Monday, August 25, 2008

My Teeth Are Naked

After 17 years, my bottom retainer finally snapped off at dinner tonight. My tongue is FREAKING OUT, man.

(Interesting sociology experiment: How much will my hits go up because of the phrase "naked teeth"?)

Back to School

I'm back to school as of last week, and so far, so good. The first week or two always exhausts me so I've been sleeping a LOT. Wish I had something interesting to blog about, but mostly I'm thinking about lectures and timing and trying to remember how to arrange for AV to deliver stuff to my classroom.

I have two days of 4 1/2 straight hours of lecture; a third day of 3 hours. I'm going to have to be extremely careful of my voice this semester. (That probably means cutting back alcohol and caffeine to levels my bloodstream may find unacceptably low.)

One of the worst first-day worries is that your fly will be unzipped or you'll have something on your face or in your teeth or whatever. After a week or two I generally feel good that my students would let me know, but I'm always kind-of freaking out on the first day that my hair's all standing up in back or something and they're all morbidly staring at it instead of listening to me. I also started the semester with two giant zits and trust me, starting the first day of school as a student with a giant zit is NOTHING compared to standing in front of 35 students with a giant zit. (Although at 30 I realize that probably nobody cares about my zits but me; at 16 I suffered under the common teenaged delusion that other people had nothing better to do than worry about my pimples.)

Classroom-wise, I have one smart room and three "dumb" rooms with no computer technology -- so irritating when I go to all the trouble of creating computer-enabled curricular materials, then get stuck in a dumb room. Of my dumb rooms, one has a chalkboard and no TVs! The other (which I use twice) is whiteboard and does have TVs at least. I'm always torn on the chalkboard/whiteboard question -- chalk gets ALL OVER your clothes. Whiteboard residue just takes up residence under your fingernails and refuses to be budged. It's also somewhat more likely to end up smudged across your cheek. It being the beginning of the semester, all the whiteboard rooms have good pens, but by the end of the semester, they'll all be crap and everyone will be hoarding their secret supply. I noticed the other day that I now carry a whiteboard marker in my purse, which is a little sad.

On the exhaustion, I'm not sure that people who don't public speak regularly understand what a level of emotional energy goes into a lecture. Other professors and people who public speak regularly are horrified to hear I have a 4 1/2-hour lecture block without a break between classes; people who don't public speak for a living, when I mention I'm a little worn out from the first week, tend to respond with puzzlement, "I work 10-hour days," because my paltry 4.5 isn't adequate hours for exhaustion. Which, right, I know; it's not that that's a "long day," it's just that it's a long damned time to lecture and lecture well. I've got office hours right after my 4.5-hour block, and it's all I can do not to fall asleep as soon as I sit down in the quiet (and I'm not a daytime napper!).

Monday, August 18, 2008

Six Years and Counting

Mr. McGee and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary last week, and you can tell it's been six years because we celebrated primarily by NOT DOING ANYTHING, given that we're both exhausted from our fairly hectic and stressful summer. I think we had bacon and eggs for breakfast instead of his usual cereal and my usual, "What happens to be on the shelf of the fridge that I don't have to do anything to before I can eat it with my fingers?"

Anyway, in honor of the occasion, I present another edition of Mr. McGee Unplugged, because I love him and he cracks me up.


While we're having a long argument about something that's really annoying me:

Him: ... for several reasons. A, blah blah blah. Second, blah blah blah. And three, blah --

Me: I'm sorry, a, second, three?

Him: ...

Me: A, second, three????

Him: Okay, but I'm still right.

(Probably true or I wouldn't have been objecting to his lack of parallelism.)


Rousing me from a sound sleep with frantic motion in the closet.

Me: What? What's the matter?

Him: Have you seen my belt?

Me: (groggily, sitting up, looking around) What?

Him: My belt! I can't find it!

Me: (confused, half-asleep) The one around your waist?

Him: (looks down, touches belt to confirm its existence, starts to blush)

Me: Really? REALLY?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Oscar Wao

I just finished reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao for my book club, and upon reflection, I have to say I don't think I liked it.

Now, for starters, we did JUST READ a coming-of-age novel about a multigenerational immigrant family suffering from a curse (Middlesex), but that wasn't really my problem with it. (However, ladies, no more multigenerational immigrant curse stories for a while, 'kay?)

The writing itself was wonderful -- sprightly, vivid, entertaining. The writing itself kept me engaged in the book. I also was proud of my ability to pick up on the more obscure nerdy references (And here I thought I was the only one who ever referenced "All Summer In a Day" to make a random point). But I came away from it feeling dissatisfied and emotionally unmoved, and after reflection I realized this is because I don't actually believe in the character of Oscar.

Oscar is spectacularly nerdy. He suffers under the dual burden of his minority status and of his obesity, but what isolates him most, the author wants us to know, is his nerdtasticness. And that's true, to a point, and everyone who's nerdy has felt that at some point, but the narrative hinges on Oscar being totally isolated from everyone but his sister and his sister's sometime boyfriend Yunior, and that I just don't buy.

First, Oscar is good-natured and kind-hearted. He's not malicious or angry, he's just weird. Follows girls around like a puppy, fumbles inappropriate approaches. But even obese, bad-looking, talks-like-a-dictionary nerds have friends if they're basically good people on the inside. I have spent my entire life related to and surrounded by nerds. I'm familiar with their taxonomy. And a nerd like Oscar might sometimes be lonely or have self-esteem issues, but he wouldn't be totally isolated and friendless unless there were something drastically wrong with his personality. There are even nerd girls (hello!) to be found at colleges across America who would have shared his interests and spoken Sindarin with him.

Second, Oscar plays D&D. And D&D is simply not a solo pursuit. He goes off to college at Rutgers and, the narrator tells us, has no friends but his sister and the narrator (and at one point a hot girl in the dorm). Rutgers is, apparently, the only college in America without a D&D club.

Third, the novel runs to 1995. By 1995 there was this series of tubes called "the internet" that someone as nerdy as Oscar would certainly have been aware of and plugged in to (as he is in college and then teaching high school at the internet-era parts of the narrative, he would certainly have had access). The internet is where even the epically socially awkward can make friends and find a tribe. Oscar probably would have been wandering a MUD slaying orcs and using his tragically sesquipidalian pick-up lines to good effect on chain-mail-bikini-clad lawful good half-elves.

So while I enjoyed the more historical parts of the narrative relating to his family, I just wasn't emotionally invested in the main character, since he seemed like a puppet on a stick to me and the narrative surrounding him depended on such an artificial construction of his reality.

The one way in which I do sort-of feel for Oscar is that I find myself thinking, "Come on, man, couldn't you have given him just a little dimensionality as a character? Just a little?"

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


As I've probably mentioned before, I made it to about 25 before I learned to cook. I lived in the dorms in college, so ate at the dining hall, and went off to law school basically able to make pasta and nuke frozen food. I would TRY to cook and I kept scorching things, which is a problem when you're on a student budget. (To this day, I have no idea why I kept scorching things, except that lack of experience in cooking makes things not turn out even when you follow directions.)

My mother sort-of tried to teach me to cook, but I had no interest and she's lefty and couldn't stand to watch me wield a knife wrong-handed. Frankly, nobody can stand to watch me wield one right-handed ... I am klutzy. (Got a band-aid on right now.)

So around 25, after I got married, it occurred to me that I could not go my entire life eating food that came in frozen boxes. Mr. McGee is actually a very good cook, but he had a pair of problematic beliefs: 1) if you don't use every pot and utensil in the kitchen, you're doing it wrong; and 2) he who cooks shall not clean. I realized very quickly I was getting the raw end of this deal since all I could make were one-pot meals AND I clean as I go. So I started learning to cook in self-defense.

Now I'm a pretty competent cook, and I even enjoy cooking for people (I'm still pretty lazy when it's just me). A friend was asking me what cookbooks I learned from, and we got off on a cookbooky tangent, so I present the cookbooks I learned from and cook from:

My very first cookbook was The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. I actually own the edition that link goes to -- I got it free with my bedspread -- but I vastly prefer the one my mom got me when I was in junior high that has all the pictures at the front and is just much, much better. My new edition never gets used; my old edition opens directly to the pages with the cakes I make the most often. (Like many non-cooks, I was actually a pretty good baker, since baking is just following directions. However, due to my clumsy, my frosting jobs always look like crap.) Part of what makes this a fun cookbook is all the instructions on how to set a table for, like, a state dinner, and fold your napkins into swans. It's not a "how to boil water" basic text, but it's a good all-rounder.

One that DOES start with how to boil water is The Seventeen Cookbook, from 1964, from Seventeen Magazine. It starts with boiling water and "what is a sauce pan?"* and works up to cooking for the prom. There's some good recipes in here, and very clear instructions for beginners, but really the fun of it is the cultural glimpse into the past: What to make for the boy who carries your books, what to cook for your sock hop, all that.

One of the things that perplexed me when I started to cook was that the cookbooks were very helpful for making Beef Wellington, but how did people cook every single night without turning to prepackaged crap or spending hours at it? How to Cook Without a Book to the rescue. She explains principles and how to vary recipes to taste and what you can change and what you can't -- all those things good cooks just KNOW and so can't explain to you. She gives you little poems you can memorize to cook various dishes to, but what was really useful to me was the how and why of cooking by ear. (I look up the recipes I want. In the book. It's a lie!)

Seeing how much knowing the "how and why" helped me, I moved on to the James Beard Award-winning On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (and learned what a James Beard Award was!). It's a hefty, but it basically explains the science (and some history and mythology for good measure) of everything you do in the kitchen. It is one of my favorite books ever and I tortured Mr. McGee with tidbits from it for MONTHS as I read it. For some people this will be dull, but if your brain works like mine and you like the how and why, this made me a better cook than anything else I read.

Far and away the cookbooks we cook out of the MOST, however, are the More-With-Less Cookbook and its companion volume, Extending the Table: A World Community Cookbook. (Spring for the spiral bound, trust me.) I pimp these books so much the Mennonites should pay me royalties; I give them as wedding presents all the time. More with Less is full of simple, healthy, tasty recipes of basic, everyday foods. The cookbook has a philosophy of simple eating and eating low on the food chain. Extending the Table is collected recipes from all over the world -- not what you'd get at an Ethiopian restaurant, but what you'd eat at someone's home in Ethiopia. We cook almost exclusively out of these two and highlight and annotate the crap out of them. (When we give them as a gift to someone we know really well, we like to write in some of our annotations and highlights to make it more personal.) I absolutely ADORE these books and you MUST own them.

Finally, I recently acquired the epic How To Cook Everything. Lots of explanations of basics, lots of recipe variations. Good for going, "Now what the heck am I going to do with 8 turnips?" Far too much reliance on the food processor (meh), but really good for meat dishes and things like that -- I can think, "I have two frozen chicken breasts and a spice rack -- what can I do with that?" and find the answer in here. It's too new for me to say it's a must-have, but I think it'll turn out that way in the end.

What cookbooks can't you live without?


*True story: It took me like a decade to figure out what a saucepan was. Stove-top cooking vessels came in two categories, as far as I knew: Pot and Pan. A PAN was obviously something flat, like a frying pan, but the instructions in the recipes obviously were not contemplating a skillet or frying pan (and the recipes ended badly when thusly attempted) so I was stumped. They really should call it a sauce POT. The secondary question is why I never used a dictionary but I guess it mostly occurred to me to wonder when covered in sauce.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

IM: Unintentionally Deep Philosophical Commentary

me: are you going to come see me before you start school?

bro: gah!

bro: you minimized civilization!

me: I am always emphasizing how man is a solo creature with no need for culture, it's true

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Some Storm!

Most of my Illinois readers were aware of the storm last night, which treated Wrigley to 60-80 mph gusts during a night game (night games -- boo!), but didn't reach us until about 4 a.m. due to the diagonal nature of the storm system. The wind alone was so loud it woke me up and I was honestly somewhat scared. (The cats, being intelligent creatures, decamped to the basement.)

Around 4:45 a.m., I heard a horrific snapping and cracking and smashing sound, and I was absolutely convinced it was my roof. (So I waited, quiet, to hear the water pour in ....) Turns out it was my neighbor's sycamore, snapping right in half:

I also heard this bang into the side of my house; lucky it didn't break a window!

The mystery of this is where did this half-of-a-maple-tree COME from? I looked up and down the block, and up and down the alley behind, and I have not been able to identify anybody missing half of a maple tree.

I'm a little stumped as to how to get it out of there -- it's heavy enough for two people, and it's complicated by being entangled in the bushes and there aren't too many places to step.

... and the nice men from the city picking up big branches just came and were kind enough to carry it out of there for me. Yay!

Anyway, I still have no idea where that half-a-tree came from!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Orange Cat Is an Absurdly Good Cat

Orange Cat is getting fluids every night, subcutaneous fluids that require him being poked with a fairly large needle and then 100 mL of fluids being pumped into him from one of those IV bags. (Which, if you've never had it done, feels weeeeeeeird. I had fluids when I had mono, and it feels cold and creepy.)

So Orange Cat is SUCH A GOOD CAT that when we get out the IV bag, he COMES OVER TO THE COUCH AND LEAPS UP ON IT TO SIT BETWEEN US so that we can give him the fluids. Normal cats HIDE from medical procedures. Orange Cat comes over, sits in the right spot, and then gets himself all tensed up with his tiny stub of a tail poking up anxious readiness so he can get his fluids.

It's really ridiculous. We get out the IV bag and he comes rushing over to the couch to assume the position. It would not be possible to have a better-behaved, sweeter cat.


Orange Cat goes back to the vet next week for another checkup and set of tests. I am bemused by Orange Cat's quasi-celebrity status; he is such a sweet boy, and so locally famous from my blog, that everyone in the neighborhood, from my allergic-to-cats neighbor who takes care of him when we're out of town to the 3-year-old down the street who calls me "the girl wif the cats wif one EYES, mom!" is dropping by to give him some love, and the entire local blogosphere is concerned for his wellbeing.

Orange Cat's also well-known and well-beloved at the vet; it's been a while, so let me once again toot the horn of Dr. Bryan Wulfekuhle at Meadowbrook Vet, who has been spectacularly awesome through this entire ordeal with Orange Cat, from the beginning of the diabetes to this kidney failure. I really, seriously, can't recommend him and Meadowbrook Vet enough.