Monday, May 30, 2011

Weather worries

I'm leaving town for a few weeks. I'll be all over the place - Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Maine. The key thing to note from that list is that all of those place are in the North. Packing appropriate clothing is proving to be a challenge. To prove my point, here is some data:

Average high next week in...
Miami - 88F
Wisconsin - 75 F
Maine - 65 F

Average low next week in...
Miami - 78F
Wisconsin - 60 F
Maine - 50 F

The key thing to note is that in Maine (in June) it will be significantly colder than it ever is in Miami (in January). So what I need is clothes that keep me winter-warm without appearing to keep me warm, as that will invite ridicule from my Northern colleagues. So wearing boots and big puffy coats in Maine in June would be ridiculous, but it's what I would actually like to do. At the very least, I think I need a hat. Since the only hats you can buy in Miami right now are big straw ones, I'm thinking about having a wool hat shipped super-quick to my destination. And I will immediately commence with my high-calorie diet to bulk up for the cold weather.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Reflections on credit

For the past week I've lived on an all-cash basis. Because I was waiting for my credit and debit cards to be replaced, I was forced to raid my stash of emergency funds (aka hurricane cash and my mother's pocketbook). Perhaps unsurprisingly, this affected almost every move I made. It's not too big of a deal to buy gas with cash, but I did have to check how much money I currently possessed before I made every purchase. And because I was traveling, I couldn't decide I needed a snack on the airplane or, more importantly, pay for a hotel room. Hotels don't take cash anymore (which is why you should always travel with a boss who has a credit card).
I've heard advice from money managers that if you want to curtail your spending, you should cut up all your credits cards (except maybe one emergency card) and live on an all-cash basis. I can see that this makes one aware of exactly where money is going, but I don't think it's a process that works for me. I was hyper-aware of where I spent my money this week, and because I'm such an incredibly frugal person (bordering on a cheapskate) I was troubled whenever I had to spend any money at all. Logically, I know that we have money to put gas in our car, and I know that going out to eat once a week is in the budget. But when it actually comes to spend that money, it causes me grief. My credit card is my way of buffering myself from the pain of spending. In fact, if that old trope "I make all the money and my spouse spends it all" actually turns out to be true at some time in our married life, it would be a good thing.
So, the good news is I now have credit cards. The bad news is I had to use them to torture my cat. Today she gave blood, received an infusion of fluids, got a shot of steroids, and had a lot of things poured into her injured eye. On top of all that, she has to wear an unstylish sweater and headgear combo.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Preface for those of you who didn't do a degree in German Lit: Kafka was an Czech author (who wrote in German). He is probably most well-known to high schoolers everywhere for his short story, "The Metamorphosis," in which a man wakes up and finds he has been transformed into a bug. His work frequently had themes of persecution and people (futilely) struggling against bureaucracy.
Before Andrew began his trip on Tuesday, he took time to go and exchange his Maryland license for a Florida one. After all, the law says you should do it within 30 days of moving here, and this would start establishing his residency. We were surprised that the driver's license he was given was just a piece of paper, a "temporary" license that would be replaced by a proper card that would be mailed. The temporary license was a printed piece of paper, empty of photo ID, seals, or stamps, and looks like something that you could make using Word, in about three minutes. Most damningly, the paper said it was titled, "temporary permit" (This is usually what teens get in the U.S. when they're learning to drive, under supervision of experienced drivers.) When I had gone through this process, I had immediately received a card, so this was unexpected. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Andrew is a permanent resident? It was not explained, and Department's website makes no mention of these temporary licenses. We didn't worry too long, because he still had his passport for photo I.D.
And so the epic trip began. This trip involves, 4500 miles, four travelers, seven destinations, two countries, and planes, automobiles, and a motorcycle. A key component was the rental car, which he would pick up in DC and use for the next month. So when Andrew arrived in DC, the first order of business was to pick up the rental car which he had reserved in April. At the car rental company, he whipped out his brand new Florida driver's license, and the rental company said, "No, we don't think so." Repeated calls to their headquarters confirmed that it happens all the time that people arrive with these temporary licenses, and they're just left high and dry. No car rental companies will accept them.
What to do? For twelve hours, while he waited for his parents' plane to arrive from England, he debated. Back in Florida, I researched. He could go out and buy a junker car. (Why not? It's not much more than renting a car for a month.) I could fly up there and rent the car for them. (It's good we didn't do that, since my license was stolen the next day...) The best option appeared to be flying everyone out to Ohio, and then borrowing a car from my parents. (I'm thirty-five and still begging my parents to use their car...) In the end, we were saved by a coincidence. A few months ago, Andrew had sent his British license to his parents and asked them to renew it. When they arrived in D.C., we found that they had brought it with them. The rental company wouldn't accept a document from Florida, but they had no problem with one from the U.K.

Upon reflection, I realize this isn't a Kafka story, because it has a happy ending.

(And special thanks to the friends N&S who loaned A a car for the first day!)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"All we want are the facts, ma'am"

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of radio shows from the 40's through 60's. I especially like the detective dramas, like Johnny Dollar, Dragnet, and Broadway is my Beat. Sometimes I'm suspicious of how realistic they really were, even though I know shows like Dragnet aimed for authenticity. For example, the victims always remember so much: "Oh, he was 5'9", maybe 5'10", and had brown hair. Medium build, and a scar over his left eye." I was convinced that I'd never remember details like that, and unfortunately (that's some foreshadowing for you) I got my chance to try out my memory today.
I had taken the cat to the vet and was driving out of the driveway, and this women motioned for me to roll down my window to ask a question. She needed a lift, just a few blocks, could I help her out, her car had been stolen recently. She needed to find her sister, did I work at the vet, boy had she had a terrible day. She talked fast, always moving around, adjusting the shopping bag she was carrying. I was juggling a cat (secured in a pillowcase, as she always is for trips), trying to figure out where she wanted to go, and mentally calculating whether she was crazy. I mean that literally, she reminded me of someone I knew who has schizophrenia; that guy wasn't ever dangerous, but he did need a lot of guidance. The whole event lasted maybe two minutes. Suddenly she saw where she needed to get out, and even offered to pay me gas money. Nice touch, that.
When I got home, I realized she had managed to slip her hand behind my seat, open my purse, and rob me of my wallet. I'm sort of grateful that she didn't steal the cell phone as well, because that made it easier to call and cancel every credit and bank card.
Now, I am no Dragnet victim. I couldn't tell you her hair color, her build, anything. I had my eyes on the road, after all, and I was looking for the hotel she said she needed to get to. In the end, it didn't matter that I couldn't describe her because the police didn't care. I filled out a form at the station, waited an hour, and then they assigned me a case number and sent me home without having anyone talk to me.

(My life has been full of drama lately. Today was Dragnet, but later this week I'll treat you to Kafka.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Food trends (at my house)

A few weeks ago, I was bored at work. There was a convergence of exams to be taken, exams to be graded, and grant proposals to write. These events occupied both graduate students and faculty, but they left this postdoc (who didn't need to do any of those) a little bored. Officially my work is rather self-directed, so I shouldn't ever be bored. If I've got free time, I can find a new project. But in practical terms, I can only start so many self-directed projects before I need to interact with my co-workers.
Well, the time of boredom has officially ended. The summer semester has started, so I once again have meetings to attend, papers to edit, and feedback on my research to digest. In terms of demands on my time, I've left the desert and am now in the middle of New York City. As a result, I haven't been giving proper attention to the blog and you're all going to have to make do with some quick pictures of some of the food I've been cooking lately.
First, I seem to have become addicted to spaghetti carbonara. As a vegetarian, I've never really appreciated this dish, which is traditionally made by frying up some pancetta, then tossing it with hot pasta, a raw egg, Parmesan cheese, and black pepper. The heat of the pasta gently cooks the egg and cheese into a creamy sauce. I recently decided to try a vegetarian version that doesn't simply omit the meat, but attempts to add strong, new flavors by adding smoked tempeh (i.e "fake bacon"), butter, and capers. I've never before seen the need for fake meat, but this dish has me reconsidering. For the record, I've eaten it 5 times in the last 10 days.

We had friends over for dinner last week, and I used the excuse to try some new things. First, I found a recipe for watermelon soup, which is basically pureed watermelon, ginger, mint, and white wine (I left out the feta). It was a lovely light start to a summer meal and I would highly recommend it.
The main course was a beet pizza, topped with provolone, figs, and greens. I thought it was a little odd. The flavors blended well, but if I were craving pizza, this would not fit the bill. Still, the guests enjoyed it, so it wasn't a total loss.What's been on your dinner table lately?

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


So, what does Pittsburgh look like? It's a lot like Cleveland. You can tell that these were both big, booming manufacturing towns that flourished in the early twentieth century. They also both suffer from the same perpetual overcast skies.

Pittsburgh had a lot of money at one point (much of it from Andrew Carnegie) and a good portion went to educational endeavors. This explains my visit to the Cathedral of Learning, an enormous 42-story building that is a cross between a Gothic Cathedral and a skyscraper.

The inside really does look like a cathedral, although instead of singing hymns, you have study hall there. It looks like great fun to study here, except that tourists are always walking by, talking loudly.

Several dozen rooms in the Cathedral are classrooms. Each one is sponsored by one ethnic group of Philadelphia. (Except the Latin American room, which is sad. Wales, which is not even a independent country, gets its own classroom. But the entire continents-spanning regian of Latin America has to cram into one room.)

To the left, you can see a typical example: the Greek room, with marble facings, a decorated ceiling, and my friend M (she's not a permanent feature of the Greek room.)

We also spent some time food shopping at small ethnic stores, so I could stock up on things that are difficult to find in Miami. High quality Asian groceries are hard to find, which explains the nori and bean curd skin knots. Varieties of looseleaf tea are rather rare, which I attribute to the preponderance of Cuban coffee.

(Cathedral of Learning exterior photo by Piotrus)