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.

View all my reviews

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


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?

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 (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.

View all my reviews

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 ( "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.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sunday Night Survey: Three Years Edition

11-8-11 was the day Jesus and I made our relationship "official"--as in we had an intentional conversation about being a couple. We had been boyfriend and girlfriend in everything but name before then: going on dates, seeing each other exclusively, texting each other morning and night, and celebrating our birthdays together, but it's nice to have a day set aside to mark the "beginning" of our relationship. In the past three years, we've grown together through:

Laughing: together.
Texting: wayyyy more than we talk on the phone (match made in heaven).
Discovering: Chicago's neighborhoods.
Trying: new restaurants in new neighborhoods.
Fighting: when we get too hungry.
Taking: advantage of any free event we can. Like any. Seriously.
Watching: "our" TV shows together.
Dressing: up like our favorite characters.
Traveling: to central Wisconsin, Madison, Denver/Boulder, and central Illinois.
Introducing: each other to our families. (And our families to each other!)
Pretending: to be Romans.
Talking: about everything. And nothing.
Keeping: yearly traditions. In all seasons.
Annoying: each other every now and then.
Learning: lessons about how we work best.
Thinking: about the future.
Doing: nothing.
Redoing: date nights gone awry.
Matching: outfits.
Reading: selections for our book club of two.
Eating: sushi from Wal-Greens, Thai food on our anniversaries, vegan when it interests us, and every three hours on a good day.
Choosing: each other, every day.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

If You Follow Me

If You Follow MeIf You Follow Me by Malena Watrous
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First thoughts: a sweet, kind of strange tale that made me want to visit Japan. I liked the setting and themes and supporting characters much more than the protagonist.

Where I read: on the couch, in bed, instead of wasting time on the internet.

This story made Japan more real to me as a place that I could see myself visiting. The "wherever you go, there you are" theme struck me, and I always like to see how others interpret it. This version adds in another layer with garbage/how you dispose of things working as a symbol for routine/structure/rules/putting "things" in their proper places.

Favorite characters: Hiro and his shy yet direct way of communicating, Keiko for her genuine emotions.

Recommended for: world travelers, people who are quick to run from problems, lovers and fighters.

I connected with Marina, the protagonist, on some levels, but I also kind of hated her. She could be really dumb. And I spent most of the book not believing the relationship between her and Carolyn. It seemed too forced. The way both of their stories resolved at the end reinforced my disbelief.

Final thoughts: If I had met this book at a different time in my life, I'm not sure if I would have finished it. I'm glad I found it when I did. I would read more by Watrous.

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Friday Night Links 7

My 7th link collection on the 7th of November featuring 7 not-so-random links: writing, relationships, stillness, and politics. Happy Friday!

Let's start with a whole year's worth of writing advice.

Then there's what a writer can learn from a classic children's book.

A review of the movie I'm pretty sure Jesus and I will watch this weekend for our anniversary. (Note: I only read the first paragraph because I was afraid of spoilers!)

And a hint as to how else we are celebrating our three years as bf/gf.

Because not all romantic relationships are with people.

An excerpt from a book that I recently won through a Goodreads giveaway. (Can't wait to read the whole thing!)

"Are you reflected in the new Congress?" There are 2 straight white females under 45 with a bachelor's degree. There are zero like my boyfriend. (He say's that's okay...he didn't vote. Sigh.)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thankful Thursday

Or for those of you (like me) who have a love/hate relationship with alliteration, Grateful Thursday.
I posted this picture on Tuesday, but it's sentiment still applies today (and there's no guarantee it'll apply much longer). I'm grateful that it's still fall--literally and temperaturely. Climately? I think you get what I mean. Not only does the calendar say yes, it's not quite yet winter, but the weather is also full-on fall.

Besides that weird hailstorm on Halloween, which we can blame on the souls of the departed or the undead or whatever, this fall has been gorgeous. Leaves are turning colors and, you know, FALLING off the trees instead of being pounded to the ground by the force of a billion heavy snowflakes. It's been a gradually changing SEASON instead of a whiplash-inducing switch from 80 degrees to 30. Yes, we've had some rain and some wind, but I don't mind all that within the context of a year's worth of weather patterns.

What I do mind is when it goes from summer to winter to winter to winter to summer again. I need transition periods. I need baby steps. I need the time to rake leaves between the lawn mowing and snow shoveling phases of the year.

I love you, fall, and I'm so glad you are real this year! Even when the streetlights come on at 3:45.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Since I made it to Day Five, I'm going to make this public: I'm participating in NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). You may have heard of its larger/more popular cousin, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which I aspire to/have thought about, but I'm not trying to write a novel in thirty days right now. Instead, I plan on blogging for thirty days. I've done monthly challenges before, but always with a theme. This time I'm following my curiosities and posting regular content daily.

I'm doing this because:
I love this blog. It's my baby (my almost 6-yr old baby).
I love having this online journal/scrapbook/reference for my life. Just this past weekend I used my blog to look up the repair video I used to fix my washing machine last year, and I frequently check it to see when I watched a movie/read a book or what I did for certain holidays. While I could also document these things in a personal journal (which I do), the truth is it's just easier to search for things online.
Beyond loving it for myself, this blog is my resume and portfolio. Want to see what I've done for the past six years? It's all here. Need a few writing samples? Help yourself!
My writing improves when I stretch myself. I've written some neat poems during April. I've published original stories and nonfiction posts thanks to outside prompts.
Having an audience holds me accountable and keeps me honest. I would do this just for myself, but knowing this is all public adds another layer to my writing and makes me think about what I write/post--my personal journal is unfiltered/unedited.
I might learn a thing or two about a thing or two. Who knows? I might make it to November 30th with just writing fatigue and a few strange posts, but I'm pretty sure I'll also come away with a sense of accomplishment.

As always, thanks for reading & come back soon! (Like tomorrow, when I post again.)

NaBloPoMo November 2014

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Election Day 2014

Did you vote today? Remember, you can't complain about politics if you haven't done your share! Voting is super easy here--in Chicago we were able to vote early until Saturday at one of 50 locations, including libraries. And you can register and vote all in one shot. So easy! (Yes, I say this knowing that hundreds of "provisional" voters are stillllll waiting in line.)

I had no line at 10 in the morning and luckily, my polling place is only a few blocks away. I made the walk before work, did my civic duty and then my gainful employment duties, and I'm now watching election coverage. If you don't know much about Chicago/Illinois, you probably know that corruption is the name of the game around here, so I always find even these midterm elections pretty interesting. After all the mudslinging we've had to deal with, I like watching and seeing who came out on top. (Again, I say this knowing we might not know who wins the gubernatorial race until mid-November!)
On another, semi-related note: did you change the batteries in your fire/carbon monoxide alarms this weekend? Ideally you're testing the alarms monthly, so you know ASAP when batteries are running low, but a yearly switch out can't hurt. (We can file this little tidbit under Stuff House Managers Deal With.)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Breaded Acorn Squash

I did the sweet. I did the savory. Now let's try the slightly more labor intensive but still really tasty. Acorn squash is both versatile and simple, so I like to test out new recipes using it, knowing you really can't go wrong. These breaded rounds are as easy as egg, bread, bake.

I used this recipe as a basic guideline. My version below:

1 acorn squash, sliced into rounds (or quarters or chunks or whatever is easiest)
1/4 tsp salt (and a little more if you love salt, like me)
1/4 tsp pepper
chili powder, nutmeg, and cumin to taste (hearty shakes of all three)
1/4 c-ish cornmeal
1/2 c panko breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 425.
Spray the grill part of a broiler pan with non-stick spray and place over the base.
Slice and peel acorn squash--peeling is optional. I peeled a few rounds, but left the rest on because they do come off really easily once the squash is baked.
In one bowl, lightly beat egg.
In another bowl, combine cornmeal, breadcrumbs, and spices until well mixed.
Coat each round first in the egg, then in the dry mixture, pressing it on to coat it completely.
Place on broiler pan.
Bake for 20 minutes, flip, then bake for about 15 minutes longer. Coating should be golden brown and squash should come away from the skin easily.
These are good right out of the oven, but they also reheat well.
Things I might try next time: more spices! It's hard to test how these are going to taste, but I ended up sprinkling more salt on after they were cooked. Also: cheese! I think adding grated Parmesan to the dry mixture would take these guys to the next level.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sunday Night Survey: Extra Hour Edition

Happy November! A new month is always exciting, but going from October to November feels especially momentous. We end on a holiday that celebrates death and enter the month that is pretty much full of death (goodbye daylight, goodbye warmth, goodbye shaving). Okay, we also get a lot of life in the next four weeks: family, holidays, pumpkin pie. Here in Chicago, we said goodbye to October with a casual hailstorm and then had a gorgeous November weekend, so it all worked out. Here's what else is up:

Making: bison chili in the crock pot.
Eating: peanut butter M&M's by the handful.
Drinking: Halloween Wine!
Fixing: our washing machine. Again.
Buying: the biggest pliers I could find so we could fix the washing machine.
Doing: several loads of "catch up" laundry. You never realize how important clean underwear is until you have none.
Smelling: pumpkin spice and cinnamon apple flavored candles.
Cooking: Crispy Acorn Squash Rounds. (more about these tomorrow!)
Dressing: up as Scully from The X-Files.
Wondering: where/how to store a wig.
Practicing: my Spanish and my piano skills.
Watching: Obvious Child.
Doing: nothing and not feeling bad about it.
Reading: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
Following: this blog.
Taking: media coverage with a grain of salt.
Using: my extra hour to take a mid-day nap.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Against Football

Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant ManifestoAgainst Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto by Steve Almond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First thoughts: This was tough to read mid-football season, especially in light of all the recent domestic abuse cases and more evidence of football's long-lasting effects on brain health. To be honest, this book told me a lot of things I already just brought these things to the front of my mind.

While I've watched football this year (and will watch it again), I haven't gone out of my way to see games. I've planned other events for Sunday afternoons, opting to not be home (where I usually default to watching whatever game is on).

Recommended for: football fans, sports fans in general.

Favorite quotes:

"As a population, we generally agree to regard that which is popular as worthy and that which is convenient as necessary." (this applies not only to football)

"You take a stand because it's the right thing to do, not because it's effective." (Almond's reasoning for why he's done with football, even if he knows his one-person boycott doesn't amount to much in the grand scheme of things...and again, this applies to more than just football.)

Final thoughts: I think people should read this.

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