Friday, May 31, 2013

Heat Wave Playlist

And I don't mean Linda Ronstadt.
Warning:  This post contains a high concentration of mandolins and fiddles.
I don't know what it is about heat that just makes me feel all folksy.
Anyway, here's what I'm listening to during this encounter with summer weather...

1. Little Big Town - Pontoon
because "Tornado" seemed a tad inappropriate

2. Sara Watkins - Long Hot Summer Days
I wish they had the album version available for me to post from youtube, but alas... this is pretty good anyway.

3. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - Man on Fire
I especially love this video because it has the New York City ballet in it!

4. Langhorne Slim and the Law - Bad Luck

5. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down - We the Common (for Valerie Bolden)
a little bit like Feist, if you haven't heard her before

6. Mumford and Sons - Roll Away Your Stone

7. The Decemberists - Sons and Daughters

8. Jack White - Love Interruption

9. Old Crow Medicine Show - Wagon Wheel

10. Alabama Shakes - Always Alright
I love this song so much, but iTunes won't let me buy it unless I buy the whole Silver Linings Playbook soundtrack.  I hate it when they do that.  Anyway, awesome summer song.

I'm not complaining about the heat at all.  I'm embracing it.  I've been running outside, taking the kids to the park at work, and even got S to play tennis with me in the 95 degree weather last night.  We had so few days of sun so far this year, a little sweat won't hurt me.  It does seem unfair, however, that the same weather that makes me want to eat fresh fruits and vegetables also makes me want to eat frozen yogurt every day.  Oh well, what is it the kids are saying these days?  "You only get to live one time?"  YOGTLOT?  That sounds right to me.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

If You Were a Cicada

they're heeeeeere...
I remember the last time that the Brood II cicadas invaded the northeast.  My mom signed my sister and me up for tennis lessons, but we had trouble finding places to play because every court was covered in cicadas and they flew around at face-level all day long.  I think we were all a little traumatized by that experience and now they're back to haunt us.  They're popping up in various towns near me (but thankfully not yet near my apartment), including the park where I go running.  It adds to the experience a bit.  Whenever I see a cicada, I scream a little and start running faster.  It's a good simulation of what it will be like to run the zombie race.  There was one on the car parked next to me and the sound of its wings beating was fairly disturbing.  You can constantly hear the background drone of their chirps and there's a pretty distinct smell to the dead ones scattered on hot pavement.  Yuck.

The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC did a segment yesterday morning called "What's Changed since 1996?" with the clever Twitter hashtag "Cicada van Winkle" about what it would be like to be a cicada that wakes up after 17 years to find a vastly different world (or in some ways, not so different).  I thought the bit was so funny that I decided to make a copycat version from a different perspective.

Here's what this part of the world was like the last time the Brood II cicadas came out of the ground:
  • I was ten years old, my sister was 7, and the kids I work with were barely an idea in their parents' imaginations
  • Amanda Bynes was like this:
  • "Tha Crossroads" by Bone Thugs n Harmony was the #1 song this week
  • AOL was the most hi-tech way of communicating with your friends
  • The first Mission: Impossible was the #1 best-selling movie of the week (preceded by Twister)
  • John Grisham's The Runaway Jury was at the top of the bestseller list
  • People were watching Friends, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, ER, Beverly Hills 90210, and The X-Files
  • The World Trade Center was still standing, but TWA Flight 800 would explode in July and the Unabomber had just been arrested in April
  • What's a Britney Spears?  Is she one of the Spice Girls?  ("Wannabe" debuted in June 1996, while "Hit Me, Baby... One More Time" doesn't come out until 1999)

  • There was only one MTV and it still played music videos (I know because I just started being allowed to watch it at home)
  • People were debating whether to re-elect Bill Clinton or vote for Bob Dole in the fall and the stock market was booming
I could go on like this all day, but I think this gives you enough to think about for now.  This was a really fun post, so if you can think of other differences (or similarities), post them in the comments!

Summer Reading

Summer reading, or "beach reading" has become synonymous with light fluff or guilty pleasures.  If you're into that, then that's cool, no need to change your routine.  I'll admit to reading the first two Fifty Shades books and I tore through Gone Girl like it ain't no thang.  But sometimes you want something with a little more substance.  While you do want to spend your vacation relaxing, having time off from work and/or school is also the perfect time to tackle some classics that might have been on your list for years.  I've compiled a list of some of my favorite summer reading books and a few other suggestions that will be fun and easy to read while providing a little challenge and art for those who want it.  All of these books are as enjoyable at face value as they are once you start to analyze them.

This is one of my all-time favorite books in general, but it's perfect for summer traveling because its characters are basically doing a giant bar crawl of Europe.  Hemingway's simple and direct writing style also makes it very easy to read.  If you want to imagine yourself as a disillusioned expatriate party girl with no moral compass (or you just want to see how they lived), then this book will satisfy your hedonism. It's equally satisfying if you care about things like symbolism and history.  If you're growing weary of The Great Gatsby in all its forms but still can't get enough of the Jazz Age, this is the perfect alternative.  It's just as representative of the generation, but from a different perspective.
Best for: reading while traveling, on a long train ride between cities or in an outdoor cafe

I'm almost finished reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and I'm at that awkward point where I can't stop reading it because I have to know what happens, but I also don't want the book to end.  It's a psychological, magical-realist thriller about a man who loses his cat, and then his wife, in early-90's Tokyo and encounters many strange characters along the way to find them.  It's eerie and erotic enough to keep you turning the pages, but it's also full of symbolism and philosophy.  Murakami's writing style is fairly dry and simplistic throughout this novel (you won't have to sit there trying to figure out what he was trying to say), but every once in a while there's a phrase or sentence that's poetic enough to tickle my thinking cap.
Best for: long flights, or entertaining yourself on rainy days

I know I've talked about this book on my blog before, but it's worth mentioning again.  It's a coming-of-age story that takes place during the summer and it's a murder mystery/revenge novel.  What more could you ask for?  Oh yeah, also some brilliant, beautiful writing and intense political quandaries.  This was the most recent National Book Award winner and if you read it, you'll know why.
Best for: camping trips, sitting on the porch of a cabin

Swamplandia! is another book that I really can't recommend enough. Anyone who has talked to me about books in the past year has probably heard me mention it before.  The setting is very summery -- Florida's swampy backwoods -- and it is also a mystery that keeps you from being able to put it down.  The chapters alternately focus on each of the different characters, so you really become invested in all of them.  Karen Russell also has a lot of moments of pure poetry in her writing that gave me goosebumps as I was reading it.
Best for: visiting your grandparents in Florida, road trips, if you're the only one who hasn't gone home for summer vacation after the semester is over (that's when I read it)

This is a short book that could easily be read in one sitting, but its language packs a punch.  It's a little hipstery (it's about a librarian in Portland who likes to shop at thrift stores), but it's written beautifully and there's a little love story and some life-contemplating in there, so it's fun to read and engaging.  It's written almost more like an epic poem than a novel (or maybe it's a novel in verse).  The story is easy to understand, but the words are chosen carefully for their sound, rhythm, and meaning.  The novel is based entirely in the thoughts of the main character, with only a little bit of dialogue, and it zooms in and out of time, between past lives of people in postcards, her own childhood, and present-day.  It's very interesting and artful, but cute at the same time.
Best for: pool/beach reading, carrying it in your purse/pocket and reading a little bit at a time when you're waiting for somebody

This Pulitzer Prize-winning book is also a coming-of-age story (what summer reading would be complete without that?) about two Jewish comic book artists living in New York City during the first half of the 20th century.  One of the main characters escaped from Prague in the advent of World War II with a little help from Houdini-style magic, which becomes a theme throughout the rest of the story.  You don't have to know anything or care about comic books to enjoy this novel, although you might come out of it with some appreciation for their history.  This book is full of romance, secrets, and excitement.
Best for: everyday, sitting in a city park, NJ Transit/subway reading

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Jessica the Tattooed Lady, part 1

Almost all of you are friends with me on facebook and/or instagram, so you've probably already seen the pictures of my new tattoo.  But just in case you haven't (or you want to see it again), here are more pictures...
I went to Anchor Tattoo in New Brunswick, right at the corner of Easton Ave and Hamilton.  The shop is three or four flights of stairs up, but it is one of the nicer tattoo shops I've been to.  It opened fairly recently and it still looks clean and brand new.  There is a lot of artwork on the walls -- tattoo or otherwise -- and a few corners of oddity collections, which is right up my alley.

This is the tattoo that I was covering up.  It is exactly what you think it is.  I know everyone knows that you shouldn't get someone's name or initials tattooed on you, but people do stupid things sometimes.  I tend to be pretty impulsive, so if I get an idea in my head that I want to do something, very little can stop me from doing it.  This works for good things sometimes, but there are several examples of when it has not worked out well.  Learn from my mistake.  Just don't do this.

My artist was Dave and it was a very special experience because he was as excited about the concept as I was.  In my consultation with him, I told him that I wanted a Mexican Day of the Dead skull but with 1920s flapper hair, with the hair covering the original tattoo.  I gave him a few other guidelines and he came up with something that was even better than I imagined it in my head.  I wish I had asked to take a photo of the sketch he did for the piece because it would show you how talented he is and how detailed his work was.  I expected to be made fun of for making such a stupid body art mistake in the first place, but Dave was so professional that he actually made me feel OK about it.  After he fit the drawing to my arm and his apprentice made a stencil, we were ready to begin.

His artwork was so detailed that just the black lines took about two hours.  In this image, you see the shading part of the hair, but before he did the shading, the entire thing was a series of tiny lines so that it would look like actual hair.  I sat pretty well during that part (and Dave was very sweet to tell me what a good job I was doing, not squirming or complaining about the pain), listening to Pantera and Tom Waits, but during the 20 minutes or so of shading, the area was getting pretty sensitive and we agreed to do the color another time.  Because I had to go into the city for a ballet that evening, I also didn't want to rush him.  He has some big ideas for the colors, so I can't wait to share that with you once it's finished.

the peacock feather headband, unseen in the picture above, is Dave's favorite part
It's healing pretty well right now, although I am impatient to see what it looks like when all of the peely parts are done peeling.  I'm going back for the color in two weeks, so it will be another one of my rewards for completing the zombie race.

As I said before, this is my eleventh tattoo (although I still only have ten).  I can't show you pictures of all of them without having someone else act as photographer, so I might have to wait to do that in another post.  After all of the other tattoo shops I've been to and artists I've worked with, I can honestly say that this has been my best tattoo experience.  I highly recommend Anchor Tattoo and Dave if you live in New Jersey.  They were knowledgeable without being condescending, friendly and comfortable without being unprofessional, and they had a positive attitude about the whole thing that made me feel like I could really trust them.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Too Excited to Sleep

*this post was written by last-night-Jessica so that this-morning-Jessica could sleep in an extra hour.  It's sort of like Back to the Future but with blogging*

On this final day of my double life as a teacher/nanny (for now), I have been working for fourteen hours straight, but I'm too excited about this weekend to feel tired.  I was able to work in the third grade for these last two days and I have to say that it was the best note on which I could have ended.  The third grade classes still have their problem students, but at that age, it's not as much of a struggle to make them do math for 40 minutes or sit and read a book by themselves.  The third grade classrooms are also the only ones in the school that have air conditioning... it's amazing what a little physical comfort will do for someone's job performance (and I mean for the students as much as for me).

I have four work-free days and plan to pack a lot of fun into them.  Here's a list of the highlights...

1. New tattoo day tomorrow Friday (also known as today for you)!
I haven't gotten a new tattoo in over a year.  This will be my eleventh tattoo, but it's a cover-up, so I will still technically only have ten by the end of the day.  I will probably do a whole post about my body art sometime next week, including before and after pictures.  For now, I'll share some of the inspiration I found while researching my new piece...
hmm, I wonder...

2. Ballet tomorrow night!
In continuation of my Lincoln Center addiction, I decided to buy myself a ballet ticket to tomorrow night's performance of Don Quixote by the American Ballet Theater.  I'm not taking anyone with me... I'm looking forward to just sitting alone in a theater with nothing to focus on but the beauty of the dancers' movements.  And yes, I just realized how creepy that sounded.  If loving ballet is wrong, then I don't want to be right!

3. Ocean City Saturday!
If you live in New Jersey, it's kind of assumed that Memorial Day means the entire state makes a massive migration to the shore (that's right, the shore).  I've actually never done this before, but when my boyfriend's parents live in one of our state's best resort towns, I think it's high time I participate in this tradition... especially because this may be my last chance.  I will probably not be riding in a surrey.  I probably will be eating Kohr's frozen custard and playing minigolf.

Unfortunately, in order to beat traffic on the way home, we plan to leave sometime on Sunday afternoon or evening.  On the bright side, when we get back to our apartment, something will be waiting for us...

which we will watch in one sitting.

5. nothing
Monday will be a "me" day.  I can read, run, clean, cook, get my nails done (if I can find an open salon), or just sleep without feeling guilty about it.

Other things on my mind right now:
kale chips, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, laser tag, The Great Gatsby movie review (late), make a doctor's appointment, tours of Tuscany, I wonder what happened to the Perillo people (remember the commercials?), mmm olive oil, FREE BARBECUE STARTS THIS WEEKEND!!!, 'tini Tuesday?, hey remember that part about not being tired?  I guess I was wrong.  Good night! (or good morning for people living in the NOW)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Week in the Life of a Substitute Teacher

The past two weeks have been very challenging and I appreciate you readers for bearing with me while I've been away from the blog.  I've wanted to update more regularly, but I thought it would be best to organize my experiences into a single, cohesive post.  I must have been overly optimistic (or overly ambitious) when I agreed to substitute teach during the day while still working as a nanny in the afternoons/evenings, especially because I believed I would still go for a run every day.  Silly Jessica.  Silly, naive, ignorant Jessica.  For those of you who are not teachers or who have never worked with elementary-school-age children, I hope that this post will put an end to the myth that teachers have "easy" jobs or get "too much time off" (things I've unfortunately seen some of my friends post on Facebook).

I woke up every day sometime between 5:30 or 6 in the morning.  This gave me enough time to check my email and the weather, eat breakfast, shower, pack a lunch, and get dressed in time to be in my car by 7 a.m. (and that's because I don't wear much makeup or do anything with my hair).  I drove 40-45 minutes in traffic to the school, which is a specialized charter school in South Jersey.  My main function during these weeks was to replace kindergarten and first grade teachers who were assigned to work one-on-one with special needs students during NJ ASK testing.  Last week was particularly difficult because I was dropped into an "inclusion" classroom (meaning that it has a relatively high percentage of special needs students) which typically has three teachers, but during this week had only one -- me, with no special needs training or preparation.  Now, this school is particularly well equipped for special needs students, and of course my experiences are not representative of all schools, but it is likely that many schools around the country just don't have the resources to provide special education teachers and teachers' aides to every classroom with multiple special needs students (or there may be many students who have undiagnosed disabilities).  In those cases, the teachers probably have experiences very similar to my own.  So, all teachers are constantly trying to accomplish multiple layers of mandated goals (state, district, school, etc.) while trying to address the varying needs of 20-30 different people, some of whom require one-on-one help with every assignment.  Add in the fact that these students are six years old and are still getting used to the idea of following directions and sitting still for most of the day and you can pretty much guarantee that elementary school teachers (if not all teachers) are on their feet, using every ounce of their energy and intellect for the entirety of the school day.  I had five students every day who had to sit at the table with me so that I could go over every step of every assignment with them, then about five more students who were far behind the rest of the class in reading or math and needed individual help as well.  Then, there are several more kids who are quite advanced compared to the rest of the class and who get bored easily, so they start acting out and causing distractions for the rest of the students.  Between those three groups, I never had a moment of peace.  Unfortunately, this also left a final handful of students who were neither behind nor advanced and received almost none of my attention during the day (a more experienced teacher would be able to balance their time and attention better, but it's still a problem that requires a lot of energy and effort).  I did get a 20 minute lunch break each day, but I need you to understand that most teachers work through their lunch periods or at the very least spend their lunch breaks dealing with school-related issues.  By the time I left the school at 1pm, I already felt like I had worked for a full day.  If I were a full-time teacher, I would only have a couple of hours left of work and then I could go home (although teachers often have to take their grading and prepwork home with them).  Instead, I drove an hour north to my next job.

My nanny job usually involves picking up the kids from school, helping with their homework, organizing some activities to get them off of the TV/computer, and driving them around between various sports and lessons.  The kids are both very smart, polite, and easy to deal with in comparison to the first half of my day. I really enjoy working for this family and get along with them very well, but they can also be a little bit disorganized and sometimes spring things on me at the last minute.  I don't mind it so much when I'm only working four or five hours a day, but when I had already been working for seven or eight hours, I sometimes felt like I just couldn't take any surprises... like the one night that I ended up working an hour late with no warning and didn't get home until 8:30.  On Tuesday night, I came home and cried for an hour.  These two weeks just seemed so long to me and I was already at the breaking point.  It was one of those times in my life when I felt like I needed things to slow down but there was no way that they could.  On Wednesday night, I came home with a fever.  I was sick all weekend (but still worked Friday night and went to a work event on Saturday) and ended up skipping the 5K on Sunday so that I could finally give my body a rest.  I literally have two hours of free time each day and I haven't gotten used to this new schedule enough yet to find the strength for otherwise necessary things like washing dishes, doing laundry, cooking, etc.  And I mean like I'm so lazy that I have to eat those salads that come in a bag.  How do people do this in real life?  I know there are people who work 12 hour days all the time and I have to believe that they are either investment bankers/corporate lawyers who can afford nannies and maids OR they are just like me and end up being worn down and very unhealthy by the time they reach middle age.  I do have one teacher friend who wakes up at 4 in the morning so that she can get a workout in before she goes to school for the day, but then I'd have to go to bed at 8:30 instead of 9:30... and if I'm already getting home from work after 8pm, that's just not happening.  I could go without sleep, but I guess I'm just one of those people for whom that is not an option, especially when I'm sick.

The bottom line is that I would never be able to do this job if I didn't have scheduled, regular vacations to break up the time into more manageable sections.  As lovely as your children may be, they are exhausting in large numbers and full of germs.  I know all of this even though I am someone who loves teaching and genuinely wants to do this full-time (although I now know that I would never cut it as an elementary school teacher)!  And yes, [public school] teachers are [generally] well-compensated with healthcare benefits and retirement packages, but there are still a lot of teachers out there who have to get second jobs in order to support themselves or their families.

I know every job can be hell sometimes and everyone has weeks when they just feel like they're not going to make it to Friday, but for my modest income and jobs that have a pretty low level of prestige, it's a little ridiculous to be spending thirteen or fourteen hours working each day (and yet that's what people who get paid hourly wages for part-time work end up having to do).  I don't have kids and I do have a partner on whom I can rely for support and help around the house, and I have hope that there's something better for me just around the corner, so I still consider myself incredibly fortunate.  I finally have Friday off and it's going to be a long weekend because of Memorial day.  In my efforts to just survive these two weeks, I've been neglecting my health and my job with the magazine.  I'll need to renew my focus on both of these things once this week is over.  And then it's only four more weeks until my summer vacation!  I'll be back to normal posts soon... thanks for sticking around.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Thank you, Dowager Countess of Grantham

Working Friday night, work event on Saturday, AND I'm sick...
except I mean it the opposite of how she meant it

Waking up at 6am Monday morning to do this crap all over again for one more week.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Incredible Sinking Jessica

I don't have time for a full post right now, but I wanted to update the blog so you kind of get a sense of what I'm going through right now.  I feel like that episode of Gilmore Girls when Rory and Lorelai keep playing phone tag because they're both so busy and Lorelai doesn't have time for a haircut and they each have separate mini-breakdowns and then just go back to whatever they were doing as if nothing had happened.  A small handful of you probably knew what I was talking about just from the title, but in case you're not my friend De or my sister, suffice it to say that I left for work a little bit before 7am and just got home at 8:30pm.  And I'm pretty sure I'm going to wake up tomorrow with a cold.  There's just no way I can take a break until Friday night (and even then, not much of one).  My priority right now is surviving through the week; everything else is on hold.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Motivation Tool: Rewards

To amp up my dedication to fitness, I've set up a system of rewards for myself as I reach each goal.  These rewards will give me things to look forward to on those days when I feel frustrated and just want to be lazy.

  • After I finish the "Run for Your Lives" race -- facial and massage at a local spa
  • Also after the race is over -- I can spend less time on running and focus on other activities that I love, like yoga, ballet barre pilates classes, climbing, hiking, canoeing, etc. 
  • After I finish a month of completely clean eating -- a nice bottle of Sancerre or other French wine that I haven't tried before
  • After I lose enough weight to no longer fall into the "overweight" category -- a good pair of J Brand, Rag and Bone, or other high-quality, USA-made denim jeans
  • After I make it to the end of the school year -- vacation in Italy with my family and boyfriend in which I never count calories or worry about how much sugar, gluten, dairy, etc. I'm eating
I also may or may not buy myself a new pair of fun, brightly colored sneakers depending on how ruined my current pair gets in the zombie run.  I'm thinking something like these...

Something else I have to look forward to is tonight's season premiere of So You Think You Can Dance.  Judge me all you want, but it's actually a brilliant show.  You may have to suffer through my commentary.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Putting on the Pressure

In order to ease my anxiety about my upcoming zombie run, I decided to test myself by doing a regular 5K this coming Sunday.  This will either be a great or a horrible idea.  At the very least, I'll know how much more work I have to do before I'm ready to do the real thing.  In order to prepare, I'm running a little more than three miles at the park where the 5K will be held.  I still have to figure out how I'm going to fit it into my schedule while working three jobs this week, but the fact that the race is so soon will force me to find the time for running.

As usual, serious running requires some seriously motivating music.  Here are the high-energy tunes that are keeping me going this week...

1. #thatPOWER - (feat. Justin Bieber)

2. Everyday Birthday - Swizz Beats

3. Freaks - French Montana (feat. Nicki Minaj)

4. Pour It Up (remix) - Rihanna (feat. Young Jeezy, Rick Ross, Juicy J, and T.I.)

5. Yung Rapunxel - Azealia Banks

6. Get Lucky (radio edit) - Daft Punk (feat. Pharrell Williams)

7. Bugatti - Ace Hood (feat. Future and Rick Ross)

8. New in Town (Starsmith Remix) - Little Boots

I figure if it makes me want to dance, it will make me want to run!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Happy Friday!

Quinoa for Breakfast?
Oh yes.  After living in Bolivia, I can assure you that it's a good idea to eat quinoa at any time of day -- in soup, mixed with eggs and baked to form a kind of savory cake, toasted and enrobed in chocolate, etc.  By now, most of you are probably already on board with this wondergrain (which technically isn't a grain) for its protein content.  I tried it in place of oatmeal this morning and now I actually prefer it!  If you've eaten it before, you know that quinoa has a satisfying, toothsome texture and rich, nutty flavor.  It holds its shape better than oats and takes on an almost peanut-butter-like taste when paired with sweet ingredients.  I'm officially a quinoa-for-breakfast convert.
and you will be too
I will report that soaking quinoa overnight does not work.  But you can cook it in the microwave to save time.  I used a 1/2 cup mixture of both red and white quinoa, a tablespoon of chia seeds, one chopped date, 1/2 cup of canned light coconut milk mixed with 1/2 cup of water, a few drops of vanilla, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.  Heat it on high in a covered bowl for 2 minutes, stir, and put it back in for another 2 minutes.  Stir it again and test a tiny bite to see if it's cooked yet.  If not, put it back in for one minute at a time until the quinoa has cooked through and absorbed most of the liquid (mine took about 6 minutes total).  Let sit for 1 minute and stir again before eating.  I topped mine with sliced banana.

Fun Links
Since it's Friday, let's relax.  Here are some links to entertain you.

Whether you love literature, tattoos, or both, this buzzfeed post is cool and inspiring.

This website is an ambitious music project!  It's a catalog/slideshow of songs that sound like other songs.  You get to listen to clips of each.  Maybe you'll find your new favorite, or just remember some classics.

In case you've been a little lazy about birth control, here's some (funny) incentive:

This website posts images of actual letters written by celebrities and historical figures.  I'm impressed.

With that, I wish you a fun weekend.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Food Experiments

I'm a little late to the party on this one.  I don't have Pinterest or Twitter and I don't follow that many people on instagram, so I hadn't heard of "overnight oats" until my friend De posted about it on her blog.  Well, now I have to give a big thank you to her for introducing me to such an ingenious idea!  I have a feeling I'm not the only one who hasn't seen this before and I know I have some readers who love oatmeal but probably wouldn't mind a few extra minutes in the morning.  

Overnight Oats
Here's how they work: you put equal parts of your favorite oatmeal and your oatmeal-making liquid into an airtight container overnight.  In the morning, you have perfectly made oatmeal.  It's like little breakfast elves inside your fridge are taking your raw materials and leaving you a treat in return.  Really, it's just that the oats soak up the liquid (and flavor!) overnight.  You can add any toppings or sweeteners you like and you can eat it either hot or cold, but if you're zapping it in the microwave, don't put fresh fruit on it until the end.  When I looked at pictures online, I was afraid the oats would become mushy by sitting in liquid for so long, but they actually turned out perfectly.

Here's how I made mine:
1/2 cup McCann's Quick-Cooking Rolled Oats (but seriously, any oatmeal will work) and 1/2 cup Trader Joe's coconut milk, 1 tbsp. chia seeds, small handful of raw almonds, 1 chopped date, 1 sliced banana

1/2 cup McCann's oats, 1/2 cup canned light coconut milk (I was out of the TJ's kind), slightly less than 1/2 cup frozen wild blueberries, 1 tbsp. chia seeds, 1 serving raw almonds, small handful dried coconut flakes, 1/2 tsp. coconut sugar, 1/4-ish tsp vanilla extract (I didn't really measure, but it was less than a capful)
But you can add whatever you want... I'm not the boss of you!
Although oats themselves are gluten free, most oatmeal brands can't guarantee that the product is free from gluten contamination because it sometimes comes into contact with wheat and barley in the factory where it's milled.  For a safe, gluten-free alternative, I might try this with quinoa and see if it works.  I'll let you know tomorrow!  Quinoa is a much tougher grain to cook though, so my hypothesis is that it won't be successful.

So, I've also tried chia seeds for the first time this week.  "You mean chia like Chia Pets?"  The very same.  Along with flax seeds and hemp seeds, they're great sources of protein, fiber, and Omega-3 fatty acids in a small package.  They're also not a bad source of calcium... 2 tablespoons a day will provide 16% of your recommended daily intake.
they look like this when they're dry
As far as I can tell, they have no taste.  They do have a satisfying (to me) crispness... they almost pop between your teeth like the shell of mini M&Ms.  They thicken whatever liquid they're added to and turn it into a sort of mucilaginous goop...
like this
...which might not be for everyone, but I don't mind it.  Because of all this, they are an essential ingredient in a good cleanse.  They are supposedly great for detoxifying the liver, but I don't know how to tell if my liver feels less toxic.  I'll have to get back to you on that one.

This is a dish that I've always wanted to try, but just never got around to it for one reason or another.  Shakshuka (or shakshouka) is a Middle Eastern baked egg dish in a tomato and pepper-based sauce that is often eaten in Israel during Passover (or whenever!), or in Egypt, Tunisia, etc.  Since it was featured in the New York Times this week, I decided that now was the time.  I watched Melissa Clark make it, but didn't use an exact recipe.  I hate measuring things and usually just cook based on intuition (which is why I'm a terrible baker).  I swear I've read recipes that insist shakshuka is NOT made with garlic or onions or something like that, but I can't find it now, so I assume it's a personal preference thing.  This seems like the kind of dish that varies regionally and between families, like "Sunday gravy" for Italians.  The result was successful and delicious anyway!
First, I sauteed one onion and two chopped red bell peppers in a few glugs of olive oil.  I added a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper and let the veggies soften.  Then, I added two sliced cloves of garlic, about a teaspoon of ground cumin, a little less than a teaspoon of good-quality paprika, and a pinch of ground cayenne pepper.  After the spices toast a little bit and get fragrant, I added in 1 28oz. can of diced tomatoes.    Preheat the oven to 350 while the sauce is cooking.  Stir and let simmer until all of the ingredients come together and release their liquid, about 20 minutes or so.  Crack in as many eggs as you want to eat (free range and organic, of course) and put the pan in the oven.  Bake just until the whites are set; you want the yolk to stay runny, so only about 10 minutes.  Be very careful when handling the pan after it comes out of the oven... I made sure to use two potholders, but then accidentally brushed my arm against the edge of it while plating and burned myself Bluth-Cornballer-style.  I'm not sure what herbs (if any) are traditionally used in this dish, but I topped it with fresh cilantro and parsley because those are my favorite.  Shakshuka is typically served with feta cheese, plain yogurt, and/or pita, but since I'm not eating dairy or wheat, I served it alongside saffron-infused millet.
bon appétit / בתאבון / وجبة شهية. 
(thanks, google translate!)

I've had fun experimenting with food this week... I might have to make this a regular thing.  I've been considering making my own mayonnaise and protein/fiber bars, so maybe I'll try that next week!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

One Month until Zombie Apocalypse

Exactly one month from today, I will wake up to find that zombies have taken over New Jersey.  I'll have to run, climb, crawl, and possibly swim my way to safety.  And I don't feel ready.  When I signed up for this, it felt so far away!  I thought for sure I would be able to do so much more by now.  Where has the time gone? I'll just have to train even harder in the next month.  Nothing motivates like a quickly approaching deadline... assuming that deadline involves zombies chasing me.
the obstacles seem to range from going down what
appears to be a giant slip-and-slide (not too hard)...
to running through a dark, smoky house that occasionally delivers electric shocks
 WHILE still trying to get away from hidden zombies (what did I sign up for!?)

My plan was to only run outside on a hilly, unpaved trail during this last month before the race, but today's rainy weather is getting in the way of that a little bit.  Ever since the weather started getting nicer, I've actually been going to the gym less and less and working out at home or outside more and more.  The gym does have some equipment that could be really helpful to me, however.  For example, I am about 90% sure that I'll have to climb over a wall using a rope and my gym just happens to have a machine that simulates climbing up a rope.
Sorry, brief interjection here.  I just went to google pictures of my zombie run and saw that today's Google doodle is AWESOME.  Go look at it if you haven't yet, seriously.
Anyway, this is the rope pull machine I was talking about
I'm just afraid I'll have to go across a set of monkey bars.  I've never been able to do the damn monkey bars.

I signed up for Hulu+ last night and I'm really excited.  They have so many Criterion Collection movies that I can't find anywhere else.  I plan to watch a lot of classic Italian cinema in preparation for my trip to Italy this summer... although, in reality, I'll probably spend half of the week catching up on The Mindy Project.  Between Netflix, Hulu+, Vudu, HBOGo and the Playstation network store, we're definitely going to cancel our cable this summer (especially because we won't be here a lot of the time anyway).  I was concerned that we would no longer be able to watch our usual combination of Cosby Show/Roseanne/Golden Girls on Saturdays, but the Cosby Show is on Hulu+ and the other two are on the TVLand website.  Internet killed the cable company star?... or something.
But in all seriousness, Hulu+ has pretty much every foreign, indie, or documentary movie I've ever needed to see and I'm really excited about that.  Fritz Lang's M, French new-wave film The 400 Blows, Umberto D (which I've seen but want to see again and couldn't find anywhere else), seemingly every film by Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, and Charlie Chaplin... I could go on forever.

Some big things are happening this month that are both exciting and stressful.  I'm starting a new day job as a substitute teacher next week, so I'll have to either wake up extra early to go for a run before heading to the school or I'll have to save enough energy to work out when I get home from nannying at 7:30 each night.  I'm also going into work on Saturday for the next several weeks because of events that the kids invited me to (or that the parents want help with).  On top of that, I've been promoted to part of the core editorial staff for XO, so as we prepare for the next issue, I'll have a lot more responsibilities.  Certainly, I'm happier having too much to do rather than not enough to do, but the rest of May will be a whirlwind.  If I can just make it to Memorial Day weekend, I have a new tattoo, a mini-vacation, and a new season of Arrested Development to look forward to!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Food for Thought

First, a review of Trader Joe's newly released coconut milk.  Coconut milk is the latest trend in vegan milk-like beverages.  Soy came under fire for causing ovarian cancer if overused, almonds were exposed for having some of the highest pesticide use in their growing process, and celebrities keep promoting the health benefits of coconut water.  I love the taste of coconut and I needed a quick alternative for those days when I don't feel like making my own almond milk, so I decided to give it a shot.  I have tried the "So Delicious" brand of coconut milk, but found it very watery and lacking any coconut flavor, so I thought maybe Trader Joe's would come through for me.
I was reluctant to buy it because the ingredients list was way too long for my taste.  Most store-bought brands of non-dairy milk have all kinds of chemicals added for texture, color, preservation, and nutrition.  Note that the only nutrients in this milk are those that have been added to it, despite the fact that coconut is extremely nutrient rich.  You'll find this to be the case with almond milk as well.  No protein, no fiber, and all that potassium that you get from drinking coconut water?  Not even listed on the label.  Take that into consideration when doing a juice cleanse... imagine what nutrients you're not getting when you strain out the solids from fruits and vegetables.  
I bought it anyway because, like I said, I needed something to add to my tea/coffee and smoothies this morning since I'm out of almonds for almond milk and don't feel like washing the blender today.  It does taste amazing.  It isn't an overly strong coconut flavor, but you can definitely tell that it's made from coconut (of course, maybe the added "natural flavors" have something to do with that).  It will work perfectly for my smoothies, but does nothing for my coffee.  I probably used more than half a cup and my coffee was still basically black.  I haven't tried it in tea yet... it might work better there.  My home-made almond milk is useless in coffee but does make my tea creamier.
Something I love about Trader Joe's, though, is the fact that I bought organic, California-grown strawberries for $3.99/pound (for comparison, the last time I bought organic strawberries, they were $5.99/pound and grown in Mexico).
As for Whole Foods, I have a love/hate relationship with them.  I hate that they're so expensive, but I love that they're the only store in which I can find ready-to-use beans in a vacuum-sealed cardboard box rather than a can and the only store around here where I can buy nuts, grains, and dried fruit in bulk.  I also love that they make an effort to stock locally-grown items.  As I was leaving the store today, I saw a promotion going on for GRASS FED MILK AND CHEESE, which I've never seen before!  I'm trying not to eat dairy, but the next time I buy cow's milk, it will be this kind.  I'm totally nerding out over it.  Maybe it doesn't sound exciting to you guys, but when you feed cows grass rather than corn, it solves a lot of the problems that happen with commercial dairy farming (for example, they don't get sick as often because -- hey, guess what -- cows aren't supposed to eat corn, so they don't have to be given antibiotics).  As opposed to the cholesterol-raising corn fed beef that you normally find in stores, grass fed beef and milk is actually GOOD for you because it's full of Omega-3 fatty acids and other good fats that lower cholesterol!  Anyway, I'll stop now before this turns into a whole post about grass fed cows.  I'm still avoiding meat and dairy, but I'm glad to know that there are good options for special occasions.

You're probably going to hate me for this one, but ever since I heard this story on NPR, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

In light of the recent building collapse in Bangladesh, there have been a lot of news stories re-evaluating cheap garment producers.  Shops like Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters have had other well-known problems that haven't seemed to affect their business much, like lawsuits over stolen designs or offensive material (cultural appropriation of Native American imagery on flasks and underwear or perpetuating negative stereotypes about girls being bad at math).  I know that a lot of companies watch out for the latest trends and then try to replicate high-end looks in a more affordable way, but after seeing a side-by-side comparison, I have to agree that Forever  21 is guilty of completely ripping off independent designers' and artists' work.  But that's not even the worst of it.  In Over Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, Elizabeth Cline argues that reduced-cost clothing companies like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 keep their prices so low by using cheap materials, cheap labor, dangerous work environments, eco-unfriendly business practices, and shoddy construction of the clothes themselves.  They're able to do this because by offering the latest trends at relatively low prices, people are willing to pay for the clothes even if they wear them only once or twice.  These clothes then end up being simply thrown away (contributing to our world's waste problem) or donated back to the countries where they were made.  And I've seen first-hand that when you donate clothes to developing nations, they end up being sold in street markets, not simply given away to needy people.  I've always rolled my eyes whenever I enter a Forever 21 because it is quite obviously low-quality and made for tiny teenagers and I've bought clothes from them only begrudgingly.  I've long stopped shopping at Urban Outfitters because I know their profits are used to fund right-wing political causes and they're incredibly culturally insensitive (see above).  But I LOVE Zara, Mango, H&M, etc., so the realization that these companies are horrible for the environment and abusing their workers is a tough one for me.

There are a number of different solutions to this problem.  The best option is actually the most attainable for low-budget families.  You can easily reduce the amount of waste and harm to the environment by simply not buying new clothes.  There are a lot of good finds at thrift shops, second-hand stores and vintage shops these days.  Trends are constantly being recycled.  There's a lot of 90's-reminiscent clothing going down the runways right now, so see if you have older family members who still have their flannel shirts, floral dresses or combat boots from the grunge days.  But I know that shopping is fun and it's easy to be skeeved out by wearing something that someone else has already worn.  Currently, the number of eco-friendly, locally-made boutiques and companies is growing quickly.  There are a lot of mainstream options out there for environmentally/socially conscious shoppers.  Eileen Fisher is a great choice, but there are a lot of more affordable options as well, you just might have to do a little bit of research.  The last option is that if you absolutely must shop at one of the stores mentioned above, make sure that you're buying something that you can wear for more than one season and don't throw it away just because it rips or a button falls off.  If it doesn't fit you anymore, give it to goodwill or another second-hand store or pass it on to a younger cousin or something.  I'm sure that most of you are thinking that you just can't get on board with this cause because you love these stores too much, and that's OK.  If we all lived our lives based on every little thing that had a negative consequence, I think we would die from stress and go crazy from information overload.  But I am a big believer in voting with my money.  Every time I make a purchase, I'm helping to support that company and giving them incentive to continue with their current practices.  So, for me, I've just decided to make more conscious shopping choices because I feel like I'm able to do that.  I've made such a big deal out of changing the way I eat, so it makes sense that I would be equally conscious of what goes on my body as I am about what goes in my body.  I'm sorry to be a Debbie Downer in this post, but I needed to get this off of my chest.  It's an interesting issue to consider, anyway, even if you feel like you aren't ready to make these changes right now.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Weekend in Pictures

This weekend was the perfect mix of laziness and activity.  Here are a few highlights in photo form.

On Friday, I bought my first bottle of Chablis.  I very rarely buy French wines because my Spanish go-tos are so much cheaper and just as tasty.  This was worth it though.  It's like a less fruity Chardonnay, perfectly balanced.  It made me wish I had a porch to sit on.

I indulged in a manicure/pedicure on Saturday morning, since I'm wearing flip flops almost every day now.  I chose some very bright colors for Spring and I have to admit that it makes me feel happier every time I look at my nails.  I'm not usually a hot pink kind of person, but the name of the color was "La Paz-itively Hot" and  I was so surprised to see Bolivia mentioned in popular culture that I had to pick that one.  

On Saturday evening, I went back to Lincoln Center to take advantage of my second opera ticket lottery score.  I'm a little bit obsessed with this fountain.  The pattern of the water spraying up and falling down is almost like music and the sudden hush of everything stopping as the water cascades back into the drain at the end is pretty dramatic.

Here is the Metropolitan Opera House, decorated with these giant tapestries featuring each of the operas in Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung.  This is an enormous, spectacular opera and I can't think of any better place to see it than at the Met.  I only saw the introduction to the set, Rheingold, but it was enough to leave me craving the rest of them.  There were mermaids, a dragon, giants, and a floating, shape-shifting platform  in the middle of the stage.  The music was also melodic and dramatic.  My favorite part was Erda's warning, when a sort of witch/fairy/goddess comes up from the ground to warn the gods that the ring would only lead to misery.  Her song was beautiful... you should youtube it.  I spent the rest of the night trying to figure out how I could skip work to see the rest of the cycle this week.  Unfortunately, I think I'll just have to wait until the next season.

My Sunday dinner was this classic combination of tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella.  I'm trying to avoid dairy as part of my usual eating habits, but if I'm going to indulge, it should be the best quality ingredients I can find.  I used mozzarella di bufala campana imported from Italy to make sure that my special treat was worth every bite.  I drizzled the salad in extra virgin olive oil and a thick balsamic reduction, sprinkled on some salt and pepper, and sopped it all up with a crusty baguette from Calandra's bakery.

On Sunday, we also went to a street festival in the neighboring town, but I didn't take any pictures.  I love street festivals and my boyfriend kind of puts up with them for my sake.  There was a woman there representing a New Jersey bird sanctuary and adoption center who had several kinds of parrots there with her, including a very charming African Grey.  This was rather fortuitous because we've been discussing the possibility of getting an African Grey and it makes all the difference to meet one in person and be able to ask an expert some questions about how to care for them.  We still probably won't be getting one anytime soon, but it's looking like more of a real possibility now that we have some more information.

Now it's time to jump head-first into another busy week.  Only 18 more days until Memorial Day weekend?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Spring Cleaning Part 3

OK, so not a lot of real cleaning has happened over the last day and a half, except that my boyfriend washed all of the dishes (real men do).  I went on a little bit of a Home Goods shopping spree... some things seemed necessary, others were just for fun.  Somehow, even without doing anything else, adding some personality to our place has made it feel cleaner, more purposeful -- not just a bunch of things thrown randomly around the apartment.  Maybe it's all in my head because I'm excited about the new things I bought.  I think my "decorating" is getting a little annoying to a certain someone... he wasn't very amused last night when he got out of bed to find me trying to hang curtains in the living room by myself at 11pm.  

the aforementioned curtains

old chair, new rug, new curtains, new end table for my laptop

another new rug 

new, lighter, summer bedding

interesting bookshelf that solves part of the clutter problem

our autograph collection, hung up and off of the desk

I won opera tickets again.  Don't hate me.  This time, I'll be seeing the introduction to Wagner's Ring cycle, Das Rheingold.  I've looked at some previews online and it looks like it's going to be an amazing production.  Life ain't so bad sometimes. 

The cleaning will continue through the weekend and into next week.  At least I got the closet done.  I was starting to think that would never happen.  Until then, have a great weekend.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spring Cleaning Part 2

First, I'm really excited to show you the newest issue of the magazine I've been working for, XO.  You can read the full magazine for free online here!  You'll see my name on the credits page.  It's pretty cool.  The photos are really beautiful and there's some other great artwork in this issue as well, so in case you want a hard copy, I'll have some information on where to buy it soon.

I cleaned the whole dang closet yesterday.  Now I have a place to hang my clothes!  I also stuck my new dresser (from Home Goods) in the back.  Now that there are more places to put our clothes, I've been doing loads of laundry and re-organizing all of the drawers and shelves also.

now we can actually walk into our walk-in closet
One minor setback: he wouldn't let me throw away this shirt...

I haven't started sorting through the clutter in the office yet because almost all of it belongs to my boyfriend, so he should really be the one to decide what to keep and what to throw away.  I probably will make another trip to Home Goods for some file storage ideas so that not everything has to be just thrown onto the desk.

speaking of Home Goods...
This isn't exactly part of "cleaning," per se, but until now we've always just set down fruit and other snacks on the kitchen table in the grocery bags that they came in.  These wooden bowls (carved from real tree stumps!) corral the things we grab on the way to work and keep them from being contaminated by other things that end up on the table (chopped garlic for dinner or spilled coffee in the morning, for example).  Plus, if our apartment is going to have any kind of cohesive aesthetic, the natural, rustic quality of these bowls would sure be it.

Something else I'm taking care of today is the shower.  You don't want to know the last time we cleaned it.  I'll spare you the "before" picture.

I doubt I'll get everything done this week, so you might have to wait until next week for the "big reveal."  We also can't really do anything with the spare couch in the office until junk day in June.  We've considered giving it to Good Will, but they don't want it.  That's how bad it is.

I am capable of making the most out of a small space and a low budget, however.
here's the living room from my crappy, little apartment in Iowa, when it wasn't covered in piles of books for my thesis
It wasn't much, but it was cute and cozy and it felt almost like home for a little while.