Why I Ate Cake for Breakfast

Julie’s birthday was last weekend, and I made her a chocolate avocado cake as part of the avocado potluck birthday party. Since Julie had also received a chocolate cake from her mom, I kept the leftovers of my cake at home and ate it over the next weekend, and I finished it for breakfast this morning*.

I haven’t done it for awhile, but I am very familiar with eating cake for breakfast. My earliest recollections of breakfast are Flintstones yellow cakes with with way too much frosting. Since then, breakfast for me has included all types of cereal, waffles, waffles with a pile of ice cream on it, ramen, steak, sausage, fried rice, hot pockets, buttered toast, toast with a layer of brown sugar on it, bagels, pasta, yogurt, and anything else you would have found from my fridge, pantry, or last night’s dinner. Thankfully, my breakfast has evened out to oatmeal on an average of just under 5 days a week. I’m surprised that a mother-endorsed diet of ice cream for breakfast led to a pretty healthy outcome.

I’m not really sure if this was her intent, but my mom’s genius in allowing me to eat this way is that I always eat breakfast. Long after many of my friends stopped eating breakfast during high school or college, I will always arrange for something to eat shortly after waking up. Popular nutrition says that eating breakfast is very important, and though their advice probably wouldn’t include ice cream, it seems I ended up in the right place.

I maybe didn’t eat ice cream for breakfast as often as I’m suggesting here. I actually mostly ate leftovers, which I still happily eat for all meals. I had always assumed that this was another food preference I may have inherited or been stuck with because of the rest of my family. For example, my grandpa doesn’t like garlic, so my mom didn’t make stirfrys with garlic, so I don’t either. My sister Lisa didn’t like eggs in fried rice, so I didn’t discover it until college. And my mom doesn’t like green bean casserole, so it never appeared on our Thanksgiving dinner table. Given that I did eat leftovers often, I assumed our family was a leftover loving family.

I was understandably shocked, then, when my mom revealed to me over dinner 2 weeks ago that she didn’t like leftovers. When I pointed out that I had eaten lots of leftovers growing up, she looked up from her bowl of chow mein straight at me and said with complete sincerity, “Yeah, you ate the leftovers.” In the ensuing conversation, it started to make sense. My mom really did cook 7 days a week when I was growing up, and the only leftovers I actually can remember her eating was ground pork and tofu with rice and turkey sandwiches. Everything else in the fridge was mine.

I was a little miffed to find out that my mom was using me as a garbage can. I had grown up assuming that I was the beneficiary of all food choices. The classic example is that when we had chicken, my mom would let us have the meat while she would gnaw at the bones, and when my grandparents were there, my mom would pass those bones onto them and enjoy more of the meat herself. That was just a good parent-child relationship.

Now, all of my mom’s parenting choices appear to have worked out, though some weren’t perhaps as thoughtful and selfless as I may have once believed. Apparently, a common misperception that first-time parents have is that they have brought into the world a beautiful, perfect child, and unless they do everything just right for their child, life is just going to chip away at that innocence and potential. Clearly, my parents lost that notion by the time they had me, the last of three children, but it seems like they might have gotten things right, at least on a few of these points.

And now that I have grown up and see my own friends having kids, I’m starting to see that parents aren’t all-knowing. They’re people just like me, with their own foibles and needs, so many parenting choices aren’t made strictly for the benefit of their children. But it’s okay: a few of those maybe thoughtless choices led to me eating my oatmeal for breakfast while amused about having once, long ago, eaten ice cream for breakfast for an entire week.

 

* Not really this morning. The perspective works better from when I came up with this post in my head on my bike ride last Thursday

Making Porridge Like My Mom

The week before Thanksgiving, I made a Thanksgiving dinner for my coworkers and used it as a small housewarming event. The menu was traditional and mostly new for me, especially the turkey. The only large piece of meat I cooked before was corned beef slowly on my stove, so I consulted various sources in advance. The expected cooking surprise came when I discovered that my cooking thermometer was dead, so I didn’t know how well the turkey was cooked. It turns out that it was overcooked, but expectations are low, and people are generally so gracious about a home-cooked meal that it doesn’t really matter.

Then came the leftovers filling my fridge. I knew to save the turkey carcass for some purpose, and a few days later, I made rice porridge (congee) with it. That also required a phone call home, and although my result was much thicker than anything my mom ever made, I thought it turned out quite well. I also threw together a breakfast hash with potatoes, brussels sprouts, turkey, and more. There were the beloved turkey sandwiches, and the plates of reheated Thanksgiving meals as a whole as well.

The porridge remains the most remarkable leftover, however, because I now realize why my family always ate it the day after Thanksgiving: there’s a carcass to use as a base. My mom would likely make some vaguely patronizing sound were I to mention this directly to her, but I’m still impressed by the pragmatism of this tradition that I didn’t realize was a tradition. Every Thankgiving, there is a turkey. Every turkey will leave behind a carcass. Every carcass can make porridge. Tradition established.

A few years ago, my then-roommate Ben and I were talking, and I said, “Tradition and convention could just be the wisdom of many generations, refined towards best practices.” This gave Ben pause, since I think he bucks convention as he sees fit, and it gave me pause, because I was really thinking about what I was saying.

At least as often as we honor tradition, we also make light of it, like methods of courtship or the number of candles on a birthday cake. Traditional foods, particularly, get a lot of attention, like lutefisk or mooncake. Some traditions do start on a whim and perhaps don’t deserve any special respect.

Other traditions perhaps do have more to them to have lasted so long. For example, turkey is a common target for traditional foods: cooks claim it’s bland and dry and only remains on the menu in place of better meats because of Thanksgiving traditions. What’s best about a turkey, however, is its size and value. For a holiday meant to bring families and friends together, we just want a lot of food, and a turkey can serve much more than a chicken. Without breaking the bank on steak for 20, turkey is easy to do as a home-cooked meal to share with others. And when we’re stuck with a 12 pound turkey and not enough people around, it encourages us to reach out to fill seats.

So maybe it seems odd that Thanksgiving should lead to a full table with a not-so-beloved bird in the middle, but at least there’s a full table. Even the biggest turkey-haters (or vegetarians) can’t dislike a gathering. In fact, maybe the biggest turkey-lovers just have positive associations about the company, not the bird. Either way, enjoy the turkey, porridge, or whatever else and believe in the old ways.

Supporting brick and mortar stores

I was raised on shopping malls. Living in the surburbs of sprawling metropolitan areas my entire childhood meant being brought along on various trips. My mom would often deposit me at the bookstore, or better yet, the toy store, while she went off and took care of real shopping. During that time, I became familiar with the entire line of Legos, learned the rules of D&D, and played the first 10 minutes of countless video games at demo stations.

Over time, I grew up. A little. I could stand to shop with my mom when she was looking at pants for me (instead of her needing to find me after having scouted out the prices). But now, I rarely go to malls. I’m of the impression that they aren’t quite as important here in the Bay Area as they were back in Katy, Texas, but on the whole, I don’t do much shopping in-person anymore. Part of that is not having a car to get to such places, but even that’s okay, because the internet lets me do all the shopping I want from home.

Apparently I’m not alone, according to this article. Shopping malls, once thought to be the great center of commerce, have been dying around the United States. The article doesn’t focus too much on the reasons why this has been happening, but it does point out 2 main reasons.

First, we apparently rediscovered our roots in stores and restaurants that can be entered from the street. I think there’s something classy in imagining ourselves poking into independent boutiques, looking through storefront windows on a sunny day, and living it up in the city. That’s something I can get behind.

The second reason, however, is the bigger culprit in this situation, and that’s online shopping. It’s so easy. I remember coming down for breakfast on Sunday mornings and seeing my parents trawling over ads, trying to pick out the best deals. My mom had her stacks of coupon clippings that would get sorted into piles. And for important things like big electronics, this could go on for weeks. Now, it’s really tidy. All available products are easily found via search engines. The search engines even compare prices for you, making it easy to find the lowest cost seller. And in moments of confusion, there are many forums and buying guides to help out.

But like a lot of conveniences, there’s something lost, and I think it’s the whole “shopping” thing. I don’t think of myself as much of a shopper, but I do enjoy looking at junk. I’m sure that attitude is frustrating enough to storeowners, but I’ve managed to make things even worse for them as I see things in stores that I later by online because it’s cheaper and gets me out of impulse buys. Yikes.

Somewhere in the economics of purchases, I’ve lost the value of the shopping experience. Sure, I can buy the exact same book on Amazon for $5 cheaper than at Barnes & Noble, but I didn’t spend a half-hour perusing books, walking through ranges of shelves, and discovering new reads online. For myself, the economics as is work out perfectly: I can browse in-person for free and buy for less online. But the physical store deserves the final price I pay for the book for having helped me find it, as well as the retail premium above online prices for the shopping experience.

Honestly, this will be a tough fight. My mom’s coupon-clipping ways and exhaustive (and exhausting) deal-hunting make it hard for me to believe that it’s right to not go for the cheapest option. I’m sure I’ll lose it many times, but at least I’m conscious of it. I won’t suddenly buy more than I do now, but when I see that kitchen gadget in-person, I’ll try not to let myself out of the purchase because I’ll buy it online later.

And I’ll try to do that everywhere. I have enough elitist, yuppie guilt to support the mom & pop shops and small, unique businesses, but I think I need to push to keep it in mind for the big retailers, too. I have too much nostalgia for Fairview Mall, Katy Mills, the Target at I-10 and Fry Road, and other to not give back for some of it.

Chinese Buffets

My family doesn’t go out to eat much. My mom was almost always willing to cook, with the notable exception being after “Money Day” when she, as treasurer for the high school band boosters, ran kids through stations to pay for yearly expenses. Other than that, we generally avoid fast food and have tons of leftovers to tide us through slower days. As such, we never really developed a pattern or preference for any particular places, though we tended towards Chinese restaurants.

The most exciting place in recent memory is a Chinese buffet opened about 5 minutes from our house. Rave reviews from my parents, especially my mom who tends to describe most places as “okay”, have taken me there twice, most recently last night with my family. This place has managed to stand out above other Chinese buffets by offering sushi. Although they don’t have the most original rolls, the quality is decent, and we’re not particularly discerning about it, either.

The sushi does present a slight problem in that it throws off the system. Past experience with Chinese buffets has developed into a strategy, which is simply known as “beating the buffet”: eat more than what you would typically pay for an equivalent amount of food not at a buffet. Obviously, you want to go to the buffet to fill up. The next most important thing is to eat mostly foods that are worth a lot compared to how filling they are. For example, seafood, such as crab legs, and sushi are good targets. Although sushi does have quite a bit of rice, it’s well-compensated by how expensive sushi is. The sucker foods, however, are things like white rice and soups. Those are a poor investment of stomach space. My dad is particularly good about focusing on the important things: he’ll warm up with maybe a wonton soup (heavy on the wontons), then transition into a plate of crab legs, followed by a plate of crawfish and shrimp. After leaving the shattered remains of many shells, he’ll move onto the usual items, being all variety of fried meats and other entree, then finish out with fruit.

The last part of the strategy is the willingness to be a little shameless. The restaurant will pressure you into leaving soon, either by bringing out the check, cutting off your water and refills unless you ask, and constantly taking away plates and asking if you’re done. You can eat more if you stay longer. Therefore, stay longer and don’t worry about them, especially if you think you’ll get a second wind. And don’t worry about tipping too much. Maybe I’m just a bad person, but I don’t tip much at Chinese restaurants. It’s not expected.

Admittedly, I’m not quite as tough as my dad is when it comes to beating the buffet, but I try. Last night, I started with wonton soup, sushi, and shrimp. I moved onto a plate of entrees, taking just a little from every option, then had one more plate with the items I determined were the best. Then was the dessert plate and some soft serve. Success.

During the dinner conversation, I mentioned how convenient it was to have this place in Katy and not to have to drive out to our old mainstay in Sugarland. My mom complained about the quality there, which caught me off-guard. Chinese buffets are not known for quality. Quality is for real restaurants; buffets are for volume. The seafood is good, not great. The important thing is that you can get a lot of it. Caution about the jello, too. Chinese jello has a lot more gelatin than what you might get in Kraft Jell-O, so it’s hard and not very sweet. Frankly, I think it’s gross but get suckered for it every time.

I have determined that the only way to come away from a Chinese buffet is with a mild stomachache. If you didn’t work hard to beat the buffet by overeating, somewhere along the way, the fried food or mild food poisoning should finish you off. Fortunately, I have come to associate that feeling with generally good things. Thinking back, my family has always had a Chinese buffet that we could go to. In Toronto, it was Buffet King. In Houston, we had Happy Panda/China Bear (new ownership apparently was somewhat satisfied with the name, but not entirely) until the new place. I’m willing to bet that we eat Chinese buffet more often than Chinese sitdown with the lazy susan and communal dishes. It just doesn’t seem worth it to pay more for more seafood.

My Childhood Home

On a whirlwind of a trip, I spent two nights and one day in Toronto last weekend, though that only begins to describe how strange of a trip it was for me. I can’t remember having ever flown into Toronto before. My family always drives because our trip across the border is actually just a shopping trip for Canadian apparel and food. I have never declined the chance to see a Jays game either and did so this time only because I had seen them a week before. Strangest of all, though, was entering Canadian not as a citizen but instead with an American passport.

As far as logistics go, that doesn’t change much. Instead of filling out how long I was out of the country (3 years, I think?), I wrote in how long I would be visiting for. Instead of the immigration officer asking me what I was doing out of the country, I was asked what I was doing in the country. And maybe one might guess that I was born in Toronto because my reason for visiting was “family,” but that really doesn’t come up in idle conversation either. For all intents and purposes, I traveled as an American.

Many of my classmates and friends are likely offended by this portrayal. You say “bathroom,” I say “washroom.” You lost at hockey in the last Olympics, I won. By now, however, I know far more about being American than being Canadian. When I went to dinner with my cousins, they asked me a variety of questions about American life, like “Is marching band really like the movie ‘Drumline’?” or “How do you like the imperial system?”. A daily email with headlines from the Toronto Star remains my last connection to Canadian culture, which I generally don’t understand. As a case in point, when I was at Chapters, I was looking around for a quick book on Canadian history. If it hasn’t happened already, someone needs to write a book for emigrated Canadians who want to reclaim some heritage without really putting any effort into it.

I have accepted the fact that I’m more American at this point than Canadian. The label “Texan” doesn’t seem as offensive as it one did, and although I maintain that Houston is not an exciting place, I don’t think I would be honest to myself or fair to reject that bit. Country music is not intrinsically bad, “y’all” is actually a useful phrase, and conservative values actually do have some basis in thought. And although I’ll still listen to Ben Folds while working, point out that “you guys are dumb,” and remain the equally stubborn liberal I am, the stereotypical Texan has grown on me, which is a great lead-in for all the cultures in-between, both ideologically and geographically.

My memory of Toronto is somewhat foggy. I remember a few landmarks here and there, but renovations mean that even most of those are gone. As I was riding around in the car looking eagerly out the window for any remnants of what I knew, I concluded that I pretty much don’t know my hometown anymore. Driven around for a minute, I probably couldn’t tell you whether I was in Toronto or Vancouver, knowing the city to be Canadian only because of the French under all of the English. One truly doesn’t pay attention to directions or locations until driving, but I would hope to at least recognize what I call home a little better.

That afternoon, I walked the 5 minutes down to Hollywood Public School where I went to school for junior kindergarten and 3rd grade. I couldn’t wait to see the vast fields I ran around on, the towering walls for huge wallball games, and the hill we would sled down. As you might expect from any visit to a childhood memory, however, it wasn’t that. The field might have stretched 2 soccer fields. I was amazed that we ever crowded 15 people around that wall. And I bounded the hill in 4 steps. Sledding backwards perhaps wasn’t as hazardous as I had thought.

The obvious change is that I’m physically bigger than I was, surprised as you might be from my last post. To be less prosaic, though, the world was a lot bigger back then than it is now. When I had only lived in one city and only gone on a few, isolated road trips, my world was only a few suburbs in the Toronto metropolitan area, and my playground was that around the school, which possessed a disproportionate amount of my mental map and even more of my memories.

I agonized awhile ago about where I would tell people I’m from, and the answer is far trickier than it would seem. To add to the confusion, when I have been traveling away from school, the Bay Area is my default response since that is where I spend most of my time nowadays. And to layer on the difficulty now is what nationality I am. It frankly doesn’t seem fair to say “Canadian” anymore as I whip out my American passport and clearly have dated memories about what Canada is. And the stickers on my computer and preference for sports teams don’t quite scream red, white, and blue with bald eagles soaring through the sky, either. It frankly doesn’t matter, though, as those sorts of questions are no more than conversation starters anyways. I can’t answer any of those sorts of questions entirely honestly, but come story time on that, at least I have it all straight in my head.

PS: Hey drawmates, I’m not full of crap when I say “washroom.” Here’s my proof that I actually went to Toronto

The Other Times

Every kid, at some point, wishes that they could just eat ice cream for dinner. Food is food, and ice cream just happens to be one of the more delicious options. As pointed out by my friend KevBaum, my peers and I at that age where we can make our decisions but aren’t responsible enough to make consistently good ones. So for dinner a few night ago, I ate ice cream. It was delicious. And that’s a sign that our lives are great right now.

Classes ended 2 weeks ago, my finals a week after that, and my total freedom also as I’m already a half week into my summer job. The summer brings along exciting things to look forward to, but I think it’s my time to reflect on another year gone.

I learned that communication is a joint activity. I learned the lyrics to “Hey, Soul Sister.” I learned how to clean battery contacts with vinegar. I learned about what we do and don’t know about receptive field changes in neurons in visual areas. I learned about how schools are selected for bowl games. I learned that Hewlett 200 is not a good room for a comedy show. I learned about legitimately putting together a theme for a blog. I learned how to kayak. I learned how to play “contact.” I learned about how machine learning techniques can improve speed dating techniques. I learned how to put together a syllabus for a class. I learned about Merlinpeen. I learned how to integrate sensory details into nonfiction work.

It seems like I’ve themed my past year end entries around some big lesson of the year. Freshmen year of college was about seeing a bigger world. Sophomore year was actually figuring out why I liked what I was learning about. I think this year was about realizing that I have fun like a normal person, which kind of has two parts.

First, I can be a dork and not reinforce it with my every action. I’m not denying anything. Note several facts from the other day:

  • I made at least 2 Star Wars jokes
  • I lamented to my friend Ben, “Why can’t we have Starcraft 2 right now?”
  • I spent a good chunk of time this afternoon reading about cilantro/coriander

I feel blessed to be at college where this type of behavior isn’t cause for concern. I’m not beyond having long, late night conversations with friends about Starcraft 2, but among my regular group of friends, I think we’re far more likely to be talking about sports, movies, and burritos. I think I’ve been fighting my curiosity and fascination with pop culture for a long time. Thanks to the influence of my hallmates, I think I’ve listened to far more Ke$ha and Gaga than Canadian Brass and Gene Pokorny this year, and I might be better at 7 Degrees of Kevin Bacon than chess.

It’s not fair to say that I have a curiosity with pop culture. Said like that, I watch pop culture unravel as an academic analysis of societal trends and preferences. And that’s pretty dorky. After all these years of eschewing pop culture as mindless and unproductive, I’m beginning to see what the appeal is. It’s fun. And I think that’s something I was missing for awhile there.

As much fun as sophomore year was, junior year has been a huge bounce back for me. Particularly, my entire floor in Robinson is coming off a huge high that we had all of spring quarter. At first, we were just excited to be entirely reunited after a few people left for the winter to study abroad, but as the school year started to feel long, we never let up on the distractions. Whether it was a sleepover on the balcony or a continuous conversation in the hallway from after dinner to bedtime as people cycled in and out, I’m glad we found activities not centered around our N64 or YTMND.

Second, there shouldn’t be any guilt with having fun. The great news about summer is that there are firm boundaries and expectations about investment in work. Most jobs are 9 to 5, and when the clock strikes 5, it’s permissible to drop everything and move on with the rest of life. In essence, there’s no guilt about not working long hours for most jobs. In many ways, school is a job, but one very big difference is that the school day is never really over. During the school year, literally every moment is a potentially study moment, and with each tick, you’re either making it or wasting it.

Which is the worst possible way to think about it. Because we’re irresponsible college students, we spend time doing all sorts of random things, from watching Lakers-Celtics games to visiting Buddhist monasteries. Many extracurricular activities are done strictly for fun and relaxation, and those are moments spent not studying. I realized that as soon as I thought about that fact, I ruined the movie I was watching or the game of racquetball I was playing. Instead of enjoying and relaxing, I was worrying about my opportunity costs. It would be the worst possible use of my time: not studying and not having fun.

Having heard my lessons, you shouldn’t worry that I’ve lived some hedonistic lifestyle and forsaken my studies for fun alternatives. Although it’s cliche, this all boils down to me finding some sort of balance in my life. The classic divide is between work and pleasure, but my situation can be summarized as work guilt. Too little, and I might never get around to doing what I need to. Too much, and I’m stuck worrying without being any more productive.

Although there are always ups and downs, I feel like I had it all this past year. I’m proud of what I accomplished, I’m so pleased with the random experiences that paved the path, and I’m grateful for the people around me who laughed when I laughed, distracted me when I was tense, and supported me when I went into the tank. Life wasn’t a year-long Hawaiian vacation, but that’s not really how you have ice cream for dinner anyways.

Wide Open Spaces

I’m fresh off Spring Break and back to school after a good week relaxing back at home in Texas. Having lived in Texas from 4th grade, I think I’m pretty familiar with the Texan lifestyle. In some ways, Texas became my characterization of the US as a whole. Although I figured that the rest of the country didn’t drive as many SUVs and pickup trucks or have as good Mexican food, there are some parts of Texas that I just didn’t realize weren’t normal until I moved away.

First, apparently most people didn’t face the same discipline in school. Here are a few things that I’ve learned from college friends about how other schools work:

  • they WERE allowed to leave campus for lunch
  • they did NOT have a pay a fine to get back cell phones that were visible at any point during the day
  • they were NOT subject to random drug tests
  • they WERE allowed to have facial hair
  • they were NOT patted down at graduation to make sure that no unapproved items were brought in

Second is the one that’s only become apparent to me very recently: Texas has way too much space. Everything has a parking lot. Every mall has a huge parking lot. Gas stations on every corner, and I have never had to parallel park. Anywhere. I’m positive because I’m pretty sure I can’t parallel park.

That was a big shock for me when I went to Boston a few weeks ago. At first, things seem the same. Pull out of the driveway, get on the road, go somewhere, park, get out, do your thing, go back. The first thing that seemed a little strange were the tunnels. When I asked about them, it was pointed out that there were real buildings and roads on top, and it wasn’t just a convenience. And we didn’t pull into parking lots; we either parked on the street, or parked along the street and went along until we found what we were looking for.

It made me think about how inefficient the sprawl design of Texas is. Sure, we in Texas complain about the heat, but to be honest, I’ve had to deal with the heat more here in the Bay Area than in Texas. In most cases, we really don’t go outside in Houston. When we leave home, we hop in an air conditioned car, drive 15 minutes to another air conditioned location, and rush in. A very car-oriented society is convenient in that sense as no one wants to stand out in the sun waiting for a bus.

The car-dependency, however, seems to be a huge liability. I can’t imagine not having a car in Houston. As a student here in the Bay Area, I can travel far and wide on a variety of trains, subways, and buses because the area is built to handle it. Most of the time, though, I don’t need to travel far because everything is close. I can even feel smug about having a smaller carbon footprint for all of it. That, however, would never work in Texas. Things are far and decentralized. I don’t even know where I would go from my home to get to public transit. Thank goodness for cars.

Homecoming

On the car ride back from the airport, my mom asked me which room I wanted. I instinctively wanted my room, but I waited for an explanation instead.

“The bed is now in Nicole’s room, and there’s just an air mattress in your room,” she explained, eyes fixed on I-10 and the rain.

“Well, is most of my stuff still in my room?” The bed sort of matters, but I would like to be with my collection of old video games, Dilbert comics, Star Wars books, and other junk that define who I am or, at least, who I was.

“Not really. Most of it is hidden now.” I can understand that. Nothing says classy to prospective house buyers like Star Wars action figures. “Your dresser is in Nicole’s room now, so that will probably be the most convenient.”

I was surprised by the layout of the room when I got here. I shouldn’t have been since I helped to move all of Nicole’s old furniture out when I was here in September. As my mom said, my dresser is now in here, stuffed with my high school t-shirts and other personal effects. The bed and the computer desk I’m using right now are also from my room. I am positive, though, that the throw pillows and lamp were not mine.

The setup is certainly nice. It’s somewhat misleading to say that it’s Nicole room since she hasn’t lived here in about 4 years for more than a couple weeks at a time. I can’t really figure out when it stopped being her room, though, so maybe it still is.

Looking at it now, you would never know that she lived here. As I mentioned, the furniture is all different. Her and my dad’s handiwork in painting the room is covered by a tan-beigeish color that covers most of the rest of the house as well. Even the carpet stain from a painting mishap that I thought would mark this place forever is gone; we replaced the carpeting with hardwood years ago.

The rest of the house has changed just as much. I can still count steps from the top of the stairs to doorways in the dark, but turn on the lights, and I might as well be a stranger. The new fridge is nice, but the new handles on the kitchen drawers feel strange.

It’s the disappearances, not the additions, that surprise me the most. Not only have we removed a ton of junk, we’ve squirreled away most of what makes the house livable. Last night, I was half-way through flossing my teeth when I remembered that I hadn’t seen a trash can anywhere in my room. With the end of the floss still tied around my left index finger, I stumbled into my old room and found the “X-Men” trash can hiding in the corner, without a plastic bag. I took the trash can, then went downstairs to find a bag to line it with.

I knew the leftover “Kroger” plastic grocery bags would be under the sink: where else would anyone ever keep leftover bags? I made it to the kitchen without knocking over any displays and flicked on the lights. Going around the counter, I grabbed the new handle to the cabinet under the sink and didn’t see the mass of plastic bags on the inner left of the cabinet. I knew they were still around. The trash can under the sink had a plastic bag. A search through the washing room cabinets revealed nothing, and I went back and put the floss in the trash can, bagless.

The house feels like something out of a movie. Have you ever really thought about how the house in “Family Guy” is designed? The layout is so simple, but where is the closet with the vacuum cleaner? And how about washrooms on the Enterprise? Captain Kirk probably has to take a washroom break sometime, and if he seriously had to wait for the turbolift to get him to a different deck for him to go, he might just miss a chance to talk a computer to death from the bridge.

Anyways, this is how the house is. My mom told me to not spread my stuff out in case someone comes by to look at the house. That probably means I’ll be living out of my suitcase, which is fine. The house will stay like this until it sells, which also means that I’ll be coming back to Houston for breaks until further notice. Sorry for crying wolf with my blog post about moving, but consider this my lame duck period. Or maybe it’s more like a death bed.

I wasn’t completely lying about it, though: it’s pretty clear that we’ve already moved out of this house.

On Coldness

(If you’re curious, I just posted my RBA from my writing class in my other blog. It’s long, but potentially interesting)

Thanks to the work of our wonderful residential assistants (RAs), my current dorm plans a lot of fun events, including laser tag, a 49ers game, and more. This Friday evening, we went ice skating.

It’s been just over 10 years since I last skated. Back in Toronto, the critical choice for kids was whether they were going to play hockey or figure skate. Since my parents valued my teeth and temper, they enrolled in evening figure skating lessons at one of the local rinks, so from about kindergarten to 3rd grade when I left, I figure skated during the winter months. The level of instruction didn’t teach us anything fancy, but I was fairly comfortable on the ice and could skate relatively safely.

When I heard that our dorm was going ice skating, I got very excited and signed up immediately. Up until we went, I was getting more and more anxious–both the good and bad kind–about skating. In reviving skills, it’s like riding a bike. Or so I hoped.

Laced up, I stepped onto the ice and immediately felt uncomfortable. The weight and bizarre balance of the skates quickly reminded me of skiing last year, and that was a very humbling experience. Consciously, I knew (and could see) that skating was about kicking/pushing with one foot while gliding on the other, but my feet only seemed to take timid steps. With a little more movement, I got back into the habit of letting my lifted foot go backwards instead of stepping forward and I started to move.

Fortunately, I didn’t feel really awkward with my futzing as my dormmates were of all skills, and some certainly had greater difficult than me. I got to laps almost immediately, yet I was moving really slowly and had to consciously think about the mechanics of skating.

Skating is a relatively good small-talk topic for me because I do have the story above, and I am kind of still a figure skating fan thanks to my mom and sisters. More notably, skating lets me tie in my Canadian heritage to the Texas (hook ’em!) hoodie I wear everywhere. When I first came to Stanford, I was never quite sure what to say when someone asked where I was from. My last and longest residence is in quiet Katy, Texas, but that place doesn’t match with my self-image. Perhaps my vague disagreement with Texas contributes to this, but even so many years behind, I still consider myself mostly Canadian. Regardless, the “correct” answer is really Houston, but I always thought about (and promptly rejected the notion of) qualifying my response with “but I’m really from Toronto.” Unfortunately, that’s a little more complicated and more than most people probably care about, so I just wait until they ask about the Canada stickers on my computer.

So for a long time, “Houston” was my immediate answer, but in retrospect, I was never really comfortable with it. That wasn’t really a lie, but it also wasn’t the whole truth. Admittedly, my time in Katy has changed me tremendously from my roots that I don’t wholly remember, but some part of me still clings to it. Since I’ve arrived here at Stanford, I feel like I’ve let my Canadian creep back into me. I do have some sort of response whenever someone brings up a “South Park” joke, and inquiries about my intent to vote meet the country of my citizenship. And my indirect methods seem to work as I get fewer and fewer looks of surprise when I reference Canada.

Anyways, I continued to skate, only having one near fall when I lodged the front pick part of the skate in the ice, which I’m sure was extremely comical to watch. I admired an older man giving lessons to a young girl, including some amazing demonstrations on his part. I talked to some of the beginners as I came around to them, and I began to think about how I would formulate my experience in a blog post. At that exact time, an amazing thought came: I was actually thinking about my blog, not about skating. And clearly, I was doing okay.

When I get back into an activity, sometimes it’s “just like old times.” When I picked up N64 Smash for the first time again this quarter, I was immediately flooded with combos and old memories. But when I found myself skating on autopilot, I didn’t really feel it. I honestly don’t remember a lot about my skating lessons, and skating didn’t feel like how I thought it would. It just kind of felt right. Somehow, over a couple of scary laps gradually shifting into other points of attention, I guess skating had gradually crept back into me until I had a working ability without any conscious basis. Admittedly, years of disuse have deteriorated my overall ability, but it didn’t feel any less right. I was just kind of happy to realize something I had tucked away for so many years.

Now and Then

Yesterday, I went with George and several others to the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Not wanting to miss out on something different, I was very excited to find out exactly what “sub-culture” surrounds garlic. The event ended up being more of a general fair for the town of Gilroy, though I did watch Andrea Froncillo, the head chef of the Stinking Rose, do a cooking show. He showed off a soup covered with puff pastry, baby back ribs, and seafood in the typical style of the all-garlic menu of the Stinking Rose.

But before we went out, our car had to stop at Tressider Student Union for the ATM. While there, I saw a group of high school students head for the “Jamba Juice.” I laughed and commented to my friend that I never pass Tressider without seeing high school students swarming around the “Jamba Juice.” He laughed, but quickly pointed out (paraphrased), “What are you talking about? You’re only one year older than them!” Since they’re probably not graduated seniors, I’m actually two years older than them, thank you very much.

You’re probably groaning at the prospect of another “high school v. college” post, but it’s amazing how much I’ve distanced myself from that. Walking around Palo Alto, the high school students are easily distinguished from everyone else (likely as much as my friends and I are easily distinguished as college students), and I do see them as something different from them.

It’s hard to say how much that’s been an actual effort on my part to affiliate myself with a new group. I didn’t become a different person when I arrived on Stanford campus, but I’ve adapted and suited myself to a different culture, different feel, different priorities. While I was waiting for “The Dark Knight” to begin, I listened to three students behind me gossip. From topics such as classes during the same “period” and what their parents allowed and didn’t allow them to do, I quickly tagged them as high school students. And while their concerns seemed petty (likely as much as mine do to an adult), I smiled and enjoyed eavesdropping and re-experiencing the trials of high school life.

Highlights of high school haven’t completely disappeared either. About a week ago, George and I went to a card shop a couple towns over to buy Magic cards. We arrived as people participated in Friday Night Magic, a sanctioned event held in hobby shops all over the world. The shop was slightly smaller than the one in Katy, but the aging tables, fold-out tables, random drink cans, poor lighting, mostly grade-school aged kids, and obscene excitement over words printed on cardstock felt just the same. Magic obviously isn’t a high school thing, but this aspect of my life was entirely contained within my high school experiences. And among those high school and middle school students, everything was more familiar than I had thought.

Living with someone is a huge opportunity to get to know someone else a lot better. While cooking and sitting around, George and I cover the full array of small-talk. We talk a lot about our past and experiences, but it seems like everything gravitates towards our recent high school ones, like band and debate. In many ways, I do try to separate myself from that high school image, but I actually do miss a lot of it. While I speak of it fondly, I’ll still laugh at the high school kids. Though maybe it’s not so much ridicule, but intense familiarity.