Thursday, June 30, 2011

My First Closing Shift

This is what happens, this is what always happens when I'm working in retail: I'm doing everything I'm supposed to be doing, keeping busy, making sure I'm not standing around idly, when I'm interrupted by a customer asking for something. I help the customer, then, as I'm standing there for a moment trying to regain my previous train of thought, my manager walks up and says, "Hey, Meghan, what are you doing?"

I swear, the whole two hours I was working up here before you came and checked on me, I was doing something. Non-stop. You caught me during the one second that I was staring off into space.

But I didn't say that, of course; I listened earnestly to her explanation of how, when there aren't any customers at the register, I can spend my time organizing the Bargain Books section.

An eight-hour closing shift is long. Really long. But now I get to curl up in a comfy chair and finish reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and that makes me feel...


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

This is France in a Nutshell: "Ai! 'elp me! I'm een a nutshell!"

In mid-December 2006, after the conclusion of Michaelmas term but before I returned home to the U.S. from my semester abroad in Oxford, I went for an evening stroll in Port Meadow. Bundled up against the crisp night air, I walked through the dark field, gazing up at the starts, and I knew deep down inside, beyond a doubt, that this was the best life was ever going to be.

My two months in France were better.

Tonight I leafed through the journal I kept while I was traveling. Inhibited by an erratic schedule and my own pure laziness, I didn't write about my experiences as regularly as I would have liked; but, occasionally, I did take the time to jot down at least a few thoughts on the beautiful, marvelous, challenging, humorous, life-changing experiences I was going through.

Since I was unable to be faithful to this blog during most of my time in France, I'd like to share a few key passages from my journal, just to fill you in a bit on my activities and impressions from the months of April and May:

26 mars 2011
...Deciding to stay in Paris for three weeks was a really good decision. It's basically the world capital of art, literature, and philosophy, and attempting to take it all in while staying in a hotel or hostel for a week or less would be exhausting and incomplete...

12 avril 2011
...Time's winding down so quickly. On the metro I read A Moveable Feast and when I get off the metro I find myself thinking the way Hemingway writes, only less clean and far less gripping. The other day, as I was walking along, I started imagining that Hemingway was walking beside me and we were talking and he was telling me I only need to write one true sentence, but he was talking more about life in general than about writing when he said this...

17 abril
Time to start thinking in Spanish...
...I'm very satisfied with my time in Paris. It was more expensive than I ever would have anticipated. But Paris is worth it. Paris will always be worth it. Even though it's expensive. Even though it's touristy. It's still Paris...

4 mai 2011
...Since returning to France after the stint in Spain, it seems I love each place I visit even more than the place before. Arles was amazing, but I liked Avignon even better. And Vaison la Romaine pretty much sealed the deal today on an inkling I've been having this week that I ought to come back here in a few years with my kids. I almost want to have kids so that I can bring them here...

9 mai 2011
...I really like milking the goats. That's something I look forward to. That and eating. Eating! It is an event! As it should be! I love eating in France...

17 mai 2011
...At Taizé, I'm able to slow down a bit and do some thinking. But it seems I have too much to think about. There's my education. My relationships. What I have experienced on this trip and how does/will it contribute to my decision-making process for my future. Should I extend the length of my trip? No. I think not. But maybe...

20 mai 2011
...As I was walking down to the Source just now, I had the thought that prayer and art are an awful lot alike. Both require so much work, but the rewards, when they come, are sublime. Because truly nothing in this life compares to the goodness of that moment when I feel the closeness of the Spirit, I will continue to search and to wait. How do we grow? We force ourselves to look past the unpleasantness of the current situation, to focus on the loveliness of the thing we are working for. And yet, when we get it, it is a gift. The closeness of the Spirit, the awareness of God's love, when it comes, is so much greater than anything we could ever get to by our own efforts. Great authors and painters have made similar observations about their work: you spend time with your work every day and often it is frustrating and essentially fruitless. But when the masterpiece at last reveals itself, it is something beyond you. It is a gift. It is grace...

May 24
Aboard the plane, awaiting take-off. Two months in France sounded like it might be too long; but, now that it's over, I know I could have stayed longer...

And that, in a nutshell, is what two months in France looks like.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Eyes of the Employed

I walked out to my car in the mall parking lot, amazed at the happy, self-confident feeling that had suddenly swept over me. I had just completed my orientation to begin employment at the book store there and it was as though I were seeing the world in a new light. It was similar to the feeling that I'd had throughout most the month of December, while I'd committed to the backbreaking work of a seasonal driver helper for the United Postal Service. I felt lighter, the weight of unemployment lifted from my shoulders a replaced by a dawning sense of freedom, as though I had been liberated to rejoin the world of responsible, contributing members of society.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Butterbeer Trial Number One

Last week, I voiced an interest in experimenting with some Harry-Potter-themed recipes, specifically an intriguing formula for Butterbeer based on an actual Tudor recipe.

Tonight I decided to go for it, halving the recipe in proportion to my level of confidence that I would actually enjoy partaking warm, spiced, sweet, buttery beer.

The result: not horrible. But not wonderful, either. At the first sip, I'm enticed by the smooth, satisfying fat of the butter and the subtle zing of the cloves and ginger, but my initial response of pleasure is quickly counteracted by the realization that the butter does not seem to be properly incorporated into the rest of the beverage. There are beads of oil on the surface and the flavors of the beer and the butter just don't really...go. Still, I'm not repulsed; I've got the glass sitting next to me, nearly empty, and I fully intend to finish it off.

The verdict: this is not exactly the beverage I have in mind when I picture Harry, Ron, and Hermione sitting around a table in the Three Broomsticks. The Butterbeer I imagine is spicier and fuller bodied and, though it has a nominal alcohol content, probably does not taste like beer. But, as the above recipe was based not on Rowling's novels but on an authentic sixteenth-century recipe, I do not feel as though the experiment was a complete loss. Tonight, I've had a little taste of history, and that's rather exciting in itself.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

My sister is famous.

Lindsay was recently featured in an article in the La Mesa Patch, an online regional news source. Since I don't think Lindsay regularly reads my blog, I don't think she will be any the wiser if I pass along a link to the story. If you take a minute to read through the short piece, you will probably understand why Lindsay would be less than enthusiastic about me spreading the word of her small advance to fame: though it's supposed to be a piece about her workplace's weekly wine event, it's fleshed out with irrelevant and poorly incorporated snidbits about Lindsay's experiences with wine. I can't help but laugh as I read through it.

I think that my little sister deserves a better exposition of her employment at Ceramicafe Art Lounge and her relationship to wine in general, so I am now taking it upon myself to provide the world with a very brief, very unauthorized biography of my sister, Lindsay Janssen Smith.

On a weeknight or a weekend afternoon, if I'm lucky enough, I get to pay a visit to the apartment of Lindsay and Michael Smith. Unfailingly, I'm greeted with a spirited game of Yahtzee and something delicious to drink.

Upon entering Mike and Lindsay's place, I observe the tell-tale sign of a good host: a well-stocked wine rack. And I don't mean anything extensive or exceptionally fancy--you're sure to find a Charles Shaw or two amid the half-dozen or so bottles that they always have on hand--but it's enough to have a selection to choose from and for me, the guest, to feel like I'm not putting them out by accepting a glass.

I'm Lindsay's older sister, but I often feel that I should be looking up to her (and that's entirely aside from the fact that she's taller than me by a full quarter-inch). Lindsay is so well put-together. Throughout her high school and university studies, she was always a top student. She's a brilliant mathematician (a quality that shines brightly when it comes time to add up our Yahtzee scores; Mike calls her the human calculator) and a talented artist. Her creativity finds an outlet in her job as an assistant manager at a paint-your-own pottery art lounge, Ceramicafe, where it has been her responsibility for several years to paint sample pieces of the different products available.

Lindsay has great taste: in beers, wines, home decor, fashion, and, of course, in life partners. She and her hubby--who got married this January after having dated since high school--are an adorable couple and as amazing as they are as individuals are even more amazing as a unit. I love spending time with them and visiting them in their very tastefully furnished (Lindsay's influence) yet remarkably homey dwelling. Even if there were no adult beverages and no games, I would still love going there. But, knowing Mike and Lindsay and their unwavering spirit of hospitality, there will always be plenty of wine and plenty of Yahtzee to go around.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Brief Personal History of Journaling

I was ten years old when I started keeping a diary. Back then, the sentences I scrawled in pink ink and unpracticed cursive attempted to mimic the corny vernacular patterns of the boy-crazing young girls I'd seen portrayed in teen dramas and sitcoms (à la Clarissa Explains It All). Keeping a diary coalesced naturally with wearing high-heeled jelly sandals and hair scrunchies and founding a babysitters' club with my friends; they all served to establish and reinforce a certain image that I aspired to: the shining ideal of the well rounded, positive minded, fashion savvy preteen.

Over time, the person composing the entries in my diary began to sound less and less like a Judy Bloom character; still, it was several years before my writing began to take on a voice of its own. On through high school, the pages of my journal remain filled exclusively with my gushings and pinings over boys who liked me or didn't like me; however, no matter how stupid the subject matter, the style evidences definite improvement.

This blog is kind of like that. No, I don't discuss boys or experiment too wildly beyond my established writing style (I save both those things for my private journal!); but I do write a lot of crap. Stuff I don't necessarily feel proud of. But that's okay. Through this process, my approach to journaling and writing in general continues to evolve, and I'm learning.

Friday, June 24, 2011

How to Be a French Farmer

One morning on the farm, Isabelle and I were moving the paddock where the goats graze. This involved gathering up the electric fences and carrying them to another end of the property, where the goats had not been to pasture for several weeks, giving the earth a chance to replenish itself and for the variety of grasses and flowers and leafy plants to spring up, healthier than ever. The goats were very happy on the days when we moved their paddock. They would literally jump for joy. It was really fun to watch.

We were just about finished with the task of moving the fence when I got stung by a bee on my finger. I don't think I'd ever been stung by a bee before (only a wasp, once) and it really hurt. Isabelle felt responsible because she suspected it could have been one of her own honeybees. "And now she's dead," she added, rather matter-of-factly. I apologized for having unintentionally murdered her (possible) bee.

The next morning, the finger that the bee had stung was really swollen. To the point that the skin was tight and itchy and I couldn't make a fist all the way. Isabelle noticed. "That's not normal," she said. She had a sad, concerned look on her face: which was the look she usually had on her face, but now even more so.

I didn't think my finger could get any more swollen but, the next day, it was. Isabelle gave me some green clay to put on it that she said would bring the swelling down. I rubbed the clay thickly all over my finger and then sealed it up with plastic wrap. It started to feel really hot. With my finger wrapped up this way, my whole left hand was out of commission, and I found myself incapable of carrying out some of my chores (including my favorite: milking the goats). I felt rather guilty about this, but my concern for the way the swelling was now progressing into my hand slightly outweighed my guilt.

I wanted to go to a doctor, to tell you the truth. But I didn't want to be the one to have to say it. I wanted them to be the ones to make the suggestion that I consult a professional. So I sat at the breakfast table saying things like, "I don't know what to do!" and "This definitely isn't normal."

Isabelle's mother, Dany, told me I was behaving like a baby. "Oui, c'est normal," she said.

I think of myself as rather tough, and I'm used to people taking me and my maladies seriously. Dany's comments left me somewhat taken aback. Fine, I would not insist on seeing a doctor. But now, if I lost the arm, it would be on her conscience.

The next morning, the swelling in my finger had gone down significantly. The day after that it was restored to its usual size. Oui, c'est normal. I guess I still have a ways to go before I can become a farmer.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

More life lessons from animals

Sometimes, it's okay if all you did today was pet a cat.

Pets can be messy. They can be expensive. They can be pesky and needy and intrusive. But, sometimes, pets really help make life more bearable than it would be without them.

My parents have four cats and a dog. They drive me crazy on a regular basis. But most of the time, even when I'm mad at them, part of me is still thankful that they're there.

I typically find it a bit annoying when people glorify their relationships with their pets as though the devotion and loyalty that their animals show them qualify these relationships as being somehow superior to the more complicated relationships they have with other humans. That's so simple minded, I think. It reflects self centered-ness and an unwillingness to extend oneself on behalf of others (though, I realize, there are situations where an ill, traumatized, or otherwise unstable person may find this sort of uncomplicated companionship to be a therapeutic stand-in for more emotionally or psychologically demanding human relationships). No matter how well-trained they are or how much you enjoy their company, animals are not people.

Still, there is something to be learned from the unexacting, nonjudgmental company my cats offer me when I'm feeling less than wonderful. People are not always the best comforters. We have lots of different ideas, perspectives, and opinions and all of these have a way of of expressing themselves, even when we're not necessarily conscious of it. I know that, on occasions where I've been depressed or upset about something, I've refrained from speaking about it with certain friends simply because I could imagine how they would respond. And I know of friends of mine who have kept their thoughts and struggles secret from me for the same reasons. Sometimes, the best support you can offer a friend is to just be there and not judge, but the only way you can really do that effectively is to never judge at all. For me, that's hard work. I can learn a lot from my cats about how to be a better friend.

Thanks, cats.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011



My mother's favorite treat is boysenberry pie. Every year, around this time, the vines in my parents' back yard overflow with tart, juicy berries. Some of the boysenberries get eaten fresh off the vine. Some get put into plastic bags and stored in the freezer. And some get put into a pie. Today, all three happened. When I was younger, we used to can dozens of jars' worth of preserves, slap them with the label "Janssenberry Jam," and give them away as Christmas gifts. I still sort of think of boysenberries as our berries.


My gym recently hired a yoga instructor and I attended one of her classes for the first time today. The class wasn't very good. I spent the time thinking about the last yoga class I went to, during my first weekend in Paris. The girl whose couch I was surfing invited me to come with her. As it turned out, the instructor was Polish, and the class was conducted in English. The instructor was very dainty, had knobby feet, and pretty hair.


Micah gave me some heirloom tomato seedlings that he didn't have the space to plant. I put them in the ground and they started to grow. I love them. The healthy green color of the leaves is thrilling to me. They haven't yet started to produce fruit, but I'm already bursting with pride over them.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Job Jumble

Is it bad that this makes me feel a little bit stressed out?

I guess because making time to do all those things sounds difficult. Despite the fact that I, being unemployed, should have all the time in the world.

Unemployed? Yeah. I was supposed to start working at a certain big-name book retailer this afternoon, but the assistant manager called to say that she was too busy to do my orientation this week and would have to reschedule for next Tuesday. Another week to not work? That would be all fine and good, were it not for the fact that it pushes back the day when I will at last begin earning a paycheck.

I've been hired at two places since I got back from France (four weeks ago today!). Both times, I was led to believe that I would be starting work right away. And, both in both cases, the actual start date has been pushed back (the offer I received two weeks ago to work at a vegan food booth has been put on hold indefinitely).

I'm trying not to feel stressed out about this. Yes, my savings account is rapidly approaching nonexistence, but, feeling anxious about it probably won't help anything. At present, I'm reading Richard Foster's Freedom of Simplicity, and his discussion of some of Jesus' teachings in the book of Matthew, concerning the conflict between material possessions and the spiritual life, seems especially deserving of consideration right now. In Matthew 6, Jesus instructs his disciples, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth [...] For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (v. 19 & 21), and he admonishes his followers to not worry about food or clothes, "But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (v. 33). Foster comments on Jesus' command, clarifying that we are not being forbidden from making provision, but rather told to "live the carefree life of unconcern for possession in the midst of our work" (37). In other words, serving God rather than wealth doesn't mean we have to wear animal skins and forage in the wild for food. Nor does it mean that we just sit comfortably in our parents' house and watch Netflix in expectation that a job will magically appear. It means doing our work, but not letting it become the source of our hope; that's God's job.

It's been a long time since I was in a position where I didn't feel like I could just buy whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. In Japan, my income was always beyond sufficient for my means. And with the savings I acquired during my two years abroad, there was little to dissuade me, upon my return to America, from buying a car, going on a vacation or three, and basically just taking it easy for a few months. This situation of having to abstain from my usual consumerist tendencies and to consider all my purchases carefully is rather foreign to me. But it feels healthy. Despite the fact that I occasionally have moments of panic where I wonder how on earth I'm going to afford the gas to get me to my job until my first paycheck (that's what credit cards are for!), this experience, overall, is good for my soul. I am learning. I am growing. I am grateful.

Monday, June 20, 2011

This is my Brain on Harry Potter

I'm not sure if the fact that I hold a degree in English Literature should make me feel more or less apologetic about my love of the Harry Potter books. I've always attempted to justify myself by categorizing them as a "guilty pleasure." However, for the sake of getting through this post, I'm setting the guilt aspect aside and focusing, at least for tonight, on the pleasure.

I'm as excited for the July 15 as any Harry Potter lover. Despite the fact that the last two films have been, in my opinion, unsatisfying, the hype surrounding the end of the film saga and my sentimental allegiance to the story itself are enough to make me completely overlook any shortcomings in the film adaptations. It doesn't matter how much they botch up essential plot elements in favor of gratuitous make-out scenes or how wince-inducing the acting may be at times; I still love it, and I'll still pay whatever they charge to attend one of the midnight screenings.

Here is a picture of my sister, Lindsay, and me, getting ready to leave the house on the evening of November 18, 2010:

In preparation for July 15, I've been rereading the series. I'm in the middle of book four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, right now. Since the plot no longer holds any mysteries for me as it did the first time around, I'm more than ever drawn into J. K. Rowling's magical world. I'm enchanted and inspired. I want to bring a little bit of the wizarding world to my own mundane life, and I've been thinking up a few ways to make that happen.

For instance, the Weasley family's clock, mentioned the first time in book four, sounds like it could translate very nicely into a fun craft project. But I figured that I wasn't the first person to have that notion, so I did a quick Google search and, sure enough, someone devised a real-life family "clock" that would update the whereabouts of his family members according to his Twitter updates.

Wow. I'm not going to do anything that involved (like I even could), but I may still try a hand at my own interpretation. My version would probably focus more on appearance than functionality (although the one above obviously does an excellent job on both counts).

And, of course, there are a countless number of recipes on the Web aimed at imitating magical food items mentioned in one or more of the books. Certainly not the least appealing of these are the recipes for butterbeer. The standout recipe that I've come across so far has been this one, mostly because it's a real Tudor butterbeer recipe that actually contains both butter AND beer. Judging from the list of ingredients, I'd say there's about an equal chance of it being either surprisingly yummy or downright gross. But I guess we'll just have to try it out and see.

Well, there you have it. I'll continue to contemplate ways to translate inspiring items from the wizarding world into real-life fun and keep you posted if my contemplations lead to anything interesting. And, if this confession of my love of Harry Potter has in fact caused you to lose some respect for me, then...


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Donuts for Dad's Day

The donuts that I started last night turned out okay. I was a little skeptical about the instructions to "use your finger to poke a hole in the middle of each of the mounds to give them a donut-like center," and rightfully so: once the dough had risen, the holes all but disappeared. Still, the consistency and flavor of the end product were pretty good. Not quite as light and delicate as I would have preferred but, still, pretty good. I think I've eaten about eight of them today. Baked donuts, though certainly a little less tasty than their fried counterparts, nevertheless successfully satisfy that donut craving, minus the yucky stomach-achey after affects.

The donuts came out of the oven just in time for a late Father's Day breakfast. My dad grabbed a few and took them out into the back yard with him, so he could munch and work in the garden at the same time.

I have a great dad. I don't think I demonstrate often enough just how grateful I am for all he does. He's such a hard worker, generous, thoughtful, and a good friend. Both my parents have been absolutely amazing these past months, while I've been forgoing searing for a job in order to travel the world or just sit around the house reading a book. They never pressured me or tried to make me feel guilty about taking some time off just for me. They never tutted or made me feel ridiculous after all the times I've changed my mind about what I want to do next with my life. They've given me space. They've let me live in their house. Whether I was thinking I wanted to go to seminary or start a second bachelor's degree, stay in San Diego or backpack around Europe, they've been nothing but supportive. And I appreciate it. Deeply.

Right now I can hear them in the living room, watching 30 Rock on Netflix. I'm also grateful that I'm able to share common tastes with my folks, like our tastes in sitcoms and in donuts. I think I'll close my laptop now and go join them in a little of both.


I took a nap instead of going for a hike this afternoon and I woke up craving donuts. Which is weird because I'm not a donut person. At all. I think I am drawn to the idea of a donut--the unique shape, the delicate glaze, the zazzy sprinkles--but the gross, greasy, bloated feeling that they invariably leave me with post-consumption has always been enough cause for me to take the unwavering stance that I don't like donuts. But, then again, maybe I still haven't given donuts a fair chance. For instance, I've never had fresh homemade donuts before.

I found this recipe on food gawker (a current obsession) and it appeals to me on account of its being vegan (yay!) and baked (rather than deep fried...does that mean it's still technically a donut?). I expected my parents to scoff at the idea of homemade donuts, as they occasionally do when they find me putting a lot of time and effort into making something that I could just drive down to a corner shop and buy for less than the cost of ingredients; but, to my pleasant surprise, they both commented nostalgically on how their respective mothers used to make donuts for breakfast on occasion and how those donuts were "so good!" Though I worry a bit about my first attempt at donuts being compared to the adept creations of my either of my culinarily masterful grandmothers, I am excited to feel just a little bit more connected to these two matriarchs.

But the process of getting the dough ready for tomorrow morning was a bit involved, and it's quite late. The dough balls are in the fridge now, resting until breakfast time, and I think I ought to follow suit (minus the fridge part; just some rest would be fine).

Friday, June 17, 2011


Four years ago at this time, when I was smack-dab right in the middle of a mission to write an entire novel in just 30 days, I established a set of "rituals" to help guide me along and keep me focused. One of these rituals was a specific dress code: whenever it was time to write, I would change into a bright red whale-print sarong and a tank-top without a bra (for obvious reasons). It was an extremely practical costume, considering I lived on the second floor of a two-story apartment building and it was the middle of summer in east L.A. county. But it also helped to get me into the mindset that it was now writing time, a time set apart from all the other times of the day when I might be found wearing something a little more--um--fashionable?

A second ritual manifested itself in the form of the food I ate. Perhaps I have been too swayed by the marketing claim on the Old Spaghetti Factory's menu that Homer, while composing the Iliad, lived on Spaghetti with Mazithra Cheese and Browned Butter; but, I swear, it is the most inspirational/motivational dish I know. And I devoured it almost daily throughout my one-month journey to novelisthood.

I also sort of took up smoking. But that's a story for another day.

For lunch today I had a nice big bowl of pasta, topped with shredded myzithra cheese, melted butter, and a sprinkling of dried parsley flakes. Did it inspire me to sit down and write? I don't know. But I'm writing now, aren't I?

Rituals help us to keep our lives in check. They keep us organized. They give us direction and motivate us to complete tasks that we might otherwise have a difficult time finding the motivation to complete. When I started this blog, with the earnest intention to make updating it a daily practice, I didn't establish any rituals to help me toward my goal. That was a mistake. As I leaned in my eighth-grade Study class--a course that I and all the other Seminar Program kids with ADD were forced to take that year if we wanted to remain in GATE (Gifted And Talented Education)--I need rituals in order to accomplish my goals. Without rituals, I get distracted. And fail.

So, obviously, I haven't been updating my blog on a daily basis. While I was in France I had an awfully good excuse, because I didn't have my computer with me and I spent large chunks of time--especially toward the end--away from Internet access altogether. I wasn't going to pass up the chance to work on a goat farm in rural France or to stay in a monastery with monks and young people from all over the world just so that I could remain somewhat dedicated to my cyber-duties! But that still doesn't account for all the other times in the past nine-and-a-half months that I've gone for days or even weeks without so much as a photo or a recipe.

Concerning the mission I had for this blog when I started out, I've already failed. But that doesn't mean that I can't make the last eleven weeks of this little blog's life the best ones it's ever known!

So...a ritual. Here's what I've got in mind:

There are seventy-eight days left until my twenty-sixth birthday. Seventy-eight more days of twenty-five. Just now, right before I started this sentence, I took a very brief break and ran up to the attic to find a big glass jar. It is now sitting on my dresser, empty. Every day, after I have written something on my blog, I will drop a (can you tell I'm making this up as I go?)!...a dollar! in the jar. If, on September 4th, I have at least $75 in the jar, I will use the money to buy something beautiful. If, however, I have less than $75 in the jar, I will write a check for $75 to Sarah Palin's Political Action Committee (do you see a slight Radio Lab influence creeping in here?). My parents would definitely disown me. I'm dead serious. It's on.

However, since this ritual is really more of a psychological device designed to deter me from laziness, I'm adding one extra piece of positive reinforcement: Whenever I'm writing something for my blog, I also get to have some ice cream. Starting now!

A Job

I suppose it would be appropriate for me to announce that I did, in fact, accomplish my goal for the week. Yesterday, I went for a second interview for a bookseller position at Barnes & Noble and was hired on the spot. My training begins next Tuesday.

Yes, it only pays minimum wage. No, I don't need a bachelor's degree in English to perform the necessary tasks of operating a cash register and helping customers locate the latest installment of the Twilight series or whatever (I'm not very up-to-date on current bestsellers; I guess I'll be forced to remedy that soon.). But it's a job. With books. And I'm grateful.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

Waiting for Wrinklebutt

On a Saturday afternoon, Laurent and I push our kayaks into the water next to the park at the National City marina. We climb somewhat clumsily into our boats--neither of us are professional kayakers--and, after a bit of trial and error, fit our spray skirts securely into place before paddling out into the San Diego bay. Laurent, a Couchsurfer from Bordeaux, France who is currently staying at our place, needs only a minute to get accustomed to the rhythm of paddling before he is speeding off in front of me; meanwhile, I suffer in silence with my old, defunct paddle, dousing myself unavoidably with sea water after each stroke. It doesn't really matter, though: the water in the bay is surprisingly warm, to the point that I'm genuinely tempted to tip my kayak over and go for a swim. But now Laurent seems to be stopping to let me catch up and so I power ahead.

To our left as we leave the marina and enter the bay proper are grassy saltwater marshes, bustling with bird life and excellent for exploring by kayak during high tide. I even spot a snowy egret taking flight: always a thrilling sight. But we're not here today for birdwatching. I must confess I've led Laurent to the bay today with somewhat exaggerated suggestions that we might encounter a sea turtle. And not just any sea turtle. The largest sea turtle in recorded history.

It isn't just I who feel the urge to swim in the warm waters of bay: the San Diego Bay is home to a group of about 60 green sea turtles (according to a 2007 report from the NOAA Fisheries Service), considered an endangered species throughout the East Pacific. Up until recent years, the water discharged by the South Bay Power Plant created a turtle jacuzzi on the south end of the bay, and the turtle population still seems most concentrated in this area. The conditions in the bay are so ideal as a turtle habitat, in fact, that they have succeeded in winning the long-term residency of an exceptionally enormous green sea turtle, Wrinklebutt, so monikered on account of an unusual deformity on her shell. When she was last netted by scientists in 2006, Wrinklebutt weighed in at an astonishing 550 pounds, making her quite possibly the largest of her species in the entire East Pacific. Since there have been no "official" Wrinklebutt sightings for a few years, however, it is not known for sure whether this colossus is still alive. Still, she remains a celebrity among local wildlife buffs and a legend among those who spend their weekends kayaking in the bay.

Laurent is beginning to tease me, "Where are all the sea turtles? I want my money back for this kayak tour." I reply with some clever crack about how they dislike French people. But turtles or no, neither of us really have anything to complain about. It is a beautiful day, and we have a clear view of Coronado Island and its bridge and Point Loma stretching out toward the sea in the background. There is a slight breeze, but the water is mostly calm. As we turn the boats around to head back to the dock, the tide pushes us in.

Though I doubt the likelihood of ever actually encountering the famous Wrinklebutt, it would be wonderful to someday spy a sea turtle while I'm kayaking on the bay (though, of course, going kayaking more than once every two years wouldn't hurt my chances). But if I never see one, that's okay, too. The point is not seeing the sea turtles, but simply being outdoors in the place where I might see them. On this day, I can't help but draw a parallel between Laurent and me and the two main characters in Waiting for Godot (I mean, besides the fact that we also seem to repeat the same jokes over and over and over again). Gogo and Didi spend the duration of the play standing on the stage, "passing the time" as they wait for an illusive personage who never appears. If we in the audience focus morosely on the fact that, in the end, Godot never shows up, I think we're missing out on so much of what the play has to say. It's not whether Godot comes but the act of waiting for him that matters. The journey is more important than the destination, an adage that holds especially true in the context of outdoor activities. In other words, life isn't about the turtles; it's about just getting out there on the water and having a lovely afternoon.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The one where she decides to go to France

"You must be brave," people kept saying to me. Brave? It might sound brave to some, I suppose, if not downright brazen, that I would suddenly decide to put the remainder of my English-teaching savings toward taking a two-month solo trip to France. I didn't know anyone in France. My mission, simply, was to learn a bit of French and spend some time on some French farms. I had a French school in Paris picked out for the first three weeks but, otherwise, I would be making plans as I went. "Brave." The choice of descriptor seemed logical and, yet, I didn't feel brave. I didn't feel anything. Not even scared. The fact that I was truly going to France--had paid for the non-refundable airline ticket and sent a deposit for the language school--didn't seem real to me. Empirically, yes, I knew I was going. But I didn't feel it.

This emotional numbness, this unshakable malaise, was one of the main motivations that led me to decide to go to France in the first place: I wanted to feel something. It seemed that I hadn't really felt anything for a considerable while. Which, in retrospect, was probably not entirely accurate. I was just depressed. And I think we've all experienced moments (I do almost daily) where we compare the present moment to a preceding one, and are filled with insufferable angst that things aren't as good now as they were when we were in that other town, other job, other relationship, other mindset. Of course, that earlier reality had its imperfections, too, we just don't consider them because we are depressed.

Such was my condition in February of this year. I was jobless, living with my parents, my savings from teaching in Japan trickling away slowly as I searched less-than-half-heartedly for a job. My sister, Lindsay, had just gotten married and, with no more wedding to plan and prepare for, I was left to face the void of my future, armed with nothing but a bachelor's degree in English and a vague intention to go back to school for something. I started to panic. It seemed that all of the career advice I had ever received--to follow my dreams, to do what I love--was rendered irrelevant by the growing realization that I had no dreams and, if in fact there was something I would love doing, I had no idea what it was because I had never done it before.

One day in late February I was hanging out with some friends. This is usually a good idea because being with friends helps me to feel better about my lack of direction in life because most of my friends are in a similar situation. However, since we share the same predicament, my friends are unable to give me any helpful advice and, as soon as I am no longer with them, I go back to being depressed. But on this particular day, one of my friends said something to me that changed everything. She asked me where I wanted to go on my next vacation. It was an innocent question, I'm sure, posed simply for the sake of interesting conversation. Without having to think about it much, I told her I wanted to go to France and spend some time learning French. It was an idea that I had toyed with for a while toward the end of my second year in Japan, and I had never completely discarded it, though the quizzical looks I got from people when I told them the idea and their unanswerable questions, "Why France? Why French?" had persuaded me, in my insecurity, to let it become obscured in the back of the closet of my brain. Now, with the permission of my friend's hypothetical question, I pulled the idea back into the light and, dusting it off, noted just how strongly it still appealed to me.

Yet, in answer to those questions as to my reasons for choosing France and it's language, "Because I want to," didn't seem like strong enough justification for spending several thousand dollars to go on vacation for two months. For the sake of explaining myself to others, I focused mainly on the reasons I shouldn't not go to France:
1. I may never have the time and money to do something like this again.
2. I'm 25 now and it's cheaper to do a lot of things in Europe if you're 25 or younger.
3. I don't have a family to look after.
4. I might regret it later if I don't.
Though it works unfailingly in arithmetic equations, in life, a double negative does not make a positive. Using a roundabout means to justify myself to others rather than simply having the confidence to be honest about my own hopes and passions provided me with a compelling enough argument to legitimize my trip to France and to motivate me to take the practical steps needed to get the trip in motion; but, it set the precedent that this trip was intertwined with my need to prove myself to others, a need that on several occasions threatened to destroy what otherwise turned out to be possibly the greatest two months of my life. It was not until the last week of my trip that I finally confronted this need of mine more seriously than I ever have before and, in a monastery not far from the border to Germany, glimpsed the road to freedom from self-deprecation. It is a road I continue now and will probably always continue to walk but, on the first of March, the day I officially decided to go to France, I was miles from the trail head.

In the three weeks leading up to my departure, I tried to mentally grasp the gravity of what was coming, but all my pondering failed to elicit the feelings of enthusiasm or nervousness that might be expected of someone in my situation. How can you be excited about something if you have no idea what to expect? And how can you know what to expect if you've never done anything remotely like it before? No, I wasn't scared. But one thing I certainly didn't feel--even as I packed all the belongings I would need for two months into a 65-liter backpack, as I sent emails to the absolute strangers who didn't speak English whom I would be staying with in Paris, as I hugged my dad goodbye in front of the San Diego airport on the morning of the 23rd of March--was brave.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Fruity-herby muffiny goodness

I rubbed my fingers against a head of lavender and then brought them up to my nostrils. A sweet, elegant aroma. In a stroke of genius, I said to myself, "Imma gonna make a muffin out of that."

Just in time for late spring, with the garden overflowing with fresh lavender and the farmer's market abounding in bright red sugary strawberries, I've formulated a recipe that brings these two things together in the form of a vegan breakfast pastry. These muffins have a sweet but delicate flavor and seem to beg to be consumed alongside a soy latte (which I haven't tried yet but I'm sure they would go together amazingly).

Muffins aux fraises et lavande 
(Yeah, I'm kinda into giving things French names now; deal with it.)

• 3-4 heads fresh lavender, rinsed and dried (I dried mine in the toaster oven for 30 minutes at 150°F, but air drying is fine, too.)
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1/4 cup sucanat (or brown sugar, or white sugar)
• 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
• 1 tbsp baking powder
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1/4 cup vegan margarine
• 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
• 3/4 cup soy milk
• 2 tsp vanilla
• 3/4 cup chopped fresh strawberries


1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly grease at 12-cup muffin tin.

2. Remove lavender blossoms from the stem and place in a food processor with sugar. Mix until the lavender seems to be broken up and the sugar takes on a purplish-greenish tint. Add sucanat (if using), flour, baking powder, and salt and pulse to combine. Cut in the margarine in pieces and pulse until well-combined. Empty the mixture into a large bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the applesauce, soy milk, and vanilla. Mix well. Add wet ingredients to the flour mixture and mix just enough to combine. Fold in strawberries.

4. Fill muffin cups almost to the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before consuming.