Friday, September 26, 2014

Weekend Souvenirs: Feline Edition

It's Friday! That means an exploration into all the intriguing, exciting, and adorable from the past week, beginning with Hobbes.

She definitely takes her position as cat of the house seriously, with all the duties required: endless photo shoots, constant cuddles, and of course getting into trouble while her humans slumber obliviously.

Only slightly annoyed by the camera.
Although you can't really tell from these pictures, fall is definitely here! In honor of fall in New England, I'd like to include the song that was stuck in my head this morning (not really a bad one to have stuck in your head, I promise). See if you can spot the reference to New England autumns. It's a lovely song.

In honor of Hobbes, I'm including some of my favorite cat pins from the past week!

This cat is striking.

From Imgur

Cats are fearless.

From Zontale

This one makes me laugh:

From We Heart It

Speaking of laughter, Aaron and I just finished watching Parks and Recreation in its entirety for the second time through. We love that show! So, for your inspirational quote of the week, please enjoy this nugget of profound wisdom from Andy Dwyer:

From BuzzFeed

I found some interesting articles this week if you find a moment to cuddle up with a mug of tea or coffee, or better yet, spiced apple cider! The first one is one of my old articles, but it's about cats, so it's perfect for the Feline Edition.

How would you like to drink tea in a cafe with cats?

Could yogurt affect our moods?

I love maps. So do the founders of Maps for Good.

Why we limit ourselves when we say we're "reading for fun".

Body language can impact on career success.

From volcano surfing to astronaut training, there's something for everyone in this list of unique travel experiences.

For all those writers, I loved what David Mitchell had to say about writing.

Have you ever held a supper club? It led to a restaurant for this chef!

Have a furry weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Writing Is Not A Competition

Job searching begins in confidence, with the feeling that you’ve acquired fabulous, useful skills, and any employer would be lucky to secure your services.

Too often, that fearless feeling spirals down into depression, and the sense that everyone else has more qualifications than you. Where did those people find the time to be published by The New York Times? Instead of feeling buoyant, you find yourself feeling decidedly uncreative and trapped.

As a writer, the job hunt has changed. I no longer see the hunt as a means to a living, although that is certainly important. Instead, I've been viewing it as a drive to gain recognition for my writing.

To me, that drive is poisonous.

Recognition means that I need to be the best. Yet there are other writers who didn’t spend two years teaching preschool to pay off student loans (years that I’ll never regret). There are writers who moved to New York City or Los Angeles after college and received internships and fellowships, whose list of achievements only includes well-known publications.

I read their profiles and I feel like no one will accept my feeble scribbling.

Yesterday, frustrated with my lack of explosive, mind-blowing, Pulitzer-winning progress, I shut off my computer and I began to write.

As I experienced the healing that comes with putting ink on paper (not words on a screen), I stumbled across a realization. It may seem rather obvious, but in that moment, it was game-changing.

My career is not a competition. It’s a journey.

For someone with a personality different than mine, competition may motivate. Yet I found that my drive for recognition and desire to be the best was hurling me far from the kind of life I wanted to live.

I don’t want to live a life that’s defined by my career. I want to live a life defined by foggy mornings outside with a cup of tea, and sunny afternoons with pen and paper. I want to live a life defined by love for my husband, Hobbes, family, and friends. I want to live a life of simplicity and freedom, a life where I’m not defined by my followers on social media, but by who I am when I turn off the screen. I want to live a life defined by the person I become. Writing is not a means to an end. It is the force that propels me to become a better person.

A competition means constant comparison to others. A journey still relates me to others, yet gives me the freedom to enjoy where I am in my writing while still striving towards becoming more articulate. With the release of comparison, I’m free to enjoy the writing of others, no matter how many short stories of theirs The New Yorker published. I’m free to appreciate their achievements and yet be proud of and hopeful for my own.

Best of all, writing as a journey makes the end goal not an impressive bibliography, but instead, personal development. I'm in this not to be published (although I'll continue to work towards that goal), but to grow as a person.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

DIY Vanilla Tea Sugar Scrub

I’m a big fan of do-it-yourself beauty products. I find that they are just as effective as store-bought products, and lack nasty chemicals that may or may not cause cancer. Of course, I haven’t quite been willing to make the jump to natural shampoo, although I've been considering it more, but every spa treatment begins in my kitchen.

I've blogged about sugar scrub before. It’s a simple indulgence for every shower that helps my hands and feet stay exfoliated, and it’s really easy to concoct. It’s also easy to modify with whatever ingredients you have on hand. For example, I've switched to using only coconut oil in my sugar scrubs, but canola oil works just fine as well. 

Inspired by my Friday Trader Joe’s trip, I decided to make a sugar scrub using tea leaves. I bought a box of 48 packets of English Breakfast Tea, and decided to use them as the highlight of the scrub. I mixed in a few other teas for variety, and again, you can use whatever teas you have on hand. Of course, I’d recommend that they be composed of 100% tea leaves, with no additives.

The recipe below is more of a template: you’ll need roughly two cups of sugar and ½ cup oil, but what sugars and what oil you use are up to you. One word of caution on your oil choice: don’t use an oil that is very pungent, like olive oil, unless you want to smell like Italian food. I used canola oil for so long mainly because it doesn't have a strong smell. I think the combination I made below is one of the best sugar scrubs I've made thus far, but I leave room for your exploration so you don’t panic if you lack an ingredient.

Vanilla Tea Sugar Scrub


1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup cane sugar
3 bags of black tea
1 bag of mint tea (I used Mint Mélange from Trader Joe’s)
1 bag of green tea
1 tsp. vanilla
½ cup coconut oil


1. Pour the sugar into a bowl. Cut open the bags of tea, empty the contents into the bowl, and add the vanilla. Stir the ingredients together.

2. If your coconut oil is solid, measure out ½ cup and melt it. Mix in with the sugar and tea.

3. Use at the end of your shower on any dry patches of skin, such as hands and feet.

This recipe fills a 16 oz. jar.

I’d avoid using the scrub on your face. I think it’s a little too harsh for a facial scrub. Perhaps the only exception would be a once a week deep exfoliator. I don’t use it for my face at all.

I’ll admit, I went a little crazy on the tea bags. Having 48 unopened tea bags is just too exciting. This scrub would work with as little as 3 tea bags if you don’t want to use up so many! I loved the energizing kick from the mint tea bag, however, so I’d recommend sneaking at least one mint tea bag into your scrub.

I’d love to hear if you've made your own scrub before! What are your favorite combinations?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Weekend Souvenirs: Food Edition

As I've done more food writing for ThriveWire, I've come to realize how much I love food. I've been fascinated by the stories of people who have transformed their passion into a business, and it has inspired me to continue my experiments in the kitchen and try out new things.

I've also noticed that as I write about these amazing foodies, I crave their type of food like crazy! When I wrote about Hot Bread Kitchen, I had to bake myself some bread. When I wrote about the McClure Pickle Company, I snacked on dill pickles incessantly.

Two of my food articles came out at ThriveWire this week, and again, I craved those foods as I wrote about them.

One place was the Mac Mart Food Truck in Philadelphia. I couldn't think about anything but macaroni and cheese when I spoke with Marti Lieberman, the Drexel graduate who’s started her own food truck just a few years out of college. 

From ThriveWire

That weekend, I made skillet macaroni and cheese. Sadly, I was not able to make a five hour road trip to eat at Mac Mart, so I had to do with my new skillet and some Trader Joe’s accoutrements. Here’s my current favorite recipe:

From RecipeBoy

Likewise, I craved chocolate really bad when I spoke with Patricia Tsai of ChocoVivo in Los Angeles.

From ThriveWire

Too bad I can’t catch a flight to LA, but I could make hot chocolate in my kitchen. Hers is almost certainly better, but I’ll have to take what I can get until the next time I’m in California. This recipe is currently calling my name….

From The Other Side of the Tortilla

I love food writing!

With all my drooling over ChocoVivo, the song West Coast by Coconut Records song seems apt:

I love this simple word art:

From Art of Faith Community

Here’s a perfect fall recipe. Aaron and I tried this soup and it was amazing! I'm totally going to make it again one of these nights.

From The Little Kitchen

Here are the fascinating reads I found this week:

Jordan Gaines Lewis loves brains.

Would you ever live in a dumpster? Yes, a dumpster. 

Stephen King offered some fascinating advice for both writers and teachers.

Photo booths are fun. So are photo booths in Volkswagen Buses

Yoga is meaningful to me in more ways than one...

Have a yummy weekend!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fall is coming...

A few nights ago I dreamed that there were red and orange leaves on all the trees in my backyard. Dream me was upset that my mom would not get to see the leaves before her visit this fall, and real me woke up with a distinct realization.

I am so not ready for fall.

I love summer. I always have. From long evenings to playing outdoors barefoot with my friends, to harvesting food from my own garden, summer has always held a particular allure for me. I’d rather wear a sundress than a sweater, and would rather be barefoot than wear a pair of boots.

Lately, I've realized how much I really enjoy writing outside, and I can pretty much guarantee I’m not going to be doing that when it snows.

Every gorgeous red leaf I find on the ground (and there have been a lot lately), reminds me of the inevitability of the bare trees and brown grass that come afterwards. Last year, I was excited about the changing seasons. They had never happened to me before. This year, however, I know what’s coming. I know what all those pretty red and orange leaves mean. It’s not the snow I dread; I’m already looking forward to sitting in the window seat with Hobbes and watching the snow fall. It’s the long periods of cold dead landscape. April was awful last year.

For this California girl, it seems a tad silly to be so consumed with something like the weather, but it defines life in a way that it never did in the Central Valley or Santa Barbara. Here, the weather is a big deal, and rightly so.

The leaves are changing, and I can’t stop them. I can’t eternally put off the day where I’ll climb up our staircase closet, and get all those winter clothes out of storage. I can’t put off the day when I’ll no longer be able to wear flip flops. 

Yet now that I know what’s coming, it’s more important for me to try and hold on to that excitement that I had last year for our first winter. I was definitely afraid of the snow, but I was excited too. That excitement carried me through blizzards and temperatures below zero.

Last year, I was determined to enjoy the seasons, and I did. Sure, there were moments when I was insanely jealous that it was 80 degrees in California in January. Yet there were other moments when the beauty of the falling snow struck me silent with wonder. The smell of the first batch of pumpkin bread baking is a marvelous thing.

I’ll need that same excitement to propel me through these new seasons, but I have a few ideas on how to make that happen.

As much as I miss California, it’s really important for me to continue to make Connecticut my new home. That will be my goal for this fall and winter. I still haven’t been apple-picking. Neither have I visited some of the waterfalls that are hidden around here. There’s a lot that I haven’t seen, and lots of people I haven’t met. That will be the good that I will look forward to, even when I pull our winter coats and boots out of the closet.

Other things help too, things like pumpkin spice lattes and peppermint hot chocolates.

I’ll be very grateful when the Hobbit Hole is no longer so damp, and I don’t find mold and mildew in unexpected locales (like on the wine cork we hadn't used in months). I’ll be grateful to pull out some of my favorite scarves. I may not like winter clothes all that much, but I love scarves.

Most importantly, I’ll be grateful to see the growth that will come in the lives of the people I care about and in my own life.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Spicy Chili Salt

A few months ago, I wrote a post on roasted garlic salt that my aunt gave me. She also gave me chili salt. The chili salt was also amazing (that's the original container she gave me in the picture!).

Refusing to eat popcorn without that spicy kick, I asked my aunt for her recipe when my chili salt began to run out. She told me the essential ingredients (salt and chili powder), but suggested other spices to add to mix it up.

I didn’t own any chili powder. Honestly, I’m not sure how I’ve gone this long without it. I bought some at the store last week for the salt and for a chorizo dish that I made a few nights ago, and it was amazing!

When I got ready to make my own chili salt, I decided to add another ingredient: smoked paprika. Trader Joe’s sells smoked paprika, and I love the earthy, smoky scent of it. I decided to add this to my salt mix. Here’s what I came up with:

Spicy Chili Salt


3 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. smoked paprika

Stir together the three ingredients to make a lovely red blend of chili salt!

If you don’t like spice as much as I do (certain members of my family maintain that I’ve burned off my tastebuds), I would suggest halving the chili powder and paprika amounts, and making up the remainder with additional salt. 

Check out that amazing texture!
This recipe is obviously a lot simpler than my roasted garlic salt, but it’s a spice that I’ll always have on hand now. I've enjoyed experimenting with different spice mixes! Now that harvest season is close, I've been wondering what to do with the oregano, basil, and parsley in my garden. Perhaps I ought to dry some of those and make an herb salt!

My aunt also suggested cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper for those who want an extra kick. If you’re not a big fan of the smokiness of paprika, I’d add in cayenne pepper instead, to make the salt more peppery. If your taste buds are even more burnt off than mine, go crazy with that crushed red pepper. (Aaron prefers to taste his food, so I've had to cut back on those little flakes of fire!)

Speaking of fire, Hobbes recently hit ten months! She’s been filling out and getting huge. Her new favorite pastime is to hang out in our bathroom sink, even when the faucet is turned on. As the water pools around her, she’ll drink the water off her own back. She’s hardcore like that. 

So hardcore.
10-12 months, however, are the teenage months for kittens. Online, we read that we should expect Hobbes to be a big brat until her first birthday. We've seen the beginnings of that attitude already...she woke me up the other morning by trying to tear down one of our Game of Thrones maps off the wall. She's been pushing her boundaries. She's never allowed in the shower, but last Friday, as I was trying to clean it with hydrogen peroxide, she climbed in and, and sat there until I found her and kicked her out. As I scolded her, she tried to bite me! So she’s definitely been super naughty!

So naughty.
She’s also super cute. Whenever we arrive home from a day at the university, she’s always there to greet us at the door. She meows hello, and when I pick her up, she rubs her head against me. She can be so sweet and so awful! I love her to pieces.

Tell me if you try out the salt recipe! I can’t wait to use it on my next batch of popcorn!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Weekend Souvenirs: Fall Edition

Five years ago today, Aaron and I met each other. We really can’t believe it has been five years! I’ll forever be grateful that I met this amazing man who’s inspired me to be a better writer, better cook, and better person. We’re going to celebrate with an extra special date night.

Around that time, I was also introduced to the music of one of my favorite musicians of all time, Alexi Murdoch, and since his songs are so relevant to my life and relationships, I wanted to include one here. Alexi Murdoch plays my go-to music: he’s thoughtful, deep, positive, and real all at the same time. It sounds a little cheesy, but his music really does speak to my soul. He’s one of the artists who never get old for me. 

Now that you're listening...

Admittedly, I am not the biggest pumpkin fan, but there is something special about local stores rolling out their seasonal drinks, and more fall-themed pins on Pinterest. Here’s my favorite fall find of the past week:

From Live Simply

I’m also drooling over this Cinnamon Roll Cake:

From The Baker Chick

Maybe my fall self is getting ready to put on winter pounds or something…luckily I've been practicing lots of yoga! Although I am not able to do this pose yet, pictures like these inspire me:

From Tumblr

I love this quote from one of my favorite writers!

For your weekend reading…

I can’t wait to sip coffee at The Coffee Trike in Boston…

Why I’ll be reading Lord of the Rings out loud to my future child when they’re only a day old

Would you make your own deodorant?

I never really thought about the fact that young people go into farming as a career, but this group of twenty-somethings is working to make farming be recognized as a respected profession

I loved this article about eighty-year-old women who inspire towards real beauty, not Botox!

Savoy Café and Deli has an amazing story of community support and second chances. It's also one of Aaron and my favorite breakfast spots in Santa Barbara!

Speaking of food, NatureBox offers creative snack solutions, based on one of their founders' experience with losing weight through healthy eating.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone!