Saturday, February 25, 2006

San Francisco

I've been remiss in writing lately because Jeff and I have been in San Francisco for most of the week! We left home on Tuesday morning and arrived here in the early evening. Our flights were uneventful, thank goodness.

I spent Wednesday, Thursday, and most of today at the conference (yes, the only way I can get any time out of town is by going to a conference! I hate the fact that I earn only two weeks of vacation per year!). I presented my talk yesterday. It went pretty well except for the fact that it was a little on the short side.

My former advisor was unfortunately unable to make it to the conference, so he asked me to collect as many people with Illinois connections together as possible, and take a picture of them. Unfortunately, I didn't get everyone together at once, but we were able to get one picture with ten people and another picture with two previously unpictured folks, so I think he will be pleased. Some of the people in the first picture I had never even met, but somebody else knew that they were Illinois people so they joined in the picture. I hope my advisor knows who they are because I sure don't!

One of the people in the picture was a young woman who got her undergraduate degree at Illinois and who worked for my advisor when she was there, but is now a graduate student at Berkeley. She spotted me on Wednesday morning and I think she was really happy to see a familiar face. I kind of took her under my wing for a time, because this was her first conference. Something I didn't realize until nearly halfway through my second conference was that everyone at the conference is as shy as I am, and they're not talking to me because they're shy, not because they're unfriendly. Once I understood that, I was able to make some connections by being more assertive. And since I did that, I now know a fair number of folks to whom I was able to introduce this young woman. I noticed that she also made a few connections of her own, with people whom she met in the conference sessions. I think it helped her to understand going into the conference that everyone is shy.

Our first night here, we saw on the map that we were very close to Chinatown, just a few blocks southwest, so we decided to walk there. Well, we plotted a course that, as it turned out, involved hiking up this huge hill and then back down again into Chinatown. That was kind of stupid. So we figured out that if we just went East first instead of North, we could avoid that huge hill entirely. So we went back to Chinatown last night for dinner and again this afternoon for some souvenir shopping, and didn't suffer from getting out of breath at all.

Tonight after dinner we took a trip on the cable cars. This is Jeff's first trip to San Francisco, so naturally it was his first time on the cable cars. We got a three-day pass for all the city public transportation.

We'll be here for the weekend, and we'll leave on Monday morning. I'm burning one vacation day for this but I think it will be worth it. Tomorrow we're going to go to Alcatraz. We don't have any other concrete plans but there is plenty to choose from.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Somebody liked our house in Illinois enough to put a bid on it! They didn't like it enough to bid our asking price for it, but we accepted their offer anyhow, because every month that we hang on to that house costs us $1000. And who wouldn't like to have an extra thousand a month in income?!?! Seriously, their bid was only about $3500 below our asking price, and they want to close in March, so that is equivalent to full price in June or July, except that we get the money a couple of months sooner! We will still be getting a serious chunk of change out of that house. We'll be able to pay back my Dad, who loaned us the money for the down payment on our house here, and still have enough left over to pay off some lingering debts, make investments, and replenish our bank account.

That house is our final link with Illinois. I know it sounds silly, but I cut another link yesterday by changing over the cell phone to a Tennessee number. There was something nice about having that connection: people in Illinois could call us as if it were a local number. It's not like they actually did, but they COULD, at least in theory. So I felt kind of sad to cut off that tie.

We've been growing more and more roots here, though, which helps make these last Illinois ties easier to let go of. We are feeling more and more at home here, I'm getting used to my job, we've made some friends, and we've discovered some good restaurants (the next visitors get to have Mediterranean takeout, good Mexican food, and/or local gourmet pizza, all of which are vegetarian-friendly!). Also, this weekend a friend from undergrad is coming to town, because he's interviewing for a job here at the lab. It will make this an even cooler place to live if he gets that job!

Sunday, February 12, 2006


It has been snowing this week, for the first time all "winter." I say "winter" because it may have gotten into the teens at night a couple of times but that's about it. I could get used to this mild climate!

Anyhow, it actually decided to "snow" this week, and said "snow" actually stuck to the ground overnight, only to be melted by the sun's strong rays in the morning. When I say "stuck to the ground," what I really mean is "stuck to our deck, the tree branches, and the grass, but not to the road." In this way the disaster of Tennessee drivers on ice is averted. That sounds like a great show, but not one I'd like to see right now.

The snow has once again covered the ground, but I think within the next couple of hours it will all melt away. This afternoon we are going to see the Lady Vols play basketball, for an outing sponsored by the social club at my workplace. Thankfully this "snow" will not get in our way.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Home Is Where the Heart Is

I've been thinking a lot about the meaning of the word "home." I have of course recently moved from Illinois to Tennessee, and Tennessee is becoming more of a home now. But still, when I think about home, what do I think of and what place, if any, do I consider home?

They say (whoever "they" are!) that the place where you spent your junior-high-age years is the place you think of as home. So for me, that place would be Lexington, Kentucky. I suppose that in some sense, that is true for me; whenever I dream about "home," for example, it's always the house I grew up in, even if the dream is about me as an adult.

On the other hand, today as I was waiting for my lunch to heat in the microwave, I saw a package of Solo brand cups, which, I proudly thought to myself, were made BACK HOME IN URBANA, ILLINOIS.

Is Illinois home? I spent my first twenty-two years in Kentucky, and the next seven in Illinois. So maybe less than a quarter of my life was spent there, but those were some of the most formative years of my life: years in which I became a homeowner, an adult, a wife, and a citizen; years in which I finally developed my own opinions, self-confidence, and independence from my first family; years in which I overcame tremendous obstacles. So perhaps Illinois IS home to this version of me, because it's where she was born and raised.

In some ways I self-identify more as an Illinoisian. When people ask where we're from, I say Illinois, because that's where we moved here from. I compare everything here to the way things are in Illinois. Jeff and I refer to ourselves as "crazy Illinois drivers" when we brandish our aggressive driving skills on the polite drivers of Tennessee (of course, these aggressive driving skills were learned in Illinois!).

Kentucky seems kind of like a distant dream in some ways. It just doesn't have the same hold over me that Illinois does. Oh sure, my dad and bonus mom, my grandma, and a few friends from high school and college still live there and that draws me to visit occasionally. But every time I go back, there's something new and I don't feel like it's very familiar.

In time, I imagine that Urbana will grow and change without me, too, but there's still a big draw there that's lacking in Kentucky. I know we'll be back there for a visit on many occasions. This is the place, I'll tell my kids, where Daddy and I lived when I was in graduate school. This is the place where Mommy got her degree, but more importantly, where she grew up, where she learned more than you can fit in any book.

And after that, we'll go home, wherever that may be.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Santa Fe Beans and Rice

I am not a huge fan of beans and rice. I'm not a huge fan of microwave meals, either. But I am a huge fan of the Weight Watchers Smart Ones Santa Fe Beans and Rice microwave meal.

So naturally, I decided that I needed to figure out how to make it myself, instead of buying this meal in a one-time use, "disposable" plastic dish. I believe that I have figured it out. It's not exactly identical, but it has the same sort of delicious flavor. The recipe follows:

Becca's Santa Fe Beans and Rice

2.5-3 cups water (depending on the type of rice you're using)
1 cup tomato sauce
1 packet taco spices* (enough for one pound of meat)
1-2 dashes cayenne pepper

2 cups uncooked rice
1 16 oz can red beans, drained**
1 small zucchini, diced into small pieces
8 oz frozen corn kernels

1 cup reduced-fat sour cream***
1 tablespoon skim milk

grated Monterrey jack cheese

Combine water, tomato sauce, taco spices, and cayenne pepper in large saucepan. Heat to boiling. Add rice, beans, zucchini, and corn. Bring to a boil, then lower temperature and simmer until rice is cooked and liquid is gone.

When rice is almost done, combine sour cream and milk in microwave-safe bowl. Heat in microwave until warm and mixture is runny.

To serve: Scoop some beans and rice onto a plate or into a bowl. Top generously with sour cream sauce. Sprinkle grated cheese on top. Microwave until cheese is melted, if desired.

Other serving suggestions: This would be really good on a bed of lettuce, like a taco salad. Also, I think it would be fun to eat with tortilla chips.

* I used a commercial packet of taco spices, but you can get the same flavor for a lot less money by combining 2 teaspoons instant minced onion, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried red pepper, 1/2 teaspoon instant minced garlic, 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin ("Taco Seasoning Mix" recipe from More House Specialties by Deanna House).

** You can prepare your own red beans ahead of time -- you want to have about 3 cups of beans for this recipe.

*** You can use real sour cream or even fat-free sour cream, except for the fact that fat-free sour cream is completely disgusting.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

In Case the Whole Research Scientist Thing Doesn't Work Out...

...I've begun planning for an alternate career path:

My spammer name is Replica T. Sheepskin.
Enter your name to get yours:

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Book Review

Book Review: The Way They Were by Brooke L. Foster

The book The Way They Were: Dealing with the Divorce of Your Parents After a Lifetime of Marriage by Brooke L. Foster was released last Tuesday. The four copies of it that I'd preordered arrived in the mail last week, and I immediately set to reading it.

Books aimed at people who were adults when their parents divorced are alarmingly scarce. The only other book exclusively on this subject (at least that I'm aware of) is the out-of-print A Grief out of Season by Noelle Fintushel and Nancy Hilliard, dating more than fifteen years back. I was a regular on the Adult Children of Divorce Yahoo group for a long time, and it was very common to hear the complaint that the only book out there on the topic of what we were going through was not available. I got my copy (which I treasure) from the Urbana Free Library discard pile. If the folks at the library had known, they could have sold it on eBay for a pretty penny!

Since I was such a regular on the group, I was approached by Brooke Foster to tell my story. I was delighted to do so, and I also put her in touch with my two sisters, so that she might get an entire family's perspective instead of simply mine. She was a good interviewer, and a wonderful listener. I was looking forward to seeing how she would incorporate our stories into her book.

I really liked the book. The writing in it was beautiful; her words were poetry and the content flowed seamlessly. She incorporated our stories and the stories of many others into the book, and the story about her family was also central. In a way, she went in chronological order, because she treated topics in the order in which she became aware of them throughout the life-changing divorce of her parents. For example, it is not until the end of the book that she discusses the effects of parents' divorce on their adult children's intimate relationships, because that's the point at which she began to be aware of those effects, whereas in my experience, the unquestioning trust of my partner was one of the first casualties of the divorce. The fact that I was already married is what I think accounts for this difference.

At the Barnes and Noble website, I read one review packed with unwarranted venom, and I had to wonder if the reviewer had read the same book that I did. For example, he describes the author as unable to understand that parents are "human beings with evolving needs." The thing is, she not only understands that, but explains it in the very first chapter! On top of that, the books he recommends over this one weren't even on the same topic! His preconceived notions of the book were evidently uninfluenced by the words between the covers.

I think that since I've read just about every book about adult children of divorce, and plenty of other books on family dynamics, family estrangements, and the like, I didn't really learn much from the book, but it was good to have all that information in one place. I think that A Grief Out of Season is more methodical and therefore maybe a little more helpful, but this is a very good book too. I would recommend this book highly to any adult seeking to come to terms with their parents' divorce.