Saturday, June 28, 2008

OK, bye!

We're off to vakay on Nantucket
We hope for good weather, with luck it
Will be very fine,
Long days of sunshine.
And worries 'bout work? We'll say---

Friday, June 27, 2008


Ever wonder about the names of Chinese dishes?

There is a great Thai restaurant in the town where I work. Before they revamped their menu a few years ago, my favorite name for a dish was, "Beef in the Secret". And--cross my heart and hope to die--the explanation offered was, "Do you want to know what the Secret is?...Order this dish to find out!"

What's your favorite culinary title?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Language of Power

The linguistic aspects of my TESL (teaching English as a second language) program are blowing my mind. Yes, I've been a snob about standard English! No, it's not any more legitimate a communication tool than any regional variation of English or any other language or dialect! Yes, standard English serves as an instrument of power, as it is the language of education and high socioeconomic status in this country, and yes, emphatically yes, people living in the U.S. coming from a different home language/dialect will have access to greater social, economic, and political opportunities with standard English on their side.

But all the times I've rolled my eyes as southeastern US accents, or the classic Quincy no-R's pronunciation, or the crude farmers' Portuguese of my ancestors...

According to my (thus far) favorite textbook:
...adding Standard English as a new language or dialect involves much more than learning grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. It requires the expansion of one's personal, social, racial and ethnic identity to make room for the new language and all that it symbolizes and implies.
(p. 44)


Mutual intelligibility is often cited as a criterion to test whether two language varieties are dialects of the same language. However, this test does not always work.[...]languages such as Spanish and Portuguese are mutually intelligible. Yet they are classified as separate languages. In these cases, political status rather than mutual intelligibility plays the deciding role in distinguishing a language from a dialect, thus the assertion that a language is "a dialect with an army and a navy".

Finally, a beautiful quote from African American author James Baldwin (1924-1987) rounds out the awesomeness provided by my textbook reading today:
It [language] is the most vivid and crucial key to identity: It reveals the private identity, and connects with, or divorces one from the larger public, or communal identity...To open your (if I may use Black English) to "put your business on the street": You have confessed your parents, your youth, your school, your salary, your self-esteem and, alas, your future.

PS. I feel that I should add a sort of disclaimer: I'm becoming a teacher of Standard English. Why? Not because my students' languages are any better or worse than mine, but because learning SE will open doors for them. It will also make them bicultural, bilingual, and those are good things, if difficult. I love Standard English; it's my language, no better or worse than theirs.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Vball, New Session

It's a new volleyball session! Can you believe it's been eight weeks already?

It seems the Austrians are gone, at least for the summer. The Asian-American middle schoolers remain, and they've gotten good. There were 4 new young women tonight--late teens? early 20s? home from college for the summer?--who played about like I did eight weeks ago. It was sort of fun to see our improvement. One of these newcomers was looking at me like, Wow, you're good, and I was thinking, Honey, I'm bad. I'm just marginally OK. But thanks.

Even more Chinese-American adults came, making a formidable team on the far court, where they played against a bunch of tall girls who probably play on a real team somewhere. Two of my favorite players, a tall Greek woman and her teenaged niece, both so pleasant and so talented, are in Lemnos for the summer. Good for them. I would go, too. The middle-aged women crew did not show tonight.

PS Tonight, my arm muscles were still broken down from Tuesday's vigorous upper body weight-lifting routine. I helplessly watched time and time again as my beautifully arching serve fell harmlessly to our side of the net. "Hit it harder," our coach-figure very helpfully offered. My biceps and triceps laughed at me. I said, "I may need to switch out my weights day from Tuesdays." "Or stretch more," the coach-lady replied, which again, not very helpful.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wrong Side of the Bed

Aw, hell. I woke up feeling like one giant, sore, bunched up muscle; did my weekly weigh-in to discover I had, in fact, gained half a pound; and then--then!--opened the oven to find that my "forgotten cookies" (meringues left in the oven overnight with the heat off) looked hideous, not at all like meringues.

But, seriously, gaining half a pound? Life is truly unfair. I dragged myself from bed to lift weights twice this week; I ordered a freaking steamed dish when we got Chinese; I tracked everything I ate and stayed within supposedly negative caloric expenditures; I let my tummy grumble a little; I did intervals. WHY, WHY???

I suspect I am constitutionally unable to drop weight. Yes, that's the spirit.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Music for bright midsummer days should be exuberant, youthful, obvious as the sun and shadows. When the cool, inky evenings draw out peeper and cricket song, they ask for sensual, somnolent accompaniment, tinted with a little drama at the edges. The hot, steamy days are not yet constant--then we'll turn on the mellow tunes and lay back, too tired to move. But today, we need music that lets us expand.

For me, this week of the Solstice means Prince. The Purple One unequivocally rules my car in late June. He is a splash of crazy sunlight, an uninhibited but skillfully restrained master of the season's mood. I cruise the suburban streets with my window rolled down, imagining my red Geo Prizm to be a little red corvette. I blast Raspberry Beret--perhaps my favorite of the early hits for its storytelling lyrics and ridiculously infectious groove--crazily singing along in my own poor "falsetto", until I realize I am at a stoplight where respectable people can hear me. No matter!, I decide, They will like this song, too! I'm sharing! I feel my heart soar as my car rounds a bend to the lyrics, "I'm not human, I'm a dove, I'm your conscious, I am love". I groove to the brilliant Musicology. And, as night swells over the treetops and stars send their first cool light of evening, I am one with the drama of Purple Rain.

The remarkable thing is that I'm about 10 years too young to really remember Prince's great 80s heydey, but maybe this is part of the love. My images of the songs aren't overpowered by silly music videos or celebrity. I get to enjoy the music with my own associations, and the dramatic, leonine persona of The Artist without thinking how silly he looked with that curly, assymetrical mop of hair.

Finally, I leave you with this, because the people at GraphJam wouldn't put it up (although it clearly indicates vast comedic genius):

Here's the Key.
What are you blasting at Solstice?

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I found an article about interval training written for the layperson.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

This Post Is Pretty Boring. No, Really.

I’ve been following the Food Guide Pyramid, exercising differently, reading about the wickedly hard workout known as “interval training”, and learning surprising new things in the process.

I decided to follow Uncle Sam’s nutrition advice to the T, committing to really Do This Thing if I’m going to bother. Surprise number one was that I wasn’t eating enough food. That’s right. I was eating small volumes of supremely healthy food, and then, at the late-afternoon energy crash and grumbling tummy time, filling up on Famous Amos cookies, cheese, peanut butter. Now I’m eating a helluva lot more food, but it’s not as calorie-dense, so I’m eating fewer calories total. Who would’ve guessed?

Pyramid lesson number two was that, although I ate animal protein but twice a week, I was still eating way more protein than I require. I’m practically a vegetarian compared to most people I know, and yet, I was consuming too much, between tofu, tempeh, lentils, one weekly portion of fish, and one weekly portion of chicken. I’ve cut way back on the “Meat and Beans” and increased my intake of whole grains, and I have more zip. As G. cleverly observed last night, protein builds muscle. Unless you’re a teenager or a professional body builder, you probably don’t need all that much protein.

Onto exercise. Interval training is hard. Deadly difficult. I consider myself in decent cardio shape, what with the hour-long, nonstop-movement Nia (dance) classes, the walking, and the volleyball, but a mere 26 minutes of interval training kicked my ass. I wondered why. I looked it up online. I didn’t understand all the jargon (VO2 max? huh?), but I came to understand that intense, short-duration cardio (such as interval training) burns more calories and trains the muscles and cardiovascular system in a totally different way than longer-duration, lower-intensity cardio. (It also has the nice benefit of being a shorter workout.)

This investigation lead me to the concept of specificity. Basically, when you train your muscles to use oxygen for one activity, it does not train them at all for using oxygen in another activity. For example, a fit swimmer has great cardiovascular endurance for swimming, but take her out of the pool and that trained, fit body does not know how to run. She will huff and puff. In other words, my volleyball, walking, and dance did not train my body for intense intervals (or for any intense, short-duration cardio exercise). It trained my body for volleyball, walking, and dance.

Turns out that short-duration, intense cardio is much better for weight loss. It burns more calories than low-intensity cardio and causes the body to continue to burn more calories after the workout than does low-intensity cardio. Plus there was some benefit I didn’t understand about how it makes the body use specifically fat stores more quickly than does low-intensity cardio, something about VO2 max and anaerobic thresholds. Low-intensity, longer-duration cardio (like Nia class, or marathon running, or distance swimming) teaches the body to use up fat stores in a different way. A slower burn or something. I didn’t really get it. Don’t ask me to explain. Don’t quote me.

Next: weight lifting v cardio. Weight lifting is important, but it turns out that no matter how much one defines his muscles, that won’t be apparent if they are covered with a layer of subcutaneous fat. For those who need to lose fat, such as yours truly, the method seems to be more cardio than weights, with cardio 4x/week and weight training only 2-3x/week. However, for a thin rail of a person, more weights and less cardio is recommended.

I never intended to have a weight loss blog; I just find this new info fascinating. Thank you for your patience. For the next post, I will write about music. Who wants to read this much about exercise physiology? Come back soon.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Intervals: Yowza!

My Women's Health exercise DVD just arrived, and it's awesome. You can choose pre-built workouts based on body type. I chose "classic curvy" (other choices were "athletic build" and "long and lean") and selected my Monday workout: interval training. Intervals, what's the big deal, I thought?

Holy crap.

But I got a great big, juicy shot of endorphins after laboring through the first 6 minutes, and then I was on my way.

Tomorrow: Upper body.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Always My Undoing, Plus Idioms

Visits to my father-in-law's house result in massive overeating of rich, salty and/or sugary foods. Happy Father's Day! We had meringues (awesome), huge slices of black forest cheesecake (wow), and generous slices of the best pizza outside Italy (amore). We were sent home with cheesecake and baked French toast covered in sugared pecans. You see the problem. It's especially dangerous to stay with them for a few days, as we did over Christmas. I happened to notice today that my father-in-law's waistline has grown more generous in the year he's been married to the producer of cookie, cake, French toast, and cheesecake wonders.

Uncle Sam tells me I ate more calories than I expended today. No shit, Uncle Sam. That said, I'm very glad I got up early to exercise, or I could be in even more dire straits.

One of my first ESL tasks is to notice all the idioms around me. Fall behind in your work...keep your eyes peeled (that one makes me squirm anyway)...eyes are bigger than your stomach...G. and I say, "You idiom!" when we catch each other saying one.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Government Wants to Help

'Round about last week or the week before, Ann was writing interesting things about RMR tests and habit-changing. Back a while ago here at Italian Camp, I was ranting about Weight Watchers coming into my workplace. (BTW, my fears have not materialized, but I've since found 2 female colleagues--women who are longtime WW devotees elsewhere--who also found it creepy.)

An interesting side effect of finding a way to change careers is that I feel like I can change other things during this time of transition. As long as you're going to the store, could you get lemons, too? As long as I'm making one transition... To my surprise, the volleyball playing has done very nice, toning things for my arms and abs. It's the kind of thing where no one else could see it, but I can. So I thought, why not track food for a while and drop a couple pounds? As long as you're dropping psychic weight, how about losing a little physical weight, too? And don't forget those lemons! Besides, there's nothing like a brutal heat wave to make a person want to have minimal insulation.

Anyway, the point of all this heavily-linked lead-up is simply that the US government has an awesome, free-if-you-don't-count-taxes, interactive version of the Food Pyramid with a calorie tracker and nutrient analysis and everything! Yes, I've always been a little skeptical of the Pyramid, suspecting it may be in bed with the USDA and the Farm Bill, which together create a Machine of Evil for the ages. Still, I think it's a great interface, and it's qualitative enough for my head while being quantitative enough to be useful. Only trouble is the tedium of entering everything every day. And my love of dessert, let's be honest. Two problems. Oh wait, and there's no way in heck I can eat as much dairy as they want. OK, three. Nonetheless, I like the interface.

UPDATE: The Government is giving me a Sad Face because I didn't eat enough grains today. I got happy faces for meat and vegetables, and earned a neutral face for dairy by forcing myself to eat an extra piece of reduced-fat string cheese. Uncle Sam is giving me Sad Faces for my fat intake, but there was no option to explain that I had "Veganaise" instead of mayonnaise on my tuna salad or skim milk in my cappuccino.

UPDATE 2: Hey, there's 2.5 lbs less of me than there were last Sunday.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

As the World Braises

The heat wave is causing unusual behavior. On the radio, doctors tell us not to exercise. Sit still!, they say, Have a cool drink by the air conditioner! The cats stretch out past their full lengths on the floor, puddles of fur, too fatigued to lift their little heads. We go shopping, ostensibly for shorts, but actually for a retreat into mall A/C. I forgo my black tea in favor of cold diet cola, even at breakfast. The world’s gone mad.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

June Amuse

Every June, I break out my prescription tube of steroid cream to soothe the allergic eczema that sprouts on my hands and forearms. Every June, I am amused by the warning:


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Shop shop shop

Marathon shopping day, people! First, I got my hair cut. Tired of spending $50 a pop on my beloved hairdresser, as much as I love her, I decided to try out the $14.95 Quick Cuts across the street from my condo. I brought in a photo of the 'do that inspired my current cut and gave the stylist instructions to tidy up my overgrown hair, following the cuts made by my talented regular hairdresser (though of course I didn't put it like that). She did a passable job, but clearly this cut was a stretch for her. She worked laboriously and carefully, expressing surprise at the number of layers in my hair, whereas my usual superhero stylist snip-snip-snips while sharing gossip about her MIL, dog, and the hoity-toity neighbors. Still, I am tidied and richer than I would be.

From there, off to The Paper Store for marathon gift-and-card buying. June brings my sister's birthday, a friend's birthday, my mom's birthday and retirement, and Father's Day. Plus, I wanted to treat myself to a new journal and a sharp-looking pen & notebook for the start of graduate school next weekend. I emerged much, much later with everything but Father's Day and my notebook done, bearing stylish color-coordinated gift wrap and all, too burnt out to purchase for The Dads.

Then, to the used book store for a few novels for myself! I selected this (title sounded familiar) and this ('cause I loved Possession) and this (which I figured would be an interesting read for a future ESL teacher). All three for the delicious price of $10.24.

A quick stop at CVS for sunscreen (on sale), headbands (also on sale and very cute with the tidied locks), and that notebook (they carry recycled now!), and then back home.

We ate wonderful tuna sandwiches for lunch (with provolone, of course), I napped, read some of the Garcia Girls (liking the first two chapters), and then took a practice MTEL reading comprehension test. The MTEL is a state-mandated test for teaching licensure. I kicked ass and so will ignore the advice to take a practice exam for the general sections. Tomorrow I'll take a crack at the writing test. These general "communication and literacy skills tests" are not the ones I'm worried about; I'll admit that the subject area test in ESL has me nervous, but only because I don't yet know anything about ESL.

OK, so then, I did some free YouTube Pilates. (I like the woman in the sculpting Pilates video because she reminds me of Kristin Davis' Charlotte York, who is the only reason I sometimes watch SATC.) Inspired by my workouts, I browsed Amazon for exercise DVDs. I found this one new for just $3.17, shipping from my own state, for a grand total of $6. The shopping gods were with me.

I don't really have a good way to end this ramble of a post.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Waiting by the Inbox

Last week at grad school orientation, our dean went on and on (which I suspect he is wont to do) on many topics, but especially The Importance of Using Your College Email. I suspect this talk was for the benefit of people in the audience older than I, but I nonetheless scrambled home and logged into my new account straightaway.

Incorrect username or password.

A couple calls to the school IT department determined that my account was not yet set up, but should be within a week. I tried every day.

Incorrect username or password.

This morning, I filled in my username and password, hit Enter, and, to my great surprise, was brought to a new screen--My inbox! Hello, new inbox, untainted by spam or an ill-thought-out subscription to the Budget Travel e-newsletter!'s empty. No messages. I emailed G. right away, of course, a simple "Testing 1 2 3." He replied, "It worked!" and then...silence.

It's a little lonely in a clean inbox.

Oh, that could be taken in a naughty way.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Calcium Dreams and Sweetness

I seem to sleep better and have sweeter dreams when I take my calcium supplement before bed. (I discovered this by forgetting to take it in the morning a few days.) Try it. Let me know what happens.

Sweeter than calcium dreams, sometimes too sweet, is apricot nectar. I froze little ice cubes of it last week, wanting just a frozen splash of the pretty juice at a time. This morning, waking thirsty from last night's volleyball, I blended a few cubes with soymilk. It's SO. Delicious.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Volleyball as Life Work Metaphor

I knew the metaphors were there from the beginning, but I was too busy trying to pick up any scrap of volleyball technique, seeing as how I started with none. However, I had the misfortune of coworkers Behaving Very Badly over the past week, and such experiences tend to take a big yellow highlighter to life's metaphors.

In volleyball, we rotate positions. Whenever the serve comes back to your team, everyone moves one position clockwise, affording new possibilities and perspectives. Everyone gets to set, serve, and play all the other places, as well. Maybe some suit us better than others. Maybe different players have different styles in different roles. It's important not to be come too attached to any one position, to enjoy all of them, and to try your best no matter where you're standing, flexible but staying secure in the knowledge that you'll return to your most natural fit eventually.

It's also important to remember that we play as a team, not a bunch of individuals competing with each other to be the Best One. We win or lose as a team. Likewise, it's important to allow your teammates to play their positions. Do not run over to get the ball because you think the setter isn't doing it right. The setter is playing just fine, and where you're standing, you're seeing the ball from a different perspective. The setter is, in fact, known for being a great player. If you keep running up and knocking over the setter, no one will get the ball, you control freak. And eventually, the setter will get sick of it and ask the rest of the team, and if necessary, the coach, for help in this matter. The coach will step in to put you in your place, the team will support the setter, and you may make snide comments in the stairwell or, er, locker room--yeah, locker room--but the setter has won and doesn't care. We'll all rotate anyway, so you'll have a chance to be in charge again soon enough.

And also? Dear inept player who everyone knows is inept and I have been defending as simply "new": You bitch. Come on, now. You cannot blame the setter for not getting the ball when you never passed it to her. And you're known to be inept, so who will everyone believe? Please do not bring the control freak into this to take your side, either.

Fortunately, I know we all rotate, which means I'll remain professional through this nonsense. But there's a funny thing about v-ball: If you treat a player badly, watch your back when the teams are shuffled next time and she's serving against you. HAHAHAHA

Note: I allow a world of difference between people who accidentally step into the wrong position because of lack of skill versus those who do so willfully.

PS Got your own sporting metaphor? Please share!