Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Christmas presents

So Susan's tag has now gotten me thinking about getting Christmas presents ready. I'll do the shopping for family and friends in Singapore when I get home but I've been thinking about what to do for our friends here. I can't afford to get everyone fancy presents of course, but I don't want to buy them trinklets they'll forget about the moment after they receive it either. Our friends here have become really important to us (and also those who have moved away whom we dearly miss!) and I think they deserve something nice this holiday season. So here's what I'm thinking- Cookies In A Jar. I'll pack the dry ingredients for one recipe-worth of holiday cookies in a jar and attach a greeting card with instructions on what wet ingredients to add and how to bake the cookies. I'm planning to layer the ingredients one after another instead of just mixing them up; this way the different texture and color of the ingredients will play off each other nicely. This works especially well with this recipe for Cranberry Hootycreeks which are essentially white chocolate cranberry cookies. The recipe calls for pecans but I think I'll leave those out in case people are allergic to nuts. This is how it'll look (I hope...):


The digital camera's with Jude so this is the closest I'll get to showing you the final product. I'll also buy gingham fabric to wrap the top of the jar and attach the greeting card and instructions with twine. It won't cost too much since they're really simple ingredients and canning jars aren't particularly expensive either. Hopefully they'll turn out pretty. They'd better- I haven't done this before and the last thing I want is to be stuck with a dozen jars and 70 cups worth of flour, oats, sugar, white chocolate chips and cranberries...

Here's the recipe if you're thinking of something similar for your friends:

INGREDIENTS:
5/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

DIRECTIONS:
1. Layer the ingredients in a 1 quart or 1 liter jar, in the order listed. Make sure you press hard on each layer you add in. This is to make space for all the ingredients.
2. Attach a tag with the following instructions:
Cranberry Hootycreeks
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, beat together 1/2 cup softened butter, 1 egg and 1 teaspoon of vanilla until fluffy.
3. Add the entire jar of ingredients, and mix together by hand until well blended. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets.
4. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until edges start to brown. Cool on baking sheets, or remove to cool on wire racks.
The recipe serves 18 and if you leave it in a cool place, it should last for about 3 months (the jar of ingredients, not the cookies!). Now we just have to hope I finish all my crazy work in time to destress with this holiday project...

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Top-10 Tearjerkers

Spent the last 2 hours crying my eyes out... Like my sister says, "I guess that means the girls in your class are going to do really well this semester..." Yes, watched The Notebook and they were right. About the crying at least. It's not a spectacular movie, but 1) it's a Nick Cassavetes movie (the guy always casts his mother in his movies- that's kinda creepy...) so it was well-crafted if nothing else; 2) the chemistry between the leads was really good; which brings me to 3) they convince you that their story is worth using half a box of tissue for.

Those who know me know that this is clearly not the first movie I've cried myself through, nor will it be the last. But as a self-professed pudding of a sappy sentimentalist (try saying that ten times in a row...), I defend my kind and say that there are movies that make you cry, and then there are movies that *really* make you cry. Sobbing at Bruce Willis bidding Liv Tyler farewell in Armageddon does not count. True-blue tearjerkers sustain the emotion throughout the movie- trust me, tear ducts are manipulable... So here's the list of my top-10 favorite tearjerkers. Bring on the Kleenex!

In no particular order...
1) The Mask
No, I did not cry when Jim Carrey turned green. This is the one with Eric Stolz and Cher where he suffers from the Elephant Man disease.
The part where I lost it:
When he was at the fair and walked into the Hall of Mirrors and saw a reflection of himself looking *normal*. He was so comfortable with how he looked right until then...

2) The Road Home
This is the one with Zhang Ziyi before she became Ziyi Zhang. I watched this with Jude's family and had such a hard time hiding the fact that I was a complete puddle. So embarassing...
The part where I lost it:
When she fell sick from sheer pining when he was summoned to Beijing by the Communist government.

3) Shadowlands
Watched this with my best friend. I think we couldn't speak after we came out of the theatre.
The part where I lost it:
Basically after she fell sick, I was watching it through a torrent. When she died, that was it.

4) Tombstone of the Fireflies
Need I say more?
The part where I lost it:
When the girl started hallucinating and ate pebbles from the candy tin her brother bought her. Jude bought me that exact tin of candy once and I thought I was going to cry right there at the supermarket.

5) Untamed Heart
I told people this before. Every line in this movie is calculated to make you bawl.
The part where I lost it:
Caroline: I have fallen...
Adam: Are you hurt?
Caroline: I wasn't finished.
Adam: Finish.
Caroline: I have fallen so in love with you, so much more than I said I would.
I know it sounds cheesy here, but you have to watch it in context. After 40 minutes, I gave up on tissues. I was using a bath towel.

6) The Hours
One of my all-time favorite movies. Ever. I don't think I've watched anything with such sustained melancholy. Not tragedy like The Pianist or Schindler's List. Melancholy.
The part where I lost it:
The sequence where Julianne Moore lies on the bed and begins to be engulfed by the gushing waters. Guess what else was gushing...

7 Stepmom
Gets me everytime I watch it even though I know Susan Sarandon is going to die. And the little boy just kills me...
The part where I lost it:
The blanket she makes for them. C'mon...

8) Dead Poets Society
You know the moment he makes them tear up their textbook that it isn't going to end well, but you hang in there. By the time Robert Sean Leonard kills himself, you're too far lost...
The part where I lost it:
"O captain my captain!"

9) Truly, Madly, Deeply
Like Ghost, but so much better, and British. The was Anthony Mighella before The English Patient, and Alan Rickman way before he was Professor Snape. Done so well, and so heartbreaking.
The part where I lost it:
When he came back from the dead and played the chello with her. Less sexy than Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in the pottery scene, but just as if not more evocative.

10) Ladyhawke
It can't get more painful than this: only being able to look upon each other as man and woman for that split moment between sunset and sunrise before he becomes wolf by day and she is cursed to be a hawk by night.
The part where I lost it:
Phillipe: Are you flesh, or are you spirit?
Isabeau: I am sorrow.

** Ok, in response to my husband's bafflement at some of my choices, I have defend this list by saying that tear-jerker status does not necessarily equate quality. A soppy movie isn't always a good movie which is why only some of these films are also on my Desert Island Movie List.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

I will survive...

He called! I was waiting for Jude to call since I woke up this morning and I'm happy to report that the man has survived the ungodly 23-hour journey (with awful Northwest Airlines food, brusque service & bad movies- except Junebug which he said was very good) and is now hopefully sound asleep in his parents' house in Shunfu Road.

Day 2 of being alone at home has been surprisingly painless. I slept in, woke up past noon, had Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch and am now trying to get my work in order for the rest of the semester. It's going to be one hell of a three-weeks till I leave for home, but seeing Jude again and spending Christmas with friends & family will be powerful motivations to suck it in and get it over with. If I can survive the next 20 days, I can survive anything...

On a lighter note, since Jude's gone, I figure I need other distractions from the tedium of work. Ended up borrowing three videos which I think cover a good range of movies. There's a summer blockbuster, War of the Worlds which we ended up watching together when he was packing the other night. If you ask me, everyone in that movie should have been killed by the aliens. Nothing in the movie made sense and the acting was deplorable: Tom Cruise was just plain smarmy, Dakota Fanning needs to be taught that there's a difference between yelling & screaming and real acting, and Tim Robbins' wonderful talent was so regretfully squandered that he should have jut shot himself.

I also have a sappy tearjerker- The Notebook. All my female students swear by both the novel and the book and insisted that my life would not be complete if I haven't watched it. And this is AFTER I told them that their grade will be determined by how much I enjoy the film. I don't know how I'd take to watching a love story and missing my husband at the same time, but if my living room lamp shortcircuits, you'll know why...

And lastly, Jude recommended an art-house documentary, Born Into Brothels. It's about child prostitutes working in the red-light districts in Calcutta. We've been wanting to watch this for a while but I just know it's going to be such a discomforting experience. I have a hard time watching anything with children in pain or suffering, but I guess if I seriously want to work with and help these very kids (well, not these kids specifically, but disadvantaged children in general), then this is something I'm going to have to deal with.

How's your Thanksgiving holiday going?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving alone

Considering the circumstances, Thanksgiving was a blast. My friend Julie wonderfully invited me to her family's Thanksgiving gathering because she was convinced I would shrivel up from pure despondence if I had to spend Thanksgiving alone. And I'm glad she did. This was my first real American Thanksgiving dinner. The past two years we've been here, Thanksgiving was always an excuse for an elaborate potluck (Singaporean curry, Korean bulgogi, orange-basted turkey, Chinese jiao zi, Spanish sangria, etc.), and I'd never had a proper sit-down Thanksgiving meal with all the works. So today was really nice- Julie's family is fabulous, there was waaay too much food (they sent me home with so much leftovers I'm going to have tryptophan oozing out my pores for the next few days!), and my definitive Thanksgiving experience has been cast: a huge cheese platter, green and red M&Ms (you gotta have green and red M&Ms!), the warmth and scent of vanilla and cinnamon candles everywhere, copious amounts of freely flowing wine which I did not have, a huge 19-pound lovingly prepared turkey, 2 kinds of cranberry sauce, cornbread and bacon stuffing, creamed onions, corn pudding, sweet potato mash, garlic potato mash, sauteed brussel sprouts, pumpkin pie, vanilla cranberry cake (which I baked and brought with me), copious amounts of freely flowing coffee which I did have, two adorable children (one of whom was running around the whole day half-naked), two golden retrievers, a cat, and a house full of wonderful people. It was an absolute privilege to have been part of the warmth and love they so clearly share.

The one thing that would have made it perfect is Jude. He's been gone 15 hours and I miss him already. It feels somewhat peculiar to be at home alone. Disconcerting perhaps. It's not like I'm scared or even lonely; a little lost maybe...

In the spirit of the season and as I sit here refreshing the Narita International Airport Arrival web-page to make sure my husband is transiting safely, here's something he shared with me a while back. It's a reminder that to be truly and utterly alive is to be grateful, aware and sensitive all at the same time.

i thank you God
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;
and for everything
which is natural which is infinite
which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;
this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:
and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
what ever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them
men are old
may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it's sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right
they are not young
and may my self do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there's never been
quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail
it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea
love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive
it is most sane and sunly
and more it connot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky
-e.e. cummings

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Optic Nerve!!!




This is the inside of my eye!!! I can seeeee youuuu!!!!
I just had my eyes examined and the optician/optometrist allowed me to keep the above image. Funny how the nerve itself resembles nodes and edges in Social Network Diagrams of blogs? If anything, I think my optic nerve's an outlier in a social network, hehehehe. Hmmm, maybe I am thinking too much about research ....

Monday, November 21, 2005

Affirmation

Got this off a former student's blog and found it an intriguing idea. Play along won't you?...
If you read this, if your eyes are passing over this right now, even if we don't speak often, please post a comment with a memory of you and one (or both) of us. It can be anything you want, either good or bad.

We promise not to burn your house down, either way... When you're finished, post this little paragraph on your blog and be surprised (or mortified) about what people remember about you.

Threadless no more...

Look what my sneaky husband surprised me with today- a yummy Threadless T-shirt!

Cookie Loves Milk


We've been both going ga-ga over their t-shirts for the longest time not only because of their deliriously tongue-in-cheek designs, but also for what can only be called an inspired business concept. People submit their designs to the site and members and the public (I think) alike can vote to get the ones they like printed. Some go out of stock pretty quickly but if enough people then request to get a particular design reprinted, it will. That's what happened to a t-shirt design Jude really likes.

My Pet Human

It was out of stock for the longest time and we both separately requested to get it reprinted. Last week, I got an email to say that it's been re-released, I ordered it intending to surprise Jude with it, and what happens? I find out he had gotten it as well!! I had to call them to cancel the order and his t-shirt arrived yesterday along with the one that he got for me... So I'm a happy girl :)

Am now buying a whole bunch of them for friends and family for Christmas (let's see if my best friend can guess which one I got for her...). So many of the ones I like are sold out already but I've been frantically requesting reprints so, cross your fingers! Here are some of my favorites, and you have to think of the designs in relation to their names- that's where it gets really inspired.

  • The Flat House
  • Come back to Me
  • A Room With A View
  • Well, This Just Really Sucks...
  • Pillow Fight
  • Moby Was A Consumer
  • Gingerbread Nightmares

  • "C is for cookie, that's good enough for me
    C is for cookie, that's good enough for me
    C is for cookie, that's good enough for me
    Oh, cookie, cookie, cookie starts with C"
    - Cookie Monster

    Friday, November 18, 2005

    Google galore

    Here's a sweet gallery of the Google logo as it's evolved through the years. You'll notice as your eye scans the many "Google"s, the word stops making any sense after a while...

    This is my favorite:

    The ones that form a narrative are especially cute...

    Thursday, November 17, 2005

    First snow

    Yes, it's here. The first sign that my favorite season is over and winter has come to stay for the next five months... The first flurries started during lunch time and look set to get heavier through the night. It won't snow again after tomorrow until Thanksgiving but I don't think the temperature's going to get warmer though. It really plummeted today and I had to finally give in and wear gloves- bummer...

    Here's pictures of the gorgeous tree outside our house. The one on the left is how it looked when my family was here a couple of weeks ago, and the other is what's left of it now after two weekends of unnervingly strong winds.



    On the one hand, it's kinda depressing looking at it like this, but on the other, there's also an incredible sense of promise, like yeah, it'll be this way for the next few months, but think of all the extraordinary things that are happening inside the tree as it gets ready to leaf again in March (see what happens when you've been here long enough? You end up with an entire repetoire of positive thinking mechanisms to make the best of the long winters, like talking yourself into believing that cold winds are "cathartic" and "invigorating" instead of just admitting that they're plain... well, *cold*.)

    Besides, I was crossing the street today when a single pristine snowflake landed on my glove and I had a sudden vision of Ann Arbor blanketed in immaculate white snow. I'll regret saying this in two months, but it was a nice mental picture. I actually like snow, it's the cold I have problems dealing with. It might help if I read and re-read this Stevens poem often enough, disengage myself from the bitter cold, and chant over and over again, "Serene, winter is all a state of mind..."

    The Snow Man
    One must have a mind of winter
    To regard the frost and the boughs
    Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

    And have been cold a long time
    To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
    The spruces rough in the distant glitter

    Of the January sun; and not to think
    Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
    In the sound of a few leaves,

    Which is the sound of the land
    Full of the same wind
    That is blowing in the same bare place

    For the listener, who listens in the snow,
    And, nothing himself, beholds
    Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
    - Wallace Stevens

    Tuesday, November 15, 2005

    If you need a break...

    ...like we do, here's some of the latest archived shows on Morning Becomes Eclectic. I just spent more than an hour attempting to de-stress, going through the videos and sound clips with my dinner propped precariously on my lap, trying to feed myself, flipping my notes, and clicking the mouse at the same time. Talk about a multi-sensory, multi-tasking experience.

    Enjoy!

    1) My Morning Jacket
    2) Joe Henry
    3) Broken Social Scene
    4) Imogen Heap
    5) Tracy Chapman
    6) Teenage Fanclub
    7) Keane
    8) Sigur Ros
    9) Death Cab for Cutie
    10) Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah
    11) Michael Penn
    12) The New Pornographers
    13) David Gray
    14) Turin Brakes

    Friday, November 11, 2005

    Too much?



    Ok, say it- this would be too much right? Be honest.

    If we signed up for the program, no one's going to believe we're really poor grad students. Seriously. We are.

    We just also love coffee.

    "I believe humans get a lot done, not because we're smart, but because we have thumbs so we can make coffee."
    -Flash Rosenberg

    Thursday, November 10, 2005

    For shame ...

    I came across this shocking story via boingboing. Inheirited from the British, we are still continuing this legacy of execution by hanging. What compels me about this story is the fact that its a JOB for this guy and he explicitly treats it as such. Not a piece of journalism for the faint of heart I must warn.

    Nguyen executioner revealed.

    "They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more"
    - Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

    Wednesday, November 09, 2005

    The raccoon story

    Someone asked me for the full arc of the raccoon story. I knew it would tug at heartstrings. Here it is. Enjoy!









    The beat my heart skipped

    And this is something my cousin Terri will totally empathize with- they've released all the Calvin & Hobbes cartoons into one giant 3-volume collection!! Hailed as the last great newspaper comic strip, I was in mourning when Bill Watterson retired only after 10 years of drawing two of my favorite cartoon strip characters (who, I was flabbergasted to find out, are named after two rather humourless philosophers- John Calvin & Thomas Hobbes) to concentrate on painting. There are a few cartoons I still love today, like Foxtrot (as a teacher, I couldn't decide if I love Jason or not...) and the bittingly funny Sherman's Lagoon, but there's nothing like the flights of fancy mounted by an endearingly annoying little boy and his more than intelligent stuffed tiger.

    [click on each strip to enlarge]



    The strip first introducing Calvin's epic love-hate relationship with feminist-to-be Susie Derkins:


    This story arc made me realize that deep down inside, this tyrant of a six-year old might not be such a brat afterall:



    And who said cute cartoon strips can't make insightful political commentary?


    NPR has a good story on the new collection.

    Monday, November 07, 2005

    Does Jeff Daniels care about local politics?

    [click for video]

    This is downright hilarious, but only to the select few who understand what it means to chart the geography of Michigan on your palm... These people do their research man! As someone said, this is worth going home right now and missing a meal for!

    Sunday, November 06, 2005

    LiveSTRONG

    Ok, I have new found respect for Lance Armstrong. He's no longer some guy who wears a yellow wrist band, is engaged to Sheryl Crow, and just happens to bike really well. Biking really well has taken on a whole new meaning...

    So Jude & I finally both have our own bikes. He got his off Craigslist a couple of weeks ago and has actually been biking to school already; we just got mine today with the birthday ang-pow my parents gave me. I think Jude was more eager than me to baptize my new aluminium toy so we went trail-biking with Olivier. Mind you, this was my first serious biking experience in a long time. The last time we biked like that was around Rottnest Island off Perth four years ago.

    Anyways, so off we went along the trail (ok, off they went, I was trying hard to figure out how to bike straight- I still can't understand why that was so hard for me- use my fancy brakes and gears, and not quite succeeding...) and what should happen on my first trail biking expedition and on my new bike no less? I hit a huge branch and fall. Hard. And the bike kinda landed on my chin. *Darn* And so Jude and Olivier come by to find me most unglamorously slumped in a pile of aluminium (the bike was of course unscathed, not even a scratch), wet leaves, soil, and incomprehensibly, ash.

    I'm fine now- the chin still hurts a little and my right arm's a little sore, but generally ok. It was in retrospect really rather exhilirating- I know Jude had a blast :) Just give me some time to work on my coordination skills and reflex action- maybe in a month or so I'll be able to empathize more with people who would willingly put themselves in undignified tights, a funny platypus-bill looking helmet, three layers of thermal wind-proof clothes and ride in Winter.

    My Trek 4500 WSD:


    Jude's Gary Fisher Marlin:

    Saturday, November 05, 2005

    Deprived childhood

    It doesn't get any better than this- sixty degree weather, cloudless skies, and trees in saturated goldens, reds, and oranges I could almost believe I was in a Gauguin painting. If Ann Arbor stayed this way all year, I'd stay here for the rest of my life. But it doesn't, so... Anyways, so what was I doing at 11 in the morning when the rest of the city was probably gratefully soaking in the gorgeous blessing of this beautiful day? Stuck in front of my computer writing about the history of Head Start.

    That is until a frantic knocking at my door.

    Only one person knocks at my door like that in the middle of the day. My neighbor Audrey. She pokes her head in and asks breathlessly, "Hey, do you want to jump into a leaf pile with me?" And how does a person respond when she has a whole ton of schoolwork to do? She listens to the kid.

    And so went a good portion of the next hour. I just stood there watching her burrow through a huge pile of leaves her mum had racked, perform stunts only a four year-old with no concept of pain would do, and allowed myself to be talked into jumping into the leaves in my PJs. Several times. Very dignified.

    So there is the story of Serene Koh and how she jumped into her first leaf pile. Ever.

    Here's Audrey in her element:

    Tuesday, November 01, 2005

    They came and went...

    So, the whirlwind- otherwise known as my family- has come and gone. I think everyone had an awesome time- my parents now want to retire here and open a ramen shop and my sisters want to come to U-M. I have to say though that Ann Arbor was at its best for them- the colors were gorgeous, and the weather was cool enough to be just about chilly without being frigid. And my folks were also kinda let down by New York before coming here because everything was soggy and congested so Ann Arbor was literally a breath of fresh air.

    Things were a little hectic at times what with juggling work and wanting to keep them company, but I think everything went well retrospectively. We manage to squeeze in an amazing amount of stuff to do considering the schedule- berry-picking, shopping, eating, celebrating my birthday, Niagra Falls, Toronto, cooking, and a full-fledge Halloween experience!

    The house is a little quiet now without Sherri bustling in the kitchen and Sam traipsing about (I think deep down she thinks she's a squirrel). It was great having them here and I am a little sad that they're gone. But I'll be home in 6 weeks so that's some kind of comfort.

    My favorite picture of my sisters and I: