a dinner with renata awaited me this evening so i spent the whole day preparing for it. having all those hours to make dinner is a weekend luxury i usually don't have since normally i don't have any time when i get back from work.
i ran a few errands first, went to ace hardwares to get a bag of potting soil and a packet of cat grass (the nearness of spring compels me to start growing things again), then went by porter square station to buy some flowers to brighten up the house a bit. my father came by to show me how to make hot and sour soup. into a pot went 4 cans of chicken broth, a can of water, a handful of tiger lily stems (soaked for about an hour), a handful of wood ear mushrooms (soaked as well), 2 teaspoons of ground white pepper, 3 tablespoon of soy sauce, a handful of shredded bamboo shoots, small tofu cubes. once everything came to a boil, we added two tablespoons of vinegar, with 10 teaspoons of corn starch mixed with some water. finally, 4 battered eggs slowly poured into the pot to create strands. we both had a cup before my father left to go back to work.

the house needed cleaning so i vacuumed and dusted. i soaked half a packet of barley seeds, ready for planting tomorrow. after a shower, i went out into the backyard to look for spring signs.

earlier, i saw some house finches and chickadees attacking the birdfeeder. there were some snowbells emerging from the soil. last year there was still ice on the ground when i saw spring signs. this winter, despite a very snowy beginning and the coldest weather we've had in many years, was of disappointing in terms of overall winter scenery. there's still a good month left for snow to fall, but from what i've seen of the weather, winter for the most part looks to be over while spring is slowly arriving. my lawn gnome underneath the stairs appeared sun-bleached but fine otherwise.

i was making some jasmine tea for the tapioca balls when renata showed up. she was eager to demonstrate the chinese she had learn in her class. "sheh sheh," she exclaimed, "wan an." she mentioned that a political science teacher had said something about the triangle relationship between china, taiwan, and the US, and i gave her a crash course in 20th century chinese history, starting with the end of the manchu dynasty, the rise of warlordism, the founding of the chinese republic under sun yat-sen, chiang kai-shek's unification of china and his extermination of chinese communists, the sino-japanese war, the chinese civil war, the exodus of defeated nationalists to taiwan, the korean conflict and US involvement in asian affairs, and finally the political dynamic of modern taiwan as it relates to the issue of independence. (wow, you really know how to have a good time!) i was sort of amazed myself how much i knew about the subject, but as far as subjects go, it's one of my favorites and i could talk about it endlessly.

i heated the hot and sour soup, put the salmon steaks into the toaster oven, and some chicken drumsticks into the oven.

it was a very meaty kind of meal, for which i apologized. renata pressed me relentlessly to test her on her knowledge of chinese numbers. "how many recessed lights in the kitchen?" i'd asked her, or "what's wo plus chi?" renata, sporting an attractive white velour shirt, asked to borrow a sweater (renata finds my place notoriously cold during the winters). after dinner, we made bubble ice tea. i didn't bother with the blender, but when i added the non-diary creamer, it made the tea look like bath water. i also didn't have normal ice cubes, just the ones with the slices of lime in them, so the ice tea had a twist of lime. renata picked at the tapioca balls (black translucent ones this time, from my parents' cafe) when i wasn't looking.

back in the living room, i gave renata more language lesson: name of colors, basic chinese sentence structures, making sense of pronouns, and verbs related to the senses. "wo bu yao zhe fei rao," she learned to say. it was a night of learning, renata the student, i the teacher. she was eager to absorb all this knowledge and i was happy to instruct her, feeling smart for a change.

when the evening came to a close, i intercepted her car before she could drive away to give her some hot and sour soup leftover (since she knows i usually don't eat my leftovers anyway).