Saturday, September 25, 2010

On Life and Living

...Because death and dying is much too morose and negative for the following post.

I attended a memorial today for a family friend who recently died in a car crash. She was young and her death was, as car crashes have a habit of being, a sudden shock and of course very sad for everyone who knew her. I did not know her especially well, and I am a few years younger than she was (these tense changes are confusing), but our families sometimes visited and so I did spend some time with her.

Her memorial service reminded me of what's really important in life: love and being in the moment.

You can think that's corny, but if you do you're an asshole (ha, wow, what an un-loving sentence this is). Really though, that's all we have, no matter how you slice it. Some Coldplay came on my shuffle as I was driving home tonight and the lyrics got right into my brain: yeah, we do all have someone to lean on and yeah, we really do live in a beautiful world. Sure, it's totally fucked up, but it's totally beautiful too. So why not do all we can to appreciate that? And why not honour our incredible ability to care for other people?

Why, since life is so short, do we put off things that are, in the end, so important? Things pile up and get in the way of friendships and family, but awful accidental tragic terrible things happen to remind us to wake up and re-evaluate how we value (or do not value) the people in our lives. What if you're not alive tomorrow? What if I'm not? I don't want to be one of those silly idiots who goes out and gets Carpe Diem tattooed on her lower back (how perfect of a tramp stamp would that be?!), but this horrific loss of life has changed my mind to believe that this is really the only way to lead a full, happy, honest, carefree life.

Why not strive to do your best? Why not smile? Why not start conversations with strangers? Why not keep in touch with your brother? Why not look people in the eye and tell them why you will or will not ___? So many people ask why they should do something. Well, really, why not?

Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. -Rumi

Monday, September 20, 2010

Misty Malahat, Murchies, Morphology and Marvelosity

Well jeez, it seems as though I've fallen off the blogging bandwagon a little bit. An update? Don't mind if I do. I wonder if I can get this all down in the 20 minutes before I leave for school. Yes, school, I'm still doing that! Only 11 weeks to go, but it's already very hard and I'm already going to be attending some office hours to help me with my first assignments.

Commuting to school has been interesting. I'm finding that soothing music helps with my road rage on the two days per week that I drive and reading on the bus is absolutely fantastic. I haven't had any creepy weirdos talk to me yet, but there are 11 weeks left. One thing I really love about driving on the Malahat four days every week is how damn picturesque it is. Most days it has been misty and foggy and sooo pretty.
Ok, so it's not the best picture, but it was taken on my (new!) cell phone. Blog post to follow about that bittersweet event.

Tuesdays and Fridays are my bus commuting days, on which I get up at 6:30 and take the 7:00 commuter bus. I get into town at around 8:15 and I get so much work done because my classes don't start until 12:30! Last Friday I met my friend Meghan at Murchies and we had a delightful time knitting the morning away. In fact, I was having such a good time I almost forgot about my 12:30 class. Luckily Meghan reminded me at noon that I had a class and off I went on the closest bus to school!

School itself is hard, I won't deny that. In fact, I'll be the very first to admit it. I think the people in my classes think I'm a bit dim, but I just don't remember anything from my courses last year. It's really frightening, actually. I'm not really sure how someone who got relatively good grades (a B and two B-'s) in the feeder courses for the ones I'm taking could feel so lost with the homework she has been given, especially phonology and morphology. Syntax I am just fine with. The upside of this is, though, that this is the first year I really feel like I can ask for help and elaborate on what I don't know.

(Aside: someone just walked past the window where Friskies is sitting staring out. They saw her and said "Oh hi, you're pretty". I am so proud.)

GP has been really good so far about taking on more responsibilities at home. In the summer I did most of the household chores because I wasn't really doing anything, so I could. Now, though, we both have school and work, so GP has to pick up some slack and I must say he's doing marvelously. It's his responsibility to make dinner twice a week and do the laundry, while I'm responsible for cleaning and making dinner on the other nights. Whoever cooks doesn't do the dishes. I think it's pretty fair and it's helping me a lot with getting more work done. Last weekend and the weekend before he made me pancakes. I hope this is the beginning of a wonderful routine!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

First Years

School started yesterday and as much as I sometimes loathe going to school, I was feeling incredibly nostalgic because yesterday was my last first day of undergrad. I can remember my very first first day like it was yesterday (cliché, I know, but it's true) and watching all those bright-eyed first years wander around with the obviously faked look of knowing where they were going made me look back on my university experience. What would I have done differently if I could start over? What advice would I give to someone starting university for the first time, fresh out of high school? Between my victory lap or two, almost transferring to three schools, and changing education paths more times than I care to admit, I like to think I know a bit about what to do and what not to do at school. Then again, the more I learn the less I know and the more I learn the less I believe there is one way to get things done. However, if you were to do things my way, here is how you would do them:

1. Live in rez, preferably with a roommate. It's the experience. How are you going to know what you like and dislike in a roommate if you never have (ha, almost typed 'hate' there, Freudian slip I guess) one? I know people who absolutely loved their first year roomies and still talk to them. I know other people, myself included, who ended up abhorring them and blocked them on Facebook as soon as they signed up for the damn site. I also know people who loved living in rez and hated it. Both my brother and I hated it, for different reasons. Actually, that's not true. I really liked the people but I hated the actual building and the oppressive atmosphere of the university and city in general. My brother hated the lifestyle. Actually, I guess I didn't like it either. But what I'm trying to say here is that you need to live in rez, even if you don't think you'll like it, because it's one year that you can look back on and say "Good heavens, what a great/awful year, I wish I could/I'm glad I don't have to do it again".

This was the whiteboard outside our door, probably near the end of our relationship.

2. DO NOT have a boyfriend/girlfriend. I made this mistake in first year. It was even worse for me because my relationship was long-distance. I know lots of people who stayed with their high school boyfriends/girlfriends in first year and regret it. First year is about meeting new people and finding your niche, and you just can't do that with the responsibility of a relationship. It's about not putting your eggs in one basket. You need a balance between all your relationships and, although this takes a while to figure out (I'm only figuring it out now, when I'm almost done school), it's nice to get a head-start in first year.

Puppy love.

3. Take courses you're really excited about as well as ones you're either only vaguely interested in or have never heard of before. The only reason I am in Linguistics now is because of a whim. Some of the best courses I've ever taken were completely off the cuff decisions, like EPHE 142-Personal Health, Wellness and Potential. Other courses I enjoyed were things I knew I was interested in but didn't know much about, like Women's Studies. Don't be afraid of what people will think if you tell them what courses you're taking and don't let people bully you into taking courses you're not into. I took an introductory PSYCH course because everyone else was and I absolutely hated it. Stay on top of add/drop dates so that you know when you can get out of a class if you don't like it. You don't have to explain why you're taking a course to anyone; your education is your decision and if you're in French but you want to take a Computer Science class, take it, dammit! Also, don't think you have to take only 100-level courses in first year, only 200-level courses in second year, etc. Learn how the calendar works, how prereqs work and make your courses work for you.

4. Learn about what services are available to you and TAKE ADVANTAGE of them!
The UVic health plan covers a lot of dental, as well as massage therapy, chiropractic, physio and other things too, I think. Need a pair of orthotics? Get 'em while you're at school because they are WAY cheaper! Believe me, I've done it. Prescriptions are also partially covered, so get your HPV vaccine right now while you're young and it's cheap. I've done that and have the reduced risk of cancer to prove it.

This goes for teachers' office hours, too. I consistently get higher marks in the courses of professors whose office hours I attend when I need help. I think this is because when you really have a good grasp on a concept the other course material becomes more interesting. How are you going to be interested in something you don't understand? Of course, there are exceptions to this. GP didn't talk to any of his profs in undergrad and pulled off very high marks, but it doesn't hurt to at least go and introduce yourself. Profs, like wild beasts, are a lot less scary when you have them cornered in their offices.

5. Join a club. Just join one. You will meet people who share your interests and learn how to talk to strangers. This is the only time when you'll have this kind of thing thrown at you, and it will look fantastic on your resume.

6. Party your nuts off, if that's what you're into. You need to get all your hormone-drenched beer-thirsty naive first year partying over and done with while you're still in first (and second) year so you can focus on school in the subsequent years. Profs design first year courses knowing that you're a dumb high school kid who has a lot more to think about than English 135, so take advantage of that. This is the only time you're going to be able to enjoy the freedom of partying-mid week, not having anyone to answer to, and not having any real responsibilities. As Ms. Frizzle says, make mistakes and get messy. Just remember the next piece of advice...
This about sums it up.

7. Take care of your body. You've surely heard of the Freshman Fifteen, where you're supposed to gain an extra fifteen pounds in first year because of all the shit young irresponsible people put in their bodies. Don't do that! Eat well. There are healthy options if you look for them; you might have to get creative, but your body is worth it. Don't, for god's sake, eat donuts for breakfast, burgers for lunch, and fettuccine alfredo for dinner every day just because you can! Many people do this and end up feeling bad about themselves. Many people also feel bad about themselves and try to eat as little as possible. Don't do that either. It will deplete your brain power and physical energy and make you want to binge on really awful food, which will lead you to feel even worse about your body afterward. I'm no doctor, but I think it's safe to say eating vegetables and lean protein and staying away from fried foods and refined carbohydrates will give you a leg up on nutrition.

Studies also show that physical exercise not only improves brain power, but also helps you sleep better, avoid depression, cancer and heart disease, and significantly increase your self confidence. A minimum of 30 minutes a day is all you need and it's likely you spend that much time procrastinating on Facebook, so why not take a walk and take your phone with you so you can walk and procrastinate at the same time?

Also, you should have an up-to-date medical history, so go to the campus medical clinic on AT LEAST a yearly basis to get screened for the plethora of disgusting illnesses that plague first year students. It's important to have a baseline for your health.

Above all, respect yourself and the fact that this body is the only one you're going to have. Take it out for exercise and feed it good things. Don't make foolish mistakes that have serious life-changing consequences. Pregnancy can be fixed (depending on your beliefs, but if you have those kinds of beliefs you're likely not going to be in that situation anyway); HIV, HPV and herpes cannot, so use a damn condom if you're the humping type.

8. Don't go home every weekend if that's an option. You need space from your family to grow up and they need space from you to learn how to let you grow up. Besides, you should be out making friends, not going home and eating chicken soup made from scratch every weekend, as nice as that sounds. Finding out who you are means sometimes being uncomfortable and/or unhappy and learning how to deal with that yourself, without the help and comfort of home.

9. Call your mother. She loves you and she wants to know you're safe. She remembers when she was in university (maybe??) and how crazy first year was. She worries. You don't have to call every day, but once a week would be nice. You never know what could happen, so it's good to keep on good terms at most times. There is also something in it for you, because when you have a good relationship with your family they'll be more likely to help when you phone at 1 am on a Tuesday morning in late November when you're up to your eyeballs in papers and assignments and it's not going anywhere and you're running out of money because your Theatre prof requires that you attend expensive theatrical performances and you don't know what to do because you feel like you're getting the strep throat that's been going around in rez and you really (sob) just (sob) need (sob) a hug. When a hug is impossible you'd be surprised at how good most mums are at pep talks. If you don't have a mum for this, you can call mine.
She's great.

10. Use your agenda. I cannot stress this enough. WRITE EVERYTHING in that thing! If you've never been organized, now is definitely the time to at least try. And sometimes if you fake it long enough it just starts being an actual skill. Also, write your name and phone number in the front of it. I have been saved by that on more than one occasion.

11. Talk to people. First year is when relationships are made and broken. If you don't talk to people in your first year and stick your feelers out as much as possible you will have nobody to take notes for you in third and fourth years, when school actually matters. There's also the fact that if you're from out of town you won't know anyone and you need to know people to at least find out where stuff is, if not to have people to hang out with. Plus, it's a confidence booster to know that you have the social skills to strike up random conversations and the more you do it the better you get at it.

12. Don't text in class. It is SO disrespectful to the prof. Think about how you'd like it if you were giving a speech on the thing you're most passionate about and someone whips out their cellphone for the entire duration. Don't think s/he can't see you, because s/he has had lots of experience with in-class texters and you, likely, have had less. Sure, you've paid for the course, but that doesn't give you a license to be rude to the professor. Also, it totally gives you away as a first year. As does a cell phone ringing in class, so just turn it off.

13. Take things when they're free. Trust me when I say you'll need every last penny, so when they hand out free bars of soap in rez, take as many as your pride will allow. Same goes with sticky notes, pens, binders, and toothpaste, not to mention free coupon books that give you $10 off when you spend $__ at Thrifty's. I'm not ashamed to admit I picked up quite a few of those and abused the hell out of them. Maybe I'm the reason they stopped doing that. Don't buy an agenda or any clothing at the bookstore in September. You can get an agenda for free at the SUB and the bookstore has REALLY good sales usually at the middle and/or end of the semester. You should, however, buy your books when the bookstore is busy. If you're a first year this is a rite of passage that you cannot miss: it builds character.

14. Don't own a car. Chances are pretty good you'll meet some dumb chump who owns a car and has to pay for the parking, insurance and increasingly expensive fuel, if not the loans too. It is unlikely, if you live in rez, that you'll ever need a car. If you do, though, borrow someone else's and make them cookies in exchange. As well as being a waste of money, cars just don't enable you to explore a city like the bus does. On foot you get to know a place a lot more intimately. Also, if you're taking the bus you're forced to plan ahead and know when and how you're getting somewhere. This helps with getting home from the bar (although if you're an 18 year-old first year I guess you wouldn't be going to the bar in B.C.- head to Alberta for first year!) and with people who have trouble being on time. And hey, not owning car is good for the environment too, so that's cool. I wish I could practice what I preach here, although I guess I didn't own a car in first year so I'm still ok.
Do as I say, not as I do.

15. Respect money. If you are someone who is putting yourself through school, you know (hopefully) how important it is to be wise with your money. Make a budget and stick to it. DO NOT get a credit card. And don't make people whose parents pay for their schooling feel bad. Just because money isn't a problem for them doesn't mean their lives are easy. If you are someone whose parents pay for your schooling, don't tell many people and don't lend people money. If you do, don't expect it to be paid back and do expect to have a lot of 'splainin' to do when your parents find out you lent Whatshertits x-amount of their hard-earned cash because she was irresponsible with hers. Respect your parents and their money by making a budget and sticking to it. They will appreciate this and will be more likely to give you extra money for fun things once in a while. Also, realize that you are in your current financial situation entirely by luck.

16. Don't eat at Applebee's. The food and drinks are overpriced and under-tasty. Support your on-campus pub instead. Oh, and to save you from making an embarrassing faux pas like I did, it's prouncounced fuh-LISS-ih-tahs, not fell-ee-SEE-tahs. (It's annoying not having the IPA alphabet on my keyboard. If I could write all my sentences in IPA I probably would... Maybe.)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Of a cat who knows she's not supposed to be on the bed.
It shouldn't be surprising that she has climbed onto the couch and is now purring in my lap.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cake on Judgement Day

No, I have not become a born-again (actually, I guess it would be 'born for the first time') fanatic Christian. I have just been thinking about how much I tend to judge people. On the weekend our friends David and Jenn got married and being around them reminded me of how open they are to new people and how they don't seem to form any preconceptions about people they meet. They are truly great people in many ways, but this is something about them in particular that I definitely aspire to.

These people are not David and Jenn.

David's telling me "I really look forward to getting to know you better" was really refreshing because so often people make snap judgments and simply think that you are how you look and their expectations of you form your personality for them before you even get a chance to be yourself. (Whew, you can tell I'm worked up about something when the sentence is longer than it really should be.) I'm probably the most judgmental person I know, but I also get misjudged constantly. Sure, I knit, wear cardigans and adore my cat, but I also swear like a truck driver and enjoy conversations about Feminism, semantics and/or masturbation. I know just as well as the next guy that having someone else's incorrect or incomplete definition of you shoved down your throat is so goddamn frustrating.

So why can't I let go of snap-judging? Because not being judgmental is a skill; it's not something humans are born with. You can't just tell yourself "I'm not going to think anything about this person until they give me a reason to" and have that happen consistently forevermore. Actually, maybe it's even an art. Hell, I don't know, I'm just flying by the seat of my pants here.

What I'm trying to say is that everything is not as it seems: there's always more to the story. This is really more of a reminder for me than anything else.

And now for the "cake" part of this post:

For quite a while my brother was in a relationship with a wonderful person, Sophia, who happened to be the daughter of an amazing cook- May. Our families got quite close and sometimes we would be fortunate enough to visit when May was cooking an authentic Chinese feast. I'm not sure why, because I'm sure she would have great success, but May never liked to make dessert. She probably just spent so much energy on dinner that by the time dessert came around she simply had nothing left. The reason doesn't matter, really, because most times we went to dinner (and dessert) at the Xiang residence we would be treated to an amazing Chinese Bakery cake.

This cake is, I will have you know, quite different from normal cakes. It is an extremely light and only slightly sweet sponge leavened with eggs (no baking powder) and iced with gelatin-stabilized whipped cream, which is a helluva lot tastier than it sounds. Usually the cake is decorated with fresh fruit and sometimes draped with very thinly-sliced mango. I had (curiously) forgotten about this ambrosial cake until I stumbled across a recipe for it on a lovely food blog that I frequent. I knew I had to make it sometime, so I bookmarked it for the right occasion, which came around this weekend for GP's birthday. I made a mango/blackberry version:If you don't trust the pictures above (I wouldn't blame you- the lighting leaves a lot to be desired), I can tell you myself that the cake came out very very well. If you're considering making the cake yourself, you might be interested to know that 4/5 of a cup is 2/3 cup plus three tablespoons, for the sugar measurement (so that's 1/3 cup plus 1.5 tbsp. when you split it in half, as the recipe calls for). Also, you should make sure your forearms are strong because there is a LOT of folding to incorporate all those egg whites!

GP had an excellent weekend food-wise, if I do say so myself, because on the morning of Saturday (his real birthday, but also Jenn and David's wedding day, so we saved the birthday dinner for tonight) I made him wholewheat Belgian waffles with an apple-blueberry-ginger compote and, of course, whipped cream. Behold:
Fucking YUM.