Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rhode Trip

Rhode Island. It's such a funny little state. K and I will be there this weekend to visit the wonderful M, my former roommate and (more privately) interpretive dance partner.

I've visited her before, including once this February when I combined a work trip to Boston with a two-day stay at M's parents' home in Providence. A couple of weeks later, M lost her mother to complications from a surgery that was not expected to be life-threatening.

So this visit will be different. The goal is to show M a good time, though knowing her she will already have grand plans laid out for us by the time we arrive. Heaven forbid that she just relax and not worry about it.

On Saturday K and I are going to pull for a visit to a winery for a tasting. That would be a first for me. I still associate wine tastings with old, rich, fancy white people. By those criteria, I score only 1 out of 4. But I can go to a tasting too, darn it. I think we would all enjoy that. Let's just hope that one of us doesn't get really drunk, have an emotional outburst and go storming through the vineyards, like Miles in Sideways.

The wine tasting, therefore, will be my formal newbie of the week. Less officially, I've never had the chance to talk to such a close friend my own age about losing a parent before. This is the first time for that type of loss. I really want to ask M what it is like and how she is dealing or not dealing with it. I want to know if the ground still feels solid under her feet, or more like the shifting rubble of a bombed-out building.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Time Well Spent

For Learning to Love You More assignment #35, I asked my family to describe what I do with my time. Three of my favorite people ever rose to the challenge, and they did an excellent job - gold stars all around. I found it hilarious how each of them expressed worry that they would either not do it right ("Do I have to write this in third person?"), or that they did not have enough information to produce a very accurate description. It is strange how little we sometimes know about the mundane, day-in-day-out activities of our important ones. I think we tend to see them in terms of how they impact our own lives and as who they are to us as whole people, not necessarily defined by the details of what they typically choose to do with their free time or what do you actually do at work, anyway? Especially when you live, as I do, far away from your family, they really only know whatever you choose (consciously or unconsciously) to tell them.

This assignment certainly fit into the category of something I'd never done before, and it was fun to read the responses I got. It is admittedly a bit of a narcissistic exercise, but I would recommend it! Here are my responses, in the order I received them:

My Dad
Hi A,
This is what I think you do with your time. (I'm kind of embarrassed that I don't know better)

Your work days probably start at about 7am, with a shower, a cup of coffee, and a quick breakfast, like a bagel or a bowl of cereal. By about 8am, you're out the door and walking/riding the bus downtown, unless you got your bike replaced. You arrive at your office just before 9am, probably get yourself another cup of coffee, and settle in at your desk. You spend your day answering calls from clients, and researching whatever the current projects are. (I'm rather clueless here). You go out for lunch with a co-worker or two, and then it's back to more of the same at the office until 5pm. The bus takes you back to your neighborhood, and you go to the gym to work out for about an hour. It's about seven when you walk in the door and smell K's dinner. A pleasant little hug and kiss from your mate, and you sit down to eat. After dinner, you take care of the dishes, then sit down to check your e-mail, blog, whatever on the PC. I would think you check the day's news headlines also. Next, you settle down on the couch with the K and watch a movie, that is if there's no football on the television. On football nights you probably retire to the room farthest away from the TV room, and get some studying done. I really have not talked to you about the going back to school thing, so I don't know how and where you fit the classes and studies into your day. When K goes to bed early to go to work in the middle of the night, you probably do some homework while he sleeps. You would go to bed about midnight.

On weekends I suspect you guys stay in bed until 10 or 11, unless you have something special planned. Then you get up, have breakfast, and get your laundry started. In the afternoon I expect you would go for a walk or a bike ride. Possibly a little shopping, and then dinner out. You probably walk to a cozy place close to home, so you don't have to worry about having a drink or two. I'm sure you do some reading for pleasure, and you're pretty good about staying in touch with your siblings. I can't come up with much more A, I better call you so you can tell me more about your life. Love you lots!

My Brother
Disclaimer : We don't talk enough, I don't know much about your job, but your awesome and I love you so I'm doing the "assignment" anyways.

In general A is a very happy person; trying to enjoy the simple things in life she often finds herself smiling during her daily routine. Waking up next to a man she loves and working a job she finds at least somewhat rewarding help her stay positive. She spends time commuting to and from work everyday which she does not particularly like, but understands this is simply the price she must pay in order to live in a big city (which she must enjoy... DC-NYC-Chicago). After work A likes to exercise, which she does in a number of ways; riding her bike (until it was stolen), going to the gym, and playing kickball are some of her favorites. I would guess she wants to exercise 5 times a week, but only manages an average of 3. A also spends a large portion of her time at home. Some of her favorite and most time consuming activities include reading and watching movies. Since she subscribes to netflix she probably watches 2-3 movies a week and spends more time on that than reading. A also enjoys home cooked dinners, usually prepared by her boyfriend K, on average 5 times a week. On the off nights they either order in (some sort of asian cuisine or pizza) or go out together for a dinner at a "sit-down" restuarant. Some of A's less time consuming interests include video games (wii), watching tv (daily show), shopping at the local stores (within walking distance), and browsing the internet. A also spends some time every week doing household chores such as buying groceries, taking out the trash, sweeping, and cleaning. Overall A tries to keep herself relatively busy, but always manages to make time for her boyfriend K, who in turn helps keep A the smiling, happy-go-lucky, energetic person she is today.

My Cousin M
(click the image to bring up a bigger, more legible version)

Friday, August 21, 2009

LTLYM #35: Ask your family to describe what you do

It's about time for another LTLYM assignment! Next up is #35: Ask your family to describe what you do. The instructions are:
Ask three family members to write down a description of what it is they think you do with your time. Ask them to try to think about how you live your life and what are your main activites and interests. They could give a particular example of something you are doing, like "at the moment Susie is building a car, and it is taking up most of her evenings and weekends...," but they should not focus on examples of things you have done in the past. Also you are not asking them to say what they think of what you are doing, but only to describe it in as much detail as they know. Don't let the members of your family compare notes (until the the assignment is complete), and similarly try not to put words into their mouth or tell them what they should write. This can be of any length.
Assignment given by Emma Hedditch
I think this assignment could be very interesting. How will my family members respond to the request? Will they be enthusiastic or will it seem like a chore? How will what they write compare to how I see myself?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Three Letters, or Today's Self-Indulgence

Dear Brett Favre,
Please play well this season and help the Vikings win a lot of games. If you do, K's joy will spread through our apartment, taking hold of all who enter there, and lead him to do nice things such as rub my feet and bring me breakfast in bed.
In spite of your long, dark years as a rival Packer, you have always secretly been one of K's favorite players. Now that you are a Viking, I implore you not to let him down. To that end, please stop chatting it up with the media and start focusing on training with the team.
Good luck and take care of that rotator cuff. Go Vikes!

Dear Face-Slapping Bus Rider,
Please treat your fellow public transportation patrons with a basic level of respect and decency. I was riding the northbound 22 Clark bus to the gym on Sunday, and I witnessed your incredible display of discourtesy. After you boarded, you walked up to a teen-aged boy sitting in the 'priority seating' section and slapped him on the face. When he looked up at you with surprise, you pointed at the wall behind him and shouted, "What does that say?" (For those of you at home, the placard said 'Please stand up for seniors and people with disabilities.') Then, as the boy started to get up to give you the seat, you took out your disability ID card and shoved it inches from his face.
Your behavior was too appalling for words, and I hope it is not typical of your daily interactions with other human beings. Have you read the other placard - the one that says assault and abuse of other passengers are punishable by law?

Dear Citizen Attendees of Town Hall Meetings,
Please stop yelling, screaming, hissing, cheering and booing at town hall meetings. These are not appropriate behaviors at community gatherings that are meant to garner rational discussion about policy and the needs of local constituents.
If you are called on to ask a question, ask a question. A thoughtful question would be even better. Try to remain calm. On some level, I understand your rage and passion - health care is an important issue for all of us. But it is hard to take you even remotely seriously when, as K says, you look like you are "spitting venom with your face."
Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Let's Remember to Pack Our Lunches

In my last post, I laid out my desire to sit down with K and work out a household budget, version 1.0. What I didn't mention was how nervous I was about the whole thing. You see, K has been pretty touchy about money for as long as I can remember. He detests talking or even thinking about money matters.

Part of it is that K made some very stupid financial mistakes when he was younger, and these still occasionally come back to haunt him (us) in a variety of ways, including his still not-so-hot credit score. Just a couple of weeks ago, a collector contacted him regarding cellphone debt he had racked up almost a decade ago.

This has happened a few times with very old debts, and I do not understand what the creditors are thinking when they have let years and years go by without contacting K to ask him to pay his bill and then suddenly come slithering out of the woodwork to present us with this mystery debt. This makes no sense and it shouldn't be allowed to happen this way. Seriously, get real.

So K has made some mistakes, and now, all these years later, I think he is embarrassed by them. When money issues come up, I think he feels guilty and insecure. But instead of saying that to me, his tendency is to get agitated, as if his putting on a bad attitude will make it all just go away. It's all right, K, no one is perfect.

K has gotten slowly but steadily better about being mindful about his (our) finances, especially over the last few years. As I mentioned, he is generally not a frivolous spender, though from time to time he'll still ask a perplexing question like, "Can we get that flat screen tv?"

This week, he was mercifully open to discussing a budget with me, and retained his cool throughout. We used pen and paper to tabulate our expenses and came up with target amounts for each item.

We agree that the stand-out area where we should be able to cut back our spending is food. He loves to cook and we both enjoy eating tasty tasties, but we've let ourselves go in terms of expensive ingredients (that might only be used once), eating out too frequently due to our shared enthusiasm for trying new restaurants, and making too many meals at home so that sometimes we end up having to throw away uneaten leftovers. Up to now, we haven't held ourselves accountable for this unnecessary spending and waste.

For the next two months, we are going to plan our meals and track all the money we spend on food items. Combine this with our other strategies to cut spending (shop around for car insurance, switch cable companies, cancel a couple of subscriptions, etc.), and we hope to have an additional $200/month to pay down our debt. That's nothing to shake a lunchbox at.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Parlez Vous Finance?

Times are tough, and a lot of people seem to be focusing on saving money. The word on the street is that many people even have a - I hope I'm pronouncing this right - 'budget.'

Now, K and I are no high rollers. Far from. Neither are we what I would call frivolous spenders. But we have never actually taken the time to work out a budget. Communication about money matters in our household basically consists of the occasional "We need to be a little thriftier this month" or "Do we really need this?"

This system - or, more accurately, total lack of system - has worked out all right for us so far. We watch our cash flow and try not to spend too much on items that are wants rather than needs, especially when money is tight. But I think we can do better. And it's time to take a long hard look at our money-in, money-out situation for a couple reasons.

First of all, we racked up some debt last year following our move to Chicago. I was unemployed for the first few months, which meant a significant decrease in income no matter how you slice it. We made a few large purchases, most notably a new mattress and a trip to Ireland. Then K's appendix decided to act a fool and he ended up undergoing major surgery topped off by a six-day hospital stay. These things are extremely expensive even for those of us who are lucky enough to have health insurance!

We have been doing a pretty good job paying down our debt, and at this rate should be free of it by early next year. I am looking forward to the day when we can stop worrying about interest and start thinking about building some real savings. That day will probably arrive sooner if we take time now to devise a budget and a plan. So that is the goal for this week. One day, if we decide to participate in any of the crazy expensive activities that so many people get sucked into, like buying a place or having babies, I'm sure we will look back and thank ourselves.

Friday, August 14, 2009


UK Adventure Post #2: K and J's Wedding

The reason for my recent trip to Britain (and by recent I mean holy cow over a month has already passed!) was the wedding of my friend K. I hadn't seen her since we were roommates in Singapore eight years ago. We have done a pretty good job staying in touch through email and (mostly) snail mail, but obviously we were way overdue for a visit, and her wedding provided a perfect excuse.

A brief detour down memory lane:
In Singapore, K and I sometimes walked down the road to the HDBs (public housing) to buy cheap fried rice and drink Tiger beer. We would talk about our friends and teachers, upcoming school breaks and where we hoped to travel. We would commiserate about the difficulties of being so far away from home and family. Sometimes our conversations would last late into the night. I'd lie in the dark in my bed, teeth brushed and contact lenses removed, and talk to her across the room. If there was a long pause K would ask, "Is this the final silence?" and that always made me laugh.

She was a close friend throughout a very formative two-year period of my life. That is why I was so excited to meet her family and friends, and witness the wonderful changes she was going through. As K herself said, "So many big things are happening that I can't even process them really, and I know I'm not processing, so I'm just trying to hold on to everything to process later when I have the time." (These may not have been her exact words, but you get the gist.)

And it was true - in the week leading up to her wedding, there was hardly a spare moment for K to pause and take it all in. Her soon-to-be-husband J ended his job in Glasgow and they were in the process of moving his belongings to her place in London. Their wedding guest list had somehow, in the hands of his parents, ballooned to over 180, and many of these were calling K with various logistical questions. Guests were traveling from across the United Kingdom and 16 other countries to attend her wedding, and some, like me, had been selfish enough to accept her offer to arrange a place to stay (at her place, in my case). Meanwhile, she had to finalize arrangements for a three-week honeymoon, which they would spend bicycling from Kathmandu to Lhasa.

On the day before the wedding, K graduated from King's College Medical School in London, and then went straight to Kent for the wedding rehearsal and dinner. Amidst all this chaos, she took the time to specially thank me for coming: "Just a visit from you, taken by itself, would be like a very huge thing." (These were her exact words. I remember because I was touched.) The wedding itself was the event of the season, or maybe the year. It was held at the stunning farm home of the groom's parents. Here is the tent where they held the ceremony:

Once the vows had been spoken, rings exchanged and kisses cheered, we wiped our eyes and drank of the celebratory champagne. We made our way downfield to the other tent for the reception. A Zimbabwean buffet awaited - yum! The Singapore contingent was seated at the Norway Maple table in recognition of the two and a half Norwegians among us. (I was the half.)

The eighteen tables were each named for one of the eighteen types of trees K and J had planted around the farm at a pre-wedding tree party. The tree plantings were part of the couple's plan to green their big event. Mother nature repaid them with gorgeous weather. Clear skies over the reception tent:

J's maternal aunts and uncles brought personalized paper cut-out flags all the way from Chile. They looked gorgeous!

V and I had a second cup of coffee as the sun went down. We knew we had a full night of dancing ahead of us, to the sounds of an amazing Zimbabwean band called Harare.

A field away from the reception tent, someone lit the largest bonfire I have ever seen. Stand back, dude with camera!

Meanwhile, family members lit sky lanterns like the one pictured below and released them into the sky. They are really beautiful and on a night like this, if you have had a few drinks, maybe even enough to make you cry.

I had never seen sky lanterns before, and a part of me wondered, 'Is it okay to do that?' Apparently, the wax fuel cells inside are designed to burn for about ten minutes. Then, when they extinguish themselves, the lanterns parachute back to earth. The sky lanterns are made entirely of recycled paper and reclaimed bamboo and are fully biodegradable.

Long after the last lantern had been released onto the wind, the band stopped playing and it was time to say good-night. It had been a fantastic day of celebration, union and reunion. I would travel ten times as far to do it all over again.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

It's Official

I am a college student (again). There won't be any streaking in the quad, though. Not this time around.

I signed up for the Monday evening course in Human Growth and Development at Truman College. When I went to register, the place was packed, but the staff was very efficient so it still only took me about 45 minutes to go through the necessary steps of receiving my student ID number, meeting with a new student advisor, registering for the class, and making my payment.

The advisor was kind but seemed to regard me with a fair amount of skepticism. "So you already have a B.S., but you want to take CD 101 because... why?" I told him I am considering a Master's degree but need to do some exploration first, and that answer seemed to (barely) satisfy him. Maybe I just should have given him the other, equally true and relevant response, which is simply that I am interested in the subject matter and want to learn about it.

And that's really what this comes down to anyway. I feel stagnant and dissatisfied with the daily grind. And frustrated that, with the daily grind always looming, it can be hard to find the time and motivation to keep learning. So I'm taking this course largely for the sake of fresh, delicious knowledge. And also as an excuse to get a Trapper Keeper.

Once registered for the class, I had to make a payment to secure my spot. I winced (hopefully it wasn't too obvious) and handed over my visa card. "Just charge it in full, please," I sighed. Better to let go the $391 all at once. And it's as they say: If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. (I think the elusive 'they' in this case might be Derek Bok.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009


For several months now, I have been talking a little and thinking a lot about going back to school. From where I sit, almost five years removed from full-time studenthood, I can enthusiastically say that I love school. And I am absolutely not too cool. When it comes to deciding where and how to go back, the first major hurdle is figuring out what I want to study. I'm sure that I am not alone in feeling that having a shallow depth of knowledge across a wide range of interests makes it difficult to set a course. But at least I have an idea:

In the last year and a half or so (and not totally unrelated to this experience), I've started to read up on and become more interested in how people learn language, the ways in which those processes might be different for different people, and how we can teach the brain to recover lost language skills and knowledge after a traumatic injury. So it sounds like maybe I should learn about speech pathology. The only problem is that I don't have any training in teaching, therapy or speech. So how to know if they are really for me? I need an affordable introductory course to test the waters.

I've looked into a couple of options, and I think the best one for me is to sign up for a class at Truman College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago. They offer fall courses in 'Language Development ' and 'Human Growth and Development' at the very attractive price of $79 per credit hour for Chicago residents. Good sign: I emailed one of the instructors in their Social Sciences Department to ask for guidance, and she responded within an hour with useful advice.

I've done my info-gathering and paid a visit to Truman. Now it's time to take the plunge. My mission for this week is to sign up for a fall class. I get a few butterflies in my stomach when I think about the fact that the first day of term is in just two and a half weeks, but then I remember that this is school we're talking about. And I love school.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Chalk it Up

August is here! And so far, it's been a doozy (not a doozer). I had to work all weekend. I carried a too-big box too far and got a painful bruise on my arm. My co-worker (and friend)'s purse was stolen. My toilet overflowed.

What better to break a streak of bad luck than playing outside with toys? Yesterday after work I grabbed K and my 3D sidewalk chalk and headed out into the warm Chicago evening. K drew this, which I think is a good illustration of exactly how I felt as I witnessed the toilet disaster:

When I put on the 3D glasses and looked at K's Scream, the yellow looked a little bit 3D, the purple a little more, and the pink was like POP, way off the sidewalk. I was truly surprised at how well it worked. We were inspired to keep doodling.

The trick, of course, is in the glasses. When you're wearing them, it isn't just the pink chalk that pops out at you, but anything pink. Or red or orange. The flowerbeds outside our apartment made me dizzy.

At one point, four neighborhood kids walked by and were excited to see that sometimes old people play with sidewalk chalk too. At our behest, they put on the glasses and were even more impressed than I had been - Woah... Woah! Cool! Then they were shuffled off by two women, probably their mothers, who thanked us but looked annoyed that we would speak to their children and why were we playing with sidewalk chalk anyway. A man walked by later and said, "Aren't you a little old for this?" And that is why I often don't care for adults.

I wrote '3D CHALK' in big letters and left the sidewalk chalk and glasses in the 'D' in case any more children came by. When I left for work this morning, someone had taken the glasses. The only new drawing was 'K + A' inside a big red heart.