The Very End of Grad School

Whole Foods is a dangerous place when your food budget gets tight. Especially that hot food bar. But here’s a game you can play next time you’re in.

Challenge a friend to get as close to one pound of food without measuring as possible. If you go over, you lose. Closest one to one pound flat wins and the loser pays for the meal.

This is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the Costco challenge.

If finishing my Masters programs this week wasn’t tiring enough, we just saw three straight nights of Christmas parties. They were a blast, and they saved us a ton on groceries, but man, I am gonna go into my first week of post-student life ready for a bit of hibernation.

Here are some things making me happy this week.

Okay, so the obvious. Grad school done. Yay!

I also saw Arrival over the weekend and it was an amazing, clever, meaningful film. It’s a puzzle film in a lot of ways but it also had tons of heart and hope. It’s a great work of art.

And Deanna and I also picked up our first Christmas tree. I love living where these grow without effort.

I just took a two hour final. It’s rainy. Miserably cold and most people get to stay home today because of the snow. Not me.

But that doesn’t matter.


Grad School.

(Assuming I didn’t overconfidently just bomb that exam. But ya know.)


Yesterday I finished my Masters program, but today I finished grading my students’ exams so that’s a wrap on my life as a TA as well. The pay was modest, but the office came with a sweet view.

When I graduated as an undergrad, I realized the best things I learned from the experience weren’t course material. Just life experiences I picked up from the setting. Grad school was no different.

I learned that an academic career is valuable… and it also just isn’t for me. At least for the time being. There’s a big part of my personality that isn’t content theorizing and teaching, I wanna go out and do.

I learned that time goes by way fast! Being a grad student made me feel old most of the time. I’d be teaching my students like- wait- you were how old on 9/11?? I’ve always felt this to some extent, but now I’m extra motivated to do stuff now that I’ll be glad I did in three years.

And I learned to really value having a life outside of work. When I started it felt like grad students only ever talked about how busy they were. Maybe it was a big culture shock or maybe I just got used to it over time but It helped me be extra conscious of making life about more than hustle.

Speaking of a life outside grad school, here we go!

For my third Christmas party in as many nights, my grad department also threw one. This one had the best curries out of all of them.

This is my adviser Kathie. Over the past 2.5 years she’s read hundreds, probably thousands, of pages of my writing all while keeping me in the loop of international orphanages and what’s going on.

I had a pretty supportive department faculty behind me the whole way through. Heck, some of them are the reason I’ve been able to work and afford the past two years. Much thankful for that.

Eugene Christmas Fun

Tonight we’re going to our third Christmas party in as many days.

Mid December. What it do.

Did you grow up in a real tree or fake tree fam? I was raised with a plastic thing that hid in our garage for eleven months.

I always looked forward to the future when our Christmas tree would be a real one that I went to the woods to chop down. Didn’t quite chop this one down myself, but it is an actual tree, so that’ll be a good place to start. .
This Doug is totally dead on one side, so we had that face the wall and saved ourselves at least 40 bucks.

“The Christmas tree…where did that tradition come from? It sounds like the behavior of a drunk man. I can picture it now: ‘honey, why is there a…pine tree in our living room?’ ‘I like it…tomorrow…we’re gonna…we’re gonna decorate it…for Jesus…’”

–Jim Gaffigan

Oh bargain tree, oh bargain tree.

Your diseases saved us money.

It’s our first Christmas tree since getting married, and now our house is now all properly decked out for Christmas. I like this look. Even our Baymax and Ron Swanson prints look so festive.

They say that many Native American tribes have hundreds of words for different kinds of snow. And I understand why. Not all snow is the same. There is the nice powdery, fluffy kind that is on the ground in Portland right now, and there is this ice-everywhere attrocity that we’ve got in Eugene.

All through the night branches kept cracking and crashing down. A tree completely toppled onto the parking spot next to mine. Beignet wouldn’t stop barking with all the other dogs in the neighborhood.

The power went out, and the Wi-fi was out for the next fifteen hours. The lights shut off just as a character in the book I’m reading died.

When I woke up this morning I went on a little walk to see how bad it was and whose cars were spared. That Civic was completely landed on. A tree landed perpendicularly across six parking spots that I usually take. It looked like some ice apocalypse.

It was also a little pretty. But not too pretty.

Thanks to all the ice and snow, Deanna and I got to enjoy a day at home and at the movies. Loving definitely makes my short list for favorite movies from this year.

Speaking of, here’s that list.

Arrival – It’s the linguistics-nerd, sci-fi puzzle film we never knew we needed. It’s Spielberg’s whimsy, Christopher Nolan’s inventiveness, and Terrence Malick’s visuals all tied into one story.

Loving – How perfect is it that the couple whose case ended up setting the Supreme Court’s ultimate ruling in favor of interracial marriage had the last name Loving? Obvious answer, it’s too, too perfect.

Zootopia – A second animated feature… but some of my favorite movies in recent years have been Disney/Pixar movies, so maybe that shouldn’t be so surprising. Those were some socially-conscious cartoon rabbits.

I’ve been paying more attention to the difference between Christmas music and Advent music lately. The latter focuses on waiting and a somber sort of hope. It’s why when I’ve heard sugary versions of Holly Jolly and Sleigh Ride (or Twisted Sister’s 12 Days) a few too many times, O Come, O Come Emmanuel really hits the spot.

That song, like many African American Gospel songs or East Asian and African standards, uses the pentatonic scale- one that creates a feeling of tension, unrest, and having not arrived. It’s like melodies speak on behalf of cultures or something.

Advent will never make complete sense to someone who hasn’t seen oppression or injustice in some way. The oppressed were its original audience.

The Book of Common Prayer led me to reading the well known “to us a child is born, to us a son is given” part of Scripture. “And the government will be on his shoulders.” What stood out to me, though, was the part that came right before.

“You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.”

That is most definitely music our world really needs to hear this year.

This weekend, we treated ourselves to a showing of Hamilton! But since we’re really on a budget, it was a high school performance of Hamilton. And since the school didn’t quite have the rights to Hamilton, it was actually about 70% of the musical plus random other songs from Waitress, Rent, and Chicago.

About a year ago I fell in love with this musical. I wasn’t expecting everyone else to fall in love similarly, otherwise we would’ve been set to see it in Chicago or New York. But thankfully it’s massive success means that high schools are giving it a go. NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour mused that there would be some pretty awful high school performances of the show. This wasn’t one of them. The kids were pretty good. Of course, Oregon doesn’t have the diversity of Hamilton, but the show was a great time.

Hey family, spoiler alert. Stop reading here and erase the image you just saw from your mind.

(Psh, I know some of ya didn’t 😏)

Man… I keep posting about my low budget lifestyle lately, but that is our truth. When your family is large on both sides but your Christmas budget is small… homemade gifts are a lifesaver.

Thankfully I taught myself how to make macarons earlier this year. They go for about $1.50 a piece at our patisserie, so a single 5 piece box would be worth $7.50. If I was more motivated, this could turn quite a profit. The knowledge paid off this Christmas though. Less than $50 for ingredients gives me gifts for 25ish people… and even more if I didn’t screw up a batch or two.

This was also my first time making macaron flavors other than dulce de leche and chocolate. I improvised and experimented with coffee ganache, red wine and chocolate, and mango… and I surprised myself with how well they turned out.


Yesterday was quite the day of transit for us.

We got up before five so we could drop Beignet off at the sitter. Then we took off to Portland early enough for some errands. We got to get lunch with @jessedmorris and @sunshinebucket at this adorable place, Mothers, in downtown Portland. Then it was off to PDX.

I tried to stay knocked out for as much of the first flight as possible to SFO so I could stay up for the second flight and get some writing done. We arrived in Chicago at 1:30 for a very chatty Uber driver to take us to our hotel.

At around 2:30 AM, we arrived, but realized we’d only had one meal all day. I ran out onto Michigan Ave. in hunt of a grocery store open 24 hours. Half an hour later we were splitting a 3 AM hoagie surprised that it was just that morning we dropped off Beignet.

Peace out Chicago! Our time in the Midwest went by FAST! Good thing I’ll probably be back here in at least three years for Lord knows what. I love this place and I love its people.

Thankfully this trip has a second half we’re also looking forward to. NYC, we are long overdue.

Oh, and you can still expect Chicago pictures for weeks. In case you haven’t noticed, my social media behavior has never been that chronological.

First day of our trip was a big success.

Ate a fine Polish sausage, wandered up and down the mile for quite some time, hung out at the Christkindlmarket, got to meet up with @sharchun and braved the wait for a deep dish at Gino’s East.

Oh, and the bean, of course.

Merry Christmas from us and the whole crew.

“I have always thought of Christmastime, when it has come round… as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not a race of other creatures bound on other journeys.”

–Charles Dickens


“To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value , to say to them through our attitude: ‘You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.’ We all know we’ll that we can do things for others and in the process crush them, making them feel they are incapable of doing things by themselves. To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, the light that is shining in them.”

—Jean Vanier

Vanier was the founder of the L’Arche spiritual communities a long, long time ago, but he very eloquently explains why it’s so not cool to try and make yourself look good by straightening out another man’s tie, among other things.

Think of all the people you’re going to get to meet this year for the first time! A few of them might even stick around and be big figures in your life. Take preemeptive action and let them know they matter. See what happens from there.

Kinda cheesy? Yup. Super touristy? Yeah. Still. Grabbing a horse drawn carriage ride has been on our list for a while and what better spot than the Magnificent Mile?

My favorite way to see a place is usually to just wander in, get lost, and see what you run into. Having all the information in the world at easy access makes it easy to forget that having no plans and discovering somewhere on your own is a totally legit option.

On our second day of exploring Chicago, we opted to check out everything outside of its central downtown area. We spent a fair part of it on the South Side, around Hyde Park enjoying a walk alongside the snow.

This area was also full of Secret Service. It so happened to be Obama’s old neighborhood and they still own the house on the block. Every restaurant nearby throws out the ‘Obama ate here’ claim. He and Guy Fieri have to be the most frequently braggged about customers.

In high school, I always thought I would end up in Chicago. I was in constant contact with Northwestern and University of Chicago and took a trip out my sophomore year to visit both those schools. I even had this elaborate fantasy image of leaving some cool Chicago coffee shop and looking back to see all my cool Chicago friends in the window.

Then when senior year came around, I just didn’t apply. For whatever reason. It’s like I forgot the school existed during the six months that mattered.

But, I ended up going to school in Santa Barbara and having the time of my life over there. And I even made some cool friends in coffee shops, including my wife.

We wandered around the University of Chicago’s Hogwarts-esque campus for a while, amused at the idea of how it was like staring into an alternate reality of the past.

Got to spend a good while wandering around the Seminary Co-Op by the University of Chicago. This bookstore is magnificent.

Speaking of which, here are my favorite books published in 2016 that I read this year.

3) Chicago by Brian Doyle
Just posted on this the other day. I love the narration’s young optimism, the way the book’s voice matches the energy of a big city being discovered, and the simple vastness of its world.

2) Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Patchett can do no wrong, it seems. Although this novel teeters more on the side of family drama, it still unfolds in such a creative way that it got all my interest.

1) Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Such a good century-spanning epic that follows two branches of a family tree- one that stays in Ghana through its colonization and one that is sold to the US and undergoes an evolving African American experience.

There are two books I also wish I read because I’m nearly certain they would’ve made the list. Everything I’ve heard about Colton Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad suggests it would have made it and may pair with Between the World and Me as the two most important books this decade. I’d also think Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am would be here, since Foer has yet to disappoint.

Quad Cities Christmas

Took it nice and slow this morning getting out of Aurora. Loaded up the car and set off for an extremely easy two hour drive.

Got to the Quad Cities early enough to hang out and eat the whole rest of the day.

Also, Codewords is a real fun game. Would recommend.

Another Christmas in the bags, and a good one at that. I haven’t had one in the Midwest since, I dunno, the early nineties.

For once, we actually got our number one pick at the White Elephant and held onto it up until the end.

You should know that the Oregon Trail card game is a good one, even though snakes will probably kill you just before the end.

A really big thanks to Evan and Vanessa for the cousinly love the past few days. We had such a comfy stay in Moline the past couple days and the hospitality was awesome.

Oh and spending a few days with the Baella was splendid.

Happy to see y’all getting into the parenting groove and hope it isn’t too long til the next time.

Got to see this kiddo for her first Christmas ever.