn't do much editing because of the occasional nature of the genre. One of the other members of the group argued that they did by analogy with Japanese poetic tradition, which he knows much better. Anyway, I ought to try to find out.

Another group member, E.T., followed me down to the el and wanted to chat. Periodically she gets lonely, and I feel for her. But she has a really difficult personality (previous post partly about her here). When I finally extricated myself, I was good and ready to go home.

Back at home, I put in a decent afternoon of work, but it's one of those ebb points in writing. I have the outlines of what I want to say, but to actually write it I have to put in some time casting about and finding some concrete evidence. I tend to feel back about myself when I can't put in the pages. So though I did some good investigations, no increase in the word count, sigh.

Another thing that was weighing on my mind was I got a call from one of the Chinese boys I met a few days ago (described here). In some fit of camaraderie, I'd exchanged phone numbers with him, and he called to see if I wanted to do some language practice. Mind you, I don't usually go giving out my phone number to strangers I meet at the bus stop. But sometimes you just have an okay feeling about someone. And in fact, I had a perfectly okay feeling talking to him too. He was perfectly polite and correct on the phone (also knows I'm married, I made sure of that), just a friendly gesture. So I decided to try meeting him for coffee and language exchange; I should really try to make more Chinese friends, and maybe I'd be less intimidated by people who aren't crusty academics. Still, after I agreed I felt very nervous. I always do when I commit to some social activity, especially with someone I don't know very well, but with pretty much everyone. I just have an unreasoning dread, though it almost always turns out fine. Pocket of Bolts, when I told him, encouraged me, saying it's a good idea and I should go for it. Well, we'll see how it goes.

I had a good long workout in the evening, and a late dinner: brown rice, a fried egg, some jangjarim (sp?--soy sauce cooked beef), and kimchee, sliced cucumber salad on the side. As for the evening, I just frittered it away. Can't be working all the time. I missed Pocket of Bolts.

In the middle of the night (i.e., around 3 AM) he woke me up with a phone call. His ankle was hurting again and he couldn't sleep. You'd think I'd be annoyed to be woken up at such an hour, but not a bit of it--it gave me such a warm feeling that he should do that. In Chinese, the sloppy concept we know as "love" has finer gradations. There is aiqing, the "in love" feeling, heart-thumping passion and all that. And there is qinqing, the intimacy of daily togetherness, a family-feeling which is even deeper and more constant. Don't get me wrong, there's quite a lot of aiqing in my relationship with Pocket of Bolts, but in this case I was very much filled with qinqing. When someone you love so much needs you, even in a small way, you are deeply happy to be needed.