In the swing of the semester

Okay, finally feel like we’re in the swing of the semester properly, second week in. Getting sick first week = NOT RECOMMENDED.

But I don’t look (or feel) horribly sick anymore, I barely coughed in today’s lecture, and we had a great discussion of Amal El-Mohtar‘s “Biting Tongues” today. They loved the poem, btw. Popular choice! I think if I teach it again, I’d like to pair it with an excerpt from Persepolis, and Carmen Machado‘s “The Husband Stitch” — I was already planning to teach the latter later in the semester, but I think it would work better if I brought it up to pair with this poem. Might also have them listen to / watch the Little Red Riding Hood song from Into the Woods, and read Nalo Hopkinson’s “Riding the Red”.

We also reviewed helpful organizational strategies, like actually LOOKING AT THE SYLLABUS before e-mailing me a question, and PUTTING DUE DATES in your calendar, possibly with a reminder slightly before. So that was hopefully good, and will ease everyone’s stress going forward.

Plus, a student and a colleague both complimented my boots within a single hour (they’re my ‘I wrote a book boots,’ and they are v. fancy (but were on clearance, which made them only somewhat outrageously expensive)), so that was nice.

Double-plus, I really do have a very nice view from my office, even if I have to walk right up to the window to see it properly. Oh, Brutalist architecture — you are challenging to love.


Biting Tongues

Speak to us in silk, they say
speak to us in milk,
be pillow–soft, be satin–smooth
be home–spun sugar sweet.

We part our lips. We breathe our breaths.
We bite our tongues and swallow blood
knot stones into our stomachs, heave
and spit red salt where words should be,
stitch shut our mouths with stubborn thread
to spare our tablecloths.

Such a mess! If you can’t say something nice,
if you can’t be honey cinnamon spice
if you can’t be dusky–eyed candy mice
shut the fuck up, you stuck–up bitch
you whore you cunt you slag you witch
where you going dressed like that
red as meat and us so hungry?
What did you think would happen, huh?
What did you think would happen?

We are told
of wolves in the world, and we but girls.
We are told
of girls in the world, and they but wolves
who cannot help themselves.
We are told
to be girls or wolves
be eaten or hungry
but we are never hungry
who make meals of ourselves
who chew the insides of our cheeks,
bleed into our bellies.
We are told
that to be bold is to be bled
that red’s what brings the wolves around
that we’re better off drowned.

They come with axes
cut us to pull the good girls out.

They leave us with our bloodstone bellies
our sewn up mouths, our halted breaths,
and a river for a bed.

Until one of us
with sharpest teeth
and shredded mouth
rips silence from our lips
with a battle–cry kiss, and says

We speak as we are
with tongues of snake and hummingbird
of ocean and of earth
of sky and salt and smoke and fire
of gesture, ink, and ringing bells.
We speak as we are
with bodies various as motion
voices of muscle and music and colour
beautiful bloody mouths.

We paint with tumblebroken words
we sing loud with our speaking hands
unmake the bodies shaped for us
and lip to eye to fingertip
we spill our red–mouth stories out
and listen, taste them on the air
with our forked and biting tongues.

Walls of greenery

Decor question? I was chatting with a colleague on campus who was frustrated that the pothos she’d hung in her office wasn’t as huge and bushy as she’d like, and I sympathized — in my first year at UIC, I tried to bring in live plants, but between the very limited light and my erratic schedule and watering, they quickly perished. I’ve been there ten years, you know, and my office decor hasn’t changed in that time.

I am suddenly finding the urge to redecorate, and specifically to go crazy with faux greenery. Would appreciate recommendations for inexpensive WALLS OF GREENERY, please. I’m picturing the kind of thing you see at weddings sometimes, something I can maybe nail to the wall up high, or drape over a folding screen. It would be super fun to have students open my office door and encounter a jungle. 🙂

(It wouldn’t be nearly as ornate as this photo — the pic just made me smile!)

A last minute grant application

That feeling when your little baby nonprofit is applying for its first grant, and you meant to get everything done in good time, but were waylaid by a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad cold, not to mention alarums and excursions at the children’s school necessitating many serious conversations and a whole lot of extra driving, and then your spouse is felled by the selfsame cold, and so you call to ask on the day of the deadline whether a wee little extension might be possible, and are informed sadly, no, it is not, that the grant very much does have to absolutely be in by 11:45 p.m. today, so sorry, and today is a day with rolling deadlines and urgent appointments and you do have a day job (and the students are e-mailing asking about FRIDAY’S assignment, and don’t they understand that it is only TUESDAY now, and we have a WHOLE CLASS between now and Friday), so you finally get to working on the grant in your first free minutes of the day, at 10 p.m. at night, thinking well, this won’t take very long, because you’re mostly just checking over other peoples’ good work, but it turns out that you don’t have access to the file (and yes, this is one reason why I often curse Google & its shared docs), but thank all the gods and little fishes that the owner of the file is awake, and has put her munchkins to bed, and is back on the computer checking if you need anything else and can give you access, and then between the two of you, you manage to find all the little things that need to be fixed (it turned out that the attachments she uploaded previously didn’t get saved in the application, so she had to upload them all again), and at 11:41, you read the message from her that it’s done, it’s in, you can both go to bed (and get up at 7 a.m. with the kiddos up and out the door to school)…



Innovative food course, last fall

I meant to post about this last fall, but in the harried I didn’t manage it, but better late than never, and I just want to say that it was a pleasure and a privilege being part of Professor Anna Guevarra‘s innovative food course.

Honestly, when I saw what she was doing, I was both impressed and a little jealous that I hadn’t thought of doing something like that — you totally could, on the literature front, as well as with the sociology approach she takes, using food as a way in to cultural conversations and analysis. Although it’s also a lot of work, how she does it, and I’d need to do a lot of prep to be able to do it nearly as well — maybe someday!

Structurally, it’s set up really well; she spends part of the class on the more academic side, and then part of it with students cooking and serving food from different cuisines, then connecting that to the lecture and readings.

Just a terrific model, and I’d love to see more of this kind of teaching in the academy generally; I think the students get so much out of the real world, concrete manifestation of what can otherwise be rather abstract ideas. And of course, they get to eat delicious food, which is never a bad thing!

Sunday (Monday) dinner: broccoli and ginger-garlic chicken

Our Sunday dinner was a little harried this week, because I was still sick on Sunday, so we pushed it to Monday since there wasn’t school, and then I forgot that Kavi had an orthodontist appointment, plus I was finally making good progress on my revision after much procrastination, and Kavi was super-tired, so we ended up pulling back on the planned menu, skipping the roti and the roasted broccoli / cauliflower I had planned, and just having Kevin and Anand cook steamed broccoli to go with ginger-garlic chicken.

But Anand prepped broccoli for the first time, and also cut up chicken for the first time, and even seasoned the ginger-garlic chicken too. And we sat down and lit a few candles and ate together for at least 15 minutes, and even played a game of Geography over dinner, and we had the mango pudding that Kavi and I made on Saturday, so I’m going to call it success.


Naming things is HARD

We are having serious naming difficulties for this comic. So we want a name that exemplifies the comic and is available as a URL (that is ideally easy to say, remember, and type).

The basic setting of the comic is Adventure Town — a village of retired adventurers, who are sort of like a tourist trap? They live on the crossroads between various dangerous realms, and adventurers are always coming through, seeking their fortune, and the villagers are happy to feed them, put them up for the night, sell them gear and maps that are guaranteed to lead them to the very best treasure, or your money back (assuming you survive). The overall tone is light and sardonic.

The problem is that Adventure Town is a) too close to Adventure Time as a name, and a) not available anyway. Adventure Village isn’t great either. And apparently Margaret and I just suck at naming, as we haven’t come up with ANYTHING decent, never mind the URL issues. Brainstorming help???


Love is slicing eight onions

Love is asking if he can slice four medium onions for you, and then realizing that aside from the slicing, it’s just as easy to do a double batch, and asking if he’d mind slicing eight medium onions instead, and he may sigh a tiny bit, but when you come back downstairs, there they all are, waiting. SO MANY ONIONS.

And now I have enough seeni sambol to make plenty of buns for Bite Nite next week, with probably a fair bit left over for just eating too. Seeni sambol on buttered toast = such a satisfying breakfast.

(It was a little sad leaving the Maldive fish out of this batch, but I did want them to be vegetarian for Bite Nite. There’ll be plenty of fishy goodness in future batches.)

Link to Seeni Sambol Recipe

Sunshine in January

The sunshine really helps, doesn’t it? In January, I tend to focus on greens and whites in the house, pulling back from all the holiday decor, starting the year with a clean simplicity to refresh the soul.

I trim away dead stems, finish repotting things I hadn’t gotten around to in the holiday rush, add decorative stones and moss to help retain moisture, see if any growing plants needs staking so they can grow up straight and tall, and try to be a little more regular with my watering. I even remembered to fertilize this January (in theory, I do every other month in winter).


Hellebore from Trader Joe’s. I didn’t do a good job watering it last week, and the leaves got a little battered as a result, so I’ve just trimmed most of them off. Hopefully there’s enough healthy leaves left to sustain the plant! When spring comes, I’ll plant it in the garden, and with luck, it may come back next year.

Orchid, also from Trader Joe’s. (That’s a theme around here in winter — their prices really are pretty excellent for plants.)

I bought it when it just had a few blooms but lots of buds, so it’ll be slowly opening for a month or two, needing almost no care — a little water every few days. I’m hoping to try to keep my orchids going this year, so they can come back; fingers crossed.


Second round of paperwhites for the season — I tried some with pebbles in the bottom of the vase, and some without — pebbles are definitely better for making them less prone to tipping as they get tall, since the roots entwine and hold on; I’ve got enough paperwhite bulbs to do one more round, and I’m going to put even more pebbles in next time!

The pebbles also give the vases a more solid base; between the pebbles and the museum wax, they’re not going anywhere, despite wandering curious cats who love to perch up here and survey their domain.

(Vases leftover from buying hyacinths at Trader Joe’s in previous years.  )


Ivy. 🙂 There’s something I find so pleasing about its enthusiastic growth. It makes me think of Sleeping Beauty, of disappearing into a fairy tale, like one of Patricia McKillip’s gorgeous novels. Oh, now I want to abandon my work for the day and go re-read a Patricia McKillip book. _Winter Rose_ would be a good starting point if you’re wanting to disappear into the wild right now…


Jasmine vine climbing vigorously; my other jasmine is blooming, but not this one. Still, I hold out hope! Come back and bloom for me, little jasmine. And in the meaning, I like the geometry of this green jasmine, and the contrast with the white egg chair on chilly porch outside, and the bird feeders hanging — which oops, clearly need more bird seed. On it.

A lot of gardening well is slowing down long enough to look, enjoy, and notice where a small improvement could be made, or where a task has been neglected…

Branch of curry leaf tree peeking over the top on the left, coming back nicely after having almost died due to neglect after coming inside this fall. Sorry, curry leaf plant! I do love you so, and you contributed beautifully to the seeni sambol I made this weekend…


Okay, so I’m not quite sure I remember what this one is — a hibiscus, I think? It also had a hard time — lost most of its leaves when a child knocked it over. But lots of quiet winter rest, a sunny window, regular watering, and it’s coming back nicely. Hang in there, little guy!

(With lantana below, also coming back from indoor winter transition, and cat water fountain.  )


Roshani laughed when she saw I’d gotten this stand, because it was rather 70s. Well, the 70s are back, baby. Macramé and plant stands for the win. Lots of little cuties here, along with a big tropical duranta, which will get lots of tiny purple flowers and orange berries, about twice a year. I’m trying to train it into an arching small tree form, which means it needs a little more pruning on top right now. It’s about 5 years old, I think? Coming along nicely.


One colorful cheat. This bougainvillea is live leaves on the bottom two-thirds, but silk flowers on top right now. It’s another one that had a tough time with my intense schedule last fall, and really struggled, but winter is calmer and I’m taking better care of the plants; it’s coming back strong. Eventually it’ll grow enough that I can tie it up to the trellis, and with luck, it’ll start putting out real blooms (or rather, colorful bracts) of its own, and I’ll put the silk flowers away. 🙂

Thank god for banana bread


Anand came downstairs saying, “I came down because it smells so good!” Another round of chai-spiced banana bread, with dried cranberries stirred in. I’ve finally cleared the rather immense backlog of overripe bananas, which is good, because we are about to have some more to toss in the freezer. The kids go through phases of banana eating — sometimes we can’t keep up with the demand, and sometimes, they’ll just stop, for no real reason, for a few weeks. Thank god for banana bread.

Banana Bread Recipe Link