GEEKERY  
ADVENTURE  
CONTEMPLATION  

20111231

2011 year summary

This holiday season has been more crazed than usual, what with finals after the break.  Nobody seems to think this is a good idea, but the schedule remains as is.

And now it's new year's eve and I get to look back at the things I've done this year.  Maybe that will motivate me to work harder through finals, you never know.

Books  I read East of Eden, The Poisonwood Bible, Sarah's Key, and started the Song of Ice and Fire series, getting through the first two books and am currently halfway through the third.  I've been reading War and Peace, The Handmaid's Tale, and On Food and Cooking, but haven't finished them yet.  And then there's academic reading, but I'll spare you.

Food  I discovered swiss chard, kale, and belgian endives.  How could I live so long without knowing swiss chard?  Tragedy.  I also cooked a bunch of seafood for the first time: scallops, swordfish, shrimp, clams, and muscles.  And I roasted a turkey totally on my own--another first.  Parsnip is on my list of things to try for next year.

Lifestyle  N and I moved into smaller apt (N estimates 5/8 the size of our old place) and got rid of some stuff on the way.  I've been going through maniacal bursts of cleaning/organizing to get rid of more stuff we don't need.  I started my conversion to the GTD system and am using Omnifocus.  It's not perfect, but it helps.  I also quit facebook for most of the year, reactivating my account only recently.  I might deactivate it again soon, but we'll see.  Oh yeah, I also started grad school.

Misc  N and I usually watch a single TV episode a day as together downtime.  This year, we've worked through Modern Family, Merlin, a good chunk of Star Trek TNG (in order), The Good Wife, and maybe a few others.  I also started and finished 2 paintings (sold one!) and have three in progress.  I made a quilt for my recently born nephew.  And there was the garden project over the summer.  N and I went to a family reunion in Colorado, spent Christmas in California, and went up to Boston to see family, but that was the extent of our traveling this year.

And next year will bring some good things too.  No resolutions, or abstract or specific.  Just studying for now.

20111219

What should computers be able to do?

I've been thinking about what I'd like computers to be able to do.  I'd like to be able to say (or type, or somehow communicate) the following things to a computer and for it to magically give me good responses.

- I'd like to buy a Christmas present for my friend <name>.  What are some good ideas?
- I'm really tired and want to watch a light movie.  Show me some options.
- I need a book that will last me for a month-long trip.  Non-fiction, preferably.
- My favorite dress was ruined, what's a good replacement?
- I'd like to try a new hobby, what might I like?
- I have five minutes before my interviewer calls.  Give me something distracting.
- I'm taking <name> out to dinner, where might they like to go?  Romantic but not pricey.

Siri is a great step toward intelligent responses, but there are still lots of limits.  The technology needs to know about lots of different things it doesn't really consider right now.  Your moods, preferences, present company (and their moods/preference), and even current location or time of day.  I think sufficient data exists, even if it isn't public--think about Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Netflix, Amazon wishlists and browsing history, and browsing history in general.  We could use bookmark information, email, blogs, and on top of that, users are usually more than happy to answer questionnaires...people love exploring themselves.  Hunch is a great example of a recommendation system for everything, but I think I want a system that's a mash-up between Hunch and Siri.

I'm trying to define the bounds of this system in my head.  What should it be capable of and what is too much?  I know what I would want it to do, but I don't know what other people might want to use it for.  So this is my question to you: what would you like to ask a computer that it can't currently answer?  Can you give me example queries?

20111215

Woman's Day

This week we got the final notice that N's subscription to Woman's Day had expired (we got another notice last week too).  Neither of us have ever even opened a Woman's Day in the grocery store, let alone subscribed, so it's either a marketing tactic or a mistake.  Either way, it cracks me up.


Also, why call a lifestyle magazine "Woman's Day"?  I'd imagine that there's very little woman-specific information in it, and while their audience is probably mostly women, they could target a larger subset of the population by simply changing the name.

20111213

paper and pixels

My gut reaction to new devices is "don't need it."[1]  E-readers, smartphones, tablets, whatever.  Don't need it.  My seminar on the future of the book has changed that a little.  I can now see the place for digital books, and would actually love to have a good color e-ink (not LCD) reader for pdfs and one-time reads.  The system isn't set up to work the way I want to use it, though.  Supposedly you can use your public library to gain access to ebooks, but even our huge library doesn't have access to the digital versions of anything on my reading list.  I'm not paying anything for something I'll read once, even if it's cheaper because it's digital.  And Amazon is still missing a lot of stuff.  So no e-reader for me for now.  The for now is the concession I've made.

One thing that came up in class was the advantages and disadvantages of each form.  I got in a match with my professor, each of us claiming that we could list five things off the top of our heads why one form was better than another (he's a digital advocate, I'm dedicated to bound).  We didn't actually list five each, but I wanted to make those lists for comparison, so here they are.  The advantages of bound books will only decrease with time, but these my current top five.

Advantages of Digital Books
- easily searchable
- more ergonomic to use (due to a lightweight and balanced form)
- conducive to a minimalist lifestyle (fewer physical things to manage)
- easier to travel with (smaller/lighter)
- instant access to one's entire personal collection and also to purchasable content

Advantages of Bound Books
- superior random access [2]
- cheaper (due to libraries/borrowing/sharing and buying used) [3]
- easier to consume from multiple vendors
- more accessible interface (no manual, forums, or help needed)
- apocalypse-proof (or able to withstand long-term power-loss/reduction)

I have no idea what is more stainable.  On the one hand, bound books mean paper, which means harvesting trees.  On the other, we have rare metals (and thus probably fair-trade issues), but also electricity consumption.

I don't think I'll ever go all-digital, but who knows.  Even art books might be addressable eventually.  The biggest hurdle will be converting my preexisting collection of bound books into digital books.  And sharing.  I need to be able to share my books without having folks borrow my entire library (i.e. the device).

It basically comes down to cost.  I'm not willing to re-buy everything I have nor am I willing to pay 10 to 20x more for a slight increase in convenience.  I could deal with everything else if I could get any book for $0.50, which is the standard cost of paperbacks at library used-book sales.  Heck, I'd be willing to pay the hardback $1.  But as long as the alternative to borrowing a book from the library is to pay an insane amount, I'll stick with my bound books.  They need to market books on the app cost scale for real viability; most books should be under a couple of dollars.

[1] Right now, anyway.  I used to be a huge gadget person--I had a PDA in middle school, even though that's obviously not something a middle-schooler needs.  Shall we schedule hanging out in the quad for 3:10pm?

[2] With digital books, there's no good way to hold a finger in one place and flip to another, nor is there a good mechanism for flipping through the book to find non-text.

[3] One thing that weighs on me is that a shift to digital books makes reading more privileged, at least as currently implemented.  Sure, free ebooks are great, but most of the free ones are epub, which Kindle doesn't support.  So do you forgo Amazon's selection and go for a Nook?  How about an iPad with apps to do everything for $500?  Laptops are cheaper.  I'm pitching my Occupy eBooklandia tent.

20111209

the Birth Order Book

I've started attending a book club with ladies from my church.  The song's familiar for many book of the clubs out there: it's not officially church-y, that's just how it spread.  I figured that it would be good to know folks outside of the church-context, especially since a lot of them seem like really interesting and fun people and also that I've been really busy wrangling the little ones on Sundays so I don't have much time to get to know anyone.

November's meeting was the first one I attended, and I decided to drop in last minute since I had already read the book (Ender's Game).  And then we just met for December (Sarah's Key).  The meetings tend to be a good mix of philosophy and social chat, and I'm enjoying the personalities present.  Up next for January is The Birth Order Book.  Breaks the "possessive-noun object" trend, such a shame.

Frankly, I'm hesitant.  Most of my leisure reading is fiction, and when it's not, I stick to science, history, religion, philosophy, and how-to books, keeping my distance (for the most part) from self-help, opinion, politics, or relationship-type books.  Anything where the author feels the need to publish with "Dr." in front of his or her name sends off a red flag.  Also, anything with the author's picture on the cover, unless it's an autobiography.  Red flags, I tell you.

As humans, we already compartmentalize the world.  We put people in gender boxes, race boxes, religion boxes, political affiliation boxes, etc..  Boxes help us organize the world and determine how to act.  If I'm explaining my work to someone, I'll say different things depending on if I'm talking to an academic peer or if I'm talking to a family member; they'll have different prior knowledge and levels of interest.  But if I stack up all of the boxes for one person, it's still a rough approximation of who they are.

The biggest danger in boxifying things is framing it in terms of causality.  So-and-so is this way because of this box.  That's not true.  If it were, all people in that box would have that characteristic.  That's the definition of causality.  Boxifying things is all about correlation, or rough approximations.  It's useful because it gives us a rough approximation of a person or situation and we can hash out the details from there.  Stopping at the box level is shallow because the boxes never get all the details. (The Birth Order Book's subtitle is "Why You Are the Way You Are." That's causal language.  It makes me grumpy.)

So...right...back to birth order.  I think I'm hesitant in part because I don't generally know things about people's birth order.  That's not something you can get just by looking at a person, nor is it something that comes up early on in conversation.  The people for whom I know their birth order I already know fairly well.  Adding a birth order box to my approximation of them would do absolutely nothing.  It's a lossy representation.

A more practical problem I have with this book is that it's hard to get my hands on.  Neither the university nor the huge public library have it.  I'm not going to buy it.  I might just read some studies on birth order instead, since the psychology literature is more appealing to me than mass-marketed pseudo-psychology books.  Yes, I'm a snob.  Maybe it's because I'm the eldest child.

If anyone from book club reads this, don't kill me.  Write a comment instead.  I'd love to hear why I'm wrong.

20111118

chocolate cake for two

I've been making mini desserts recently, to have just one serving for both N and myself so we wouldn't overdo it.  I can down an entire chocolate cake all by myself in a few hours--my mother can testify.  Last night I made lime custard tarts, but tonight was a tiny chocolate cake.

Chocolate Cake for Two

18 g cocoa powder
56 g boiling water
56 g sugar
1 egg
1 t vanilla
1 T butter, softened
50 g flour
1/4 t baking soda

Whisk the cocoa and boiling water until smooth; mix in sugar.  Mix in egg when cooled a little.  Kneed together butter and remaining dry ingredients (flour and soda) until butter is fully incorporated.  Add dry/butter mixture to wet mixture, mixing until smooth.  Bake at 350 in an approximately 5in diamater ramekin or souffle dish until springy when pressed.  (I used a 16oz CorningWare dish.)

I made a chocolate whipped cream (heavy cream, vanilla, sugar, cocoa powder) to frost it and topped with dark chocolate crumbs.

...and we ate it so fast, I couldn't take a pretty picture of the tasty guts tumbling out.


20111116

ants and plants

I was watering some under-loved plants tonight, when lo! an ant colony swarmed out of one of my kitchen plants.  I spied a large winged one.  A queen?  Certainly; it had the characteristic enlarged abdomen.  There were lots of tiny ones with wings too.  But then I saw a second huge one.  Two queens?  That seemed a little strange.  Then a third.  And a fourth.  I began to doubt my queen-ant identification skills.  This was a tiny pot, too.

I flooded the plant to make sure the ants stayed out, then wiped them up, ensuring the demise of the might-be-queens in particular.  Ants are among the insects that I have no qualms about killing indiscriminately when they enter my living space.  (Spiders and moths get some warm words as I remove them, usually informing them that N will kill them if they don't leave.  And even bees, wasps, and flies get ushered out with moderate politeness.  Though after recently discussing Ender's game in my first book club meeting, I still felt a little guilty about potentially having destroyed a whole colony of ants.)  After wiping the ants up like crumbs, I set to work learning about the varieties of ants.  Turns out, unless you get these guys under the microscope or you're a professional, it's near impossible to identify a common household ant.  Oh well.

So my final guess on the queens is that they just hadn't matured fully.  Else why would there be four of them?  All I hope is that the ants don't make their way into my brand new lavender plant, a birthday gift from my mother-in-law, which is currently being pampered out of its mind.  The other plants might be jealous, but they get watered more now, so they shouldn't complain.  Trickle down economics, baby.  Tee-hee.

20111115

we are the 100%

Honestly, I'm a bit tired of the "we are the 99%" and/or "occupy ____."

I think that there are a lot of good ideas and moving stories, but the lack of organization just kind of irks me.  I'm not going to take a stand with someone, friend or stranger, unless I have a compelling reason.  And a group of people?  I'm not going to join a mass of folk without it declaring a clear set of goals or ideals.  Maybe I'm a persnickety list-maker, but I just don't get it.  It feels like herd mentality.

My life is pretty good right now; I might be singing a different tune if I were hugely in debt, grappling with medical issues or otherwise had life in disarray.  Despite life's goodness, I like to think that I'm a survivor by nature, doing what I need to do, even if life is hard.  [Tangent: Hunger Games is next on the reading list.]  And if I'm not a survivor, I'm at least an optimist, focusing on the good things.  Everyone has a breaking point though, and to me the 99%/occupy movement seems to be declaring that most people are close to breaking, if not already there.  Part of me is skeptical, thinking that folks might be exaggerating, but part of me knows that I'm really lucky and that there are lots of folk out there dealing with a lot of unpleasant stuff.

So, in the spirit of sharing 99%-style, here's some info about my life. As a household, my husband and I are above the 50% mark of Americans [2] by income.  We're both in graduate school and attend the same name-recognized school.  We're in the youngest 20% of Americans, including the lowest 10% being children/adolescents ages 14 and under [3].  It seems ridiculous to me that we're over the 50% income mark given that we're both at the start of our careers and still in school.  We have retirement and savings accounts, and are able to donate money as we see fit.  Our health coverage isn't great, but since we're healthy, it doesn't matter much for now.  I am worried about health coverage for the possibility of having kids at some point; I'd like the birth process and pediatric stuff to be well covered.

My problems are very, well, insignificant next to issues of starvation or vaccination.  There's still pretty small next to eviction or massive debt.  I feel like I have 1%'er problems, even though I'm in the 99%.  I feel like a lot of people in the 99% have this same magnitude of problems, and that income is not a good metric for separating the privileged from the struggling.  I think that's part of why the whole thing irks me: it's including me when I shouldn't be included.

[1] per this article by the WSJ
[2] internationally, it's a whole 'nother ballgame
[3] I did this with rough approximation, given the percentages listed here.

20111114

sporadic obsessions

This totally describes my life.  Except instead of Dragon Ball Z, it was Sailor Moon.

my ideal tech setup

Currently, I have a razor cell phone, a 13" Macbook pro, and an iMac at the office.  I video chat with my family more than I call them, but it's nice to have the phone for emergencies or when I don't have internet access.  I use my laptop at home and when traveling, for both work as well as personal stuff, and I love having a big screen at the office.  A desktop also forces me to work for extended periods of time.  When I worked only on my laptop, I'd be tempted to close it and go home early, thinking that I could just pick up where I left off, which rarely happened.  When I do need to work remotely, I can just ssh into my work machine and or grab whatever I need with scp.

The biggest gap in my current setup is a touch-screen type device that would be useful for reading papers or digital books.  I'm not one to give up my paper books, but a lot of libraries, public and private, now distribute content digitally.  Here's the hitch: I don't want to have just another gadget.  Even if it's useful, I feel like so much technology overlaps already that an iPad/Kindle/Nook would be silly given that I already have so many things.

Here's the setup I really want:

1) A mobile device.  I could make phone calls with a wireless earpiece or do video chat on this.  I could read PDFs and other digital media easily without feeling like I'm using a traditional laptop.  I could check/write emails, work on programing projects, and do other typing intensive tasks easily and for long periods.  Imagine as if a Macbook Air and an iPad made a baby--this is that device.

2) A desktop/server.  All my projects and digital media are hosted here.  I can ssh in from my mobile device.  It has a large screen that makes my daily work easy.  It's powerful enough to do computation on large data sets.

Just two things.  The second one already exists, but the first one doesn't.  My bet is that it will sometime soonish, and when it does, I'll be ready.

20111111

11, 11, 11!

Eleven is my favorite number.  I should have planned a party for today or something.  Instead, I might just go read The Eleventh Hour, cut edible things into eleven pieces, and other such nonsense.

20111108

another gratitude list

I've been off balance lately--my fuse has been short and I've been feeling generally entitled. Like everyone, I constantly walk the line of being respectful of others and protective of my own needs. I don't want to be a push-over, but I don't want to be mean either. Sometimes I fall one way, sometimes the other, but falling on the selfish end always feels worse, and that's where I've been of late. There's nothing like a bit of gratitude to put things in perspective and help restore balance. Plus, it's November, so here goes.

Some things I'm grateful for, in no particular order and with no particular organization:
- Daylight savings time that gets me on an earlier schedule without any effort
- A bouquet of beautifully smelling roses currently sitting on our kitchen table
- N takes care of the dishes almost all of the time, even when I wreak havoc in the kitchen.
- I can walk everywhere I need to go regularly, except the grocery store.
- Access to essentially every book I'd ever want to read (big local library + the university/ILL)
- I have the freedom to set my own hours and determine my own projects.
- Work/school is really enjoyable and fulfilling for me. (Related, but distinct from above.)
- All of my basic needs are easily met. (And will be for the foreseeable future; life is stable.)
- I have friends, family, and communities (school and church) that support me.
- Most of the people I love (as in philía) are in good health and are generally happy.

20111107

25 hours

N made the observation last night as we were going to bed that I had a 25-hour day for my 25th birthday. Hurrah for daylight savings time!

20111104

spiced orange juice

Tonight, N felt like a hot dessert-y drink and I felt like something light and fruity.  We didn't have any apple juice for cider, so I decided to make a spiced orange juice and was pleasantly surprised.

I heated the following in a pot until it was just a little too hot to drink comfortably--I'd rather serve a drink like this too hot over too cold.

2 mugfulls of orange juice
1.5 tablespoon heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
honey, sugar or any sweetener to taste (I did a mix of honey and truvia)
1 teaspoon ground cloves

20111101

priorities, virtues, goals, and then some

Fair warning: a long, detailed post.

It's fall break and I've been using the extra time to catch up on a bunch of different things.  One of which is getting more organized.  I read most of the GTD book this summer, and there have been a bunch of lists floating around.  I've plowed through a bunch of goals--basically, I'm getting closer to my optimally productive state.  Of late, however, I've felt the need to take a step back, so I'm going to pull from GTD and hash out my "priorities." (Why the quotes will be addressed later.)  I'm doing this on my blog instead of on paper because it forces me to 1) generalize, 2) be reasonable, and 3) be clear.  But back to the priorities...to use the altitude analogy from the book, we have six levels:

• 50,000+ feet: Life
• 40,000 feet: Three to five-year vision
• 30,000 feet: One to two-year goals
• 20,000 feet: Areas of responsibility
• 10,000 feet: Current projects
• Runway: Current actions

The last two items--current actions and projects--are too numerous and detailed for this post, so we'll start with my areas of responsibility, which are basically just categories for organizing my projects.

• Academic
  • Research
  • Classes
  • Administrative
• Personal
  • Domestic
  • Hobbies
  • Church
  • Social (including family)

Next: my one to two year goals.  I want to pass my generals.  I want a good summer internship this summer and the next.  N and I were thinking of starting to have kids after I pass generals, so I guess that would be in this category: plan for children.  I want to have published at least one paper as first author, maybe two.  I want to successfully save tomato seeds from my garden.  I want to make at least one more quilt.  I want to start grinding my own wheat.  I want to do lots of stuff, but you get the picture.

The three to five year vision?  I want to have at least one kid and have strong, loving family relationships.  I want to finish grad school in five years and be looking for a job (or have one already).  I want to be minimalist enough that moving anywhere in the world wouldn't be a hard logistical problem.  I want to a host of skills or stores of knowledge of homestead variety: beekeeping, butchering chickens, making cheese, gardening, preserving, and various from-scratch baking skills.  I want to have enough money for downpayment on a house.  I want to have written my Russian historical fiction novel.  Again, lots of stuff.

Life?  I want a happy, healthy family (or at least as happy and healthy as possible given whatever circumstances we will have).  I want my family to be supportive, open, and loving.  I want to not have things I don't need.  I want to be organized.  I always want to have some form (or multiple forms) of creative expression as a hobby.  I want to be generous but financially stable.  I want to own land, and try my hand at some form of homesteading: raise my own chickens, waterfowl, or sheep, keep bees, have an orchard, tend a garden...these are all options, though I probably won't get to do them all.  I want a satisfying career: I could go into industry or academia, but I would also be happy making homesteading a full-time occupation.  Whatever I choose, I want to love what I do.



Now that I've gone over the GTD version of my "priorities," I wanted to explain why I put that term in quotes.  The premise behind setting priorities is setting an order of precedence.  Theoretically, everything I listed as goals above, no matter what the level, should come over anything else, all other things being equal.  Life is rarely that clear-cut, though.  Setting priorities as described above leaves me with more questions like "how do I prioritize things within my goals?"  There's the classic example of women who want to have both a family and a career--how do they choose when to put what first?

At the end of last year, I created some themes instead of specific new year's resolutions (the last one is new).  These address some of the issues of simple goals because they define a set of precedence rules.

• Physical over Virtual
• Creative over Consumptive
• Independence over Reliance
• Community over Isolation
• Simplicity over Clutter
• Stimulated over Numbed
• Appropriate Use and Reuse over Waste
• Thoughtful over Instinctual

When making daily decisions, people rarely consult their list of goals.  Likewise, I rarely consult my themes, but they're there to help give me guidance when I have the time or feel the need to sit back and ponder the bigger picture.  They also help evaluate the merit of simple goals.  I'm doing both of these things right now.



I've also given some thought to virtues.  There is the famous example of Benjamin Franklin's list of virtues, as well a lists from various religions and philosophies.  I've tried making lists of virtues, but they all come down to two things: treating others well, and improving oneself.  I feel that the first category is my first priority, over all else: love, charity, kindness...it's all kinda the same.  It leads to altruism and universality, mindfulness, justice, honesty, and respect.  It's the golden rule.

The second category is includes things like moderation (which in turn includes temperance and restraint), order, cleanliness, frugality, industry, tranquility, patience, knowledge.  Even still, some things like patience are on the border with the first category.

But even though love for others is my first priority, sometimes I must do things for myself.  Doing things for myself can enable me to help others, but I also just have a drive to take care of myself, so the first and second ordering isn't really strict.  In fact, I can frame my entire life as taking care of myself:

• take care of self
  • physically
    • sleep
    • nutrition/appropriate diet
    • hydration
    • medical health
       • preventative care
       • other treatment as needed
    • be in shape:
      • strength
      • balance/dexterity
      • flexibility
      • cardio
    • grooming/hygiene
  • mental health
    • mediation/prayer
    • organized life
       • all projects personal and academic/work under control
       • clean, tidy, and aesthetically pleasing environment
       • able to provide or have access all things listed here, combined with a sense of being in control
    • healthy relationships
      • spouse
      • family
      • friends
      • work
      • church community
    • sense of morality and acting accordingly (includes activism and various opinions)
       • fair trade, treating people equitably, giving to international aid, gender equality, etc.
    • have projects/purpose/a way to productively spend my time
    • have good outlets/hobbies/secondary ways to spend time



You can see similarities between the various framings of priorities, virtues, and goals. They're just different ways to look at the same thing: all the complexities of an individual life.

Take any one facet of a life, like my urge to do homesteading-type activities.  It's a hobby under the GTD system, possibly growing into something larger over time. In the priorities system, it's a manifestation of independence and arguably a few others.  Under the virtues system, it's something to hone my personal virtues, like industry, or something to keep me mentally healthy by having a productive way to spend my time.  You could make a slew of arguments to describe this impulse under any of the systems.

Given all this, what's the point? Priorities, virtues, and goals are just different ways of measuring or articulating our desires.  Too often do I fall prey to the mental trap of trying to put everything in its appropriate little box; it's a kind of game.  Sometimes it's useful, though; going through this exercise helped me gain motivation for the things I need to do this week, even this month.  But where do I go from here?  I get back to getting things done, appreciating as much as I can of the world, and living my values or accomplishing my goals or however else I want to frame it.

Well, that was a pretty elaborate life pep-talk.

20111030

materialism and minimalism

In my last post, I made a tangential remark about how conscious minimalism is a kind of materialism and I wanted to elaborate on that further.

First, I wanted to make the distinction between conscious minimalism and inherent minimalism, terminology that I'm making up as I go.  Inherent minimalism is when someone doesn't really like possessions at all and they are a minimalist without even thinking about it.  Folks who are inherent minimalists don't buy into consumer culture naturally, tend not to care about ownership, and focus almost exclusively on non-tangibles: their work, philosophy, religion, etc..  Their possessions are replaceable.  There aren't a lot of pure inherent minimalists, but what I'm really doing is describing one end of the spectrum.

At the other end, we have conscious minimalists.  They are very aware of their possessions and desires to own things, but want to curb those desires; they have probably accepted consumer culture to some degree and are trying to reject it.  They want to only have what they need and plan out what that is and why.  They see minimalism as a type of aesthetic or a desirable way of living and have to work hard to achieve it.  They are materialists because they think about and put value on physical objects.  Their possessions might be hard to replace because they have specific, planned functions or emotional ties.

In general, I'm more on the side of an conscious minimalist, but have shifted a little toward inherent minimalism at times.  I think both have their value.  On the one hand, it's really liberating to be totally free not only from excessive ownership, but the desire to own things at all.  On the other, materialism leads to a deeper appreciation of objects and their functions, which in turn leads to appreciation of our surroundings and peers.  If I don't appreciate the materialism of the meal that has been placed in front of me, it's a lot harder to appreciate the work that has gone into preparing it and the beauty of the preparation process.  We need both: the physical grounding and the elevation of mind.

20111029

bang for your buck, decision fatigue, and getting what you want

It's snowing like crazy right now, and already starting to accumulate, which is odd because it hasn't accumulated more than an inch of snow here in October since the Civil War. N is prancing about like a delighted little demon child. But I'm not here to talk about the weather.

I went to the local artisan quilt store yesterday because I was in the area anyway and knew that they were having a sale. A bit ago, I purchased a lovely alphabet quilt pattern with all sorts of animal on it, which requires a million different colors in small swatches, so I figured that this would be a good time to stock up of bits and piece for that quilt. I spent an hour in the store comparing this to that, and trying to figure out how much I should buy. At one point, I had sixty dollars of fat quarters in my arms, intending to buy them all. But then I decided that I was being ridiculous and that I should only get what I really loved and would regret not buying for that quilt. I cut the number down to a third, checked out, and left quickly--I was tired of making decisions.

I hit the grocery store immediately afterward, and when I got home, I made a to-do list then took a nap and didn't really do anything on my list until after dinner. School has been depleting me of late, and this was my first chance to relax in a while.

That whole experience got me thinking: I had infinite time and energy, what decisions would I make when it comes to consumption? How do I train myself to make good decisions always? The answer is in the last line of the previously linked article: "The best decision makers," Baumeister says, "are the ones who know when not to trust themselves."

My default used to be purchase something over leaving it behind, but now I've reversed that, and I think that that's a good policy for everyone.  It's the state of no change, and decisions can be made later.  Return policies complicate things, of course, as do annoyingly overwhelming salespeople, to whom I've fallen victim a few times.  

And then there's the need to keep glucose levels appropriately high for good decision-making.  Making decisions aside, I know I'm happier in general when I adopt a hummingbird diet, as my mom calls it: eating tiny portions near constantly.  Part of me wonders if there could be a system where a credit card charge would require a glucose check of its owner in addition to a signature.   I doubt that the credit cards or the retailers would want that, though.

In the end, list-making works best for me.  I make a list when I'm capable of making good decisions and then I need to make fewer choices at the store, as long as I stick to the list.  Knowing the product brands in advance is really nice too, which can usually be done online, even for grocery stores.  Part of the reason the quilt store was so exhausting was that my list looked like "1/2 yard of a variety of green fabrics for alligators, newts, and turtles," which requires in-store decision making.  It would be the equivalent of saying "spices for roast chicken" or "a few veggies for stir-fry" instead of "rosemary, thyme" or "carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms."

 Then there's the question of how much to get of any given item, be it fabric, food, or any other "consumable"--something you'll use up eventually.  I could buy a full yard fo green fabric, but will I actually ever use it?  How about getting my toilet paper in bulk?  Getting the most per dollar is important, but it's not always clear what to do.  Say you need one unit of product A and that goes for  $1.  You could also get 10 units of product A for $8.  Well, if you're going to use all ten units eventually and you have both the budget leeway and the storage space, then 10/$8 makes more sense.  Toilet paper, for instance would be an example of this type of product.  But if you might only ever use 5 units of product A and the rest will just sit there, then it's best to only buy what you need.  For me, lots of green fabric would fall into this category.  I'd use some of it, probably even more than the original 1 unit I needed, but probably not all of it.  If I only used 5 units, I would have really paid $8/5 units, which would be more than the $1/1 unit.

It's this second category of item that is really tricky, since you don't know how much you're going to use in advance.  For me, I error on the side of buying only the smallest unit that I need, or $1/1 unit in the case above.  Even if I have to go back and buy more of the product later, it's worth it to spending a little extra to only have exactly what I need at any given time.  When I choose not to buy in bulk, I think of the extra cost as a minimization fee--I'm willing to pay a little more so I don't have to worry about a lot of stuff.

I'm not always the wisest consumer, but I feel like I'm getting better.  In some ways I am a materialist in that I think about physical objects and how they impact our lives; I had the realization recently that conscious minimalism is a kind of materialism.  That's not to say that material things are more important than non-material things--quite the reverse in my opinion--but that material things are important, that they have value, and they are worth thought.  Unnecessary consumption seems a little vulgar, though I am certainly guilty of it.  But I'm walking down a tangent line.

The end point: make good decisions by eating well and making up your mind in advance when you can.  This can work for more than just being a consumer and is actually part of the GTD system in a way; sometimes it's easier to do something than to think or make plans about doing it.

20111026

20111025

where am i?

The expression "life is breezy" seems funny to me right now, since everything has been such a whirlwind this past week+.  I'm going to resist the urge to take the long, spiring rabbit hole down wind-life metaphor way, as tempting as it might be.  I'm exhausted and prone to laugh at ridiculously mundane things right now.

I've been taking grad work possibly too seriously, going in to the office every night for a week straight.  N finally called me on it, and I've discovered that not working all the time has done wonders for my stress levels, at least after the poster presentation and paper submission were done.

And then there's been church, which is all sorts of fun.  It doesn't really stress me out, except when there are conflicts of priorities.  Do we really need a seating chart for the primary program?  Apparently so.  But do we need to adjust a party's dinner menu to be inclusive of people with alternate diets?  Not unless I point it out, and even then, there's resistance.  It's no fun (and really tiring) to almost always be the outlying opinion.

Add it all up and I feel the need to establish my limits and priorities, to get a high level view of my life.  How do I get way up there, though?  Maybe the wind will carry me...  Okay, I really need something right now.  Maybe a tall glass of water.  Oh, and some chocolate cake.  Priority number one found.

20111013

THREE! (AH AH AH AH AH!)

1)  I've heard the saying "the best camera is the one that's with you" on several photography blogs, ofttimes defending the use of the iphone for serious photography.  My camera is a Canon G10, hefty enough to think twice about carrying it around with me everywhere, but still a point-and-shoot.  I was lusting after some DLSR cameras recently when I realized that if I don't take my G10 with me everywhere, why would I take something that was bigger?  Thinking that made me realize that I miss so many opportunities for photography all the time.  Last week there was an amazing praying mantis that looked like it was doing yoga on abandoned bicycle hangle.  Did I have my camera?  No.  After that, I've had two photo-worthy sightings right after leaving my apartment.  Tromp, tromp, tromp, back up three flights of stairs, grumbling "the best camera is the one that's with you."  So now I've been lugging the G10 everywhere.  Wallet, cellphone, keys, notebook, pencil, novel, camera.  My list of daily staples grows long.

2) I learned a new word today: heteroscedasticity.  I've been muttering it constantly even since, since it's a beast to pronounce.

3) An experiment in the kitchen: 6 links of sausage, one poblano pepper, an apple, a handful of spinach, and feta cheese tossed with whole-wheat penne.  Spicy and satisfying.




20110930

bit-wise

I'm taking a class just for fun this semester, because its title nerd-sniped me in an instant: The Future of the Book.  So far, we've read a motley of opinion pieces and delved into technophilosophy, which is a word I just made up.  I've discovered that I am a bit of a luddite, or rather, I've discovered how much of a luddite I really am.  I'll give up my bound paper books when my ashes are mingled with N's under an oak tree.

Of more general interest than ashes, I read two articles that resonated with me, and I thought I'd share them.  The first, The Future of the Book, shares several topics with those mentioned in my class.  There's a lot to discuss about the future of books, libraries, the privilege inherent in the shift to digital media, expectations of society as that shift happens, how much things will change and how fast, what one's ideal future look like, and how to contribute to or shape that future.  But since I'm thoroughly opinionated in class, I think I won't bother to rehash everything here, at least not right now.

The second, Is Google Making Us Stupid? talks about the digital age more generally.  Carr writes, "what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation," and I feel it as well.  Ironically enough, I couldn't even finish the article on the first go-round.  I have a hard time reading novels just sitting down at home--it's much easier when I'm on a bus or walking somewhere.  My prayers are generally shorter and less meditative.  Certainly not everything can be blamed on the Internet, but no matter: there's nothing wrong with culling the excess time spent online.  At the very least it makes more time for those other things.

I've committed to spending less time online in lots of different ways over the past few years.  My first year out of college, I had no internet at home, which was amazing.   I've put restrictive apps on my browsers, made mutual promises with N, intentionally left my laptop off or at home for extended periods of time, but the Internet still calls.  It's like sugar for the brain.

So with that, I'll turn off my computer for the night.

a new tune

I love music, but I'm not one of those folks who can rattle off the names of bands or tunes or talk about music with any kind of eloquence. I prefer to just sing along, and usually I don't share what I think or like because my opinions are nothing special.  And while my opinions are still nothing special, Pumped Up Kicks by Foster The People is, at least to me.  I've only heard it twice on the radio, but it still rattles inside my head, gives me a great tune to whistle, runs away right when I want to remember it, sobers me with its lyrics, and then when I wake up, it slips to me from a dream and I literally rise up singing.

20110928

useful knowledge and respect


Last week, in the second lecture of my AI class, there were a host of undergrad students jabbering annoyingly during the lecture.  I almost pulled out my scolding matron voice, but decided against it.  Upon being dismissed (or rather, upon dismissing themselves since most of the students can't sit still a minute after the official end time, even when the professor still has things to say), these students continued to gab disrespectfully.  We were covering breadth-first and other uninformed/naïve searches, and the students were complaining along the lines of "If we're never going to use it, why is he teaching us about it?"  Second lecture material guys, seriously?  Also, if you're putting merit on stuff you're going to use, go get an apprenticeship somewhere or take a cooking class.  In my experience, undergraduate education is more about developing the mind in general than about acquiring stores of practical knowledge.  I know that in some ways I'm being just as arrogant and pretentious as they were, but... I don't know.  I guess I think there's some honor in defending the respect of a professor, especially an excellent one.  But perhaps I've been reading A Game of Thrones too much recently and am overly caught up in the concept of honor.

20110922

my first quilt

I just finished (as in two weekends ago) my first quilt! [1]  Finally, today I mailed it off to my sister-in-law (via her mother, since they live in Chile and California, respectively) for her baby that's due next month.  Aside from the propensity of the project to completely consume our living room, it was a blast and I look forward to gettin' me some more quiltin' love.  ...At some future point.  For now, the semester:me::quilt:living room.


[1] Not including the group quilts we made in the YW program growing up, for which I tied yarn through pre-sandwiched quilts.

20110919

a reasonable pride with an elaborate aside

Yesterday church was on a funny schedule: an hour earlier than usual and a half-hour service instad of the regular three hour block.  Why?  They were encouraging everyone to get out and help people with homes damaged from the hurricane and resulting floods.  Logistically, it was crazy; a friend of our compared it to organizing troops for war....there were some four hundred folk (many in yellow, the Mormon service icon color) milling around at one building while assignments were dished out.

I was proud that so many people cared and it restored some of my faith in the community.  It's nice to see that leaders and members are willing to choose helping people in need over maintaining regular services.  Basically, instead of talking about charity, we acted charitably.  And I think it's reasonable to be proud of that choice.

But on the other hand, some people might need church, so one could argue against essentially canceling church for community service.  Additionally, physical service could be done every Sunday instead of religious activity.  Why did we choose this date?  Why this particular need?  I think this instance makes sense because we were responding to the repercussions of a natural disaster.  People were distraught over how to deal with their homes, many of which were full of water-logged possessions.  It was a time-sensitive and required a large host of people to handle it.  If it had been any of our homes, we would have wanted the same help we gave.

N suggested we do similar service once every three months, but I can't help but ask a million questions in response.  Are there needs to be met in the area that could be addressed by this particular form?  If so, what are they?  Could our community support that frequency?  Why replace church?  Why not?  Why three months, or whatever time period?  I could think of several advantages of such a system, not the least of which is a community which has been trained for organized emergency response.  However, my hunch is that there would be resistance to this being a regular occurrence.  How else could you get equally strong participation, or will enthusiasm inherently dwindle?

20110916

inspiration

I'm not much for celebrity following or red carpet fashion, but I do read some photography blogs, and this image brought to my attention a beautiful (and exorbitantly expensive) dress and I wanted to see more of it.  I've been keen on wide necks for a while: they're elegant, but can still be modest (in more than just the LDS sense).  I also like chiffon, and I've been trying to come up with a way to use both in a dress design for a while; I might just end up copying this to some extent.  Beading can be kind of showy, but in this case it's what pulls the two elements I like together, and it's also what takes a simple, comfortable dress and makes it red-carpet material.  Not like I'll be needing red-carpet worthy clothing any time soon.  Anyway, I've made it a goal to design and sew a dress by the end of next summer; we'll see if this influences that design.  Or if I actually accomplish the goal, for that matter.

20110915

twas the first day of classes

My first day of grad classes: nothing special except a back ache from not getting to class early enough (sitting on stairs = ow).

In other news: inspired by Anna Garforth, I've been collecting various species of moss.  I don't like the idea of using a blender to propagate it, as many "recipes" online call for, so we'll see if I can get it to grow without that.  The method so far: quarter-sized moss pieces in sugar water.  I might add buttermilk--we'll see. (Unless N throws them out the window.)

In other other news: I got a new computer at the office.  Given that it's a shiny-shiny iMac, it makes me want to redecorate the office.  I imagine a minimalist look (all papers, pens, etc. being put away) and having a few nice decorative things: a sheepskin rug, a single-stem white orchid, and a huge 4'x4' painting of a pastel sky with an eight inch wide white frame.  I can do this fairly economically, especially if I make and frame the painting myself, but there are still several problems with doing this, most of them stemming from the fact that doing so would be very atypical behavior for someone in my office.  It might be viewed as excessive or simply odd, and I might feel guilty for caring about my environment.  In our office of five, nobody really has anything personal at their desks.  Well...here's to change!

20110909

at the end of the week


I almost wish it were a headache; at least that way I could take an ibuprofen and be done with it.  Instead, there’s a dull ache in my jaw from a set of teeth that would churn the world into butter overnight, if they had the chance.  The idea is to keep eating pretzels until it goes away, but it might not be as simple as that.  These pearly whites, or at least chocolate-stained creams, also set themselves against a deck of psychological desires, and not least of all the desire for purpose.  There are no pretzels for that. 

So I sit at the window and lust for the past.  I certainly don’t have enough money to create such a fantasy for myself--an elaborate historical reenactment--but nor do I have so little as to be driven to action by need; there’s an odd blessing in poverty. Sometimes it feels like the entire world is static, frozen in one moment for all time, and everyone reaching simultaneously, no one satisfied.  But then I emerge from my narrow view as if God pressed the play button in my brain, only to realize that it’s not one moment but several, playing indefinitely, over and over again.  I could probably make some kind of connection to the frame rate of this eternal moving picture, but the analogy is stretched already and I need to sweep up the pile of salt that has accumulated.

What I would really love is a farm: acres and acres for fruit trees, vegetables, and flowers; chickens, waterfowl, and sheep.  (I’d still import my chocolate, vanilla, and sugar; there’s only so much you can do on your own.)  I’d love to wear wool and make wooden furniture; bake bread and press cheese.  I want to do it now, I don’t want to wait until I’m no longer able physically.  But I won’t be financially able for a while.  Owning land is no trivial business, it seems.  I also want to go to grad school.  I love what I’m studying.  Is it odd to want to be two different people at once?  Don’t tell me, I know I need to find the balance between the two. But I'll keeping coming back to the impossible dream and repeating myself as long as the balance is still off.

deep breath

Alright, now that that’s out of my system, I can go clean the house.  Maybe I was just trying to find the motivation to do that. It's all just a mind game sometimes. The whole lot of it.

tomatillos on parade

Lots of tomatillos coming in from the garden, including one of the biggest ones I've ever seen.


20110906

glass worth shattering?

BBC listed 10 glass ceilings yet to be shattered, and while many of the positions listed were important and worth breaking, I wouldn't really consider others particularly worthy of note.  Being the head writer for The Simpsons, for example is something incredibly specific: if we have to stretch that far to identify glass ceilings, I think it's a sign of good progress.  That said, I'd still like to see 1:1 salaries for men and women of equal ability.

Boys and Girls and God

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the LDS Faith in God handbook for boys and for girls.  I've marked stuff that appears in the boy manual in blue and the girl manual in red.  The boy manual had some typos that I didn't include.  I'm a little torn: if women can't have the priesthood, is it nicer to make a separate manual so you don't have to see the differences, or does that cause a bigger rift between the genders?  I can see it go either way; on the one hand separation allows each gender to be strengthened as much as possible...there's something to be said for forgetting about issues until they essentially disappear.  On the other hand, separation perpetuates the problem of inequality; if we have to deal with it, it might get fixed faster.

Entertain young children with songs or games you have learned or made yourself. Show that you know how to care for and protect/nurture a young child.  Saw that one comin'.

Learn how to budget and save money. Discuss why it is important to faithfully pay our tithing and how Heavenly Father blesses us when we do (see 3 Nephi 24:10–11). Pay your tithing and begin saving for a mission/an education.  I'm glad it's not a hope chest for the girls.  In all seriousness, though, this seems a little unfair to the guys.  Were we not moving away from the mentality that every man must serve a mission?

“The Priesthood of Aaron … is an appendage to the greater, or the Melchizedek Priesthood, and has power in administering outward ordinances.”/“Stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come.”

Complete the following activities while you are 11 years old. They will help you prepare to receive the Aaronic Priesthood and become a righteous young man/to become a righteous young woman and to participate in the Young Women Personal Progress program.  Calling first, little gents.

Learn about the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood (see D&C 13,D&C 107:20, and Joseph Smith—History 1:68–73).

After studying the thirteenth article of faith, make a list of things that are uplifting and virtuous. Discuss with a parent or leader how you can seek after these things.  Is this just filling in the blank page where the Priesthood stuff goes or is it saying something about differing expectations for the virtue of females?

Read D&C 20:57–60 and Aaronic Priesthood: Fulfilling Our Duty to God [Deacon], page 7. Discuss with a parent or leader the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood and what it means to do your duty to God.

Talk with the Beehive class presidency or a member of the Young Women presidency about the purpose and importance of the Young Women program.

Talk with the deacons quorum presidency about the role of the deacons quorum. Write in your journal how you can serve the Lord as a member of a deacons quorum/you stand for truth and righteousness.  'Cause guys just stand for the Man.

Read D&C 88:77–80, 118 and D&C 130:19. Discuss with a parent or Primary leader how important a good education is and how it can help strengthen you as a priesthood holder in your home and family and in the Church.  Men are strengthened by education.  Women strengthen their families.  Hmm...

Children who complete the requirements in the guidebook can earn the Faith in God Award.   Whatever.

In countries where Scouting is part of the Church program, boys work on Faith in God along with Cub Scouting. Many of the Cub Scout activities can fulfill requirements for the Faith in God Award. Completion of all activities in this guidebook marked with a Œ qualifies a boy for the Scouting Religious Square Knot patch.  This makes some sense.  I mean, I still wish that girls did the scouting stuff, but whatever.

Parents may help their sons and daughters complete the activities in the guidebooks/this guidebook, especially where it is difficult for children to gather for Primary activity days.  Guys can do everything.  Girls can only be girls.

Each year, the bishopric meets with all 11-year-old boys and their parents to help them understand the importance of the priesthood and strengthen their commitment to prepare to receive it. Members of the Primary presidency also attend the meeting.  
We do?  Good to know.

20110903

tiny gratitude list

There are obviously many more wonderful and important things out there, but I was feeling particularly appreciative of the following things this week.

- my mom's old blue bandana, which is wonderfully soft and can keep my hair pulled back for more than eleven seconds
Newman's Own organic pretzels
- HBO's Game of Thrones (I've been trying to get my hands on the first book, but I need to get on the library wait list.  The university doesn't have a copy (I'm trying ILL) and the local library has 5 reservations and 3 copies.  Sigh.)
- my dad's willingness to help out with re-registering the car when I mucked up and didn't renew the registration (it's registered in CA, but we're in NJ, so that's problematic.  And yes, I know we should register it here, but to do so we have to get new DLs and a new title before we can register it, and then we'll likely change address in two years.  Double sigh.)
- a functional laptop charger (finally ordered a replacement after the old one was borderline functional for many moons)

20110902

shorter days

I present to you a bouquet of late summer wildflowers harvested from the weeds that have been choking the garden all season.  It's dual-purpose: beautifying our home and preventing proliferation.


I also harvested a bunch of marigold seed pods today and am breaking them to dry--there's a lot of them, so I'm doing it in batches.  I'm not betting on anything, though, since they were likely hybrids.  Even if I get one more season out of them, I doubt I'll be abe to get a steady strain, but here's to hoping!  Maybe next year I'll be able to try my hand at saving vegetable seeds.

20110831

campus tour

I'm starting my first semester of grad school this fall. I've been living on campus for a year and did a lot of my paperwork with the early arrival group, since I was already, you know, here. Today, I got an email which read:
Dear Graduate Student,
The Graduate School is planning an in-depth Orientation for incoming students, which will include campus tours for graduate students. We would like graduate students to lead the tours to give students a perspective from another graduate student. We will provide basic guidelines on sites to visit, but students are free to personalize the tour based on their experiences. The tours will be <time details>, and will begin and end at <location details>. If you are interested in volunteering to help out your fellow students, please contact me by email to sign-up.
We sincerely appreciate your help in welcoming the new graduate students to campus!
Thank you,
<name>
I found this thoroughly amusing and began to narrate possible tours that I could give to myself.

Welcome! We're going to start at that Lawrence Apartment complex, since that's where you live. You sleep, cook, and hang out with your husband here. You have a garden that's in a state of late-summer post-hurricane decay. There might be some tomatillos left to harvest, since they can survive nuclear apoclypse. Anyway, Lawrence. It's lovely. Moving on.

Now we'll skip on over to the CS Building since that ranks #2 in the time that you spend there. This is your office, which smells a little off. Maybe they'll put your name outside the door eventually, I don't know. These are offices for relevant people, like your advisor and group mates. These other places are where you have meetings, reading group, and classes. They're fun, I promise. And finally the tea room and the mail room, where you don't have a mailbox yet. Patience, little one.

Off in that direction you can find food. Your husband works over there, across the street. The Engineering library is over there, and Firestone is way off in that direction. You can take out novels and Russian history books there. Have fun with that.

This is the health center; everyone is pretty awesome here. The gym is this way, but you hate going there. The only thing you use it for is the squash courts and the pool, which has far too many people in it, except for the times you're not supposed to be there.

I think that pretty much sums it up. Wasn't that fun?  I'm going to go take a nap now, okay?

20110830

in the dark

the power is out
(it's easily said)
and this time
the danger bears
fruit like teeth

it's laughable really
the number of times
i've already made mention
this one thing
splintered a million ways

well at least
i'm glad i didn't
go shopping
for groceries



Finger snaps, everyone!

20110829

surveying

Yesterday, N and I went about surveying the flooding damage.  Here are some pictures.

 Once upon a time, this was a bridge over the canal.  Note the stuck car in the background.

 This used to be a road, now it's knee-deep in water about 100 ft from where I stood for this picture.  I walked through it too and my galoshes were rendered totally useless.

 Barricading the bridge.

 A few days prior to the storm, we went kayaking on the canal with my brother.  Then, we passed under this bridge easily.  Now, a toy boat would get knocked over in the attempt to pass.

20110828

a'ight, Gaia

Mother Earth, you and I need to have a sit-down.  An earthquake, hurricane, and tornado in one week?  Is there something on your mind?  Did I do something wrong?  Can you spread out the love a bit in the future?  ...I promise I'll be better at composting.

Meanwhile, as expected, the hurricane damage is minimal here.  The roads are plastered with leaves and meter-long sticks, but not much else.  There wasn't even too much lightening last night.  I slept pretty well except for the half hour we spent in the bathroom due to the tornado warning at around 3am.  That was fun.  It's still raining, but it's lessened greatly.

Church is canceled though, so what to do with the morning?  (or what's left of it...)

20110827

welcome to the system

I've been teaching the "Sunbeams" class at church--the three-going-on-four-year-olds.  The kids are adorable and the lessons are wonderful: "I am thankful for my eyes," "I am thankful for my home," "I love my family," "I can say I'm sorry," etc..  But no more.

I was recently called to be in the Primary Presidency, which was kind of surprising, given that I'm more comfortable with middle-schoolers than eight-year-olds.  I can't tell if it was a surprise for the President herself, but speculation on that front leads only to negative places.  Regardless, somebody's decided that I need to be elbow-deep in church: N and I are working at the temple once a month and I'm still a VT supervisor for the Relief Society.  Have I mentioned that N and I just chaired a service project too?

The more bureaucracy I see, the more I want to change.  For example, on the service project, I got a fair number of emails, probably about half of which concerned publicity.  Not publicity as in getting the word out to up the number of volunteers, but publicity as in can you give us a quote for this newspaper article? or can you read this statement from the governor of New Jersey at the event?  No, was usually my answer.  Especially when reading the statement from the governor would be patting ourselves on the back in front of those who we were serving.  We'd be telling adults in a group home that they were a service project.  Yeah, not gunna happen.

And now I'm in Primary.  Recently there was a lesson in modesty and they talked about how we should keep our shoulders covered.  To kids aged three to eight.  Several of whom were wearing sun dresses without sleeves.  I told one afterward that I liked her dress, and she shamefully replied that she had left the jacket at home.  I told her it was okay, but I don't think it sunk in.  I don't feel good about passing on some aspects of the culture to kids so young.  I don't want their bodies sexualized or them to feel that kind of shame at seven.

I'm supposed to be in charge of the Primary program coming up in October.  One of the songs I take issue with: The Lord Gave Me a Temple, to be sung sweetly.  It seems wrong to have kids singing about being "clean and pure and habit-free."  Ugh.  I get shivers.  We aren't open enough to say we're talking about sexuality, drugs, etc. for kids, and so we use these vague terms, which frankly makes it really creepy.  Another nit: reading your scriptures is a habit.  So there.

As long as I'm ranting, Mormons say "I know ___ is true," a whole heckavulot.  The scriptures, the gospel, the church, whatever else.  What does it mean that the scripture are true?  Does it mean that they're literally true?  Does it mean that they're inspired?  Does it mean that they exist?  If the church is true, does it mean that other churches can't be "true" too?  Again with rampant ambiguity.

Finally, I've been in a whirl of streamlining my life.  I've become pretty efficient in general, but I'm now using the GTD system and taking it up a notch.  Given that context, almost everything systematic in Primary is grossly inefficient, to the point where it might be twitch-activating.  What I really need to do is focus on the wonderful people I'm serving with and try and feel their concern for the kids, which is where the real beauty lies.

On some level, I need to stop worrying about being right and start worrying about being good and loving.  I don't need to come up with a way fix everything I see.  I do need to make sure those that I interact with are treated respectfully and with love.  It doesn't matter that I'm recycling almost every piece of paper that's passed my way (in favor of digital copies I've requested from the fabulous secretary).  What matters is that we're there for the kids.  I'll do my best to teach what and how I think is best, and I have to trust everyone else to do the same.

blackout bread

Last night I was feeling a little adventurous, and given that we might be experience a blackout this weekend, I decided to make some bread that would hold us over if anything happened (our stove is electric).  I concocted a yeast bread (yeast, warm water, honey, flour, salt) with grated carrots, pecans, and rolled oats for texture, taste, and nutritional balance.  I then rubbed the outside with honey, ground nutmeg, and salt and let it rise.  Right before baking I added some grated gruyère to the top.

Man, it was so good that we've gone through half the loaf as of this morning.  I'm letting a second batch with zucchini and almonds rise as I type.  The veggies keep it really moist and the cheese adds a wonderful flavor, especially paired with nutmeg and honey.

I don't have the exact amounts/proportions of everything, since I was kind of winging it, but the ordering is pretty intuitive: mix the yeast (5g?) in warm water (~1 cup) and honey (2 T?) in a large bowl, let it bubble.  To this mixture, add grated veggies (4 sizable carrots or 2 medium/small zucchini), oats (~2 c), salt, nuts, and mix thoroughly.  Add flour and mix until everything is fairly well coated in flour.  Kneed and add flour as needed.  This is trickier than regular bread dough because of the moisture in the veggies--add flour slowly.  You can let the dough rest a little (15 min) before shaping, or just do it directly; I chose long loafs.  Rub in honey, nutmeg, and salt into crust and let rise 1-2 hrs.  Top with grated cheese and bake at 350 until cheese darkens.  Let cool and devour.

Also wik: we found a friend outside our window today.  Red-tailed hawk?  N thinks it might be a beaver.  

20110826

turning into a caricature

I just realized I'm turning into Maureen from Girls with Slingshots.  I blog, wear cardigans all the time, and now have her haircut.  I'm happily married, use a Mac (on that count, she's turning into me), and use a wrist brace from time to time.  All I need is the glasses to complete the look, and I was recently considering getting a new pair.  Maybe I'll stick with the contacts.

first and second

The earthquake earlier this week was strange enough, but now there's a hurricane on the way.  It's the END OF DAYS.  Ironically or not, the Christian-type station I've been listening to on the radio has been all about relaxing and being prepared physically and has totally abstained from any kind of apocalyptic rhetoric, which I find refreshing.  I'm trying to finish up the sewing-machine-dependent part of my quilt so that in the event that the power goes out, I'll have something to do (hand-finishing the edges).  When it comes to other emergency preparations, I'm not worried: our camping/backpacking gear will cover us easily for a week; light, cooking, and water included.  N says that there's a 5% chance that anything bad will actually happen; where he pulled that number from, I have no idea.  Frankly, I'm a little excited for the storm.

20110823

Shakin'

My oh my.  I move from California out east, and I still can't escape earthquakes; we just had one under a half hour ago.  It lasted only a few seconds...maybe ten.  And I thought the shaking was related to the construction on our building, until I heard the workers talking outside.  It was pretty small, but to hear the folks talk, doomsday's-a-comin'.  Best be prepared, and all.

20110817

new notebook

I have a tiny little red notebook that has been a lot of places and held a lot of information, but now only has half a leaf of empty space.  It's basically this, with lined paper.  I went to Labyrinth on Tuesday since they're a listed vendor for that brand, and ended up getting something a little bigger than my old one: a small flexible notebook with 300 plain pages, also in red.  It won't be quite as easy to lug about, but my old one was a touch cramped at times.  I don't like the new cover material as much (it doesn't feel as nice), but that's okay.

Since I'd rather not keep the old one around (more clutter), I'm trying to digitalize anything interesting.  In doing so, I discovered a page that reads as follows.

JMT - Day 1 got permits early, started late afternoon got into camp at dark, stayed at half dome hiker's campground.  day 2 made it to sunset camped a little past 130 mosquito bites kept going w/ no breaks once we hit the mosquitos.  day 3 thunderstormy. got to lyle canyon  day 4 more thunderstorms had to pitch tent to wait it out camped just before Donahue pass  day 5 lots of lakes

Not so bad for one little page.  I gave up on journaling the JMT and the next ten pages are fill with brainstorming for foodstuffs--everything from cafe menu ideas to dinner parties, muffins to salads, simple dinners to homestead productions, ravioli fillings to cookies.  I obviously was not pleased with the backpacking food and needed something to obsess about as I hiked.  Good times.

I think I'm going to try and do this more incrementally for my new notebook: when a page no longer contains unique information to be revisited, I'll draw a slash across it.  We'll see how it works.  This is all part of a larger scheme to get more organized.

elements

It's rare that I encounter a restaurant that I love. Usually the food is good, but I can make it at home for less cost and equal satisfaction. I might never master some ethnic cuisines, but I've come up with good enough approximations for many of them. Going out for food is more experiential: a time to be with people and not worry about preparing a meal.

Last night, however, my parents took us out to elements, a local restaurant I may have heard of before we went--the name tugged at the fringes of my mind. I loved it. It was, of course, experientially pleasing, but not only because I was with good company. You could tell that the chef/owner was meticulous in his attention to detail, from food to decor. It was the food, though, that made my night.

First they started us off with some artisan breads. And not just the kind of "artisan" where they tack on the label half-heartedly. There was focaccia with three distinct seasonings/colorings/toppings; smooth, thin, crisp bread sticks; swirled bread sticks with a flaky pastry texture; rich, whole-grain rye bread; and small, spherical whole-grain rolls with a honey glaze on top. I could have eaten just the bread and been more than satisfied for the night.

Then they brought out a taster plate for each of us--this was on the house, simply to tantalize us. Some of us got a fried seafood something with dry seaweed shreds over raw scallions/onion with the tiniest little tomatoes I've ever seen. Others got a spoonful of cold, smooth potato soup; a tiny slice of toast with a dollop of some of the best guacamole I've ever had; and a quarter-sized pastry disk with roasted red bell peppers and a dab of goat cheese on top. At this point, I was already sold forever.

I ordered a salad, or "a composed salad," as it was titled in the menu. There was a creamy peachy base, and then goat cheese, hazelnut, Mangalitsa jamon, finely squared peaches, barley, and a poppyseed sponge cake all arranged beautifully on a long, thin slate-like plate. My dad got a melon soup (with those tiny tomatoes again for garnish).  It also had a very mild, refreshing something with an almost ginger-like taste.  My brother a garden salad.  Pfah! Garden salad, you say? Which happened to include vegetable purees, Mangalitsa lardo, and pepato cheese.  I don't even know how to pronounce those.  My mom ordered something wonderful that I can't remember, and N got an eggplant soup with tapioca pearls and a kick to knock your socks off.

Then there were the entrees.  I don't need to itemize everything we got, but suffice it to say that we all tried each others meals and everyone was impressed all around.  I do have to mention that N had fried broccoli (that wasn't greasy) to accompany his dish, which was spectacular.  There was also dessert--a sharp, soft cheese with tomato puree and corn and toast; and then a more traditional chocolate mousse.  Did I mention that everything was well-portioned so that we didn't feel bloated afterward?  There was also a good presence of veggies--all of the dishes were nicely balanced.

I made a special request of N that this be our "special place," or at least my special place.  Love.

20110815

and then stepping forward

Setting a recreational internet time daily limit of ten minutes didn't last long--maybe a day or two--but it was enough to push me in the right direction.  I now have a limit set to 30 minutes a day, which I rarely hit, partially because there's just a lot going on right now.

On the productivity vein, I've started reading GTD and using the free trial of OmniFocus, which is working really well for me.  I like the concept of putting information somewhere that's not in your brain so you can focus on the current context.  I tend to waste a lot of time flitting between contexts, so this is very useful.  My productivity is already ramping up, or at least it feels that way.  I'm not a GTD cult follower yet, but I might get there.

20110813

google recipes and as close as it gets to a makeover

N was describing tortilla espanola to me, which was a little silly because I've had it before, but so it goes.  Anyway, he googled "tortilla espanola" to find that there are recipe selection options in google now.  For this search, it suggests chives, potatoes, etc., and give cook time options, calorie count options, and suggestions for related foods.  I don't know how well it works yet, but it seems promising.

In other news, I cut off about 13-15 inches of hair, which was a tough choice, but much needed.  The long hair was getting to be more trouble than it was worth, and this is the first new hairstyle I've had since I decided to grow out my bangs in the second grade.  Heavens, some change comes slow.  Now all I need to do is replace the glasses I've had since the fifth grade, and that'll be as close as it gets to giving myself a makeover.  Back to the hair, I'd like it a couple inches longer eventually, but in the short term, this style is forcing me to not pull it back constantly, which may have been damaging it.  I also have zero split ends, which is a novelty.

Here are some low-quality bathroom before and after shots.  Don't be fooled by the mild curls in the left one; they aren't natural.


Otherwise life has been busy, per usual.  There was the wedding in DC, with all sorts of romping about. Then my family took us to see Spiderman on broadway, which was spectacular, though in some ways it was more like a loud, showy concert than a musical.  And then the family will be in town a bit longer, so more good times to come.