Virgin's Guide to Burning Man

A Virgin's Guide to Burning Man can be found here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Officially Four-Eyed

So after at least a year of squinting at the TV, asking Toby to read subtitles for me, and desperately trying to make out street signs, I finally acknowledged I might be in need of glasses. I used to just blame my inability to see the TV properly on our tiny ass old TV that was all the way across a longish living room. But then when we went out and bought a big ass new TV and I still couldn't see anything, I admitted my eyes officially sucked.
So I went in for an eye exam. I did two tests before I even met with the doctor, and before me even saying why I was coming in, the doctor was like "So...distance vision getting a bit blurry these days?"...."Yes..." I say sheepishly. He runs a few more tests and doesn't even bother with the news that I will need to wear glasses and goes straight to telling me he is figuring out what prescription I need. Le sigh.
And today I have brand new glasses! I'm sure the novelty will wear out soon enough, but I'm excited cuz all of a sudden I understand what "sharp detail" looks like. And I don't have to wear them all the time, only when I'm driving, in a lecture, or watching a movie. So 5 years into being an academic and I finally look like one.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Losin' that booty

It's taken me a little while to decide whether I would post this or not. It's a little private and somewhat embarrassing. But on the other hand, I'm proud of myself for achieving a goal and want to have a reminder for myself to help me stay motivated in the future. Something about making this public might help me be more accountable to myself.

I did it! I finally made it to my goal weight! Well, that is almost true. I had a goal weight of 115, but when x-smalls, 0 & 2 size clothing got to be too big (mostly cuz I'm so short), I decided I might need to re-evaluate my end goal. So I'm quite happy at my 119...a weight I haven't seen since I was about 16. It's nicely within a healthy BMI for my height and I think it should be sustainable, which is really the key thing. Since diabetes runs in my family I feel extra motivated as I don't want to be poking insulin needles into my belly every day.

It took me nearly 8 months to lose 22 pounds (having a wedding and honeymoon in the middle of that didn't help, I must say). I suppose I gotta put up the requisite "Before" and "After" photos.

I thought a comparison from our engagement photos to our wedding photos would be apt. Ooo. Even now, looking at these two side-by-side, I'm rethinking my decision to post this. Ack! But I really want to be able to look at this a year from now and say that I've maintained my goal weight. Because ultimately, it's not about losing it so much as it is learning to be healthy and staying that way.

And I gotta say the hardest part about being healthy is being social! I have no problem eating right when I'm at home, cooking dinner for just me and Toby. It's when we go out to eat at restaurants with friends (especially when margaritas are involved....all self-control goes straight out the window and chips and salsa go straight into my belly!) or to our families' houses for dinner that it gets tough. And people don't always respect the fact that others are trying to lose weight. It's always "have another helping" or "you have to try the chocolate souffle" or they lay out the spread of tempting, fantastical delights without a single veggie in sight. I think because for a lot of people food = love. They want to please you, so they make their best dishes which are so yummy because they're filled with all the sinful things that taste so good. So it's hard to turn down lovingly made comfort food because it is actually personal. People put time and effort and love into the food as a proxy for giving love to you. Turning it down is tantamount to rejecting them as well.

I've resorted to such sneakery to deal with this too. When going to visit others, I offer to bring a plate acting like I'm trying to help them out, when ultimately it's because I'm trying to get in enough veggies for the day, and want to have a low-fat option at the dinner table so I can politely nibble on the butter and cheese loaded pasta without starving myself. And I invite others over for dinner, rather than going out to restaurants, so I can cook a scrumptious seafood feast that also just happens to be waist-hip-and-butt friendly. Rather than the cheesecake at Cheesecake Factory, we have raspberry creme brulee from Trader Joe's for dessert. My guests think I'm serving something rich and divine, meanwhile I'm still on plan. Honestly, I don't think Toby would have survived my change in diet if I couldn't make healthy food still taste good. Lucky for me herbs and spices don't add calories. :)

So I'm still on my journey. I've reached a milestone, but I'll really be measuring success by whether a month from now, a year from now, or 10 years from now I've still managed to maintain a healthier lifestyle.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fire on the Horizon

Tuesday evening a fire started in the brush up by Lizards' Mouth, just a little northeast from Goleta. It started out small and firefighters got on it right away, but then by Wednesday evening it started to get quite large. It even cut out electricity for several hours in Goleta. Here's a picture Toby took of it, from his parents' house:

As you can see here, you can definitely see the flames from their house, which is off Patterson.

Everyone up from Glenn Annie and in the La Patera Canyon have been evacuated. People between Glenn Annie and Fairview are on evacuation warning.

I'm really hoping this gets contained soon, but that brush up there hasn't burned since a fire in the 1950s. According to the latest news reports, the fire is only 5% contained.

I'm worried for Toby's family's house for all the obvious reasons. But I'm also worried for our wedding reception as it is being held there. If they don't contain this soon, we'll have to come up with a contingency plan quickly. Don't get me wrong--I'm definitely concerned about the people whose homes are threatened and all--but I can't help feeling I'll be upset if this significantly changes my wedding plans and things don't turn out as nicely as I hoped. I'm not trying to be selfish or unreasonable. It's just that I've been dreaming about this for a year and half now, thinking meticulously about every little detail. And it's not stubbornness--it's just I feel like if things don't work out nicely it's like there will always be a little tinge of regret that I didn't get to see my dream totally come true. Normally I'm pretty roll-with-the-flow I think, and I don't get my panties all in a twist if things don't turn out the way I expect. But this is different. It's hard to explain.

And another part of me is thinking back to our "playa wedding" at Burning Man which got derailed by a major dust storm. Sure it makes for a good story now, but it's hard not to take it as a bad omen. I mean, seriously, we're going two for two here. Why does something vaguely apocalyptic always have to happen when Toby and I try to get married? Well at least we'll have a total of 3 ceremonies. Third time's a charm, right?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Construction Madness

Last summer after Toby and I moved into our cute new apartment, our landlord decided some "renovations" were necessary. He hired two guys to come by and paint the outside of our apartment. It was a nice swiss mocha (kind of off-white) with a green trim, and we thought it was cute. But they decided to paint the green trim white instead. We didn't like it too much since it kind of made it look more like a mental institution...but whatever, not that big a deal, right?

Wrong. I don't know who these painters were but they sure didn't know their ass from the end of a paint brush. It took them about 4 months to do (probably about 5 times as long as any normal person) and it was a mess! They went to paint the trim on the lattice of the windows, but they used a wide brush on a quarter-inch trim. What's more, they apparently haven't heard of painter's tape. So there were these big globs and swaths of paint on the windows themselves.

Then they realized they couldn't leave paint on the windows, so they went back with a razor blade to try to fix it. Which of course took forever, and did nothing but leave huge scratch marks on the windows since you can see there's still paint on the glass.

They also left big swaths of paint on the walls around the window as you can see here (you can click on the photo to see it in more detail):

And did I mention this took them the better part of 4 months? It was so obnoxious because I do most of my work from home and I was studying for a major exam at the time, and I had to do it all with these nimrods peering in the windows.

So, okay we got over that episode without too much complaint. Until now...

The landlord has decided again he wants "renovations". This time he decided he wanted to take out the window in our bathroom shower and replace it with a new one. We said alright, whatever. Nothing was wrong with the old one, but whatever he wants to do, fine.

Well. So the same "painter" crew comes in and takes out the old bathroom window (banging on the outside with a hammer, thus creating cracks in the bathroom tile around the window), and puts the new window in. Except the new bathroom window is about 1/3 the size of the old bathroom window. So they have to fill in the missing wall and cover the empty spaces with tile. But of course they hadn't actually ordered the replacement tile until after they put in the new window, so we were left showering with a minor construction mess for two weeks until the new tile came in.

Meanwhile, we're both too busy to care overmuch, so we just deal with it and didn't think much of it...until we saw the new tile.

Okay, so the old shower tile is pink with a green trim (kind of reminds us of a watermelon--like Nicole and Allyson's old apartment senior year of college!). Not exactly the height of style, but kind of cute in it's own funky way. But does the landlord get more pink or green tile?

No, he gets navy blue.

Talk about ghetto fabulous. I would say it's hideous, but I don't think it even makes enough sense to be hideous. I don't know what the landlord was thinking but whenever we move out, I would love to see prospective tenants' faces when they walk in the bathroom.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Zoom Zoom Zoom

So a few weeks ago some irresponsible a-hole backed into Toby's motorcycle in the middle of the night and just left it lying there in the street. No note, no attempt to right it back up. As a result, Toby found his bike the next morning completely totaled. Parts of the tank, side mirror and gauge and tail were busted from the impact, but what's worse is oil spilled out over a bunch of the internal engine bits. It's possible that if the person had just tried to put the bike back up there wouldn't be nearly so much internal damage. But because the oil had time to seep out, everything got all messed up inside.

Toby had to get it towed to a repair shop and was dealing with the insurance company for over a week, sitting on pins and needles trying to figure out what could be done. The shop came back with an estimate of over $2000 worth of damage, and Toby was praying the insurance would cover it. But alas, at that point the bike was declared totaled and even if he bought back the bike and fixed it all up, it would still have a salvage title on it, vastly reducing its resale value.

So the insurance company came back and said they'd pay pretty much the equivalent of what Toby paid for the bike initially. Although bummed he lost his "Suzi", he was able to use that money to go and buy a new little beastie. Check this one out:

Hee hee! Idn't it sexy? :) Sure is sexy watching T on that bike anyhow. And this one turns out to be a bit better than the old one. It's a little more comfortable for me to ride on and there's room in the back for luggage so we can take it up to go camping or for extended trips. We've been taking it on trips around town--sure is a good way to beat the heat these days! And Toby's happy with it, so all in all it looks like a happy end to a sad little story.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Thank the heavens! I've just got an email from my adviser saying I'm (finally) ready to defend. It's only been, what, 6 months of editing and re-editing...and re-editing my dissertation proposal and now I can finally go ABD (All But Dissertation).

I suppose I should be more nervous about the defense. It's basically two hours where you give a 20-minute presentation in front of a committee of three faculty members and spend the rest of the time answering grueling questions about whether or not a) your research proposal even makes sense and b) you know enough about what the hell you're doing that you can do the research. From what I hear from friends who've already done this, the faculty ask you all kinds of questions you'd never have thought of, sometimes even questioning the most basic things, like: "You know, I think your dependent variable is problematic." What?? You couldn't have told me this earlier?! But surprisingly, I'm not that nervous--at least not yet. But I take solace in the notion that they don't really let you defend unless they think you're actually ready for it. I'm starting to think they just bombard you with tough questions to see how well you deal under pressure. I guess as long as you don't collapse in a puddle of tears or start screaming at them, I think really it just becomes an opportunity to discuss how to make sure your project is solid. So pretty much everyone passes it--though your knees might be Jell-O by the time you're done. I still need to prepare responses to any wild question that might even possibly or impossibly come up, but hey, I'm on my way!

In other news...we just saw "Once" last night, which is a cute movie about two musicians who fall in love while making music together. It's a bit slow, but I loved the ending and the music is great. I've been listening to the soundtrack all afternoon. :)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Leaving On a Jet Plane...And Coming Right Back Again

Toby is having his first major art opening at Harvard tonight and a panel discussion tomorrow evening. His photography is showing up among the top names of night photography. You can check out the details at: I'm so proud of him and I've been so excited for this chance to go to Boston and see his first big opening!

So Toby and I had different flights to Boston since we had to book them separately (long story, not worth telling). His flight went through Denver, and mine went through Dallas. So yesterday we got up at 4 am to catch our 6 am flights. My flight was just approaching Dallas when the captain got on and said he had bad news. Dallas was experiencing lightening, thunderstorms and tornadoes. They were evacuating personnel out of the towers, closing down the air space, and so we wouldn't be able to land there. So they re-routed our plane to Abilene, Texas...which is this little po-dunck town, where the airport basically consists of a couple of silos in a cornfield. We got off the plane to find several other full flights had been re-routed as well, so hundreds of us were stuck together in this tiny little terminal built to serve maybe a hundred passengers. They gave us no information and just kept extending their estimate of when we'd get out of there. Meanwhile, everyone was starving after long early morning flights (since they no longer serve food these days), but there was only one tiny restaurant and a vending machine. I didn't want to wait in the hour-long line to get food from the restaurant, since we had no idea how long we would be there, so I only had a cinnamon roll and a bottle of water from the vending machine.

Finally, after 5 hours of waiting around they said we could get back on our plane and get to Dallas. Meanwhile, of course we had all missed our connecting flights. So I got to Dallas and said if there was any way I could get to Boston tonight I would try to go, but I absolutely had to be back in Santa Barbara on Thursday, so if I couldn't get to Boston soon enough then I'd just have to go back to SB. Well there were no flights left to Boston, so I had to catch a plane back to SB which was leaving in just an hour. So I had to tell Toby I wouldn't make it to Boston, and was gonna miss his first big art opening. I got back on the plane, and finally made it back to SB around 8 in the evening, only to discover that my luggage didn't make it with me--interesting, considering I left on the same plane I came in on, so apparently just keeping the bag on the plane posed too much of a difficulty for them. I checked today and they still haven't located my bag. Sucks. My cell phone charger is in there and my phone is now out of battery.

I guess I can be glad I made it safely and don't have to worry about being back on time. I've been trying to find news reports on it, and it looks like American Airways canceled around 720 flights, and American Eagle (the airline I was on) canceled around 260 flights. I wonder though...Dallas Fort Worth is a large airport, so what happened to all the other airlines? Not that I really want to be carried away in a twister, but why weren't other airlines canceling their flights? The airline industry astounds me sometimes. Basically my lesson for the day: direct flights only from now on.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Awakening

For those of you who don't know, the past few months I've started doing yoga, partly to be healthier but also partly because I felt I needed greater balance in my life. I've spent so much time chasing intellectual--and to some extent, spiritual--pursuits, but I've come to a point where I felt I really need to begin integrating the intellectual, the physical and the spiritual. I've turned more to Buddhist philosophy for guidance. Through the influence of my parents, especially my mom, Buddhism has always been in the background of my life but now I am making a conscious effort and decision to make it a bigger part of me.

Through yoga, I've slowly been learning to quiet my mind, to sit still and to have greater awareness and sensitivity to my self. But for the first few months I didn't feel quite ready to meditate. I didn't know how to keep my mind from drifting to other thoughts and I didn't quite know what to get from meditation or how to get it. The last few days though, I've started to feel ready for meditation. I got some great instructions from yogi Erich Schiffman ( and set aside about a half hour this morning to give it a shot.

Meditation combines sitting so you're comfortable, aligned, and grounded, finding your breath and going inside yourself and feeling what it is to be you, then opening yourself up to the universe. You begin to feel in tune with the world around you and the yogi suggested asking a question and listening for an answer. He explained what you'd be likely to feel and that you should try to carry this feeling with you through the rest of the day. However, all I had read and heard did not prepare me for what I actually experienced.

I set out some lemon grass scented candles, turned on a CD of ancient Sanskrit chants (which helps me stay focused and inside myself--and not paying attention to the gardeners mowing the lawn outside), closed my eyes and began to meditate. It took me several minutes to actually be able to quiet my mind and go inside myself. I had trouble getting totally aligned and comfortable and keeping my mind focused without straining. But then, once I was totally there, it was amazing how everything just clicked. Suddenly I felt light and there, but not totally's hard to explain, and no, I wasn't on drugs. :) I spent a couple of minutes just enjoying the sensation and then tentatively began to reach outward mentally and ask my question. I listened for a bit, then reached out a little more strongly and all of a sudden there was a rush. Answers and more questions, and more answers came flooding at me. My brain couldn't keep up and that was okay, I just felt the answers (because thinking takes far longer than feeling does) until they came to resolution. I was so excited and so overwhelmed, I could do nothing but just feel amazed and grateful. It was such an intense experience-similar only to some experiences I had at Burning Man. I sat for a few moments more to just absorb it all before opening my eyes again.

I realize this all sounds a little like hippy-dippy, granola talk, but I gotta say...those yogis know what they're talking about. I learned a lot from this little experiment and I hope I can carry those lessons forward through this day.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Home Schooling Hullabaloo

So I was listening to NPR earlier today and heard about the latest buzz over a California State judicial ruling that homeschooling is not a Constitutional right parents have and thus all forms of homeschooling are in violation of state law. If parents want to teach their children at home rather than send them to schools, they must have certified teaching credentials.

I heard this whole ordeal originally came about because some parents who homeschool physically abuse their children.

Is it just me or is this the most ridiculous policy response, ever so typical of politicians wanting to look like they're doing something when they're really not doing anything? While I'm somewhat sympathetic to the notion that it would be better if homeschooling parents had at least some teaching background or some sense they're qualified to be solely responsible for an entire education, I think that if this ruling came in response to physical abuse then it is wholly inadequate. Physical abuse happens and as long as some parents are prone to abusing their children, they're gonna do it whether or not the children are schooled at home or through public education. Moreover, just because the parents have teaching credentials doesn't prevent them from engaging in abuse.

Some homeschooling parents called into NPR to extol the benefits of homeschooling: full attention to the needs of the child, greater ability to integrate daily life into the learning experience, greater attention to balance of mental and physical health, etc. I'm a bit on the fence about it. I think homeschoolers also have to be really careful to integrate social time for their children to interact with others their age. There are important lessons that parents can't always give to their children, that only come with the experience of interacting with friends, enemies, peers and strangers. Homeschooling could be a really powerful way to help develop a child, encourage curiosity and an ability to approach life in a wiser, more holistic manner...but it would be very difficult to do this properly.

But when I think about the day I have my own children, this is where I reach a dilemma. I think the greatest tragedy of the mass education system is that it all but extinguishes children's natural curiosity. Children (and later as adults) get caught in this cycle of reading, memorizing, and regurgitating and the only real measure of learning is the grade at the end. Eventually grades become the sole motivator, not the actual learning process. (I might be over exaggerating, but probably not by much.) The measure of a good student is who got As and Bs, not who was curious, resourceful, inquisitive or pushed themselves to greater heights.

When I have my own kids, what will I do? Do I pursue my chance as an educator trying to help hundreds of students in what little way I can, or do I devote my time to saving my own children from boredom and complacency? And seriously, how is it even possible to afford homeschooling your children? Can people actually afford to live comfortably on one income in this day and age? Even if I decided to homeschool my kids for only part of their education, say through grade school, and then put them in junior high or high school, it would be so difficult to re-enter the workforce after 6 or so years of not working.

::sigh:: I guess these are the decisions we have to make.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Is it Really the End of Empire?

Ok so occasionally I will have to use this blog as a forum to vent about my students. As much as I love them and I love teaching, they do seem to continually find inventive ways to shock/disappoint/dismay me and force me to ask: what the hell is this world coming to?!
Now, there is always a mix of bright, inquisitive students, and then not-so-bright, bored students and you go into the classroom kind of expecting that. That's all just the nature of the game. But there are some trends I've been noticing, and I think might be getting increasingly worse as time goes on and these are extra-special problems that give me pause:

1. Self-entitlement: many students these days seem to hold the belief that just because they turned in an assignment they automatically deserve an A. I call it the "But-I-Studied-So-Hard-Why-Did-I-Get-a-C?" phenomenon. Well...did you go to lecture? No... Did you participate in section? No.... Well maybe that might have something to do with it. I think they're so used to getting As in high school with little to no effort that they automatically assume the same amount of effort will yield the same results in college. They seem to forget that everyone else here in college were also A-students, so the competition becomes somewhat greater. And I think this trend is cycling its way out into every day life as well. I remember when a good tip used to be 12%, and for average service, 10%. But nowadays you're miserly (aka it's your fault) if you give less than 18-20%. And now there's tip jars in all the coffee bars and smoothie's like why do I have to give you a tip for just doing your job? At least in a restaurant it makes sense because the service contributes to the quality of the experience. But in Starbucks, as long as I get what I ordered in a cup and not, say, all over me, basically the quality of the experience is not overly subject to the quality of service.

2. A Lack of Resourcefulness: It seems that many students, when they encounter a challenge, too often just throw their hands in the air and don't know how to deal with this. Maybe they've been babied their whole lives and were able to get someone to do it for them? I dunno. But it worries me because when they go out into the job force they are certainly not going to impress employers with the lack of initiative or ability to roll-with-the-punches. For example, last week in class (International Relations) I ran a simulation where the students got to role-play and pretend they were actual negotiators from the UN, US, and various other countries/organizations and try to come to a resolution in dealing with the aftermath of genocide in Cambodia. It was a fantastic experience and went really well, but before the simulation started, when I was prepping the students for it, I got some questions that really stumped me. One student asked, "Ok, so what happens if I prepare all my arguments and responses, and come in totally ready, but somebody says something that I totally hadn't thought of. What then?" ... What the heck was I supposed to say to that??! Welcome to the real world? Maybe you should have prepared better? I hope you can think on your feet? I mean, duh! There's a reason these negotiators are highly-skilled, highly-paid professionals and not just the average Joe-Shmoe on the street.

3. Lack of responsibility: So my basic point of view is that these students are all adults and are capable of making decisions themselves. It's up to them to decide whether or to show up to class and to participate. They are totally free, as long as they are willing to take responsibility for their choices. If they sit in the back of the room and sent text messages all day long, fine, but then they can't complain if they don't get credit for participation. But some students don't seem to quite grasp this notion of "responsibility". For example, my professor overheard two female students talking as they walked on campus, and one of them was explaining that last night she was trying to study for a midterm and her boyfriend was over and he kept trying to have sex with her, but she really needed to study. He argued that he really needed to spread his seed. [yes, I know...] So she was like, "Well what could I do, he really needed to spread his seed!" So she had sex with him and then they fell asleep. She woke up at 9:45 and realized she had slept through her midterm. So she went to the professor and told the professor about how her boyfriend really needed to spread his seed and how it prevented her from taking the midterm, and could she take a make-up exam or something? Turns out the professor said no, and so the girl complained to her friend: "How unfair is that?"

I've learned just to teach to the students who really do want to learn and try to forget about the students who are just killing time until they get their degree and get out. Obviously I don't make this distinction in the classroom, I only do it mentally for my own personal sanity. But sometimes the next generation really scares me. It really feels like it is the end of empire.

Actually I really feel we're at an extremely critical juncture, where we have the choice between politics-as-usual, and a whole new direction: change towards America's true potential and promise. Do we want to be just a hegemon and a selfish aggressor, or do we want to be a leader and an inspiration? We'll see if Americans are really ready for change as this crazy election unfolds...

Friday, March 7, 2008

Hello again world!

Once upon a time, when I used to be bored at work, I had a blog called "The Chinaman Is Not The Issue"--a reference to The Big Lebowski. But that little habit kind of faded into oblivion when I started grad school. However, now inspired by Nicole's new blog, I thought it was about time for TCINTI to make a reappearance. I can't quite say I'm bored at work, but at the very least this might help me in my quest for ever new ways to procrastinate actually writing a dissertation. (Pray my adviser doesn't see this...)