February 28, 2007
The Evolution of Terminology
When I look at old surveys at work, I am intrigued not only by what questions the interviewers were asking (for example -- "if your wife earned more money than you did, would it cause problems in your marriage?" -- I'm so not joking: this was in the 1970 Detroit Area Study), but also by how they ask. For example, the 1965 Student-Parent Socialization Study asked white students if they had any "Negro" friends. After about a month of working here, I had gotten used to seeing the word "Negro" in surveys from the 1960s and 1970s. My jaw absolutely dropped to the floor, however, when I saw the question in the Socialization Study asking students their religion. The choices included all of the various Christian, Catholic, and Orthodox denominations, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and Atheist. The other choice was not Islam, not Muslim, but "Mohammedan." Being an (erstwhile) historian, I have, of course, seen the word "Mohammedan" used for Muslims, but not since the nineteenth century! I had no idea that sociologists -- yes, sociologists with Ph.D.s -- were still using this term in 1965.
I got my first cashmere sweater in 2002 by accident. That's right: I didn't buy it and it wasn't a gift; it came to me as the result of a particularly fortuitous error in the J. Crew warehouse. I had ordered a charcoal gray long-sleeved v-neck cotton shirt, which was on sale for about $12. When the package arrived, it was charcoal gray, long-sleeved and v-necked, and I had been charged $12 for it, but it wasn't a cotton shirt. It was a cashmere sweater.
Once I realized what had happened, I was in a moral quandary. Was it okay to keep the sweater J. Crew had accidentally sent me, even though they had only charged me about ten percent of its retail price, or was that stealing? The quandary was easily solved when I tried on the sweater and found that it was too big. David and I drove to J. Crew, where I explained what happened, gave the sweater back, and had the $12 refunded to my credit card. I never did get the cotton shirt, but I didn't really need it: I had a perfectly serviceable gray shirt from Old Navy, so I'm not sure why I had even ordered the J. Crew shirt in the first place.
About a month later it was Hanukkah and, when I opened my gift from David, there it was: the same gray cashmere sweater, but in my size! David had liked it when it came in the mail by accident and really wanted me to have it, so when it went on sale he pounced. Thanks to my fantastic boyfriend (who is now my fantastic husband!), I got to keep the sweater, free from any feelings of guilt. Despite my weight gains and losses over the past four years, the sweater still fits and I'm wearing it today.
February 27, 2007
Last night David and I were sitting in the living room when we heard a loud noise on the porch. It sounded like someone was walking around out there, but there was no knock on the door, and we didn't see anyone through the windows. David thought that maybe it was our friends Shawn and Dave dropping off compost (you are probably wondering why our friends Shawn and Dave would be dropping off compost, but that is a whole other story for another day), but when I looked in the driveway, I didn't see their car.
After a bit more looking around, I noticed our neighbor's cat sitting right on the edge of our porch steps. It was a lot of noise for such a small cat, but I guess he wanted us to know that he had come by for a visit. After I realized it was the cat, David disappeared into the basement and came back with a long-handled dust mop. My initial thought was that he was going to use it to chase the cat away (or worse), and I pleaded with him to let the cat stay (after all, our porch is quite a bit nicer than the neighbor's), but it turned out he was just going to do some ceiling dusting. Yes, David is fastidious like that. It would never occur to me to dust the ceiling, but that's why I keep him around.
This morning when I left for work, there was fresh snow on the porch and sidewalk, along with a trail of little cat pawprints. He must have stayed all night.
February 26, 2007
I should probably start this post by admitting that I didn't actually watch the Oscars last night. In fact, I haven't watched them since 2003, not for any good reason, just because David and I can't watch television at home, and I haven't had an invitation to watch them anywhere else. In 2003 I was at my friend Christina's in New York visiting grad schools, so I watched with her. In 2005 I was in London on Oscar night and wasn't about to stay up all night to start watching at 1am. This year I actually did have an invitation: my friend Allison had an Oscar party, which I missed for three reasons:
- The lateness of the hour. Having grown up in Los Angeles, I always forget that the Oscars start three hours later here than they do there. I was totally geeked to go to Allison's until I found out that the ceremony wouldn't even be starting until 8pm. On a work night.
- The weather. It had snowed quite a bit on Saturday night, and they were predicting more snow and freezing rain on Sunday night, so staying in seemed the safest option.
- General lameness. This is really just a summary of the first two reasons. I'm embarrassed to have even listed them because they make me sound like I'm about 80 years old, which I'm not, though I guess sometimes I act like I am.
In absentia, I was rooting for Little Miss Sunshine. David, on the other hand, doesn't "root" for the Oscars. He goes totally crazy over college football, but somehow can't get behind giving awards for movies. As an erstwhile Angelina, in my family, the Oscars are the Super Bowl. I reminded David that my mom was a good sport when she was here for the Rose Bowl (yes, she came from Pasadena to Ann Arbor and watched it with us on television), rooting for UM against USC, but he still couldn't quite bring himself to express support for Little Miss Sunshine.
This morning, however, when we heard on NPR that The Departed had won Best Picture, we were both a bit surprised. David thinks it was awarded as a recognition of lifetime achievement for Martin Scorsese because, while we both liked it, it wasn't that good. Certainly not better than Little Miss Sunshine! We were both pleased that Forrest Whitaker won Best Actor for The Last King of Scotland and, of course, bummed that Abigail Breslin didn't win Best Supporting Actress for Little Miss Sunshine.
We were also both disappointed that they didn't announce the winner for the Live Action Short Film category on NPR this morning. Granted, they didn't announce it because most people could care less about the short films, but David and I cared because we had actually seen them. On Saturday we joined our friends Josh and Sara at the Michigan Theater to watch the five Oscar-nominated short films. Some of them were really good -- Josh, Sara, and I liked The Saviour, while David's favorite was Eramos Pocos -- and a couple were pretty bad. We were all amused by West Bank Story, which did win the award. It was a hilarious musical takeoff of Westside Story, set at neighboring (and rivalrous) falafil stands on the West Bank: Kosher King and Hummus Hut. David predicted that it woud win because it would push all the right buttons among the Hollywood crowd, and he was right.
I was particularly bummed to have missed the Oscars this year because I had actually seen so many of the nominated movies. Maybe next year I'll be a little less lame. And maybe one of these years they will stop having the thing on Sunday nights!
February 25, 2007
Last night David and I had dinner and played Trivial Pursuit with our friends Shawn and Dave. They have the 80s edition and the 90s edition, and we used questions from both so that each of us could answer questions about the decade in which we grew up. Actually, I think they were just trying to be nice to me: David, Shawn, and Dave all went to high school and college in the 80s, but they knew that I would never be able to answer 80s questions because I was only in elementary school at the time, so they asked me questions about the 90s, the decade in which I went to high school and college.
We had a lot of fun playing the game and listening to era-appropriate music (the Police, Journey, and Public Enemy), but each time I play Trivial Pursuit I remember why it is called Trivial Pursuit. The questions are just that: trivial -- they don't ask about anything that actually matters. In the 90s edition, there was a whole category about technology, but much of it was about stuff that no longer exists and that none of us had ever heard of. Trivial Pursuit is still one of my favorite board games -- after all, it doesn't involve drawing -- but every time I play I wonder what kind of trivia-obsessed hermit wrote the questions.
February 24, 2007
Grilling in Winter
David and I grill all year round. We grill in the dark, in the rain, in the snow. Our friends often express amazement at our propensity to grill all year, but fire is fire, and charcoal burns in all weather (though it can take a bit longer in the cold, wind, or rain).
David grew up eating nothing but grilled meat. It is the only way his dad knows how to cook, so if it wasn't grilled, it was take-out. Or sometimes both: take-out food reheated on the grill! David's dad is the grill master, and David has learned quite a bit from him. He makes excellent steaks, chicken, fish, ribs, porkchops -- really any meat tastes great when David grills it. His secret? "Salt and pepper the f--k out of it." Really, all it takes is salt, pepper, and charcoal. I love when David grills because I hate to cook, and he usually makes enough meat for two or three meals. Last night he grilled a whole chicken, so I'm off the hook all weekend. Grilling a whole chicken is something we learned how to do in the past year, and it is a fabulous technique. David cuts the spine out of the chicken (or we just have the butcher do it), so that it opens up and lays flat. Then we grill it skin side down for 12 minutes, skin up for 15, and skin down for another 10. It doesn't take much longer than grilling chicken in parts, and it stays much juicier.
Last night, David had to run out to the video store, so I got the chicken started. When I went out to put the bird on the grill, I was amazed to run into our neighbor, who was also outside grilling. This wouldn't have surprized me if the temperature were above freezing, but I thought only Merchants grilled in the dead of winter. Our neighbor, however, has a gas grill, and I'm still convinced that only Merchant do charcoal in the dead of winter.
February 23, 2007
I have discovered the world of podcasts, and have been listening to them at work. My work at ICPSR can pretty much be summed up as data work: my first job involved finding bibliographic data and then entering it into a database my boss had made; now I spend my days manipulating computer files -- converting pdf files into text files, editing them, and converting them into xml files -- and moving them from one part of the server to another. This is work I do on my own at a computer, and it really helps to listen to something while I do it. When I started back in 2001 my computer didn't have a sound card, so I just listened to CDs. When I got a computer with a sound card, I began streaming Michigan Radio, our local NPR station. But a couple of weeks ago, I came across a link to Stash and Burn on the blog Yarn-A-Go-Go, one of my semi-regular lunchtime reads (yes, I am one of those geeks who eats her lunch at her desk while reading blogs -- often knitting blogs). The idea of a knitting podcast seemed so novel when I discovered Stash and Burn, but after listening to episodes 2-4 (somehow episode one didn't make it to the archives), it began to occur to me that Jenny and Nicole probably didn't invent the knitting podcast. And, sure enough, I have slowly been finding many more. Here is the list so far, readers, in case any of you are dorks like me and want to listen:
I have to admit that I have become pretty obsessed with these, especially with Math 4 Knitters because it combines two of my very favorite things. The other day, David called me to ask if I was listening to Talk of the Nation. Normally, TOTN is one of my favorite shows, but that day I wasn't listening. When he asked what I was listening to instead, I answered, a bit guiltily, "podcasts about knitting." His reply: "I can't believe you just said you are listening to podcasts about knitting."
February 22, 2007
Paying the Piper
In 2001 I graduated college with $17,718 in student debt. Over the next few years, I paid $447.41 plus interest and my mom paid $7147.73 plus interest (thanks, Mom!) toward this debt. Then I went to grad school and my loan repayments were deferred. Now that I have left grad school, however, the payments for the remaining $10,122.86 are coming due, and the companies that own my loan are not into giving advance notice. Yesterday I got a letter from Sallie Mae telling me that my next payment of $92.32 is due on February 18. Reader, yesterday was February 21. There is nothing scarier than getting a bill three days after the payment is due! This morning when I logged in to make the payment, I was informed that my account is three days delinquent. If they want people to make payments on time, they should give us a bit of advance warning!
When I decided to go to Pomona College almost ten years ago, I knew I would graduate in debt, and I didn't care. After all, that was still four years down the road, and then I would have ten years to pay off the debt, by which time I would be in my early thirties. It is very hard for a seventeen-year-old to think that far down the road. My dad tried to warn me what it would be like to be in debt, telling me that I would never even be able to buy an ice cream cone because all my money would have to go to debt service. To this day, I still resent him for using the "no ice cream" threat to try to scare me. It is true that being in debt isn't fun, but fortunately -- between my two jobs -- it isn't an overwhelming burden. Yes, it is true that I could have gone to Boston University for free, as my dad wanted me to, and today I wouldn't be in debt, but I still think I got the superior education (no offense, Dad).
Recently, I have been looking at debt blogs, which make me feel a lot better about my own indebtedness. Unlike some people, I don't owe anything on credit cards and, compared to others, owing $10,000 is just the tip of the iceberg.
So today I made my Februrary and March payments on my Stafford Loan, and next week I'll start making regular monthly payments on my Perkins Loan. My goal is to put $300 monthly toward these loans, at which rate I should have them paid off within about five years (accounting for the interest that will accrue as I repay). Perhaps this is tmi (too much information), but this kind of accountability worked for some of the debt bloggers, who managed to pay off their credit cards super-fast once they started blogging about it, so I'm trying to take advantage of it too.
February 21, 2007
Let There Be Light
Over the past week or so, it has been getting lighter and lighter on my walk to work. Walking to work in the dark was kind of romantic, but walking in as the sun is rising feels a bit more normal. I feel like I'm actually going to work at the beginning of the day, not working the midnight shift. In less than a month, however, I'll be plunged back into darkness, as daylight savings is about three weeks early this year. I'm not sure how I missed it, but I wouldn't have known about the DST change if they hadn't had to patch our computers at work to make sure that we didn't show up an hour late to appointments logged in Microsoft Outlook. It is Y2K all over again!
I'm guessing that walking to work in the dark in March won't be quite as bad as it was in January because, in theory, at least, it should be warmer. And the past couple of days have been warmer. Yesterday the high was about forty degrees which, after two weeks of subzero temperatures, felt downright balmy. It is amazing how relative it all is: a forty-degree day in May would have me cursing the state of Michigan, but a forty-degree day in February feels like the tropics!
February 20, 2007
Return to Normalcy
Last night David I went to Cafe Felix with some friends -- Allison, Sara, and Josh -- from my former Ph.D. program. It was so nice to actually be able to go out on a weeknight, which I haven't been able to do for the past five weeks because I had been devoting every spare minute to studying for my Kaplan training. But I had my last official training session on Friday night, so when Sara called on Sunday and asked if David and I wanted to join her, Josh, and Allison at Cafe Felix on Monday night, I was able to suppress that knee-jerk "have to study" reaction and say yes. I won't actually start teaching for Kaplan at least until March, so in the meanwhile I'll just be a normal person with one job and have evenings and weekends to myself. I never thought I would be so grateful to "only" work full time. I'll have to be sure to make full use of these next few weeks before I return to my two-job lifestyle.
February 19, 2007
Yesterday I didn't have to go anywhere or do anything, so I decided to wear my pajamas all day. It was a gloriously lazy day: I watched an episode of Big Love while I ate my breakfast, read a few chapters of King Leopold's Ghost (next month's ICPSR book club selection), took a nap on the couch, and finished watching the movie Marie Antoinette, which David and I had started on Saturday night.
But pajama day couldn't last forever: the sun was shining and David wanted to go out together and take advantage of it. I informed him that I couldn't go for a walk because that would require getting dressed, so he suggested that we go for a drive. I agreed, but then realized that that would require getting dressed as well, as I had long ago promised myself that I would never leave the house in sweats. So I got dressed and we hit the road. We spent the first hour driving around aimlessly, and then David remembered that there was a nursery in Stockbridge that he wanted to check out, so we spent the next hour driving to Stockbridge and searching fruitlessly for the nursery. By the time we got home, our one-hour drive had taken two-and-a-half hours, and I was exhausted. There is nothing like riding in a car to put me to sleep. Next time, I'll just stay in my pajamas!
February 18, 2007
Buying In Bulk
To follow up last weekend's trip to Costco, David and I went on another bulk-shopping expedition yesterday, this time to Gordon Food Service. GFS is a major supplier of food to restaurants in the Midwest, and I learned last week that they have "Marketplace" stores open to the public. Yes, we too can buy restaurant-sized and retaurant-quality food products.
Our trip to GFS was, well, quite a trip. To begin with, they had the largest shopping carts I had ever seen. Even bigger than Costco shopping carts. And they had some very large products. I bought a 6-lb can of tomato sauce and a few 5-lb bags of frozen vegetables. They had David's favorite hot sauce in gallon-sized containers. It was fun to find large quantities of products we like at low prices, but shopping at GFS was also a little bit disturbing. It was kind of like pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz or, in this case, on the entire food service industry. It was, in fact, pretty scary to see what is actually in the so-called "foods" that restaurants serve to us. For example, David read the ingredients on a 5-lb tub of pesto and we were shocked to learn that the first three were soy oil, water, and salt. When we make it at home, the ingredients are basil, parmesan cheese, olive oil, pine nuts, and salt. When I marveled over a 5-lb tub of yogurt, David asked if it really was yogurt. I checked the ingredients and found that, even though it was labeled "plain" yogurt, it had sugar in it! How wrong is that?
Nonetheless, we still left with a pretty full shopping cart, and now we have a full freezer. In the future, though, I don't think GFS will become a regular stop on our shopping schedule. The only things that really seemed worth getting there were bagged salad mix and baby spinach. The frozen vegetables at GFS come in larger quantities than at other stores, but the price per pound isn't any less than at Trader Joe's. Most of the products there were just not things we eat, which makes sense: because GFS caters to the food industry, they sell things the food industry needs, and the food industry thrives on Americans' taste for really unhealthy stuff. For example, you can buy a 4.5-lb jar or Reese's pourable peanut butter (main ingredient = sugar), but they don't sell natural peanut butter. However, if David and I ever open a small restaurant, we know where to go for fake cheese sauce, pourable peanut butter, and to-go containers in every size imaginable!
February 17, 2007
Yesterday at work I spent a couple of hours helping our webmistress Wendi do some user testing of the new ICPSR website. She found two people who were not terribly familiar with ICPSR or the website, brought them in, and we watched them do various tasks on the new website to see how easy it is for users to find various types of information. One of the users commented that the link to log into MyData was difficult to find up in the right hand corner of the page, to which Wendi replied that the login link was modeled after the Netflix website, where it is also in the top right corner. Modeling our website after the Netflix site seemed particularly apt to me because ICPSR is pretty much the Netflix of social science data. Wanna see the 2000 Census? Or the most recent wave of the General Social Survey? Just log into ICPSR and download it. But ICPSR is better than Netflix because you never have to send the data back!
Since we are the Netflix of data, our data turns up everywhere. Yesterday the topic of Science Friday was the 1990s decline in the crime rate. And how did the criminologists on the show know that crime had declined? From analyzing the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), courtesy of ICPSR. Pretty much any survey or study of anything social- or political-sciencey, or any kind of census or opinion poll you hear cited anywhere is archived at ICPSR. But nobody has ever heard of ICPSR because we never get cited. Janet Lauritsen, one of the criminologists on SciFri yesterday, mentioned the NCVS, and mentioned that the data was collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, but never mentioned the fact that scholars can get this data from ICPSR. My first job at ICPSR was finding publications that had been based on ICPSR data, which was pretty easy for the publications whose authors actually cite ICPSR, but for every one author who does, there are several more who don't. So if ICPSR is the Netflix of social science data, we are the underground Netflix of social science data -- you have to be in the know in order to know where to go.
February 16, 2007
A New Diet
No, not that kind of diet. As many of you know, I officially gave up dieting at the end of 2005. I was probably the only American whose 2006 New Year's Resolution was to gain weight, and I did. Now I'm trying to cut the fat out of my skin-care regimen (and, I hope, save some money) by going on the Cosmetics Restriction Diet.
The New York Times recently published an article about dermatologists recommending that their patients drastically reduce the number of skin-care products they use. In fact, these dermatologists say that all we really need is cleanser, sunscreen, and (maybe) moisturizer. Before reading this article, I hadn't really thought about the number of skin-care products I use, but when I counted, I found that, on a daily basis, I use eight different products: I begin the day by washing my face with both Clinique soap and Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser; I then apply a prescription gel, followed by both Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizer and a more intensive moisturizer; at night, I exfoliate with 7-day Scrub Cream, and wash with Acne Solutions Cleansing Foam, followed by the same Clinique soap I used in the morning; I then reapply the Dramatically Different Moisturizer and, before bed, a second prescription cream. There it is, eight products: four cleansers, two moisturizers, and two prescription medications.
One thing I can say for sure about this regimen is that it works. A year ago, when I started using all of these products (along with an oral antibiotic that I took twice a day for six months), my skin looked like ground beef. Today it looks like skin. I'm sure I don't need all of these products, but I don't know which ones are really doing something and which I can safely dispense with. I have already gotten rid of one -- Clinique Clarifying Lotion -- and don't seem to be any worse off for it. So I guess I'll just stop using each one as it runs out and see what happens. Of course, I'll still use the prescription creams, and I'll still need a cleanser, and maybe a moisturizer, and perhaps I should add a sunscreen, and there we go again. Well, nobody ever said dieting was easy!
February 15, 2007
Why David Shouldn't Leave Me Home Alone
Last night, David went out to the Earle with his dad, as planned. By the time he got home, I had prepared the verbal lesson I'll be teaching at Kaplan on Friday night, as planned, but I had also joined the Sierra Club, which I hadn't planned to do.
I used to be the kind of sucker who would give money to anyone who called or came to the door, simply because I didn't know how to say no. And it is really hard to say no to certain people, like firemen. If I don't support them, are they going to take their sweet time getting to my house when I have a fire? Being a grad student, however, forced me to learn to say no because I just didn't have the money to give. On the phone, it was actually pretty easy -- I could just hang up, but I found it was more effective to say "please stop calling me." That way I wasn't using the n-word, but still getting the point across. I have even said no to people who have come to the door. Last year a man came to the door and I couldn't even understand what he was asking for money for, so I said no and told him to go away.
But last night I felt particularly sorry for the college-age girl out going door-to-door in subzero weather on Valentine's Day evening, so I invited her in. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Seirra Club because one of their earliest activists, John Muir, was a local hero in California, where I grew up. It also seemed particularly timely that the Sierra Club was at my door because I had just been working on a survey at work that asked about them, so they were already on my mind. And, I have been budgeting $50 a month to give to worthy causes, and they seemed worthy. So I wrote her a check, and she left me with a new member pack explaining that I'll soon be getting Sierra magazine. Now if only I had time to read it!
February 14, 2007
When I went upstairs earlier to deliver David's Valentine's Day card to his office, the door to his department was locked, so I left the card right there for him. When he got in an hour later, he saw the card, remembered that it was Valentine's Day, and wondered if he had a secret admirer. Whoever his secret admirer was couldn't be too smart, he reasoned, leaving a card in plain sight like that when his wife works in the same building. But then he opened the card and realized that his secret admirer was actually his wife.
Happy Valentine's Day
I have to admit that Valentine's Day isn't my favorite holiday of the year. In fact, I think it is the one that comes with the most pressure attached: pressure to be romantic, pressure to do something romantic, pressure to have a partner to do something romantic with. And there is nothing that makes me feel less romantic than pressure. Fortunately, for the past five years, I have had a partner who pretty much feels the same way, but who still sends me flowers. Really, it's the best of the both worlds: we can make fun of Valentine's Day together, and I get a dozen roses!
I knew David was a keeper the first time he sent me roses at work on Valentine's Day. Actually, that was just confirmation -- I knew he was a keeper the first time he sent me flowers, which was when I returned from a Thanksgiving trip to California less than a month into our relationship. Since then, we have had a tradition of getting each other flowers when one of us returns from being out of town. I like flowers; it is a nice tradition. And David doesn't just send me flowers, he also grows them for me. Have I mentioned yet that he has about four green thumbs? Every spring and fall he takes me to Downtown Home and Garden to pick out bulbs for the garden: I get the flowers I want, but he does all the work. What could be better?
I have just delivered David's Valentine's Day card to his office (one of the many benefits of working in the same building as my husband), but we don't have anything romantic planned for tonight. It is a Wednesday, which means David and his dad will be going to the Earle as they do every Wednesday, and I'll be home working on my Kaplan lesson for Friday night. I'm a bit curious to see what the Earle will look like tonight, with all those couples out trying to have a romantic dinner, but I'm also glad to be avoiding the scene. Maybe we will play a board game when David gets home...
February 13, 2007
Two weekends ago I started a new pair of socks with the technique I had been dying to try: two-at-a-time, toe-up, on two circular needles. I used Judy's Magic Cast-on, which really is magic. After doing it twice, I had the hang of it and my socks were begun. The problem, however, was finding the right needles. I wanted two 16-inch size 1 circular needles, and I wanted them to be different from one another, so that I could tell which was which. I first went to Flying Sheep, whose needle supply was sorely depleted. There was only one 16-inch size 1 circular needle in the whole store, and it was a $13 Addi Turbo. Not quite ready for such a major investment, I moved on to Busy Hands, where I found my two needles: one plastic and one wood. In my previous knitting experience, wooden needles had always been superior to plastic, so I wasn't prepared for what happened. Reader, the wooden needle simply sucked, and I don't use that word lightly. I just couldn't get the stitches over the join, and I spent more time wrestling with it than I actually did knitting. In comparison, the plastic needle was like butter. I started the socks on Friday night two weeks ago and, by last Wednesday, I was totally fed up. On Thursday I went back to Flying Sheep and plunked down $13 for the Addi Turbo, and it turned out that I had given up on the wooden needle just in time: as I transferred the stitches from that needle to the Addi Turbo, the wooden needle snapped, which it would have done on the next row I tried to knit anyway. After much cursing, I got the stitches onto the new needle and breathed a sigh of relief. The Addi Turbo knits like a dream. Definitely worth $13. Perhaps I'll get another one for my next pair of socks so I can knit on two Addi Turbos! But then how will I know which needle is which?
February 12, 2007
Back to the Movies
So now I have rounded out my moviegoing experience by seeing Pan's Labyrinth, the third of the recent trio of films by Mexican directors (the first two being Babel and Children of Men). I saw it with Elizabeth, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth's husband Henry. Three others were supposed to join us but stayed home in order to keep warm, finish reading for a seminar, and build a compost pen. All I have to say is that they missed out.
Pan's Labyrinth was fantastic, and I loved every minute of it despite the fact that I'm usually not into fantasy and I hate talking animals. What I loved about Pan's Labyrinth was that the fantasy was a perfect complement to the reality of the Spanish Civil War, the movie's historical setting. As Spain was going to hell (to the Fascists) all around her, Ofelia escaped into a world of peace and harmony, where she was a princess, along with her mother, father, and baby brother, innocents caught up in the conflagration. Henry remarked that all of the characters were totally believable, and I had to agree. Even El Capitan, the evil captain of Franco's army, was believably evil. He made a bone-chilling speech about wanting his son to grow up in a "clean Spain," in which the Republicans, with their "mistaken idea that we are all equal" had been defeated, which gave me insight into the thinking of our current Republican (but the other kind) administration. He was played by Sergi Lopez, who was also the bad guy in Dirty Pretty Things, and who does evil remarkably well. Pan's Labyrinth was fantastic, though also quite depressing, as we all know that the bad guys do eventually win. That is the problem with historical films: we know the end before we even go in.
It's now playing at the State Theater which tends to keep movies forever, so if you haven't seen it yet, there should be plenty of opportunities.
February 11, 2007
Costco Shopping Revisited
David's brother Mike recently joined Costco and, as our wedding gift, listed David as a user on his Costco membership. I have posted before about how David and I had considered and rejected the idea of joining Costco, but who can say no to a free membership?
Yesterday we made our first visit to Costco as members. We bought everything. Okay, not quite everything -- we didn't buy any electronics, clothing, or home accessories -- but we got just about everything else: paper towels, toilet paper, dishsoap, Swiffer cloths, gum, body lotion, shaving cream, deodorant, and a ton of food. I have to admit, however, that I was a bit disappointed by the food selection. They didn't have any canned tomato sauce without sugar, or any plain non-organic frozen vegetables (I commend them for having organic frozen vegetables, but those were more expensive than regular supermarket frozen veggies). Much of the lunch meat also had sugar in it, and they had very few cuts of other meat. But we did get enough pepper corns to last us for about a year, and an entire case of chicken stock. We also got a ton of bananas, which made me happy because I usually go out for more bananas a few times a week.
By the time we got in line to pay, our shopping cart was more than full; David could barely see over the mound of stuff in it as he pushed it into the line. When the cashier rang it all up and the total came to $300, David asked, "so how are we saving money?" Honestly, I wasn't sure, though I did point out that we had bought about six months' worth of paper towels and enough toilet paper to last us into the next millenium (okay, probably not -- we do go through the stuff pretty quickly). As we pushed the cart to the car, we started to fear that our little GTI might not be able to hold it all, but hatchbacks were designed to haul a lot of stuff, so we did manage to get it all in. When we got home, however, we were faced with the real problem -- finding room in our house for all of it!
February 10, 2007
Last night at the fourth session of my Kaplan Teacher Development Program, I fully understood for the first time why it is important for the teacher not only to know the answers to all of the example problems, but also to know exactly why each answer is right. Our training sessions are organized around a series of teachbacks, in which we prepare lessons that we will eventually teach to a real class and present them to our fellow trainess, who pretend to be the students. In my training class, there are three of us who are preparing to teach the GRE, and two who are preparing to teach the SAT. One of the SAT guys was up in front of the class doing a teachback on short verbal, and we were on an "improving paragraphs problem." The question presented a short paragraph, and then asked how to improve one of the sentences in the paragraph, with five answer choices. One of my fellow students eliminated all but two -- B and E -- and the guy doing the teachback said, "on test day, you can stop when you find that B is the right answer." The problem, readers, is that B wasn't the right answer; it was E. So I raised my hand and asked why E wasn't the right answer. The guy doing the teachback couldn't answer my question, and replied, "I'll explain to you during the break why E is wrong."
Now this might have been a good response if E really was wrong, and if the rest of the class knew exactly why E was wrong and I was holding things up, but the fact of the matter is that E was right, and by that point the other students were chiming in, saying that they also thought E looked better than B. The guy doing the teachback just kept saying that B was right until our trainer got up, looked at the teacher's manual, and found that E was, indeed, the right answer. Now if I had been a real Kaplan student at that point, paying over $1000 to be there, I would have walked out and asked for my money back, for two reasons: first, because my teacher didn't know what he was doing; and, second, because he didn't treat my question with the respect it deserved. By saying that he would tell me at the break why I was wrong, not only was he saying I was wrong, but he was saying that I was so wrong he didn't have time to deal with how wrong I was. It probably would have hurt my feelings even if I had been wrong, but, again, it would have been the correct response if I were slowing down the rest of the class. But, usually, if a wrong answer looks good to one student in the class, then it's probably a trap answer and it probably looks good to other students, so the teacher should explain why it's wrong. In any case, however, I wasn't wrong, and it is disorienting for a student to feel that her teacher is less smart than she is (as I learned in middle school).
After last night's object lesson, I felt that I should study extra-hard for next week's fifth and final session, in which we could be asked to teach anything from the first math lesson or first verbal lesson -- a total of five hours of class! I may not have anything resembling a life this week, and, sadly, I'm not sure how that will make this week different from any other week.
February 09, 2007
It is very rare for me to oversleep. My alarm clock goes off at 5:54, but I usually wake up about thirty-five times between five and six anyway. When my radio turns on, I listen to the Marketplace Morning Report, the news at the top of the hour, and the local weather, and get out of bed between 6:05 and 6:10. I wash my face, get dressed, pack my bag, set out David's lunch and pour his morning Diet Pepsi, and call a friend who expects to hear from me at 6:30 every morning.
Today I woke up at 4:30 and, relieved that I had another hour and a half to sleep, quickly drifted into a rather involved dream. I was taking some kind of biology class and, as part of the class, had to watch one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (which I have never seen in real life). So I rented the movie and invited over the rest of the class to watch it. We weren't at my current house, however, but in the condo my mom and I lived in when she was married to my evil stepfather. In the dream, we had just started the movie, and then I woke up and looked at the clock. It read 6:29. How could that be? My alarm goes off at 5:54, when the clock (which we keep six minutes fast) reads 6am. I felt the alarm switch and, sure enough, I hadn't set it the night before. Fortunately it was really only 6:23, so I had seven minutes to pull myself together before my phone call, but I was way behind schedule.
Ultimately, though, it wasn't that bad. I still got to work on time, and I think I even feel a bit more rested for having had that extra half hour of sleep. Maybe I could do it every day...
February 08, 2007
Getting Back on the Wagon
I have had an on-again-off-again relationship with Java Joe for over ten years now, since my mom gave me my first cup of coffee at the age of fifteen. Since then I have had a periods of heavy caffeine use and total abstention. Bizarrely enough, going to grad school actually got me off of caffeine altogether. This may sound odd as, for most people, grad school involves a lot of late nights and chronic sleep deprivation, and usually requires caffeine as fuel. For me it was the opposite.
Before grad school, I drank coffee at work every day. Not much -- usually just a cup in the morning -- but when I didn't have it I got debilitating headaches. When I started grad school, I had to make my own coffee at home and, since I couldn't really make less than half a pot, I increased my intake to match. But over the course of the next few semesters, I began to need the caffeine less and less. Grad school itself and the attendant anxiety was enough of a stimulant. I woke up at six every morning fearing for my life if I didn't get up and start reading or writing right away, and that feeling took me right through my 12-hour work day. Eventually I switched from coffee to green tea and then to herbal tea. It got to the point where any caffeine at all would send me over the edge, so I didn't even drink decaf coffee.
But then about a year ago I stopped feeling anxious about school. Perhaps it was the knowledge deep in the back of my mind that I was going to leave my Ph.D. program, or perhaps it was the medication I started taking, but I just didn't wake up at six am with my heart pounding eager to get to work any more. So I started drinking black tea. Not because I needed to -- I wasn't taking any classes so I didn't need to get up and start working -- but because I liked it. At first it was a cup in the morning and then it was a pot in the morning, but the rest of the day I limited myself to decaf coffee and herbal tea. And I still wasn't drinking real coffee, so I could continue to pretend that I was still on the water wagon (yes, this term usually refers to abstaining from alcohol, but I'm using it to draw an analogy. See the etymology here).
On Monday, however, I realized that I am, once again, fully addicted to caffeine. I had been drinking a cup of black tea before work and then decaf at work. But when I woke up on Monday morning and heard that the windchill was in the -25 degree range, I knew I would have to leave for work early. A good friend calls me every morning at seven and we usually talk while I walk to work. But on Monday it was too cold to walk and talk, so I had to get to work before she called, which meant no time for tea. I drank my decaf as usual, but by the early afternoon I had that dreaded headache.
For the past two days I have given in to the addiction, mixing my first cup of decaf with some regular coffee, and it has worked to stave off the headaches, but I hate being beholden to a substance like that. So, beginning today, no more real coffee, black tea, or green tea. I'll still drink decaf and white tea, though, as they have minimal amounts of caffeine and I need to drink something hot in my cold office. I should probably also find out where they keep the Advil...
February 07, 2007
Learning to Wear a Scarf
I was twenty years old the first time I wore a scarf. It was January 2000, the beginning of my semester abroad at Cambridge University, and my dad and stepmother had given me a scarf to keep me warm. Thinking back on it, it seems strange how worried they were about me freezing to death in England. After all, they had lived in Boston since I was seven, and Boston in the winter is certainly colder than England, but they never seemed to think I needed a scarf when I visited them. Perhaps they didn't realize that England, while it is certainly colder than Los Angeles, my main frame of reference, just doesn't get that cold because it is surrounded by water. In fact, it only snowed once that whole winter, and then only a light dusting that melted pretty quickly.
Nonetheless, I was glad to have that small black scarf when I was there. I wrapped it around my neck and tucked it into my wool pea coat to cover the spot on my chest that the coat left exposed. When I moved to Michigan a year and a half later, I brought that same scarf. David quickly realized that such a small scarf was totally inadequate for the Midwest and, afraid that I would get too cold and flee back to California, he gave me a much larger, warmer, and more colorful scarf from J. Crew. That scarf was big enough to wear in all kinds of interesting ways: if my neck was really cold, I could wrap it around about four times; for wearing under a coat, I could double it and pass the end through the loop (my friend Tamara referred to this as the "prep school" way to wear a scarf); I could also wrap it around twice and let the ends hang long.
Over the next few years, my mom took up knitting again, I went back to London a few times and got a pashmina (a fake one of course, purchased for 3 pounds on Oxford street), and now I have more scarves than I know what to do with. I have also learned more creative ways of wearing them. The pashmina can wrap around me like a shawl, or I can use it outside of my coat to close the gap between the coat and my hat. In the past few days of sub-zero weather, I have become very attached to a purple wool scarf that my mom made. It is about ten feet long (and I'm just over five feet tall), so it wraps around and around. This week I have been wrapping it from the base of my neck all the way up to my nose, covering my ears in the process. Wearing my scarf over my nose and mouth does make it a bit hard to breathe, and my breath condenses inside the scarf. The nice thing about wool, however, is that it is still warm when wet, so the condensation doesn't really bother me.
In fact, I'm starting to regard wool as a wonder fiber. For the past two days I wore wool pants, but wearing the same pants three days in a row felt a bit excessive, so today I'm back to my polyester trousers from H&M and I can feel the difference. Whoever first decided to shear a sheep and make clothes was just brilliant. It would be even better, however, if humans could just learn to grow their own fleece in the winter. Although then we wouldn't have any need to knit...
February 06, 2007
One Weekend; Two Movies
Last weekend I went to the movies for the first time in 2007, and I went twice: to Venus on Saturday and Children of Men on Sunday. Although the two movies were about as different as could be, there were some interesting similarities.
Venus was definitely the lesser of the two movies. I saw it with David and Ken, and it left us all a bit disappointed. Ken rated it "not bad," I said it was "pretty good," and David even went so far as to call it "good." Peter O'Toole was excellent, but the plot was a bit hard to believe. Why would an elderly actor fall in love with an 18-year-old girl with no redeeming qualities? About five minutes into the movie, I realized that I had seen a preview for it a while back, and had thought at the time that it looked pretty lame. Granted, the movie was better than I had expected from the preview, but still nothing to write home about (though I guess that is exactly what I am doing).
I liked Children of Men quite a bit, despite the over-the-top violence and the fact that I didn't entirely get the premise. It was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who did Y Tu Mama Tambien and Harry Potter #3, both of which were excellent. I didn't realize until the credits that Children of Men was based on a book by P.D. James. It is set in England in 2027, by which point all the world's women have become infertile and the world is suffering from a dearth of hope, which has led all governments to fall apart except Britain. Britain has instead turned into a police state, trying to protect its natives from the flood of refugees who have left other failed states. The plot centers on the first woman to become pregnant in eighteen years, a refugee who must be smuggled to "The Human Project," which may or may not actually exist.
What the two movies had in common was their English setting and the fact that both movies present England pretty realistically. In fact, the most chilling thing about Children of Men is that, even though it was set in a post-apocalyptic future, its portrayal of England was not very exaggerated. I remember the first time I was there, being appalled at the paranoia about "asylum seekers" and at their treatment as less than human. See Dirty Pretty Things for an excellent look at the desperate living conditions of refugees and illegal immigrants in Britain. The trash everywhere? Again, not so far from reality. And in one of the first scenes, a bomb tears through a coffee shop for no apparent reason, which again resonated with my own experience of England.
I appreciated both movies for not romanticizing England, the way that American movies tend to do. Watching Wimbledon and the two Woody Allen movies set in London just drove me crazy because they play right into American stereotypes about England and the English people. They portray London as clean, grand, and beautiful, and the English as uniformly wealthy, intelligent, and well-mannered. While the English upper class are very wealthy and intelligent (because only they can afford higher education), and live in posh, clean, grand environs, they make up probably less than one percent of the population. Everyone else lives in dirty, cramped housing with shared bathrooms and few proper kitchens. And nobody is well-mannered, with the exception of my dear friend Niall and his friends.
I can think of two reasons off the top of my head why Americans almost uniformly romanticize and glamorize England. First, we are obsessed with the royal family and assume that they represent the English people. Second, we see England as this Eden that we have been exiled from into the frontier wilderness of the New World. Granted, we claim that this frontier wilderness has ultimately made us better people (see Frederick Jackson Turner's Frontier Thesis), but we romanticize the image of our "Motherland" as being everything that we are not -- ie clean, intellectual, and well-mannered -- even as we make fun of the English for being effete in contrast to our American ruggedness.
February 05, 2007
Where is Global Warming When I Need It?
The little weather button on the ICPSR intranet page currently says -8, and the windchill is -22. I guess we are making up for an exceptionally warm December. We are supposed to be back up in the positive temperatures tomorrow, but this extra-cold weather makes it really hard to do anything, especially walk to work before the crack of dawn.
Since I walk in to work about an hour before David does, he and I parted this morning with some not-terribly-encouraging words about the cold: I told him to call me when he got to work and let me know he didn't freeze to death; he told me to stay on busy streets in case I fell down. Great.
Fully armed with long underwear (top and bottom), wool pants, a wool coat, wool hat, wool mittens, and a wool scarf wrapped around my face, I set out. On Main Street a man stopped me. I don't know what he ultimately wanted, but he introduced himself to me, took off his glove, and held out his hand for me to shake. I wasn't about to take off my mittens in that weather, or even stop, so I just told him I couldn't and kept going. But I was haunted by the thought of what he might have wanted. Did he need my help in some way? I should have told him to get inside somewhere.
Despite my full-on wool outfit, by the time I got to work, my hands were frozen and stinging. My scarf was tinged with white where my breath had frozen. But fortunately, someone had already made coffee, so I was able to warm up pretty quickly. I have never in my life been so glad to be at the office.
February 04, 2007
As if going back to work full time wasn't enough, I have also been moonlighting for the past few weeks. That's right, I'm working a second job, training to be a GRE prep teacher at Kaplan. I call it working, even though I'm still in the training phase, because the training is paid and certainly feels like work, though sometimes it feels more like being a student.
I applied for this job way back in the fall, when I didn't know what I was going to do after leaving grad school. It was something I had always had at the back of my mind as a fallback or a way to earn some extra money if I ever found myself in a tight spot. However, I had never actually pursued it before because the idea of for-profit education makes me very uncomfortable. Kaplan is a huge money-making enterprise, profiting from students' test anxiety and desires to get into the "best" colleges or grad schools. I also hate the idea of students being able to basically buy higher test scores. It means that the kids from the wealthiest families are also going to get into the best colleges and get the best jobs after. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit that I did take a prep class for the SAT when I was in high school, but it wasn't through a private test prep company. It was at Loyola Marymount University and it was both cheap and accessible.
In any case, when I found myself faced with the prospect of unemployment, I went to the Kaplan website and applied. The first stage is basically just a screening to make sure that I had, indeed, scored in the 95th percentile when I took the GRE, which is Kaplan's minimum for teachers in Ann Arbor (apparently they only have to have scored in the 90th percentile in the rest of the country). Back in 2000, when I took the GRE, it was a different test than it is now. There were three sections -- verbal, quantitative, and analytical -- each scored on a scale from 200 to 800. Reader, I only scored in the 95th percentile on verbal and quantitative. I don't know what happened to me on the analytical section, but it was by far my lowest score. Happily, the GRE has since done away with the analytical section and now includes "analytical writing" instead -- two essays scored on a scale from 0 to 6. So I passed the initial Kaplan screening, despite my dismal analytical score.
The next stage of the application process was the audition, in which we were supposed to teach a five-minute non-academic lesson. I taught "How to Ride a Taxi in Accra, Ghana," which was a lot of fun. Apparently the audition went well, because I was then invited to training.
Training is the third phase of the application process. That's right, even though they are now paying me, I'm still not all the way in. Training involves five four-hour classroom sessions, each organized around a different set of "core competencies" that Kaplan teachers must have. The heart of the training is the "teachback" where we prepare and teach the lessons to each other as if we were in front of the actual class. The trainer then critiques each teachback and gives us "action steps" for improvement. If we don't improve sufficiently, we're out.
I have to admit that I have been having quite a bit of fun in the training. My trainer is awesome (he was voted regional teacher trainer of the year for 2006) and the two other trainees are really nice. Two weeks ago we did reading comprehension; last week we did quantitative; next week we will be teaching "short verbal," which includes sentence completion, analogies, and antonyms. In addition to getting to continue to work on my teaching and people skills, I'm enjoying learning about the logic of standardized tests, even though I never plan to take another one.
Working for a giant corporation (Kaplan is owned by the Washington Post), however, is very different from working for a state university. In some ways, it reminds me of working at Starbucks and Hot Dog on a Stick. To begin with, the customer is the highest priority: our number one goal is to "delight the students." Second, everything has to be done according to a precise method. Just as there is only one "right" way to cook a cheese stick or make a latte, we are only allowed to teach the "Kaplan method" for the GRE. Finally, at Hot Dog on a Stick, there was a list of words we were never allowed to use: dog, corndog, fry/fried, grease, no. Similarly, at Kaplan, there is a list of words that we are expected to work into our presentations as many times as possible: Kaplan, homework, online resources, test day, higher score, GRE. Every time I say "doing your homework and using Kaplan's online resources will help you get a higher score on the GRE on test day," I feel like the world's biggest tool.
February 03, 2007
I just got home from having coffee with my friend Elizabeth, whom I had run into a few times but not really seen seen (yes, using the word twice gives it a different meaning) since last spring. It was fantastic to see her and to just chat for an hour or so, to catch up on her new job, my new marriage, my decision to leave grad school, her family, and our mutual hobbies: knitting and blogging. Knowing that she had been reading my blog, however, made me feel as though I didn't have a whole lot new to tell her; after all, she had already read all about my life! This is the problem I have now: my friends and family members always know what I'm up to, so I never have anything new or interesting to tell them! Of course, sometimes my blog posts prompt phone calls, emails, or visits -- as when my mom called to ask about my foot or when my other friend Elizabeth came to my cubicle to see my cell phone cozy -- but more often than not my mom will call and, instead of me telling her what I have been doing, she will tell me what I have been doing! The strangest thing is when people refer to something I have written in my blog and I wonder, "how did s/he know that?" I guess my life is pretty public now, and I'm flattered that people are actually reading about it.
February 02, 2007
You may have thought I was joking when I posted last week about making a cell phone cozy, but let me assure you that I wasn't. After all, what good is having the latest (okay, I'll admit, for most people a cell phone isn't the latest technology, but keep in mind that I didn't have one at all until a week ago, and I still don't have an i-pod, digital camera, etc.) technology if you can't make fun accessories for it?
I checked out a few different patterns for cell phone cozies and, not terribly enamored of any of them, I decided to just wing it. Using some pretty purple silk yarn left over from some Mother's Day presents I made last year, I cast on twenty stitches and knit a rectangle in 2x2 rib. Then I cast on another forty and joined for working in the round. Mind you, I was using two strands of very fine yarn on size 2 dpns. I continued in the 2x2 rib until the tube was the length of my cell phone, and then closed the bottom with a three-needle bind-off. All I have left to do is sew some snaps on to the flap to keep it closed. But of course I have put off that final step because I have never sewed snaps onto one of my knitted creations and I'm terribly nervous about it. For now, I'm using it without the snaps and just tucking in the flap.
The cell phone cozy is the first thing I have knit for myself in about a year, since the now-infamous Buckeye Hat. Knitting for myself is really difficult for a couple of different reasons. First, it is such an expensive hobby, and the way I justify spending money on yarn is by telling myself that it is a gift for someone else. Second, I'm such a perfectionist that I don't want to keep the first (fill in the blank) I make. I want to make one for you first to work out the kinks, and then make one for myself when I've perfected the technique. I know this is terribly selfish, and that I should be doing it the other way around: practicing on my own (fill in the blank) before I make one to give you, but I'm honestly not that altruistic. In any case, I usually get bored of whatever I'm making or run out of yarn before I get a chance to make one of whatever it is for myself. Even with the cell phone cozy, when I thought of improvements I could make to my improptu pattern, I wanted to give away the one I was making and make a better one for myself. But ultimately I just wanted a cell phone cozy, even it isn't quite perfect.
And, yes, I am taking orders if you want one too!
February 01, 2007
Something Else You Probably Didn't Know About Me
I can't stand British accents. Given that I used to be an historian of Great Britain, this may sound surprising, but it is true. I hate all British accents (perhaps because I'm not particularly fond of the British as a people), but I particularly abhor the accents I hear on the BBC. Every morning at nine, my favorite radio station cuts to the BBC and I just have to turn it off. Today I'm listening to an episode from the Diane Rehm Show archives instead.
This morning I found myself reminiscing about the alternative school I attended from kindergarten through fifth grade. It was the Santa Monica Alternative School House, affectionately known as SMASH. When I started kindergarten in 1984, SMASH was a K-12 public school, designated as alternative because it followed a "progressive curriculum." We called all of our teachers by their first names, and classrooms combined multiple grade levels. Many of our teachers played the guitar, so singing was a regular part of the school day, and instead of playing with blocks, we used "manipulatives." I loved my kindergarten and first grade teacher, Jim, who later became a principal at SMASH. He played the electric guitar and had an amplifier named "pig nose." Our teachers didn't grade us, but instead sent home extensive written evaluations.
SMASH was a kind of paradise, an educational oasis that seemed to be totally outside of reality, as I learned when I switched to the regular middle school in the sixth grade. Few of my middle school teachers were interested in actually teaching, and were on perpetual power trips, using their authority to instill fear in the students. Calling teachers by their last names seemed stupid to me -- after all, they were people just like everyone else -- and their grading seemed totally arbitrary when they weren't teaching us anything anyway. Granted, my middle school, John Adams, was a particularly bad school -- as I learned when I entered high school and found that the honors classes were almost entirely populated by students who had gone to the other middle school -- but no other school could have lived up to the experience I had at SMASH.
SMASH probably didn't prepare me very well for the real world, where we do often have to submit to arbitrary and idiotic authority (think, for example, of our country's current presidential administration), but as a kid, going to school there was a fantastic experience.