Wednesday, December 31, 2014

12.31.14

I won't be posting any end of the year wrap-ups or resolutions today. Instead, I'm gonna live in the last few moments of 2014 and take the time to enjoy them, without expectation or anticipation for what comes next.

My plan is to be back tomorrow with a more formal New Year's Day post and a few thoughts about what I want for my life in the next year, but we'll see how the day goes first. No promises.

Then, hopefully over the weekend, I want to go through my Happiness/Wholeness Jar (remember that?) and use that as a 2014 wrap-up. I have no idea what I'll find in there, what themes and patterns will emerge, or if the whole thing will end up being a little lame, but I finished it! And that's one of my bigger accomplishments of the year, so I'm gonna celebrate it.

What else...I hope everyone has a safe and fun NYE, surrounded by friends and lovers. Ciao, 2014!

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Week Between

Christmas was here and is now gone, without fanfare. Sure, lights and trees are still up, but I'm guessing we would feel a bit silly singing Christmas songs now. I don't even have snow here, so any festivity I did feel while in Wisconsin stayed there. All the fun happened up north; here in Chicago it's business as usual.

Except not really. School is still out and New Year's Eve plans are still being made. I'm not sure what the purpose of this week really is since "the holidays" aren't quite over, but we're not quite back to work mode yet.

Personally, I like to take this week to breath before the newness of January 1. Now is when I start looking back at the year, and forward to the next. I think about resolutions. I schedule my yearly doctor appointments. I pay off credit card bills filled with gift charges. I eat clean to make up for the pound of cheese consumed over Christmas break. I try my hardest to finish just one more book before the end of the year.

I guess there is a point to having this week. 2015, I'm not ready just yet. It's still December and I still have a few things to do.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Collaging as Therapy

I could write an essay about the joys and effects of collaging, but that would defeat the purpose of a collage. Instead, let me share Elizabeth Gilbert's thoughts on this relaxing practice:

I love collage. Collage is the gift that God gave to those of us who cannot draw. You can make a pretty thing without, you know, actually having the ability to make a pretty thing.
I make a lot of collages in my life. I do one before every new project, and another at the end of every project. I do one for every big move, and every new chapter in my life. I do them when I'm sad and can't figure out why, and when I'm so happy that my emotions spill over and it all needs to be Modge-Podged in order to feel real. 
These are not masterworks that I make. I don't need them to be GOOD. They are just a visual/emotional thumbprint of a moment in time. They always surprise me, and they always inform me. I keep them in a notebook that is something like a non-wordy diary. For somebody who is so verbal, it's restful for me to just play around with color and shape and image, and to see what that all has to teach me about where I am, and what I want. 
--Elizabeth Gilbert, on her Facebook Page

I'm so glad that one of my writerly heroes shares a love for this activity with me. I've been collaging since high school, when I would make them for end of semester projects. Now, I fill journal covers, corkboards, bowls, and boxes with images I pull from magazines. These items decorate my apartment and remind me of times I felt creative, or not creative at all. They serve as inspiration and meditation.

I know I'll be collaging into the new year. Maybe if you're lucky I'll share my creations on here. :)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday Night Survey: Winter Solstice Edition

Quinn graduated today! The kiddos (Quinn, his roommate, Bailey, and her boyfriend) and I drove up to Madison from Chicago to attend the ceremony at the Kohl Center and eat ourselves silly after. It was a perfect little getaway weekend and distraction from holiday stresses. I'm back in Chicago (via bus and train) and I'm looking back at all the activities we did before I get settled in for the longest night of the year.

Getting: out of work early on Friday to kick off the weekend.
Watching: Now You See Me.
Riding: the train to O'Hare to pick up Bailey and Nico.
Making: a Yankee breakfast for them.
Meeting: up with siblings and old and current roommates for pizza and beer.
Staying: awake while everyone else took naps.
Staying: out of the cold and in my apartment.
Ordering: tacos. Because tacos.
Waking: up before dawn to make sure Quinn got seated before 10.
Staying: awake (again/mostly) during the ceremony.
Tearing: up just a tiny bit.
Feeling: proud of my baby brother for getting the degree he wants.
Eating: barbecue and melted chocolate on everything.
Drinking: a Godiva Cappuccino.
Hopping: on a bus to Chicago.
Smiling: because I'll be back in Madison on Tuesday.
Listening: to the final episode of Serial and wondering what to do with it.
Understanding: the sentiment in this blog post.
Doing: a final load of laundry before the holidays.
Prepping: for one day of work this week.
Baking: my fourth loaf of this pumpkin bread (minus currants, plus chocolate chips).

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Cooked

Cooked: A Natural History of TransformationCooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First thoughts: Another solid food book by Michael Pollan, though this one didn't hold my interest as much as his previous books. I liked how he split it into sections (Fire, Water, Air, Earth), but found that if I wasn't interested in the exact thing he was cooking, I started to skim.

Where I read: in between making chicken noodle soup (from a whole chicken), pumpkin bread, and lots of fall salads.

Recommended for: cookers, bakers, brewers, grillers, eaters, humans.

Favorite quotes (and basically my thoughts about cooking):
"...most cooking manages to be agreeably absorbing without being too demanding intellectually. It leaves plenty of mental space for daydreaming and reflection." -p19

"In a world where so few of us are obliged to cook at all anymore, to choose to do so is to lodge a protest against specialization--against the total rationalization of life. Against the infiltration of commercial interests into every last cranny of our lives." -p22

"To cook for the pleasure of it, to devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption." -p22

"...the not-cook option means that people can also, for the first time, choose to cook purely for the pleasure of doing it." -p130-131

"The more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower its rate of obesity." -p192

"You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. Cook it yourself. Eat anything you want--just as long as you're willing to cook it yourself." --Harry Balzer, p193

"After a week in front of the screen, the opportunity to work with my hands--with all my senses, in fact--is always a welcome change of pace." -p195

"It seems to me that one of the great luxuries of life at this point is to be able to do one thing at a time, one thing to which you give yourself wholeheartedly. Unitasking." -p195

FIRE: barbecue pork. Interesting, but not something I'll ever make.
WATER: stews, braises, and soups. All me right here--these are the recipes I can make with my eyes closed.
AIR: bread. Makes me want to try my hand at bread baking.
EARTH: ferments, pickles, alcohols. These are the foods of my people, but again, not something I think I'll ever make.

Final thoughts: Cooked raised my curiosity for the history of the way foods are made. It makes me proud to be a cooker/comfortable in the kitchen.


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Friday, December 19, 2014

Chef

After barely finishing Cooked (it got a little bland at the end, but my review will still be mostly positive--come back tomorrow to read), Chef was a great movie to get me excited about food again. It doesn't take much to do that, but I appreciated Chef's understated humor and focus on the kitchen. The literary side of me also enjoyed the outside-the-kitchen parallels drawn between following orders vs following your heart.

Carl Casper, the titular chef (played by Jon Favreau, who also directs), just wants to do what he does: make good food. But not just good--edgy and new and fun too. His boss, owner of the restaurant where Casper works (Dustin Hoffman), just wants the (tired) food that sells. Add to that the pressures of a celebrity food blogger (Oliver Platt), and Chef Casper is out--he quits. He pretty quickly realizes what his next step should be, and with help from his ex-wife/current friend (Sofia Vergara), best friend (John Leguizamo), and son (a perfectly sweet Emjay Anthony), he sets out to be boss of his own kitchen--on a food truck.

Simply put, this was the perfect movie to watch yesterday. It's fun and funny, without being campy, cringy, or contrived. It's a light-hearted and food-filled journey that I'm glad I went on after a stress-filled day.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

December Birds

I'm not the only one who thinks things are little off these days, am I? I heard birds singing while I biked to work yesterday. Birds, singing away on December 16 like it was the most normal thing to do. That (plus the mostly green grass) has made me forget more than once that Christmas is next week. And 2015 is just a week after that.

It's hard for a Wisconsin girl to be festive without snow, plus we decided not to put up a tree in our apartment this year, so I'm holding off on Christmas spirit until I get to my parents' house. Besides, I have other activities to celebrate before then: welcoming Bailey and her boyfriend to Chicago/North America and congratulating Quinn on his college graduation. And let's be honest, I'll be totally fine if snow doesn't fall in Chicago at all this winter. No snow = no public transportation = saving $20/week.

The new year, though, that I don't know when I'll be ready for. On one hand, I'm very excited to see 2014 go. It wasn't my best year. It wasn't America's best year. Still, I'm not sure I want a whole new year to start quite yet--I have a few things left to do.

First, I want to enjoy December (birds and all).

Monday, December 15, 2014

What I Know About...Staying Thin

"What I Know About..." is a series that draws on my width of knowledge. While I'm not an expert on any one thing, I do know a little about a lot. Today I'm sharing what I know about staying thin--not fit or built or athletic or skinny, thin. I'm not a big person, but I'm also not at peak physical shape.

If you're nervous about the oncoming (or already happening) holiday parties, treats, meals, and lethargy and what they're about to do to your body, I have a few tidbits that might help. (Note: I'm not a doctor, trainer, nutritionist, or fitness expert--remember this is What I Know About. I promise that these things are true for me, and probably apply in general, but please consult a professional if you truly need health info.)

I know...
  1. I have genetics to thank. I can't take all the credit for my body shape--I got lucky with a speedy metabolism. I don't know how much my metabolism figures in to my figure, but it's got to be a fair amount.
  2. Cooking at home is the best and easiest way for me to maintain a healthy weight. It's no secret that eating out packs on the pounds, and studies have shown that "the more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower its rate of obesity." --Michael Pollan, Cooked
  3. If I don't buy garbage, I don't eat garbage. Cooking at home means buying groceries for meals, but also for snacks. As long as I have willpower in the grocery store, I have no choice but to continue that at home, where my snack options don't include (many) foods high in fat and sugar.
  4. Not having a car is a great boon to my physical activity. Without a car I get my cardio and weightlifting in by riding bike or walking almost everywhere. My bike gets stored in our dining room, so if I want to go anywhere I have to carry it down (and, when I return, back up) a flight of stairs. This applies to groceries as well--yesterday I pulled $100 worth of Aldi groceries up the stairs. I lifted with my legs, of course.
  5. "Exercise" is a loose term. Along with bike and grocery carrying, I take the stairs instead of the elevator/escalator, I park at the edge of the parking lot (in my work car) to get extra walking in, I vacuum/dust/carry laundry up two flights of stairs to put it away...basically, I try not to be sedentary since I know I won't go for a run more than a few times in a year.
  6. I don't love drinking water, but my body thanks me when I do. Things work better when they're hydrated.
  7. I make time for what's important to me. Yes, being thin is just how I've always been, but I also like my size and how my clothes fit, so I do spend several hours a week buying groceries, planning meals, and cooking for myself. I spend money on good quality foods--produce, grains, meat--so I don't have to spend money on medicine or doctor visits. I go out of my way to walk more and fit activity into my life instead of forcing myself to go to a gym. We only get one body, and I'm hoping mine lasts for 75 (or so) more years.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Interestings

The InterestingsThe Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First thoughts: Man, I just love Meg Wolitzer. I think if this was the first book I'd read of hers, I'd be a little hesitant to like it as much as I do, but her characters are just awesome. And they're always so different. Where does she have space for all these personalities inside her head?

Where/when I read: Thanksgiving break.

Favorite quotes:
"Despite my wisdom by now, I am small-minded and predictable." -Jules

"I know I still cause harm, probably a ton of it no matter what I do. And it kills me, it just kills me, that maybe the best you can ever do is cause less harm." -Ethan

"This is love, even if it doesn't feel like it." -Jules

Favorite characters:
Jonah Bay-I relate to him somehow. Despite the fact that he's a brilliant gay man, the son of a folk singer, and a genius in robotics.
Jules & Dennis's relationship-feels very natural.
Jules & Ethan's relationship-also feels natural, but it shouldn't, so that's kind of magical.
Ethan Figman-a saint, but also flawed, but mostly sensitive and introspective and caring.

Recommended for: character lovers, confused people, people with flaws, artists, dreamers, readers, vacation-goers, homebodies, and doodlers.

Final thoughts: Wolitzer not only knows how to write stories, she knows how to end them. I don't have a lot else to say because I mostly let myself get caught up in the story while reading. It was a great experience.


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Friday, December 12, 2014

Gift Idea Ideas

Around this time of year, every blog/website/magazine seems to have their own version of a Gift Idea Round Up. I, being a procrastinating shopper and someone who never knows what to get people for Christmas, always read them. And I always come away disappointed. I've finally realized that what I don't like about these lists is their specificity: instead of "ideas," these lists are full of actual products that the writer/curator wants me to go out and purchase. I know I can use the products as a springboard for my own shopping list, and I do, but what I really want is a list that helps me think about why I'm giving gifts in the first place.

On the practical side, I truly feel the best gifts are the ones that will be used (and maybe even used up--I don't want to be the source of clutter in someone else's life!). If tchotchkes are what bring a person true joy and happiness, fine, I'll get that, but otherwise I will search high and low for something functional, consumable, and/or memorable (as in an experience of some sort).

On the personal side, I also think about the person and tailor the gift not just to them, but to my relationship with them. More specifically, I like to give people something similar to things they give me throughout the year: food, comfort, free rides, inclusion, good times, love, laughter...I think you get it. These things are both tangible and not, but there's usually always a matching gift for them.

So that's my formula for gift giving. Of course, this all goes out the window if someone actually has a request. A Christmas request is a blessing, gosh darnit, and you best honor that. It takes 100% of the guess work out of shopping and guarantees a happy camper. The thing is, most adults don't have requests. Asking for requests usually elicits a "Oh, you don't have to give me anything," or a "I'd be happy with whatever you get me," because most of us have been raised to not expect gifts and to be grateful for whatever we have/get. To those people I say: just come out and say what you want because I know you'll be sort of disappointed if I don't magically figure it out!

Another note on having requests and a word of advice for the financially independent: often, having a disposable income means being able to buy whatever you want whenever you want. This means, come gift-giving seasons, people are at a loss for what to give you. If you hold off purchasing some of your wants, then gift-givers might have a better chance of getting you a gift you'll appreciate. Practice minimalism and intentional consumerism while helping out those who are clueless as to what to give you for the holidays. Wins all around!

All of this being said, I do have several go-to gifts that (I think) work for a variety of people. Yes, I make substitutions or alterations for each person, but these "gift templates" are great starting points when time is running out and I'm short on ideas.

Start with a theme. Instead of trying to find the perfect gift, think of an appropriate theme, then get smaller items that relate to it. Essentially, a gift basket. In the past I've done "Recuperate and Relax" (heating pad, foam roller, post-workout drink), "Hydration" (fancy shampoo/conditioner, a few favorite drinks, lotion), "Movie Night" (popcorn, candy, movies/rental gift cards), and "Expat" (peanut butter, Oreos, candles, a book written in English).

Think about needs (and wants). Where is the recipient in life? A college kid living away from home might need grocery money. S/he probably wants to spend that money on booze. Help them out with a gift card to a nearby store and six pack of something classier than what they're used to. A grandma bracing herself for another winter might need more bags of salt or heavy-duty boots. She probably wants something a little more sentimental. Look for something cozy and cute, like sturdy slippers. If you'll be around, offer to shovel for her.

Do a little snooping. If you're comfortable with the recipient, snoop around their life. Ask friends and family members if they've talked about things they might like. When you're at their house, sneak a peek into their closets/pantries/bedrooms...jk, sort of. Full disclosure, I do this during Thanksgiving at my parents house to see where they might be in need of something and regularly do it at home when I'm thinking about what to get my roommates. A lot of times people have blind spots to things they're used to living without. Examples: stemless wineglasses, fancy coffee, butter dishes...(most of my snooping is in the kitchen).

Scratch-offs. When in doubt, get a holiday-themed scratch off. It's great for all ages. (Give the kiddos a penny and let them have at it. They'll have a ball trying to match the pictures...no need to tell them there's money on the line.) And if there's a winner, even better!


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Journal Journey Pt 2

Another journal milestone: I finished this little guy (finally) after just over a year of scribbles. My journaling was slow this year, something I hope to remedy in 2015. I love blogging and writing on here, for an audience, but journaling is my true release and creative outlet/muse. It only took me until about now to realize that I have a hard time writing creatively before I write out all the junk first. So, less journaling means less creative writing, which means a less fulfilled human. Anyways, I know that now, so here's to fulfillment in 2015!

And here's my journal journey to date: everything personal and cringe-worthy from my life in 12 notebooks.
It's strange that I know most of their contents by their covers. The black one is my Rome journal, one of my favorites for obvious reasons. I taped/stapled nearly every receipt, ticket stub, train pass, brochure, and whatever other scraps of paper I came into contact with while abroad inside (that's why it won't close) and I'm so glad I did. That's something I forget to do now, but hope to make a habit again. Those scraps trigger memories and inspire stories. The one with the circles and the white one with the hair tie around it are from MercyWorks. There's a lot of growth in those (so much I needed hair ties to keep them secured). Large portions of all of these journals feature my favorite lines from songs and books, silly to-do lists, and self-pep talks. Sometimes I recalled a day's events, but more often than not I just recorded the moment's feelings, anxieties, prayers, goals, and hesitations.

Up next, filling this guy with whatever inspires me.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Chicken & Noodles: Relationship Observations and a Recipe

Isn't it funny how the books we read and meals we make inspire so many conversations? These simple touchstones can carry me through an evening of companionship--though sometimes the dialogue can get a little heated, as was the case Saturday night when Jesus and I made dinner and I discussed my current read, Cooked, by Michael Pollan. (Readers of this blog know I'm a fan--see here.)

The book has already brought up a myriad of life-thoughts for me, and I'm only 50 pages in. Especially as I (continue to) pontificate to Jesus while reading, it's clear that food (and where it comes from) is pretty important to me. I strive to eat food (not food-like products) and think about how it gets to my kitchen/table/mouth. Jesus's philosophy is quantity over quality, getting the most for the least, and protein above all.

These contradictory principles have worried me in the past, but so far haven't been an insurmountable point of contention. It helps that I do most all of the cooking when we're together, so I have control in that area. (By choice--I very much enjoy it. Plus, Jesus makes a great sous chef. Don't think he doesn't do his share or at least wash dishes!) And he'll eat whatever I make--if homemade/home-cooked/real food is offered to him, he definitely takes it over fast food. He just won't go out and search for these things on his own.

To illustrate our food logic: I love soup. I never/rarely order it at restaurants because I know I can make it cheaper and better at home. Soup is easy to make, hard to mess up, super comforting in the cold months, and can be as hearty as you want when you're the chef. Jesus hates soup. Or rather, he hates broth. Give him a rotisserie chicken and a side of veggies and he's happy. Put those ingredients in a bowl with some chicken stock and he's up in arms wondering where his sustenance is.

The meal that inspired this revelation? Chicken noodle soup from scratch. I used store-bought noodles, but balanced that out by using a whole chicken for the meat and stock. I roped Jesus into helping and heard all about how cutting up the chicken on our own, boiling it off the bone, using the bones for stock, and adding all that water was counter-intuitive to our his end goal: eating chicken. I listened, then watched as he devoured two bowls.

I still couldn't get him to see that the activity of cutting the chicken and knowing I wasn't wasting any part of it added to my eating experience, but I think he found new respect for me (if his "I love you. That's gross," as I dislocated the thigh bone means anything). Even if I don't go to the From Scratch Extreme every time, I like to challenge myself. I always learn something. Spending non-screen time with my boyfriend is always a positive, and we had a lovely meal at the end of it all. I guess until he refuses to eat what I serve (as if), we're doing okay.

Chicken and Noodles (from the Pioneer Woman)

This recipe isn't meant to be soup, but depending on how much broth you make/use and if you add the flour at the end (I didn't), it can range from soup to stew to...chicken and noodles. Enjoy!

1 whole cut up fryer chicken (YouTube "how to cut a whole chicken" for helpful walk throughs)
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced (I used almost a whole onion)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp tumeric (I left this out)
1/4 tsp white pepper (I used black)
1/4 tsp ground thyme (I used an Italian seasoning mix)
2 tsp parsley flakes
16 oz egg noodles
3 tbsp flour (optional)

Cover chicken in 4 quarts water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes. (Heads up, you're gonna need a huge pot. Or two medium sized ones at least.)

Remove chicken from pot to a cutting board. With two forks, remove as much meat from the bones as you can, slightly shredding meat in the process. Keep meat off to the side. Return bones to broth and continue simmering on low, covered, for 45 minutes.

Remove bones from broth. Add vegetables, herbs, and spices. Stir to combine and simmer for 10 minutes.

Increase heat and add egg noodles and chicken. Cook for 8-10 minutes. (I stopped here and served myself a bowl of hearty chicken noodle soup.)

Optional: mix flour and a little water. Stir until smooth. Pour into soup, stir to combine, and simmer for another 5 minutes, or until broth thickens a bit.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sunday Night Survey: Consumerism & Camaraderie Edition

I'll never be a social butterfly or a person who loves shopping, but I can pretend for a weekend--this weekend to be specific. I officially started my Christmas shopping, which leaves me feeling strangely content and successful despite my distaste for the consumption of the season. I also caught up with two friends from different circles of my life. Altogether, the weekend was refreshing and a great kickoff to my subtle festivity (Subtle Festivity is coincidentally a proposed title for my pretend lifestyle blog).
Macy's: outdoing everyone else's festivity since 1858.
Making: chicken noodle soup from scratch (whole chicken, store-bought noodles).
Drinking: tea at home, tea at tea shops, tea in Starbucks, and tea before bed.
Eating: in a very crowded Macy's food court.
Traveling: up and down escalators in search of better views and to cross off my shopping list.
Finding: a few deals along the way.
Talking: about siblings and parents and heath insurance and life goals.
Picking: out my health insurance plan for next year. I can't wait to hardly use it (because knock on wood I'm luckily and purposefully healthy).
Marveling: at the amount of people out shopping.
Wandering: past and through the Christkindl Market (very briefly--it was packed on Saturday night).
Watching: the Badgers lose the Big 10 Championship spectacularly.
Breaking: in a brand new journal, a good time for...
Re-committing: myself to my personal writing practice.
Reading: Cooked by Michael Pollan.
Getting: my news from SNL.
Putting: away the orange-colored and pumpkin-flavored candles.
Pulling: out the reds, greens, pines, and cinnamons.
Arranging: one strand of Christmas lights over our living room window. Festivity!

Sunday School

Here is what I learned today, compliments of writer/blogger Melissa Frederick (in a guest post on Brevity):
Like it or not, we writers have to accept that the only way to get good at writing is to write and share that writing with others. If the only space we have to hone our skills is a blog, so be it. 
Here's the article in entirety: "About Getting Good: The Many Paths to Literary Mastery".

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First thoughts: I loved the format of emails/letters/Bee's thoughts in the beginning part of the book. It made for a quick read. There were several WTF moments throughout this strange, yet fun, tale.

More thoughts on Bee's thoughts: she seems precocious, even for a fifteen year old. I also had a hard time believing how well-adjusted she is during some major upheavals in her life. She goes from annoying to endearing and back again within pages.

Favorite character: Manjula (for the first half of the book). I related to her job of answering emails and doing Bernadette's every bidding.

Overall character thoughts: While I enjoyed each of the characters, none of them were truly real. I'm not sure that they're supposed to be, though, so this is just a thought and not a critique, per se.

Where I read: in marathon spurts before bed. (The book was too heavy to carry with me like I usually do.)

Recommended for: "found" story fans, travelers, architects, nerds, geeks, drama queens, people who complain about the cold.

Final thoughts: I liked this book. Just liked. I'm interested to see what's next for Semple.


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Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Journal Journey

Today marks the day I finish my 5-year, sentence-or-so/day journal. My interest in the project ebbed and flowed, and there were times I had to fill out a week retrospectively, but overall I've been religious about summing up my day in a few short lines since December 2009.

My favorite part was reading back each day to see what I had done the year(s) before. I noticed trends (fall's allergies, spring's restlessness) and marked traditions (holiday celebrations, anniversary rituals). Sometimes I found myself in completely different surroundings, while other years I could write the previous year's lines almost verbatim. A lot has changed (my location, my boyfriend, my job). A lot stayed the same (I know the girl who wrote those lines four, five years ago. She is still me.).

I've decided to continue the line/day journal because I do feel like I've gotten a lot from it (at the very least I can tell you what I did, in general, on any given day in the past five years...and that has to count for something). I'm going to pare it down, though, and really only give myself one line. Each page of my new journal will be dedicated to one calendar date and I'll write line by line until it's full.

This journey's not over yet.

Monday, December 1, 2014

What I Know About...Biking in December

"What I Know About..." is a new series I'm trying out this month. A lot of blogs have a specific niche; this one ranges from food to travel to happiness seeking. What I'm saying is, I'm not a specialist in any one thing (frankly, I'm afraid of the commitment), but I do know a thing or two about a thing or two. Why not share my knowledge? "What I Know About" could be the subtitle of this blog, or the title of my memoir, so it seems like a fitting series to play around with.

On this, the frigid first day of December, I don't know a whole lot. My brain is still on sleepy vacation mode and my body is wondering when I can eat again. Still, I had to get to work and my empty Ventra card meant it would be by bike. And I think I can safely say I'm becoming versed in the nuances of December biking.

I know...
  1. I will not survive the journey without layers: doubled-up thick socks, leggings under pants, thermals under sweaters, mittens under gloves, and a balaclava under the hat under my helmet.
  2. Cars are far less likely to see me when it gets dark at 4, and they aren't expecting me on the roads when the temps dip below freezing. I'm extra vigilant in this season, making sure I always have reflective gear and lights.
  3. Christmas lights are starting to go up!
  4. Bike traffic will be much lighter than it is in warmer months, but what traffic there is will be more vocal. For some reason, bikers who bike past the first snow are more open to starting conversations at red lights. Simple ones, like "It's cold out, huh," or "Where'd you get that reflective vest?"
  5. Snot will run and my eyes will tear up in the wind, but no one cares if I farmer blow or spit on the road.
  6. Twenty minutes of exercise twice a day can't be bad for me and it always beats spending five dollars to stand and wait in the cold.
  7. I can write most of a blog post in my head during the twenty minutes it takes to get home. (Remembering and transcribing it when I get there are the hard parts.)
Bonuses: I can always find parking and I never have to shovel myself out!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

30 Days of Blogging: What I Learned

With just a few more hours left to November and NaBloPoMo (and my bus ride back to Chicago), I'd thought I'd take some time to share what I learned while doing this challenge.
  1. A month goes by pretty quickly, even when you take the time to do something specific each day.
  2. Authenticity is key.
  3. I don't necessarily want to blog daily for extended periods of time. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I did this, but I can see how burnout would quickly become a thing if this was my normal posting schedule.
  4. Instead, I want to focus more on a few in-depth posts rather than churning out content just to churn out content.
  5. Ideas spark ideas.
  6. Always tell a story. 
  7. I miss Rome and all the reasons I started this blog; up next on my to-do list is figuring out how to reclaim the feelings and sentiments from early posts.
  8. I also miss creative writing.
  9. The end game for As The Romans Do is: memory-keeping, experiment, practice, and portfolio.
  10. Just get started.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere

The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going NowhereThe Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First thoughts: This was such a short and fast read that I felt like I should re-read it almost immediately to spend more time with it. I didn't want to rush through what I thought was a meditative and quiet book. Even the pages between chapters, photos of expansive landscapes, felt like they were meant to give pause to the reading process. I know stillness and slowness are different, but both call for attention and intention. Some sentences have a Yoda-like order/feel to them: object, then subject, then verb.

Favorite quotes:

"It's deliberately short, so you can read it in one sitting and quickly return to your busy (perhaps overbusy) life." -p 6 (So true--I read it while waiting in line at the DMV. Irony not lost on me there--I was definitely going nowhere for some time.)

"Going nowhere...isn't about turning your back on the world; it's about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply." -p 13 (Absence makes the heart grow fonder.)

"Heaven is the place where you think of nowhere else." -p 15

Recommended for: movers and shakers who need a breather, breathers who need a focus point, impatient and anxious folk, those seeking some quiet.

Final thoughts: In the few hours it will take you to read this book, you'll already have your first lesson of stillness in. What a short and sweet launch point for an adventure in going nowhere.

Notes: I received this book through the Goodreads First Reads program. Opinions mine.


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Friday, November 28, 2014

Friday Night Links 10

I know it's not Friday night, but it is Friday, and it is nighttime. I also have a feeling there are more than a few of you awake at this time (when normally you aren't). Welcome to Black Friday, folks. Sigh. If you guessed that I'm not a fan of this "holiday," you're right. If you're shopping right now, you're part of the problem and you need these links the most. (I still love you, though.)

Just so we're clear, gift giving isn't the enemy.

BUT: all those things you're buying won't mean a whole lot after the initial excitement wears off. SO: Buy Experiences, Not Things.

Bonus: sharing experiences is important, so buy group experiences.

If Black Friday is an experience for you, at the very least follow these rules.

Or save yourself the headache and wait (a few days).

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Feeling Grateful

Today, I'm grateful for home and family. I'm grateful that I can always come here and slip back into country life: board games on the floor, snacks at the table, a queen bed that I share with more than a few stuffed animals. I'm grateful I can come home and make food and eat food and, really, do nothing else. I'm grateful I have that privilege. If this is true for you as well, I hope you're grateful too.

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.


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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?


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to Survive the [insert modifier here] Blues

I don't know what this season is besides too late in the year for enjoying the outdoors and too early for holiday lights to be lit, but the corresponding blues make me pessimistic. The week before vacation is also tough because while I want to get things done, I also just want to turn my brain off and eat comfort food. If you're in a similar boat, my plan of attack might help you out. If you're one of the people who likes this time of the year, you're part of the problem. Also you probably live in the south/southern hemisphere. Or you're lying and you need these tips even more than the rest of us.
You'd think construction season would at least wind down about now...but you'd be wrong.
  1. Use the buddy system. Find someone who won't mind being an ear to your complaints, and offer to hear theirs as well. Getting things off your chest feels really good, even if the problem can't be fixed. Make sure your person knows that you aren't always a Negative Nancy, but sometimes you need to whine a little.
  2. Take things day by day. Or hour by hour. Break the week up into manageable chunks, then do one thing at a time and FOCUS on that one thing.
  3. Take your time. When the temps hit the single digits, I give myself extra time to get dressed, get to work, do things at work, etc. I do things more deliberately. Plus it really does just take longer to get dressed when you have to wear several layers. 
  4. Treat your senses. The thing about pre-winter is it's dull. It's easy to feel numb during a numb season, so instead listen to music, eat something, look at pretty pictures, wear luxurious robes, invest in some comfy socks, drink tea--make yourself feel anything but cold!
  5. Get into the spirit. Even if just for a few minutes, turn on some Christmas music or bake something with peppermint in it. I don't hate the holiday season, just this weird limbo post-fall and pre-holiday, so sometimes it helps to start decorating a little early. Start shopping (or window shopping, or online browsing) for gifts. Make plans with friends and family to celebrate. Pack for going home (a week early).
  6. Revel in not having plans. On the other side of things, be happy that holiday stresses aren't here yet: you don't have to shop or bake or travel or have things to do. Spend a day mod-podging various items in your house. Marathon a TV show. Enjoy the bare trees and bare houses before the barrage of snow and decor comes along.
Or get out and enjoy art!
So far these tips have helped me--I know it's only Tuesday, but it's been a solid week (and usually Tuesdays are the worst). We got this!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Pumpkin Bread (and Muffins)

Happy Homemade Bread Day! I think fall is the perfect time to bake your own bread--no matter what kind, your house will smell amazing, and the finished product will put you in Comfort Food Central. This weekend I made (and consumed) my first pumpkin-flavored items of the year: bread and muffins.

The recipe I followed was for two loaves of bread, but since I only have one loaf pan, I used the leftover batter to make pumpkin muffins. My mouth couldn't tell the difference. Besides that switch, I didn't change a whole lot else with this recipe from Once Upon a Chef.

Pumpkin Bread & Muffins
(by Jennifer Segal, substitutions in parenthesis mine)


  • 2 c flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cloves (I don't have cloves on hand, so I used 1/2 tsp ginger and 1/2 tsp allspice to round out the flavor.)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 c sugar
  • 1-1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 15-ounce can 100% pure pumpkin (She uses Libby's & so did I.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Lightly grease two loaf pans (or one loaf pan and one muffin pan).
Combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices in a bowl. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat well after each addition. Beat in pumpkin.
At low speed, beat in flour mixture until combined.
Pour batter into prepared pans, dividing evenly. (I found it easiest to pour about half the batter into the bread pan, then fill my muffin tin (12 muffins), then add the leftover batter to the bread.)
Bake 65-75 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. (I put the bread and muffins in together at the same temperature, then removed the muffins after about 25 minutes.)
Let loaves/muffins cool about 10 minutes, then turn out on wire rack to cool completely.
This bread and the muffins (you know I tried both) were great by themselves, but a layer of cream cheese frosting probably wouldn't hurt. Or a simple powdered sugar glaze. Or butter. Mmmm. Butter. They also didn't last long in this house, so I might have to stock up on pumpkin for the next few weeks.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Night Survey: First Snow Edition

While the first snow of the year is always a little magical, I'm still not ready for winter. I keep telling myself this is a temporary cold spell, and before I know it temps will be in the 50s again. (We'll see if I'm this good at lying to myself come March.) At least there's only about a week of work left before I get a mini-vacation to Wisconsin! On to the weekend recap:

Making: myself lots of food, then...
Grazing: on it Saturday and Sunday.
Deep cleaning: my kitchen while simultaneously making more messes.
Listening: to more of Elise Gets Crafty while....
Mod Podging: a bowl and....
Starting: a new mixed media art project on a canvas.
Watching: the most recently released season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia on Netflix.
Eating: bison stew, chicken tortilla soup, pumpkin muffins/bread, pizza, flautas, and cake.
Drinking: Rumchata and RC Cola.
Celebrating: Jesus's cousin's birthday.
Traveling: to Millennium Park and...
Seeing: the Red Bull Art of Can exhibit, plus Crown Fountain and the Bean and this guy:
Watching: cartoons in the Disney Store after...
Getting: Garrett Popcorn to munch on.
Reading: Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.
Multi-tasking: in a very Harry Potter way (watching HP and the Sorcerer's Stone while playing the LEGO video game version).
Burning: all my pumpkin and apple cider flavored candles.
Bundling: up, indoors and out.
Wondering: how long my plants will survive on the porch.
Listening: to a small sample of Christmas music, but only for a few minutes. It's not quite that time yet.
Anticipating: the opening of Zoo Lights and the Christkindlmarket.
Writing: book reviews.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Xenocide

Xenocide (The Ender Quintet, #3)Xenocide by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First thoughts: This is a long book. And confusing--the science part of the fiction is a bit over my head. The philosophy is deep. The characters are intense.

Where I read: at work, during overnight shifts.

Favorite characters:
Wang-Mu is snarky, smart, and a well-developed human being.
Jane is snarky, smart, and a well-developed computer program.
Ender and Val and other original characters have become like old friends.

Favorite quotes:
"She felt contained in his embrace, never confined." -Val, about Jakt

"In Valentine's experience, normality was always a pretense, people acting out what they thought were their expected roles."

"There are many different purposes in this world, many different causes of everything. Just because one cause you believe in turned out to be false doesn't mean that there aren't other causes that can still be trusted." -Ender

Recommended for: people who've read Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, sci-fi buffs, scientists, philosophers, politicians, religious leaders, people starting new colonies, anthropologists, historians, and aliens.

Final thoughts: things seemed to tie up pretty neatly at the end, in a deus ex machina way: lots of problems get solved with one magical/philosophical answer. I still appreciated the journey and the story, and I know there's more to it (in the next book), so I won't judge this ending too harshly.


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Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Night Links 8

Today I celebrate my third "nannyversary" --I now have three years of cooking dinner, doing laundry, and making beds under my belt. (Oh, and all the other million things I've done--I list those three tasks to keep my job description simple, but the truth is I've done EVERYTHING in this household. Today my list included scheduling fence repair, scanning documents, ordering glass tops for tables, making returns, hanging a curtain rod/curtains, going food and supply shopping, and researching driving schools. I don't always toot my own horn, but it's my nannyversary!)

Okay, digression over. How about a few existential/quarter-life crisis links?

I could (maybe should) watch this Elizabeth Gilbert video daily. (I even stole her phrase for my current about me.)

A good reminder that no one has it all figured out.

This isn't career advice: "words of wisdom unrelated to work, career-building, dollars, or getting ahead."

I get paid a plenty fair wage, but this parody video still feels appropriate to add to this link list.

And as always...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

No School November

We're in the middle of a month aptly referred to as "No School November" by my kids at work. This week they only have three days of school, last week was four, next week is (their normal) four and a half, and the week after is two, followed by Thanksgiving break. Then it's December (which will also be obnoxiously lacking days of school).

Besides the educational concerns I have with how little time CPS kids actually spend in class, as a nanny/house manager I also have an added layer of responsibility during these days--getting my own to-do list done while also keeping the kids busy/productive. News flash: it is hard to get kids (teenagers) to do things on their days off.

On Tuesday, I let them loose in the kitchen. I told them to find a recipe for whatever they wanted to make and write down ingredients we needed. Then, I took them shopping (and crossed off a few errands of my own while we were out). Once we got home, I divided the kitchen up between the two of them and acted as sous chef for both. I told them that as long as they did most of the work to make the food, I'd do most of the cleaning. We ended the day with spicy peanut sauce noodles and lemon bars. Maybe not the most common dinner menu, but it kept them off their phones and computers for several hours. Win!

Today I did more out of the house stuff with both kids--aka, driving them to various appointments and practices around the city. I don't mind city driving as long as I'm not rushed, so it was actually a pretty relaxing day for me. I also spent two hours in the DMV, where I practiced the art of stillness as I had literally nothing else to do. Another win!

(Despite my wins, I'm glad that tomorrow is a) Friday and b) a regular school day.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Big Hero 6

In keeping with tradition, Jesus and I watched a kid-friendly movie for our anniversary this weekend. Our (my) emotions don't differentiate between 'serious' adult films and fun family ones, so (in keeping with tradition) I cried on three separate occasions while watching.

I had no idea what to expect going into Big Hero 6. The trailers all feature a marshmallowy robot and a young boy, but beyond that the main plot struggle isn't clear unless (like Jesus) you're familiar with Marvel and/or obscure comics. The movie is set in San Fransokyo, a futuristic, whimsical, and fantastic combination of San Francisco and Tokyo, and while the robot (Baymax) and the boy (Hiro...like "hero") are the movie's main characters, there's a lot more to their story than just stopping a dude in a mask with millions of microbots.

Big Hero 6 is about knowing what you're good at, and using that to make the world around you better. It's about staying true to who you are in the face of great struggles, big successes, and surprising setbacks. It's about family, innovation, and finding humor in the little things. The running gag that had the whole theater laughing every time it came into play was as simple as a fist bump.

PS: If you see it in theaters, make sure to get there on time to catch the animated short Feast that plays before the main show!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Elise Gets Crafty

Last week when I reviewed Serial, I mentioned another podcast that I've listened to: Elise Gets Crafty. Recently I started listening again, and I have to say Elise gets me more and more...or rather, she gets herself and that helps me get me.

In Episode 002, she re-shares the audio from a video she made in 2011 about finding work after college. I wish I had heard this then (though who knows if I would have listened/followed her advice), because her thoughts are refreshing and normalizing--she admits that not finding a job/"the" job sucks, and as much as she wants to say "it all happens for a reason," she doesn't trivialize the search. It just sucks and that's what it is. I'm several years out of college and at a different point in my life, but her post-grad goal looks similar to what I've thought I want to do now, so a lot of her words hit home.

While I'm a quick learner, I'm a slow/deliberate processor, so in some ways I do feel like I'm just starting my post-college life and definitely still figuring out what I want to do. I needed to hear her quasi-motto, "just get started/figure it out as you go," because it's easy for me to get overwhelmed or caught up in details and freeze. A lot of what happens on this blog comes as a result of me just starting and figuring it out in real time. That's the beauty of online journals--there's no time to wait for the "perfect" moment. Especially when you've challenged yourself to post daily.

Next step: apply this mantra to my offline goals. (To be continued...)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Spaghetti (Squash) Carbonara

Until this weekend, I've never mastered the carbonara (spaghetti coated with a bacon, egg, black pepper & cheese sauce). My past attempts always ended looking like spaghetti with scrambled eggs and bacon. I can't say substituting the spaghetti with spaghetti squash is what did the trick, but it sure didn't hurt.

Like most of my recipes, I found a basic version online that I could tweak to my liking. I went with this one from Emeril Lagasse, trusting him to do this classic-dish-with-a-squash-twist justice. I didn't make many adjustments, but I did add some yogurt chicken to the finished product to round it out.

Spaghetti Squash Carbonara (feeds 4...or 2)

1 spaghetti squash (look for ones that are heavy)
4-6 strips of bacon, cut into strips (the short way)
about 1/4 c chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 c white wine
2 egg yolks plus 1 whole egg
1 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tbsp dried parsley
salt and pepper to taste (but be generous with with pepper!)

First, bake the squash to soften it. Preheat oven to 375. Cut the squash in half (you'll need a big/sharp knife for this) and scrape out the seeds. Place cut side down in a baking dish and add water to cover the bottom and up about 1/4 in. on the squash. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until tender, about an hour. (I'd check it sooner--mine got a little mushy.) Let the squash cool a little (drain the water if you can) and use a fork to scrape out the flesh into a medium bowl. If you scrape length-wise it should come out in strands, like spaghetti.
In a large saute pan, cook bacon bits. When they are just about done, drain most of the fat and add the onions and garlic. Saute for about 1 minute longer, add the wine and let simmer until all the liquid has evaporated, and then remove from heat.
In a bowl, whisk eggs and add cheese and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Pour this into the bacon mixture and stir to warm the eggs/cheese. Here's where the magic either happens or doesn't--if the bacon is too hot, the eggs will scramble. The eggs shouldn't cook through, just make sure everything is coated. Add spaghetti squash and make sure that's completely coated as well. I had a little extra liquid at this point, so I turned the stove back on to cook that off and to make sure everything was heated uniformly.
Taste test, adjust seasonings, top with chicken, and serve!
This also makes great leftovers.

Extras: My love of Italian food runs deep and another classic Roman dish.