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2012 August

One Year in the Blogosphere

One year ago, with all kinds of excitement, I sat down at my computer, did some writing, and hit publish. Why blog? I had a sense that there were more people in the world who cared about the things I cared about, and I wanted to connect with them. I had a sense that there were real creative communities online, and I wanted to be part of them. And I wanted to have a space to bring all of my creative and real-world adventures together, a place to preserve memories and to write about the things that make me spring out of bed every morning. My very first post ever, imported from an early non-public blog experiment, still rings true to me, and that makes me happy. Looking back on it, I am not exactly sure how this whole blog launch happened, since we had just made a huge move two weeks earlier, and I was, of course, in the throes of my final semester of my dissertation, but somehow we pulled it off. I say “we” because this blog is, and always has been, a joint effort. My husband helped set everything up for me with the hosting, and he manages the back end and coding, as well as being my (fantastic!) photographer every week for the style posts. But much more than that, he is endlessly supportive and encouraging of everything I do, and this blog is no exception. I asked him a few times this past year if my blog was cutting into time that we could be spending together, and his answer has always been that this blog is something that brings us together, not divides us. He is the best.

While the final semester of one’s dissertation might universally seem like the wrong time to start a personal project, I found the opposite to be true. This blog got me through those crazy months, and I’m so grateful that I had a space for myself and a sense of myself beyond a number of pages written per day. Now that I’m past that hurdle and into my next adventures, I’m so happy to have this space to record it all. It’s no lie that the past few months have been hectic, and I am really proud of the fact that I’ve blogged every weekday for a year. Sometimes I’ve come to the computer dragging, but I never regret writing, never regret trying put my thoughts into words, never regret creating a record of our life here and now. The day will come, I most sincerely hope, when I’ll be up all night with a newborn or chasing after toddlers all day, and I won’t be able to blog on a daily basis anymore. When that happens, I’ll happily shift into another phase of writing and publishing, but for now, I’ve got some time to spare, so I plan to keep writing every day, and I’ll let you know when that changes.

This little reflection would be so incomplete without thanking you, every single one of you, who have stopped by, read and written to encourage me, and shared your lives with me too. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for making this space what it is.

DIY Two-Tone Throw Pillows

I have been wanting to finish this project for months, and I am so glad I finally got to it. Our new couch, while lovely, was looking a little forlorn, and, worse still, it was lacking in pillows, which made it very hard to lie down and read a book. A critical situation! The idea of making two-tone pillows first occurred to me in the winter, when Eric decided that one of his shirts had shrunk too much to wear anymore. I had always loved that shirt, and I thought its pretty shade would go well with the soft brown of our couch. I scoured thrift stores for a good complementary color, and I found it in this kind of bizarre t-shirt. And then those two shirts spent a long time waiting for me to hack them up, stitch them together, and stuff them. Finishing these pillows was one of my monthly goals, so I am especially proud that I got them done. And also happy to have a good place to rest my head while reading!

Here are the two shirts. I kind of like those crazy characters on the tan one.

The critical part of this endeavor was just acquired last month: pillow forms. While I have more PolyFil than I know what to do with, I also know that it’s very hard to shape into something that isn’t…lumpy. We found pillow forms on sale last month during our afternoon in Montrose, so we got a few of them.

The first step was to rip the seams from the shirts. A really good mindless task, if I do say so myself. Ironing is less fun, but it at least it doesn’t take as long.

The next step was to line the shirts up, outsides facing in, and pin them together. I used a tape measure and chalk to mark the dimensions of the pillow form, giving me a guide for my stitches.

I was really determined to sew straight, and, I must say, I am proud of my stitching. It turns out that going slowly is the secret for me (well, at least, a secret). It feels good to know that I am learning, and it’s also kind of exhilarating to be well beyond school days and still find myself at the very beginning of some field of knowledge. It’s awesome being alive, isn’t it?

After stitching three sides, I trimmed the edges and put the pillow form inside. It’s almost a pillow!

I hand-stitched the fourth side, and this too is good mindless work. I made the stitches small and tight, and I’m really happy with how they came out.

Once they were both done, I put them out on the couch and took them for a test drive! I love that they are reversible, and I think I will probably switch them around from time to time. I love spending time with my sewing machine, and I am so happy with how these pillows look on the couch. Now to finish knitting the blanket to go in the middle! But that, I think, will be a project for next month, since I still have three skeins left…but I never mind a project that keeps on giving.

Frijoles Con Todo

It was one of my goals this month to master a few Mexican dishes, and that project is in full swing. It’s kind of a tomato, poblano, and avocado explosion in my kitchen, and I love it. This is one of my favorite dishes for sure. Thick and hearty with a spicy kick, it is my new go-to lunch.

The name means “beans with everything,” and my eyes lit up when I saw it in the cookbook. As a former vegetarian (and maybe still something of a pseudo-vegetarian), I make beans a big part of my diet for nutritional reasons but also because I love them. Any recipe that puts them front and center is bound to catch my eye.

The aforementioned “todo” is tomatoes, serrano peppers, avocados, onion, and cilantro. Oh, and cheese. A glorious mixture. And I just love the colors.

The recipe is from the Doña Tomas cookbook, which I was lucky enough to find at the library. I’ve had my eyes on it ever since I set foot in that beautiful restaurant, which was just around the corner from Eric’s apartment in Oakland. The first time we went was for their happy hour, and I never wanted to leave. Such seriously delicious tacos. The next time we went was for a farewell dinner with a dear friend who was leaving town to start a new job. I dreamed about that dinner so many times after we’d already moved away. The book is gorgeous and full of fantastic information as well as recipes, and it’s exactly what I was hoping to find.

I made a few changes here and there, but the biggest one is this. The “todo” in the original recipe is more of a topping, so all the veggies are raw, and I really wanted to cook them up and get a charred flavor, so I did just that. I loved it, but I am sure it is just as good with the topping stirred in at the last second. I may try it that way next time.

My biggest problem with this recipe was actually getting pictures taken before I ate it all! But I am pretty sure this is going to become a staple around here, so there’s no real danger of it going undocumented.

Frijoles Con Todo
Adapted from The Doña Tomas Cookbook

2 cups pinto beans, picked over, rinsed and drained (or 3-4 cans cooked)
1-2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 avocados, cut into ¾-inch dice
2 heirloom or vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into 1/3-inch dice
1 small red onion, cut into ¼-inch dice
¼ lb queso fresco, crumbled
2 serrano chiles, minced
½ bunch cilantro, stemmed and chopped

-Cover the beans by several inches with water and a dash of olive oil and cook in a pressure cooker on high for 25 minutes (or soak them overnight and cook over medium heat for 1-2 hours).
-Discard most of the water–leave just enough so that beans are halfway covered.
-In a separate pot, saute onion and peppers in olive oil until browned. Add the beans and remaining cooking water. Add the salt one tablespoon at a time until it is seasoned as you like it.
-Stir in the tomatoes, avocados, and cilantro and stir for just a few minutes, until heated through.
-Top with queso fresco and enjoy!


On our way back from Palomar last weekend, we stopped to stroll around the Old West town of Temecula. We didn’t know too much about it, but we were charmed. This picture is actually from a huge mural. Quite the trick of the eye!

Temecula is really growing as a wine region in Southern California, and while we didn’t have time to stop by any wineries on our way, we could see the lovely rolling hills where the vines grow. The Old Town is one long strip with wood-planked sidewalks. So pretty.

I thought this old wagon was deserving of a photo op.

It was definitely an antique lover’s dream town.

And, if you happen to be in the mood for some chocolate-covered bacon, they’ve got you covered.

I think I’ll stick with gouda though…

One of our favorite places was the little spot where we had dinner: The Bank of Mexican Food. This was the first building in town (it used to be a livery stable before it was a bank), and in the 70s it was turned into a Mexican restaurant. The vault is still there! It looked pretty flimsy to me, but I bet it was top of the line in 1890. I adore buildings that had other purposes in previous lives–it’s like a compressed chronotope right before your eyes. I missed that so much when I moved away from Memphis, where there are tons of cute cafes, shops, and restaurants that used to be houses. I am glad to find such places out West too.

And I loved this shopping cart planter. Such a great idea!

On the way out of town I snapped a few more pictures of the murals. I am such a railroad nerd.

Even though the town doesn’t look exactly like this any more, you can still feel that frontier touch. We’re so glad we stopped by!

On Stripes and Style

It’s funny how things evolve. A few years ago, when I first began to think of the way I dress as a creative outlet, I was putting new looks together every day and spending lots of time learning from other awesome people about mixing patterns and taboo colors, like black with navy or red with teal. It was a blast, and I miss it. I still love putting unusual looks together, but in the heat and busy pace of summer, it’s one of the things that has fallen a bit by the wayside. I am happy to say, though, that it won’t be too much longer until fall, which is my favorite season, and not just because I get to wear tights and sweaters. Living in Berkeley is kind of like living in a perpetual fall (except when it’s winter…and the two days of summer per year), so maybe that’s why it’s the season I feel most comfortable dressing for. But in the meantime, this summer has definitely made me get creative.

This green shirt is a beloved thrift store find, and the skirt is from Buffalo Exchange in Berkeley. It was kind of comical when I bought it, since it would never be warm enough for me to wear it without tights, but now it’s become a southern California staple.

The belt is from my favorite thrift store in Memphis, and the bracelet is from my favorite jewelry shop there. Oh, Memphis, hallowed ground of affordable fashion!

Oddly enough, one of my favorite things about this belt is the misalignment in the back. Makes for a more interesting pattern.

My favorite part of this look is definitely my over-the-top earrings. I haven’t worn them in ages, and they were just calling to me today. Who says stars and stripes are just for the 4th of July?

My work load should ease up this fall, and I am looking forward to spending more time hunting for style inspiration. I am definitely not a follower of trends in a larger sense, but I love seeing the looks that fun and creative ladies put together. Here’s to inspiration!

The Luckiest

It took Eric and I a while to decide on the song for our first dance at our wedding reception. For a long time we thought it was going to be Alison Krauss, and then we thought it would be Ray LaMontagne, but then I heard this song, and it was all over. It’s “The Luckiest” by Ben Folds Five (you can listen to it here), and I had never even heard it before, but even the first time I heard it, it gave me chills. It is such a strange song, really, and I love that it talks about love in ways I’ve never heard, ways that are far beyond the cliches we all rely upon to describe the ineffable. My favorite lines are, “Where was I before the day when I first saw your lovely face? Now I see it every day.” Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but it makes my mind reel. Where was I before Eric was part of my life? Somewhere definitely not as good as where I am right now, that’s for sure. But what I really love about these lines is that they can actually be taken literally–they make me think about what I was doing the day before I met Eric. I was probably working on PhD exam prep, answering emails, washing the dishes, trudging through the rain on my way to class, having no idea that my life would change so magically the very next day. The juxtaposition of that everyday life with the the life that I share with him now–the fact that now I cannot imagine my life without him–that’s what’s magic here. I love thinking about those moments in time because they illustrate so clearly what an incredible gift I was given, which I had no way of anticipating or deserving, but, nonetheless, here it was. There are probably just a few things that change our lives forever, and I love that this song tries to capture the feeling of one of those moments, that inexpressible gratitude for the person who is now as much a part of you as your right hand.

Eric and I listen to our wedding music all the time, especially when we’re cooking or driving somewhere. We play the dinner music when we want to talk and the dancing music when we feel like singing along. But our program music (first dances, entrance songs, etc.) are on another, much shorter playlist, and we hardly ever play it, maybe for that reason. But this past weekend, when we were driving home from Palomar, I turned on that little playlist. “The Luckiest” came on, and there I was, just sobbing my heart out in the car. Because it’s so true. I am the luckiest. And I am reminded of that every single day, not always in big romantic moments, but in the little things: when we cook dinner together, when Eric is scrubbing a stain out of my favorite shirt, when we’re talking over the decisions of the day at the dinner table, when I’m doubled over laughing at something he’s said, when he tells me, every single night, to sleep well. These things are so precious and so priceless. When I think about how many of them there are every day, I feel overwhelmed by grace, really, just hit by a tidal wave of  blessedness. I am sure that a lot of us feel that our partners are the greatest gift we’ve ever been given. The crazy thing is that they are gifts that keep giving themselves to you, that keep flooding you with love, that keep making you a better person every day, just by being who they are. I know I am not the only one, but I am the luckiest.

Newsprint Tape Painting

I have been working on this painting for ages, but that’s only because I usually only have time to paint a few lines at a time. It is actually kind of the perfect project for a busy person because it doesn’t demand more than 5 minutes at a time. It’s been really fun watching it take shape, and yesterday I decided that it is finally finished!

The word newsprint might be a little misleading…this is actually the phone book! They keep appearing on our doorstep year after year, and I was determined to make something out of them. I started by pulling out a few pages and affixing them to a canvas with ModPodge. I diluted it just a bit with water and then used a broad brush to apply it to the canvas before putting the pages on, and then I put a few more coats on top until the pages were secured.

I played around with them a bit until I had them arranged in a little sunburst pattern.

This is what it looked like after the first coat of ModPodge. Getting there! I wrapped the excess paper around the back of the canvas and taped it down.

Here is the canvas ready to paint.

And here is the first line. Painter’s tape is a girl’s best friend, and it makes nice straight lines so easy to paint.

Here things are beginning to take shape. Somehow the newsprint made me go in a  tropical color direction. I’ve had some questions about paint lately, and I’m glad that it’s actually right here in the picture (along with a notebook and my laptop, for some reason). This is the very basic (ha!) acrylic paint I use, which is really easy to find and really affordable.

And that’s it! Now I just have to decide where to hang it.

Creamy Black Bean Soup

Last week I had to have a cavity filled, and it was so not fun. I haven’t had a cavity since I was a kid, but apparently they are coming back to haunt me. Our dentist is great, and it didn’t hurt at all, but I was told to eat only soft foods for a couple of days. Since I went in thinking I was just going to have a regular cleaning, I found myself making do with what I had on hand during a busy week. There was a lot of oatmeal and a lot of yogurt going on, and also: soups. Soup is not exactly what you want to be eating during the hot summer months, but this is one is so delicious that it more than made up for it.

This soup comes with a story too, one that goes back several years, to when Eric and I were driving through the desert on the way home from his scientific balloon campaign in New Mexico. It was just the two of us, a truck full of scientific equipment, and mile after mile after mile of Interstate 40. We stopped in the little town of Winslow, Arizona for lunch, and Eric suggested a place called The Turquoise Room that he’d found listed in our GPS. When we stumbled in, we just could not believe our eyes. The restaurant is inside La Posada, a gorgeous old railroad resort that has been very lovingly and meticulously restored. After days of empty deserts, we seriously felt like we were walking into an oasis.

The Turquoise Room carries on the tradition of Fred Harvey, who ran the superb dining cars and restaurants in and along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, stretching from Kansas all the way out to California (this recent book chronicles the development of his empire–a great read!). I had never heard of it, but I became obsessed with it, and the famous Harvey Girls, who came from all over the country to serve in the kitchens and dining rooms (there is even a Judy Garland musical based on them!). In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, it was one of few solid employment opportunities available to women, and I have loved reading some of their stories. I didn’t know any of that yet when we stopped for lunch, but I quickly fell in love. The first thing we ordered was their signature soup, a mixture of black bean and sweet corn soups. It was amazing. Here I am three years ago, loving it. (Look at all the links in this paragraph! I am totally in railroad geekery mode).

And, just for fun, here’s a picture of the two of us, back when we were just kids. (I know we’re still just kids, but we look so young here!)

But, to return to the soup at hand–this soup is one half of that majestic one. After a few days of split peas, the idea dawned on me, and I was so happy that I’d given Eric The Turquoise Room Cookbook for our two-year anniversary. It is a gorgeous book, full of incredible recipes and the history of La Posada. The cuisine is really focused on native and local foods, and those foods just happen to be local in our branch of the desert here in LA. Perfect.

This soup cooks up quickly, and then all that’s left to do is puree it in the blender. It is so, so richly flavorful, and it was absolutely the best thing about having a cavity. But I am sure it will have a permanent place in our dinner repertoire now, cavity or no.

Creamy Black Bean Soup
Adapted from The Turquoise Room

1 lb dried black beans (if using canned, about 4 cans plus liquid)
1/2 Tbsp mild chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp chipotle pepper
1/4 tsp pepper
1 small bay leaf
1/2 c diced white onion
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil or butter
1 quart water

-Cook the beans in 1 quart of water with a splash of olive oil in a pressure cooker for about 25 minutes. (Alternatively, soak the beans overnight and cook for 1 and 1/2 hours on the stovetop, until tender).
-Pour the beans and remaining water into a large pot and add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.
-Remove the bay leaf and puree the soup in a blender. You can add water to reach the desired consistency if you like. That’s it!

Palomar Mountain

There are lots of perks of being married to an astrophysicist, and one of them is that I’m always learning. This past weekend I went with Eric to Palomar Mountain in San Diego county, where he was observing on the mighty 200-inch Hale telescope. This telescope, completed in 1949, is truly a wonder, and its history reads like an endless tale of obstacles, all overcome to create what is called the perfect machine (there is a book by the same name about the telescope, and also a documentary, which we plan to watch soon. It is actually on Hulu, so you can watch it free!) It was the biggest telescope in the world for over 40 years, until Keck was built in Hawaii, and it is still seriously impressive, seriously productive, and seriously beautiful.

It rained on our way up the mountain on Friday, and it honestly felt like paradise after how hot it’s been in LA these past few months. There are redwoods everywhere, and the smell of the rain mingled with their sweet perfume was heavenly.

Once we arrived, Eric needed to work on calibrating the telescope for the night. Different observers come every night with their own specified targets, so everything has to be aligned properly. On the way up to the dome, I spotted these mountain orchids. Amazing. I have never seen them growing wild.

Since observing depends a lot on the weather, each night comes with its ups and downs. They can’t open the dome if it’s raining, or if there is ash in the air from wild fires, or if it’s too humid, and, of course, if it’s a cloudy night, the telescope won’t be able to see much. But when the conditions are right, this machine can do magical things. This is the bottom of the telescope, as seen from the viewing gallery inside the dome.

This is a model of the mirror in the telescope, which was sent by train all the way across the country in 1936, packaged just like this. After they poured it, it had to cool for over a year before they were able to pack it for shipping. Wow.

This is the visitors’ entrance to the telescope. This gives some idea of how imposing it is. When they are ready to observe, those two little doors open, and the whole dome can turn 360 degrees in order to point it in the right direction to see the targeted sources. Impressive. Although light pollution from the surrounding areas is a real concern, I have to say that I have never seen the stars the way I saw them on the mountain. There was the Milky Way, right above my head, and more stars than I’ve ever laid eyes on. Incredible.

If I’m using a lot of superlatives, it’s because it’s humbling to be so close to something so large, something that really displays the power of human ingenuity, and, at the same time, to feel so close to things that are millions of light years away, things that existed so long before I ever took my first breath. I have to say it again: wow.

Although the 200-inch is open for tours and there is even a museum as well, I feel privileged to have had a behind-the-scenes look at things and also to have visited such a beautiful  place. It was a wonderful little getaway, and we had fun exploring the surrounding areas on our way back home. Eric had told me about these signs advertising 25 avocados for $5, and I was so excited! Guacamole for the rest of the summer! Avocado ice cream! I was not disappointed. We bought ours at this cute little stand.

And I had to take a picture of the sign from the road with my phone, just to remind myself of my glee!

We stopped at another produce stand, Pala Rey Produce, a bit further to stock up for the week, since we had missed our usual Saturday morning farmer’s market. This place made me so happy. Everything was so fresh and affordable, and they were playing Beach House in there, which happens to be the band of the guy who lived across the hall from me freshman year at Oberlin. Good times.

Also, a completely adorable selection of jams and pickles. That never hurts.

It was so wonderful to get to be part of Eric’s work and to visit a new place at the same time. The telescopes at Palomar are owned by Caltech, and Eric observes there pretty frequently, so I hope I will get to go back with him sometime in the future. I left with such happy feelings about the kindness of his colleagues, the caliber of work they are doing, and the excitement of all the visitors. One of the docents told me that he thinks of the 200-inch as a national monument, and I can’t disagree. I’m grateful I had the chance to see it and enjoy it.

Anniversary Dress

Remember a while back, when I told you about the awesome purple dress I found at the thrift store? I didn’t buy it because I thought it was too expensive (I mean, we all have our own sliding scales), and then I went back and found that it was on sale? This is that majestic dress. I had planned to wear it for our anniversary dinner in Newport Beach, but we were so winded and tired that day that we decided to go casual. I was sure I’d get another chance to wear it, and yesterday I put it on, just because.

I love the color, and I love the detail, and I love the architectural pattern of the fabric blocking. And I just realized today that this dress is pretty anniversary appropriate, since it’s fairly close to the color of my bridesmaids’ dresses.

Even though our anniversary was two months ago, I feel like I’m still celebrating being married to Eric every day. I cannot tell you how much he makes me laugh and how kind and compassionate he is on a daily basis. I don’t know what I would do without him.

I had planned to wear all of my wedding jewelry, which I really love, with this dress, so I put it all on. I was so happy when we found this necklace because it fit so perfectly with the soft sparkles of beadwork on my dress.

My earrings matched, and were just delicate little drops.

And these rings, they were my something new, a gift from my Besfrinn. So sweet.

This is even the same lipstick I wore on our wedding day (though no fancy hair today!) Maybe I’ll wear this dress for our anniversary next year, or maybe for my birthday next month. Whenever it makes its way out of my closet, I’ll definitely be ready to celebrate.

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