blog-O-rama archive
june 2003

ann maria bell


bitter about chocolate

back in april I advocated losing weight "the slow boring way," both here and on slashdot. I have lost weight and can attest that it has been both slow and boring, in addition, it induces a tendency to digress onto the topic of chocolate cake without warning. rich dense chocolate cake with raspberry sauce and fresh whipped cream. not that there's anything wrong with other kinds of pastries, like chocolate eclairs or a nice cheese-cherry danish. even muffins are good, if they come topped with lots of coffee cake crumbles or have chocolate chips in them. and those chocolate "farmer's muffins" that have a swirl of cream cheese filling on the top are pretty good too. but I digress.

yesterday afternoon I decided that I wanted a piece of chocolate cake for real. bill agreed to go downtown with me on the grounds that actually having a piece of chocolate cake might stop me from talking about chocolate cake at least while I was eating it. we went to the cafe attached to bookshop santa cruz which is auspiciously named "chocolate." the dessert case at "chocolate" featured chocolate eclairs, and chocolate truffles, and a low lying torte, as yet uncut, with a dusting of cocoa powder on the top and the promising appellation "chocolate ecstasy."

ecstasy it was not.

"chocolate ecstasy" turned out to be one of those bait and switch desserts that is chocolate colored without being chocolate flavored, glutinous, cloyingly sweet, an impostor with no legitmate claim to the proud lineage of desserts that trace their origins to the cocoa bean. these brown-sweet chocolate wanna-bes usually lurk on the dessert tables of all-you-can-eat buffets but I didn't expect to find one interloping at an upscale cafe with a price tag of $4.50 a slice. to add insult to injury, it came swimming in a puddle of caramel-flavored torani syrup, yech. the cocoa powder on top was the only convincingly chocolate part of the whole affair.

do I sound bitter? that's because I am.

having abandoned the "reduce intake of calories" element of the slow boring diet in favor of a deliberately deceptive and completely useless excuse for a piece of chocolate cake I figured I better stick to the "increase expenditure of calories" part of the program. yesterday was a NordicTrack day. after moping, whining and procrastinating for as long as possible, I queued up a long program of music in iTunes and hopped onto the machine just as the fog rolling in turned the santa cruz sunset into a gray gold mist. psyched up by the new music program and haunted by the spectre of chocolate cake I kept going for an hour, 62:38 including warm down, 6.24 virtual miles, and 751 calories burned. from the point of view of my metabolism it was if I had done my regular 40 minute workout and that piece of chocolate cake never existed.

however, from the point of the view of view of the bathroom scale this morning I had gained a pound.

yeah, yeah, I know what you're going to say, that short term weight changes mainly reflect the amount of water in the rubber bag called my body, that it doesn't make sense to weigh myself every day, that slow and boring wins the race, and the proof of the pudding is in the pants, that is, I can fit in my jeans from last summer which proves I am losing weight. all that misses the point: how did the bathroom scale know that I ate a piece of chocolate cake? clearly, the scale wanted to make sure that I know, in no uncertain terms, that eating chocolate cake makes you fat, and was sending the message through the only means of communication at its disposal. I wouldn't mind being scolded by the scale for a decent piece of chocolate cake but receiving that kind of abuse in response to yesterday's so-called 'chocolate cake' is cosmic injustice writ large.


boogie days

yesterday's weather report:
santa cruz ca -- 95 F
madison wi -- 70 F

bill is sure glad that we came to california to escape the midwestern summer (he mentioned this several times yesterday). I was out running errands in jeans and a long sleeved shirt at midday, having based my fashion decision on the previous day's chilly weather. just goes to show that I can complain about the weather no matter where I live.

95 F is about as hot as it gets in santa cruz, so it seemed like a good time for my baptismal swim in this side of the pacific (scuba diving and capsizing a kayak don't qualify). around 4:00 PM I headed to natural bridges beach with my previously owned but unused by me boogie board. it was cooler by the ocean but the sand was still hot, blistering hot in fact, as evidenced by the two large blisters that I now have on the bottom of my feet at the base of my big toes. in contrast, the water was icy cold. even in absolute terms, the water was icy cold --- I got in up to my ankles before seriously considering retreating to higher ground. fortunately, the sight of several kids splashing around on their boogie boards shamed me into taking the plunge.

I waded out quickly towards an oncoming wave and turned around just as it was breaking. I was immediately propelled towards shore as if I was being towed behind a motor boat, the board bucking underneath me and surf churning all around my head. I kept me knees up off the sand and went skidding up the beach at an impressive speed, at least it seemed to impress the couple standing at the edge of the water who had to step out of the way as I came in for a landing. when I finally stood up I noticed that the wave had deposited a layer of sand on the boogie board and on the inside of my swimsuit as well.

I caught two more excellent waves, and then noticed that the waves had gotten a bit bigger than before and were breaking a little further out. I waded further out into deeper water, but not far enough --- the next wave (a big one!) broke before I got to it dragging me and the errant boogie board under with it. I tried again, and realized the wave (another big one!) was still too far out --- I decided to duck under and through the wave, but the boogie board attached to my wrist dragged me along with the wave in a tumbling motion like I was a lost sock inside a front loading washing machine.

it took a few tries and some adrenalin to get closer to shore where I could stay ahead of the bigger waves breaking further out. it is possible to hop on a wave after it has broken and still get a good ride up the beach. I managed to get that 'being pulled along by the board' feeling like my first wave a couple of more times, as well as the out of control careening up the beach towards amused spectators part as well.

afterwards, I flattened myself out on the beach with a distinct feeling of the spins, the short sand horizon of the beach and cliffs wobbled in my field of vision like a chair with one leg a bit too short. when I headed back to the car I realized that I was taking a bit of the beach home with me, as all the sand that went down the front of my suit had settled at its lowest point.

I wish I could have seen myself carried along by the huge energy of the waves, it felt so immediate so demanding, that I have no idea what I was actually doing, other than just hanging onto to the board, heading for shore.


headline news

all the newspapers on display outside the grocery store today featured prominent headlines about the supreme court's decision to uphold some aspects of the university of michigan's consideration of race in the application process.

when I was teaching at vanderbilt university, the faculty senate asked the admissions office to state which applicants received "special consideration" in the admissions process. here's what they reported:

  1. alumni brats --- aka legacies, applicants whose parents or other relatives attended vanderbilt

  2. faculty brats --- applicants whose parents are professors at vanderbilt, though one hopes that not too many of them need special consideration to make it through

  3. well-connected brats --- applicants whose parents are prominent politicians

  4. rich brats --- applicants whose parents "represent significant development opportunities for the university"

  5. athletes

  6. disadvantaged minorities


why I like california

  1. there is no majority.

    california has a complex ecosystem with interacting species, a diverse landscape that an upon closer inspection reveals more diversity --- I'm talking about the cultural landscape here, a complex mix of people and traditions that creates something much larger and more vital than the sum of its parts. in comparison, wisconsin is monocropped like a cornfield, rows marching straight to the horizon.

  2. old friends live here, as do my old friends' new friends.

    time is the school in which we learn, time is the fire in which we burn --- I left nashville when? long enough ago that the friends I made in california qualify for the modifier 'old.' plus, like plants sending out runners, my old friends have sprouted new friends, saving me the trouble of looking myself. also the shifting tides of academia have carried some old friends from nashville out to these parts, including my dog pal ursa.

  3. pedestrians & bicyclists rule.

    cars stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. really. in san jose, a guy who had pulled into the crosswalk to make a right turn on red backed up when he saw us coming and then apologized for being in our way. not only is there good public transportation in silicon valley, there's also numerous bike paths and you can take your bike on the bus or train. despite all this, an inexplicably large number of people insist on driving.

  4. location, location, location.

    california is conveniently located next to the pacific ocean, with fog that takes the edge off of the sun in the morning and cool ocean breezes that start in the afternoon. the pacific ocean is home to sea lions, seals, california sea otters and surfers, the pacific coast home to rocky cliffs, hidden sandy beaches, redwood trees and dusty oak forests.


california dreamin'

california nappin' is more like it. we have made it within 25 yards of our final destination, the garage that will be our summer home away from home this year, and are spending one last night as a guest in someone else's room. the first item on the agenda after we arrived in santa cruz: a nap.

why I like sleeping in the daytime: my body falling asleep, gravity taking over my limbs from the inside out, my brain getting heavy in my skull, sinking, floating, through a viscous universe only perceived behind closed eyes; the sudden arrival of dreams, urgent and conspicuous, not buried and forgotten deep in the night, a feral dream invading the day, colors dissolving into emotional vapor; I rise and fall back into time.

asleep, my body fits in perfectly with the landscape, camouflage, abandoning white, a photo of the face of a woman, a woman with black hair, a page boy haircut, blue eyes looking out of a dark dream image, writing (I can't read it), a different way to tell a story --- hidden inside a winding paisley doodle etched on a ATM card, insert the card to begin.


do you know the way to san jose?

I do, and it only took 7 days and 2559 miles of driving to find my way here from madison. bill & I are spending a few days with my old officemate and AIDSRide (CAR7) buddy steve until space opens up in our old digs in santa cruz. heading down from tahoe into the golden hills of coastal california was like finally coming into summer, after the long cold wisconsin spring dogged us for three weeks on the east coast and then all the way across minnesota, north dakota, and montana. yesterday afternoon I sat by the pool, letting the sun and water dissolve a week's worth of cramped car living. and after that I had a long nap and dinner at the kazoo japanese restaurant here in san jose's japantown.

today I plan to do the same, along with turning my notes from the road into an actual travelblog. internet connections were a bit spotty on this trip --- the dial up connection slow to non-existent and the one high-speed connection we accessed in bozeman montana we let me send email out of my regular account. I think technically a blog is supposed to be reverse order dated, but because noone got to read the travelblog in progress it is reverse reverse order dated.

08.06.03 --- not quite on the road --- day 1.0

One of my longest running and most reliable neuroses manifests itself as I'm getting ready to leave on a trip. a few days before I leave town my anxiety level starts to rise until it forms a buzzing field of neurotic energy that permeates my psychic landscape and extends several feet beyond my body. I pace around room, fretting about the thousand things that need to be done before I leave but doing none of them. I count out about half the socks I need for the trip, then put them aside because I just realized that I really should bring some insect repellent along but instead I start the search for my soon-to-be-expired passport. On my way to find my passport I stop to check my email and have a quick look at google news, which only takes 45 minutes. Then I head downstairs to the basement to look for a lost sock, still sans insect repellent and with my passport still missing-in-action. I must be hungry, because now I'm in kitchen, so I get something to eat before heading back upstairs without having retrieved the missing sock. Finally I decide enough is enough and I make a detailed list of things to pack. With list firmly in hand I locate the first item and put it in the pile of things to be packed. Then I sit down in an exhausted stupor and start reading a six month old magazine I found under the bed.

What is it with me and packing? Somehow the whole process involves an implicit but nonetheless critical running commentary on my life choices, my entire existence. Each object is a vessel filled with unarticulated needs and longings, making a silent case for its own value, its own intrinsic right to exist as it tries to claw or slither its way into my waiting suitcase. Suddenly, the decision between taking the red t-shirt or the blue t-shirt is imbued with existential portent. Even worse are the unfinished tasks and projects, the stacks of papers and envelopes, a dour, guilt inducing monument to my personal inefficacy, a record of my unfulfilled potential, a precise accounting of all of the grains of sand that have slipped inexorably through the hourglass of time while I have sat watching the progress bar on a download of a flash animation that features singing reptiles and dancing rodents.

The guilty despair emanating from unfinished tasks and the existential crisis lurking in physical objects converge in the most critical element of the packing process: choosing how many, and which, books to bring with me. The conjunction of my desire to have read more of the books I own (my guilt at purchasing many more books than I could possibly read) and my books' desire to be read (my guilt at purchasing more books than I could possibly read projected onto an inanimate object) suggests a deceptively simple solution: clearly these long neglected books need to be read and seeing as I am about to leave on a trip if I'm going to read them I need take them with me. All of them. Okay, maybe I could leave one or two of the hardcovers at home. But I forgot to pack some computer books and a few Buddhist ones as well, I'll just add them to the stack. That stack does look a bit big, so I'll put this novel back on the shelf. That leaves, let's see, 4 novels, 5 young adult novels, and 4 non-fiction books. And only 3 computer reference manuals and 2 books on Buddhism. I am going to be away for almost a week after all. Oops, I almost forgot about the technical papers I was planning on reading on the plane.

Because I always save the best for last, Bill is usually standing by as the traumatic task of book selection commences. Like an experienced negotiator, he starts with a unrealistically low bid, usually suggesting that number of books I take with me be somewhat lower than the number of days that I will be away. I am not fooled by this transparent tactic. Then he attempts to support his absurdly low ball suggestion with the claim that "there might be bookstores in California" (or wherever I'm headed). But how does he know? Sure there were bookstores in California the last eight times we visited but that's no guarantee that there will be bookstores there this time around. After all, as David Hume said, the future is under no obligation to mimic past. Past performance is not indicative of future returns. Nonetheless, as an appeasement tactic I usually agree to limit the number of books to the number of days that I will be away. Not including the computer reference manuals, books on Buddhism or technical papers, of course.


blog slog

My recent travels have brought my blog output to halt for the past 3 weeks --- clearly I lack the geek discipline of Wil Wheaton, who continues to write daily blog entries while on a cruise and uploads them to the web via satellite. Bill & I got back to Madison on the 2nd and plan on leaving for Santa Cruz on the 8th, so my life is all about packing and unpacking this week. Plus checking google news for updates on the puzzling case of the missing weapons of mass destruction.

This one from Robin Morris:

Q: "Mr. President, can you prove that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction?"
A: "Yes. We kept the receipts."

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