Friday, October 24, 2014

Changes and Ideas

First off, yes, this is only my fourth blog post in October, a month that is now almost over. There’s not really much excuse for that, except that my mom visited me for a week in the middle of the month!

It was so great to see her and share our new home with her. Now that we’ve been here for well over a year, it seems strange that some people close to us still have not seen the Hobbit Hole or met Hobbes. Not that I’m blaming anyone; it’s just weird to me that this place has become a part of my identity, for better or worse, and there are still people I count among my closest of friends who only know this side of me through hearsay. It’s the feeling of an exile who has found beauty in their new home.

Of course, I walked outside today to pick up some trash and throw out the compost, and realized with a start that the temperature today (a mild 51° F) was as cold as it ever got during the day where I lived in California. I used to think that was cold. Now it almost feels good. I would sit outside with a blanket by a fire in this weather. However, gone are the stints where I would work outside for hours. In many ways, I’m still adjusting.

A lot of new things have happened this month. The leaves are almost all gone. Aaron has been considering summer internships. I had the opportunity to interview a few of my personal heroes, including new authors Pierce Brown and Edan Lepucki. I was able to show my mom one of my new favorite cities, Boston, and eat bacon grease buttered popcorn with her at J. M. Curley’s, which is still one of my favorite foods. I've also read some unexpected books, i.e., nonfiction, and have really enjoyed them. I hope to do a blog post on that topic next week!

Another of next week’s blog posts will be my new foray into vegetarian/vegan food. I did some research for an upcoming ThriveWire article (although I won’t give you any spoilers yet!) and was fascinated. I've said it many times on Sputnik Prose, whenever I modify a recipe to make it vegetarian, that I have several vegetarian friends, and a handful of vegan friends, and while Aaron and I are pretty solidly in the carnivore category, I have been incredibly fascinated by what they eat.

I had a lot of success this past week with vegetarian dishes. I was feeling a little bit sick, which I attributed mainly to the gloomy weather, and so have been extra conscious about what I've put into my body since Tuesday (other than mid-week cookies; we all need balance!). I haven’t had any caffeine, and have drunk lots of water and tea. I also made an amazing rice dish with immunity boosters such as ginger and turmeric for lunch on Wednesday, and then made a delicious caprese salad last night, which was a hit even with Aaron! I almost never cook with ingredients like ginger or turmeric, and I've never before made caprese, and cooking these new dishes was really gratifying. Today I made up a tasty vegetarian lunch which I’ll be sharing with you on Monday. The more I've written about food, the more I've realized how much I love it, and I’m really excited to experiment further!

Aaron and I will still be meat eaters (note mention of bacon grease popcorn above) but I’m hoping to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into our diet, which has been something of an ongoing goal for me, but one which I've decided to make more of a priority. We’ll see how this new adventure goes!

If you have any tips or resources or web sites that you think would be valuable to my exploration of vegetarian and vegan food, please, please share them!

So, lots of changes. Not many blog posts. But I’m back with ideas, and excited to share them with you readers!

To end off, I’d like to share some of my recent ThriveWire articles…

Interview with Pierce Brown, Part 1 and Part 2.

Interview with Edan Lepucki, Part 1 and Part 2.

10 Farm-to-Table Ice Creameries around the United States.

I received my first phone call from Italy, and got to speak with Giorgia Caporuscio, an award-winning twenty-somethings pizza maker!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Cut Your Own Hair!

I did something crazy today.

No, it was not eating pumpkin chocolate chip muffins for breakfast or singing to Hobbes all day long.

I cut my own hair!

There’s a backstory to this random crazy decision, and it starts with my husband. Aaron has never paid for a haircut as long as I’ve known him (which is five years now!). In college, he had his hair cut by friends.

When Aaron and I got married, however, he asked me to cut his hair. I didn’t want to cut it at all, but when a friend gifted us an extra razor set that he had, I caved and agreed to try it. I’ll be honest: I’m pretty sure I cried after that first haircut, even though Aaron said he loved it, but we were saving up money and paying off college loans, so I reluctantly agreed to do it again.

Lots of tears and almost three years later, I’ve reached a point where I actually feel like I’m halfway decent at cutting his hair. There are no more tears. I don’t rely on the razor as much. Haircuts are no longer dreaded events in the Cooke household.

However, if you’d told me three years ago that I would have cut my own hair today, I would have politely giggled and privately entertained notions of your insanity.

Yet a few weeks ago, I pinned a tutorial to Pinterest, and that got me thinking. I haven’t had my hair cut since February, so after a few weeks of mulling it over, I decided to try my hand at cutting my own hair. After further incredibly academic and thorough Pinterest research, I found two tutorials to help guide me: one at Diary of a Mad Crafter and How-To Hair Girl.

Right as I was getting ready to take before shots in the backyard, one of our upstairs neighbors came down into the yard to wash his bike with the hose. After Hobbes creepily stared at him (I definitely didn’t do that), I turned on some pump-up tunes (Shake It Off by Taylor Swift and California Gurls by Katy Perry) and cooked dinner while I waited for him to leave. Yep, I’m a creepy hermit sometimes.

Neighbor gone, I got to work. I pulled my hair into a ponytail as the tutorials suggested. 

As I looked at the ponytail, I realized there were three distinct layers in the hair. So I sectioned these off with ponytails, and then cut each of them, one at a time. 

Apprehensively, I took out the ponytail holders. My hair looked okay! I wet it and brushed it and then turned my attention to the front of my hair. I like to have layers around my face, so I cut those by taking a section of hair, and then cutting the section in a downward motion so those pieces closest to my face would be short, and the ones furthest from my face would be long. I also took the strands of hair in front of my ears and did the same thing.

I was pleased, but felt like my hair was still too long. So I put my hair in a low pony and cut off the longest ends.

It wasn't a drastic haircut by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m immensely proud of myself. My hair feels lighter and healthier. 

Even though I was grumpy and cried through the process, I've somehow morphed into a person willing to cut her own hair. Those first few haircuts of Aaron's were awful, in my opinion (although friends assured me they looked fine), but I'm grateful that Aaron pushed me to keep trying. Sometimes I give up too easily. The hair-cutting process, even though it's just a small, silly aspect of life, has taught me about persistence and not doubting myself.

And the results are pretty fantastic! Overall, I’m really pleased with the haircut.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Weekend Souvenirs: Fun Edition

How is your fall weather treating you? Many of my California friends have been complaining about their 90 degree weather. They want pumpkin lattes and sweaters. Friends, I'll take your 90 degree weather. I'll trade you all the clouds we had this week. I've never really understood clouds unless there is rain falling out of them.

However, I won't trade you the utterly perfect weather that I have this afternoon. It's sunny and at last, there's not a cloud to be found in the sky. I can wear a sweatshirt comfortably in 63 degree weather. I had to brush red leaves off this chair to sit down. The slopes by our house are cloaked with a gentle mantle of yellow.

I spent most of my day listening to Eluvium, which is my preferred writing and working music. I can get anything done with those melodies floating from my computer speakers. It only makes sense that I share one of my favorite Eluvium songs with you today (although really, if you like it, check out the whole Copia album).

This Friday, I'll share a perfect fall recipe sent to me by my sister in law. It's for Quinoa Apple Cheddar Soup, and I will be doing all in my power to cook it this upcoming week!

From Cooking Quinoa

These chai-scented candles are also perfect for fall!

From Hello Natural

I love this beautifully designed word art:

From Society 6

Hopefully wherever you are in the world, you'll get some time to curl up and read this weekend! We have a weekend off, and in these next few days, reading is going to be my main agenda. I'll looking forward to it.

Here are some links for you all:

Do you know anything about the science of coffee?

Why our imaginations are not safe, and why we should embrace that.

Kitchen incubators are inspiring places where those who have the passion for food find resources to start their own businesses.

Here's how to treat yourself to a foot soak this weekend.

Foie gras doughnuts? Frog legs in a spicy Dr. Pepper glaze? You can eat them at Do or Dine!

Five novels that changed the way this editor reads the Bible.

These women are passionate about candy, and helping you regain your inner candy maker.

Have a fun weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Hobbes In Photos

It’s been a while since Hobbes had a blog post all to herself. She’s about full grown now, and I’d estimate that she’s about 8 or 9 pounds. She’s a little smaller than Checkers was, but just as opinionated.

Today, for example, I was eating a snack and noticed that Hobbes was crawling all over me. She always makes her presence known at meals, yet today she was being incredibly obtrusive. Then I realized why…I was holding a banana. That’s right. Hobbes now loves bananas. There's video evidence.

It’s so fun to watch this crazy adventurer on her little life journey. She changes all the time, yet remains as fierce and loving as ever. Along with her recent interest in bananas, she’s developed a strong passion for the bathroom sink. She will remain in the sink even if someone turns the faucet on, and commence licking the water off her back. She’s even climbed in as the water was running. If Aaron and I are reading or on our computers, and we suddenly notice that the house is extremely quiet, the first place we check is the bathroom. Often she’s in there, hanging out in her new favorite place.

Sorry about our not cute bathroom...but the expression on Hobbes' face makes me laugh every time!
Sometimes she’s incredibly smart. This past weekend, we were getting ready to leave for a visit up to Boston. It was an overnight visit, so we left her behind for the night. Even though her travel case was still in our stairwell closet, she hid under the couch as we started to take things up to the car. However, we’d packed in my backpack and Aaron’s messenger bag, which is what we take to the university other days of the week. There weren't many indicators that we were going to Boston, yet Hobbes totally knew, and she thought we were going to take her. So she hid under the couch. When Aaron came back inside to lock up, she’d climbed on top of the tower he built for her, but as soon as he walked through the door, she darted back under the couch. She knew! Luckily for her, we left her in the Hobbit Hole.

Sometimes I feel like I've known her forever. I jokingly call her my spirit animal, and even though I don’t really believe in spirit animals, I do share a bond with that crazy little cat. I’m sure other pet owners can empathize with this feeling. We know they’re animals, and although they are incredibly smart, probably can’t understand every word we say. Yet they definitely know how we feel. 

I can’t believe Hobbes isn't quite a year old; I can’t imagine life without her.

Here are a few more of our favorite recent moments, including the time today when she decided to help me work...

Or her hilarious vacuum cleaner face... 

She's a character.

Tell me about your pets! (Especially if they're cats!)

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?