Saturday, January 30, 2010
Most women have a life-long, on-going affair with shoes. (If you happen to be one of those women who do not, forgive my stereotyping; it's fundamental to my theory, though.) We can fall in love instantly with a sandal. And the x-chromosome has, on occasion, gone feral when two women want the same pair of size-8 Jimmy Choos. (I have never personally fought for a shoe, though I have had friendships fill with tension when the other girl feels the same way about a guy as I do.) Once the shoe is ours, we spend the next month in new-shoe inebriation, intoxicated by the leather or giddy with how feminine and delicate it makes our foot appear. Whatever the drug, we're high on it. All because of FOOTWEAR.
Now suppose a girl gets a pebble in that shoe one day. No girl in her right mind would return home and toss that shoe in the trash because of a tiny stone. She'd recognize that the pebble wasn't a reflection on the shoe--how it fit, how it made her feel, her level of adoration--but on the kind of ground she was treading--obviously rocky.
And so it is with men. A pebble interrupts the relationship's journey, and people quickly want to call it quits, throw away the shoe. That shoe is the same one you lusted after when you saw it in the magazine (the analogy fits uncomfortably well), fell in love with at the store, handed over your credit card for and mentally paired with all your favorite outfits. The shoe hasn't really changed--the ground has. Of course, shoes do eventually age. Threads start unraveling, and soles become slightly less supportive. But a lot of the time, even when those shoes are out of fashion by two whole seasons, they're still the favorites. We seem pretty devoted to our shoes; shouldn't we be even more so to our men?
I'm a relationship newbie, and my boyfriend and I don't really fight. We have the run-of-the-mill disagreements, and we don't see eye to eye and nose to nose on everything (in part because he's 6'2 and I'm under 5'5), but we don't fight. As much as I like it this way, I'm not naive enough to think there won't come a day when we temporarily don't like each other. But I hope neither of us wants to give up because of a pebble in the road. I like my shoes a lot, but I like my boyfriend more.
[Photo thanks to http://life-o-life.blogspot.com/]
Friday, January 29, 2010
"The revelation occurred in the cereal aisle of the supermarket," Lehrer told NPR host, Terry Gross. "I realized that there were 20 different kinds of Cheerios. There were original Cheerios. There were honey-nut Cheerios, apple-cinnamon, multigrain, the yogurt-with-the-berry thing. And then, of course, there are all the generic varieties of Cheerios.
And so I found myself spending literally a half an hour, 30 minutes, in the cereal aisle of the supermarket, trying to choose between boxes of Cheerios. And that's when I realized I had a problem, and I became really curious as to what was actually happening inside my head while I was struggling to make a decision"
He classifies himself as "a classic case of paralysis by analysis." He explains this as "simply thinking too much in the supermarket. I come up with long lists of reasons to prefer honey-nut Cheerios, and then I look at the apple-cinnamon Cheerios, and then I come up with long lists of reasons to prefer apple-cinnamon Cheerios. And it goes on and on like that. I'm stuck in this loop of self-consciousness, where I come up with reason after reason after reason."
As Gross points out, one of the crucial concepts Lehrer learned from his book-writing venture was that copious amounts of information (which we usually equate as good, even necessary) can easily translate to an overwhelmed and overloaded prefrontal cortex, the relatively frail division of our brain that's (ironically) responsible for "deliberate, rational decisions." Ergo, spending an exorbitant 30 minutes in the cereal aisle.
To expound even further--it's alright, I don't think you're employing your prefrontal cortex to read this--that specific area of our noggin can retain a mere 7 tid-bits of information at any given time. And it works more efficiently with less than that. Read, for example, a study explained in Lehrer's words:
"One of the studies I talk about in the book concerns a study done by Stanford psychologists who - they had two groups of people. One group they had memorize a two-digit number. The other group they had memorize a seven-digit number. Then they marched these two groups down the hall and gave them a choice between two snacks.
One snack was a rich, gooey slice of chocolate cake. The other snack was a responsible fruit salad. The people who memorized a two-digit number were twice as likely to choose the fruit salad as the people who memorized the seven-digit number, who were twice as likely to choose the chocolate cake. And the reason is that those extra five digits - doesn't seem like very much information at all, just five extra numbers - so overwhelmed the prefrontal cortex that there wasn't enough processing power left over to exert self-control.
So that gives us a sense of just how limited in capacity our brain actually is and, I think, points to the fact that we should absolutely be aware of these limitations."
Yes, limitations. This leads me to the second half of my story.
A twin-pair of Sundays ago, I asked my boyfriend to teach me how to play chess. And he did. He tried. But as we sat there, drawing out the inevitable "check mate" in which I found myself every time, I could have easily spent a generous 10 minutes on each move. (This was the real reason our battles of marble weaponry lasted more than 5 minutes.) I was experiencing paralysis of analysis. Granted, due to my inexperience with the infamous game, more than half of my cognitive energy was spent trying to remember what piece can move where and in what pattern. All in all, it was undoubtedly more than seven pieces of information, and my poor, prefrontal cortex was headed for a meltdown. I did eventually win a game, but that was only by taking play-by-play direction from my boyfriend (being a real-life pawn) in a challenge against his mom, which probably suggests my overload and consequential lapse in judgment. (Is it really a good idea to put your boyfriend's mom in "check mate" in only five moves? Fortunately, she's a sweetheart and didn't hold it against me.)
I've now spent a reasonable amount of time (less than 30 min.) evaluating all the above and reached a simple, either/or conclusion: Either chess is a game that's bad for you or I am very bad at the game.
[You can read or listen to the full Jonah Lehrer story at NPR.]
Friday, January 22, 2010
A pickup with a bumper sticker passed me on the freeway this afternoon. The adhesive declaration was "I brake for trains." Is it just me or does one's reaction to such a proclamation naturally lean toward "duh!"? The situation seems analogous to a small yacht captain sharing his habit of "I slow down for ocean liners." Really, no kidding. Would that be because if you don't, it's going to cream you? I kinda thought so.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, I brake for trains, too. I'm not going to test my car's ability to power through the same mass of rail train that requires up to a mile to stop because, quite frankly, I just don't like the odds. For what seem to me like obvious reasons, I also don't feel the need to broadcast this to every passenger traveling behind me. Don't most people brake for trains? My guess is that if you didn't, you wouldn't be here to drive the truck that declares your respect for a transportation force greater than your own. Just a thought.
Since the obvious/ridiculous seems en mode, I'm thinking about getting a sticker to slap on the back of my car. It will say "I stay clear of stampeding rhinos." Of course, you probably do, too. But on the off chance you don't, I just want to let you know that I do.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Less than a week after the pumpkin walnut muffins, I'm back in the kitchen with the baking apron figuratively wrapped around my waist. (One day I'll actually buy myself an apron from Anthropologie...and never want to don it because I'd prefer batter splatter on my clothes than on its hand-embroidered, elaborate design.) This time it's banana bread, the catalyst being another close friend who turns 24 tomorrow. (Happy birthday, tomorrow, Shaunda!)
I've never made banana bread; I've never made a lot of things. For as much as the sweet bread tickles taste buds, it was surprisingly easy. In my case, it did necessitate peeling a frozen banana. Have you ever peeled a frozen banana? Ok. So it's really not difficult once you give up trying to use your fingers and weld a quality knife. And with minimal ingredients, clean up was a snap, particularly since I have a dog who lingers at my feet, displaying his uber-willingness to give mixing bowls a licking pre-wash cycle. The only confusing bit was that the instructions suggested inserting a toothpick in the center of the loaf to see if it's done baking. "Toothpick may be moist from bananas," it informs, "just make sure it's not moist from batter." How am I supposed to tell if it's banana moistness or batter moistness? And on top of that, I don't have toothpicks so I use the wooden side of a match. That's my creative baking technique for you.
I'm a batter eater. I always have been. (Batter is like the prelude to the story, a foretaste--quite literally.) But for what may be the first time in my life, I almost couldn't stomach smacking my lips in banana bread dough. Had you seen the squishy, thawed bananas as they slipped out of the freezer bag in their dirty-puddle brown syrup, it might have grossed you out, too. That something so unappetizing, married to a few other ingredients, could result in such utter deliciousness is nothing short of a culinary phenomenon. In the end, my impatience for taste-testing won, and I twirled my finger in the bowl a time or two before passing it off to the dog.
Mom and I love banana bread, so I made an extra loaf. (This also helped resolve my previously described problem of moisture differentiation. The extra loaf provided a tester, and when stabbed with a knife, it returned with undeniable batter moisture.) But the superfluous loaf also means it's time for me to grab the cream cheese...
[If you're wondering about the Regina Spektor reference, well...I listened to her while I baked. Maybe her unique and eclectic style will--by osmosis--infuse my cooking.]
Monday, January 11, 2010
I almost literally brushed my hands as I exited, happy to be rid of them. But now I'm starting to wonder if I'll miss catching glimpses of them lying lonely and out of place in the random parts of my house into which I shuffled them, not knowing quite where they fit in. Sentimentalism aside, I got enough out of them--a curious story and a blog entry--so I'm glad to have them off my hands. My house looks less cluttered now, too.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
1. Own a poodle
2. Buy a house and take up residence in my home town
3. Date a former model (in case you're tempted to label me as shallow, I learned this tid-bit after I started dating him)
4. Run a marathon
5. Shoot & own a gun (and stop jumping like a scared rabbit with every trigger pull)
6. Paint my fingernails black
7. Kiss someone who isn't an herbivore
I'm glad I was wrong about them all.
My dear friend Eyren turned 24 yesterday. In celebration, I baked her a dozen pumpkin walnut muffins. And by what I think is inspiration from watching "Julie & Julia" last week, I've decided to take up the art of culinary gift-giving for all birthdays this year. So if you're reading this and we're close enough friends that I would normally buy you something when you turn another year older, expect to receive something edible this time around.
My caveat | In recent months, I've been practicing my cooking skills more than ever before. But in some cases, you might consider this your warning.
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Friday, January 1, 2010
Our ancestors--the ones before Jesus' time--did exactly that. When they started a new year, it was, "Goodbye 485. Hello 484." This generates a million and one questions. Who told them to count down? Logic would seem to strongly push for the contrary. What was the circulating theory about what would happen when they reached zero? (An old-world Y2K, maybe?) And who made the switch at Christ's birth, splitting time for the rest of history between those decades "Before Christ" and those designated as "Anno Domini"? This is particularly puzzling, given the biblical impression that few even recognized or acknowledged His birth. And what about those who blatantly didn't accept Christ? (And for that matter, those today who still haven't?) The answer may lie in the fact that time, as we calculate it today, was adopted in the relatively recent past. Fine. But then how did people living in that day keep track of it?
Think about it. It's all a little weird. But then, time is just like that. Contemplate it for any length, and you'll find one lobe of your brain spinning counterclockwise circles while another twirls the opposite. It's a peculiar and curious thing.
About two months ago, I wanted to bring dinner to the pool so George could eat before coaching his evening practice. I had my heart set on Mexican, so I arrived home and put on some water to boil for yellow rice. Now, you must understand: My stove takes a literal day and a half to heat things. Watching the pot or not, it seems to never boil. So I walked away from the stove, thinking I could come back later and it might actually be ready for the rice. But when I came back, it was boiling so vigorously it was splashing over the pan. Yep. It was ready for rice alright.
The package said it should simmer for 20 min., but after a mere 10 or 15, the water was almost gone (I think I must have lost a little from the frivolous boiling), so I added a little more, hoping it would all disappear by the time the rice was done. It was at this point that I realized my stove top is uneven. (Please don't ask how this obvious fact escaped me for the previous two months.) This suddenly became obvious to me when all the water pooled in one side of the pan. Sticking a penny under that end to compensate didn't seem logical, so I just shoved all the rice to the side the water liked. It was still supposed to cook another 7 or 10 min., so I stepped away from the kitchen for a minute or two. I returned to find the dry side of the pan charred black with rice that must have somehow resisted my attempts at corralling it to one side. In panic mode, I turned off the stove and lifted the near carcinogenic pan off the heat. Even though the whole house didn't fill with smoke (like my grilled cheese experience in college), there was a definite "something's burning" aroma. Fortunately, most of the rice was salvageable, so I eagerly shoveled it into a glass container and ran out the door.
On the way, I decided to make a quick pit stop at Kroger to grab a jar of salsa. As I'm waiting in the check-out line, the cashier says to the lady two people in front of me, "Excuse me. I'm just curious. Do you smell smoke?" My ears perked up as much as my self-consciousness. I didn't smell any smoke, but I made a subtle attempt at smelling my hair and jacket. Was it me? Had I really carried the burned-rice perfume out of the house on my person? "Maybe it's coming from outside," she said a minute and half later. Yes, yes, I thought. Go with that theory. It's from outside. Needless to say, I was particularly self aware as I approached the cashier another grocery shopper later. I wondered what went through his head when I got closer. "Good heavens! Outside just bought salsa from my checkout lane!" Who knows? George didn't seem to detect any cooking-gone-bad aromatic evidence, so maybe it really was coming from beyond the sliding glass doors. A girl can hope.
[Photo of how yellow rice is supposed to look thanks to jollychop.com]