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2012 July

DIY Where I’ve Been Map

I have always been crazy about maps. I think it’s at least in part due to the fact that I am a spatial thinker: I like to see where things are and how they connect. And I love the idea of staking out the little bit of this beautiful earth where I’ve actually set foot. Years ago, there was a new app on facebook called “Where I’ve Been Map.” Even though I resisted all apps as if my life depended on it, I downloaded that one. Fresh off a seven-country trek, I gleefully clicked on the states and countries I’ve been to. And then I kind of forgot about it. In the intervening years, it appears that this app has been bought by one or more airlines or travel agencies, and has been robbed of its original functionality. I was really bummed when I discovered this…and then I started to wonder if I could make my own. All I would need was a blank map, like the ones geography teachers use to torture me with in my younger days. I was thrilled to find just such a coloring book on Amazon for just $10! I started sharpening my colored pencils in anticipation!

This is the coloring book, featuring every continent, world map projections, and several US maps with states marked. This $10 bought me a lot of happiness!

What I really love about this book is that it gives you four options for each continent.

So you can decide if you want to use the map with countries and cities marked or if you prefer it without. (If you want to buy your own, you can get it here).

As soon as my book came in the mail, I cut out the pages I wanted and started splashing them with color! I began with the US, in part because I wanted to know how many states I had visited. 29! Not a bad start, but you can see some neglected areas, which I hope to get to someday! This would be a really fun project to do with kids, or for vacation planning purposes (“Hey, we’ve never been to Montana!”) Or, you could use the extra maps for marking the places you’d most like to go.

Next up was Europe, and the book has about 20 different options for this one, centered on the East or West, North or South. Most of my travel has been in Eastern Europe, and I deliberately chose purple for Russia so it would dominate the page. It is the best color, after all. (And, truthfully, I had a lot of fun planning the color schemes!)

I have been to fifteen countries so far (Turkey will be my sweet sixteen!), and while they’ve mostly been in Europe, I can’t neglect the ones that are closer to home.

And finally, there’s Brazil. I am hoping to see much more of this continent! I am planning to hang these maps on my wall, and keep coloring them in as the years go by. There is so much more of this world I want to see! And I hope when I do, I will have Eric’s hand in mine.


Dots on Dots

I love to travel, and we have had such a great string of weekend adventures this year. But sometimes it’s good to have a relaxing weekend at home and catch up on all the things you’ve been neglecting. It feels like it’s been ages since my last style post, so I was really happy we could squeeze a shoot in yesterday. I knew exactly what I wanted to wear: dots on dots!

These are almost all pieces I have had for quite a while. I got the silk top at a thrift store ages ago. I adore the bubble sleeves!

I love this skirt for so many reasons. The way the fabric is cut, it almost looks like it’s made of a dozen ties, and it has a fun slit on one side for nice movement.

And, on a day as windy as yesterday was, there is plenty of said movement!

The belt is from a thrifted dress that didn’t fit at all. If it’s too big, you can take it in–if it’s  too small, you can always keep the belt!

The necklace is the only new addition–I found it a few months ago at my favorite thrift store for $2. I adore the shade of green and the heavy feel of the beads.

The shoes are my beloved red heels. Cannot stop wearing them! Dear 80s, Good job making comfortable heels!

I have to reiterate how impossible it is not to smile when Eric is taking pictures of me. His smile is totally infectious!

He wanted to try his hand at some lens flares, and I love how they came out! Very atmospheric, almost like a sunset in gaseous form alighting on the shoulders.

This was such a lovely weekend, and I’m sorry to see it go. We had a delicious Italian dinner on Friday and then wandered around town, discovering that movies are projected on the wall of an old building downtown on Friday nights in the summer. Happiness! On Saturday we went to an art crawl and stumbled upon a little symphony of children playing music on a street corner. Once my ears filtered out the surrounding noise, I realized they were playing…Canon in D. I held Eric and cried for joy. The very best thing about walking down the aisle to a popular piece of music is that you are guaranteed a lifetime of sonic memories, and you can relive those moments every time you hear the chords. Hope you all had a beautiful weekend too!

Old and Busted/New Hotness

The title of this post comes from a facebook note my sweet husband wrote before I met him. His old bike was kind of a clunker, and it got stolen, so he was showing off his shiny new replacement. This post has the same spirit, but it’s about…my new computer! I have not had a new computer since my master’s exams, and let me just tell you, it has been a while. The Sony Vaio that carried me through the rest of my PhD program, including my dissertation, was slow enough to make me truly crazy, so in February my husband gave me his old Mac Book because he is the sweetest. It has been awesome, but it’s getting on in years, and last week the screen died. We took it to the Apple store, and they said it could be repaired…for a hefty fee. That’s kind of what we expected, and it didn’t make sense to invest that kind of money in an older laptop. So we bought a new one last night! My husband loves capturing my multitude of facial expressions on occasions like these, so here is a little photojournalistic essay of the situation. This is me making my “ultimate in sad” face, with the busted Mac Book.

And this is me realizing that my Vaio has been turned on…since February. It was still on the Russian medical dictionary website I used for my last translation. Wow, I have not seen that screen in a long time!

And here is my “ultimate in happy” face opening the Mac bag. It started raining on us after we left the store, so we were especially grateful for the bag!

Here it comes…


Opening the box!

Computer, I love you already! It’s not so much that I place great value on material things or, heaven knows, that I am some kind of technology guru, but I am just really excited about the things I am going to do with this computer. I’m excited for all the photos I’ll process and all the blog posts I’ll write and all the Big Projects that this little guy will make possible. It makes me happy to think of it.

This is the obligatory blurry hand waving shot.

So, a pretty good night! Eric helped me get all set up and transfer my files, and it feels great to not be anywhere near the hard drive max! Oh, the places we’ll go and the things we’ll do together, computer. Welcome to your new home!

The Taste of Memory

I got really excited when I saw the full collection of my favorite Russian beer at the store last weekend. Baltika is the most popular beer in Russia, and it’s everywhere, in both glass and plastic. They have a line of beers numbered 1-9 (with a 0 as well: a non-alcoholic version), which are roughly equivalent to their alcohol content, and it was a favorite pastime among my compatriots to debate which number was superior. I always went for the darker beers, 6 and 9, but I do have a soft spot for unfiltered wheat beer, so 8 was a winner for me too. Eric and I split the 8 at dinner last night, and boy howdy, has it been a long time since I had an unfiltered beer! I guess there are some things in life that are only for the young and strong of heart. I am still hopeful about 6 and 9, though. Even if I find that I can’t stand them, I’m grateful for the memories. My second time in Russia, I went with a few friends on a tour of the Baltika factory in St. Petersburg. It was a shiny and hoppy smelling place. They showed us how they turn tiny capsules the size of a pill into one liter plastic bottles, and I was duly impressed. I remember too how I debated and debated about which glass to buy for my dad in the gift shop, and how I worried about whether or not it would survive the trip in my suitcase (it did!) I remember how I asked for a bag of almonds at the snack bar and was complimented on my pronunciation, because almond is kind of a hard word to say, and after many months of tongue-twisting, I had managed a smooth soft L. Those moments were pure gold to me. I am hoping I’ll taste a few memories more as I work my way through the rest of my spoils, my miniature version of Russia in California.

Cardamom Banana Oat Bread

I used to make banana bread all the time. In my early years of grad school, I was pretty much living off the bargain produce bin at Berkeley Bowl, and I always had more bananas than I could eat before they went south. And so I made banana bread, in one hundred different variations. But then when my circumstances became slightly less dire, I started baking all kinds of other things (scones! cakes! cupcakes!), and humble banana bread was left in the dust. Until now!

The thing is, I really like to eat oats for breakfast. I ate this baked oatmeal, with minor variations, for months on end. I loved it. I tried traditional oatmeal too, and sometimes I ate it raw in yogurt, a trick I learned from my dad, who calls it “concrete.” A very good name for it! But I happened to have a few bananas, and I became fixated on the idea of putting oats into banana bread. With cardamom! And thus, this breakfast was born.

The batter is nice and thick, just the way I like it, and I sprinkled a few oats on top for good measure.

If I’ve learned anything in my adult years, it’s that we all have a tried and true banana bread recipe. I prefer butter to oil, for instance, and if it doesn’t have nuts of some kind, it’s not worth eating, at least for me. So I encourage you to try throwing a few teaspoons of cardamom into your next batch of your favorite recipe. It is so delicious! And, I have to say, it also pairs really nicely with chocolate. I had many a slice slathered with Nutella: heavenly! However you like it, I hope you enjoy!

Cardamom Banana Oat Bread
Adapted from The Daily Green

1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2 c all purpose flour
1 c quick-cooking oats
1/2 c brown sugar (or 3/4 c, if you like it more than lightly sweet)
2 1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c butter
1 c mashed bananas (about 2)
1 c milk
2 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
1/2 to 1 c walnuts or pecans

-Preheat oven to 350 F and grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan.
-Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer.
-Cut in the butter with two knives or a pastry cutter until the texture resembles moist sand.
-Add the wet ingredients and stir just until moistened through, adding the nuts last.
-Pour batter into prepared pan, topping with a few dry oats.
-Bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes, but start checking it with a cake tester at 40 minutes. Be careful not to over bake, as the oats will tend to make the bread dry out quickly.
-Let the bread cool on a rack for 20 minutes before removing from the pan. Slice and enjoy!



On Writing Every Day

When I think about it, I have always been a writer. When I was little, I scribbled in all kinds of notebooks and got really excited to start new journals on January 1. I had those tiny ones with actual locks and keys, and that added to the mystique for me, even if I was only writing about how excited I was that I got to pick out my own candy bar at the grocery store. As I grew up, I kept writing, really picking up steam around middle school, when I really had Things To Say. And although this sounds odd, my greatest pride in my high school years is the cache of journals I kept. I read through those books, lined with tiny writing in purple ink, and there is no way to describe the thrill of recognizing myself, of thinking, “Yes, all these years ago, that is still me.” It’s less about the events I’m capturing (though there are certainly a fair share of teenage heartbreaks and petty annoyances) than about the voice I am claiming as my own. It’s almost frightening to see it so crystal clear, a whole decade later.

The draw of this type of writing for me is that this is the one place where I am completely honest. Honest about everything that is going on in my life, yes, but more importantly, honest with myself. I stopped writing for a long time when I was in college, busy conjugating Russian verbs and writing papers about Faulkner and daydreaming about being a grown up someday. But when I went to grad school, a miraculous thing happened. I started writing again, for me. I found my voice again, buried under a lot of postmodern jargon and literary terminology. It was there all along. I will never forget the thrill of buying my first little notebook and putting an image of the roofs of St. Petersburg on the cover. I was me again.

And I was starting a new tradition. Everyone has their preferred method of writing, and for me, there is nothing better than a small notebook. I like the lined pages, I like that the spiral allows it to lay flat, and, most of all, I love that they have these little pockets for all my ephemera. I have been through ten of them since 2005. And I love every single one of them. As soon as I am nearing the end of one journal, I start the hunt for a new cover image. I find them all over the place. This one is from a grocery ad, I think.

There is still something magical for me in writing things out by hand, maybe because my work is almost all done on computers. I like the feel of a pen in my hand, the smooth glide of ink, and the gorgeous curl of pages so filled with writing that they transform into rustling waves of paper.

This is the last journal I made before Eric and I got married. The image is of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and it’s especially sweet to me now because we are going to Istanbul in October! It feels like a dream come true to me, and I have the transition from dream to reality preserved right there in my journal.

Although these are my favorite journals to write in, I also have a respectable collection of other ones. Some are little guys I took on trips abroad for easy scribbling, and some are bigger ones I chose because they were beautiful. There are about ten of these too, dating from about 2005. The striped one came with me to Berlin, the map one to Russia, and the yellow one to Brazil.

I love paging through these books from time to time, encountering myself on every page. I like seeing the rhythms my writing goes through. When I write, I write every day. Sometimes there are gaps of six months or so, but I find that when I get away from it like that, I eventually miss it and come back. That feels like a comfort to me, and it helps keep me from being too hard on myself about it. Not writing for me is almost like a wheel out of alignment that eventually rights itself. That makes me happy.

For years I wrote first thing in the morning: me, my coffee, my journal. These days mornings are pretty hectic, so I write in the afternoons. No matter what’s going on, and even if I don’t feel like writing, it always makes me feel better. I am so grateful for that. We all have rituals that are important to us, and this is the most precious one to me. My life is in these pages. They are my greatest treasure.

The Colors of Santa Barbara

You guys, a funny thing happened to me. My computer died. Well, the screen died, and without the screen, a laptop is not much use. There are all kinds of positive things in this equation, though. 1) Everything is thoroughly backed up. 2) My husband, who knows all kinds of things about computers and is very sweet to boot, has let me log in to my computer through his, which is where I’m writing now. This is a lifesaver, but not a permanent solution. We’ve talked through all of the options, and, given that the computer is reaching the end of its lifespan anyway, I am most likely getting a new computer. Exciting! Except for the price tag. Oh well, such is technology. 3) This happened on Thursday morning, and we left for Santa Barbara on Thursday night. While I was bummed not to be able to take my laptop and finally catch up on blogs and Twitter, it made for a really lovely unplugged weekend. I really want to do a proper post on the sights of Santa Barbara because they are gorgeous, but since I’m a bit technologically frazzled at the moment, I just want to share the images that stand out to me the most: the ones with the most beautiful colors.

Santa Barbara is chock full of these pretty tandem bikes, and you see them rolling all over the coast. I love their bright colors and canopies.

This bright planter stopped me in my tracks. I would never have imagined that lime green could be so gorgeous.

Bougainvillea as far as the eye can see!

There are beautiful tiles everywhere you look, and they really serve to brighten the mornings clouded over by June (and July!) gloom.

I loved the way the flower petals fell into this fountain, sort of like morning dew in reverse.

This planter stole my heart too. I just want to paint this pattern on everything!

If the sun hadn’t peeked through from behind the clouds, this table and chairs were prepared to stand in as understudy.

This blanket down by the beach cracked me up. I didn’t throw a coin in, but it’s thought-provoking. Maybe I really am cut out to be in the NBA…

But really, this little tour of the colors of Santa Barbara wouldn’t be complete without the brightest of greens…

And the deepest of blues.

Headed to Santa Barbara!

Eric and I are heading to Santa Barbara this weekend! I haven’t been in five years, and I am looking forward to seeing all the sights with Eric. But even more than that, I’m excited to have a relaxing weekend adventure. If anyone knows the area well and has any recommendations, I would be grateful for them! Thanks and happy weekend to you all!

Kale, Farro, and Fennel Salad

I wasn’t quite sure about this recipe when I saw it. It’s from Heidi Swanson, whose ideas are always glorious, but fennel is not a favorite of mine. I have tried to like it, really, but in big chunks it just has too much anise flavor for me. This recipe, however, hits the jackpot, and I am so glad I made it. I will probably buy fennel every week now (or at least whenever I can find it at the farmer’s market). The secret is to slice it very, very thin. Then you get the majestic crunch and a hint of juicy flavor without being overwhelmed. Magic.

I made this salad for a Saturday lunch (to combat the never-ending stream of cakes coming out my kitchen…it has definitely been a cake summer!), and it’s very quick and easy to put together. These flavors together are just inspired. The first step is to make the dressing, which is every salad’s dream. With scallions, lemon, and avocado, you can’t go wrong. The avocado makes it so wonderfully creamy.

Once you’ve got that blended, chop your kale and let it marinate in the dressing while you prep the rest of the vegetables. I have to say, my favorite thing about kale salads is just that: sitting in dressing for a while won’t hurt them a bit, and it actually improves them. There’s nothing sadder than an already dressed salad that doesn’t get finished at dinner: into the trash it goes. For people who like to cook in advance and thrive on leftovers (definitely me!), kale salad is a huge winner.

While the kale is marinating, you can cook your farro. I am excited to try wheat berries next time, since they are my favorite and nothing can beat their nutty crunch (for me, at least!) If you are gluten free, you can easily substitute your favorite bean for the grain.

And finally, you can slice your fennel and carrots. For the paper-thin cut you want, a mandoline is the best tool. Thankfully, we have one (thank you, Amanda Lynn!)

Everything goes together in your bowl, and your lunch is ready! I hope you enjoy it as much I did.

Kale, Farro, and Fennel Salad
Recipe slightly adapted from Heidi Swanson

For the Dressing:
2 scallions (or stalks of green garlic), chopped
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/3 c olive oil
2 Tbsp avocado
1 tsp honey
freshly ground pepper to taste

For the Salad:
1 bunch of kale, destemmed, chopped
1 c cooked farro or wheat berries
4-5  carrots, sliced very thin
1 small bulb of fennel, sliced paper thin
1 avocado, cut into small cubes
a handful of almond slices or pumpkin seeds

-Puree the green garlic, salt, lemon juice, olive oil, avocado, honey, and pepper in a food processor until smooth. Add more salt, honey, or lemon juice to taste.
– Combine the kale with half of the dressing in a large bowl and mix well. Let it marinate while you finish the other vegetables.
-Add the farro, carrots, and fennel, and the rest of the dressing. Add the avocados and almonds or pumpkin seeds and toss gently, until the dressing is well incorporated into the salad.

Happy Fourth of July!

I hope you all have a wonderful day with family and friends! Whether you’re crowded around a picnic table or waiting for the grill to heat up or even shivering under a blanket while watching fireworks (my personal Bay area experience!), I hope the day is a beautiful one for you and for all those you love.

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