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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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


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 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,'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.