Fall Leaf Garland

I saw this adorable project idea a while back on A Beautiful Mess, and I really wanted to try it. I love fall, and bright colors, so why not make a felt leaf garland to celebrate the season? Since there aren’t too many fall leaves around here, it seemed all the more reason to make my own!

I found some pretty felt squares on sale for a quarter each at my fabric store, and I grabbed them all! Okay, all of the colors, I mean. 🙂 And then I laid out my little supplies. I wanted to use this scratchy wool carpet yarn (since it has limited knitting function!), and I knew I wanted to hang my garland on our mantel. I did a little measuring and got to work!

My felt squares were 12×12, so I made little chalk marks as a guide, so I’d cut the leaves fairly evenly across three layers (I folded the squares over).

Here are my pretty little leaves! I used a tapestry needle to stitch them (since I needed a large eye to accommodate the yarn), and I cut the yarn into several pieces, since stitching with a long thread is often a recipe for tangles. When I was finished, I just knotted the ends together. Voila!

I hung my garland on our mantle, and now our living room looks a little more cheerful. I think I’ll make a new one next month for Christmas, since I like the look so much. Happy fall!

The Liebster Award

When I woke up this morning to find this comment from my besfrinn Emily on my latest blog post, I wasn’t sure if she was serious: “I am awarding you for your awesomeness :) I mean, really awarding you. I know this is why you wanted me to be your friend when we were in HS: so that I’d one day pass on a blogging award to you :)

Why wasn’t I sure? Well, because when we were back in high school, we used to play this fun little game that went a little something like this. We would look for the ugliest dress in the store, the most ramshackle house on the block, the nastiest sounding thing on the menu, and then we’d smile at each other and say, “I bought you that!” It never failed to make us burst into laughter, since we were young and silly and easily amused (…some things never change!) Her dad was adorably confused by this, especially when we moved on to cars and houses. We loved it. So I thought she might just be playing.

But it turns out she was serious! She actually gave me the Liebster Blog Award, which is so sweet and awesome! She blogs, wittily, hilariously, and wonderfully over at The Waiting, and someone insightful gave her this award, which she then passed on to 5 more people. It’s like a crazy chain letter of blog love, except not the kind we had in middle school, which were really a little creepy. No creepiness here: just a fun way to learn about some new blogs and enjoy the writing community! Thank you, besfrinn!

Liebster means beloved or favorite in German (I am glad I can actually remember this, after so many many semesters of German!), and the award is designed to spotlight up and coming blogs with fewer than 200 followers, to give them a bit of a nudge in the way of fans and followers. So I am going to pass this award along to 5 of my favorite blogs and leave them a comment to let them know they’ve been chosen as paragons of awesomeness. Then they can do the same on their blogs. All chain letter awesomeness, no chain letter creepiness! Here are 5 of my most favorite blogs, interspersed with some atmospheric pictures from my Flickr stream, in no particular order.

1. Dining with Dostoevsky My BFF is a serious baker. She is famous for whipping up amazing creations, both sweet and savory, and she writes about them, and about the crazy adventure that is grad school, on her lovely blog. She is witty and insightful and full of charm. Reading her blog always makes me feel a little better about life, for how dark can a day be when such beauty and deliciousness exists in it?

2. Lilac and Lace I just found Heather’s blog a few months ago and am already in love with it. She writes about her adventures, projects, and travels (and sometimes her husband’s hamburger haikus!) with wit and enthusiasm. She just unveiled a pretty new site design, and I love that I always find some happy surprise when I visit her blog!

3. London Bakes Kathryn lives in London and accentuates the tales of her delicious adventures in and out of the kitchen with beautiful beautiful photographs. Her blog is always a visual treat!

4. Amethyst Blog This sweet blog is written by two best friends, Jenn and Suzanna, who share their lovely projects, style, and inspiration with each other and with all of us! My favorite part of their blog is called People with Purpose, and it features artists and non-profits who are working to give back to their communities. So inspiring!

5. Tenpenny Splendid Jess is a graphic designer and fellow grad student (hello, comrade!) who writes about her projects, plans, inspirations, and whatever cool things she is up to (like breaking in her culinary robot). She’s currently doing a project called 30 Days Hath November that I think is totally rad. Also, I like her pretty pictures.

To all the lovely ladies I awarded, here’s how to accept the award and keep the ball rolling:

1. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
2. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
3. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
4. Hope that our followers will spread the love to other bloggers.

I hope you enjoy these blogs as much as I do!

Red and Teal Revisited

Living in Southern California is a many-splendored thing, even if the general practice of surfing at the beach every weekend remains a myth. We have sunshine, and lots of it, and when it does rain, we actually have thunder and lightning (which seem not to exist in the Bay area, somehow…) Our little neighborhood is so cute and walkable, and so close to Eric’s work, that there really is very little to complain about. However, when a fall-loving girl sees shops filled with autumn colors and friends’ pictures of gorgeous trees, that girl sometimes misses living in a land that has seasons. This past week, driving down the street, I saw a bright orange persimmon tree in bloom, and it made me so happy I almost cried. So when Eric told me that he’d found some spots on campus with fall leaves, I was ecstatic! Best husband ever! We set out today for a true fall photo shoot, and it was even cool enough for me to wear my wool jumper and boots.

These boots come from my thrifting mecca, the Bargain Barn. They are so beautifully made and so comfortable, and I love the little straps on them. They are from Ecuador, so I suppose maybe someone bought them on the trip of a lifetime, and then realized they were not exactly suited to the climate of Memphis, Tennessee. Fear not, vacationer, I am putting your boots to good use!

When I saw the leaves Eric was talking about, this is what I did, before he even knew what I was doing!

I grabbed a pile of leaves…

Threw them in the air…

And grinned like a five-year-old! That’s just how fall leaves make me feel:)

I was also happy to have the chance to wear some of my favorite pieces of bling. I love pairing this periwinkle necklace with the bright red of this jumper. My mom found it, along with a hot pink twin, at an estate sale, and was kind enough to give them to me.

My mom also gave me these adorable turquoise cowboy boot earrings. I think she found them in San Diego. I really like how, in this picture, it looks like the boot is kicking my hair!

I think this bracelet also came from my awesome aunt Ellen. I love the pretty etchings on it.

This wool jumper is from my favorite clothing swap party (ah, how I miss you!) It is surprisingly warm for a little dress, and I love its big buttons and pockets! The shirt is also from the Bargain Barn, mother of all thrift stores! A few years ago, I would never have thought to put red and teal together, but now it is one of my favorite color combinations. Thank you to all the fashionable ladies who inspired me to take chances with color! I hope you all are enjoying fall as much I am!

Black Bean Chili with Orange and Cumin

A few months ago my sweet besfrinn (who blogs here) told me about this amazing chili she was making. She told me her whole house was filled with the scent of oranges and cumin, and I was hooked in right then and there. I am a soup and stew kind of girl, which is, I suppose, the result of living in a mostly rainy climate for seven years or so, and chili always sounds good to me!

It hasn’t been so cold outside here this fall, and yet is really *has* been cold in our apartment (accursed north-facing windows!), and so, bundled up in my 30-Below socks and sweater(s) (sometimes you need 2!), I set about cooking.

The combination of flavors was so unexpected and delicious! I would never have thought to put oranges in chili, but they were perfect! Eric and I were so sad when this chili was gone, and now that I’ve written this post, I think I’ll make sure to get the ingredients for it this weekend so I can make it again. Hope you enjoy!

Black Bean Chili with Orange and Cumin
Slightly adapted from Bon Appetit via Epicurious

2 oranges
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, pressed
4 teaspoons chili powder
4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 15.5-ounce cans seasoned black beans, drained (I used about 2 c dried beans)
2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice
Sour cream
Chopped fresh cilantro

-Grate enough orange peel to measure 1 1/2 teaspoons. Juice oranges.
-Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions; sauté 5 minutes.
-Mix in garlic and spices. Add beans, tomatoes, and half of orange juice. Simmer over medium heat until heated through and flavors blend, stirring often, about 15 minutes.
-Mix in orange peel and remaining orange juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
-Ladle chili into bowls. Top with sour cream and cilantro.

Honeymoon: Lihue

The middle of November seems like the right time to be reminiscing about tropical travels (and daydreaming about trips to come!), so here is the first installment of a series of posts on our lovely honeymoon in Kauai.

They say you should expect the unexpected at weddings, and that something is guranteed to go wrong. We were actually amazed by how smoothly our wedding and reception went: a few hiccups here and there, but nothing that really mattered. The real trouble came before and after the wedding. This is almost comical to me now, but about two weeks before our wedding, on the day before I was flying home to finalize the rest of the wedding details, I threw my back out. Now, I have a long and storied history of trouble with my back, and I’ve hurt it many times by doing dumb things like moving bookcases and couches (never again!) But this time, it was nothing of the sort. We were kneeling on the floor, opening a wedding present, and as I moved to get up, something went wrong, and I couldn’t move my back. It was ridiculous, like something you would see on tv. Except that it was very, very real. I changed my flight, and Eric spent the next few days buying me groceries, taking me to the doctor, and eating standing up with me because I couldn’t sit down. He missed a whole morning of work to take me to the doctor, and I was apologizing to him for needing him so much, and, without a moment’s hesitation, he looked at me and said, “Baby, you are my everything.” I could have just melted away, right there in the doctor’s office (except that melting implies movement, of which I was not capable). Thankfully, with the help of many muscle relaxants, I recovered and was able to walk down the aisle and dance away at our wedding. The story continues a few days after our wedding, when we were leaving my apartment in Oakland to fly off to our honeymoon. Because I had hurt my back, Eric was carrying both of our suitcases, and he was racing out to the cab with them when he stepped off the curb somehow at an angle. I didn’t see it happen, but I did hear him yell louder than I have ever heard before, and I was terrified. We both were, I think.

He hobbled into the cab, upset but certain it was just a bad sprain. I asked him if he wanted to go straight to the doctor, and he said that he didn’t want to miss our flight, as he was sure they would just tell him to ice it and elevate his foot. I was worried, but agreed to take our flight. At the airport I turned into a hilarious medical-assistant version of a diva: snatching bandage wraps from the gate agents and demanding ice from the restaurant near our gate. I did all of this without even thinking about it, of course, because he is my everything. Eric was a trooper, and the flight attendants were so kind to us. When we landed, we dropped off our luggage at the hotel and took a cab to the hospital, where the doctor told us that his ankle was, in fact, broken, but that it was a tiny fracture. We were both sad to hear it, but we had such a positive experience in the ER there. I honestly think it was still faster for us to fly to Hawaii and go to the ER than it would have been for us to go straight to the ER in Oakland! This changed our plans some, of course, but after a few days of adjusting to it, we really had a marvelous time. By the time we made it back from the ER, with Eric freshly outfitted with a boot cast and crutches, we were exhausted and so ready to get into our room and relax. But first we had lunch by the pool, and I grabbed the nearest flower and stuck it in my hair. I was still in a honeymoon state of mind. 🙂

During the time we were in Lihue, we stayed at the Kauai Marriott, which is insanely pretty. We spent a lot of time out on our little balcony, reading and watching the kids play in the waterfall pool. Our room was lovely and bright, and we spent the first day or so relaxing and getting used to the time change. And eating lots of pineapple! I had no idea I even liked pineapple, but when it is fresh, it is so good!

There is  a two-hour time difference between California and Hawaii, but we were actually coming from Memphis, where we were married, and which is another two hours off. For the first few days, I woke up at 5am, made coffee in our little pot, read a novel, and watched the sun come up over the ocean. It was so beautiful. I liked seeing the hotel waking up too, the lights coming on slowly around me.

The Marriott has this ridiculous pool, where we spent some lovely lazy afternoons. It creates in you a feeling of pure luxury, and I am sure that is what they were going for!

Lihue is one of the bigger towns on Kauai, and once we got our rental car, we headed out to explore. Our first stop was Fish Express, where we had some of the best meals of our trip. It is a modest shop front with no seating, so you have to take your food to go. It was raining that day, and we had nowhere to go, so we devoured our scrumptious fish in the car, listening to Hawaiian music. It was perfect. 🙂

I had blackened ono in guava-basil sauce, and Eric had macadamia nut encrusted mahi mahi. These were, of course, served with macaroni salad and rice, in the Hawaiian plate lunch style. I am drooling just remembering it…we definitely ate here more than once!

In the course of our peregrinations, we became very accustomed to a singular sound: roosters crowing. A friend of ours had told us before we left that chickens roam wild and free all over the place, since there are no mongooses (mongeese?) on the island to eat them. They were really beautiful, but sometimes they crowed a little too early in the morning!

Lihue was a lovely little place to start our honeymoon in, and we dropped back in a few times on our way to other parts of the island (we always tried to make these trips coincide with lunchtime!)  We had a lot of fun exploring the areas around our hotel, and I will write more about our adventures soon!

Chai Masala Spiced Pumpkin Bread

Everyone knows that autumn is my favorite season, and pumpkins are one of the main reasons for that! I have been making pumpkin bread every fall for years, but this year I gave it a little twist, and it turned out beautifully! This is definitely the best pumpkin bread I’ve ever made. Ever!

The twist came from a potent blend of Indian spices, usually used to flavor tea. I love Indian tea, so creamy and spicy, and I order it almost every time I go to an Indian restaurant. A few years back, when my mom and I drove across town to get our fix of spices from a local Indian grocery, we saw this chai masala, and I knew I had to have it! Masala is a broad term for a spice mix, and chai is the word for tea (as it is Russian: fun!). The chai masala is loaded with cardamom and ginger and cinnamon, and it makes everything so richly delicious. I keep mine in a little silver canister, so I couldn’t even tell you what brand it is, but you can get yourself some at any Indian grocer or here. My experience suggests that it is useful for far more than just chai, so it may well be a worthwhile investment!

As I was making this pumpkin bread for the second time this fall, I grabbed my chai masala off the shelf and added a teaspoon to my batter, hoping it would work well with the other spices. Oh my goodness, it turned out amazingly well!

Basically, I can’t wait until breakfast. No matter what time of day it is! Happy autumn, and enjoy!

Chai Masala Spiced Pumpkin Bread

1 1/3 c butter, softened
1 1/3 c sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 c water
1 c pumpkin, fresh or canned
1 2/3 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp chai masala
1/2 c chopped walnuts

-Heat oven to 350F, and butter a 9×5 loaf pan.
-Cream the butter with the sugar.
-In a separate bowl, combine the pumpkin, water, and beaten eggs. Fold into the butter and sugar.
-Mix the dry ingredients together in another bowl. Fold into the pumpkin mixture 1/3 at a time. When combined, add the walnuts.
-Pour into the loaf pan and bake for 55-65 minutes. Voila! Have a beautiful breakfast! (…Or midnight snack!)

Hawaii Gallery

Eric and I spent our honeymoon on the gorgeous island of Kauai. Even though my poor husband broke his ankle on the way there, he was a total trooper, and we had a wonderful time. I am definitely planning to write about it sometime soon (and our wedding too!), but for now I will showcase one of my favorite souvenirs! I *love* postcards, and no matter where I go, I always have my eye out for good ones. I think this may be due in part to having visited a lot of museums in my youthful days: I didn’t have a good enough camera to take pictures, and I couldn’t afford much of anything in the gift shops. Except the postcards, the glorious glorious postcards! I have them stashed all over the house: in books, on the fridge, lining the walls. They are little tangible slices of memory, and I never tire of that.

Hawaii was no exception to this rule: everywhere we went, I saw these gorgeous reproductions of vintage postcards. I found two pretty packs full of them at the airport just before our flight home–sweet serendipity!

I have been wanting to put them up on the walls since we moved here, so I assembled a nice pile of unfinished wood frames that cost roughly a dollar each, and I set about painting them. (As a side note, kudos to Ikea for naming their frame “Ram,” which is close to the Russian word for frame and thus makes me smile).

I laid them out on a section of the newspaper that I had no real need for (sorry, sports!), and got to work. I wanted to arrange about ten of these frames, and I decided to paint three of them silver, three black, three brown, and one cream, which would be the centerpiece.

A few of these guys needed two coats of paint (the cream especially), but mostly it was a quick job.

Rather hilariously, the brown I came up with was really almost indistinguishable from the black. I could have put a lighter coat on it, but I decided in the end that perhaps I was subconsciously channeling Hawaiian Koa wood, so I went with it.

Once the frames were finished drying, I started pairing the postcards with the frame colors. I laid all of them out on a white posterboard and rearranged them several times until I was happy with the overall look. And then I hung them right up! A quick and easy project that makes our hallway more colorful, and more suffused with happy sunny memories.

Shimmering and Shivering

It finally got cold here this weekend, which was a truly strange sensation. We even got a real downpour of a rainstorm on Sunday, which made me feel right at home. Getting an extra hour of sleep, lazily sipping coffee and reading the paper while bundled up in a giant robe: that is the Sunday for me! I tell you all of this so you will understand when I tell you how deeply inappropriate this outfit was for the weather! I had planned it out a few weeks ago, and I wasn’t going to be foiled by the cold!

We didn’t venture too far away to do this shoot, which was good, because these shoes, as much as I love them, are new, and I haven’t quite broken them in yet. (By new I mean new to me: they are also from my thrift store bonanza!) But they are really fun to wear, and they illustrate for me what my life would be like if I were 4 inches taller. Kind of wobbly, so far!

This silver dress is one of the first dresses I made for myself. I was lucky enough to stumble upon this gorgeous silk for $2 a yard in Oakland (I know, my jaw was on the floor too!), and I am very fond of its shininess and simple shape. I was very proud of myself for getting the hem straight, and I liked the way the neckline produced these tiny little puckers. I actually wore this dress to my graduation this spring. On the way to the auditorium, I ran into my dissertation chair, and she took one look at me and said, “Magnificent!” And that was pretty awesome. And then I told her that I’d made the dress myself, and then her facial expression was even more awesome. A very happy memory!

Since it was obviously too cold to wear the dress alone (it is sleeveless), I put this teal sweater on over it. The crazy thing is that I bought this same sweater with short sleeves years ago from Crossroads, and then I found this long-sleeved one at a clothing swap party last spring. I feel like I have secret sweater symmetry!

This bright orange necklace is very special to me: it was a gift from the stage manager of the Bolshoi Ballet. Two summers ago I worked with the Bolshoi as an interpreter in Berkeley. Every day was a 12-14 hour adventure, and my Russian stage lexicon skyrocketed. I was so deeply exhausted by the end of it, but I met so many wonderful people. I had a lot of fun with their crew, and received so many invitations to Moscow that I couldn’t keep them straight! At the end of the stage run, the stage manager, who also dances in some of the ballets, gave me this necklace and a lovely signed postcard of her dancing in Don Quixote. For doing a job as stressful as that one, she was unbelievably kind and good-humored. And also, she had the most amazing style. She would wear a bright pink skirt with a bright purple sweater and a huge blue necklace, topped off with crazy high green heels. It’s totally the way I would dress if I but had every item of clothing in every color of the rainbow. So this necklace makes me think of her, and aspire to her incredible color-blocking ways!

And so, this is what I wore, while shivering out on the balcony. Not bad for early November! Hope you all had a wonderful weekend (and extra hour of sleep!) as well!

Oat, Cherry, and Walnut Scones

It is becoming something of a scone factory around here, and I have no problem with that! This is my latest version, combining my scone obsession with my oat obsession: double delicious! (Hopefully that does not remind you too much of a Double Mint commercial, and if it does, I hope you have fond memories of roller-skating twins). On a completely unrelated note, can I just say how glad I am that it’s almost the weekend? I know this is not a unique sentiment, but somehow this week has felt like a long one. I am looking forward to spending time with Eric, working on some projects, and getting to see my awesome cousin and his equally awesome girlfriend.

Here is the glorious Kitchen Aid in action: I am in love with it! I like listening to its little whirring noises 🙂

Since the Great Scone Explosion of 2011 began, I have been happy to have whipping cream and buttermilk on hand all the time. I know, really sounds healthy, right? But, all things in moderation 🙂 I have made so many things I might not have otherwise because I’ve had these guys around, and I am grateful for some kitchen serendipity.

These scones don’t have much sugar in them, and they are the perfect slightly sweet breakfast. I made mine really huge for some reason, so they were plenty to accompany my coffee and hold me over till lunch. When they first came out of the oven, they really looked like hugely overgrown, mountainous cookies. And again, I have no problem with that. 😉

Oat, Cherry, and Walnut Scones
Adapted from The Cheeseboard Collective Works

1 c AP flour
1/2 c whole-wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 c packed brown sugar
2 c rolled oats
3/4 c cold unsalted butter, cut into 1″ cubes
1/2 c dried sweet cherries
1/2 c chopped walnuts
1/2 c heavy cream
3/4 c buttermilk

-Preheat the oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper.
-Sift the flours, baking soda, and baking powder together into the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if you don’t have a stand mixer).
-Add the salt, brown sugar, and oats into the bowl and and mix with the paddle attachment on low speed until combined. Add the butter and cut in on low speed for about 4 minutes, or until it is the size of small peas. Mix in the cherries and walnuts. Make a well in the center and add the cream and buttermilk. Mix briefly, just until the ingredients come together. Add a bit more buttermilk or cream if the dough seems too dry. Let the batter stand for 10 minutes. (You can cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or 2 dinner knives if you don’t have a stand mixer; the rest can be done with a wooden spoon or a hand mixer.)
-Place dough in balls on the Silpat or parchment paper; you can make 10-12 fairly large scones, or about 20 smaller ones, if you like).
-Bake for 30-35 minutes and transfer to a rack to cool. Then have yourself a lovely little breakfast!

On Working from Home

Yesterday I saw this lovely article about working from home, written by Refinery 29‘s Shani Silver. She gives 10 tips to making it work for you, and it really got me thinking about how I do what I do. There are as many ways of working from home as there are people in the world, and working on a dissertation at home is its own special little category therein, but this article pushed me to consider what I’m doing, and what I’ve actually been doing for several years now, on a large scale. It made me think about what works and doesn’t work for me, and how I can improve my habits. And for that, I am grateful. So I thought I’d just work my way through her 10 suggestions, adding my personal experience with them as I go, and then I will add a few more at the end that have become really important to me. I know a lot of my fellow bloggers also work from home, and I would love to hear about your practices or any tips you have too! Okay, here goes!

1. “Set aside one whole room that is business and only business.” Thankfully, Eric and I have an office, so I don’t have to work in my bedroom, like I used to. Over the course of my graduate career, I have set up HQ pretty much everywhere: couch, bed, kitchen table, you name it. But it is really nice to have work space and living space divided because it creates an actual departure when you move from one to another. I turn off the light and close the office door, and I’m off work. Our office doubles as the space where I work on my art as well, but having an office at all is such a luxury that it doesn’t bother me in the slightest!

2. “Commence operation distraction removal.” This is an interesting one for me. I have experimented with turning off my wifi while working, but then I’ll inevitably need to look something up or request a book from the library, and it takes so long for my stone age computer to get the wifi back up that I end up wasting time waiting for it. Le sigh! (I have my upgrade computer waiting for me as soon as I finish the dissertation: happiness!) My husband likes Leechblock, which seems great because it will let you block specific sites, but I have never used it. It doesn’t take me too long to check any of my sites, and I find I often need a 5-minute break. Nonetheless, I have certainly found myself refreshing my email too often while writing!

3. “Exercise!” This has become so important to me. I would actually say, in addition to having planned exercise, whatever it might be, I set a goal to leave the house at least once a day. We are lucky in that we live in a very walkable neighborhood close to a shopping district, so I walk to Peets when I am out of coffee, and I stroll through Anthropologie on the way home. On days when Eric can come home for lunch, I walk him back to the office. The visual stimulus is just as important to me as the physical activity part. There have been too many days when I’ve realized at 9pm that I didn’t leave the house all day, and I feel kind of yukky when that happens. I go to the gym with Eric about once a week, but I also have a goal to swim three times a week. We have a pool (and a hot tub and a sauna!) in our apartment complex, and I don’t want to take it for granted! Given that swimming is one of the best things I can do for my back, this seems like a no-brainer. And yet I have not come anywhere close to this goal. But now you all know and can hold me accountable!

4. “Arrange your desk so that you’re facing out a window.” My desk doesn’t do this for furniture-configuration reasons, and it doesn’t ever bother me, but perhaps it is part of the reason why I feel like I need to get out and see the world every day.

5. “Keep essentials in your office or workspace.” Well, I keep water and a sweater handy, but that’s all I really need, except at meal times.

6. “Cut yourself off.” She means that you should have a designated end to your work day, so that you don’t spend all day and all night working. That hasn’t been a problem for me since about my second or third year of grad school (ah, the zeal of youth!), but I do like to have a rhythm to my days. I work in the morning until I get hungry, and then I eat lunch. I work some more until I get tired and hungry, and then I have tea and a snack. I work a bit more, and then Eric comes from work, and I’m done for the night. Sometimes I do reading at night, but not writing, since it demands acuity that I often don’t have at the end of the day. There may be some midnight oil burned in the next month and a half as I am finishing my dissertation, but I am okay with that. Being in the zone when I am this so close to finishing a project fills me with energy and happy nostalgia (and that should tell you all you need to know about my college years!)

7. “Communicate!” This is so vital to my survival! I check in with friends and family throughout the day, and I stop my favorite blogs for quick breaks. The sense of community there is really amazing. We don’t really know very many people in Pasadena, and I am home by myself all day every day, and yet I am not lonely. Ah, the magic of the internet! (If you are in Pasadena/SGV and want to be my friend, though, I also enjoy 3-D interaction!)

8. “Put some clothes on, k?” Ha! Yes, this is also a good point! When I wake up, my coffee and breakfast and blog-reading time is always in the cozy comfort of my pjs, but when I am ready to work, I do get dressed. My first year of grad school (ah, dark and lugubrious time!), I recall one night when I realized that it was 11pm and I was not only still in my pjs, but had not had a shower all day. Getting dressed just prevents the feeling of grossness you have if you are in pjs all day, and it makes you feel, in some small way, like you are taking care of yourself.

9. “Keep things clean.” Yes, aside from my very carefully arranged piles of books and papers, I like to keep things neat. Every morning I clear the clutter off my desk before I get down to work.

10. “Take advantage of every single perk.” It’s true–there are many awesome things about working from home. I can schedule doctor’s appointments in the middle of the day, I can take walks whenever I need to, and I can get a head start on dinner on busy weeknights. I actually think, after all these years, that it is going to be hard to transition to having an actual workplace!

Now here are some extra points  would add, based on my experience.

11. Take breaks. Sometimes I need a breather, and watering the plants or checking Twitter gives me just what I need. I also have to have tea and a snack around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, when I always get tired and hungry. That is part of my ritual, and I enjoy savoring that 20 minutes every afternoon without feeling like I am cheating or slacking. I think setting things up for yourself so that you feel positive about both work time and break time is really helpful. If you are dogging yourself for watching an episode of 30 Rock, you won’t be able to focus on your work when you come back to it. The mind is a powerful thing, and it’s best to get it on your side.

12. Have break activities lined up. I keep on hand a list of quick 15-minute activities I can do and feel good about: make a cup of hot chocolate, flip through a magazine, take a walk, turn on some music and dance around a bit. I think when we have a go-to list like this, it helps us reward ourselves with things that are actually good for us. When we need a break and feel aimless, that’s when we end of doing things we later feel gross about, like watching too much tv or spending too much time on Pinterest (ahem!). I try really hard (and do not always succeed) at taking breaks that make me feel good. Sometimes I’ll do some work on an art project or call my mom or research some crazy thing I’m excited about. And then I don’t have to feel like “wasted time” is actually wasted.

13. Have tasks lined up for when you don’t feel too sharp. I spend some portion of every day feeling sleepy when I’m working, and I find that it’s best if I have something productive to do that doesn’t take all of my mental capacity. For me, translating is something I can do when I’m tired, as is any kind of bibliographic work. Writing, for me, always requires what my husband calls “heavy-lifting thinking,” and my brain isn’t up to it at every minute of my work day. So I love being able to work on something when I’m sleepy or distracted and still feeling like I’ve accomplished something.

14. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a slow day. I am still working on this, and I certainly don’t ever feel good after I have a day that is less than stellar, but I have found that a bad day at work really motivates me on some deep unconscious level inside, and, most often, a bad day is followed by a great one. I have found that beating up on myself about it only impedes this process: if I come into a new day with negative feelings, it keeps me from focusing. If I can come into the new day feeling like good days and bad days are all part of the process, then I am much more free to make the day great. It’s crazy how the brain works, but once you can release that negative emotional energy, you have the capacity for positive energy. It’s magic!

15. Set goals, both professional and personal. Deadlines are the dissertator’s best friend, and I have so appreciated having them during this final semester. At the same time, I have been so inspired by the goals I see my blogging friends setting for themselves, and I have been working on fun goals as well. There’s nothing like sitting in front of a computer all day to convince you that there’s more in you than work, and I find that it actually really helps me in my work when I feel creatively fulfilled.

That’s all the wisdom I have, and I would really love to hear yours! Happy working to you, wherever your workspace may be!

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