Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Proper Tools Make a Difference

Now that the husband has finished his PhD, we have more steady income to kick around. What have we been buying? Electronics? Fabulous vacations? Villas in the Alps?

No, no,

We've been replacing various worn-out necessities. First came the new vacuum, a few days after I realized that our old vacuum (purchased in '96 for $60) was spewing dust and pet dander into the air, like a small Mount Vesuvius. It was not trapping a single particle. After a bit of research, we settled on an upright vacuum with a HEPA filter. We did not go to the super-expensive models, but stayed on the end of economy and quality. We placed our order online and waited.

One day I came home from work to find a tall, vacuum-sized package leaning against our unit's door. It was like Christmas in October. What a difference the new vacuum makes. Once we uncovered the carpet from mounds of fur and dust, we rediscovered that it is not, in fact, a dull, grayed brown, but rather a pleasant, light beige. Our carpet feels springy and soft under our feet. The condo smells better.

Next, it was time to replace my poor, ancient car, the Super Tomato. She was a red '96 Geo Prizm. I purchased her in 2001, when I began needing a car to commute. She was a salvage--a reconstruction from a big accident--and she had 67,000 miles. When I retired the Super Tomato in October, she had a grand total of 155,300 miles. Her paint was unevenly faded. Her tires had long lost their hubcaps. She required frequent brake and alignment work and more new tires than a car should; as her damaged frame aged, it began to tilt and sag, no longer keeping its reconstructed shape. "Metal fatigue," my mom called it. Letting go was hard, though, as we'd spend a good 88,300 miles together. If we averaged 50 miles/hour, that's 1,766 hours, or solid 73.58 days.

The new car is a 2008 Kia Spectra. This car had been repossessed from the previous owner with a mere 800 miles on it. What with These Economic Times, and what with Kia's reputation not catching up to its improved quality, I got a good deal. The new car has an iPod jack, a remote starter, hubcaps, and a uniform, deep red coat of paint. She likes to drive over 50 mph, a speed which made the Super Tomato shudder and protest. I arrive at places faster than I should, because 80 mph feels in this car like what 40 mph felt like in the old car.

Finally, to the kitchen. After some reading about GERMS and HYGIENE, I replaced the sponges with dish cloths (which my husband declines to use, but whatever). Then, frustrated with my inability to find replacement sponges for our ancient mop, I bought a new mop. Bringing the old mop to the garbage, I discovered that the metal sheet between the sponge and the handle was completely filled with rust. I mopped with our handy-dandy new mop, and found that the kitchen floor is not, in fact, a dull, grayed brown, but rather off-white with subtle faux marbling.

What is the takeaway message? I suppose that the proper tools make a huge difference. And what of the people who can never afford to replace that mop, car, or vacuum? Maybe their lives are just a little more frustrating. No amount of effort can compensate for a vacuum that just doesn't work or a mop filled with rust.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Oh hello

How are all y'all? I don't work at a computer anymore. There are no little breaks to jot a few sentences for the blog. Now I must take breaks the old-fashioned way, gazing out the window in a little world of my imagining.

Changing my career has created small, unforeseen changes such as this one, little ripples of different patterns in my days. There is no vending machine to contend with at work anymore, but now lurks the temptation of government-subsidized cookies in the cafeteria. My workdays are shorter, but without a moment of downtime or solitude. I have already caught--and survived--a terrible sinus infection and an even worse stomach bug. I find myself explaining things that seem obvious to my short charges whose forebrains are not fully developed: Why it's a bad idea to throw sharp pencils down a stairwell, why the teachers get to aggravated when you never bring your bilingual dictionary to class and constantly ask them to explain unfamiliar words.

The scenery of my week is completely different, as I commute to a town 31 miles away down a fast highway. It's a pretty little suburb, a newer town imitating the quaint, New England look of the authentic older towns. My boss is irritating in a whole new way I have not experienced before, despite the varied idiosyncracies and evils of past supervisors. It's amazing how many ways exist to mismanage. But it's okay, I don't see her often, only at the meetings she reschedules on a whim, never sticking to the planned biweekly schedule.

I should drive 25 miles the other direction to class now. The driving is wearying, but at least I have a new car in which to do it. I feel safer, and I get places faster.

Friday, September 11, 2009

My English, Eh, She Is Getting Worse

A surprise of working with ESL students all day is that, as their English improves, mine seems to worsen. Perhaps it's because I simplify my own speech for comprehensibility, or because I hear so much not-quite-correct English all day. Maybe it's the distraction of my brain echoing everything I say back to me in Portu-Spanglish. Por exemplo, when I say, "Me, too," I literally hear, "Yo, tambien" in the back of my head. When I ask, "What else?" I hear, "Que mais?" in Portuguese, and then correct it to "Que mas?" for the Spanish-speakers, and, finally, realize that I am at home where the only languages are English and Cat; no Portuguese, no Spanish. My students are not here needing translation. The cats communicate well enough through body language and insistent meows.

Today, after I said something with a very strange turn-of-phrase during our lunch break, I asked the experienced ESL teacher, "Does teaching ESL make your English worse?" She replied, "Yes."

Perhaps I should go read some beautifully constructed prose in English, or watch a well-written Hollywood film, or view a BBC production. This development is somewhat alarming.

For now, my good friends, I hope you to have weekend great and very much fun. Si?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Namaskar Again

I stopped going to yoga about two years ago. I had practiced hatha yoga off and on since about 1996, and I was just tired of it. The classes were not giving me that blissy, open feeling anymore. Instead of emerging refreshed and renewed from shavasana, I was spacey and sleepy, mind still running. I thought that maybe I had changed and yoga wasn't relevant to my current life.

I've been working mornings these past few weeks, including one day each weekend. This schedule prevented me from getting to Nia classes. The commute to the tutoring gig were making my neck and lower back--really, my whole spine--stiff and sore. I decided to drop in on an afternoon yoga class.

Ninety minutes later, I emerged into the summer sunlight refreshed and renewed. I felt like both body and mind had gotten a luxurious massage. It was as if the great big sky inside me had opened up again.

Maybe it was a fluke, but I decided to return to the same class the next week...and the next. For three weeks now I've been delving back into yogic practice, even pushing aside the coffee table to practice asana in my little living room.

I've realized that yoga was never the problem. The problem was the particular yoga class I had been attending two years ago--and its teacher. Because I liked the teacher personally, I did not make the connection that her teaching style was not a match for me.

I'd felt cluttered and crowded in her studio, which was her former dining room. I felt crowded by all the bodies and personalities crammed in that space. I felt crowded by the sort of celebrity status this teacher had among her loyal follower-students, and by her overwhelming presence in her studio-cum-home. I felt irritated by the inconvenience of parking in the teacher's driveway, where I was always blocked in after class by the students who had arrived to class 10 minutes late and would leave 10 minutes late.

There were other inconveniences. There was no drop-in option; one must commit to eight weeks of class at a particular day and time. Miss a class? The teacher would email to ask if all is well and offer a make-up session. It was too much. There was no physical or mental space.

But all of this crowding is mere inconvenience. The real problem was the cluttered nature of the yogic practice there. This teacher is rather a New Ager. She loved reciting affirmations at us as we relaxed into the postures. We visualized clouds of light. She talked about mystical things, like how advanced yogis can make themselves invisible. I just wanted to look into my mind. I didn't want any New Age fanfare.

There was a certain clutter, or disorder, in the way she structured the physical practice, as well. We did wildly different things from one week to the next. She would throw Kundalini practices into class--and, although I tried to be open-minded, I hated them. They made me feel hot and dizzy.

After about a year and a half with this teacher, I could tell that I was not growing; that, in fact, the practice was somehow eroding my energy. I didn't yet know why, although I could list the inconveniences surrounding parking and overly-chatty classmates.

It's my new yoga class that has helped me see the difference. Rather than pouring frothy affirmations into our minds, the teacher asks us to watch our minds, clear them out, find relaxed resolve. Although the room is full, physically crowded, it does not feel at all crowded. This teacher allows us the physical and mental space to expand, to ground and to open. It is an excellent yoga class and I am grateful to have found it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Brief List of Things to which Russians Are Apparently Allergic

  • Air conditioning
  • Iced drinks
  • Sandwiches
  • August weather in New England
  • Admitting they don't understand something

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Please shoot me now

So, I have to write a week of lesson plans using this incredibly complicated model for my graduate school class. Here's the thing: I've spent literally ALL DAY on five lessons, and I'm not even close to finished. Nor have I made any of the fancy supplementary materials my lessons call for. If this is what my future holds, I will shoot myself. In the head.

I think that maybe it won't be this bad in real life. I won't have an incredibly detail-oriented professor grading my plans, for one thing. For another, I'll write them so that I can understand them, not so that my detail-oriented professor can understand them.

It's possible I'll have a principal who wants to see all my plans. Who knows.

The way I write lesson plans in real life, so far: I make a few notes. Then I teach. The end. But then, I have very few students in a pull-out situation. A giant, sheltered-instruction science class would be different.

Perhaps I should avoid teaching a giant, sheltered-instruction science class.

I'm trying very hard not to feel sorry for myself, but I'm failing. It's mostly panic: Is this my future? Hours upon hours of writing lesson plans?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Great Things about Asheville

We're thoroughly enjoying our little holiday in Asheville, NC. Here is a list of some of the great things about Asheville:
  • Malaprop's Bookstore has a section devoted to banned books. In most of these books is a card describing where it is banned and why. It's good to be reminded that reading can be radical.
  • Southern cooking, OMG. Mac and cheese is listed with "vegetables" on many menus. Everything is fresh, fatty, and good.
  • Lots of Nia. I plan to take a class tomorrow.
  • A giant arboretum designed by Frederick Law Olmstead.
  • Mountain trails. We plan to do some hiking tomorrow.
  • Vibrant, artsy downtown.
  • Live bluegrass! You may recall how I adore bluegrass.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ciao for now

I'm leaving for vacation on Friday. When I return from vacation, I'll have a perfect job for the rest of the school year: subbing for a middle school ESL teacher who'll be on maternity leave. I am scared shitless about the fact that I have landed my dream job, and, even worse, they are really excited to have me. High expectations always lead to disappointment. On the plus side, the real teacher will be back in the fall and therefore I cannot do too much damage as an impostor.

I also keep having nightmares that we miss our plane for vacation.

I'm not sure what's wrong with me. I intellectually realize that vacation and dream job are causes for celebration, but I'm something of an anxious, weepy mess.

Let's blame it on the fifth grade class I covered today. We watched a movie of Where the Red Fern Grows. In case you've forgotten, the dogs die at the end. Still. And kStyle bawls. Still.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Quote of the Decade

All religions are true, but none are literal.
--Joseph Campbell

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Pesonality in the Classroom

Bill asked an excellent question:

From anecdotal evidence, it seems the teachers who are both subject smart and have personality are the ones who make a difference (and are fondly remembered). Conversely, those with bland-neutral personality or come off as negative never get a fair shake or remembrance from students.

Is teacher personality ever discussed?

I cannot speak for all education programs. ESL is a little marginal, and therefore wonderfully quirky.

We don't frame the discussion in terms of "personality," but rather in terms of "affective learning." Affective learning means making the classroom a low-stress, creative, humorous environment; bringing affect into instruction with teacher humor and creativity; and encouraging the students to be their own creative, individual selves. It means giving the students creative work in which they can construct their knowledge as individuals and as a group. It means giving the students some outlet for personal reflection, like journaling, and, if possible, connecting with students' families and communities.

Of course, all students would benefit if we gave affect some breathing room in the classroom. Affective learning is especially important for our English language learners, though, because they are making HUGE EMOTIONAL adjustments to their new identities and cultures. Have you ever studied a foreign language? Have you noticed, perhaps, that you sort of become someone else when speaking the new language? This person is still you, but this Spanish- or Portuguese- or Khmer- or Mandarin-speaking you might think about the world a little differently, and by definition expresses himself differently than the English-speaking you. Imagine that phenomenon times a hundred, plus pressure, perhaps, from a misunderstanding society to abandon your native language, plus pressure from your parents to maintain your native language, plus grappling with a new culture and how much of it to adopt. At certain times, you would be a bundle of emotions. The teacher needs to support you in this journey and to demonstrate the value of your culture and language.

On top of all that, Stephen Krashen tells us that anxiety is a barrier to language learning, and some theorists whose names evade me...Well, they say that imagination is the way to motivate a student to learn a new language. The native tongue already provides everything the student needs: security, communication, relationships, and so on. But the second tongue, oh, that can become a place of freedom and dreams, of whimsy and fun.

I think we frame this in terms of "affect" because affect can be changed or adjusted. Asking a teacher to alter her "personality" would be hurtful. But, we can ask teachers to change how they present their personalities, inviting them to share warmth and humor and imagination with students.


Hello, Blog Friends!

I miss writing here and seeing your witty replies. I'm afraid I've been pounding out so many papers reflecting on education, second language acquisition, and my teaching philosophy that I am all written out. I'm assuming that these topics may not be of much interest here, and also I wouldn't feel right posting a paper verbatim. However, I would be more than happy to answer any questions you might have on these topics. They're on the brain and the language is at my fingertips anyway. I would entirely understand if none of this is of interest, however.

Other random notes:
-Going on vacation in two weeks! Yaaaaaaaaaaaay!
-Been feeding the cats wet food and they LOVE it! Their coats look shiner, too.
-The goldfinches are turning a vibrant yellow.
-I'm planning to read Jung. It seems that everywhere I look lately, I see Carl Jung looking back at me and waving. "Hey, kStyle," says Mr. Jung, "Let's talk." The Portable Jung is sitting on my coffee table right now.
-I saw the first crocuses--with blooms!--earlier this week, and the first yellow daffodil flowers today.

I hope you are all well.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

HAR harharhar HAR har

Atheists reading dramatic excerpts from Christian Fundamentalist message boards. OMG LOL!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Spring dreams

My dreams turn odd every spring. Chinese medicine says this is because Wood Qi becomes active, and Wood Qi rules the Liver, and the Liver houses the Hun, or the part of the soul that wanders through the dream world during sleep. Here are a few things my Hun has been doing while I slumber.

I'm sitting on the couch at my parents' house with one of my shiatsu teachers. We are philosophizing about life. Luna Cat joins us and her eyes glow blue. White curtains billow in a breeze. Sun shines through a skylight.

I'm on my college campus. I need to meet my friend for our Weight Watchers meeting. (In real life, I do drive with a friend to WW. I did not know this friend during college.) We walk across the green campus, past the red brick campus center, to the meeting. The scale says I gained back all the 15 pounds I'd lost. I'm upset. I drink a lemonade, but I don't know whether it was before or after the meeting.

There were more dreams, jumbles of languages and colors and events, but their threads dissolved with morning. Have you had any dreams lately?

P.S. I just remembered another one. I was having an affair with L.L. Cool J. We went to lots of clubs together.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy Equinox!

May you have balance today and the joy of spring's renewal through the season. Bunnies and chickies and eggs, oh my!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Head like a bruised melon.

Oh, my head hurts. Water, ibuprofen, antihistamine, steroid nasal spray, and caffeine have all been powerless to help. A friend proposed that the sudden low-pressure front might be the culprit. Hey, that WOULD explain why I've always hated low-pressure days.

Weather! STOP IT!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

I mean not to neglect.

Hello, blog peeps!

I'm here. How are you? I'm sorry I've been out of touch lately. The spring weather pulls me out of doors, or keeps me spring cleaning when I'm within walls. My husband defends his PhD tomorrow--5 years' work distilled into 1 hours' talk. My main mission in life has been ensuring that he eats enough during these last few chaotic weeks. The cats are well. The backyard birds (and lone squirrel) are scarfing up the black oil sunflower seed. My thesis...Well, it's as neglected as my blog. I've been brewing Papua New Guinea coffee in my fancy new French press, and this morning I'm enjoying it with just sugar, no cream. I like my coffee smooth. I've also been reading a lot of novels.

So that's the non-news news from here. What's going on with you?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Birdfeeder magic

A whole mess of birds has found the feeder: tufted titmice, chirpy little chickadees, and two smaller birds who might be sparrows. Some of them look almost skinny, which makes me very glad we set out food.

I was looking more closely at the two little sparrows just now, wondering at their burnished, golden color. Usually sparrows are just drab. Then I suddenly recognized the pair, like you might recognize a friend wearing an exceptionally good Halloween costume. They are goldfinches, dull without their mating plumage. I hope that they stick around and we get a good highlighter-yellow show out our window this spring.

UPDATE: A nuthatch arrived today! He's shy and tends to perch on the side of the feeder that faces away from the house. The chickadees are not so modest.

UPDATE 2: A male house finch has joined in the feasting! He's very handsome with his rosy breast and throat.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Running on caffeine, I feel judgmental.

It's been a busy week. I'm very caffeinated and slightly sleep-deprived and definitely under-exercised and fantastically over-sugared, all of which conspire to make me slightly edgier than usual. Not in a cool, Grrrrrl with tattoos way, unfortunately; I'm simply more irritable. When I'm more irritable, I'm more likely to think judgmental thoughts. Thoughts such as...

High school boys are such odd creatures. What's with those teachers you hear about who have affairs with their students? There is something SERIOUSLY OFF about those teachers. Sitting here as the substitute, looking at the sea of pimply, slouchy young men dressed sloppily in various shades of Dreary (faded navy, gray, and black tee shirts abound), I can't help but think, "Wow, these are half-formed human beings."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

High school.

The kids were overall quite well-behaved and conscientious, but I reckon I don't much care for teenage boys. They seem to believe that 1. they know everything, and 2. everyone else is stoopid. The self-righteousness, oh the self-righteousness!

Of course, many of the boys were fine. It's partly that I saw a lot of Rich Hippie Indignation (super-mellow persona below which lies a super-rigid, self-righteous personality), and I had more than my fill of that in college and shiatsu school.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A different middle school.

As you know, my blog friends, I've been honing my substitute teaching skills in a rather tough, inner-city school, a school where I must play the Bad Cop often and with feeling. It's like prison: Shank the first kid you see or you become their bitch. Never waver for a microsecond. Do not pause during class. Set up your authority at the door, before they even enter the classroom.

On Tuesday, I substituted for an inclusion SPED (special ed) teacher at the middle school in a nice, affluent, disturbingly lily-white, suburb. This meant that--for the morning, before I got pulled in to cover, what else, 7th grade ELA--I went to other teachers' classrooms and helped out a few kids while the classroom teacher taught.

In the first class, I found another substitute covering for the classroom teacher. The soft-spoken woman has been subbing for nine years while she figures out what else to do. Got news for you, honey--after nine years, you're no longer deciding. You're a lifetime substitute teacher.

She did not assert any control over the classroom as the students entered. A deep feeling of anxiety swelled in my gut. She repeatedly paused for minutes at a time to decipher the neatly typed lesson plans. Once she actually sat back down at the desk to reread the plans. I was panicking internally, scanning the room for signs of revolution. They are going to crucify her, I thought. Her head will be on a stick within two minutes! I began plotting my own escape or ascension to control for when the pandemonium broke out. My course of action would depend on my proximity to the door when the riot began.

But then? Nothing. The kids took their seats and they waited to hear the instructions. They listened and then began working. And then! And then--the teacher simply plopped down at the big desk for an hour while the kids silently worked on their vocabulary, and I occasionally circled the classroom, offering help.

Later that day, when the 7th grade ELA teacher was thanking me profusely for taking over her classes so she could pick up her feverish toddlers, she kept assuring me that I didn't have to teach the lesson. I was like, why am I here if not to teach? She seemed gratefully surprised.

I realized two very important things that day:
1. I've been cutting my teeth at a very tough place to be a substitute, and
2. Apparently other substitutes don't actually teach.

I would be lying

If I said I weren't nervous about spending the next 2 days subbing in a high school. I haven't done high school since my subbing days as a college student, and it did not always go well.

At least it's not in Lowell!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Antibiotics are not candy!!!

This week, my sinus pressure has come up in conversation a couple times. My blocked left ear, friend of the blocked left sinus, has caused me to ask people to repeat themselves. Sometimes, if I've had to ask for multiple repetitions, I smile apologetically and explain about my ear, and then maybe the sinus comes up.

Just so you don't think I'm yakking about my sinus pain left and right. No, my dear blog friends, I save this special love for you. Yes, I do.

Anyway, two people--people from very different circles, one I met in college and one I just met at WW tonight--have said, "Why don't you just take some antibiotics? You can just call your doctor and ask for them. Your doctor will probably write you a prescription over the phone."

Oh, dear me.

Because, once again, I am more polite to people I see face-to-face than to you, my blog friends, I demure by saying, "My digestion is very sensitive to antibiotics, so I try not to take them." This response seems to cause the other person confusion, which, in turn, causes me confusion. Do people not know/realize/care that antibiotics wreak havoc on digestion?

Given that I have little restraint with you, my blog friends, I now present a list called

Reasons Why kStyle Tries to Avoid Antibiotics:

1. Most antibiotics kill your happy digestive bacteria, a.k.a. gut flora, along with their intended target bacteria. The gut flora live in your gut and help you digest your food. Without them, grave indigestion can result. It can take a long time and a lot of conscious effort to make the gut a happy home again and then recolonize it with gut flora. As an extreme example, many women I've worked with in my shiatsu practice who have IBS report that it developed after a potent round of antibiotics for something like Lyme Disease. (NOTE: Lyme Disease is a disease for which, yes, I would take antibiotics in a heartbeat.)

2. More generally, antibiotics throw your whole microscopic ecosystem off whack. The "good" or "friendly" bacteria--which live in all kinds of places, like your digestive system, nose, skin, vagina--compete with the bad nasty bacteria, viruses, and yeast, thus boosting your immunity. For example, the drug Cipro bypasses digestion and heads straight for the genitourinary tract, making it a valuable drug for UTI infections. However, many, many women taking Cipro also end up with a yeast infection, because Cipro kills the friendly bacteria that keep naturally occurring vaginal yeast in check. The yeast overgrow, the woman becomes very itchy in her privates.

(Don't believe me about #1 and 2? See here.)

3. Antibiotics are not candy! These are DRUGS. These are drugs that we want to work should we have Lyme, pneumonia, or bubonic plague. I want antibiotics to shock and awe my system should they need to do so. I have no desire to build up a resistance by drugging every bout of sinus pressure--which may or may not have an underlying bacteria infection--or UTI. I want to save the damn drugs for when they really count.

4. Antibiotics, antiseptics, and especially those truly unnecessary antibacterial soaps are incredibly overused. Bacteria in general have plenty of chance to build up resistance. Those little illness-causing dudes reproduce fast. It's a microscopic arms race. Let's not waste our ammo.

5. Even if I were more willing to pop a round of Augmentin, I would first go visit my doctor and let her, the person with the medical degree, diagnose whether my sinuses were infected with bacteria. Drugging viruses is a prime culprit in the problem of antibiotic resistance.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Feeling off.

I seem to be slightly "off" this morning. I'm sneezing a lot and there's a weird smell in my nose, like dirt and mushrooms and maybe gym socks. A lot of pressure below the left eye. I really hope it's not a sinus infection, because I will do all I can to avoid visiting my new doctor, up to and perhaps including letting a sinus infection become a brain infection. I don't care for her, but I am on state insurance during my career transition, so what can I do?

I'm also weeping at small frustrations. Maybe one of them is really a larger frustration. See, I chose a teaching specialty, ESL, wherein it's impossible, in the end, to pass the state teacher certification until I've finished all my master's coursework. This is a highly unusual field in that way. So, schools are now posting their job openings for the fall, but I'm not a certified teacher yet. Which means another year, perhaps, of substitute teaching purgatory.

And then there are other small frustrations, like the ridiculous security measures of our Online Bank. These security measures often make doing banking with them a frustrating experience. But the rates are so good.

Earlier, on Weekend Edition, Scott Simon was telling us about a broadcaster who recently died. Peter Harvey might have been his name. I'd never heard of him before, but the touching tribute also made me weep.

Perhaps a lot of this frustration is residual from yesterday. My classmates in my master's program are fucking idiots. A quarter of them arrived 20-30 minutes late. I can understand 10 minutes, but this was a big waste of the time for which I am paying. A quarter of them showed up to class 4 hours late. Yes, the class runs for 8 hours, which is a long time, but it only meets for 7 sessions. In addition, only 2 of us brought the printouts we needed for class. And, my classmates, once they bothered to show up, took so long to grasp concepts that I had to sit there metaphorically twiddling my thumbs while I waited for them to get it. I sensed the other prepared classmate was similarly biding time.

The only consolation is that the professor and I commiserated in hushed tones about the lack of preparedness. Also, she reminded the morons to show up on time and to bring what they needed. I don't know how she did it without losing her mind. She came across as perfectly sweet and even-tempered. Of course, she's the one being paid to waste her time, not the one paying to waste her time. In two weeks (and we only have five left) we've covered only HALF of what we were supposed to.

I wonder if the natural foods store that sold me the concoction that cured my UTI within 24 hours has anything for sinusitis. Or for misanthropy and malaise.

Friday, February 27, 2009

All about Me(me): Buddhism

Narya gave me Buddhism as one of my words. I could write pages and pages and pages on Buddhism. I wasn't sure where to start, and lo!, this morning a friend emailed me to ask what the difference is between Zen and other sects of Buddhism. Here's my response to her.

If you'd like me to give you 5 words I associate with you to explore on your own blog, tell me in the comments.


Disclaimer: Dividing Buddhism into "Zen" and "Other" is sort of like dividing Christianity into "Calvinism" (for example) and "Other." Nonetheless, we shall examine what makes Zen so very Zen.

Zen is direct pointing at mind!
Zen is the diamond that cuts through illusion!
If you meet the Buddha, kill him!

Zen is the Japanese translation of "Ch'an," the Chinese word for "meditation." Ch'an is a sect of Buddhism that originated in China. At the time (at least in China), Buddhism was a super-scholarly pursuit, monks spending days and nights memorizing and debating sutras, quibbling over what exactly the Buddha meant when he said this or that. Also, the monastic orders became very wealthy and opulent because Buddhism was held in high esteem.

Ch'an arose a reaction against this ivory tower Buddhism. Legend has it that the first Ch'an patriarch was illiterate, but this may have been fabricated to prove a point. Ch'an/Zen emphasizes meditation and direct insight. (Zen is direct pointing at mind!) Ch'an redefined the concept of Nirvana. In other sects Nirvana is a sort of extinguishment-paradise after death, an escape from rebirth. In Ch'an/Zen, it is the extinguishment of duality and notions, the direct experience of reality, and it attainable in this life. (Zen is the diamond that cuts through illusion!)

Ch'an/Zen also got rid of the worship on the Buddha. (Many sects always did and still do worship the Buddhas. Many Tibetan Buddhists, for example, are very into Buddha & Bodhisattva worship, but of course their flavor of Buddhism is influenced by pre-Buddhist Tibetan animism.) The object is to BECOME the Buddha, here and now, not to worship external Buddhas. All external Buddhas are false. (If you meet the Buddha, kill him!)

Ch'an spread from China, becoming "Zen" in Japan, "Thien" in Vietnam, and "Seon" in Korea. It is also known as "Dhyana," the Sanskrit word for meditation.

It's interesting to note that Ch'an/Zen places a good deal of emphasis on lineage. ("I received the precepts from so-and-so, who received it from so-and-so, who traces his lineage back to Patriarch So-and-So.") This is because Ch'an/Zen has needed to prove its legitimacy ever since its origins as a renegade sect. Also, it may be because of the importance of ancestors and lineage in the Chinese culture.

Recommended reading: Zen Speaks!: Shouts of Nothingness.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Moroccan orange salad. Does that just sound delicious? I'm about to try it. I hope it is delicious.

UPDATE: Yup. Delish.


I've had this happen too often lately. I'm taking a nuanced stance about something, and a person involved in the discussion says one of the following:

1. You're throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
No I'm not, I never said to throw out any bathwater. I'm bringing some nuance to the discussion.

2. You're contradicting yourself.
No I'm not, I'm showing that, in fact, this is not a matter of absolutes. That's what I said at the beginning.

3. Sometimes the other discussant simply starts arguing against a point I never made because they assume that if I believe X, I must believe Y.
I'm not even sure how to respond to that one.

Conclusion 1: I need a fucking vacation.
Conclusion 2: This is why I hate "discourse."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

All About Me(me): Comfort

Narya gave me five words, and Ann gave me five more. I'm going to take them one at a time. Let me know via comments if you'd like five words I associate with you.

From Narya--

My grandmother is a shop-a-holic. Every Christmas, each child would open boxes upon boxes of sweaters, pants, and sometimes jewelry, all bought on clearance at Macy’s. The store subtracted her senior citizen discount from the sale price, and viola!, Charter Club sweater for $2.99.

These deeply discounted sweaters itched a lot.

One Christmas, as my grandma loves to recount, I finally asked her if she might be able to find softer sweaters. “Ever since,” she says, “I’ve always looked for soft.” True enough: The sweaters from grandma, though they may come in jarringly bold colors, are now luxuriously soft. The lovely white towels she gave us as a wedding present, although they do not dry a drop of water, are exceedingly soft.

Perhaps I’ve appreciated comfort from a young age. I don’t know. I do know that life seems better when some of those little things are arranged nicely. We spent a lot on a good mattress. Our bed is a queen-sized planet of comfort. Last year I advised several friends making their own purchases on the markings of a quality mattress.

I enjoy tea and sunshine, baking bread, naps with cats, iPod living room solo dance parties—pleasant pursuits. Why can’t things be a little more pleasant, a little more comfortable? Italians get this. Perhaps most European cultures understand this. I met a nice fellow at the local hotel’s Jacuzzi recently. He said that he likes to leave a bottle of water in a snowdrift outside the hotel’s door. When he’s done with his soak, the ice-cold water is just perfect. “You know how to live,” I replied. “Because of some water?” he asked.

“No, because you know how to arrange those little details that make life pleasant.”


That is all.

Bird feeding update

AHA! It turns out that sparrows--the very birds poking around looking for a feeder--prefer corn in a tray to sunflower seeds in a tube. OK, no prob.

New day, new plan.

1. Start the day with oatmeal, wheat germ, and blueberries. Power breakfast to fire up those neurons.

2. Go to library with books and laptop.

3. Work from my literature review outline. USE THE OUTLINE AS MY GUIDE.

4. Read and write and research, making notes as needed on the outline as I go.

5. Get some exercise.

6. WW meeting tonight--driving with a friend I haven't seen in a while!

7. Count my accomplishments at the end of the day.

Part of my Overwhelm and Dread yesterday was receiving a draft of my lit review back from my adviser. I thought I'd been wrapping things up, and she added notes like, "Please refer to X, Y, and Z authors concerning culture, language, and academic development." And, "Develop this idea more." And, "This is a start, but you need a more detailed intro comparing 1st and 2nd language acquisition." Thus, more research, more writing.

The project grew and grew before my eyes. The infinitely expanding lit review. It's probably an uncountable infinity, at that.

Yesterday about all I could handle was making a shiny new outline and crossing off the few points that are actually done now. I could cross off less than I'd hoped. I also polished the section on Skinner.

Ack. OK, moving forward.

Monday, February 23, 2009

This is called freaking out.

I'm staring at my literature review, unable to move forward, filled with Dread and Overwhelm.

Cognitive dissonance: OW!

The method of Cambridge College, where I am earnestly studying teaching ESL, is to create cognitive dissonance in students. At least in my case, they are succeeding.

I spent most of the past week avoiding writing a reaction paper, because I did not know how to react. I did know that something about the topic at hand--the notion that teaching is always political, always supporting or contradicting a discourse--was bothering me. I had such a bad case of cognitive dissonance that, nauseated and suffering headaches, I was ready to quit graduate school under the pretext that I needed to be available to make G. dinner in the 3 weeks leading up to his PhD defense. (This is partly true--we are both slightly a mess, he more than I, and the situation is troublesome. Only the cats remain sane, as sane as cats ever are.)

I was also troubled greatly by Foucault, who asserted that the struggle for control of discourse is the struggle for power, and that language is never neutral, but power is neutral. Dude. What?

I reread the chapter on which I was to base my own reflections. I felt nauseated. I hated Foucault and did not understand Fairclough. I felt trapped, like I was being instructed to become a radical activist, and radical activism is against my nature. It was like asking a fish to jog, or a bird to live in the sea.

Eventually I figured it out. I prefaced my reaction by stating my personal philosophy: I distrust extremes; like Aristotle and Buddha, I believe that wisdom lies in the middle places. I therefore could accept the idea that teaching is usually or almost always political and seldom neutral, but I could not abide the idea that teaching is always political and never neutral.

I discovered, then, approached from the middle places, that I could accept parts of Freire (students are not empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge), most of Cummins (collaborative v. coercive education), and especially Bordieu's ideas about language as cultural capital. I also appreciated Tollefson's classification of descriptive v. evaluative approaches to language.

But I concluded with my gut-level distaste for Foucault, noting that perhaps I dislike his notions of "struggle" because I see myself as a bridge-builder, not a warrior. I confessed to being mystified by Fairclough, perhaps needing more examples of CDA in action.

You know what? I don't have to be a radical or an extremist. I do not value radicalism, extremes, absolutes. I believe more harm than good comes from entrenched, absolute ways of thinking. And that does not mean I should drop out of my master's program.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

C'mon sparrows, I shelled out for black oil sunflower seeds...

There were a few fly-bys yesterday, but no feeder landings yet.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Birthday pressure.

I wonder if I would like my birthday better were it in a more temperate time of year. It falls when I am at my nadir, when I am sleepy and mopey and lacking energy. A birthday creates pressure to have fun--fun!--and socialize at a time when all my instincts say to hibernate, to take it easy.

Ah, well.

I plan to get another bird feeder today. The migratory birds are trickling back. Hawks are circling. Yesterday, two small gray birds were looking for my old raccoon-mauled feeder. Naturally, that one found its way to the dumpster last winter.

PS Also? I'm tired of marketing machines (big online bank, big online application, local spa, etc) sending me birthday greetings. DUDE.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009


I just finished reading Creation after about 4 months. I feel sort of empty now.

How will I feel once I finish my thesis?

Refining, refining

I think that I may be in favor of civil rights and reasonable accommodations, but against identity politics. By identity politics, I may or may not mean a sort of us-against-them tribalism rhetoric.

Clearly, I'm still sorting this out.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentine's project

I took a page from Katie Brown today. Katie once personalized brownies made from a boxed mix by frosting them with melted caramels and topping with toasted pecans. (Then she proceeded to make bath salts from scratch, which caused us to wonder, "Why not buy the bath salts and make the brownies from scratch, Katie? Who has citric acid powder and liquid glycerin in the cupboard rarin' to go?")

Anyway, I decided to personalize brownies for my valentine. The man loves brownies, he does. It occurred to me that my best from-scratch efforts will be much more work and not much better than Ghiradelli's dark chocolate brownie mix. Still, brownies from a mix don't say "I love you" in the most romantic way.

I toyed with buying a heart mold, but I didn't want to shell out twenty-five bucks for another cooking accessory to crowd the cupboards.

Then I remembered Katie. Katie, I thought, I didn't know how wise you were.

I bought some chocolate heart candies to place on the brownies. What to stick them with? Of course! Peanut butter frosting! Yippee!

My variation, then: Ghiradelli dark chocolate brownies with PB frosting and dark chocolate heart candies. Thank you, Katie Brown. No, I will not be making bath salts.

Do you have any surprises in store for the feast of St. Valentine?

"What it means to be a real teacher": An effed-up code

Over the last weeks & months I've gathered what many educators think it means to be a real teacher, and I think it's effed up. In fact, many of my personal goals and beliefs directly contradict this code.

For example, Real Teachers Work in the Inner-City, to Improve the Lives of Disadvantaged Yoots.
Corollary 1: There is no Real Teaching to be done in the suburbs, because the suburban kids will turn out fine anyway.
Corollary 2: Teachers in the suburbs contribute to the institutionalized racism of suburban white flight.
(I'm from the suburbs. I like the suburbs. A teacher can teach in the suburbs, not just manage behavior all day.)

Real Teachers Do All They Can to "Save" Students.
(I believe that we are all responsible for saving ourselves, which is why I'm a Buddhist and not a Christian.)

Real Teachers Never Teach Grammar. The kids will pick it up on their own.
(Bullshit. There is nothing wrong with explicitly teaching grammar, as long as it's not the only way that language is taught. In fact, this leads me to kStyle's Newly Minted Theory of Education.)

kStyle's Newly Minted Theory of Education
Use a little of every approach. Find the unique concoction that works for you & your students. Ignore the Educrats.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tomorrow: A retreat for 'Style.

Tomorrow I will take myself away to the heated indoor pool of a local hotel. I will swim, and swim some more. I will use the hotel whirlpool hottub jaccuzzi thing. I will pretend I'm on vacation, a luxurious retreat all by myself, like a wealthy lady of leisure. I may even eat lunch in a hotel restaurant. Imagine! A day's vacation, moments from home! I feel better just thinking about it.

Advice from my advisor.

I wasn't sure whether I liked my advisor when I first met her in the fall, but now she is one of my favorite people. In fact, she is the ONLY person who has given me any good advice about classroom management. Everyone else said, "Remember that you're the one in charge and it will be fine." I'm sorry, but in my experience I need to prove to the kids that I'm in charge; despite my own self-confidence, the yoots do not accept teacher authority as a given.

Bless my advisor and her work in the Boston public schools. Here are her tips, which I'm recording for my own reference as much as anything:

1. "You need to step on them a little." (The most helpful advice ever, especially coming from my radical, liberal, feminist advisor. I hear her saying it in her melodious Haitian accent.)
2. Create a classroom routine and never, ever deter from it.
3. Time-on-task (in other words, maximize active learning time. This is my least favorite mantra of the bunch, because it apparently presupposes that the students want to learn. Ha, and again, ha.)
4. Build a learning community before you attempt group work. (Damn, I wish I'd heard this one before I attempted group work. They so drill group work, group work, group work into us in grad school that I assumed it was a panacea.)

Here's what I've learned myself:
1. To expand on #2 above, create a routine for EVERYTHING. Leave nothing up to the kids. A routine for how to enter class. A routine for how to seat themselves during group work. A routine for when they may ask to use the bathroom and how they sign out.
1a. Create systems to support the routines. The kids never remembered what they needed for class. I now make them check that they have what they need BEFORE they enter class. I also provide a box for each group to keep any small things (notes, drafts) they are likely to forget to bring.
2. The Personal Invitation: Get the misbehaving kid in the hallway and, depending on his/her personality, either flatter the kid and ask for his help as a class role model; or intimidate the punk so that he/she is afraid to so much as breathe wrong in your classroom. This requires a decent reading of students' personalities before proceeding.
3. Things go better if you assume the students are monkeys. Monkeys need plenty of structure, reinforcement, and wrangling to attain a baseline level of acceptable behavior. Moreover, one may become frustrated with the behavior of a roomful of monkeys, but at the end of the day, one might remember that, "oh, well, they're monkeys," which creates a certain peace of mind.

Monday, February 9, 2009


I am growing tired of seventh graders. I am weary. The other teachers, the ones who have been with the seventh graders all year, look even worse. This is a tough group.

Still, sometimes they make me laugh. And I continue to amaze them as more and more realize I am married, but I didn't take my husband's last name, and you can DO that!

I'm looking forward to school vacation next week, and the end of this gig. I've learned some valuable lessons from it, though. Assign groups; never let the kids choose their own. Have a routine for the way that the kids enter class. Do not be above bribery positive reinforcement.

I wonder if I'm really up for a career in teaching. G. says: You are, but not in Lowell. On the plus side, we have developed a wide range of new expressions, such as: "What are you, a 7th grader in Lowell?" And, "Did you go to school in Lowell or something?" And, for someone who looks particularly bedraggled, "Oh, man. Looks like you've been teaching in Lowell."

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ms. F, are you married? Part 2

Part 1 here.

I relate well to Ruben, a smart, bespectacled 13-year-old who has little patience for the laziness or shennanigans of his classmates. He's both serious and funny. The other kids aren't always fond of Ruben, but I think that Ruben and I get each other.

On Friday, I was gesturing to make a point when Ruben noticed my wedding rings. "Ms. F__________, are you married?" he asked.


"What was your maiden name?" he asked.

"My maiden name was F______________."

"No, no, I mean, what was your name before you got married?"

"F_________________," I replied, becoming amused.

Ruben looked confused for a second, and then, eyes wide, he asked, "Wait! You and your husband had the same name?"

"No," I replied, trying not to look too amused.

"I didn't know you could do that!" he exclaimed.

Then--this is why I love this kid: "Why didn't he take your name?"

"I don't know, Ruben. I don't know."

Friday, January 30, 2009

Come to Jesus, Friend

I sat down the lead team teacher for a Come To Jesus talk today. (Both Narya and my eccentric former boss used that expression, and I am fond of it.) I explained that I had agreed to substitute teach for one week. Only later did I learn the teacher had quit and I had the added responsibility of making all the lesson plans, assigning the homework, etc. And then, it morphed into an open-ended gig. I asked what was going on.

Lead Teacher explained that he wasn't sure either. They had interviewed 7 people for the position, of whom 6 were no good. He said he would do all he could to keep me in the job. The kids love me. The faculty adores me. Apparently I'm a freakin' wunderkind in the classroom.

I said,'s where I'm coming from. My goal for the year is to sub in as many different places at as many different grade levels as possible, to see what I like. I have a semester--one semester--in which to write a thesis. It happens to be this semester. I need to remain a per diem sub so that I can take days as needed to work on my thesis.

Lead Teacher tried, most charmingly, to talk me into the job, for which they might be hiring someone else anyway. I was not having it. I declined equally charmingly. I explained that I liked the kids and love the teaching team, but this did not work with my personal goals or timeline. (I refrained from ranting about how it SUCKED to be thrown additional responsibility for no extra pay without telling me up front that was happening, at a chaotic school where the students both behave and read at a level about 3 years younger than the actually are.)

I agreed to stay for 2 more weeks to make a smooth transition. I left feeling happier, lighter, and far left anxious at the end of the day.

My resolution when I turned 30 was, essentially, "I'm not putting up with crap." I think I have proven myself worthy of turning 31 in a few weeks.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Taking advantage or just poor communcation?

I'm doing a heck of a lot of work for this substitute gig. You know, the one where I was told after the fact that the teacher had quit and moved back to Ohio and that *I* would be making the lesson plans. Suddenly I am also supposed to coordinate with the 8th grade ELA teacher to ensure a smooth transition between 7th and 8th grades. All this, and I was never told in the first place that this is what I was getting into; and I still have not been invited to stay until the end of the year.

Also? I made a great connection for the kids--that "yo' mama" jokes are a form of hyperbole--but today I was told to cease and desist with using yo mama hokes as an instructional tool. I was told that a student was "very upset" and had "complained" about me, but I strongly suspect that this is a lie. I believe the other teachers simply found this somehow inappropriate.

I need to have a little heart-to-heart with the team lead teacher tomorrow. I intended for this spring to be a time of subbing in lots of places and at lots of grade levels to see what I like; I moreover intended to be able to take days off as needed to work on my thesis. I feel blindsided, and it's making me both anxious and resentful.

Am I overreacting? I'm sure they must think they are giving me a great opportunity...right?

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Oh, dear.

First, a big chink of my thesis is due Feb. 3. This is according to my own timeline, granted, but I have made the timeline and, dammit, I'm sticking to it. If I don't finish my thesis this semester, they charge me $400 when I do turn it in.

Then, a freelance proofreading project started running behind. Now the last batch is also due Feb. 3.

And on top of all that, I was asked to fill in for a teacher all next week. I accepted. And then, later? They remembered to mention that, Oh by the way, that teacher quit, and have fun making the lesson plans!

Dude. DUDE.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hail to the Chief

I am so, so happy about President Obama's inauguration. I felt proud, moved.

Did anyone else catch that he included "nonbelievers" in his address? Has any U.S. president remembered or acknowledged the nonbelievers before?

On a trivial note, I cannot hear "Hail to the Chief" without hearing Paul Reiser singing, "I am the den-tist, I've come to pull your tooth out".

For the record

I feel better after a good night's sleep, 15 minutes of lightbox therapy, and a breakfast of steel cut oats made overnight in the Crock Pot, topped with a poached egg. Rest! Light! B vitamins! Here we go!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy Mid-January

I am seriously hating life these days. It's all winter depression. I feel guilty for feeling so gawdawful, given that my life is objectively quite good.

Restricting food intake + SAD + PMS = one miserable kStyle.

Wake me up in June, would you?

Friday, January 16, 2009


  1. Trader Joe's flatbread with wild mushrooms, truffles, and mozzarella is so good it's almost ridiculous. It does not look impressive when frozen, but cook it up and it is an absolute delight.
  2. It's freaking cold. Every time I go outside, it feels like the little hairs in my nostrils are going to freeze and break off. The bright, bright sunshine is a terrible tease.
  3. There are now more needles on the floor than on our poor Christmas tree. We'd extended its life so it could lend joviality to last Friday's board games party. It did a marvelous job, but now the poor tree is tired and must be laid to rest. Also? We are tired of the cats puking up needles. We KNOW what you're doing, CATS.
  4. "John, I'm Only Dancing" has been in my head for 3 days.

Breaking Promises

I know I promised I'd sequester all Weight Watchers-related posts here, but! I have to tell you! I lost 4.4 lbs the first week. It took me all summer using the Food Pyramid and ridiculous amounts of exercise to do the same. Yay, WW! Yay, me!

That is all.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Bill took the quiz. I'm a sucker for Internet quizzes, so I took it, too.

I took the 43 Things Personality Quiz and found out I'm an
Extroverted Self-Improving Believer

No idea what it means, but it sounds about right.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Oh, Crap.

Yesterday I learned that free Tetris is available online. Now I am wasting lots of time. Moreover, Level 7 is way too fast for me and I don't even enjoy it. I only like Levels 1-6.

Reminds me of my former job. The reward for doing good work was more work, faster.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Stuff and Things

1. We received a pair of wonderful mugs for Christmas. I am head-over-heels for them. I can't find a photo online, and I'm too lazy to take one, so I'll just have to describe them. They are designed for warming your hands as you sip your warm drink of choice. A beautiful, blue-glazed ceramic inside layer rises up above a shorter, thicker, outside layer of brown clay, which prevents the mug from being too hot to hold. The clay is grooved for a comfortable hand grip. The mugs are aesthetically-pleasing, and just the right size to hold in two hands while gazing out the window.

2. I am pleased to announce that I am now an "independent consultant" for an up-and-coming cosmetics and personal care company. Really, I just liked the shampoo a LOT, and I wanted the discount. I have no intention of starting an MLM-business. But, er, if anyone wants some great shampoo...let me know*.

*I have to say that. So I can keep getting a discount.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Un-PC Food

I've long been very good to my friends' dietary needs, taking a "least common demonimator" approach to gatherings at my home. Is there a vegetarian in the crowd? We all eat vegetarian! A vegan? No animal products for anyone! Visiting Jews? Kosher ingredients it is, for everything served!

I'm breaking free. Vegetarians, vegans, and Kosher-keepers may wish to stop reading now.

On Friday, we are having a few friends over for board games. Fifteen friends, to be precise. I assumed that some people would decline, so I sent out more invites than we can really fit in our little place, and then no one declined. But no matter! We'll make room!

The crowd has at least one vegetarian, one gluten-free Jew who I don't believe keeps Kosher, and assorted others with varying dietary needs. But you know what? 1. It's just munchies anyway, and 2. I invited everyone to bring a snack to share. Ergo, everyone should have something edible.

Therefore, I am making my mom's delicious Ham & Cheese Appetizers! Yes! This is liberation! You know what else? The recipe contains Bisquick! It does! And I'm using it! (I did greatly reduce the fat content of the original recipe, however.)

Anyone who cannot eat this snacketizer will just have to deal. They'll have popcorn, salad, and Christmas cookies, anyway. I am no longer all chefs to all people. IT FEELS GREAT.


I'm trying to be cheerful about winter, I am. I bought myself a pink rose bouquet at Trader Joe's. It was called "Rosy Cheer." Rosy cheer for $3.99--not bad!

One nice thing about winter is that it's a good time to cozy up with a book or three. What are you reading? Would you recommend it? Here's what I'm reading.

Creation by Gore Vidal. Yes, I've been reading it since October. It's long, but it's fantastic. Cyrus Spitama, fictitious Persian ambassador for the great kings Darius and Xerxes, travels the ancient world from Greece to India and China, meeting kings, wise men, and mad men along the way. I have sat in on Ambassador Spitama's audiences with Buddha, Lao Tzu, and Confucius. I suspect that we may yet meet Socrates and Pythagoras. My favorite character, though, has been the mad Duke of Sheh, a Chinese knight who styled himself duke of the fictitious "Sheh," or holy ground. He is known for chasing dragons and calling upon his "cousins," the other dukes, for shelter and meals in the royal style he deserves. Entertainingly weaving so many strands of history and philosophy together, this book is a masterpiece.

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. listed Netherland as one of the best books of 2008. I've only just begun the novel, but I am charmed by the detail-rich prose. I'll let you read what Slate and Amazon have to say about this book, rather than describing something I have not yet read.

Finally, I'm proofreading a book on oncology nutrition. It's rather a fascinating book. It has changed the way I see food. I now think about anticarcinogenic properties when staring down something edible.

Book waiting in the wings: The Language Instinct (Pinker), Water for Elephants (Gruen).

Books on the to-read-eventually list: American Wife (Sittenfeld), Wesley the Owl (O'Brien), The Race Card: How Bluffing about Bias Makes Race Relations Worse (Thompson Ford), Company of Liars (Maitland).

Confession: I have trouble finishing nonfiction books. I've started far more than I've completed.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Za'atar: It's magic!

A friend told me that za'atar is the secret spice in his magical hummus. I was inspired to make za'atar-laced hummus straightaway, dusting the pulverized chickpeas liberally with my new herb in addition to my old friend, cumin, and pulsing away in the Cuisinart.

Magic. Aaaaah. Za'atar. I love you.

And so winter begins, if we must.

I hate the end of the holidays. I hate fighting the cold and snow and dark to go back to work. I hate fighting my sweet tooth to return to a reasonable, non-holiday way of eating. I hate going from the wide-open spaces of time spent lounging with family and friends to the hectic pace of regular life. I hate closing the purse strings back up after a month of thoughtful spending.

I dread that I need to finish my thesis by April, G. needs to finish his dissertation by March, and he'll be job-hunting, and I predict we will have scant emotional resources left over to console one another.

The sun looked so weak and distant this morning, so feeble.

Sigh. Moan. Complain, complain. Whine. Whimper.