NaBo… NaPlo… NaBloPoMo?

I will be participating in this year’s National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo for those of you who like the shorthand version of things). I’ve done a few blog every day challenges in the past, but this is the first year that I’ll be doing it in the month of November, the official month of writing a lot.

In the past, November was always a crazy month. Usually, I’m studying for midterms, or taking Thanksgiving break to recuperate from midterms, and then the rest of the month is getting ready for finals in December. But this year, there’s none of that. No classes to study for, no projects to work on. I’ll be having the usual Thanksgiving gathering with friends (my favorite holiday of the year!), but otherwise, my free time this month will all be dedicated to posting to this blog.

The first sheet of a journal is dedicated to keeping track of the days I write. I’m closing out October right—by finishing a journal.

These past few months I’ve found myself wondering exactly what it is I’m doing with my blogging. I occasionally post my opinions on current events, book reviews, recipes, and other random trivia that I come across. But I’ve found, sometimes, that when I went to create a new post or brace myself and press the Publish button, I’ve been filled with doubt. What am I adding to the online community?

But I also realized that I couldn’t imagine life without this blog, without my own online space, my own corner of the internet to just put things out there. Maybe it’s my own personal brand of vanity, but  as much as I can’t imagine life without writing in my journal, I can’t imagine life without this blog.

Normally, for these blog every day challenges, I try to come up with some goal I’m trying to achieve, a new habit to pick up, or an overall theme.

This time, I just want to write.

Joining in on NaBloPoMo?Let me know!

Simple things, like tomato soup from scratch

After realizing how much money I really spend on takeout, I figured that many of my favorite dishes I could learn how to make at home for much cheaper. I started off with pasta from scratch a few weeks ago, and every week I’ve done something new.

The ingredients stewing in the stockpot before the blending.

The ingredients stewing in the stockpot before the blending.

This past week, I tried planning my meals beforehand so that I could cut back on prep time. The day I planned on making the tomato soup, Thursday, turned out to be the second of two cold and rainy days in New York. So it was perfect timing that I was planning on making something warm and filling for the evening.

To be honest, I really love Campbell’s condensed tomato soup, the one with the simple, yet iconic, label. But, I also recognize that it’s packed with sodium and other things to preserve it, so I decided to try and make it from scratch.

There are so many different recipes, ranging from ultra simple to complex and rich, so I did my best to take the best of both worlds and make something that was still delicious:

Tomato soup with bread and sautéed kale!

Tomato soup with bread and sautéed kale!

6 tomatoes, chopped, coming out to ~5 cups
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups water w/ 1.5 vegetable bouillon cubes
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp whole wheat flour
~1-2 tsp dried basil

I followed the general instructions from this recipe, with the modifications that I used a blender to mix it all together after cooking the ingredients in the broth for 20 minutes and added some dried basil from the spice rack.

And it turned out so well! I’m still going to experiment to make the perfect soup, but I was also really pleased with the taste and texture of the soup this time around. I’m considering adding something to make it creamier without adding dairy, and substituting the butter with vegetable margarine to make it vegan, but this was still the perfect thing for a cold and rainy day.

For a side, I sautéed kale in garlic and had a slice of bread. The only thing that could have made this meal better would have been to have freshly baked bread, but I’m working on my homemade skills! I’m building up to that!

Having the time after work to explore all the different things I never got around to while I was in college has been really great, and I recognize that I’m extremely lucky to have a good job that allows me the time to do things after business hours. I can explore learning how to make things from scratch, building up simple skills that I’ve always wanted but didn’t have the time to sit down and figure out.

When you’ve lived your life relying on mass-produced goods, it becomes surprisingly time-intensive to start over and learn how to make things with your hands. Living in a big city, it becomes complicated to live simply.

But I’m working towards living a simple life.

Timed

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The 4 and the 7 are too close together, obviously.

Throughout the morning, I’ve been typing “2017” instead of “2014” on accident, and that’s been causing me to daydream about where I’ll be in three years.

Three years ago, I was in the middle of the first semester of my second year in college, knee-deep in Chemistry, and completely unaware of how life would change, unaware of how I would change.

Am I the person now I wanted to be three years ago? I don’t think I thought that far ahead in 2011, and I don’t think I want to think that far ahead now. The best things that have ever happened to me were the result of on-the-spot chances I took. I don’t want to take that freedom away from myself by deciding on deadlines. I never was very good with keeping them anyway.

At most, I plan year by year. But even plans for 2015 are somewhat up in the air. I’m too busy focusing on the rest of 2014 to think much about who I might be and what I might be doing in 2015. Yes, there are some constants, like my job, my apartment, my friends, and my plans with my best friend since middle school to go on vacation to Aix-en-Provence in August because of a high school French project we did. And, I think, I’ll still be blogging.

But besides all of that, who knows?

This post was in response to today’s Daily Prompt: Ready, Set, Done.

Book Review: Solar by Ian McEwan

I seem to be drawn to reading Ian McEwan novels for some inexplicable reason, even though most of the time when I read the synopsis on the back of many of his books, it all just boils down to “rich white people doing stuff” in my head. And while I understand that important lessons can still be learned from those stories, I mostly find myself bored with the premise. I’ve read Atonement, Saturday, and Sweet Tooth so far, though, and Solar is the most recent Ian McEwan novel I’ve finished.

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The cover is also really pretty

And I must say that it’s one of my favorites of his so far. I might even rank it above Atonement simply because it does deal with the subjects of environmentalism and climate change. The pro-clean energy messages were cleverly woven into the story, and were so seamless that they didn’t stick out awkwardly like a cheap public service announcement or a poorly timed joke about the apocalypse. I greatly appreciate how well the story was researched, how enough detail was given to the point where I was actually wondering if there was some poor physicist out there named Michael Beard who just had the sordid details of his life story spilled out for everyone to read.

I don’t necessarily understand why critics believed it to be so uproariously funny. Yes, some moments were comical, the descriptions outlandish, and humor isn’t typically a device that McEwan employs if I remember Atonement at all. But it wasn’t as funny as was gross for me. I felt like I was slipping too much into Michael Beard’s skin, that I had to check regularly in the mirror that I hadn’t achieved his girth, and I felt the powerful need to shower and tidy the apartment whenever I finished a section. The writing, of course, was impeccable, memorable, and altogether a great achievement. But it was still gross sometimes.

Ultimately, I appreciated all the different aspects of the story. The juicy gossip drama of Beard’s personal life and the backlash for it makes us question how we prioritize the private lives of public figures. Could we accept a great, lifesaving gift from a man who is a complete ass? In the end, I didn’t feel as though Michael Beard “got what he deserved” after years of lying and cheating and being an all-around pathetic and apathetic human being. He was about to do an great service to the world, and the moral failing was on everyone who was working to bring him down. Who cares what shadiness of character he had in the past? It’s not like he killed anyone. And he would have saved so many other people.

And the important messages of environmental science and climate change mixed in with the drama makes it an intelligent, engaging, and immersive story to read.

Would I recommend this book? Yes. It has a little bit of juicy drama for those who enjoy that sort of thing mixed up with intelligent moral questions that people should consider.

Would I read it again? It’s not high on my “read again” priority list, but I would pick it up again on a rainy day.

Friends and food

Let me tell you about my fantastic Saturday.

I’m still close to the people I met and became good friends with in my freshman year of college, and they’ve always been there. They’ve helped me through times of stress and sadness, and they’ve also featured in some amazing memories. And even when we were split up in different parts of the world for extended periods of time, we all still come back home.

Having everyone close by in New York has made the transition into post-grad life much easier. We all still meet up to share a meal, talk, and help each other through this particularly weird times in our lives.

Most recently, we had the experience of vegetarian dim sum in Chinatown.

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The table at dim sum. That stack of baskets is the steamed mock pork buns. Yum!

Normally, for dim sum, we go to a place where there are carts that move around the room, and we stop them as they pass and choose the dishes we want. At those places, I’m restricted to only eating the dessert items; picking and choosing from the carts generally means that I can’t guarantee that the dishes the table picks are vegetarian, or were on vegetarian-only carts. As much as I love the desserts, though, I do need some savory food as well.

However, with this place, both my boyfriend and I could comfortably eat everything on the table. I had the added experience of being able to eat a vegetarian version of one of my childhood favorites; steamed mock pork buns! Peeling the paper off the bottom and biting into the filling brought back memories of trying to convince my mother to buy more than one packet of buns from the grocery store.

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After the meal. So good, and still so full.

Since this place did not have the carts, though, we had to order everything at once. As a result, we accidentally ordered way more food than we really needed.

But we did get through most of it. (I was quite hungry because an excursion to the post office that morning and waiting almost an hour in line to pick up a package meant that I missed breakfast.) We stayed at the restaurant for a while, talking, laughing, and catching up. The good conversation meant that we all slowed down, enjoyed our food, and finished off most of it.

At the end of it all, with very full bellies and content with good food and a good time, we left and went on with our Saturday afternoons.

My boyfriend and I went to Union Square to get groceries. He went to Trader Joe’s and got the things we wouldn’t be able to find at the Greenmarket, like tofu, and I went ahead and lost myself among the stalls to look for the rest of the stuff on our list.

An artsy close-up of that fantastic kale purchase.

An artsy close-up of that fantastic kale purchase.

The Union Square Greenmarket is one of my favorite things about the city, and I love it more every time I go. Getting a large bunch of kale for only $2 never fails to brighten my day. This particular time, I overheard an interaction between a shopper and a seller where the shopper was asking about the particular farm the veggies were coming from. This showed exactly why I love shopping at the Greenmarket for groceries; so much care goes into the food we eat, from the farmers to the people buying and preparing this food. Food is an experience, and I want to be able to experience it as deeply as I can.

No wonder I like sharing food so much with the people in my life. (Whether that’s by sharing a meal or sharing a picture of my meals over social media.)

Lately, I’ve honestly felt a little restless, which has been strangely tiring me out. I haven’t been up for making my meals, and even ordered out for dinner a few nights this week. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my “next step” in life and came up with so many possibilities that I really came up with nothing.

Having a day of food and friends has helped me slow down, relax, and enjoy living in New York. Now, I can better face the rest of the things going on.

TARDIS blue

Many of my life choices are based on two questions that I ask myself: What would the Doctor’s companion do, and what would the Doctor do?

These questions have influenced some surface-level things. Are my shoes comfortable enough to be able to run on a moment’s notice? If I were a companion, or the Doctor, is this the outfit that cosplayers would put together with painstaking attention to detail? Does this particular accessory come in a shade of blue that captures the spirit of all of time and space?

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I recently got a new bag. Vegan fake leather that can convert into a backpack and is the most gorgeous shade of blue.

But the influence runs deeper than that. The casual misogyny I grew up with as a result of living in a Midwestern suburb with Catholic parents has been undone by watching these companions be amazing people. (Martha Jones, in particular, is my favorite.) The choices the characters face are hard, harrowing, and thinking about what I would do in their situation makes me wonder if my standard of measuring right and wrong is perfectly calibrated. I’ve gotten it into my head that if I can’t make the right choices, then how could I ever expect to be a person good enough to be traveling with the Doctor? Or to be the Doctor?

For the most part, I like to think that I would be the kind of person the Doctor would take along. Just smart and brave enough to help out on a regular basis, and enough to keep him grounded, to remind him why what he does matters, and to keep him from hurting others and himself. I like to think that I am reliable enough for that job.

And I work hard to be that person more and more every day. I keep an open mind, keep finding more things to be curious about in the world, keep quietly living a life where I try and do the right thing, and try to understand what the right thing is.

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The Doctor landed outside a bar near my workplace one day.

That’s why stories matter. Though my craze for Doctor Who has died down (it’s not quite at the level of staying up all night on the sidewalk in line to watch “The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon” in an East Village theater, which I did do), this show is still with me. I still try and be the person in reality the person I want to be in fiction.

I am still critical of the show. Whenever I watch an episode, I write pages and pages of what I thought about it, and read the opinions of others to see the different aspects I hadn’t thought about. I don’t take it on blind faith that this show is the end-all, be-all of how I should live my life. But the show still inspires me to think critically about the things that entertain me, makes me think about what I should do differently in my day-to-day life as a result of what I learn from this show.

Art should be more than an escape. It should provide you with some way of shaping reality into a good place for you and for others.

What would the Doctor say if it were otherwise?

This post is in response to today’s Daily Prompt: Fourth Wall.

I’m a terrible bookworm

I’m sorry to say that I haven’t read and finished any books since I moved into my apartment. The transition was hectic, it took a while to get things organized, and I’ve been focusing so much on my writing that I haven’t read anything that wasn’t an OpenYale lecture transcript, a news story, or a paper in The Journal of Cell Biology.

But, I’m reading through Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. People in my office were clearing out their desks, leaving things they didn’t want up for grabs in a central location, and I found this between copies of style dictionaries and The DaVinci Code.

I’ve been meaning to read this book ever since I found out who Neil Gaiman was during my first year of college. I really enjoyed American Gods and Neverwhere, and I remember one of my friends speaking passionately about how great of a writer Neil Gaiman is while we were on a bus ride from Sydney to Cowra/Canowindra. There have been numerous Sherlock/Good Omens fan fiction crossovers that were well-loved but went over my head, and many of the people I follow on tumblr have put together their dream casts for a film adaptation of the novel.

So, when I saw the opportunity to get a free copy, I grabbed it. I’m about halfway through the book now and I’m enjoying it greatly.

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My copy of Good Omens.

Still, I want to go book shopping/to the library soon because it feels weird to not have four books in my queue, and as much as I love using my tablet for reading free classics, I much prefer print books.

This post was in response to today’s Daily Prompt: Reader’s Block.

Random access memories

I’ve said for years that my memory is terrible, but I don’t think it’s quite terrible as it is just weird.

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The people in my office are cleaning up their desks, so things are up for grabs. This looked like it was something vaguely magical, so I took it. Maybe it can be my pensieve.

For example, I can remember the awkward time in high school I tried to prank call a friend of mine. I was with two of my friends in the parking lot of a gas station, and one of them was going out with this boy. Because I was trollish, I tried to harmlessly prank call the boy at the urging of my two friends; we were feeling a little silly that night.

I was in the back seat of the car of the friend not going out with the guy, and I made the call on my old LG Chocolate phone. I was wearing my seat belt and it was chilly outside, the middle stage between fall and winter.

I did a horrible British accent, and the first name that came to mind when I introduced myself was a classmate that we both knew. When I realized my mistake and that the call was an utter disaster, I hung up and dropped my phone in the seat, thinking (and saying), “God, that was terrible. What the hell?” It was a mess. My friend, the one who wasn’t going out with the boy, had to text him and say that it was me calling, and that it was just a joke. It was a terrible, though in retrospect, really hilarious, experience.

But it didn’t really have a lasting impact on my life. Sure, I haven’t made a prank phone call since, but that’s probably because prank phone calls don’t really interest me in the first place; the only reason I made the call is because he had both of their numbers but not mine.

However, I cannot remember, for the life of me, the brilliant response I had for this week’s Writing Challenge. I was sitting at work during my downtime, and I was coming up on something really fantastic, but then I got so hungry that I had to go out and get lunch. By the time I settled in to eat and write (as I usually do on my lunch break), the idea was completely gone. I sat in the mezzanine of the Food Emporium near my work, stared at the pages of my journal, and wondered where that brilliant idea went.

I can tell you that I was sitting at a small table situated on the mezzanine level right above a cookie display. I dropped my salt and pepper packet through the slots of the fence around the seating area. There was a strange smell throughout the time I was there, like something synthetic was overheating. The smell wasn’t enough to put you entirely off of food, but it was enough to distract you from your typical Food Emporium experience.

But I cannot tell you what my brilliant idea was. I have no idea what it was. Something that does influence the course of my life, since I care very deeply about this blog and what I post to it, just goes poof.

I don’t have to look far for an unreliable narrator in the fictional worlds I engage with; I’m already the unreliable narrator of my own life.

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Writing and my little post-lunch treat. I was trying to write myself back into remember the brilliant idea, but it wasn’t happening.

Today, I also read the transcript of a lecture from an OpenYale class called Death, concerning the matter of personal identity, and what it means to “be” someone. Rather than stay up all night thinking about whether or not my spotty memory indicates some identity crisis where I am not myself sometimes, and my true self somehow recognizes it by blocking out the memory and experiences that “aren’t mine,” I’ll instead point to the thing that is me for sure.

My writing is me. I have 20+ notebooks lined up on brand new Ikea bookshelves in my apartment, and every word penned (and penciled) in those notebooks was written by me at some point in my life. By extension, this blog is me, vaguely edited for grammar and filled with photographs that I take with my phone or camera throughout the day.

These things, my notebooks and my camera (and phone) are what make up my memory.

Question is, does that make me more or less reliable?

Even though this wasn’t the brilliant post I was planning in my head before lunch today at work, it is still a response to the Weekly Writing Challenge: Unreliable Narrator. Funny, huh?

The hipster in me

This is how I spend all my free time.

I spent my lunch hour writing in my Moleskine journal, adjusting my black plastic glasses, and wrapping and re-wrapping a long scarf around my neck. With my handmade tote bag (a souvenir from a friend when he went to Berlin) and my all-black Converse sneakers paired with business casual attire and polka-dots, I realized something:

To the casual observer, I look like a hipster.

In my defense, I wasn’t always this way. In high school I tried to get the sleekest glasses frames, I didn’t wear skinny jeans until my brother bought me my first pair from American Eagle, I used to write in any notebook I could find, and my bookbag was a sentimental gift from the color guard moms.

But NYU is the most hipster school (at least, it was in my day), and living in NYC for 4+ years will do stuff to you. There are some hipster-like tendencies I’ve accepted as part of who I am.

  1. Small, non-chain coffee shops. I have an almost unhealthy love for dark roast, and I prefer the small, quirky, Mom’n’Pop, you’ve-probably-never-heard-of-them places because oftentimes it’ll be less crowded and I can sit and write alone in peace. (I get crabby when my deep, philosophical pondering to myself/navel-gazing is interrupted.) Speaking of writing…
  2. Moleskine notebooks. After buying one at the beginning of the last academic year on a whim, I’ve gotten to the point where I will only ever use a Moleskine planner, and I think I’m going to switch to exclusively Moleskine journals as well. So far, only this brand has met all of the criteria I have for the journals I want to write in, so can you blame me?
  3. I like how Warby Parker glasses look, and the next time I replace my glasses (which will be soon!) I’m looking to get a hilariously oversized pair of glasses. My face looks somehow incomplete without ridiculous eyewear.
  4. Last but not least, I am addicted to Instagram. I’m rather proud of my feed. I’ve only recently stopped being overly critical (though keeping those thoughts in my head) of the quality of other people’s posts when I realized that I was taking this particular social media site too seriously. (Though yes, I do still really like it and will defend my choice.)

Everything else in my life, though, the deciding question for making any decision is this: Is this person/place/thing truly making the world a better place?

If yes, then that’s cool with me.

This is a response to today’s Daily Prompt: Upturned Noses.

Home making

My family cleared out my old room this past weekend. They did everything from clearing the bookshelves to completely rearranging the furniture. My sister sent me a picture of the new arrangement, and I’ve been having a hard time picturing where exactly each piece is within the space of the room.

I realize now that I haven’t been in that room since January 2013.

I have left home several times: every time I left for a school year, or at the end of winter break, I’ve physically left my parents’ house in the suburbs of Chicago. But I didn’t realize that it had been so long since the last time I went back. The last time I really left home was when I left to get on a plane to LA that connected me to a flight to Australia, and I haven’t returned since then.

Part of me feels that a place I haven’t been in almost two years, a place that I have no plans of returning to in any foreseeable future, is no longer home for me.

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The most recent furniture acquisition: the beautiful bed.

Putting together the furniture that I chose, planning out things to screw into the walls, figuring out what kitchenware needs to be bought to be able to prepare every meal essentially from scratch, I was, and still am, in the process of making my home. There aren’t any real restrictions against painting the walls or hanging up new shelves the same way that there are in a dorm. A full set of matching furniture wasn’t already waiting for me when I moved in. (And I didn’t realize the importance of seating and a set of drawers until I didn’t have any.)

As my first apartment after graduating from college comes together into the semi-final arrangement that it will stay in for a few years, I realize that a lot has changed. I’m no longer dependent on my parents. (They can’t claim me as a dependent when they’re doing their taxes, anyway.) I’m making my own income, handling my responsibilities. I know New York City better than I have ever really known my hometown.

Now, New York City is my home.