Friday, September 24, 2010

Family TV time

We don't actually watch TV much. But Tim wanted to see a show last Monday just before Jonathan's bedtime. So Jonathan wanted to watch it too. Alas, Jonathan does not watch TV like an ordinary couch potato. Jonathan watches TV like a potato in a frying pan -- crackling and popping and jumping around the couch.

This particular exchange happened near the end of the program when Tim was a bit frustrated.

Jonathan: *Gasp* "He just said a Bad Word. Did you hear him? He said a Bad Word."


Jonathan: "Why did he say a Bad Word, Daddy?"

Daddy: "Jonathan, hush. I'm trying to listen."

Jonathan: "But he said a Bad Word! Did you hear him? He said a Bad Word. Why did he say a Bad Word? That was a Bad Word."

Daddy: "Jonathan, not now. Be quiet, please."

Jonathan: "It was a Bad Word. Why, Daddy, did he say a Bad Word?"

Daddy: "Jonathan! Shut. Up."

Jonathan: *Gasp*. "Now Daddy said a Bad Word! That was a Bad Word, Daddy. Why did you say a Bad Word?"


And that, my friends, was the end of all of our family TV time for the next seven years.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The dentist

I started this post a couple of weeks ago, soon after my gums suddenly swelled up. Decided to finish it up and post it now.

Tim's best friend from high school is now a dentist.

A dentist seems very respectable. Whereas Marcus always struck me as a little wild. He played the drums in Tim's three man band.

Now he is a dentist in Oregon.

We called Marcus Sunday night (August 29) for dental advice. I had spent the day in bed, in pain. It was Tim's suggestion to call Marcus. No, said I. We can't mix business with friendship. Why not? said Tim. Marcus called him all the time with computer questions.

Tim is in the computer industry, and works remotely. That makes more sense for a guy who used to play the electric guitar in the basement. Grew his hair long because his mother wanted him to cut it. A remote-working computer scientist seems a much more appropriate career choice for this personality type than a dentist. But that's just my bias showing through.

So we called Marcus, and told him about our week, and let him ask questions that are easier to ask as a dentist. (You guys aren't pregnant, are you?)

I believe Marcus's mother thought Tim was a bad influence on her son. But Marcus never struck me as the kind of guy who would be affected by peer influence. Maybe that helps explain the dentist thing, too. He and Tim were both smart, different, unexpected. No wonder they became friends and stayed friends.

So Sunday, Marcus listened to my dental woes and offered his opinion. He suggested that a change in diet (too many tomatoes), combined with a heavy load of stress (classes starting, international travel), depleted my natural defenses and led to canker sores. And once the skin of my gums and cheeks was breached, perhaps a secondary infection moved in. He listened and gave some suggestions, and prescribed a power mouth wash and second antibiotic to attack it.

And then Marcus the dentist talked to Tim for a while.

The day after starting the new prescriptions, the swelling was way down. By the end of the week, when I left for Japan, the bleeding was mostly gone. By the end of the trip, the gums were almost back to normal, just like Google predicted.

Thank you Marcus.

This has made me realize how important it is to find a medical doctor friend and car mechanic friend. I am taking applications.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fall introspection

Fall is almost here again, and the mountains are splotched in red again, and the nights are colder again, and the apples are almost ripe.

We picked plums on Tuesday. The tree that, last year, rained down its bounty in bushels and bushels, this year produced only two large bowls of plums. Although I loved eating the fruit last year into the winter and spring, I am full of thanksgiving this year that I will not be spending every evening for the next month at the kitchen sink, gutting plums.


This morning, I taught the Intermediate Value Theorem. At one point in class, the students were all roaring with laughter. Over the Intermediate Value Theorem. The Intermediate Value Theorem? I looked at them, perplexed. Who were these people? It wasn't that funny.

Less than an hour later, I was waiting for a faculty meeting, while a colleague of mine was trying to get out of giving a presentation. He said he was unsuited to give the presentation because he was not as funny as 'Bob', who had given the presentation before. Then he looked around and saw me, and said, "Jessica is funny. She should give the presentation."

And then it hit me. I am funny. That is why the students were laughing at the Intermediate Value Theorem. They weren't drunk, because it was 10 in the morning at G.O.D. University. I must be funny. Not the Intermediate Value Theorem. Am I funny? Maybe I am funny.

I politely told the colleague that alas, I was busy, and then turned my rapt attention to the faculty meeting.

(Those students really were laughing pretty hard this morning. I must be funny.)

And contemplated a career change.

(How do you think the Intermediate Value Theorem would work as a stand up comedy routine?)

And focused on the future.

(Oh no -- Horizontal Asymptotes next time. There is no way I can make that as funny as the Intermediate Value Theorem.)

And my career in comedy was over before it began.

At least I know my colleagues think I am funny.


Is that a good thing?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Adventures in food

Our plane, returning from Tokyo, landed on the tarmac yesterday morning around 10:00 am. Since we left on the same date at 4:15pm, and were airborne for several hours, we actually gained time. Kind of. If time on an international flight counts for anything.

I can do a travel blog type post later. The weather was hot. The city was crowded, but clean. And Japanese is completely foreign. But we had a very nice trip.

On Monday, I first visited the woman who invited me, and her Japanese colleague, at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. After a morning of work, they took me to their favorite soba shop near campus. Soba is a kind of noodle. It was served with dipping sauce and a bowl of rice and topping, along with miso soup and various pickled vegetables. On our walk over, I confessed that since arriving Saturday night, I hadn't really eaten any good Japanese food. They told me that for lunch, we would change that.

I never would have known the tiny shop was a restaurant. I think the flag-like banners hanging over the door indicate this fact to those who read the language. The menu was completely in Japanese, which is somewhat unusual -- usually the prices are written in familiar arabic numerals.

My hosts tried to translate the menu for me. They would look at a dish, begin translating, then read a few words back and forth in Japanese together, trying to decide on a word that would help me understand what I might choose to eat. After they had given it their best shot, I told them I would trust their judgment, and have what they were having.

The woman said she would have the dish with... what was that? ... Sardines eggs. Very good. I cringed a bit.

The man said he would have the dish just above it. Some sort of fish and vegetables with rice. That sounded a little more tame for my American pallet. I asked him to please order the same for me.

When the meals came, the woman had her bowl of rice stacked with small pink balls. Sardines eggs.

Mine, identical to my colleague's, consisted of some sort of flaked fish around the sides of the bowl, surrounding a beautifully raw egg. Staring up at me with its giant yellow eyeball.

Um. He didn't mention the raw egg.

My colleague stirred his up into scrambled eggs and fish and rice. I copied. Scrambled like that, stirred into the rice, it wasn't quite as slimy and inedible as a single raw egg eyeball. I was able to eat most of it. And it wasn't bad. And I do like miso soup. Yummy.

Later that afternoon, after a few more hours of hard work, the woman suggested we try a new sweets shop near the train station. That sounded like a nice break, so we followed her there.

This shop was very clearly selling food. Like many Tokyo establishments, they had pictures of their menu items outside the entrance, so one could see what one could purchase before entering.

It was a hot hot day, 35 C and very humid, and so I said I'd like a shaved ice. My colleagues recommended I try the traditional Japanese flavor. Red bean and sticky rice balls. A little more skeptical, but still willing, I ordered the red bean shaved ice. The woman ordered the same thing, only with extra green tea flavoring. The man ordered fruit and ice cream.

When I received my shaved ice, it was a small bowl filled with beans and a sticky rice ball, with plain shaved ice stacked twice its height on top. Plain shaved ice. So a big pile of snow, on top of red beans and sticky rice balls. I wish I had a camera. But I did not. So you will have to imagine.

Imagine me, eating plain snow down the side, scooping a bit of red bean to go with it. And it tasted just like ... red bean. I know the Japanese think red beans are sweet. But to me, they are an ingredient in savory dishes like chili. Or Mexican food. And they are not eaten plain.

The sticky rice balls were made of rice flour, but did not resemble rice. They were very very chewy. I popped one in my mouth and chewed and chewed and chewed. Very slimy. Unsweetened, except for the red bean. And so I chewed and chewed and chewed.

After about four more bites of the red bean and rice balls, I realized I was going to begin gagging if I ate any more, which is not polite to do in front of your wonderful hosts. And so I finished eating all the plain snow off the top of the dessert, and picked at the beans while I could.

"You don't like it?" asked my hosts.

"Oh, it's very good," I said. "It's just very filling."

At which they smiled at each other and said something to each other in Japanese. ("She totally hates it." "Oh well, it was fun to watch her try.")

Dear traveler, watch out for red beans in your sweet food in Japan. It's very disappointing to think you'll be eating chocolate chips, and then biting in....

Aside from the red bean shaved ice, I found the food to be good. I ate sushi, sashimi. Ramen from a ramen shop. Rice bowls and chicken and a very delicious steak one evening. Very delicious. Something that ended up tasting just like beef stew another lunch hour. Tempura -- deep fried fish and eel and vegetables -- with rice. And lots of miso soup. Soup with every meal. Salad and rice for breakfast, along with western choices like yogurt and bread at our hotel. Once a very fishy breakfast fish. Hm.

I was always the last to finish, among my Japanese colleagues. I am not quite as expert with chopsticks as they are. But I survived.

You hear? I survived.

How long do you think it takes for symptoms of salmonella to appear if they are to appear? I'm assuming that after nearly a week, I'm safe.