Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Unplugged

I'm on the road today and taking that time to unplug. I know in the age of smartphones we're never reallllly unplugged, but I'm choosing not to use (most) smart functions on my phone. I'm dumbing it down for the day, as it were.

I hope everyone has safe travels, see you tomorrow for another brief post!

Thanksgiving Travel Tips

Chances are, you're traveling tomorrow. It's what Americans do on the day before Thanksgiving (and on the Sunday after). Maybe you're smarter than me and figured out a way to either not travel over Thanksgiving weekend or to get the travel out of the way before Wednesday's regular rush hour, but if not, here are my tried and true tips for Thanksgiving travel.
  1. Pack early. Do whatever it takes to get yourself organized before Wednesday morning so you're not rushing out the door to catch your train to your bus to your mooched ride from your younger brother. Hopefully you're packed already and not throwing sweaters and leggings into a bag while crossing your fingers that past you left a pair sweats at home the last time you were there.
  2. Pack light. Only bring the necessities so you don't pull a muscle toting around all your wardrobe changes. Mom and dad should have things like toothpaste and soap, so don't worry about those. You don't need four pairs of shoes. You definitely don't need three books, but bring those just in case. In case what, you ask? I don't know.
  3. Pack a snack. Ain't nothing worse than a hungry traveler. (read: I am the worst when I'm hungry.)
  4. Buy your bus ticket ahead of time and print it out at home. That way when you travel on the first and second busiest travel days of the year you'll have physical proof.
  5. Bundle up, in layers. The bus could be as roasty as a convection oven or the heat could be broken. You won't know until you board. If the windows are steamy, you'll be glad you have several jackets and sweaters to take off. If the windows are still frosted over, you'll be glad you have several jackets and sweaters to hunker in to. Added bonus: bundling means you have more room in your luggage for books. Second added bonus: bundling makes you appear larger, which deters would-be seatmates from trying to squeeze in next to you. Which leads me to:
  6. Make yourself seem both large and undesirable as a person. Who cares what the rest of the bus really thinks of you as long as they don't want to sit next to you and you get two seats to yourself. This is, of course, assuming that not everyone will have to buddy up. More likely the bus will be full to capacity, in which case:
  7. Make yourself seem both desirable and not crazy. You're gonna want a normal person to want to sit next to you for the next three hours. Normal attracts normal. Still,
  8. Headphones are your friend. You can catch up on Serial. Pretending to sleep is also an effective way to not interact with your seatmate. Or maybe read one of those three books you packed.
  9. Enjoy the ride. Hey, it's three hours (for me) that you (I) don't have to do housework or respond to emails--savor it! Take some time to clear your mind and let go of city life as you escape north for a few days.
I can't promise you'll have no snafus or stresses during your Thanksgiving travel, but I can promise that if you follow my tips you'll end up in Madison on Wednesday afternoon waiting patiently for my brother to pick you up. :) Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Coconut Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies

Two full disclosures that aren't necessary for this post (but that I feel like sharing anyways):
  1. I was originally planning on sharing (another) squash recipe here today as one final fall recipe before December/winter/holiday sweets season (that's a thing, right?). It was going to be butternut squash (finally!), and I really did make it this weekend, but what I did is so easy and kind of boring actually. Peel it, dice it, cover it in oil, salt, pepper, cumin, brown sugar (aka whatever toppings you want) and roast at 400 for about half an hour (until tender). Done. Tasty, but I'd rather share something a little bit more interesting until I do something other than just roast a squash.
  2. These cookies took several attempts to get the texture right, so I'm not going to laud them as the best cookies ever. If you're looking to cut out butter from your diet, or want to try something new, or if you really like coconut (like my boyfriend), definitely try these. If you have a strong cookie game already, stick with what you know. These are cookies, not wedding cakes. We're not trying to impress anyone here, just trying to get maximum comfort out of flour and sugar.
Okay, now for the recipe. It's almost exactly the same as your traditional chocolate chip cookie recipe, just with coconut oil instead of butter. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, but melts easily (like butter), so it's conducive to cookie making. Based on my various attempts at not having flat cookies, the trick here is to start with soft/melted oil for the mixing, but then refrigerate the dough for about half an hour before spooning onto the cookie sheets. Then the cookie stays together instead of spreading out and you end up with a chewy bit of perfection. The dough also refrigerates well for several weeks.

Coconut Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Recipe is from Sweet Treats & More. Changes in parenthesis mine.)
1/2 c coconut oil (I nuked it so it was slightly runny.)
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c flour (I used only all purpose instead of half whole wheat and half all purpose.)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 c chocolate chips (I used dark.)

In a large bowl, beat together coconut oil and sugars. Add egg and vanilla, beat until well combined.
In another bowl, combine dry ingredients (except chocolate).
Gradually add dry ingredients to wet mixture until combined.
Add chocolate chips.
Refrigerate dough for about half an hour. Preheat oven to 350.
Scoop dough by rounded tablespoons onto baking sheet.
Bake for 10 minutes. Let cool and transfer to wire rack. Or serving plate. Or straight to mouth.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sunday Night Survey: It's Beautiful Out! Edition

While the temps climbed to the 40s this weekend, it stayed gray and gross...yet for some reason Chicagoans (myself included) were all like, "It's so nice out!" So: thanks, freezing November temps, for giving us some perspective on the weather. I forced myself out of the house for errands, but for the most part stuck to creative and culinary pursuits indoors.

Baking: granola and chocolate chip cookies.
Doing: all the loads of laundry I've been neglecting. (The thing about winter is laundry piles up twice or three times as fast...because I'm wearing at least three shirts a day, plus leggings under pants.)
Knitting: an infinity scarf. Using my arms!
Slow-cooking: chicken tortilla soup.
Watching: part of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, X-Files, and SNL.
Reading: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer and maybe a guide book about Orlando...(vacation dreaming).
Eating: light but good.
Drinking: lots of Cinnamon Apple Spice tea. And more water to counteract all the dry air.
Listening: to the most recent episode of Serial. !
Practicing: yoga, aka...
Stretching: further than my body has in a loooooong time.
Packing: for Thanksgiving break!
Making: shopping lists for Thanksgiving break!
Getting: ready for Thanksgiving break!

I'm excited about only having two work days this week...can anyone tell?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2)Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First thoughts: I'm so glad I read this installment of the All Souls Trilogy within a few weeks, instead of spreading it out through a a year like I did with A Discovery of Witches. I got a lot more out of this book, and for the most part I enjoyed it.

A little recap: When we last left our heroes, they were attempting to travel back in time to a "safe" place where Diana (the witch) could learn her magic. Matthew (the vampire) would act as history guide, since he already lived through the time (and place) they were headed: London, 1599.

Character thoughts: I both love and hate Diana. I will always get behind characters (women) who love to eat, aren't graceful, and rely on their brains to get by, BUT Diana can also be a hopeless romantic to the point of putting herself in danger.

I still don't quite trust Matthew. He is so controlling. Harkness does address this, though, so that helps: "Vampire meets girl, vampire bites girl, girl is shocked to find out there really are vampires. The sex, blood, and overprotective behavior all come quickly thereafter." -Diana

Favorite characters: Ysabeau (Matthew's mother) and Gallowglass (Matthews nephew), hands down.

Plot device thoughts: The flash forwards/back to present really work well in this story--after each "history" section, we get to see how Matthew and Diana's actions there affect life now. I do think Harkness underestimates their influence on history/the future though.

More on Matthew and Diana's relationship: So they've been married like three separate times, but they don't have truly honest dialogue until page 448? And on page 537 they go on their first date. I don't know, man. This relationship is the draggiest part of the book.

SPOILER: I'm glad Diana's dad, Stephen, makes an appearance in London. He makes things more playful. He also lectures Diana & Matthew on the dangers of hanging out in the past for so long.

Recommended for: people who read A Discovery of Witches.

Final thoughts: This book left me with a lot of (good) questions--I am interested in starting the third book sooner rather than later to answer them.


View all my reviews

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Night Links 9

Bet you thought I forgot to post today. Nope! Just had to have a sibling Skype date and roommate cheesy beanie dinner first. So, here we are on a Friday, my day to post a few relevant links. This week's theme is blogging, because NaBloPoMo. Consider this an appendix to my thoughts from yesterday/Wednesday. Good reads all around, even if you don't blog.
Clever packaging: always blogworthy.
A few solid rules reminding me, above all, to be real. (A reminder I need every now and then and, more importantly, right now right now.) Also, this: "Even if no one reads what you are writing, you have a chronicle of something."

Turns out, foodies are great blogging resources. They know "the only way I'm able to grow is through experience, experimentation, and regular practice."

A blogger who took a break and came back. Because "my mind gains clarity when i write things out."

Finally, three things this blogger knows to be true (about blogging, but also life). Takeaway: "I dedicate many hours and energy into developing original content because THAT I can do."

Happy weekend, and cheers! to original, experimental content that helps me gain clarity and grow (in life and in my writing practice) as I create a chronicle of my 20s (and beyond).

Thursday, November 20, 2014

On Bloggers Who Stop Blogging

When I think about this space, I don't think about how it will end. Mostly because I have no reason to stop, so I can't think about it ending. While I don't know how it will evolve, I know it will be out there in the world (or on the internet), existing as evidence of my life since 2009.

But some bloggers stop. Maybe just for a few months, maybe for a year or two, sometimes "until further notice." Why? What happens in their lives that makes them stop? To be clear, I'm not talking about temporary blogs (ie, study abroad blogs that are only meant to show a certain period of time...more on this a few paragraphs down) and I'm also not talking about starts and fits blogs (ie, blogs updated inconsistently where each time might be the last). I'm talking about established (also, many times profitable) blogs/bloggers who stop--and announce it.

I know of three who stopped this year: Young House Love (a couple who DIY's through their house(s)), Annapolis & Company (creative space turned photography business), and Pink Ronnie (a little bit of everything). Their final posts touch on reasons why they've stopped, and really it's not like they are disappearing from the online world altogether. They all have other projects, different business ventures, and new URLs to be found at. It's not the bloggers who are stopping, it's those specific blogs.

As The Romans Do, as a blog, should have stopped in May of 2009. That's when I got home from Rome. No one would have wondered where I went or why I stopped writing, and the Rome chapter of my life would have had a solid ending. Instead, I kept right on going (with a few short breaks here and there) and allowed this space to adapt to whatever was happening in my life at the moment. While I may not always want to post daily, something has kept me writing here for five years--moving to new cities, traveling, documenting my daily life, poetry challenges--and unless my furniture-rearranging/collage-making business takes off in the near future, I don't foresee a different project taking its place.

That means I'll see you back here tomorrow, and the next nine days, and then some more days after that. :)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Getting Stuck

Day 19: the first day of NaBloPoMo that I don't have a plan for. I wanted to leave a few days open for whatever came up, which is much like how I blogged when I first started here. (That method got me 2-4 posts a week, so I must have had a lot to say!)

I still have a lot to say, but not enough to warrant a post about each of the little things on my mind--things like Thanksgiving plans, next year's vacation ideas, thoughts on gift-giving, changing goals, and the meaning of life. You know, basic stuff.

Instead, let's just talk about getting stuck. What do you do when inspiration/creativity isn't on your side? The way I see it, we have two options: push through or switch gears. The hard part is knowing which way to take and when.
mid-process in a creative project
Push Through
If I'm struggling with writer's block, but I know I'm close to getting the words out, I tend to just push through. Especially during first drafts--in that scenario it's more important to get something out on paper/computer screen, even if I end up deleting the whole thing during later revisions. It's easier to edit words than blank space.

Pushing through also helps me see what my creative limits are--how far can I go with the current state my brain is in? What else can I accomplish in this moment? I'm reminded of late nights at school when I had to push through because a paper was due the next morning. Sometimes this process worked in my favor. Other times...not so much. That's when I needed to step away.

Switch Gears
As long as there's time during a creative project, switching gears can be the best course of action. When I'm stuck on what to post, or how to write a post, or when I can't figure out any sort of problem (coordinating my day at work, tackling a tough house project), I do something not related to my problem. I shower, clean, or go for a walk. I do something that I can do without really thinking, like grocery shop or laundry, and let the problem simmer for a bit. Most times, my brain will keep working on the problem while my body goes in a different direction. When I come back to the project, I'll have a new perspective (or at the very least, fresh eyes).

Basically all of my post ideas come from somewhere other than at the table with a New Post window open. Probably about 85% come while I'm riding my bike to work or driving around doing errands, which is kind of distracting because I want to write them down immediately before they go floating away. The rest come during meal-making, internet-browsing, reading, and in those hazy moments right before I fall asleep (those get forgotten 100% of the time before I wake up, which sucks because I'm pretty sure they're my best ideas).

Other ways of switching gears include listening to different music, getting a good stretch in, or taking a snack break. Mmmm...I'm always about snack breaks (I went and got a bowl of salsa before writing this conclusion). What do you guys do to stay fresh?