left the house in the afternoon to get a few things from the dollar store (gum, nasal strips1) and star market2 (seltzer, frozen lasagna sale). daytime temperature hovered in the 20's on a sunny winter day. i started doing my taxes, i had an easy 2014, not much going on money-wise. i'm pretty much done, have to see if i have any additional tax statements that need to be inputted into ye olde turbotax before i send everything out. i will not be getting a refund this year, but i need my tax returns to see if i can qualify for a health insurance premium reduction. an eventful day newswise: leonard nimoy passed away (83). now there's just kirk, chekov, and uhura left from the original star trek crew. elsewhere in moscow, opposition leader boris nemtsov is assassinated; it's a joke that vladimir putin will personally spearhead the investigation when he's the number one suspect. after some salad for dinner, i soaked for an hour in an epsom salt bath, reading the latest issue of entertainment weekly (the one with empire on the cover).

1 i had a $1 off coupon for breathe right nasal strips but they didn't have any. what they did have was a store brand version, 10 for $3.25, in size medium, which seemed a little bit smaller than the breathe right variety, but the packaging said medium was for normal sized noses. do i have a normal sized nose?

2 ever since i discovered market basket, i don't really shop at star market anymore, even though it's the most convenient supermarket since it's practically across the street from where i live. nevertheless, star market is still worth going for their sale items, but they do these weird promotional things where you have to buy 6 or 10 of the same things in order to get the sale price. this week they had a deal on stouffer frozen food, which is my goto readymade meal when i'm too lazy to cook.

i received an e-mail from steve this morning, he and paul were off to the bahamas, be back next wednesday. first order of business today was to go out and clean off the snow pile from the sidewalk. when i was nearly finished, don came out and we chatted briefly. he said that the car belonged to a woman who just came back from a 3 week trip to india. she was thinking about hiring someone to dig out her car for her. and just as we were talking, my neighbor's son david came out of his house with a shovel to dig out the rest of the car. so it was him last night that i saw! i'd done some of the work for him, digging out a path in front and behind the car. all he had left to do was to carve out the car from the sidewalk snowbank. maybe he felt a little guilty that i already shoveled some of it for him, because he was more careful with the snow piles afterwards.

it snowed a little bit in the late morning into the early afternoon. just some flurries, the edge of a big snow system that just grazed boston as it blew out into the ocean. as much as i'd like to see us break the record for the most amount of snowfall in a winter season, i'm kind of also a little tired of the snow at this point. march will be here in a few more days, and march is a spring month! i want to be thinking about which seeds i should be planting indoors in preparation for gardening 2015.

working from the kitchen, i played around with the afbhs upgrade site a little bit more. dreamhost's wordpress kit comes pre-installed with about a dozen different themes, but you can easily add more from the library (about 1700 other themes to try out). switching out the theme is easy, but what i want to know is how to tweak the themes so i can add additional functionalities.

i lit a tibetan incense in the corner of the kitchen, an attempt at trying to add some warmth to the place, but i ended up smoking the whole house and my clothes smelled of incense afterwards.

at home all day, it's hard to keep myself from snacking. even when i worked in an office though, i'll snack out of boredom. i should invest in some gum, that way i can chew on something without actually eating more.

another packet of circulars arrived on my doorstep today. could this really be true? can i expect this every week now? all i really care about is the market basket circular, but they have mailings from other supermarkets as well, including stop & shop (not even sure where the closest stop & shop is around here). nothing from whole foods though, even though there's one about the same distance to MB. anyway, i signed up for the MB circular more than a month ago, when i found what i thought was a legit MB website that had the weekly circular online. turns out they had nothing to do with MB, and the circulars themselves were just simple jpeg scans. unfortunately i signed up for the circular before i realized the site wasn't officially affiliated, and was afraid i'd be getting a bunch of junk mail soon. but maybe it was legit after all, because i'm finally now getting the MB circular (along with a bunch of other ads).

i showered before dinner. i ate another salad, same as the one i had 2 days ago. i'm going to try and get to bed early, i started reading the secret history of the mongol queens by jack weatherford, a surprisingly quick read and thoroughly interesting about mongol culture.

i went out to bring in the trash and to shovel the thin layer of snow that fell overnight. contrary to what i said previously, this bit of snow finally put us (boston) over the 100in mark for total snowfall this winter, setting this season as the second snowiest on record. we just need another 7in of snow to break the all time record for accumulation.

i finally did some work on the afbhs upgrade by installing a copy of wordpress on my site. i've played around with wordpress in the past, but that was close to maybe a decade ago. the package has really matured since i last used it, and i'm even tempted to switch my regular blog to wordpress just because it's a more robust blog experience.

i got a call from my mother asking if i wanted to have dinner in belmont today, where my parents were thinking about ordering pizza (mondau through thursday, domino's $7.99 large 3-topping carryout deal). they arrived around 3:00, with hailey in the back. at one point we stopped by porter square, where a chubby black girl caught hailey's attention, perhaps thinking it was my sister.

i got in touch with XL this afternoon, she arrived in venezuela late last week to begin a 3-year petrochemical project there. she'd posted some photos on her qq zone, living at a swank company-facilitated hotel with turquoise pools right by the ocean in puerto la cruz (north of barcelona). she was in the office, complaining about the air conditioner that had just gone out. according to her, venezuela seems to be just as hot as chongqing. in her commercial department there are just 10 people, a mix of chinese and locals. yangyi is there as well, actually sits next to her. the wifi in the office is better than at the hotel; at nights she can't access any streaming entertainment (neither video or music) but this may just be geolocational media blocking courtesy of chinese providers. she has an apartment mate, it takes 30 minutes to get to the office, and they work 7:00-5:30, monday through saturday, with a paid trip back to china every 4 months. breakfast is served at the hotel, but lunch and dinner are provided by the company. on sunday some coworkers are planning on taking a trip to a nearby island; XL did want to go because she was afraid of getting tan (staying pale is very important for chinese women) and didn't have a hat or sunglasses (not that she could a pair anyway, since she wear glasses normally). another reason she doesn't want to go out is the rising crime rate due to the poor economy. she said on sundays and mondays most stores are closed.

we ordered 2 pizzas (after having some ribs earlier) for dinner that my father and i went to go pick up on trapelo road around 6:00. i have a lot of salads waiting for me back at home, but all this pizza will throw off my attempt at losing some weight for the time being. not sure how many slices i had, around 5-6. my sister came by around 7:00 after her nanny gig to come pick up her dog; i got a ride with them back to my place.

my lavender essential oil from piping rock arrived in the mail. just so happens i was soaking my humidifier earlier today, so after i rinsed everything off and refilled the tank, i added 4 drops of lavender oil. it doesn't smell like i thought it'd smell; it has more of a household cleaning product fragrance. added to the humidifier, it does add a scent to the vaporized water, but i wouldn't identify it as lavender. i still prefer the eucalyptus essential oil, it has a minty clean fragrance.

around 11:00 i heard someone shoveling outside. at first i thought it was don, but when i peeked through the blinds, i saw a guy digging out the snow/ice buried car in front of my house. it's about time! but way so late at night? was he going to use the car tomorrow morning? he ended up taking 2 hours to dig out, and although he was careful with the snow mound, it was still kind of a mess, with broken piles of snow all over the sidewalk.

i went ahead and ordered a zoom H1 portable digital audio recorder ($98). i've been eyeballing it for a while, and finally decided to get it. i want to use it when i record videos with my dSLR to get better quality audio. i also want to use it to record ambient sounds, like nature noises. one thing i didn't pay very much attention to when i was away in china was just all the interesting background audio. a noisy chongqing hot pot restaurant, tibetan touts shouting by the bus stations, monks chanting, noises you hear in a chinese supermarket, office chatter - all those rich audios that i never got a chance to record. i also ordered some accessories from ebay, a pair of hot shoe mounts. i still need to get a pair of 3.5mm male-to-male audio cable.

i snore. it's not something that developed as i got older, i've known about it as far back as college. at the time i didn't believe it, because i was always asleep when i snored, but roommates were willing to record the noises so i could hear them. what has happened as i got older is my snoring became worse, to the point where on many occasions i've actually heard myself snoring when i was half-asleep. the sound comes from the back of my throat, like a loud purring, when i breath in through my mouth at night.

a while back i got some free sample breathe right nasal strips. i've always wanted to try them and last night i got the chance. i wasn't sure if i put it on right, and it felt a little weird on my nose. but after a while i got used to it and didn't notice it anymore. they basically gently lift the sides of my nostrils, expanding my airways, making it easier to breath. and if i'm breathing better through my nose, then i won't be breathing through my mouth, which is where all the snoring comes from.

did it work? hard to say, since it's difficult to hear myself snoring, but if i went the whole night breathing through my nose, then i wasn't snoring. i did feel like i was breathing a lot better though. if it didn't look so silly, i'd be tempted to wear nasal strips all the time.

i heard knocking around 10:15. i was still sleeping at the time, and ignored it at first, before thinking it might be my father. i got out of bed and sure enough, saw him standing at my rear door, delivering some leftover mesquite wings from yesterday. he was on his way to mayflower to buy some chicken.

so after eating some leftover wings for lunch, i went out to get some groceries. temperature was in the teens, and i wore short wool hiking socks that left my ankles cold initially before they warmed up after a few minutes of walking. i actually thought about biking down to market basket but the streets still looked dangerous. in hindsight, i could've probably done it if i kept off the main roads and took mostly shortcuts. they're for the most part clear, just a bit narrower, with no bike lanes, hard icy snow banks flanking both sides of the street, and the roads pitted with new potholes. it really doesn't take that long to walk though, less than 20 minutes.

i got there around 1:45 and the place was surprisingly empty for a change. there was hardly any lines at the checkout counters. i picked up my items - yogurts and salads, trying to stay healthy and maybe lose some weight. i always manage to get just under 12 items so i can use the express line, but i checked out at a regular counter instead because it was empty.

when i got home i brought out the trash. we're down to just a single recycle bin because the lid to mine is still frozen solid. the rest of the day went by pretty quick. for dinner i made myself a mixed green salad with half of can of chickpeas sprinkled with some parmesan cheese and with an italian vinaigrette. i thought i'd be hungry soon afterwards, but it lasted me throughout the night (i did have some ben & jerry's pistachio ice cream though). when i went to throw out the trash, both cans were filled already (even though i was the one who brought them out). i was a little bit annoyed with my upstairs neighbor, but then i thought it might've been my next door neighbor renee, who's been known to parasitize our trash bins when she's too lazy to bring hers out.




after a costco supply run, i returned with my parents to the cafe to pick up hailey before going to belmont. after dinner i got a ride back home. urged on by my mother who thought my faded hoodie made me look like a homeless person, i went online and bought a new one (fleece-lined old navy) along with a pair of jeans.

this morning at 8:20 i received half a dozen phone calls in the span of 30 minutes. all but one came from restricted numbers, and whenever i picked up, it was just beeping noises. the only number that did show up came from a philadelphia area code. it was annoying, and it ended a fairly good night of sleep. then in the late morning i got a few more calls that was nothing but beeps.

my sister called me at 10:50, while i was still using the bathroom. she said she was on her way to belmont and could give me a ride. i told her to come at 11:00. i then finished using the bathroom, took a shower, got dressed, packed up my things, and went outside to shovel the half inch of ice on the sidewalk that fell overnight. all within 10 minutes. i saw my sister's car coming down the road, ran inside to get my things, and met her as she pulled up. a woman shoveling out her car nearby said, "that's an efficient use of time!"

my sister told me she was taking hailey to middlesex fells and asked if i wanted to go. normally i don't go with my sister anywhere, but this was an opportunity to get some wintertime naturing action, so i agreed. while i was out shoveling the front and back steps (breaking apart the ice on this rare thaw day), my mother made me a sausage sandwich. after i finished eating i went with my sister to winchester.

there weren't too many people there. most of those we met were either snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and/or walking their dog(s). i was worried that the trails would be buried, but the fells get enough traffic that hikers have already trampled out the paths. we were however still walking on top of layers of snow on the side trails. depending on how i stepped, sometimes i'd sink down into the snow up to almost my knee.

as the temperature was above freezing, clumps of melting snow fell from the forest canopy like rain. a few times while i was taking photos falling slush would land right on the camera. some falling ice hit my sister in the eye and i narrowly missed a close call as well (saved by glasses). there wasn't a lot of nature to be had, just a lot of bare trunks and pine trees. i didn't see any wildlife, not even a single bird.

back at the house, my sister left her dog while she left to go do other things. as i mentioned earlier, today was a rare thaw day when temperature was above freezing. out in the backyard i could hear the snow on the roof melting into the gutters. i shoveled out a bit more of the basement. anything snow doesn't get removed will freeze solid overnight as temperatures drop.

the most prestigious of award shows is also the longest and most boring. i watched most of the academy awards, only falling asleep for 15 minutes somewhere during the middle of the show. all i really wanted to see was the actual awarding parts, i wish there was an itinerary i could follow and just watch the important parts instead. i'm glad whiplash won 3 of its 5 nominated awards. i'm disappointed michael keaton didn't get the best actor award, but i didn't think birdman was that good (technically accomplished? yes. story-wise, not interesting at all).

i helped my father clear off the roof snow from the southwestern corner of their house. since we cleaned much of the roof on thursday, there'd been some melting and refreezing, resulting in some slippery ice patches that weren't there before, inadvertently making walking on the roof a bit more challenging compared to when there was just feet of snow.

our next door neighbors were shoveling too, first clearing their backyard deck (which seemed like they never even bothered using since it started snowing weeks ago) before working on the bottom edges of their roof. from up high, we could also see other neighbors farther away working on their roofs as well. i could even hear someone futilely chiseling ice off in the distance.

shoveling off the remaining snow was more of a one-man job, so i decided to climb back down and begin shoveling what we dumped off. getting down was a little difficult because i was afraid of slipping (and falling off the roof), so i ended up crawling backwards on my stomach until i could get my feet onto the ladder, holding onto my father's pant legs for support. it wasn't very dignified, fortunately there was no photo records.

afterwards we took turns digging out the entrance to the basement. a few days ago it was fine, spared of snow because of a few strategically placed wooden planks that acted like a roof. but after we started clearing off the snow from up above, the dropped snow began to pile up until we could barely see the basement door anymore. another danger was the dryer vent, which escaped being buried by about an inch wide gap.

it began to flurry by the time we were finally done. i was soaked, half from the snow, half from sweating. i came inside and had a bowl of warm sauerkraut soup (earlier i had a sausage and egg sandwich before going out and shoveling). my sister came home but left a short time later, taking hailey with her. a bit after 5:00 my aunt and uncle showed up, bringing with them an assortment of ingredients to have hot pot for dinner at my parents' place.

they stayed until almost 9:00. afterwards my father gave me a ride back to cambridge. the snow had stopped, transitioning to a freezing drizzle.

my $100 rebate for my nest thermostat arrived in the mail today from nstar gas. i sort of didn't think it'd happen, since nstar only contacted me once about receiving the application and then i never heard back from them again. i also filed it online which i never did before, including scanning an image of the UPC code instead of sending out the actual one. that means i only paid $100 for my nest thermostat ($250 normally, $200 black friday price, $100 rebate), which is a pretty good deal for a fancy gadget (even though i did have some problems with it including replacing the thermostat wire and finally exchanging the one i had before). the only thing i don't like is the rebate is in the form of a visa gift card, which i find hard to use.

i dug out my recycle bins today, encased in ice from overhead icicle drips. the ice itself won't come off anytime soon (i tried chiseling it with a metal spade, no effects), but i was able to at least pull the bins away from the side of the house. if it really does rain on sunday, hopefully it might help with the melting. or, it may just make it worse since i hear everything will refreeze soon afterwards. i look forward to an icy glazed sunday and beyond.

usually weekly circulars arrive directly in my mailslot, but when i went outside today, i saw a packet wrapped in a plastic bag on my doorstep. besides the usuals - star market, rite aid - there was one from market basket as well! it was always strange to me that we never get their circular even though i live within walking distance (in somerville) and that's usually where i get my groceries. my parents get it in belmont and the nearest market basket to them is miles away. so maybe this was a one time deal but hopefully it means an expansion in their delivery policy.

i finished off my leftover rice porridge before soaking for an hour in an epsom salt bath. i lit one of the tibetan incense i bought in litang, but since it was cold outside and i wasn't going to open the bathroom window, the scent started to get a little too much so i snuffed out the incense. whenever i take a bath i like to see how long i can hold my breath under water. being submerged is surprisingly noisy, as i hear an assortment of hums coming from the various heaters and furnaces in the basement.

i finally put up my tibetan prayer flags (purchased in ganzi back in october 2013) after rediscovering them at my parents' place yesterday. combined that with my solar-powered tibetan prayer wheels and all the snow makes me feel like i'm in tibet (chuanxi at least)! i like the way they flutter in the wind, but all the dancing of the shadows constantly fools my peripheral vision into thinking there is somebody out back.

my parents picked me up in the late afternoon. today was chinese new year AKA the spring festival. it's the year of the goat, or sheep, or ram - in chinese they don't make any distinctions between those animals.

around 4:30 (less than an hour before sunset) my father and i climbed the roof to clear off the snow. drifts had accumulated snow upwards of 3 feet between the area of the regular roof and the sunroom roof (not as sloped). i don't think there was any danger of roof collapse, but better safe than sorry, especially if it's going to rain over the weekend. there was snow from at least 4 separate snowstorms, and the consistency would alternate between icy crust, soft powder, and compacted snow (at the bottom). the worst part of clearing snow off the roof is afterwards you have all this snow on the ground you have to clear away, like shoveling a second time. and the snow that gets dropped down ends up being very compact hard snow so it's even harder to get rid of. i have very bad snow shoveling mechanics, more brute force than finesse, so towards the end i was pretty tired and sore. it was already getting dark as i climbed down the ladder to work on clearing a new path out of the snow we dropped. it was also cold but at the time i didn't really notice because i was so worked up from the shoveling. later when i went inside my face was blown red from the cold winds outside.

hailey now expects 2 treats after dinner. this is because on a few occasions who thought it'd be funny if we let her choose which treat she wanted: a bland rawhide curl or a flavored twisted bully (those are her favorite). but apparently she thought we were going to give her both, so afterwards she'd coming look for the second treat. now she just expects two, otherwise she will sit and pester us until we give her the second one.

after a kielbasa-english muffin sandwich for lunch, i went out to do some more shoveling. i planned on finishing clearing out that parking spot in front of my house. i went to the back to grab my shovel and saw that it was frozen over, the handle encased in ice that formed from the dripping icicles overhead. i had to bring the shovel inside the house and wash it with hot water to thaw it out.

shoveling for so many weeks, i've got my whole system down. i use two shovels, a metal digging spade for breaking apart hard snow, and a regular plastic snow shovel. i switch between gloves (with gives me better grip), to mittens (when my hands get cold), to bare hands (when my hands get too hot). i also have a hot tumbler of tea on standby (a snow pile makes for a great natural coaster) to sip from during short breaks.

a lot more traffic was coming down eustis, now that roads have had a few days to thaw out. true, there's still a lot of snow, but people are more willing to drive. every time i scoop up a shovel full of snow to toss, i made sure no vehicles are coming, since i need to walk the snow down a few yards to a big snow pile. the dirty snow was slushy and wet, which made it not only heavy but sticky as well.

when cars weren't coming down the road, it was actually sort of quiet and peaceful. the only other sound was that of another shovel scraping asphalt, a girl a few houses down doing exact what i was doing, being a good neighbor, clearing out a parking spot. at one point i bumped into dennis, who asked if i could take a few photos of him (using his nikon dSLR) as he climbed the huge snow pile by the street signs. later i got a chance to climb up there as well. the view is pretty nice, not a bad place to just hang out and watch the traffic go by.

my parents called me in the afternoon and told me that the chinese new year dinner with my grand uncle was moved to tonight since my sister couldn't make it tomorrow. so after work, they came to pick me up around 3:30 and dropped me back in belmont.

our chinese next door neighbor had peppered the front of their house with all sorts of chinese new year/spring festival decorations, which inspired me to find the chinese spring festival decorations i bought in china that i had my parents bring back with them when they came to visit me in changshou last year. i also bought a lot of chinese-themed christmas decorations but forgot i had them (save them for next christmas). i got a pair of "golden boy jade girl" (金童玉女); not sure what exactly they represent, but it's one of the many traditional decorations. we put them in the window and they actually look sort of creepy. they have the same image on both sides, but the "front" side has some 3D elements.

since we had a few hours, my father and i went into the backyard to continue to clear snow off of the roof. he set up the a-frame ladder, which was still to far away to really get at the snow. he then set up the extension ladder and set it up against the house by the rear staircase. he managed to get off a lot of snow (which we later had to shovel off of the ground) but within the next few days we'll need to get onto the roof to really clean off the snow, especially if it's going to rain this weekend.

my father left at 5:30 to go feed hailey and bring my grand uncle to the restaurant. my mother and i left the house by 5:40, walking down to golden garden on concord avenue. my mother thought it was crazy that we'd walk there, but it was close enough and it meant we didn't have to take the other car out of the garage. it began to snow and my mother wanted to go back to the house to grab an umbrella, but it was cold flurry that didn't stick to anything. walking was a challenge because certain stretches of sidewalks weren't plowed, making them impossible to walk through. others were cleared, but with weird exit points which meant walking farther than normal just to escape the wall of snow. there were also times when we had to walk in the streets, which are narrow as it is already without adding pedestrian traffic as well. we had a 6:00 reservation, but since there was hardly any customers inside, we decided to wait outside for my father to show up with my grand uncle. my sister arrived at the same time as well (via car, getting off from work).

ordering was a little challenging, between my sister's gluten-intolerance and my grand uncle's need to have soft food. my sister couldn't eat anything with soy sauce, nor anything fried, which really limited her choices. but we ended up ordering a mix of diet-specific and normal food.

tonight is actually chinese new year's eve. it's sort of sad that since this holiday isn't really celebrated in the US, chinese restaurants are usually opened on chinese new year. although you wouldn't know it from the english menu, golden garden actually specializes in northeastern chinese cuisine. as the evening wore on, several large parties arrived (4-6 people), all chinese, all speaking with northeastern accents. they were also all young and rich, judging from their clothes and the slew of expensive cars parked outside (pink audi, mercedes SUV, lotus sports car), the sons and daughters of wealthy chinese nationals who can afford to send their children overseas for education.

after dinner my father took my grand uncle home, while my sister drove my mother and me to my parents' place. i picked up my things and got a ride back to cambridge.