03 March 2009

When in Prague...

What do I do?!? I am going to Prague in less than two weeks! Crazy. I don't know what to expect, but I know it will be awesome. What kind of shoes should I wear?

16 December 2008

A song to usher in the next 5 months of winter

Yesterday's "Feels like -28 degrees," coupled with the never-ending finals week, deserves a lovely song and a mug of hot chocolate for some respite.

Fleet Foxes' "White Winter Hymnal"...totally in love w/ this album right now...and the video has claymation!

14 December 2008

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot

S`io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question...
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening.
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains.
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys.
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me.
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair--
[They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!"]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin--
[They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!"]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all--
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all--
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
. . . . .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? . . .

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
. . . . .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep. . . tired . . . or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet--and here's no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"--
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: "That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all."

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor--
And this, and so much more?--
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow, or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
"That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all."
. . . . .
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

02 October 2008

power struggles

Pretty regularly, I have an existential crisis over whether I should go into a research career, whether I should enter academia. "Am I cut out for this?" I've always thought that to do well in academia, you have to have a certain amount of narcissism. Maybe not to megalomanic proportions, but let's face it...you have to think that you have something unique to contribute to a field. As a teacher, you have to think that you have transformative potential. There is always a certain amount of power in these positions, especially given the power of the academic institution.

Who the hell am I to think that I have something unique to say or do? What the heck do I know about ANYTHING? I really feel that I am fundamentally more a student than a teacher. A lot of it has to do with a lack of confidence and self-efficacy. I'm just a young woman in her mid-twenties who grew up in a middle class predominantly-White suburb, and for the most part, I've lived a somewhat insulated, privileged life. Sure, I've had some struggles coming from an immigrant family; my parents have sacrificed a lot. But for the most part, I've been able to do everything that I wanted to. I think about how I wouldn't be here today if I didn't have these privileges, if I didn't know the right people. From one perspective, there's a major attack of the Impostor Monster going on. 

From another perspective, there might be something dissonant between the highly competitive, individualistic culture of academia and my own socialization. Growing up, I was taught, "You really don't know anything." Call it fucked up family dynamics (In hindsight, I also see it as an intergenerational conflict between parent-child as my parents found themselves usurped of their power, knowing less than their U.S.-born children). But perhaps there is a cultural component, the value of being humble and blending into the crowd, respecting authority. These are all values that Filipinos (and I believe other cultures) prize. 

How could I have the audacity to think that I'm somehow special? That my ideas are better than anyone else's? In graduate school, I'm told that the best way to learn things is to basically lock myself in a room with my books, a computer, and JUST DO IT (which by the way is completely against my learning style, which requires more active, even kinesthetic modalities). The message is that I should do all that I need to do to "get ahead" which connotes competition over collaboration, not to mention sacrificing any semblance of a balanced family and personal life.  

I am not a power-tripping kind of person, and I really hate dealing with power-tripping people. Arrogant know-it-alls make me want to pull my hair out. Yet, I'm non-confrontational and when asked to defend myself or my ideas on the spot, I become flustered and shut down. Or I acknowledge the valid points of the other side and end up looking like I have no resolve.

So much of this is second nature to me. I would rather work together with others, each mutually respecting the perspective that we bring to the situation. Operating in this system that is so different from who I am as a student and as a person brings me full circle to the question: "Am I cut out for this?" Maybe the question should not be if I am cut out for a system that reinforces traditionally White, individualistic norms. Because I will almost always come up with the answer of "No." Maybe I need to reframe the situation and ask how my work and professional career can make changes in the system and the culture. After all, I am in grad school not just for status or to make my parents proud, but I want to somehow take my family and life experiences and channel them into something good for my community. So maybe that means making the system and the culture work for me and my community.

What I think needs to happen is:

A) Develop strategies for overcoming both the individual level challenges (increase self-efficacy through mentoring, increasing opportunities for leadership and professional development, etc) and the structural barriers posed by the institution of academia.

B) Find other allies within graduate school/academia who feel similarly oppressed and devalued. Dialog. Collaborate. Change the culture. 

- or- 

C) Give up and marry rich.

16 September 2008

Adventures in Cake Decorating

Last December, I was at home in BG and helping my mom clean out the kitchen pantry. I came across a nasty water-stained and moldy box of her supplies from when she took the very same class in 1986 (see pic, lower right). Though I had passed by that box so many times growing up, I hadn't really given thought to the fact that she never used it anymore. Since I had also started to take up cupcake baking last year, I thought...hmm, maybe I should take this to the next level. So my mom gladly gave me all her supplies, and flash forward to now when I finally got my butt to sign up for a class at the Michael's in Richfield. The class meets 4 times, once a week for two hours. It was also on sale for 50% off and at $20, I figured...not bad. Especially if this can help my not-so-secret wish to sell my cupcakes as a side gig in graduate school (seriously, email me for your small events).

On the first class, we learned the very basics. How to level/torte a cake (this tool is pretty awesome and totally worth the $3); how to make the buttercream frosting and the different consistencies (i.e., stiff, medium, and thin; different designs call for diff consistencies); how to frost a cake; and some other essentials.  I just came back from my second class where we learned how to do stars, borders, dots, and writing (mine is really bad right now....so I decided to leave it for another cake). That all might sound pretty elementary, but it's a lot harder than it sounds. They're not kidding when they say that you have to practice this stuff. As part of the practice, we had to bring in a cake that was frosted and work on a design. What I came up with was pretty plain because I have so much work to do for school...but hopefully I'll get better with practice.  And my lucky friends, classmates, and roommates get to eat all that cake! 

Some lessons learned:
- Consistency of frosting is key.  Meringue powder in buttercream helps it to set so that it holds shape better.
- Practice, practice, practice. We'll see if I can hone my skills effectively with my crazy schedule and short attention span.
- Exorbitant prices for cakes (save for CostCo, those prices boggle my mind) are pretty much warranted. This is a time-consuming, detail-oriented endeavor!

27 August 2008

Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters

Watching all the speeches on the DNC, I keep hearing about the old story of getting knocked down by life and getting back up again, pulling one's self up by their bootstraps and not complaining about it. It makes sense; resilience and the redemptive self are very important parts of the narrative of the American Dream (a concept I continue to find problematic, but that's another issue for another post...). For me, some of the most compelling narratives involve overcoming what can be the most insidious force in life: one's self.  

This is super nerdy, but I always think about this recurring quote from one of my new favorite tv shows, Battlestar Galactica: "God helps those who help themselves." I used to have a professor at TC who shared poems with us, and one day she gave us the following poem that resonates with this theme. The poem talks about having the self-awareness to recognize the reality of the situation, the humility to admit your own mistakes, and the fortitude to change your behavior as a result.  Many days, I feel like I'm on Chapter 2, maybe 3, but I like to think that I'm on the way to Chapter 5.

Autobiography in 5 Chapters
by Portia Nelson

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost...I am hopeless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But still, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.
I still fall in...It's a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

08 August 2008

Farmer's Market Find: Kohlrabi

In an attempt to 1) be healthier, 2) be more frugal, 3) support local agriculture, and 4) be more adventurous in my cooking and eating, I decided that every time I go to the Farmer's Market, I will buy one type of produce that I have little to no experience with. One of the first things that I tackled was kohlrabi., whose name comes from the German words kohl - meaning "cabbage" - and rabi meaning "turnip."  Around here, its peak season is late spring to early summer, and it comes in both green and purple varieties. If you've ever seen this at all (I hadn't before this summer), you might be used to seeing this cousin of the cabbage without its green leaves, leaving behind a sputnik-shaped root. 

If you are like me, it's always exciting when you can get more bang for your buck with two or more preparations out of a single item. Try to find kohlrabi with unwilted green leaves intact (same goes for beets, to be profiled soon). The leaves can be prepared just as you would any leafy greens such as swiss chard or kale.  I thought that I'd do some thing a little different than a plain braise or sautee, and I was looking to use up some miscellaneous veggies I had in the fridge. I was inspired by kohlrabi's cabbage roots (get it, like origins...except it is a root...hmm, maybe not such a good pun) and decided to use the kohlrabi greens as a substitute for cabbage in pancit guisado  (Filipino pan-fried noodles). This is a pretty easy dish to throw together with whatever veggies you have on hand that will give some texture and color appeal. Traditionally, it's got cabbage, carrots, beans or snow peas. My measurements are inexact because I literally threw this together. But I'll do my best to give you a ballpark recipe (see the end of this post).
As for the kohlrabi bulb, this can be eaten and prepared as you would broccoli stems or radishes. The crisp texture and flavor is similar, even a bit sweeter. Recipes I came across suggested eating them raw in salads or slaws, steamed, pickled, or boiled. I decided to improvise a curry flavored slaw, adapting a recipe for a yogurt-based slaw.  In the interest of trying to be healthy, I used lowfat yogurt as a dressing. But I'm sure you could use full-fat yogurt or mayonnaise and it'd probably be a tad more tasty.

Overall, I'd say that despite lacking robust flavor, I do quite enjoy the crisp, clean texture of raw kohlrabi root. It's something I could snack on by itself. Save for the fiber in the root, the leafy greens seem to be where the nutrition is at. The kohlrabi was pretty cheap at the Market ($1 for a bunch of 3) and generated quite a quantity of food, so it is a good bargain. I just might buy some again in the future. At the very least, I would be able to introduce some friends to a new veggie!

Pancit Guisado
Serves 8ish
  • 2 chicken breasts, cut into 1-2 inch slices
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2-3 carrots, julienned
  • 2 cups green beans, sliced at an angle in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced at an angle in 1/8 inch pieces
  • 3 stalks green onion, sliced at an angle in 1-2 inch pieces
  • 3 cups kohlrabi greens (or cabbage), sliced at an angle in 1/2 inch pieces 
  • 1 package rice stick noodles (Filipinos like the brand called Excellent; try to find the kind that are made from rice flour, not cornstarch...which can get mushy)
  • 1-2 cans chicken broth (optional)
  • Soy sauce, oyster sauce to taste
  • Salt, pepper, garlic powder
  • Olive oil
  • Annatto seed powder (optional, I didn't use it in this pic)
1) Soak the rice stick noodles in warm water for about 5 minutes to get them pliable. Drain and set aside.
2) In a large pan (like a wok), saute the garlic, then the onions in 2 T or so oil.
3) Add chicken. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and 1 T. oyster sauce.
4) Saute green beans, carrots, celery, and kohlrabi greens/cabbage. You want the veggies to be crisp and slightly undercooked because they will continue to cook in the next steps. If you feel that they're too done, then remove them from the pan and set aside.
5) Add the rice noodles, which should still be a little tough and cooked more after adding chicken broth (water with chicken boullion will do in a pinch), 1/2-1 cup at a time. You're trying to cook the noodles and get them to a consistency that is pliable but not mushy/overcooked. 
6) If you took out the veggies/chicken mixture, return it to the noodles. Add green onions. Season the mixture with soy sauce and oyster sauce. Annatto seed can be dissolved in some water and added to this to give it a nice pale orange color (more appetizing).

Curry Yogurt Kohlrabi Slaw
Makes about 4 cups slaw
  • 3 kohlrabi bulbs, peeled and julienned
  • 1 large to medium carrot, julienned
  • 1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3/4-1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 T. curry powder
  • 1-2 T. cider vinegar
  • 1/2 T. sugar
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnut
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • Salt and pepper
Mix together kohlrabi, carrot, onion. Season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, mix yogurt with curry powder. Add vinegar and sugar. Taste and adjust accordingly. Add yogurt mixture to veggies. Add raisins, walnuts, and cilantro. Toss until all ingredients are well combined. Warning: yogurt dressings will get watery when left alone. So you might have to drain before serving.