Friday, March 24, 2017

What I read: 2016

As you may or may not know, I am mildly obsessed with a website called Goodreads. Goodreads is a website dedicated to keeping track of what you've read, what you want to read, and what you're currently reading.

You can look up a book and see what people are saying about it, the average rating they give it, what books are similar to it. I often check it when I'm in the library about to make an impulse decision. Most days I walk into the library with set ideas, a carefully curated list of books that I'm excited about it. And some days I wander down the aisles, leisurely skimming the titles under I stumble on something that looks promising. I then scan the barcode with my Goodreads app and see how readers generally felt about the book. Most of the time if the reviews are mildly negative I proceed to ignore that completely and get the book anyway. Some of the books I've loved (*ahem* Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord) have lukewarm reviews.

But I digress! Goodreads also has this cool ability to list what books you read in a year along with various stats. For future me, I wanted to log how 2016 went, book-wise, and make some goals for 2017.

So let's get to the data! (aka my favorite part)

Total Books Read: 22
This is almost an average of two books a month-- I would like to get closer to two, if not three, books a month for 2017. I know if I manage my time wisely this won't be difficult. The difficulty will be restricting my YouTube activity to normal amounts. This number is also partly a lie-- I often move books that I gave up on to my 'read' shelf because I've read all that I want to of them. Also, the number includes one or two books that I read in the past but only just now put them on my 'read' shelf. So really this is all lies.

Longest Book Read: 584 pages, Shadow Of Night by Deborah Harkness
This was actually a re-read for me. It's the second book in a trilogy and the third has just come out-- but it had been three or so years since I last read the second book so I thought I needed a refresher. The book was good, but so long that by the time I trudged through the end I wasn't up for devoting another month of my life to book #3.

Shortest Book Read: Sprinkle with Murder (231 pages) by  Jenn McKinlay || A Time to Love (228 pages) by Barbara Cameron
It's basically a tie for this award-- split between a fluffy murder mystery (with cupcakes!) and an Amish romance. I know, I know. Amish. Romance.  A Time to Love is a novel that I've considered talking about-- I even wrote a vlog script about it, but never filmed it. Amish books are a genre that I've always judged without every even reading one. I mean, it feels weird to read a (probably) romanticized view of a group written by an outsider. However, I will say that it was an enjoyable novel-- it had its flaws but overall I'm glad that I gave it a chance.

Books Written by Women: 15

Books Written by Men: 7
Well that was skewed in a way I didn't expect.

Books Written by Non-American/English Authors: 2
I only managed to read two novels written by people not from the UK or America. The Best of All Possible Worlds is by Karen Lord who is from Barbados and Lexicon is by Max Berry who is from Australia! Diversity is definitely something that I want to actively work on in 2017.

And that's it! I think those are all the categories relevant to me, ones that hopefully a year from now I will be post updates to.

What about you? What types of books (foreign authors, male authors) do you struggle to read more of?

Thanks for reading! (ha ha)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What we leave behind

Dear Reader,

We've been friends for what now, six years? That's a good stretch of time. You see, I have a couple of unusual hobbies that I typically wait until I get to know someone before divulging them. I did break my rule a couple of months ago in my youth group-- luckily everyone was sharing weird hobbies so I tried to gloss over mine as normal weird hobbies and everyone kind of went along with it.

You see, I like cemeteries. I find them fascinating-- I love wandering through the carefully arranged bleached forest of headstones. Behind each name lies a full and exciting life-- the details of which are tantalizingly just out of reach. The saddest stories call out the loudest-- a mother who outlived her son, a infant child buried without even a name. Happy stories-- like good deeds-- often stay interred with their bones which means that imagination tends to be a substitute for facts.

I also like reading obituaries-- I know, I know, stay with me. I scan the obits for anyone over 90, and then eagerly read what their relatives thought a fit summary of their life. It's a rather doomed interest-- I rarely find an obit that makes me feel like I caught a brief glimpse into at least some approximation of the fullness of their lives. More often than not it ends with frustration-- 100 years of life and all I get is who survived her? I want to know what it was like growing up, how she met her husband, all sorts of stories that rarely are published in an obituary.

While the common tie to my interests seems to be death it's actually a bit more subtle. What I'm really interested are stories, especially the ones we leave behind. Not anything as grandiose as a legacy-- I don't really care about the perhaps massive impact on future generations-- I'm more interested in the mundane. For example, anyone who read the obit of my great-grandmother probably didn't realize that she attended 8th grade twice. High schools were far off, expensive, and for boys, but my great-grandmother loved school so much her parents let her go to 8th grade a second time before she left academia for farm life. There are so many stories like that hidden behind every gravestone, every obit, and sometimes I can be lucky enough to stumble upon them.

If you ever visit a thrift store/antique mall with me and I find a heap of old postcards, you better resign yourself to the better part of an hour spent flipping through them. As you saw in my previous post I love old postcards because they have the rare ability to break down that barrier that death erects, to show me a small, personal glimpse into a life that has long since ended. 1909 seems impossibly in the past and out of reach, until you read a note between friends joking about hunting for the perfect husband and then the past collapses and you see that people back then weren't so different from people today.

But there is one big difference between us and them-- the physical remnants of our lives. In 1909 they didn't text, they sent postcards. Postcards that later their great-grandchildren would throw into a bag and drop off at a thrift store. We take thousands of photos but rarely print out one. Will our entire legacy be online? A hundred years from now, when my great-granddaughter is musing about the inaccessibility of the past, what will she use to reconstruct my life? Facebook certainly won't be around, my text messages will have long since echoed into silence-- maybe I'll print off my blog one day, stick it in an old binder, shove it into the attic for my grandchildren to stumble upon. Maybe that's why I write this blog-- to have a say in telling my own story. From high school, to college, to grad school-- a short time in the grand scheme of things but a massive span to me personally.

Maybe, one day, this will be the story I leave behind.

But until then, dear reader, thanks for listening.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Thrift Store Haul

I've always loved thrift stores. 

I love any place where the possibility of finding the perfect item is equally matched with the possibility of finding pure junk. It just makes any good find that much more exciting-- and the work needed to sift through the junk typically means that the good finds have equally good prices. 

This past weekend I had unusually good luck as I browsed a couple of my favorite antique/thrift stores. For those of you who aren't sold on the idea of sorting through old stuff to find the perfect item, then maybe the cool things I stumbled upon will sell you on the idea! 

But first, a cat.

Here's Otto in typical cat fashion sitting right where I don't want him to be. He's cute but I didn't buy him in a thrift store so let's move on to (perhaps) my most exciting purchase.

I didn't set out to buy a purse-- but that's how thrifting works. Sometimes you walk in with a set goal (like when I was furnishing my apartment) and sometimes you walk in with no goal in mind.

I found this Coach purse in the back of the thrift store, hanging unassumingly next to some other black bags. It was only when I picked it up that I fell in love. You see, it's a 100% leather Coach bag, handmade in the US. It's old but looks and feels brand new (that's leather for you!). The best part?

The purse was only 24 dollars. 24! For a leather messenger bag! From a good brand!

And now for something completely different-- a postcard, complete with written message, postmarked in 1909. In the message, the writer asks her friend how she was spending the winter. "Are you still teaching? Or have you captured one of the good looking widowers and are keeping house? I just have the 'bestest' one ever and a splendid home." The candidacy made me laugh and I had to buy it for one dollar. If I can dig up some info on either the writer or the receiver I'll write a blog post devoted to that!

To call my haul eclectic perhaps doesn't cover the full extent of it. Next up, I bought two small test tubes-- some manufacturer had gone out of business or something and there was a whole box of them for sale. My mom had the cool idea to use them as single stem vases-- I haven't worked out how I'm going to prop them up yet, but they were super cute and a steal for one dollar a piece.

I have a well documented (if you've ever been to my apartment) love with stained glass. Soon I'll reach maximum capacity-- you can only fill a small space with so much stained glass before it becomes too much. I have a couple small pieces like this one hanging on my kitchen wall-- and when I saw this being sold for five dollars, I had to pick it up and add it to the mix.

 And now for perhaps the most interesting find. I was wandering down the ailse in the massive thrift store when a pile of black and white photos caught my eye. They weren't priced, just dumped into a wicker basket (which was being sold for 12 dollars). I picked one up and flipped it over. I was surprised to see the back of the photo covered in beautiful cursive, a scrawling message from a sailor stationed in Japan to his wife. I began to sort through the photos and a lovely story began to emerge-- one that I am going to write a whole blog post dedicated to because holy cow how often do you find something so personal in the thrift store? Old photos are everywhere, but I've never found ones with messages written on the back. Keep an eye out for the whole story ;)

And that's it! A purse, test tubes, stained glass, postcard, and a smathering of photos of 1950s Japan! Part of the magic of thrift stores is that next time I wander through the ailse there could be entirely new treasures waiting to be found.

I hope I convinced you (if you need convincing!) of the benefits of sorting through sometimes overpriced junk in order to find something really cool.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Hey there

Oh hello. I didn't see you there.

I'm surprised anyone is here, considering it has been a literal epoch (read: two months) since I last posted.

Why is that, you ask? Classes? I'm actually class-free this semester, which will make the next time I have to do homework that much more difficult.

I am, however, teaching a full load-- which for me means two calculus based labs, one algebra based discussion, and two calculus based discussions. So there is that.

And I am researching-- whenever I can find time on the machine (Atomic Force Microscope for those playing along at home) and/or motivation to do the gritty non-exciting parts of research which strangely enough involve a lot of Googling. Seriously, Google should go ahead and hire me-- this semester I've turned into a Google Docs spokesperson. Need to keep track of your experiments? Use a Google Doc! Organize by date, procedure, and add photos of results. Need to update your professor on your work? Use Google Slides-- update it from whatever computer you happen to be closest too, and you can share it with them, which allows you both to fix mistakes, find typos, and answer questions with ease!

And don't even get me started on the ease of using Google Sheets to keep track of my lab grading books.

Sadly, however, no part of my paycheck is (currently) coming from the great company of Google. Oh well, here's to hoping?

Anyway, this is a short post is mainly intended to guilt trip me into writing a better, perhaps more thought out, post soon rather than waiting another two months. Maybe I'll post the weekly spreads I've been designing in the bullet journal with their associated pros and cons. Or maybe I'll post this scone recipe that I just made tonight. I've been making scones for years but this recipe is a GAME CHANGER. So moist yet so crumbly! With just the perfect touch of sweetness. Oy. I may have finally perfected my scone game, y'all.

Anyway, here's to setting the bar low for posts by future me!

Thanks for reading :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Quiet (unplugged) World

"In an effort to get people to look 
into each other’s eyes more, 
and also to appease the mutes, 
the government has decided 
to allot each person exactly one hundred   
and sixty-seven words, per day. 

When the phone rings, I put it to my ear   
without saying hello. In the restaurant   
I point at chicken noodle soup. 
I am adjusting well to the new way. 

Late at night, I call my long distance lover,   
proudly say I only used fifty-nine today.   
I saved the rest for you. 

When she doesn’t respond, 
I know she’s used up all her words,   
so I slowly whisper I love you 
thirty-two and a third times. 
After that, we just sit on the line   
and listen to each other breathe."
--The Quiet World by Jeffrey McDaniel 

When I was younger, in some fuzzy area of my life that existed before the right now, I read that poem. It stuck with me, just another small, glittering thread in the tapestry of stories that I carry around with me. It is a tapestry woven from childhood, flipping through the threads is like flipping through my life at high speed. There's Where the Red Fern Grows, a book I read eleven times, keeping track by secretly marking my second grade desk. There's the unnamed novel I read in junior high which, in part, started me down this crazy trail of physics. There's In the Time of the Butterflies, a novel that took my breath away in 12th grade.

There's 1984, a novel I read purely because an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation was inspired by it. There's Catch-22 a novel I trudged through, though love to reference now that the arduous process of actually reading it is over. 

Growing up, I lived my adventures through the flipping white pages of library novels-- the bigger the better. When life seemed boring-- when reality was merely humdrum, literature promised the impossible, a crisp dive into a universe that was refreshingly different. 

Books have unique powers when we are young; they leave impressions on us like marks on drying clay, which, once hardened to adulthood, is no longer so malleable. Surrounded by the marks of adulthood, jobs to do, apartments to clean, pets to take care of, it would seem that books would still provide a trusty refuge yet I read startlingly few books now. 

But why? What changed? Why do so many unread, promising, I'll-get-to-it-someday books sit quietly in my bookshelves?  

 Books haven't changed. Certainly I've changed in many ways but my love of books remains strong. Last Christmas break I spent two days in WWII Germany and France jumping through years and lives, devouring a six hundred page novel.

But that was Christmas break-- a time with few things pulling at attention-- maybe that's what has changed. When I was younger-- even up to college-- I didn't spend much time on Facebook, I didn't have a Twitter, Snapchat didn't exist, I barely knew what YouTube even was, and would stare blankly at you if you so much said the world Tumblr. Today, though, the story is different. I have five hundred Facebook 'friends', over a hundred YouTube subscriptions, an Instagram feed I'm proud of, and somehow a Tumblr blog/profile/thing (I'm still not 100% sure how Tumblr works). 

I have free time to read-- that's not the problem. The problem is how I'm (unconsciously) prioritizing my time. Time is a precious commodity, one that I throw by the handful at social medias. I watch YouTube videos I love...and then spend an hour lurking around watching videos I'm not even interested in. I learn about exciting events in my friends lives on Facebook...and then I scroll on for thirty minutes for no good reason. 

Obviously social media isn't a Bad Thing-- it's just a thing, a tool that we can use for great purposes (I saw this fascinating video on YouTube about defining the flow of time with respect to changes in entropy) or use it to mindlessly pass the time (I really could get all the useful info from Facebook by just going on once a day...not once an hour). 

But if time is such a precious commodity, then maybe I should be more mindful in how I spend it-- thus my first 'no media' day today (I scheduled it in my bullet journal so you know it's official). For just one day a week, I resolved to stay off of Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/YouTube/Tumblr-- you get the idea. 

There is so much more that I want to do-- during the month of November I engaged in a crazy competition to write a 50,000 word novel and was struck with the discount between my love of writing and my complete lack of writing. What books are going unread, what words are going unwritten, as I overspend my time on the internet? 

Even now I itch to switch over and skim Facebook, not for really any reason except it's what I'm used to doing. Habits are unconsciously ingrained and are difficult to consciously overwrite. For now I will stick to my once a week absence from social media and see how I can more consciously spend my time.

Maybe soon I'll be able to say I am adjusting well to the new way. 

Until then, thanks for reading. 

Monday, November 21, 2016


Every year, when the trees start to reluctantly lose their summer coats, one of them in particular is a show stopper. It deigns to go out in style, producing a stellar burst of robust orange which lights up in the entire yard.

As you can see above, this tree is the sugar maple and since this spectacular show typically takes place in late October, I expected to come home for Thanksgiving break and be greeted more a mostly winter-ready backyard.

But, thanks to an unusually warm fall the colors started to shift only days before I journeyed home, leaving me with a beautiful fall tableau to photograph!

My photography has been a victim of graduate school-- I still take family photos at gatherings but besides that, my beloved DSLR has been quietly gathering dust in the corner of my bedroom.  

Even before graduate school I started to lean away from nature photography and into portraits. Which is an unusual move for several reasons, one of them being the lack of subjects. A couple years ago I was able to do an surprise engagement shoot for one of my high school friends and I loved it. Previously I had only shot nature but it was really cool to be able to do something so different.

To be fair, I was really spoiled for my first couple! She had not only brought coordinating change of outfits for them both, she came equipped with props and ideas for what type of pictures she wanted (and she didn't even know he was going to propose! It was a fun night).

Regardless, I really enjoyed wandering around my backyard upon arriving at home after a long car ride with my cat. Luckily Otto doesn't mind road trips too terribly-- as long as it's quiet and I'm not singing.

I can't believe the semester is almost over-- though I'm at an odd part of my graduate career where the lines of semesters ending/beginning start to blur and lose their meaning. Research, after all, is not confined to any time schedule except its own, and there's always more work to do. I'm only taking one course this semester-- and teaching two labs and three discussion sections-- and next semester I may take none, focusing on research until a class I want to take is offered.

But for now I'm on break (sort of, I have labs that need to be graded and a coding project that won't fix itself-- or will it? Wouldn't that be a wonderful world to live in) leaving me time to metaphorically dust off my trusty Photoshop and catch up on my NaNoWriMo word count. A couple weeks before November started I decided that what I really needed to do was a writing competition that I fell in love with during high school. It's called National Novel Writing Month and the goal is to write 50,000 words during the month of November...which is an awfully lot of words by the way.

Which reminds me-- my novel is woefully behind on word count (and woefully behind on quality writing but then again, that's not the point of NaNoWriMo). I'll leave you with these photos of my backyard (doesn't it look like a nature preserve or something? Considering we live in the middle of a city we definitely won the yard lottery).

I hope that you will have a great Thanksgiving-- I for one am looking forward to my third Thanksgiving meal this season. Last year I racked that number up to four or five-- I don't think I'll be able to break that record!

As always, thanks for reading. :)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

6 Podcasts to Check Out Now

Have a big road trip coming up?

Bored with your daily commute?

Even if you answered no to both of the above questions, I have the perfect solution for you! Podcasts are the modern radio show and are great for listening to while working out (or so I've heard. I avoid the gym like I owe it money), commuting to work, or passing time while driving home for the holidays (aka my life in a couple days).

But with hundreds of podcast available (most of them for free!) on iTunes, it can be difficult to know where to start.

Which is why I have six of my favorite podcasts to recommend to you! I've even broken them down into handy categories to help you decide which to start first.

Talk Show

  • Dear Hank and John
    • "A comedy podcast about death." 
    • John and Hank Green are YouTube celebrities. Every time I met someone who doesn't know who they are, I spend like five minutes trying to convince them otherwise. "They make YouTube videos? They run VidCon? DFTBA? Nerd fighters? Brotherhood 2.0? One of them wrote The Fault in Our Stars? They run Crash Course? He's the guy who played Grand Theft Auto with his morals? Really? None of that rings a bell?" And then I'm convinced they live under a rock (no, not really, I just have an exaggerated sense of the Green brothers' stardom). However, I was so excited when I found out that they were doing a talk show podcast. Every week they publish a podcast where they answer submitted questions, give out (freely admitted) dubious advice, and update the listeners on the latest news from Mars and AFC Wimbledon (a second tier English soccer team which is owned 100% by its fans, chief among them John Green). As the quote suggests, the topic of death invariably comes up in almost every single podcast, but mostly to hilarious effects. 
  • Not Too Deep with Grace Helbig
    • Grace Helbig is a YouTube comedian I've been a fan of for a couple years now. Her dry, absurd sense of humor translates well to her podcast, where she interviews various guests with her own questions and listener submitted questions. I'll admit, some of the episodes are a bit too vulgar for my tastes but most of them have me laughing out loud (which, by the way, is not a good thing when you're listening while walking to work and you don't want people driving by to think you're crazy). 

A Story

  • The Message
    • This is a really short, story centered podcast that I discovered last year. It's about a group of scientists who think that they've made extraterrestrial contact, a reporter with a hidden past who wants the scoop, and, of course, the ensuing, slow descending chaos. It features a wide cast of characters and locations, something I found really different but a little confusing at times. If you want a story that you can start and finish in a week or so, check this one out! 

  • Welcome to Nightvale
    • With 97 episodes (and counting!) this podcast took me a year and a half to catch up on. It's a hilarious story based podcast featuring what I like to call 'casual surrealism'. The podcast is a radio show broadcasting from a fictional town where angels are illegal, a hovering glow cloud is likely to shower you in dead animals, said glow cloud also the head of the local school board, and a vague yet menacing government agency is watching your every move. It's amazing and you should go devote a year and half of your life to listening to it. 

Will Teach You Something

  • The History Chicks
    • "Any resemblance to a boring old history lesson is purely coincidental!" Every episode of this podcast details the life of some famous woman in history. From Cleopatra to Madam CJ Walker, the two hosts tell about the story behind the name. They spend hours researching each episode, guaranteeing that it will not only be interesting but historically accurate. If you want to be able to impress your friends with historical knowledge, check them out! 
  • Note to Self
    • "A tech show about being human" or that's how they describe themselves. Each episode tackles a challenge of life in a digital age (is your phone eavesdropping on you? should you post pictures of your kids online?) in an interesting way and with engaging conversation with experts in the field. Not only is the podcast interesting, it'll make you look at the changes of modern life in a critical way (how involved should technology be in schools?). 

And that's it! Six of my favorite, go-to podcasts depending on what mood I'm in. If you're looking for more teach-ya-something type podcasts, I would check out the various NPR podcasts available; every now and then I download one from Planet Money to hopefully teach me something about economics, a subject I woefully know little about. 

What are your favorite podcasts? I'm always looking for new ones!

Thanks for reading :)