Saturday, December 28, 2013

Nailed it

The Bloggess has a fantastic post about turning 40 that is simply too good not to share. My favorite bit:

40 is when you get to be just as stupid and forgetful as you were at 20, but instead of blaming it on being stupid you can pretend that you once knew all of the answers to Trivia Pursuit but you’ve simply forgotten a few things because you’re getting older. And no one can question that. This same logic works for asking questions everyone else is thinking but won’t say out loud, using the wrong fork, calling out people on their bullshit, and forgetting everyone else’s birthdays. It’s not your fault. You’re 40. You’re just young enough to still do everything you still want to do and just old enough to not do anything you don’t want to do ever again.
Go read the whole thing...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving thanks for… finding true love

Like a lot of people, I have a bucket list. I can’t remember when I first started adding things to it but a lot of the items have been there for several years already. Some are sort of cliché (doesn’t everyone want to travel to Australia and Greece?), some are silly, and some make me embarrassed that they are still on there (how many times do I have to say that I need to re-learn Spanish?). But one thing that they almost all have in common is that they are things that I actually have the power, if not the willpower/money/time, to do. That is, there might be various material or mental blocks stopping me from crossing those items off the list, but if I REALLY decided I wanted to do them, I physically could.

The one exception is the first thing I put on the list, however many years ago: “Experience true love”. This is the one thing on the list that I always felt maybe didn’t belong there because while it is something I definitely wanted to do before dying, it is not something that I really have any control over. It’s not like I can just decide to be in love with someone and make them love me back in the same way.

What do I mean by ‘true love’? If you’re like me, you might be hearing lines from The Princess Bride in your head at this point. And in some ways, yes, I’m talking about fairy tale love – not ‘happily ever after’ love or ‘I can’t live without you’ love or ‘I think you’re perfect’ love, but ‘willing to stick it out and work through problems together’ love, ‘life is honestly better with you than without you’ love, ‘I see exactly who you are and while you’re not perfect, I like the whole package’ love. For me, given my history of “loving” men who didn’t love me back, it particularly means feeling loved, not just knowing it intellectually but believing it, emotionally.

Let me be clear: wanting to experience true love sometime in my life does not mean that I was unhappy with being single or that I was sitting around hoping to meet “Mr. Right”. On the contrary, I feel very strongly that the people with the best chance of experiencing true love are those who are most OK without it. But I also think that if I had died without ever truly being in love, I would regret missing out on that experience. I also think that I would probably always wonder whether being happily single could really be as satisfying as being truly in love (it should go without saying that I believe being happily single is WAY better than being in a just any old relationship).

So I am deeply grateful that I met J and that I can cross this one off my bucket list. Loving him, and being loved by him, has added a dimension of happiness to my life that is hard to put into words and that I really could not have imagined before I met him. Our relationship isn’t always roses and sunshine, and neither of us is perfect, but somehow, we are perfect for each other.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Giving thanks for… a job I love

These days, I suppose I should be thankful just to HAVE a job but I am doubly blessed to have a job that I think is pretty much perfect for me (and perhaps triple-blessed that my job is about as secure as they come). I haven’t always thought so – about seven years ago, just after I got tenure, I did a lot of soul-searching to figure out if I wanted to stay in academia and if I did, if I wanted to stay at my particular university. What I realized was that although it isn’t always perfect and there certainly are a few things I wish I could change (like the personality of some of my colleagues!), there really isn’t any other job that I can imagine being a better fit for me. Being a professor gives me a ton of flexibility to work on the projects that I am most interested in, gives me a feeling of contributing to the world by helping my students become more critical thinkers, and allows me the flexibility to mostly avoid colleagues I find incredibly annoying. Being a professor at my particular institution (a state university) means that teaching is even more rewarding because many of my students are the first in their families to attend college, and the research expectations are not so great that I am constantly stressed out. Of course, being a state school, the pay isn’t great but I get to live in San Diego.

Do you love your job?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Music Mondays: Getting in the holiday spirit

This is another Pentatonix song but they just (like today) released their newest video, Little Drummer Boy, and of course, it's amazing!

And if you haven't seen it, their Carol of the Bells is probably the best arrangement I've heard of a song that a LOT of a cappella groups do...

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Giving thanks for… my mom

Today is my mom’s birthday (I won’t say which one but it’s a round number) so this is an easy post. My mom is one of my heroes, for so many reasons, and over the years, my appreciation for how awesome she is has only grown.

Although there are a lot of things to admire about my mom, I think the one trait that I most wish I could acquire is her ability to stay calm in situations that would have me freaking out. When I’m stressed out, or pissed off, or over-reacting to something someone has said/done to me, it always makes me feel calmer to talk to her. She just has a way of putting things in perspective, pointing out that there is no point getting all upset about things that are outside our control, while still empathizing and letting me vent.

Like most children, I definitely butted heads with my parents when I was younger. I couldn’t wait to get out on my own. But it didn’t take long after college for me to appreciate everything they had done for me so that I was actually able to take care of myself. Both my parents are, and always have been, incredibly supportive of everything I do, sometimes in ways that I didn’t recognize until years later. But even more, they are really non-judgmental – I’m pretty sure my parents make a conscious effort NOT to express their opinions about my life choices, and that’s definitely driven by my mom (let’s just say that my dad tends to have stronger opinions about things than my mom so I have to believe that him not saying anything is because my mom tells him he can’t). Unlike many of my friends, I have never once heard anything along the lines of, “When are you going to get married?” “Don’t you want kids?” or simply “Why did you do that?” I can’t tell you how many times one of my friends has related a story about something their parents said or did, basically butting into their lives, that was driving them crazy, and I’ve had to bite my tongue to stop myself from saying, “Hmmm, I can’t imagine my mom ever saying something like that.”

So happy birthday to the awesomest woman I know, and thank you for everything you do for me – I love you Mom!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Giving thanks for… liking who I am, right now

Women at Forty had a post about how some people get freaked out about turning 40 because if you don’t have the life you want (or thought you wanted), it may seem like 40 is ‘too old’ to do much about it. The point of the post is that “it’s never too late to be who you might have been” - if you don’t like your life, you can always change it, and rather than being a problem, being older instead often means we have the wisdom and power to make changes that we might not have made earlier.

Although I know that the post is supposed to be encouraging and empowering, there was something about that quote (“it’s never too late to be who you might have been”) that didn’t sit right with me. I’ve been mulling it over and I think what I don’t like is the past tense in the second part of the sentence. For one thing, it doesn’t make sense, grammatically – it IS, in fact, too late to be ‘who you might have been’ because the person you might have been is, by definition, something that cannot exist in the present. I realize that the author is referencing the way people will say, “I could have been…” and the quote is trying to respond to that with “You still can be…” but the grammar is just weird.

More importantly, the way the quote is phrased seems, to me, to emphasize looking backward. That is, it refers to the idea of who you wanted to be in the past, rather than who you are now and who you want to be now. Maybe I’m just nitpicking but I would much prefer “It’s never too late to be the person you want to be” or “It’s never too late to love who you are”. Those both put the focus more on the present.

Regardless of how you phrase it, the underlying point is that many people are not, currently, happy with who they are – and as I thought about that, I realized that I am not one of those people. It’s taken a while but I feel like I’m finally in a place where I can honestly say that I like who I am. That’s not to say that I don’t have flaws or that there aren’t things I’m still working to change. But for the most part, I’m pretty happy with who I am and where I am in my life. And I am deeply grateful that I can say that…

Are you happy with who you are, or still trying to figure out how to be ‘who you might have been’?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Giving thanks for… Fall

One of the things I learned from living in Wisconsin was why people from outside California make such a big deal about seasons. As a native Californian, I thought I knew what seasons were – as I once said to a classmate in college, “We do too have seasons; there are months when it’s cold and rainy, and then it gets nice again.” But when I moved to Wisconsin, I realized why my classmate had just looked at me like I was nuts.

In contrast to what most people assumed, I loved the winter in Wisconsin. Growing up, snow was something that we drove several hours to play in so I associated it with fun, and I had never gotten to experience walking around while it was actually snowing. In contrast, I HATED the summers. In general, I prefer cold to heat and I REALLY can’t stand humidity. So in a lot of ways, fall became my favorite season because I was always so ready for the cooler weather.

In Wisconsin, the turn from summer to fall often seemed sort of abrupt – one day it would be hot and humid, then the next would be much cooler with a noticeable crispness in the air. In San Diego, the change is, of course, less dramatic, and fall here seems to tease us – it will seem like fall has arrived but then in late October, early November, we often have several days where the temperatures go back up (thank you Santa Ana winds). But I love days like today, when it’s chilly enough to be comfortable in jeans and a sweater, and daylight savings time makes the day feel shorter. Hot soup is even yummier and the crispness of the air reminds me of the holidays and all the goodness that goes along with them.

What is your favorite season?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Music Mondays: Pentatonix' Royals

Today's song is another one that I love, not for the lyrics (posted below), but because the arrangement and performance are so awesome. If you don't know Pentatonix from The Sing-Off, they are the coolest thing to happen to a cappella since... well, I don't know that a cappella has ever really been 'cool' but that's definitely the best word to describe Pentatonix...


[Verse 1]
I've never seen a diamond in the flesh
I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies
And I'm not proud of my address,
In a torn-up town, no postcode envy

But every song's like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin' in the bathroom
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin' the hotel room,
We don't care, we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody's like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.
We don't care, we aren't caught up in your love affair.

And we'll never be royals (royals).
It don't run in our blood,
That kind of luxe just ain't for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I'll rule, I'll rule, I'll rule, I'll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

[Verse 2]
My friends and I—we've cracked the code.
We count our dollars on the train to the party.
And everyone who knows us knows that we're fine with this,
We didn't come for money.

But every song's like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin' in the bathroom.
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin' the hotel room,
We don't care, we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody's like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash
We don't care, we aren't caught up in your love affair

And we'll never be royals (royals).
It don't run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain't for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I'll rule, I'll rule, I'll rule, I'll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

Ooh ooh oh
We're bigger than we ever dreamed,
And I'm in love with being queen.
Ooh ooh oh
Life is great without a care
We aren't caught up in your love affair.

And we'll never be royals (royals).
It don't run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain't for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz
Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I'll rule, I'll rule, I'll rule, I'll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Sharing the load

One of the hardest things about living with J has been the division of household chores. Not long after he moved in, I started having major issues with the fact that I felt like I was doing “all the work” (and I use the quotation marks to acknowledge that I wasn’t literally doing ALL the work – but it felt that way to me). Part of the problem was due to differences in our preferences and habits – for example, while I’m used to always doing the laundry once a week, J just waits until he’s out of underwear. So although he was happy to help, I would always want to do it sooner than he otherwise would have (and then either I just did it or had to ask him to). Also, J doesn’t cook, so since I want to eat more healthy, I do all the cooking, which means I also doing the grocery shopping. And because I didn’t have a dishwasher, the dishes needed to be handwashed, which J doesn’t like doing. He’d do it but I always had to ask him, reminding him that I cooked so he should clean. That got better when we bought a dishwasher but then I felt like I was the only one who ever put the dishes away after we ran the dishwasher.

It didn’t take long for my resentment level to reach a bad place. I did ask a lot of my couple friends how they handle household tasks and ALL of them seemed to know immediately why I was asking. I think everyone I asked (including one male gay couple, one lesbian couple, and a few hetero couples who have each been together for over ten years) said a version of the same thing: one person in the couple had a lower tolerance for cleanliness/getting chores done and would be driven crazy by the other person not doing stuff so they had to find a way to deal. So J and I are certainly not unique!

I followed one friend’s suggestion and made a list of all the chores that need to be done on a regular basis and then J and I sat down and divided up the list. I immediately felt better, not only because I felt like the division of labor was more fair but also because I stopped feeling like I was “supposed” to do stuff. That is, there were a lot of things that J was perfectly willing to do, he just didn’t think to do them on the schedule I wanted so I either did them myself or would ‘nag’ him to do them – and a part of me wondered if maybe he was specifically not doing stuff because he knew/hoped I would eventually just do it. Now, he still often doesn’t do things on the schedule that I would but I no longer feel like I have to take care of them or that he’s waiting for me to do them. This is a Very Good Thing for our relationship.

How do you decide who does what around the house?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Giving thanks for… treating myself

For pretty much as long as I can remember, I have had issues with my neck – about once a month, the muscles, usually on the right side, get all knotted up and give me a headache for two or three days. I’ve seen chiropractors and an acupuncturist, which seem to help a little but the pain always comes back and once it starts, the ONLY thing that I’ve found that can make it go away is to get a professional massage. Unfortunately, since I don’t know what triggers it, it’s usually not possible to schedule a massage that lines up with when I’m having one of my episodes. So I’ve finally decided to simply schedule regular massages and hope that those will keep the muscles from reaching the pain point. I’m not convinced it will work but in the meantime, the massages are great!

I used to think massages were too extravagant and I would only got one as a very special treat because they always seem so expensive. But thanks to Groupons and LivingSocial deals, I’ve been able to try out different places at reasonable prices and have found a couple that have pretty good deals if you are a regular customer. The cost seems especially worth it when I compare it to what I was paying for regular chiropractic and acupuncture appointments. In comparison, massages cost about the same but I leave feeling ten times more relaxed. Sometimes I think you just have to decide that you are worth the money. What do you to treat yourself?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Giving thanks for… good advice

I tend to over-think things. When I have a big decision to make, I will gather tons of information, look at every angle, think through all the ‘what ifs’. I may ask other people for their opinions but honestly, it isn’t that often that someone raises a point I haven’t already thought about. But when someone does give me advice that I had not thought about before, it generally sticks with me.

When I think about great advice I’ve been given, there are two examples that come to mind, in part because I repeat them a lot. As a professor, I talk to students all the time who need guidance about various things and I often find myself relaying what I was told by two of my college mentors when I was applying to graduate school. In one case, I was trying to decide what type of program to apply to, with the choices being a Ph.D. in Economics or in Higher Education Administration. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a professor or an administrator, though I was leaning toward the latter. The woman who was the Dean of Students of my college told me that I should do Economics because it would give me more options. She told me that many college administrators come out of the faculty ranks, which is what she did, so being a professor first would not rule out being an administrator, plus it would give me a better perspective for working with faculty if I did decide to go into administration. On the other hand, doing the Admin program would basically rule out teaching as a professor so if I decided I didn’t want to go the administration route, I could be out of luck.

Although this may seem like a pretty specific piece of advice, the larger issue is about keeping your options open, especially if you aren’t entirely sure what your final goal really is. When my students come and ask me what they should do after graduation, and they really have no idea what they want to do, I encourage them to choose the path that will help them gather information without closing any doors.

The second piece of advice that has stuck with me came from one of my economics professors who told me that I should go to graduate school in Wisconsin (rather than staying in California, where I grew up). His reasoning was that if I thought I wanted to work in academia, I may not have a ton of choice in where I ended up (note: academic jobs can be very specific so in any given year, there might be very few openings in a particular field across the country), and I needed to find out how I felt about living elsewhere. That was something that never would have occurred to me but it turned out to be fantastic advice. If I had stayed in California and then taken a job in, say, anywhere in the south, I would have been looking for another job within the first year.

Again, this seems specific but it goes beyond just thinking about where you want to live. My professor’s advice forced me to think about what is really important, what I really need in order to be happy. Up to that point, I was just hoping I would have a job when I got out of grad school but his comments made me think about what I wanted my life to look like. Was I willing to take ANY academic job, even if it meant living somewhere with 98% humidity in the summer, no where near water, and being surrounded by people who think completely differently than I do about social issues? After five years in Wisconsin, I knew the answer was no but I’m not sure I would have even thought about those things if I didn’t have my professor’s words still in my head.

What’s the best advice you’ve gotten?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Giving thanks for… learning new skills

I mentioned last week that I have been cooking a lot more. The main reason I’ve never been that into cooking is the prep work – all that chopping, mincing, dicing. It’s tedious, takes (me) forever, I’m never sure if I’m doing it ‘right’, and I’m often worried I’m going to cut myself. You can buy some stuff pre-prepped, like already-diced onions or shredded carrots, but a) it’s more expensive and b) that means I have to actually plan exactly what I’m making so whatever I buy doesn’t go bad before I use it. I’ve always thought that it would be cool to learn how to chop the way they do on Top Chef so I was psyched to find out that a local Sur la Table store offers an ‘Essential Knife Skills’ class.

I took the class on Monday night and suddenly I’m thinking about prep work in a totally new light. It’s kind of amazing how learning just a few minor things, like how to hold a knife correctly and the right motion for chopping, can change the whole experience from tedious and stressful to interesting and fun. A big part of it is simply changing my perspective to thinking about knife work as a skill so every vegetable I chop is now an opportunity to practice, instead of being something I just need to get done so I can get the food cooked. Maybe it’s the academic in me but having the challenge of developing a new skill makes the process much more enjoyable.

What new skills have you learned lately?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Giving thanks for... veterans and our military

This is a day late but I really am thankful for all those who serve in our military, in part because I could never do it myself.  I know that a lot of people have mixed feelings about the military, and there are a lot of things about the institution that I have big problems with (the latest stats about sexual abuse being just one example). But I also know that institution is made up of thousands of individual men and women who are willing to put their lives at risk so that we can all can sleep more soundly at night. They spend months away from their loved ones, sometimes in physical environments that would have me bitching and moaning within minutes.

Although politicians love to talk about our great servicemen and women, and pose in front of flags with people in uniform, this country often does a pretty poor job of taking care of people once they leave the service, especially if they leave wounded, either physically or mentally. While there are some wonderful organizations whose mission is to help veterans (the Wounded Warrior Project and the Bob Woodruff Foundation have gotten a lot of press lately), I sometimes think the fact that there are so many private organizations playing that role is an indication of how badly the government screws it up. We would all love to live in a world where having a strong military was unnecessary. But since we live in the real world, the least we can do is show our gratitude to all those who serve by making sure that they are taken care of once they come home.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Music Mondays: Cups

Well, yesterday was a NaBloPoMo fail but after the Chargers lost, I was too mad to write anything. Oh well... I figured an easy way back to daily posting would be to continue my Music Monday series. I used to post songs from my Who I Am playlist (which I still listen to regularly) but today, I want to share a video that never fails to make me smile. I really like the original song itself (lyrics below) but if you are a fan of a cappella singing, this version is simply awesome.

"Cups (You're Gonna Miss Me)"

I've got my ticket for the long way 'round
Two bottle whiskey for the way
And I sure would like some sweet company
Oh, I'm leaving tomorrow. What do you say?

When I'm gone (when I'm gone)
When I'm gone (when I'm gone)
You're gonna miss me when I'm gone

You're gonna miss me by my hair
You're gonna miss me everywhere,
You're gonna miss me when I'm gone

I've got my ticket for the long way 'round
The one with the prettiest view

It's got mountains, it's got rivers
It's got woods that give you shivers
But it sure would be prettier with you

When I'm gone (when I'm gone)
When I'm gone (when I'm gone)
You're gonna miss me when I'm gone

You're gonna miss me by my walk
You'll miss me by my talk
You're gonna miss me when I'm gone

I've got my ticket for the long way 'round
These feet weren't built to stay too long
And I'll go there on my own
But you'll miss me when you're home
It's for you, dear, that I sing this song

When I'm gone (when I'm gone)
When I'm gone (when I'm gone)
You're gonna miss me when I'm gone

You're gonna miss me by my hair
You're gonna miss me everywhere
You're gonna miss me when I'm gone

When I'm gone
When I'm gone
You're gonna miss me when I'm gone

You're gonna miss me by my walk
You'll miss me by my talk
You're gonna miss me when I'm gone

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Giving thanks for... healthy eating

Almost a year ago, I borrowed Joel Fuhrman's book, Eat to Live, from my mom and I'm not really exaggerating when I say it has changed my life. We all know that we should eat lots of vegetables but Fuhrman presents a ton of evidence about why eating a plant-based diet is so important for your health and, conversely, why eating processed food is so bad. Fuhrman calls his diet 'nutritarian' - it isn't totally vegan but does call for eating dramatically fewer animal foods than most Americans eat. It's also lower fat but more importantly, he stresses plant-based natural fats (like nuts and avocado) instead of animal fat or processed fats. Since reading his book, I've discovered many other advocates of a plant-based diet, though there are slight differences between them (e.g., John McDougall's program emphasizes natural starches like potatoes while Fuhrman discourages them).

I've never been much of a cook but I started cooking more in order to create meals that are more nutritarian. It's actually  surprisingly easy to make really yummy food without adding oil or using processed products but it does take more time than I used to spend. One huge upside is that you can generally eat as much as you want, since vegetables have so many fewer calories. After eating this way for a few months, I had dropped about 15 pounds and has stayed there. But even better, my cholesterol dropped significantly - a year and a half ago, my doctor suggested I consider medication (high cholesterol runs in my family) but the last time I had my blood checked, all my levels were squarely in the normal range, lower than they've been in probably twenty years.

I'm not quite as strict about what I eat as I was when I started all this but my diet is still leaps and bounds healthier than it used to be. And I'm getting better at cooking - I used to feel like I had to follow recipes to the letter but I'm learning when and how to deviate a bit - and I now read through cookbooks and food blogs all the time.

How healthy is your diet?

Friday, November 8, 2013


So, this posting every day thing has been... interesting. On one hand, I'm pretty sure most of these posts are not interesting to anyone other than my family (hi Mom!), and I'm probably spending more time writing them than I should. On the other hand, I think writing for the blog has actually helped me be a little more productive with my work. The reason is that I almost always hit a point during the day when I get tired of whatever I'm working on and I have to switch gears. A lot of times, 'switching gears' means watching TV or doing dishes or otherwise getting away from my computer, but when I sit back down to get back to work, I often have a hard time re-focusing. This week, I've worked on blog posts instead and when I'm done, I've found that it's somehow easier to go back to working on whatever I was doing. I think my eyes are less happy (I try to look away from the screen periodically but I often forget) but I guess the act of physically staying in front of the computer helps my mind stay more focused.

Still, I'm not sure if I can really keep this up. I'm going to play around with some different types of posts, definitely some shorter posts, or at least less time-consuming to write. I think the whole point of NaBloPoMo is to stretch a bit outside your comfort zone so we'll see...

In the meantime, happy Friday everyone!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Giving thanks for... coffee!

I've actually been kind of 'blah' this week - not sure if it's the time change or the colder weather or what but trying to get work done has been a real slog. So in an effort to get my brain to focus, I've been drinking a little more coffee than usual, though that is still a lot less than a lot of people I know. I've had a pretty up-and-down relationship with coffee. I didn't start drinking coffee until sometime in graduate school and then it was mostly coffee drinks that were more milk and sugar than coffee (ah, those wonderful days when I could drink a regular mocha and not think twice about how many calories were in it!). At some point, I settled into a routine of drinking a cup of half-coffee/half-hot chocolate each morning. When I started working at my university, there was a Starbucks in the student union just downstairs from my office and each afternoon, one of my colleagues would stick their head in my office and ask if I wanted to go down for coffee. It was more of a social thing but I got used to having that big jolt of caffeine to help me get over the after-lunch energy dip.

A few years ago, I decided to switch to green tea in the mornings - still gives me a little bit of caffeine but there are also all kinds of health benefits. I was still drinking coffee after lunch but about a year ago, I decided to try reducing my caffeine intake to see if that might have any impact on my sleep (I often have problems sleeping). But I found that I still craved the taste of coffee so I started drinking decaf. For any coffee snobs out there, I'll note that I've never had a very discriminating palate so I can't really taste any difference - coffee is coffee. Now, on days when I feel like I still need some help focusing, I'll drink half-cafs. What's nice is that as my body has adjusted to lower levels of caffeine, I feel like it takes less to get the same energy. In fact, now, if I have an entire cup of regular Starbucks coffee, I really feel it.

By the way, if you're a fan of coffee art, you have to check out the amazing creations of the Japanese barista Kazuki Yamamoto:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Giving thanks for... a table for one

When I was younger, I hated the idea of eating alone in public places. In college, if I couldn't find anyone to go with me to the dining hall, I would just get food and go back to my room to eat; when I graduated and was living on my own, I ordered a lot of take-out. I just assumed that if I sat at a table by myself, everyone else in the restaurant would be staring at me, either feeling sorry for me or wondering why I had no friends (um, yeah, self-absorbed much?). Since I didn't want to sit in my apartment alone ALL the time, I did start going to coffeehouses. I was still pretty uncomfortable but at least there, I could write in my journal or read a book (note: this was also back before there were Starbucks on every corner with everyone sitting for hours with their laptops using the wifi). After a while, I did start feeling a bit less conspicuous. I even remember specifically looking around at the other people who were by themselves and thinking, "Hmmm, they don't seem sad or pathetic - so maybe I don't either..." But I still couldn't imagine going into a sit-down restaurant and eating a meal at a table by myself.

At some point, I realized that the main person judging me for eating alone was me. Admittedly, I didn't acquire that attitude overnight. It took me a while to shake the feeling that if I ate by myself, it meant I was loser with no friends and everyone was staring at me. I started by eating out when I was traveling. In my mind, it didn't seem as sad if I knew I wasn't eating alone because I had no friends but just because I was from out of town. But doing that also helped me realize that no one else cared - no one ever seemed to look oddly at me and I saw plenty of other people dining alone. I also had a similar thought to when I was in coffeehouses, that I wasn't sitting there wondering why they were eating alone or thinking they were losers, so maybe they weren't thinking anything about me either.

Nowadays, I'm generally OK with eating out alone. Not that I'm going to five-star restaurants or anything, but I no longer have a problem telling the host "Table for one, please". Sometimes it helps to have something to read (yay for smarthphones!) but I also make a conscious effort to look around and, in particular, to savor my food. How often do we go to restaurants with other people and focus more on the conversation than the food? That can be great too, of course, but there's something sort of zen about not doing anything but really tasting your food.

I have no doubt there are plenty of people who still think it's "sad" to see any woman eating alone in a decent restaurant but since those would be strangers whose opinions don't mean anything to me, why should I let them stop me from having a nice meal out?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Giving thanks for... learning to tap dance

I did a lot of musical theater when I was a kid and loved it. But I never had formal dance lessons (well, I did take less than one year of ballet when I was maybe five but I don't think that really counts). Everything I needed to do, dance-wise, for shows, I just picked up from following the choreographers. But the one thing you can't really 'just pick up' is tap and I always wanted to take lessons. Then, when I was in college, there was a very popular anthropology professor on campus who was also an avid tap dancer and every few years, he would teach a tap class. He happened to offer one during my senior year and I jumped at the chance. It was a blast! I just love the precision, the sound of the taps.

After many years of my tap shoes collecting dust, I finally decided this fall to sign up for another class and I found one at a local community college. I thought I would feel weird taking a class there (after all, many of the students there end up transferring to the university where I teach) but once I put on my tap shoes, I just don't care. Like other dance styles, tap obviously requires a good amount of coordination and rhythm. But tap specifically requires a ton of control over parts of your body that most of us do not think a lot about: our feet. That requires a lot of mental focus, at least for me, at the level I'm at. You can't fake it in tap - the sound gives you away.

A lot of people who run, or otherwise exercise regularly, will talk about getting in a 'zone' and the high they feel from working out. I have never felt that way when I've tried to exercise in the past but when I'm tapping, I know exactly what they are talking about. Every part of me - mind, body and soul - is engaged and I leave every class completely energized and ready to take on the world. Sometimes I think I don't really have time for it (with the time it takes to drive back and forth and find parking, the class takes a good two hours out of the middle of my day, twice a week) but then I go and feel like it's the best part of my week.

Several weeks ago, my instructor gave us 'homework' to look up Evan Ruggiero on Youtube. What we found was amazing! Enjoy!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Giving thanks for... libraries

I love libraries. I love bookstores too - I guess I should really say I love any place I can be surrounded by books. But I particularly love libraries. Partly, it's all the good memories I associate with libraries. When I was a kid, our local library sponsored summer read-a-thons and I remember going around the library, collecting a huge stack of books that I could barely carry. One of the local libraries had a room with a sunken floor with big pillows and I could spend hours in there. In college, the library was the one place I could study and not have to worry about being distracted.

I also love that I can spend hours in a library looking through random books and I don't have to feel guilty that I'm not buying anything. I used to buy books all the time - I also have a weakness for used bookstores - but I've tried to stop because I realized that with most books, I only read them once and then they just collect dust. Every time I moved (and I used to move about once a year), I would go through my bookshelves and purge, donating to the library of course. Now the only books I actually own are either work-related or real favorites that I do read over and over again. If there's a book that I want to read, but am not sure whether it will be a 'read over and over' kind of book, I try to find it at the library first.

With the rise of electronic books, I've heard people say that libraries will soon become unnecessary or obsolete. But libraries are more than just collections of books, they are about providing people with access to knowledge. They encourage people (especially kids) to read but also provide public services like internet access, programs for English learners and summer or after-school activities for kids. Personally, I can't imagine that print books will be completely replaced by ebooks in my lifetime, but even if they are, libraries still have a vital role to play in the community. 

When was the last time you visited a library?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Giving thanks for... Football

This is probably the weirdest follow-up to yesterday's post about feminism that I could possibly come up with but like most Sundays from September to December (hopefully January), I've spent a lot of the day watching football so it's on my mind. I grew up watching the San Francisco 49ers, in the heyday of Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, but I don't remember really learning how the game actually works until I started dating a football player in high school. I still recall thinking that it was kind of sad that I was the only cheerleader on my squad who seemed to know what a first down actually was (yes, I was a cheerleader and I dated a football player - no one who meets me today can ever believe that...). I lost touch with football through college and graduate school but re-discovered it when I moved to San Diego in 2000 and now I'm a diehard Charger fan, which isn't always easy but I try to keep believing in them...

Over the years, being a football fan has been surprisingly handy. As a relatively introverted person, football gives me something to talk about with people (mostly men) that I otherwise have nothing in common with. Rooting for the local team makes me feel more tied to my community. Watching the Super Bowl is actually fun when the game is on, not just during the commercials. And instead of being a 'football widow', I can spend Sundays hanging out with J, who is an avid fantasy football player.

There are certainly a lot of things about the game that are not worthy of praise, and a lot of football players that I think are absolute idiots. I think it's obscene that football players (as well as other professional athletes) get paid so much money for something that doesn't really do much to improve society. But sometimes we all need mindless entertainment. And there is something awesome about being in a stadium with thousands of people all cheering for a common goal, even if that goal is really kind of silly. So today, I am thankful for Football and the many moments of excitement that it has brought into my life. What team do you root for?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Giving thanks for… Feminists

Rebecca Searles has a great flowchart showing ‘how to tell if you’re a feminist in two easy steps’:

Today, I am celebrating all the feminists who fought so hard for the rights that many of us now take for granted. It’s ironic (and sad) but the very fact that so many young women reject the label of feminist is a sign of how much change the earlier feminists were able to affect. Today, it is hard to imagine encountering the kind of overt discrimination that women faced in the 60’s; most girls are raised believing that they really can do anything their brothers can; and women outnumber men among college students.

And yet…
  • Only 98 of the 535 seats (that’s 18.3%) in Congress are held by women (20= 20%, in the Senate and 78 =17.9% in the House);
  • Only 21 (4.2%) of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women; only 45 (4.5%) of the Fortune 1000 CEOs are women;
  • Women continue to be vastly underrepresented in science and engineering, law, the higher ranks of academia, and even in television;  
  • We don’t know as much about women’s health because of bias in medical research (where studies that only included men are treated as if they apply equally to women).
  • I have, more than once, been told that I “don’t look like an economist” because I am not a white male.
I could go on but my point is simply that there’s still plenty of need for the kind of feminists who are willing to step up, call themselves feminists and not let people pretend everything’s honky dory.

Let me also be clear: Calling myself a feminist does NOT mean I judge any woman who chooses to stay home and raise her kids. It DOES mean I think we also shouldn’t judge any MAN who wants to stay home and raise his kids, nor should we judge any women who chooses NOT to stay home with her kids. To me, being a feminist means recognizing that these are all valid choices and we need to be working to make sure that governments and companies have policies that allow people to make the choices that work best for them.

Calling myself a feminist also does NOT mean I think all men are out to get women. Given the power differences in this country, we would never have gotten as far as we have if an awful lot of men had not been willing to stand up and be feminists too. I DO believe that there are some people in this country who will never ‘get it’ – and there are more men in that category than women – and being a feminist means calling out those people when they say stupid sh*t, not just letting it go and chalking it up to ‘it’s just a joke’ or ‘boys will be boys’.

And calling myself a feminist does NOT mean I think women are somehow better than men. I do think that the fact that some people equate saying “women are EQUAL” with “women are BETTER” is an indication of the imbalance that still exists in society – we’re so used to men being dominant that the idea of women being equal somehow seems odd and possibly unfair. But if the idea of having half of Congress be female seems like that would be “too many” women, then I have to wonder what your idea of equal representation would be…

Today, I am giving thanks that I was raised by a feminist mother. And I am grateful that there are still plenty of women who are proud to claim the Feminist label. What about you?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Commiting to Writing, and to Gratitude

In an attempt to jumpstart my creative juices, I decided to join Blogher's National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), which means I'm declaring my intention to post something each day this month. I had been thinking about doing something like this but was pretty sure that I'd lose steam at some point because I wouldn't be able to think of things to write about. But then I saw a post from one blogger who is posting every day about things she is thankful for and that stuck me as something I could do, and it would be good for me to boot. So here I am...

I'm not sure if I'll follow all the prompts from Champagne to Crayons but the first one is "A blessing" and that seems like a very good place to start (I am now hearing Julie Andrews singing "Let's start at the very beginning..." in my head). The only issue is that I have so many blessings in my life that I am thankful for, I can't really choose just one. Of course there are the biggies: my relationship with J; close friends and family; relatively good health; a secure job that I enjoy. There are also the blessings that aren't quite so vital but certainly contribute greatly to my happiness, like living in San Diego where the weather is always perfect, in a hip neighborhood with lots of great food options; or having access to technology that allows me to see my sister and nephew even though they live on the other side of the world. These are things that I give thanks for on a pretty regular basis.

But today, I think I'll celebrate the 'blessings in disguise', those blessings that seem like anything but good at the time they are happening. For me, a huge 'blessing in disguise' is the fact that my previous relationships were with men who simply were not that into me. Totally sucked at the time - I "wasted" a good ten years of my life being miserable because I wanted more from those men than they were ever going to give me. But today, I thank god that neither of those guys was willing/able to commit to a real relationship because if they had, I think it's probably pretty unlikely that I would have gotten the personal help I needed to rebuild my self-esteem, and I certainly would never have met J.

Thinking about how things so often out in the end helps me keep life in perspective. Nowadays, when something does not go as I had hoped (like when I recently was rejected for an administrative position at my university that looked like it was 'perfect' for me), I find it much easier to truly believe that maybe this means something better is supposed to come along.

What blessings are you celebrating today?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

I’m an aunt!

Aside from the change in my relationship status, the biggest change in my life over the last few years is that I became an aunt! My nephew, B, turns three this weekend and is pretty much the cutest kid ever (yeah, I’m biased but that doesn’t mean it’s not true!).

When my nephew was born, I went through a brief spell of thinking that maybe I did want a kid after all. It’s hard not to be seduced by an adorable baby who doesn’t do much except sleep, eat and poop – especially when I didn’t have to deal with the poop part! I made enough comments wondering if I wanted one that I think J started getting a little freaked out (he’s already a dad but with his daughter finally out of the house, he has zero interest in starting all over again). As usual with me, rationality eventually took over again, but I do love being an auntie. I get to love and spoil the little guy without any of the real responsibility. At the same time, unlike with other kids, if I feel like B is doing something he shouldn’t, it’s generally OK for me to say something to him (mostly without annoying my sister :-)).

One interesting thing about becoming an aunt is that it has given me a clearer understanding of why having kids is often such a huge divider of people (particularly women). As someone who does not have kids, and has no intention of ever having kids, I have never really understood why it is that when people have kids, they inevitably stop having a life of their own. It’s not just that their activities revolve around their kids but it seems like there are many women who can’t/don’t want to even talk about anything other than their kids. That used to be something I found really annoying. But now that B is in my life, I feel like I understand it a bit better. I still think women who really can’t talk about anything but their kids are fairly annoying, but I have a much better appreciation for why they do it, because I find that I have a similar desire to talk about B a lot. He’s just so damn cute and smart, how could people NOT want to hear about how cute and smart he is? I don’t actually talk about him that much (at least, I don't think I do...) but it sure is fun that when other people bust out with annoying stories about their kids, I can now match them with equally annoying stories about B!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Where is the market failure in marriage?

In honor of National Unmarried and Single Americans Week, I’m going to put on my economist hat and ask: Is there an economic rationale for government incentives to get married? By ‘government incentives to get married’, I’m talking about all the ways in which the government (and society in general) privileges married people. One widely-cited statistic is that there are over 1000 benefits, rights and protections in Federal laws that are based on marital status. Given my current situation, I’ve been doing a lot of research on some of those benefits. Some can still be obtained by the unmarried, with additional work (e.g., I can manually change the beneficiary for my retirement accounts or sign an advanced health directive so my partner can make medical decisions for me) but many are simply not available to unmarried people, period. It’s no wonder that single-sex couples are so eager to gain access to legal marriage (completely aside from the social acceptance aspect, of course).

But as an economist, I wonder: why should people have to get married to get these benefits in the first place? Is there any economic rationale for government policies that confer benefits on the married? In my Intro classes, I teach my students that government intervention may be warranted in situations of market failure; that is, where the market outcome may be “inefficient” for some reason. In econ-speak, an “inefficient” outcome is one where benefits to society do not line up with costs. In most markets for traditional goods, the costs and benefits only go to the people buying and selling the goods (e.g., when I eat a hamburger, the person who benefits is me and the price I pay covers the costs for the company selling the hamburger). In some markets, there may be costs or benefits for people other than the buyer or seller and if those external costs or benefits are not reflected in the price of the good, then the market may be inefficient because there will be ‘too much’ of some goods (when there are external costs) or ‘too little’ (when there are external benefits). The classic example is smoking – when I consume cigarettes, I create costs for people other than just me and if those costs don’t get built into the price of cigarettes, then I’ll buy more cigarettes than society wants me to.

These external costs or benefits are one justification for government intervention in markets; basically, taxes or subsidies can reflect the social costs or benefits so the ‘price’ reflects the full costs or benefits. If the government taxes cigarettes than the price goes up and I buy fewer cigarettes. Applying this to the marriage ‘market’, one would have to argue that there are external benefits of marriage so the government needs to provide extra incentives to get people to 'consume more’ marriage. So people other than a particular couple must presumably benefit somehow from that couple being married. I guess the conservative argument is that married couples are more “stable” and better behaved (?) and this is therefore better for society than if those people were running around just cohabitating or being single. I don’t know that there is really much evidence of this – a quick Google search turned up lots of rhetoric along the lines of ‘family values’, and studies about how marriage benefits the people IN the marriage (though the psychologist Bella DePaulo has also written a lot about how those studies often don’t actually show causality), but I couldn’t find anything showing that marriage, per se, has external benefits, such as causing people to act any better (for society) than before they were married. The closest I could find was arguments about the impact on children (i.e., kids do better when their parents stay together) but if that’s the basis for government intervention, then all the benefits should only go to couples with kids, not just anybody who is married.

Although I can’t think of a good argument for marriage benefit policies based on the standard idea of economic efficiency (i.e., the market ‘underprovides’ marriage so the government needs to provide incentives to boost consumption/production), I can imagine an argument based on administrative efficiency – i.e., some policies were probably adopted simply to reduce paperwork (e.g., most people would name their spouse as their beneficiary/spokesperson in most situations anyway so making that the default saves time and effort), or because “legal spouse” seems like an easy shortcut to identify “Very Important Person in my life”. But given that 46 percent of American households are now maintained by unmarried men or women (including 6.7 million specifically ‘unmarried-partner’ households), and the increasing trend in the percentage of couples choosing cohabitation over marriage, it seems like perhaps we should starting questioning whether marriage as the ‘default’ is really the most efficient way to go…

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Merging lives

I mentioned yesterday that my relationship status has changed pretty dramatically since I stopped blogging here a few years ago. To be more specific, I am now "engaged". I put that in quotes because while J "proposed" and we are going to eventually have a wedding at which we will formally commit to spending our lives together, we are not planning to sign any legal documents designating that we are "married" (i.e, no marriage license). One of the reasons I wanted to start blogging again is because I could use an outlet for reflection as we navigate what it means to merge our lives without that legal designation. So far, what I know is that it means we are going to have to process a lot more paperwork, and as we do that, we'll have to consciously and proactively think about a lot of issues that many couples don't deal with until they have to (and sometimes when it is too late). So I'll be writing about some of that.

Most immediately, J moved in with me about a year ago. J's daughter was a high school freshman when we met in 2009 and he had joint custody (she was with him three nights each week) so it was pretty much understood since the beginning that major life changes, like us living together, would wait until after she was off to college (and if anyone was wondering, yes, that was an issue at times, but we're past it now so I'm not going to dwell on it). The upside to knowing we'd live together eventually, but having lots and lots of time before it actually happened, is that I/we were able to very slowly make changes to the house to make it 'ours'. We did have a conversation some time ago about whether he would move in with me or we would look for a new house together (living at his condo was never really an option). Once we decided that keeping my house made the most sense, I began thinking about home improvements differently. Big decisions, like upgrading the insulation and installing solar panels, became joint decisions. That was really weird, partly because he wasn't actually living here yet and I still very much think of it as "my" house, but mostly because I've been making those decisions on my own for so long and it just felt odd to be factoring someone else into the equation. A big issue for me is balancing what I see as my independence with what I know people are 'supposed' to do when in a relationship. That is, I know I'm 'supposed to' discuss these things with him but what if we disagree? If I know what I want to do, and I'm paying for it and it's my house, the feminist in me resists the idea that I would do something different just because this guy wants something else. And yet, even as I write that, I know how terribly selfish that sounds...

More than one person has commented that this is a lot harder at 40 than at 20. We're both used to doing things 'our way', we know what we like, and are used to taking care of ourselves. I will say that it helps tremendously that J and I communicate really well - he actually likes it that I pretty much have to express every thought and emotion I have. So when I'm irked by something, he can just read it on my face and we deal with it. And it definitely has gotten easier, as we've slowly figured out our routine, who does what chores, etc. But I feel like this is all still very much a work in progress. Then again, I wonder if it ever stops feeling that way?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Quirkyeconomist, Take 2: Being Quirkytogether

I suppose I really can't just pick up this blog after a more-than-three year absence without some sort of explanation. So... The short version is that a) life got busy and b) as my relationship progressed, I was having a harder time figuring out how/what to write for a blog that I had originally started in order to write about being happily single. It seemed easiest to just stop. But although my relationship status has changed pretty dramatically, I'm still pretty much the same person and I still think the same way about a lot of things related to being single and being in a relationship. And I've been thinking that maybe I do still have something to say that fits with the spirit of this blog. Specifically, as the world has evolved and being happily single, or a "quirkyalone", has become increasingly accepted (or at least, less maligned than I think it used to be), I think there are a growing number of people who find (or will find) themselves in a 'quirkytogether' relationship - that is, two people who are happily single start dating and then have to navigate what it means to be in a relationship. Or as Sasha Cagan put it in Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics: "At the core, quirkytogether values the idea of two fully formed human beings coming together for a partnership rather than a merging of the souls - it's not a soul mate idea of finding the other half to complete you, but about finding a lively and dynamic partnership that still allows you to be fully yourself."

This is where J and I find ourselves, and I think it might be interesting (or at least cathartic for me) to share some of what this means for us. I was doing a little of this before my 'hiatus' but I felt weird about it; this time around, I'll try to just own it. I've also simply missed having a personal blog where I can share some of the random stuff that passes through my brain. So I'm back...