Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Voices in the Dark


Last night Yan told me a story.

Over the phone.

Eight years ago -- when I was a grad student in Arkansas and Yan was still in Cleveland -- Yan would tell me stories in Chinese over the phone to help me sleep. Last night -- me in Cleveland and Yan in Colorado -- he told me a story in English. (Too tired for Chinese.)

These moments when life circles back on itself have always been moments of clarity for me. I lay there in the dark and listened to his beautiful voice. And even though his story was succeeding -- it was calming the rush of thoughts and emotions that had kept me from being able to sleep despite physical exhaustion -- it was wrapping me in new thoughts and emotions. With each new velvet-timbred morpheme of his voice, echoes of the past blanketed me.

I remembered how fascinated I was that Yan's voice is exactly the same in Chinese and English. I know that might seem like a strange remark. But Yan was the first truly bilingual person I ever listened to extensively speaking in both languages. The first time I noticed it was the first time I went on an extended visit to see Yan's parents. It was the first time I heard and saw Yan speak in Chinese for any extended period of time. I already knew a person changes in another language -- I had experienced this myself. (Once I even had a physical experience of the change: The year after I came home from Germany, a friend from my program there came to visit me. As we sat in my parents' dining room and decided to switch from English to German, I felt the switch. It was like the muscles in my tongue, mouth, face, and body settled back into a set of movements slightly to another side -- like my body shifted slightly to the right.) But it was strange to watch someone to whom I was so close go through this change -- and one I could only be an observer of and not a participant with (my Chinese was basically non-existent at the time).

So maybe that's why I focused on his voice: Watching that person I was so in love with but who suddenly seemed to be wrapped in a stranger, I grasped at something familiar I could cling to. And it turned out to be the timbres of his voice. And I was surprised that that was what was recognizable. I had struggled to learn the pronunciation in every language I spoke (yes, even English -- I had trouble with the "r" until I was 12). And in this struggle, I had somehow come to knot together the pronunciation and melody of a language with the tone of a voice.

So last night, as I lay in the dark and listened to Yan's voice telling me a story, and as all these memories of my experiences with spoken language washed over me, I finally untied that knot. And fell in love with that voice reaching out to me from a distance. Once again.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

fire food and drink

We had the opportunity to meet some friends for dinner last night at fire food and drink on Shaker Square. We discovered fire during last year's Restaurant Week, and have visited it several times since.

fire is located where an Arabica coffee house use to be, one that I frequented during my high school years. The food offerings at fire can be described as a blend of American and European tastes, but with a distinctive Cleveland flavor.

One reason why fire is so good and why it's one of our favorite places is because chef and owner Doug Katz uses locally sourced ingredients as much as possible in his creations. This includes meats from local farms, fish from Ohio waters, as well as locally available seasonal vegetables and fruits like a variety of squashes and apples. This means that the menu changes throughout the year depending on what's in season, and the ingredients are much fresher because they didn't travel far to get to the kitchen that's right in the corner of the dining room at fire. Compare that to chain restaurants where most food is shipped frozen from distribution centers, dishes are partially cooked and then reheated when they're ordered. Think about it, how else can they serve lasagna in about 15 minutes?!

Our favorite appetizer at fire is called popovers. It's their signature clay oven bread served with honey butter. I usually don't put any butter on my bread, but I now always put honey butter on my popovers!

fire offers grass-fed beef from a local farm, but since we don't eat beef or pork right now, we usually order their organic chicken or duck, which Starla described as the best duck she's ever had. I've been on a fish kick, so my current favorite is their sautéed walleye with potato cake, roasted apples, riesling sauerkraut, and brown butter, which is what I had last night. All the dishes we've tried have been cooked to perfection, and the flavors just pop.

fire is our favorite special occasions restaurant in Cleveland, and it should be yours, too.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

It's been a year since my last Earth Day post, so I thought I'd give an update on what we've changed to live in a more environmentally sustainable manner over the past year.

First, I had mentioned that I used to get many ideas from a very nice website and email newsletter called IdealBite. Unfortunately, they sold out to Disney Family this past year, so the newsletter and site are gone. Some of their tips are now available on the Disney site, but it's not the same and definitely more commercial in tone. So, sad news there. However, there are plenty of sites on the web that provide eco-tips.

At the end of last year's Earth Day post, I mentioned several things we were planning on doing, so here's an update on those.
  • Rain barrels: Last year, I installed two rain barrels that I bought from Blue Water Ohio in our backyard. They supplied water for our vegetable garden and yard for the entire summer. I took them down for the winter, and last weekend, I put them out again, so I'm all set for this summer.

  • Vegetable garden: We planted a small vegetable garden late last spring with the help of my parents, who gave us several of their vegetable plant seedlings and also supplied us with some seeds. We planted several tomato plants, several varieties of beans, peppers, a Chinese winter squash, cucumbers, and chives. I watered them carefully from our rain barrels throughout the summer and fall, but our harvest was less than mediocre. The tomatoes and beans were few, the cucumbers were small and never fully ripened, and the peppers and winter squash never bore fruit. The only bright spot were the chives, of which we had plenty. One problem we had was that the soil was less than ideal, and I didn't fertilize at all. I plan to get better at it this year and apply lessons that I've learned from last year. I've already tilled the soil and fertilized a little bit. And the chives, which are apparently perennial, have already come up.

  • Composting: Late last fall, after realizing that I need some fertilizer for our garden, and wanting organic options, I purchased a compost bin (made entirely from recycled plastics) and put it together last weekend. It's now sitting next to our vegetable garden and we've already begun to add compostable materials to it. As mentioned last year, this should also reduce our trash output from both the kitchen and the yard.

  • Windows: We were able to replace about half of our windows with new and more energy efficient windows last year. We took advantage of the $1500 energy tax credit that was available and purchased replacement windows that exceeded the required efficiency ratings. Inside the house over the winter, we've definitely noticed a difference with less draft and warmer temperatures, and I no longer need to use a sledge hammer to help open or close some of the windows.
Here are some of the changes we've made over the past year.
  • We've switched some more of our light bulbs to CFLs.
  • We now eat almost no meat. In addition to the environmental impact of raising animals for meat, we've been learning more about how meat is produced in the U.S., and have decided to avoid most meat for health and animal-welfare reasons. We want to support small organic farms and avoid factory farms which often use growth hormones, antibiotics, and inhumane treatment of animals in their meat production methods. We still eat eggs, fish, and some chicken. However, we only buy eggs and chicken that are certified organic, fed vegetarian diets, and cage-free. And we only buy wild-caught fish because fish raised in factory farms are often raised in coastal fish farms with polluted waters and added chemicals. These chicken, eggs, and fish are more expensive at the supermarket, but the extra cost is more than made up by our not buying all the meat that we used to buy. Just think of all the chemicals that we're no longer ingesting through meat! Again, we are not vegetarians, and we don't plan to become vegans. This has probably been the most difficult adjustment we've made.
  • As mentioned in a previous post, we purchased fresh produce from a local farm that came onsite weekly to my office building last year. We learned more about seasonal vegetables and new varieties of vegetables from them, and we're looking forward to buying from them again this year.
  • In addition to switching to a vinegar cleaning solution for use in the kitchen, we've switched to using plant-based cleaners in other areas of the house, especially the bathroom. This has been a wonderful change for me personally because it means I no longer have to wear a mask when cleaning due to the fumes, and the house doesn't smell like a chemical plant afterwards.
And again, there are many more things we can do to change how we live to be better stewards of God's beautiful creation. Here are some of the changes we plan to make in the future:
  • We'd like to replace the rest of the windows in our house with more energy-saving ones. Similarly, we plan to replace some of the exterior doors and add insulation into the walls to further enhance the efficiency.

  • We'd like to eventually add a small greenhouse in our backyard to grow more vegetables at home. This is predicated on the assumption that we'll grow some green thumbs at some point.
So, a year later, what things are you doing to celebrate Earth Day? I hope everyone is doing something to live more environmentally friendly. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions on what else we can do to make daily living into simple and sustainable living.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The start of an adventure, or something like it

Our trip to Boston is starting off with a little hiccup.

Starla and I arrived at the Amtrak station this morning to find that our train, the "Lakeshore Limited", is delayed. Apparently, there was a freight train derailment in Indiana overnight, which caused our train, coming from Chicago, to have to take a detour through Michigan and Toledo.

What this means to us is that the train is currently running about four hours behind schedule.

So, here we are, waiting in the station lounge along with about 50 other passengers, including a group of about 20 college students on a spring break trip. They've camped out in one of the row of seats, some chatting, some napping. A couple of them are trying to start a game of Euchre.

Among the other waiting passengers are a family with several teenage kids - the boys both playing handheld video games while the girls are reading beauty magazines; a guy in a huge fur coat and a ton of luggage; and a lone girl in a hooded sweatshirt sitting in the corner who reminds me of Ally Sheedy's character from The Breakfast Club.

The adventure begins.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Check out my FLOTOgraph!

Progressive put out a new web tool to merge your photo with that of Flo. Here's what I got.
(Note: This doesn't seem to work properly in all browser versions. So if you don't see anything below, try a different browser.)