Friday, December 19, 2008

End of the Semester Assessment

I turned in final grades on Wednesday, officially bringing my first t-t semester to a close. It is the best feeling in the world!!! With 120 students, the grading was brutal all semester and the sudden addition of committees, advising and prepping 4 classes had me on my toes since August. Going to APSA and Northeastern did not help because I had to prepare two (very sub-par) papers. So, I am planning to take a much needed break.

Unfortunately, the break will not be total. First, I need to prepare a syllabus for Contemporary Political Thought – a class I am teaching for the first time in the spring. I will also make some changes in my Intro to Political Theory and Intro to American Govt. courses.

Second, I have to work on a reflective statement for my application for re-appointment. Millersville has a strange system where each t-t faculty has to apply for re-appointment each year. Though the outcome is never really in doubt, it requires a ton of paperwork including an assessment of what the faculty member has done throughout their year towards course development, students evals, scholarship and service. It also requires peer evaluations which means THREE IN-CLASS evaluations per semester of your teaching. While this is great when you go up for tenure (having conducted such stringent evaluations five times, they are hardly likely to throw you out then), it is a really time-consuming process each year.

Third, of course, I still need to work on the big D(issertation). I am hoping to get a draft of the whole thing to my committee by the end of the spring semester.

Last, I need to clean my office and our house. The office is a mess with papers, exams, quizzes and even unanswered mail everywhere. The house is worse and needs a good cleaning on top of that.

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In Other News:

Car: Finally, we got a new car (that is a story in itself which I will recount later). It is a red 2007 Toyota Camry. As a preview to the story, let me just say that Gregg and I were on completely different sides of this purchase. Gregg thought we should buy an American car and be supportive of the American auto industry. I fought for the Toyota – putting so much money into the purchase, I did not feel comfortable buying American especially with the bailout still on the line.

Cheating: I have two sets of students who have clearly plagiarized some parts of their papers from each other. In the first set, the two students use different language but every paragraph is the same for both – including the mistakes. Some of the language is the same but not a lot. I am more charitably disposed to this pair. But the second pair have submitted papers which are word-for-word the same as each other for the first 3 pages. How lazy – and stupid – can you be?

Conferences: In the interests of both money and due to sheer exhaustion, I have withdrawn from both the Southern and Western conferences. I got accepted to both but Southern is in New Orleans and Western in Vancouver and I am too tired to write 2 more papers and travel that far. Maybe this was a stupid decision – after all, t-t faculty have to do as much professional stuff as possible – but I have already done 2 conferences this year and I thought 4 is too much.

Celebratory Menu: To celebrate my first real day off, I am making a Middle-Eastern-Indian inspired mutton stew with a Mediterranean couscous.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Firsts

There are some “firsts” which people love and hope will be the first in a long line. Like your first real paycheck. Other “firsts” are special because they may not – and should not – happen again. Your wedding day, for instance. Other firsts you may never want to encounter again – like your first funeral. Unfortunately, my “first” this weekend falls into the last category – my first accident (where I was the driver).

The only time I have been involved in an accident before was at Converse when Wendy, my sister and I were driving to the mountains. Wendy was the driver at the time and the car was totaled. No one was seriously hurt, however. This Friday night, however, I was the driver – no one was seriously hurt that I know of. This is how it happened.

This was the first day it snowed in Lancaster since we have been here. We woke to a white blanket. I dropped Gregg off at the train station, got home, changed, drove to work, came back, picked Giggs up to take him to the vet and then drove home again. Then at 6pm, I set off to pick Gregg up. It had been snowing all day but now the sun had gone down and the snow had turned to ice. When I drove up to the bridge I regularly cross, I saw up ahead 2 cars at the side of the road which had obviously been in an accident. Then suddenly the car in front of me skidded and rotated (eventually hitting the car in front of him). I hit my brakes to stop but the ice gave no traction and the car just kept going. So, I ended up hitting one of the cars pulled off to the side of the road (one of the ones already in an accident).

Thankfully, no one was hurt. I have mild bruises and a pain in the neck (literally) and it hurts when I laugh but that’s it. Our car, however, is in very bad shape – we have to wait till we know if it is salvageable. Now the only remnant is fear – I am terrified of driving in snow – or rather ice – again.

On the bright side, the rental car we have is awesome. It is a Buick with heated leather seats, XM radio and even heat for the steering wheel. Awesome!!!!

Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone – and drive safely.

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IN OTHER NEWS:

Work: Only one more full week of classes left. Cannot wait.

Thanksgiving: I made a turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing etc on Saturday. It was a nice way to forget the accident. We are going to CT for Thanksgiving but with the end of the semester almost here, we will stay only a short time. Have to prep for the last week, write exams, write study guides, grade papers etc.

NPSA: Went well. More on that later.

Giggs: He is now 9.8 pounds and almost a year old.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Eating in your office

Since the beginning of last year, I have been eating lunch in my office. Unfortunately, I do not like sandwiches and I do not like going to the common area to use the microwave or ‘fridge. So, I have been keeping a box of pistachios in my office and snacking on it throughout the day instead of having a proper lunch. This is made possible by the fact that I live very close to my school and therefore, my longest day has (in the last two years) been from 9am-4pm. Usually my longest day is from 12pm-5:30pm.

However, I am getting a little tired of pistachios. What do you guys do when you have to eat at school? Is there anything that does not need refrigeration or heating up? Or do you make yourselves a real meal every day?

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In Other News:

NPSA: We just returned from Boston where Gregg and I presented at NPSA. I actually thought that, by simply writing out my presentation, I managed to develop my paper considerably. The comments were not extensive but they were helpful. Plus, we had a chance to catch up with Sara which was great. It was nice to spend some time walking around Boston as well.

Weather: It is now freezing in Lancaster. We have even had a snow flurry already. In fact, a flurry is in progress even as I write. I am clearly not equipped for this weather in terms of clothes – I definitely need new shoes and warmer shirts etc. The sandals I wear are not for this weather. Maybe I need Cuddl Duds as Jill suggested.

Work: I cannot wait till the end of the semester. The grading for 120 students, working on prepping 3 classes, advising students for spring registration, deciding books for the next semester and writing reports for committees is now more overwhelming than usual.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Irritating Questions

As the semester comes to an end, students seem to ask questions which are more and more unnecessary and/or annoying. Here are some of the questions which irritate me the most:

1. “Do you curve?”
I have said this hundreds of times and it is in your syllabus – I do not curve.
2. “When is the paper due?”
Why not look at the paper topic or on your syllabus?
3. “Can we get extra credit assignments?”
Why should I give you and myself extra work when your problem was that you could not finish the assigned work on time in the first place?
4. “Will grammar matter in the paper?”
Yes. What did you expect?
5. “Can you tell me what my grade is in this class?”
Can’t you do the math since you have all the necessary information?

Does anyone else find these questions annoying?

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Work: What with the elections and the work, things have been crazy. I am counting to the end of the semester. Gregg and I are both presenting at Northeastern next week and I am on page 2 of that paper. Long weekend ahead.

Fall color: PA looks beautiful right now. I love the changing leaves and the mild cold.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Life and Death

Today, we got news that Gregg’s maternal grandfather passed away last night. Obviously, Gregg, his mom and the entire family are upset especially as it was sudden and somewhat unexpected. I feel so bad for them all.

This incident got me thinking about death in general. Any death leaves one with not only a sense of loss but brings home the mortality of human beings. So, it is both sad and scary. And, for some morbid reason, it gets me thinking: how do you want to be remembered when you die? For whatever reason, I cannot come up with anything more specific than that I want to be remembered as a nice cheerful person. More importantly, however, the question is: should we live each day thinking of our deaths (as some writers suggest)? Live as if each day was our last? And if we did, what would be more likely: that we would indulge ourselves because this is the last day or that we would live virtuously/kindly etc. hoping that we would be remembered this way?

At this time, I just want to say how much I appreciate all my friends and relatives. Thank you for your presence in my life. And I want to take this time to take stock of all the ways in which I am fortunate – because if death should teach us anything, it should teach us to enjoy and appreciate life.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Frugal Life

As the economy takes center stage in the national election, I have my personal indicator of how bad the economy is: my retirement account. This is the first year, I have had one and therefore, I check it periodically to see how much is in there. But every time I check, there is less in it than there was before. Every time the Dow takes a nose-dive, so does the account. But the good thing about this bleak scenario is that checking it makes me frugal. It is a constant reminder about the nature of this economy and the necessity for frugality.

However, frugality has to be relative. It depends on who you are, what you like and your life-style. I have been trying not to let my life hijack my frugality. It is so much more difficult to be frugal this year – the first year of a tenure-track is really difficult. The temptation to eat out, especially, instead of cooking at home has been high. But I have stayed remarkably within budget.

So, here are a few things I have been doing that have worked for me. I have tried this year to take Gregg and my nature into account when budgeting as well as our life-styles. This is why these pointers are all relative – people are different and have different needs and life-styles.

1) A Realistic Budget: I had a very unrealistic budget last year but this year I have made one which I can actually stick to. This means taking into account the fallibilities of your entire family. If there is something you cannot do without, do not think you are going to cut down on it for the entire year. This could be anything – cable, an expensive dinner every week, a shopping trip every 10 days, whatever.

2) Have a weekly spending budget: I have a maximum amount which we can spend in any given week. If we go over the amount, Gregg and I sit down and talk about what we did that sent us over the top.

3) Coupon cutting and buying in bulk: Jill turned me on to coupons but I have been terrible about it recently. However, they did save money when I was doing it, so I would recommend it. As for buying in bulk, it depends on what you are getting. For two people, it is silly to buy a ton of bulk foods but I do buy things like paper towels, mac and cheese etc. in bulk. I never buy spices in bulk, however, because they would lose their freshness about halfway through.

4) Cook a large (maybe expensive) dinner once a week: On Sundays, I have been making a large meal which then yields leftovers for the beginning of the week. Yesterday, I made a roasted turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. This means I do not have to cook for the next couple of days – a casserole or turkey soup is very good this time of year. Next Sunday: lasagna.

5) Cook a very inexpensive easy dinner during the middle-end of the week: Last week, we had soup and grilled cheese sandwiches on Thursday. Cheap and quick!!!

6) Prioritize: In our household, the priority is Giggs. So, we buy what we have to for him and then restrict ourselves.

7) Reward: Have an idea of what you can do if you save. It is easier to be frugal when there is a reward attached. If you save a certain amount, maybe you can get that ______ that you wanted. If there is a whole list of things you want, prioritize them as well.

8) Shop every couple of weeks: Since I hate shopping, I thought this was silly but it means that you can buy things only when they are on sale. This is how I plan to do Christmas shopping this year. The outlet malls around here will help with that plan - they usually have HUGE discounts.

9) Loyalty: My favorite grocery store is giving a free turkey to everyone who spends a certain amount there by Nov. 15th. I am certainly saving up for mine. However, buy store brands instead of name brands whenever possible.

10) Pick your poison: I have realized that though I save more money shopping for food at Wal-Mart, I really cannot make myself do that. To make matters worse, Wal-Mart is much further than Stauffers where I prefer to shop. To make up for this, I buy meats and fish at Stauffers but sometimes go to Giant for the canned stuff. Anyway, I figure I am saving on gas.

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In Other News:

Work: Has been crazy. Advising and committees take up a lot of time and that and 3 preps has made this very hectic. Plus, I have to write another diss chapter for a conference coming up in 3 weeks. Have not started that yet.

Fall Colors: Fall is finally here and so is cooler weather. We woke up today to a solid frost all over the grass and temperature in the 30s. The leaves are changing which is beautiful but Giggs is loathe to go out in this weather.

Driving: This will be my first time driving in snow. I am not looking forward to it. However, it will also be my first northeast winter – which will be cold but fun.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Addendum on Facebook

This is why I did not want Facebook. Today, a student added me as a friend on Facebook – and of course, this awaits my confirmation. Now what? I do not like to hurt people by rejecting them. But I do not want my students to be involved with me through Facebook or through my blog.

I have been wondering what my response should be and this is what I decided. I am not going to add her but I will talk to her in person and tell her that I will add her after the semester is over. I would like to keep in touch with former students, just not current ones. She will be graduating this year anyway.

Is this the right approach? Any thoughts?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Facebook Etiquette

Forgive my obsession with Facebook but since joining it, I am realizing all sorts of things about this social networking site. First of all, I realize the draw of Facebook now. It allows you to communicate with people in small quick exchanges. You can divulge your mood, what you are currently doing, intimate and/or useless pieces about your life to people at any time through the simple act of writing on your/their Wall. Thus, you give people access to yourself without really any trouble on your or their part.

Second, Facebook does not make distinctions between “friends” and “acquaintances”. Thus, everyone is your friend. I enjoy this feature but in sending friend requests, I did not send requests to all people that I knew. I just sent requests to those I had considered my friend in the past. Since then, many people have sent me friend requests and it has occurred to me that people either define “friend” much more loosely than I do or have some kind of competition about how many friends they have on Facebook. Some of the people were merely nodding acquaintances. Others I was delighted to establish contact with again. I don’t mind this at all but the nuances of relationships can obviously never be replicated on Facebook.

Finally, Facebook does allow you to interact with a large and diverse group of people. In this sense, this tool is unlike any other – unlike telephone conversations, email or anything else. But does it minimize one-on-one interactions? I called Jill about a month ago and she said she thought that I was calling to tell her that I was pregnant. Since this was absolutely crazy, I asked her why she would think this. She said, “That’s the only reason people call anymore.” Is this true? Is all our interaction now on internet – IM, email, Facebook?

On the whole, though, I must say that I have enjoyed Facebook – and am totally hooked. Also, thankfully, after the first couple of days, my activity on it has reduced significantly, so I do not worry about it any more.

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In Other News:

Work: I am way behind. I need to grade 40 papers, prep a class, teach 4 classes and decide on 3 paper topics by the end of the day Friday. I also need to find time to work on an article and a conference paper for NPSA.

Weekend: Gregg’s parents will be here this weekend – we are thinking of taking them to Lititz, PA to do the “Chocolate Walk”. Thankfully, I do not like candy much so it should not make me put on 30 pounds.

Giggs: He is now 9 pounds – up from the 6 he was when we got him. He has been a little sick but is recovering now.

Friday, October 3, 2008

More on the election

I thought that would be my last Sarah Palin post a few weeks ago but I have some comments on the Vice-Presidential debate. First, let me say that Sarah Palin did a very good job. She made some good points, beat Biden over the head with them and winked, smiled, and empathized her way to the hearts of Americans. Second, I think the line of criticism which states that Palin was not original in her thoughts is unfair. It is true that she was rehearsed and was clearly repeating her talking points, but this is something which most politicians do – maybe less obviously than she did yesterday. But that is easily correctable through experience and time. Finally, there is an argument to be made for connecting with the voters in a visceral (as opposed to a purely intellectual) way – and Palin clearly has the capacity for visceral empathetic connection.

Having said that, I have two major criticisms of Palin and one of Biden. Biden did not respond to some of Palin’s barbs which showed the difference between Biden and Obama. I think those issues should be dealt with. He should have responded more seriously to these assertions.

In case of Palin, two parts of the debate worried me. First, her assertion of constitutional power for the Vice-President!!! As we all know, the Constitution does not tie the Vice-President to the legislature, nor does it give the office the power she was talking about. There is no such discretionary power given to the Vice-President as she seemed to suggest. That statement showed a profound misunderstanding of the office she is running for.

Second, she refused to answer the questions posed to her by Ifill. Now, all debaters do this to some extent but she did it to an unprecedented extent. In fact, she acknowledged what she was doing saying, “I may not be answering your questions Joe or those the moderator wants me to answer…” Now if a student came to take a test and then said, “Prof. Bagchi, I am not answering the questions you have given me on this test, but I am saying what I think is important” that student would fail immediately. This was not a campaign speech, it was a debate. You cannot make the rules here, you have to play by pre-set rules. By not playing by these rules, you give the impression that you are incapable of doing well by playing by the rules. Wouldn’t you assume that your student was not answering the given questions because he/she did not know the answer?

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In Other News:

The local branch of the grocery store, Stauffers, has opened about 3 miles down the road from us. This is the equivalent to Whole Foods and is really very good. I had been traveling to one about 15 miles away every couple of weeks or so. Now, I will pass it every day on my way to the train station. The good thing is: I will be saving on gas. The bad thing is: I will probably lose that saving by buying too much at the store. But I am delighted nonetheless.

Caving in – and joining Facebook

After my rants against Facebook, I have finally thrown in the towel and signed up for it. I talked to Stacie about it and was surprised when she said she had joined it. Stacie also enumerated the positives: you can contact all the people you have lost touch with, you tend to talk to people more than you otherwise would and just reading their pages keeps you in touch with others. This got me thinking about it more than usual. Then, she sent me an email today with the message that I should join Facebook to keep an eye on Gregg – his marital status does not say “Married”!!!! Well, since Gregg does not even add his own friends (I do it for him), I was not worried but I finally decided to jump into the fray. So at 7am this morning, I joined.

However, I have checked it incessantly since then. I have spent 4 hours on Facebook today – I did not even bother to prep for my Intro to AP class. So, anyone who is like me (with an easily addicted personality) – BEWARE!!!! It is addictive. On the other hand, I enjoyed myself. I have reconnected with at least 4 friends who I have not talked to in years. It is so nice to hear their news. Plus, I have exchanged emails with tons of others – very funny emails at that!!!

So, what does this say about me? First, I clearly lack will-power. In spite of having tons of good reasons for not joining, I joined regardless. Second, I am never on the cutting edge of technology. I shy away from it until it becomes a phenomenon and then give in to it. I came into blogging late and to Facebook late for that reason. Third, as I said before, I get easily addicted. Lastly, I am a joiner, a member of the masses, a person with a mob mentality. I am a follower. If others do it, I tend to join in.

Wow!!! Joining Facebook clearly shows off some of my worst qualities.

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In Other News:

Fall Break: This is fall break which means I have Monday and Tuesday off. Though it will be very busy (I have to grade 80 exams, prep for next week and work on my tragedy chapter) at least I can work from home.

Midterm Evals: I did midterm evals in my classes and got solid 8s and 9s (out of 10 points) for all my classes. My Introduction to Political Theory class was the worst – have to work harder to make that entertaining. Problem is, I think it is entertaining and thought-provoking – my students do not.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Bailout Plan

Like a lot of people, I have been obsessed with reading about the bailout plan being debated in Congress. To say I am torn about it is an understatement. But the more I read about it, though, the less I like it. On one hand, I understand that we are a national and global economy. Therefore, the behavior of others impacts us – whether positively or negatively. In this sense, the plan is not just bailing out those in trouble, it is helping all of us. On the other hand, I am wary of the extent of power it gives to government and skeptical of the good that such a hand-over of power will do.

While Paulson’s initial demand of money with zero oversight was (in my opinion) unconstitutional, the current plan sets up oversight but leaves a lot of open questions. Who determines what mortgages to buy and which not to buy? How is their “true” value going to be settled? Which banks are we baling out and which are we not bailing out? These remain unanswered questions, primarily because answering them in the here and now would be impossible.

This brings me to my next point: the claim that this will unfreeze assets and make banks start lending again. Is this inevitable? Are we requiring banks to lend? What if the assets are not frozen but the depressed condition of the economy makes banks cautious and unwilling to lend anyway?

I am glad the new plan establishes oversight. I am glad that we are not shelling out $700 billion in one fell swoop. But I am still concerned that the plan simultaneously does too much and not enough. That it will be too great a grant of power and discretion and that this grant of power will be futile.

As I was writing this, I read that the plan failed in the House of Representatives. Nothing signifies my ambivalence more than my response. I am scared – because now it looks like there is nothing left to do but wait and watch the consequences of this failure. And who knows what the consequences will be? And I was not even in favor of the bill!!!!!

This situation reminds me of the Federalist-Anti-Federalist debates on the Constitution. The Anti-Federalists argued against the Constitution saying that it was too great a grant of power to the federal government and that the country was being scared into voting for it. It was a document which would prove harmful to the people and fear mongerers were forcing it through. The Federalists warned of the dire consequences if it was not adopted saying that the country would disintegrate if the Constitution was not ratified. Is this where we are today?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

LOST!!!!!!!!!!!!!

OK, now that I have your attention, I want to issue a spoiler alert: this post is not about the show. Nothing in my life is as dramatic as that show (which I have never seen) about a plane crash (thank goodness for that)!!!!! I thought I would write this after I got lost a couple of days ago.

I can navigate. I can drive. But I cannot navigate while driving. I am too busy watching the road to watch for the next turn or to look at street signs etc. Well, I have been taking the highway to drop Gregg off at the train station but getting to the highway is very exhausting. It is a one lane road with backed up traffic at all times. It takes me 15 minutes to simply get to and from the highway. So, Gregg found a new route which takes about 20 minutes all the way to the station and back. The problem was that I had to drive back by myself. This is the conversation Gregg and I had on the way to the station:

Gregg: “On the way back, simply take a left at the light and then another left. Then go straight.”
Nitu: “Where do I take the second left?”
Gregg: “At the first light after the first left.”
Nitu: “Wait, what? I am confused! Left, light, left!! Not left, right, left! Ok got it!!!”
Gregg: “It is so easy even you cannot get lost.”

15 minutes later I was calling Gregg. I was lost and needed directions to get back home. But this incident showed me how much I have grown as a driver. The first time I got lost, I kept driving and then called Gregg almost in tears. I had no idea where I was, not even a street name. It was difficult for Gregg to give me directions under the circumstances and I was extremely nervous till I was on a road I recognized again.

This time when I got lost I calmly noted the fact, figured out where I was, pulled into a deserted parking lot, parked, called Gregg, got return directions and followed them to the “t” till I got home. No crying, no nervousness!!! In fact, I was laughing about our earlier conversation.

I am not a seasoned driver yet but certainly my temperament is improving. Does this not show an immense growth on my part? What do you do when you are lost?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Exploring Pennsylvania II - Lititz




This weekend we took our second day trip and went to Lititz. Lititz is a small town about 15 miles outside of Lancaster. Established as a Moravian town with strict social regulations in 1756, it has evolved into a BoBo (aka David Brooks) paradise today. We had heard about this picturesque town and wanted to see what all the fuss was about and we were not disappointed.

The town has beautiful old buildings and architecture perfectly showcased through a quaint town square. As you walk up and down Main Street, there is a row of shops selling everything from teas and coffees to books, clothes, decorations for a home and cafes. This is home to the Wilbur Chocolate Company and the first pretzel bakery in the United States. Gregg and I loved the beauty, old-world charm and new world products.

In addition, Lititz also has a grocery store called Stauffers which is somewhat like a Whole Foods. We have one closer to us but the one in Lititz is huge and very well stocked. Since we do not have a Whole Foods here, I was delighted to see their selection.

I certainly went a little crazy and completely blew my budget. But here is a partial list of what we bought during the course of the day:

1) 3 second-hand books (This Proud Heart and The Three Daughters by Madame Liang both by Pearl S. Buck and a book on 1984)

2) 3 (one-ounce) packs of tea leaves (three different ones from India). This was from a store which sells only teas and coffees from different countries and they are NOT tea bags.

3) A teapot (with an infuser built in)

4) Coffee (pumpkin spice)

5) Cheese (Humboldt-Fogg’s goat cheese with ashen center)

6) Dried cilantro (which plumps up when put into liquids)

7) Some very good cuts of steak

Overall, a great day!!! Now for the bad part…grading 60 tests.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Relevance of Aristotle

Have you ever started reading something and then seen how EVERYTHING applies to what the writer is saying? I frequently have this experience and usually discount it as my overactive imagination. But I have been reading Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics recently and I am amazed at how observant Aristotle is (and how hard it is to convince my students of this). This is what Aristotle says about skills:

“Virtues…we acquire by first exercising them. The same is true with skills, since what we need to learn before doing, we learn by doing; for example, we become builders by building, and lyre-players by playing the lyre.” (Nicomachean Ethics, 23, Cambridge edition)

And this statement applies so directly to my life. In the past month, I have been doing a ton of driving. I drive Gregg back and forth from the train station, I run errands, I go to school and back. In the process, I have had to master my fears about a number of different driving conditions: driving on the highway, driving at night, driving in the rain, driving after the rain, driving with cars on the road (just kidding), parking!!!! The reason is that you learn by doing, and I am learning driving by driving. However dangerous this sounds (for other drivers as well as for me), it is nevertheless true.

Having said that, which professions would you think would not/should not fall into this category? How about surgery?
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To-Do List:

Class Preps: Doing two and a half class preps this semester has been difficult and time-consuming. I changed some aspects of my Intro to American Government class and that is my half prep. The full preps are for Intro to Political Theory and American Political Thought

Grading: I have 120 students this semester and just gave 60 of them their first test. Promises to be a fun grading weekend.

NPSA: Gregg and I are both going to Northeastern Political Science Association’s November conference. I have to write a draft of a chapter for it – which has not been started yet.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Consoling Fallacies

Whenever something horrible happens that is unthinkable or unexpected, people have to bow down under the stress of bad news or learn to cope with it. This is what I saw after Tom Brady got his season-ending injury in the first few minutes of the new season. Gregg pointed out how the Patriots’ fans and commentators were coping with the news. “Games will be much more interesting now that Matt Cassel is quarterback instead of Brady (winning apparently did not make games interesting).” “This is the time for Belichick to show his real caliber (as if this current record is not enough).” And on and so on and so on.

Similarly, I have been trying to see the bright side of this economic downturn that we are in. While my consoling thoughts may not be very sensible, they do work nonetheless. Reading about how peoples’ investments and retirement accounts may be in trouble, I found myself selfishly thinking: thank goodness we do not have any of that stuff. Reading about how people are worried about the costs of their homes, I thought: well, that is one thing Gregg and I do not have to worry about.

How monumentally stupid of me!!! This is what my thoughts translate to: thank goodness that we have no money. Thank goodness for the years in graduate school during which we did not live an adult financial life. This silliness is on par with the conversations about how Brady’s injuries benefit the team. Good things are good things even if they bring some inconveniences and worries with them.

Having said that, the one thing which this economic downturn has taught us all is how to save. Instead of depending on credit or spending down savings, most people are cutting down their budgets, using coupons and doing everything to pinch pennies. This is hopefully a long-term change – and if it is – it will be a positive change for us all. I have certainly been more budget conscious and I hope to be this way for many years to come!!! Is this just a consoling fallacy too?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cooking as Relaxation

A lot of people find cooking relaxing and so do I. I never cooked as a child (or as an adult) until Gregg and I started dating about 5 years ago. It always seemed a waste of time to cook for one and I lived off the potato chip, frozen yogurt diet at the time. I have gradually honed my cooking skills since then. The one thing which I have started doing now (which I never did when I began cooking) is experimenting. Initially, I followed recipes to the “t” but now I rarely do that. I also never measure ingredients which is annoying when I have to give recipes to people. But experimenting is the reason why cooking is so much fun and so relaxing – you never know where you will end up (rather like reading a good book). Like with cooking, you can start a good book and at the end, you either keep it for posterity or it makes you want to throw up!!!!!

The other thing I have tried to do in the past couple of years is to eat better. I am a meatetarian – I do not like fish or vegetables. But one of the things I have been experimenting with is cooking vegetables or beans (or even fish) – things which are better for you than red meat. The only way to make myself eat vegetables or fish is to experiment with them – use them to make dishes which I would like.

This is what I set out to do yesterday. I had not eaten any vegetables for a couple of days. Plus, I had cans of garbanzo beans and red kidney beans in my pantry which I wanted to get rid of. I wanted to see what I could make with it. It ended up being a twist on a traditional Indian recipe which uses chick-peas. I wanted color in the food, so I put the vibrant red kidney beans in with the chickpeas, green peas, sautéed paneer (an Indian cheese) and some diced tomatoes and onions. Add a dash of heavy cream to finish it off and it looked – and tasted – really good. And it was a completely vegetarian meal.

Today, I tried making ghee (clarified butter). This is a very popular cooking ingredient in India and something I use frequently. It is almost the oily part of butter with the milk evaporated. Some lactose intolerant people have reported that they can eat ghee for that reason. Making ghee is both an attempt to save money and an attempt to get it fresh. The Indian store in Lancaster sells it but it does not have the fresh smell I love. Plus, a small tin of ghee costs about $9-$10 at the Indian grocery store. I made the same amount of ghee for only $6. A savings of $4 every 4-6 weeks!!!! The ghee came out quite well though I thought I might have overdone it by a fraction (it turned out to be a little darker than ghee should be). However, the dark color was because of the residue which is supposed to be strained out at the end anyway – the ghee now looks as it should!!!!

Anything you are experimenting with that you want to share (not necessarily in cooking)?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Exploring Pennsylvania





Since Gregg and I started our first full-time jobs together, we have had to make spending time together a priority. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Gregg is on the train or in Philly from 7am to 6pm (till 10pm on Mondays). Tuesdays and Thursdays, I am on campus from 12pm-6pm. While I know this is common for most couples, it is uncommon for us and we have been trying to compensate.

Our other priority since we moved to PA has been to explore Lancaster and its surroundings. So far, we have mainly explored restaurants. Once we ventured to Harrisburg but that’s about it. So Gregg decided to combine our goals into a new rule: Saturdays are days we spend together doing something new and not working (at least till the evening).

In that spirit, we got up this morning and drove to Gifford Pinchot State Park. It is about 45 minutes from our house. It is on a lake and has trails and camp-grounds. We took Giggs with us. Once at the park, we spend about 90 minutes walking the “Lakeside Trail” with Giggs and then headed out. I do not usually like hiking but this was a swift easy walk around the park. It is located outside a very small cute town and we went to what was advertised as a Farmers’ Flea Market. True to its name, it turned out to be part farmers’ market and part flea market. We walked around there for a while where Giggs got a lot of attention. By this time, we were very tired, very hot and hungry. So, we got Giggs some water and snacks and then stopped at the Hillside Café for lunch. The place looked like just some diner from the outside but turned out to be quite nice and swanky inside – in spite of its name and location. Anything but a café. The food was very good – I had their BBQ ribs and Gregg had a fish platter. Huge portion sizes too. I highly recommend it.

On the whole, a wonderful day!! What made it better was that it was a cheap way to explore. The state park was free; we only paid for lunch and gas. We did not buy anything at the farmers’ market. Overall, I spent a wonderful day with Gregg and Giggs, did not spend much money, got some exercise and discovered a very beautiful hilly part of PA. What more could one ask for?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Teaching with PowerPoint

I have never used PowerPoint in my lectures – especially in my political theory classes. There are many reasons for this. First, political theory is not about regurgitating facts. It is about analysis – and it is very difficult to analyze the content while copying the slides or staring blankly at the presentation. Second, copying slides distracts students from the lecture. Third, writing large pieces of text onto slides is pointless – and political theory is about textual interpretation.

For the first time, I am considering doing a PowerPoint presentation for my Introduction to Political Theory class. Not for the entire semester but for the really difficult stuff – like Plato’s Republic. There is one major reason for this change – I find that students are confused about what is important and what is not (especially in political theory). Usually, I write important terms etc on the board but as we all know, writing the words “4 virtues: wisdom, courage, moderation and justice” would not mean that they have understood the meaning and place of those terms in Plato’s thought. I am hoping that a PowerPoint presentation (though without pictures or graphs) will give them the important details and the order in which these should be argued. I had been handing out an outline of my lecture for them to follow but apparently, Power Point is seen as more authoritative by the students.

However, I am still worried about doing it and the impact it will have. Students universally appreciate PowerPoint but as a person who wants them to understand and analyze, I remain wary. On top of that, I am not sure whether I should put my slides on Blackboard. Students usually like that but I fear that it encourages them to skip class. I cannot make up my mind on that issue as well.

Any thoughts? Any experiences with PowerPoint as a teaching tool that you want to share?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Double Talk

I studiously avoid politics on this blog but this controversy regarding Sarah Palin has put me over the edge. But unlike others, I am not simply outraged on Palin’s behalf. I am outraged at the hypocrisy and illogic and double-talk which has been washing over us since this pick. So, here are some of the threads I think we should untangle from each other and think about separately:

The Sexism Issue: A lot has been said about the sexist media coverage of Palin. So, what exactly is the sexism issue? There is the argument that with 5 children including a baby with Downs’ syndrome and a pregnant daughter, Palin will not be a good mother if she takes on the job of the Vice-President. I think this is clearly the sexism issue – this argument is out of my grandmother’s generation. As many others have pointed out, what she does to balance work and home life is her decision. Many women have to work to simply support their families and they should never be considered de facto bad mothers for making this choice. Nor should women be considered bad mothers for simply choosing to work. Is this argument made because people feel threatened at a woman having the second-highest position in this country (and potentially the highest)?

Having said that, let me make one thing clear: not everything said criticizing Palin is sexist. Questions about her capacity to do the job are not sexist. Questions about her experience are not sexist. And questions about her political history, her experience or lack thereof, are not sexist. We do no favors to women when we incorporate all attacks on a woman into “sexism”. To fight sexism, we should be clear on what it is – and what it is not.

The Experience Issue: This, as said before, strikes me as being a valid line of inquiry. There has been a lot of talk about whether Palin is experienced enough for the job. Inevitably, this is bound up with the question of whether Obama is experienced enough for the job. There are many people who claim that Obama is inexperienced while Palin is not (see Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show for a bit of humor on this issue). A couple of things are worth saying on this point:

First, the Constitution has no qualifications for the Presidency or the Vice-Presidency except age and residency requirements. Of course, the reason is that they thought the electors, men with political knowledge, will be making the choice and therefore, only people with national reputations/ national political service would pass the test. Now, on the grounds of national reputation and political service, one may argue that Biden and McCain are most qualified for the office of the President (in that order). Biden has been in the Senate since 1973 and McCain has been in office (first in the House and then in the Senate) since 1983. Obama falls a far third with 2 years of Senate experience and Palin a distant fourth with no national service at all. Thus, while all are qualified according to the letter of the Constitution, some are clearly more qualified than others by the intent of the Founders.

Second, the Electoral College does not operate today the way it was intended to. So, experience as an issue has become more thorny. Since we all vote, we all have the right to determine what constitutes experience and of course ideological predilections influence our judgment. Some opine that any executive experience prepares one for the Presidency – whether it is being the Governor of New York, Virginia, Alaska or North Dakota. Sometimes they argue that while executive experience prepares you for the Presidency, a short legislative experience does not but a long one does. Others say that you need to be on the national stage (reminiscent of the Founders) because that is where you see first-hand how Washington operates. And, so the argument goes, to change something, you need to know how it works. Still others, like Gregg, argue that the discussion of experience is silly because nothing can prepare you for the Presidency of the United States – the job is unique in its nature. To sum up Gregg: Observing the president – whether as a spouse, cabinet member, senator, governor, mayor, political scientist, etc. does not make you ready to be president. If candidates have a minimum threshold of credibility (he thinks all four candidates do) then the experience question becomes largely immaterial.

Before revealing my own views on the subject, I want to talk about how people seem to be using “experience” in this election. “Experience” has become a justification of sorts. While everyone running for this office has some sort of experience, none of them have actually experienced the office. Most people vote on ideology or just because they like the candidate (for whatever reason). Since that sounds like a bad reason for voting, they have taken to using “experience” as justification. But everyone disagrees on what relevant experience is, making the choice as difficult as before.

This is becoming too long of a rant and so let me conclude by saying this: for me, experience counts but not in the way that people seem to use it. Experience counts in conjunction with intellectualism and judgment. The latter qualities determine what use you make of your experience. I do not think either McCain-Palin or Obama-Biden will come into office and automatically know the ropes. But experience does not mean executive experience or legislative experience (for me). It means life experience. I believe that your life experiences shape who you are and how you behave. Now simply having lived a long life does not make you more experienced. Some people live long insular lives. But being open to alternatives, to new ways of thinking, to seeing the shades of grey in issues which are usually considered in black-and-white – hopefully that is what experience does for you. This is why I had been defending Hillary Clinton’s candidacy earlier in the election. It is not that being the wife of a President makes you an expert. But it does open your eyes to the world, it forces you to take things into consideration that you may not have, it gives you a different perch from which you see things. There may be people who have had many different life experiences but remained insular and dogmatic in spite of them. That is the person I would rather not have as President. And this is why experience alone is not enough – it has to be experience combined with the intellect and willingness to make the most of that experience. And this is why picking a President is so difficult – because whereas you may know their political history and experience, it is much more difficult to determine their mind-sets, proclivities and what they will do with that life experience once in office.

We know the political service and history of all four candidates. We know what experience they have. Let us stop the silly debates about whether a two-year Governor of Alaska is better suited to be Vice-President/President than a 2 year Senator. The “Ready on Day One” argument is pointless – none of them will be ready on Day One. Instead lets focus on the issues and decide the way we almost always decide – who do you feel more comfortable with given the issues at hand and your own worldview?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Trip to Boston

Gregg and I got back from APSA on Sunday. It was an exhausting but satisfying weekend. My panel went well – good feedback but no severe critique – and we got to see a lot of people who we rarely see since we moved. Stacie, Evan, Dave, Zach, Abhishek, Rebecca and even my cousin who lives in Boston.

Giggs got to spend the weekend with Gregg’s parents. They spoil him completely. When he is with them, he refuses to eat his food and so they give him tons of treats, a lot of walks and buy him toys. Every time he is with them, I come back with more toys and treats than I took with me. What worries me, however, is that they never like leaving him alone. They never put him in his pen or his crate except at night. While this is great for him – he gets constant attention and companionship – I worry that they will get tired of running around him constantly. It is so nice to be able to leave him with them and I do not want them to get exhausted running after him all day. I know that sometimes I am so ready for him to grow up, to not be such a puppy – it is tiring to keep entertaining him or watching him. Did I mention that he shredded both our phone chargers last week?

This is my third time visiting Boston. I must say that the city is growing on me. I hate the traffic but I love the architecture and the history. You pass a random graveyard and there is a plaque commemorating some Revolutionary hero buried there. The buildings are old and though some are dilapidated, others are not. The structures are imposing but their age and history give them dignity (I do not like ultra modern architecture). I love the quaintness of some of the areas and the openness of others like Boston Commons. I am not saying I would like to live there (I do not really want to live in a big city) but unlike, some other cities I have been to, I think Boston is a peculiarly old city living in modern times.

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To-Do List for this Weekend:

1. Give Giggs a bath
2. Prep for my American Political Thought class tomorrow
3. Do laundry from my first full working week and APSA
4. Do some grocery shopping
5. Set up some things at my office

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Luxury Living

As all of you know, I love dogs and since I have gotten Giggs, I have been spending all my spare time looking for things that will make his life happier when we are not at home. My guilt at leaving him alone while I am at work (this never exceeds 5-6 hours in a day) makes me a compulsive shopper for him. But even I draw a line when it means spending over $500 for a “luxury crate”.

I saw this online – it is a luxury crate system for Giggs where he has a two-storey crate with stairs between the two and a set-up where you can add a webcam to view your dog playing when you are gone. While I was extremely tempted to get it for Giggs, I started comparing it with the money we spend on hotels for ourselves:

a. To save money while in grad school, Gregg and I have repeatedly stayed at Howard Johnson Inns while at conferences. So, I am assuming that Giggs’ current accommodation which consists of a pen and a crate (we put the crate inside his pen and let him move in and out) is like a Howard Johnson according to the people from SuiteDigs.

b. Only recently, Gregg and I have started getting better hotels when we go somewhere – usually on hotwire or Orbitz. For Giggs, it seems that daycare or a pet hotel would be the equivalent of places we have booked recently (3-4 star). It is the canine equivalent of upgrading from a motel to a hotel.

c. The doggy suite is the canine equivalent of a 5-star hotel. It has stairs, a bedroom floor upstairs and a place for him to “go” downstairs, a treat and toy dispenser which can be activated remotely (imagine being a dog and seeing treats shooting at you – it would freak me out!!!!) etc. It is a doggie condo of sorts.

The thing is: since Gregg and I do not always treat ourselves to 5-star hotels and we certainly do not stay in a 5-star hotel every day, does Giggs need it for the 5-6 hours that he is alone during weekdays? Would he truly be more comfortable there? Wouldn’t he just be happier being with us and sad when we are not home, no matter what his accommodation is like? Is this just consumerism appealing to the emotions of people who would do anything for their dogs (or cats)?

Thoughts?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Becoming An Adult

Gregg and I have been discussing the logistics of commuting to Philadelphia. As I mentioned earlier, Gregg will be taking the train there and back. I will pick him up and drop him off at the train station. The problem we have is during his orientation week. Unlike my extended orientation, Temple only has a two-day orientation. However, the orientation starts at 8am which makes it necessary for Gregg to take the 5:30am train get there on time. The next train is at 7am which will be too late.

While discussing this, it suddenly hit me. We are now adults. We are living an adult life. You see, in the 5 years that Gregg and I have been together, we have never simultaneously held full-time jobs. In fact, last year was the first time that we did not work together in the same location. Before that, we worked together in adjoining cubicles at the Miller Center. When that was done, we could go to a coffee shop and read or go home. There were days when we did not have to go in to the Miller Center at all and these were my favorite. We studied at home, moved to a coffee shop, then to a B&N and then went out with friends at night. So, this is the first time we will be driving off to work every day in different directions.

Most people will find it sad that Gregg and I are embarking on full-time jobs this late in life. Certainly, I have never been the one to eulogize graduate school or deny its tendency to delay significant life events. But this is a milestone which, in my mind, deserves comment. And while I am excited about it (and not merely for financial reasons), I also feel a little sad at the end of an era. But then again, as I always remind myself, we are academics and our lives, however full it is with committees, advising and classes, have a flexibility which allows us to approximate graduate student life at least some of the time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The End of Summer

First, let me apologize to Jill for blatantly plagiarizing her blog entry. For those of you who would rather go to the original source, click here. Second, in my defense, Jill also asks her readers what they have to do before school starts – so I am only giving her a detailed answer!!! However, unlike Jill, I have two lists here. The first one is my list of things to do before school starts next week and the second one is a list of things to do this school year.

This summer has been one of the most hectic ones we have had. Moving to PA took a lot out of us, especially because Gregg and I packed, loaded, unloaded and unpacked all by ourselves. Plus, getting used to a new place always takes time. Emotionally, the job search for Gregg was draining – the euphoria of West Point, the discussions on living apart, the joy of Temple etc. But we have since settled down wonderfully – and thank you to everyone who visited. Living in a new place does get lonely and I am so happy that so many people made the time to come and see us in PA.

Starting Monday, for the first time in my life, I have to go to work every day – just like everybody else. So, I have to be ready for it. This is my To Do list for this week – my last week off from work.

1. Prepare my Intro to American Govt. syllabus (the American Political Thought and Intro to PT syllabi are already done).
2. Make copies of all my syllabi for all 4 classes
3. Write lectures for next week’s classes on APT, Intro to PT and Intro to AP
4. Move more of my books into my office
5. Set up the voicemail and computer in my office
6. Scan and upload the syllabi and readings for next week onto Blackboard
7. Complete the paperwork for benefits

To-Do List for this school year:

1. Attend and present papers at least 3 conferences (Since I am already going to APSA and Northeastern, I think I will try one more)
2. Have the entire draft of my dissertation written
3. Have a written record of all my lectures for the 4 preps I have this year
4. Exercise at least 3-4 times per week
5. Get to know one person in Lancaster well (I have to learn to make friends where I live)

I always make resolutions made for the new school year. The question is: will I carry them out? I have always been terrible about implementing New Year resolutions - will school year resolutions be any different?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Orientation and Disorientation

The line between hope and fear, orientation and disorientation is so thin!!! This is something which has been brought home to me this past week while going through the grueling orientation schedule I mentioned earlier. Orientation has been both a positive and negative experience this week. Negative because I have had to work on my APSA paper after getting home around 5pm every day. Positive because I met a lot of nice people and got to know a lot more about the school than I did before.

However, as you can imagine, I feel overloaded by information. This happened by the end of Tuesday which was only my second day of orientation. This may be because that was the day we listened to Human Resources personnel talking about disability benefits, health insurance plans, retirement plans, dismemberment benefits, life insurance etc etc. Now, I am an excellent money manager (I balance the checkbook and make sure we stay within budget) but I know nothing about investments, retirement plans etc. To make matters worse, all the people I asked (both at the University and outside it) had different pieces of advice. The situation was not made any easier when Gregg sat down with a calculator and said, “It all depends on how long you live!!!!” My head, already reeling from all the financial and academic advice I had received in the past two days, felt like it was going to burst. Orientation was clearly disorienting when it came to financial matters.

When it came to academic matters, things went well. I learnt a lot about the policies of the school, its student body and its campus life. But even here, lines became blurred. Any talk of tenure led to an increased heart-rate. Since the tenure system is divorced from the promotion system here, promotion was just as frightening a subject as tenure. The large chunks of information regarding the various services available to faculty and students – how to deal with students with disabilities, class reserves, FERPA, disruptive students, academic support, student affairs etc. – were overwhelming. While I am starting the school year hoping that this is the beginning of a successful career here, I am also terrified that this is not the case, that something will go wrong, that I will not get tenure etc. etc.

The good thing about such an extensive orientation is that while you may not remember all (or, in my case, any) of the information you are given, you do get information about who to contact with questions. It also gives you a good idea of the culture of the school. What do they value? What are its students like? What is the relationship among faculty, students and administration? By reading between the lines as well as talking to people, I have gotten a lot of good information about the nature of the school. You also get to know the people who are starting with you, giving you a ready-made group of acquaintances.

How do you feel about new faculty orientations? Did you go through one? If yes, what was most helpful and unhelpful? If no, would you have wanted one?

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Olympics

Gregg and I watched the opening of the Olympics in China tonight. It was absolutely beautiful – a spectacular display of art, harmony, discipline and power. Having read a lot of utopian and anti-utopian fiction for my dissertation, I was intrigued as I watched this awesome spectacle.

A lot of utopian works speak of mobilization of people in the service of the common good. For the utopians, this mobilization is not like an army recruitment – it is almost always voluntary. The desire to showcase the arts, crafts, beauty and talent of a utopian regime is what motivates its people to put on a performance like the one we witnessed today. People are proud of their country, their culture and their own talents and this is what makes something like this possible.

Obviously, anti-utopian writers turn these arguments around. According to them, efforts like this also require stringent discipline and it essentially needs centralized direction. The anti-utopian writers use the analogy to the army and argue that displays like this are essentially displays of power as well as art and beauty. The perfection demanded from each man, woman and child in the program, they would argue, cannot be extracted without power and authority. Therefore, they argue that it requires an authoritarian regime to spend the time, money and discipline which makes these national shows possible.

As I watched the show, I wondered, which of these two positions were true this time? Can they both be true? And, by thinking of these things which watching this show, was I missing some part of its beauty?

Having said all that, let me add that the grand scale of the program and the breathtaking, dazzling, stupendous performances by each of the 15000 participants was stunning.

If you watched the show, what were your thoughts on it?

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Last Weekend: Gregg and I spent last weekend in Boston. Gregg was a groomsman for his friend Keith’s wedding. It was a beautiful wedding though we stayed up way too late every night. I also got to hang out with my cousin who lives in Boston and meet his girlfriend.

This Week: Betty came to visit on Wednesday and left today. I had so much fun – we did not really do anything much, just sat around and talked. On Thursday, we went to this little place called Kitchen Kettle Village which has a lot of little artsy shops and on Friday we went to the Farmers’ Market. Betty also went with me to the outlets to help me find a couple of jackets for the school year – I got one from Ann Taylor and one from Banana.

Things to Do: This weekend I have to finish all three of my syllabi. Next week, I start a grueling 8am-5pm orientation schedule on Monday and that continues till the Monday after that. Sometime next week I also have to write my APSA paper - which is still in its first 3 pages.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How Time Flies

As I looked at my Palm Pilot today to see what deadlines I have to reach in the next few weeks, I got a rude awakening. How fast time goes by!! Here are some of the things that surprised me:

1) We have already spent 3 months in Lancaster. It feels like we just moved in.
2) Summer is almost over though it feels like it just started.
3) My sister has been married for 6 months already.
4) We have had Giggs for over 2 months.

Is it just me? Have I not been savoring the days? Or has summer – and time – really flown by?

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What we have been doing:

Family: My sister and Kenn came to visit this past weekend. We had a great time. I had tea with her, did a tour of Amish country, went to the outlet malls and showed her Millersville campus.

Work: Trying to get set up to start my first tenure-track job. Got passwords for email, Blackboard, the system which allows me to record grades; got keys for offices, classrooms etc; did IT training; ordered stationary; moved some books into the office; got ID; filled up some forms etc.

Writing: I have been trying to write my paper for APSA (also a diss chapter). Have not gotten far – maybe 5-7 pages into it.

Giggs: He has been doing well. We had our first chewing disaster. The victim was Gregg’s cell phone charger which got chewed into little bits.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Stress!!!!!!!!!

I have heard of many ways to deal with stress but I am still trying to find a way that works for me. Recently, my stress level has been sky-rocketing. The reason is that I found out that I got two papers accepted to two conferences – APSA and Northeastern. While this is good news in some ways, it is bad news in others.

It is good news because I use conferences as deadlines for dissertation chapters. Therefore, I will have to write one chapter for APSA (end August) and the second for Northeastern (end November). This will simply leave me with the Introduction and Conclusion of my dissertation to tackle – I hope to have a complete draft by the end of the Christmas break.

However, writing two chapters in the next few months will be daunting – especially because I will be teaching 4 classes this semester with 2 new preps. I have been especially stressed because the discussant wants the paper for APSA 2 weeks before the conference – which will be around Aug. 15th. While this is a reasonable request, I also have a 7-day orientation at Millersville before that (from 9am-5pm) as well as a wedding to attend and 3 separate guests scheduled for 3 separate weekends. So, you can see why I am stressed!!!!

Gregg and I also completed our move out of Farmville two weekends ago. Spending 3 days driving 15 hours, packing, loading, cleaning and unloading simply added to the stress level.

Anyway, so I have been trying to lower my stress level using different tactics – unfortunately, none of them have been working very well. I am still walking around 2 miles a day on the treadmill but that does not seem to help. I am not the one to take long baths (while stewing in the tub, I tend to reflect on all the things I have to do). I have been cooking in an attempt to relieve stress. Also, working on the paper in small increments but it is not going fast enough. Lastly, I still spend time reading fiction (probably should work on the chapter at the time) – this is the only one which actually works.

So, what about you? How are you spending the remnants of your summer? And how do you deal with the stress of the coming year?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Food Waste and Inflation

I have stopped complaining about inflation for the past couple of weeks because it seemed so pointless to complain about something we are all going through. But while we complain about inflation, food waste is still rampant. I read two articles yesterday and this got me thinking about food waste.

This article talks about a new trend in the food industry. Since transportation and production costs has risen so much, producers have one of two choices: they can raise prices or they can sell smaller amounts for the same price. Some producers are taking the second approach. They are using the exact same packages and selling their products at the same price but they have decreased the amount in each package.

On the other hand, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that the people should cut back on food waste. It saves food and saves money for individuals. According to a recent study, families in the UK are throwing away a total of 4.1 million tonnes of perfectly good food every year, costing each around £420 annually.

So, how are these two articles related? Well, maybe people need to buy less – and selling things in smaller amounts would prevent food waste – or at least cut it down.

Personally, here is how we try to avoid wasting food:
I shop twice a week but buy just enough to get through till the next shopping trip. This is best done by planning meals beforehand.

I cook only once a day (if you do not count the oatmeal in the mornings) – lunch in always leftovers. This makes sure that leftovers are always consumed.

Fruits, veggies, meats and fishes are always bought in small quantities so that they do not go bad before they are consumed.

We try one creative meal a week – to finish anything which may go bad soon.

These are the things we could improve on:
We buy/make a loaf of bread per week but sometimes a little of it goes bad. I have been trying to put it in the ‘fridge to prevent that but it takes the freshness out.

We have some cans of food (turkey gravy etc) which we have not used. I think they sit on the shelf because they do not go bad quickly. I have been trying to use them up but I could be better at it.

What do you do to prevent food waste and what could you improve upon?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Experience at Wal-Mart

This is a true story of an encounter I had at Wal-Mart yesterday. I think this is only possible at a Wal-Mart and justifies why I hate the shopping experience I get at this store.

I was shopping at Wal-Mart (Gregg was in another part of the store) when an elderly woman (probably in her 50s) walked up to me. Here is the conversation which ensued:

Woman (handing me a card): “Excuse me but I am spreading the word that Jesus is our Lord. I have had many miracles in my Life through the word of our Lord and I want to spread word of these experiences.”

Me: “That’s nice. Thank you.”

Woman: “Where are you from?”

Me: “Virginia.” (I was afraid she would ask for my home address or phone number if I said PA).

Woman: “I mean, where are you from originally? Are you from India or Pakistan or something?”

Me: “I am from India.”

Woman: “Are you Hindu?”

Me (wishing she would go away): “Yes.”

Woman: “I asked because I did not see a nose-ring.”

Me (thinking: does she think Indian women are like tamed bulls – they all need nose-rings!!!): “Well, all Indian women do not wear nose-rings.”

Woman: “Really!! I did not know that. But I really think you should think about Jesus – He is our Lord. And as I have said, I have had many personal experiences in my life which I want to share – and they all come from Jesus Christ.”

Me: “That’s nice.”

That is when she finally walked away. Since she did not talk to anyone else around me (that I saw), my belief is that she stopped and talked to me precisely because she thought I looked Indian and therefore, assumed I was not Christian. She probably thinks all Indians are heathens. Wouldn’t she have been surprised if she ran into one of the millions of Indian Christians? Though after the nose-ring comment, I was not expecting much knowledge about the Indian sub-continent from her.

I do not mind if someone is super-religious and I do not mind discussing religion with others. But who walks up to a total stranger at a Wal-Mart to convert them? That is the type of person who I see as a nut and feel intensely uncomfortable with.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Exercise

As you know, exercise has never made my list of things to worry about. I do not like exercising and have always thought that it wastes time. Since I never exercise, my sporadic attempts at it leave me tired both mentally and physically. Therefore, I never get to the point where I experience the positives – the rush of energy, feeling good about myself, lethargy without exercise etc. This rejection of exercise is compounded by the fact that I have never felt a great desire to lose weight nor experienced any acute health problems due to my sedentary lifestyle. The only time in my life when I made an effort to exercise was in the months before my wedding because I was terrified that I would not be able to fit into my wedding dress.

However, exercise started becoming an issue last July when we moved to Farmville. With no friends around, with the pressure of a 3-4 teaching load for the first time and with the tenure-track application cycle, I felt stressed and irritable constantly. On top of that, this was the first time I did not walk anywhere. I started driving to school, not walking to campus as I did in Cville. I did not have to walk around campus much either. So, believe it or not, my lifestyle became even more sedentary than before. And I started putting on weight!!! All these reasons made us think of exercise more.

The question always was: what form of exercise regimen could I stick to? Gregg is more determined and will go out for walks. But I do not like walking outside when it is too cold or rainy. The other option is a gym membership – but I hate gyms. I do not like exercising in front of other people, I do not like fitting it in my schedule, and I do not like spending money on something I do not use. We could use the University gym but I do not like exercising around my students. The third option was to invest in some home exercise equipment. It would allow us to exercise every day in a private setting at any time we want. But we rejected that idea last year.

Since we have moved to Lancaster, however, Giggs has cut down on our stress level but the sedentary nature of our lives has still been an issue. Besides, I am still putting on weight. So, finally, this weekend, we bought a treadmill for the apartment. All I plan to do is walk on it for 30-45 minutes a day. I walked on it on Saturday and Sunday and though I am sore and tired, I plan to keep using it.

I know that most people exercise. Why do you exercise, when do you exercise, how do you exercise? Any tips on exercising on a treadmill will also be appreciated.

Fourth of July Weekend

Happy Fourth of July Weekend everyone!!! Gregg and I decided to spend the weekend being productive – in a wholistic way. On Friday, we got to hang out with Stacie, Evan and Sam. They were in Philly for the weekend and drove to Lancaster. It was Giggs’ first doggie play-date and given his hostile response to other dogs, I was not optimistic. But Stacie was very patient and came armed with a million treats and bones and toys. By the way, Stacie, Giggs has not let his rawhide bone go for the past 24 hours. Thanks for that!!

When Sam first walked in the door, Giggs started barking and this did not stop for the first 15 minutes. After that, he decided that he would walk over to Stacie who was sitting with Sam and accept some delicious salmon treats from her. It took 30-45 minutes of bribing Giggs with treats and threatening to spray him with water if he barked, for him to calm down enough to let him off his leash. After that, Giggs seemed to perk up, stopped barking and ran around the house checking to see where Sam was. However, the play-date was a little disappointing for Sam because Giggs refused to play with him. Poor Sam, he tried so hard. He sniffed Giggs (in some unmentionable places!!), he lay down, he rolled over – he tried to be as unthreatening as possible. Just for the record, Sam is 45 pounds to Giggs’ 7, so rough play might rightly have scared Giggs. A wagging tail from Sam is enough to knock Giggs over. However, Giggs did play when we took them outside – probably the space to run made him feel safer.

After a couple of hours when we were sure things were calm, we left the dogs at home (we separated them) and went out to get lunch. We went to the Iron Hill Brewery – it is a chain but limited to the PA, NJ, Delaware area. They brew a lot of their own beers. It was very nice catching up, I had not seen Stacie for almost a year – since APSA last year. Unfortunately, Stacie, Evan and Sam had to leave shortly after lunch but it was a great day for me nonetheless.

On Saturday, Gregg and I worked on our dissertations. I have to write a chapter on tragedy before APSA and Gregg is working on a chapter on our current President. The weird thing about writing a chapter of my dissertation for a conference is this: I have dual goals in mind. On one hand, I feel that if I reach 25-30 pages, I have a decent paper to present. On the other hand, it is not complete until I have covered the material I want to cover – and that has no page deadline. Right now, I am focusing on the first goal rather than the second.

We also walked 3 miles apiece on Saturday. We have made a new resolution – to exercise a little every day. The reasons for this and the best way to achieve this goal is something I will discuss in my next post. It was a big day for me – 3 miles for someone who never walks at all is a challenge.

Our goals for Sunday are more of the same – exercise a little, write a little, play with Giggs (which is part of our everyday lives now).
But this has been a fabulous weekend – hang out with friends, exercise (which is a new thing for me), play with your dog, and some work done on the dissertation. This is my idea of a well-rounded weekend.

What did everyone else do?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Email Addiction

I realized this last night: I have an email addiction. I am addicted to email in two ways: first, I have way too many email accounts and second, I check email too often. Part of my fidgety personality, no doubt.

I realized this when UVA sent us an email saying that we have to migrate our UVA accounts to either Google or Microsoft. I was immediately intrigued and since I have both a Hotmail account and a Gmail account, found it very hard to decide between them. Finally I decided on Gmail. Then I spent an entire evening not only setting up my new UVA gmail account but setting up Gregg’s as well. It will be cool to IM from the UVA email though.

Just to show how addicted I am to email, I have emails with the following: gmail (two emails with Gmail – one UVA and one personal), AOL, Hotmail, Hampden-Sydney and now a new one for Millersville. And I check them all.

It is strange the stuff you can be addicted to. I was addicted to coffee but I kicked that habit once I realized how addicted I was. I simply decided one day to stop drinking it and now only drink a cup a day. Yet, while I am concerned that I am addicted to email, I feel no desire to cut down on my accounts (or even forward messages from one account to another). Other than wasting time, what harm can it do?

Are any of you addicted to email? Or any other addictions you want to confess to?

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Purpose of Education

I read this article called “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education” and it had a very interesting argument. The argument is that getting an education at Ivy League schools prepares you for a fabulous career and financial success but it does not prepare you for life – for interacting with others, for the possibility of failure, for an intellectual quest unhitched to tangible success.

Since reading this article, I have been wondering about the components of a good education and I have come up with three components of a good education. First, it should impart a love of learning. This can be in a particular field or a general curiosity. Second, it should impart specific skills which help us to find and keep a job. Third, it should teach us life lessons – how to interact with others, finish tasks on time, adapt to exigencies etc. Being a teacher, I can attest how hard it is for any school or course or teacher to teach all these at once. Indeed, colleges are universities are now bifurcated in what they teach – either they are very specific and specialized to fulfill the second requirement or they are very generic and diffuse to fulfill the first.

I admit that since I have started my dissertation, I have been seeing my education in the more instrumental way that the second requirement suggests. Finish the dissertation, get the degree and leave and then I am free to do what I want. But I think this attitude hurts the dissertation. It makes me unwilling to sit down and write because I am writing for my committee or with the far-off goal of finishing in mind. There are times when I recapture the love for the subject itself and at those times, I am much more productive because I am captivated by the material. True, when I am captivated by the material, I also waste a lot of time because I read articles and books only tangentially connected with my subject. But it feels like fun; not like a chore. Ultimately, I think, dissertating and all reading and writing for our profession should be done for both instrumental reasons and out of genuine curiosity. The instrumental part of me is what adheres to deadlines and prevents me from reading and working on multiple subjects at once. The curious part of me wants to work out of genuine excitement – except it also distracts me from one project and leads me to another. A combination of the two attitudes would be ideal.

With regard to the third goal of education, I have been thinking of what UVA has taught me. Often I fail to reflect on the great experience I have had at UVA and remember the bad things like funding battles. So, here are some of the great things I learnt and got from being at UVA.

Great friends.
Tenacity (this is a lesson that any graduate student must learn in order to get their PhD).
Adaptability (this was honed as a result of the uncertainty of graduate life).
Possibility of failure (this is again true of graduate students as a whole – probably not because of UVA).
Diverse perspectives on political theory – actually I learnt a lot about American Politics and a lot about Political Theory.
Excitement about a lot of different issues and topics – I loved being part of a community which thought about larger issues while also caring about and sharing the minute details of my life.
Some really caring faculty.
My first experience in a really beautiful exciting college town.
Gregg (This list is not in order of importance, so I do not mean that Gregg is the least important thing on my list of "good things from UVA")

The list is much longer but you get the point. So what about you? What are your theories on education and what have you gotten out of your education thus far?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Multi-Tasking

Since I read this article, I have been more conscious of my multi-tasking abilities. As I have said before, I am a multi-tasker. I cannot watch TV without doing something else – reading, paying bills, etc. On the flip side, I cannot read or even write without watching TV, cooking or playing with Giggs. I simply seem unable to do one thing at a time.

The article argues that multi-tasking reduces productivity. People who think they multi-task actually do not do so. It takes the average worker 25 minutes to return to their work after getting distracted due to email etc. True multi-tasking is learned behavior and needs practice and it often leads to loss of short-term memory.

The question I have been asking myself is: am I a true multi-tasker? A person who truly manages to do multiple things at one time and do them effectively? And more importantly, if multi-tasking can be learnt, what about single-tasking? Is that something that needs to be taught now? Given our daily schedules, we seem to grow up as multi-taskers. The problem is just intensified as we get older. As teachers we know the routine: sit down to work (whether that is to write or read or prep our lectures) and then check email or voice messages. And there is always something to answer to. Life is now made for multi-tasking; it has too many distractions to concentrate. Meetings, classes, grocery stores inter spliced into our work routines. To truly concentrate, you must be in an area where you cannot be reached by phone or email or IM or text message. We have more to cram into our days and we are more accessible to people. Multi-tasking seems to be inevitable.

Having said all that, maybe I should practice doing one thing at a time. Maybe the problem is that I have not tried hard enough. Though the multi-tasking approach has worked for me so far, concentrating single-mindedly on something has so many more advantages: the work is done faster, better and apparently, the details are retained for a longer period of time.

Any thoughts on multi-tasking? Are you a multi-tasker? If so, has it worked for you?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A WASPy Day

Jill’s blog is called: “Am I Waspy”? While I think this is a good question for Jill to ask herself, I have never had to ask myself this question. Clearly I am not a WASP. I am not White or Anglo-Saxon or Protestant. Nor do I have particularly WASPy tendencies: I do not like decorating or sewing or dressing up for a meal. I like cooking but setting tables and making flower arrangements is not for me. But this past Saturday, I had the closest thing to a WASPy day that I have ever had.

As I said before, Gregg’s parents came to Lancaster this weekend. Saturday was their guys’ day – and Gregg, his dad and his brother all went to Philly for the day. They were scheduled back around midnight after watching the Phillies game. So, what were his mom and I to do?

Not to be outdone, we decided to have a special day too. I had made reservations at this place: the House of Clarendon. It was to be an English High Tea. It turned out to exceed expectations. The tea they served was an English Breakfast from Piccadilly. It had a subtle aroma, a gentle mellow taste and was perfect with just a splash of milk. The food accompanying the tea was also perfect. As we all know, English tea is accompanied by finger foods. This place serves 7 savories and 7 sweets – all bite-sized – with the tea. I thought that 14 bite-sized pieces of food cannot possibly be filling. I was so wrong!!! Thank goodness, we did not have time to get breakfast before we went for tea at noon. The savories included spinach and cream cheese pinwheels, a chicken tartlet, sausage rolls, stuffed phyllo etc. At the end of this, I was already starting to feel satiated. But the 7 sweets put me over the edge. They included mini éclairs, scones with apricot, lemon and raspberry puffs and even a mint tea in a chocolate cup – and you are supposed to eat the cup after drinking the tea. All the food and the tea was served piece by piece and we just sat and relaxed and talked for two hours. This, combined with the fact that you have to dress up a little to go to this place, made me feel very WASPy. But we had a great time.

After this tea, Gregg’s mom and I decided to take a nap. Unfortunately, I had not counted on Giggs being super-hyper after being left alone all day. So, my nap was rather short!!! Then, in the evening, we got up, got dressed all over again and went to the Fulton Opera House in Lancaster to watch a play – Brigadoon. I had never heard of it but it is a romantic play about a guy who falls in love with a woman who lives in an enchanted village in Scotland. The village appears to the outside world every 100 years and so when he decides not to stay with her, he is forgoing her forever. The question is: is he (and she) doomed to live with his decision forever or can they see each other again in spite of the enchantment. I will not spoil the ending for those who do not know it. Anyway, suffice it to say, that unlike the rest of the audience, I was torn. Everyone wanted them to get back together – I thought however that while second chances are good, maybe living with the consequences of one’s actions is a necessary lesson. But the acting and dancing and singing were really good and again, we had a very good time. It felt good to be dressed up, at a play, doing something cultural instead of sprawling in PJs in front of the TV at home.

After the play, we did do something un-WASPy – go home and pig out on pizza and Chinese food. But on the whole, it was a really nice day – and to me, the WASPiest things I have done so far.

More Pictures of Giggs


Giggs








These are pictures of Giggs during his trip to Gregg's parents - the weekend of June 6th, 2008.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Schedule Changes

We have had Giggs for almost three weeks now and I have been noticing some major differences in our loves. First, we laugh a lot more. Giggs is very funny, plays silly idiotic games all the time. Second, Gregg and I have been taking turns at household chores much more. This is because someone needs to watch him all the time. He is teething and this means that he will chew on anything – shoes, cords, laptops etc. But this post is about the third development: the change in our work schedule.

Usually Gregg and I study very differently. Gregg needs to sit at a desk and he needs to work uninterrupted for long periods of time. I study in front of the TV, with the laptop on my lap and I can be repeatedly interrupted without losing my train of thought. The problem is incorporating Giggs into these patterns. Since he needs constant attention, the question is: who gets to baby-sit when we are working? Given the patterns, it seems to make more sense that I should baby-sit. But, ironically enough, Gregg has actually altered his habits to incorporate Giggs. He has been working with Giggs in the room, keeping an eye on him and taking him outside if he scratches at the door. I was worried that these interruptions would irritate him but he seems unperturbed. I, on the other hand, have had trouble getting work done. I cannot put my laptop on my lap when Giggs is around because he is such a lapdog – he will not even play on the ground, he sits on our laps when he plays. It is impossible to have a laptop on your lap when you have a dog on it!! Even reading with him on your lap is difficult, because he is prone to biting your pencil or book.

So, I have taken to snatching time to work when Giggs is asleep. I also bought Giggs a toy called a Kong. You can put a treat into the toy and it takes him about 45 minutes to extract the treat from it. I try to work when Giggs is busy with his Kong. But this experience has made me think: if it is so difficult to get work done when you get a puppy, how on earth do people get work done when they have babies? We all know friends in grad school who had kids. How did they write a dissertation while taking care of kids? How do people get tenure while managing children? If one person is an academic, does the other parent have to stay at home?

This is not to say that academics work harder than anyone else and therefore, juggling parenting and work is more difficult for them. All I am saying is that it is more difficult to get work done when you are working from home and have a more flexible schedule and have kids. You are the automatic choice for baby-sitting which diminishes the time you can spend on work. All of this is complicated by the requirements and deadlines for tenure. How do you balance it all?

Thoughts??????

P.S.: Just to be clear, these are just thoughts. Echoing what Jill said in one of her blogs: I have NOTHING to announce.

_____________________________________

Updates:

Reading: The Chronicles of Narnia. I want to watch Prince Caspian but I have a rule: I cannot watch a movie based on a classic book if I have not re-read the book recently. So, I am reading the entire lot of them. Then, on to one of the books that Betty gave me for my birthday. Thanks Betty.

Weekend: Gregg’s parents and brother are coming to visit us on Friday. On Saturday, Gregg, Aaron and their dad have a “Lindskog Mens’ Day” planned which includes a baseball game in Philly. So, Gregg’s mom and I are going to go off on our own. I am going to plan something too – so far, we are going to a high tea at one of Lancaster’s many tea rooms.

Tasks: Gregg is making our new bookshelves. My job is to run errands, bathe Giggs and arrange some of our books in some sort of order.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Long Weekend

Gregg and I at Yankee Stadium


I have been meaning to write about last weekend for a while. A couple of months ago, Gregg and I bought tickets to a Yankees-Royals game on Sunday (the 8th) in Yankee Stadium. We love going to baseball games and have decided to see one new baseball stadium every year. Since Yankee Stadium is going to be torn down after this season, it was now or never. We both hate the Yankees but this was more in the interest of history than anything else.

Anyway, at the time we bought the tickets we did not know that we would have another member of the family to think about; Giggs was not in the picture then. We had planned to drive to New York, watch the game and return the same day. This was impossible because of Giggs and Gregg refused to put him in a kennel since he still has separation anxiety when we are not with him. So, we decided to go to CT on Saturday, leave Giggs with Gregg’s parents on Sunday and return after the game to pick him up.

However, things got more complicated when my great-uncle (my maternal grandfather’s brother) called and said he would be in CT on Friday. He lives in Jakarta and would be flying out on Saturday. I have not seen him in 5 years. But we are very close and he spoilt us rotten our whole lives. So, I promised to get to CT on Friday instead of Saturday so we could see him.

This is why we ended up getting to CT on Thursday. We introduced Giggs to Gregg’s parents. They have never had a dog before and I was worried that he would be naughty or soil their carpets – thereby making them dislike him. But they were wonderful and so was Giggs. He did not have a single accident the whole weekend (he is 90% house-trained already) and when we were not there, he spent his time sleeping on their laps. They were so sweet to him, took him out every time he needed to go, played with him and refused to crate him. Like parents, like son!!!!

On Friday, we spent most of the day with Giggs and then left for Stamford to meet my great-uncle. Gregg was a little nervous (meeting new family members is always uncomfortable) but everything went well. He got along very well with my great-uncle and his son (who was born and brought up in the United States). We stayed for dinner, talked about politics and had a lot of fun. In the meantime, Gregg’s parents bonded with Giggs.

We spent Saturday with Gregg’s parents. Gregg’s mom went out and bought Giggs about 5 new toys, 3 boxes of treats and even a bandana which says ‘Democrats in ‘08’. By the way, Gregg refuses to let him wear it. Then they took us out for lunch and I had the best sweet potato fries. I usually like real instead of sweet potatoes but they were awesome!!

Sunday morning, we left Giggs and took a train in to New York. Let me just say that New York always makes me anxious. Too many people, too much noise, too fast-paced!!! The number of people on the subway from Grand Central to Yankee Stadium alone was mind-boggling!!! Gregg insisted that I not wear one of my many Red Sox t-shirts. The game itself was fun. I was very excited for the short time when the Kansas City Royals had the lead but that dissipated when it was clear that the Yankees would win. It was 95F and I was very glad for the hand-held plastic fans which Gregg’s mom had supplied us with. But the atmosphere (though enemy territory for a Red Sox fan) was electric and the game itself was fun.

After the game was over, we took the train back to CT, picked up Giggs and drove home. It was a very long but fun weekend.

I will post more pictures of Giggs (as requested by many) in the next couple of days.