From There to Here: Part I

A year and a half ago, I was working in a dead-end job. It was the first full-time, professional, 8am to 5pm, fancy-office-in-a-big-city, working for a world-renown company job I ever had. It wasn’t what I had in mind when I graduated college, but like my mom has always told me, “you’ve got to start somewhere.”

And I did.

I had stars in my eyes when I began, when I was sitting in a video conference with a former world leader, when I escorted best-selling authors through the office, when I met the CEO, and when I worked on projects aimed at changing the world.

Every day I was taking on new responsibilities, creating better ways of doing, and learning as much as I could absorb. But I grew while the position did not.

During my time there, I came to realize that I wanted to be more involved in creating change — helping others — in the world. I didn’t want to assist simply at arm’s length, but I wanted to be all in — hands dirty, up to my neck, and exhausted in the way that good, challenging work can be. I wanted to spend my hours untangling problems in my head, collaborating with a team to find the best solution, and making people’s lives better, if not easier.

As I was attempting to discover the best way to go about all of that (imagine world domination in a Mother Teresa sort of way), the company hired a recent law school graduate who was about my age. We became friends and she talked with me about her time in law school and work experience as a lawyer. My interest was definitely piqued. I had considered law school in the past but never in any sort of real way.I couldn’t imagine myself in the cut-throat, competitive environment that I envisioned law school to be. I couldn’t imagine myself wearing a suit, sporting a bun, and balancing in high heels while holding a briefcase walking toward a courthouse. Nope, not me.

My coworker continued to encourage me.

Do you like research? Check. Reading? Check. Complicated reading? Check. Writing? Check. Lots of writing? Check. The law? Check.

I began researching local law schools and saw that one was holding an open house. I cleared my schedule and went.

Check back to read all about how my first law school open house went! 

[Thank you to PhotoA.nl for making the image available for reuse.]

LTTP: The Walking Dead Edition

Remember the zombie phase everyone was going through a while back? The phase that created Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and World War Z and The Walking Dead (along with a slew of zombie-related movie remakes)? And it was so popular that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention created a bunch of materials on how to deal with a potential zombie apocalypse?

Truth be told, I didn’t hop on the bandwagon. I don’t know what for or why not but it just didn’t interest me in the way that the vampire phase did. (In a roundabout way, it led me from The Twilight Saga to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel — how bad could that be?)

Apparently, it was popular enough that the company mentioned in the previous post used it as a serious question during job interviews. I was asked what I would do in the event of a zombie apocalypse. My disinterest in the topic put me at a disadvantage –my answer wasn’t as funny or clever as they were hoping for and I didn’t get the job.

Fast forward to earlier this month when I came across the first issue of The Walking Dead (comic) on my husband’s iPad. (You can read the first issue for free inside via ComiXology). Although I was hesitant, I was more curious and read it anyway. I enjoyed it so much, I went to the local comic book store and picked up a copy of The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone Bye. The intro by Robert Kirkman is enough to convert even the biggest of zombies skeptics — people like me — into a drooling, adoring horde. Kirkman promises less of a zombie comic and more of a character driven story about a former sheriff’s deputy who awakens from his hospital bed in a world that is so changed and horrific, he doesn’t believe it’s real. The Walking Dead is about Rick’s transformation as he spends more time in the hellish, lawless, zombie-infested world that he was thrust into; a place that challenges and changes the meaning of humanity.

The Walking Dead is a must-own for any zombie enthusiast. But I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good, character-driven story that keeps you on the edge of your seat regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of zombies or comic books.

While I’ve only just finished Volume 1, I’m looking forward to reading the others. In the  meantime, I have been watching The Walking Dead on AMC (the first two seasons are available for streaming via Netflix). So far, so good.

What do you think about walkers or the possibility of a future zombie apocalypse?

[Thank you to ~RamaelK for making the above image available for reuse.]

Today is International Women’s Day!

I wanted to celebrate International Women’s Day by featuring a woman who has done a phenomenal job in bringing attention to women’s issues, especially in popular culture: Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency.

The best way to talk about her is to let her speak for herself in one of her best videos to date: Damsel in Distress: Part 1 — Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. It is the first video in a series made possible by her successful Kickstarter project. Please make sure to watch all the way through to the end.

I’m grateful for Ms. Sarkeesian’s ability to think critically about pop culture in a way that is engaging, but more importantly, for providing us with a vocabulary to articulate our thoughts. She reminds us that:

” …  it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernicious aspects.”

Her segment on Princess Peach’s appearance in Mario Bros. 2 brought me back to an interview I went on last year at a file storage and sharing website company. In one of

their many attempts to be “hip” and/or “clever” during the interview process, they asked what my favorite video game was. When I said Mario Bros. 2, I received some pretty condescending looks from the two guys sitting across the table. Then they looked in disbelief and proceeded to ask me why, exactly, it was my favorite game. I told them that it was the only game I remember from my childhood where I could choose another girl as a playable character. I also mentioned that I favored her flying ability. Then they continued to ask if I had another favorite game, as if somehow my answer wasn’t good enough.

So thank you, Ms. Sarkeesian for asking the unpopular questions, for bringing reason and intelligence to the table, and staying strong in the face of adversity. And thank you for reminding me that identifying with a game because it has a playable female character is a good enough reason for it to be my favorite.

How will you be celebrating?

Check out a few of these other sites celebrating International Women’s Day:

And if you have another ten minutes, check out Anita’s talk about cyber mobs at TEDxWomen:

[Thank you to Guebara for making the image above available for reuse.]

Link

Like most of you, I’ve known about Kickstarter for some time. For those of you that might not be familiar with the site, it is dedicated to funding projects through crowdsourcing. If you’re curious about the details of Kickstarter and how it words, check out their FAQs.

I hadn’t backed a project until last week when I discovered that someone was trying to get funding to publish an annotated version of Moby Dick. While the novel itself can be found for free on the Internet, the annotations have already been written and are available on online through Power Moby Dick, the project came about when the creator decided to combine both into a printed book. As a bibliophile and lover of squeezing every ounce of knowledge from anything I read, finding this was a dream come true. Unfortunately, it fell just short of raising enough money in the 30 day time period. I’m holding out hope that someone, somewhere, someday soon, will pick up where the creator left off and achieve successful funding.

A few days after discovering A Beautiful Annotated Edition of Moby Dick, I received an email from a friend about the Kickstarter she created from her work connecting startups to capital. Anna is trying to get funding in order to publish a book from the infographics she has created on business and technology. The book is called Becoming an Entrepreneur and I really hope it is successful. I really believe a lot of people would benefit from the knowledge shared in this book.

And as one novel begets another, I found Beetle Days: A Novel. The book explores human behavior through the life of a dung beetle. The author is looking for funding in order to have the novel proofread and to purchase the appropriate licenses to publish it. It’s interesting and quirky and I’m looking forward to it succeeding.

Today I discovered the Kickstarter I wished I would have known about sooner: To Be or Not To Be, That is the Adventure. The creator is Ryan North, a comic book writer. Holy beans is this project was amazing! North has combined the fun of a choose-your-own-adventure book with awesomeness of Hamlet. Take away the Shakespearean language, add in North’s funny-filled writing, add splashes of art from well-known artists, and you have this book! This project was one of the most successful the site has ever had with almost 3,000% of the original amount funded. The good news for non-backers like myself interested in To Be or Not To Be, is that North is planning on printing copies of the book and they will be distributed and sold through the regular literary channels.

Now, I just have to keep myself away from Kickstarter’s Publishing page …

Last, but by no means least, the Kickstarter I’m looking forward to will be coming from    Wrought Iron Games in their quest to fund Edgar: an alternate history game involving Victorian England, Edgar Allen Poe, Jack the Ripper, and others. It was just last weekend that my husband and I were brainstorming the number of videogames that are rooted in literature or lit-themed. We could come up with only three. It was the very next day that I discovered Edgar. Their site says that they will be creating a Kickstarter to fund the game when they are finished with the majority of the game. Until then, I will be keeping an eye out!

Which projects are you backing?

Kickstarters mentioned in this post:

The Importance of Community and a Book Review

I want to start by saying thank you for your patience and for sticking with me. I was on brief hiatus, but now I’m back to blogging!

I consider myself in a lucky living situation: nice apartment, dog-friendly, safe neighborhood, ocean view, and having good neighbors. I live in a big city where having one of those qualities is considered grounds for celebration. But the quality that is most easily taken for granted is having nice neighbors — the kind that turn your neighborhood into a community.

In my last neighborhood, we lived on a small street tucked between a popular (but rather unsafe) neighborhood and a quieter, more family oriented one. The weather was warm nearly year-round, public transit was within walking distance, and restaurants were king. One of the major disadvantages was one that is typical of living in a big city: anonymity. While some people move to big cities for that very reason, I found it lonely and unsafe. I think the only neighbors on our street that actually spoke to each other were related. There was no real sense of community. Coming from a small town, this kind of behavior wasn’t only disappointing, but foreign.

Things changed dramatically when I moved into the apartment I live in now. I attribute that partly to my neighbors. There are two in particular that have been friendly, kind, and generous. My upstairs neighbor in particular has gone out of her way, more times than I can count, to be friendly. And it’s because of her that I ended up with a copy of The Last Resort: A Memoir of Mischief and Mayhem on a Family Farm in Africa in my hands.

I had never heard of the book before, I had never been to Africa, and I know very little about farming. But when someone lends me a book, I read it. Not always right away, but I read it.

The Last Resort is hard to put down. It’s exactly as the title suggests: a story of a family, their farm in Africa, and the crazy journey they embark on to keep it. The story is written by the son of the couple that runs the farm, Douglas Rogers, who happens to also be a travel writer. He chronicles the struggle his family faces as the country plunges deeper into political unrest after Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe orders the “reclamation” of  white-owned farms. This puts a target directly on Drifters, the travel lodge that Rogers’ parents own and operate.

The Last Resort book cover

One of the few book covers that is explained by the text.

What makes The Last Resort engaging are the interwoven stories of Drifters, the Rogers family, and the cast of characters Douglas knows (and meets) along the way. Their stories seem unreal times, with their celebrity, secrecy, and tales of the past, but they help to tell a larger narrative: the people’s history of Zimbabwe. It is inspiring the way that the Rogers family, and Zimbabweans alike, manage to survive, rather than simply suffer, each challenge thrown their way. They seem to have a never-ending ability to roll with the punches rather than get bogged down by a world of constant upheaval and uncertainty.

So what does The Last Resort have to do with the earlier discussion of my living situation? It was the community the Rogers family is part of during the book prompted this entry. While neighbors came and went over the course of the story, there is much emphasis placed on the connections between people and one’s hope for stability. What I mean is, it was the connections between friends, and other times strangers, that seemed to help the Rogers. Whether it was exchanging currency or maintaining the lodge, those connections were crucial for their survival and continued hope. Without a good community, life can seem lonely and bleak, making the simple task of putting one foot in front of the other, monumental.

The Last Resort is a great book and definitely worth a read especially if you’re interested in politics, Africa, and/or travel. But I’m warning you — you will turn the last page with a lingering curiosity. I finished the book with an additional item tacked on to my list of life’s to-dos: visit Zimbabwe and stay at Drifters. And I know I’m not alone! Until then, there are other ways to connect with the book and the author which I have listed below.

Ways to connect with the book:

  • Purchase it from your favorite book seller or borrow a copy from your local library.
  • Check out the group on Facebook. Mr. Rogers participates and responds to comments.
  • Watch a promo for the documentary and donate if you’d like.
  • Visit Mr. Rogers’ website to learn more about him and the book.
  • Stay up-to-date with the author on his blog.

Christmas DIY Disaster

Welcome back! I see you are curious to see how the snow globes project went.

  • Snow globes: F-. What the fuck?

But really, make snow globes? Where would I get such a preposterous idea?

Pinterest + Martha Stewart. (The most lethal combination, I assure you.)

Occasionally I like to cruise around on Pinterest. It’s kind of rabbit/K-hole for DIY folks. And it’s easy to see something and say to yourself, “Oh, I could do that!”

This was one of those such times.

Then add a dash of Martha Stewart.

Outcome? DISASTER!

Hindsight is always 20/20. Looking back, I should have known. The Martha Stewart website should have been my first clue. MarthaStewart. This woman can make something from nothing and make it look as easy as — I don’t know — smiling or brushing your teeth. Or breathing. And, in Martha fashion, she made making snow globes look easy. No, no. Not making snow globes — creating winter wonderland in a jar.

Doesn’t that sound magical? (And how was that not a second red flag?)

I mean, listen to this shit:

The shimmering magic of snowfall is always transfixing, whether it’s outside your window or inside this classic toy. Homemade globes let you create a wintry scene straight out of your own imagination.

(How was that not a third red flag?)

Like a big, bug-eyed sucker, I fell for it. I was at Home DepotBeverley’s, and Cost Plus before I knew it.

I’m not quite sure what my first mistake was — I’m going to guess somewhere around starting this project — but there were many mishaps along the way. The first I can remember was purchasing the wrong kind of paint. I bought oil-based paint, not oil-based enamel paint. Since I’m no connoisseur of paint, I don’t know exactly what the difference is but I do know that they are not the same. But, Martha failed to mention that oil-based paints take a very long time to dry. A very, very long time. She also failed to mention that painting lids of any kind is a pain in the ass — logistically speaking.

In an effort to dry the paint before the world ended, I went out and bought shellac. I put several coats on all sides of each of two lids I painted. And it kind of worked. But since the painting didn’t work out so well, I decided to forego painting the third lid altogether.

I found a small thing of epoxy at Home Depot. But if you’ve ever been to the Home Depot epoxy section, and you’re not an expert, choosing the right one is a crap shoot. I asked one of the employees which one would be the best for my project but he didn’t even let me get to the part about the epoxy being submersed in water. He showed me where they were and I just started reading the labels. I ended up choosing a marine epoxy — the figurines and epoxy were going to be in water all the time so it made the most sense — and left unsure. I didn’t choose a clear-drying epoxy because I thought a white/off-white would make it look more festive. This could be another place where I went astray. But, I’ll never know because I’m never trying this again. Ever.

Epoxy is a mess. Make sure you have the surface that you’re working on totally covered with newspaper. Luckily, I did. The epoxy is stringy and gets everywhere. And sticks — like it’s supposed to. Trying to mix the epoxy was a bit difficult but I thought I managed okay until the next day when I went to put the snow globes together and the epoxy was still a bit wet. Even though the box said the set up time was 24 hours, I think 48 hours would have been a much better bet. But again, hard to know since I won’t be doing this again. Ever. Did I mention that already?

It was hard to know how much glitter and glycerin to use because Martha says you need only “a pinch” and “a dash.” Really?

And some of the lids wouldn’t close all the way and water started to leak out.

I have to mention that this project took me about two weeks from start to finish. I started with painting the lids and trying to get them to dry … and hope. And finished with a complete mess and a bit on the verge of my own sanity.

But most of all, I was just disappointed.

I wanted to make something fun and personal for my nephews — something they would enjoy and think of us when they saw.

Instead, I scrapped the project altogether.

I really hope they liked the cookies!

<Thanks to pixabay for making the image available for reuse.>

Christmas DIY

This year I thought I would take it upon myself to make most of the gifts my husband and I would be giving to family and friends. I had time on my side and I love crafts and baking. I decided I would make (and decorate) different kinds of cookies — who doesn’t love cookies?! — and craft snow globes for our three nephews.

These were my projects (not in order):

  1. M&M Cookies
  2. Decorated sugar cookies
  3. Christmas ball cookies
  4. Peppermint crunch milk chocolate chip cookies
  5. Snow globes

Let’s see how I fared!

  • M&M Cookies: good, but not great — A-/B+.

I have made these cookies many times. They’re easy and oh-so-tasty. But thanks to the temperamental (large) toaster oven at our apartment, it made a simple batch of cookies rather complicated. As it turns out, the oven has some temperature problems. I recently received an oven thermometer and (not) much to my surprise, but to my chagrin, the oven heats about 25°F – 75°F higher than the temperature you set it at. And anyone that bakes regularly knows that this can be disastrous to any simple baking project.

So, instead of having nice, chewy, perfect, delicious M&M cookies, they were a bit crunchier than I would have liked. Other than that, they turned out okay. They’re a good color and they still taste delicious.

  • Decorated sugar cookies: good — B.

I got the recipe for Lofthouse Style Sugar Cookies off of Pinterest. I modified it by cutting the dough into Christmas shapes and using a completely different frosting recipe (I will share that another time). I decided to make the cookie dough about a week ago and freeze it until I was ready to bake and decorate.

I have to add a word of warning: sugar cookies can be a real pain in the ass!

This sugar cookie dough is very sticky and it took a lot of flour on the cutting board (and on the cut out pieces) to make it manageable. Then I had to fight through trying not to overwork the dough as I rolled it out.

As for the frosting, I did two different things: I purchased pre-made icing from the store and I made (and colored) buttercream icing. I used the pre-made icing to outline and decorate the cookies, and I used the buttercream icing to cover whole cookies. And it was good that I did!

Some of the cookies I baked were a little browner on top than I would have liked, so I covered them with the buttercream frosting. The ones that turned out looking better were decorated with the pre-made icing. The packaging for the pre-made stuff made it easy to decorate and there was hardly any mess. Also, I think it would have been way more work for me to try to make red, sparkly icing from scratch.

  • Christmas ball cookies: pretty good — A-.

I found these on the Betty Crocker website earlier this year and thought they’d be fun. Making them was a first for me. I thought they were fun and relatively easy. The trick is rolling the balls small enough — it is easy to roll them a bit too big.

The trouble I had here, again, was the dryness of the cookie. I imagined them being a bit softer, but I think that has to do with the oven. For the most part, they turned out cute and tasty! (But they don’t look nearly as good as the ones from the picture — but that’s always how it is, isn’t it?)

  • Peppermint crunch milk chocolate chip cookies: stick to the recipe — C.

A Pinterest experiment gone a bit awry. I had never made these before but thought they would be a good way for me to get rid of the many extra candy canes in our cupboard.

“But the recipe doesn’t call for candy canes!” you say.

No, no it doesn’t. But I often find myself substituting things I don’t like or don’t have on hand for things I do. Most of the time it works out well. This time, not so much.

I failed to realize that the candy canes, being all sugar, would melt and stick and create a mess. They also burned very easily so I had to keep a close eye on them.

So, if you’re thinking about making these cookies, I highly recommend using the Andes Peppermint Crunch chips mentioned in the recipe. I’m sure your cookies will turn out leaps and bounds better than mine.

All in all, the cookie project went pretty well. I picked up a few festive containers at Target and some holiday boxes at Walgreens. I used colored tissue paper and closed them up with decorative ribbon. The real test will be whether or not I hear anything back about them. I figure silence means they were terrible (but probably edible) and anything else is HIGH PRAISE!

Did you make anything for Christmas? If so, how did it turn out?

Holiday cookies.

Oh, as for the snow globes — check back tomorrow to see how it went!

<Thanks to moonstarsandpaper for making the cookie image available for reuse.>

M&M Cookies

I will be spending today and tomorrow baking and decorating cookies — gifts I’ll be giving to family and friends this holiday season. I’m making several different types of cookies, but the M&M cookies are my favorite. My mom made them for me as a special treat during my childhood. They’re relatively easy to make and don’t take much time. Hopefully you’ll like them as much as I do!

Ingredients:
-1/2 c. Crisco
-1/2 c. brown sugar
-1/4 c. granulated sugar
-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
-1/4 teaspoon water
-1 egg
-1c. + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
-1/2 teaspoon baking soda
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-3/4 cup M&Ms

Directions:
-Use an electric mixer to blend Crisco and sugars.
-When Crisco and sugars are throughly combined, beat in vanilla extract, water, and egg.
-In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and salt.
-Gradually add the flour/baking soda/salt mixture into the sugar/egg mixture. Mix well.
-Stir in M&Ms.
-Drop cookie dough from teaspoon onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
-Bake at 375F for 10 – 12 minutes or until golden brown.

Enjoy!

Days of Giving: SPCA

Do you love animals?

I love animals.

How can you say no to these sweet faces? YOU CAN’T!

As an only child, I grew up surrounded by them. 3 turtles, 2 chickens, 2 cats, and 1 dog. During my first and second years in college, I kept a beta fish in my dorm room. By the third year, I was desperate for a fuzzy critter so I picked up a Teddy Bear hamster I named Odysseus. Hey, college can be stressful. Everyone needs a furry friend to cheer them up, AMIRITE!? And almost the second that my husband and I moved into a dog-friendly apartment, we got one. (His name is Bodie and he’s a Boston Terrorist. I mean Boston Terrier.)

As a result, I’m a big advocate of owning (and loving!) pets. If we could, I’m sure my husband and I would have a small farm full of fuzzy friends.

The SPCA in San Francisco is pretty fantastic. They offer a plethora of programs and services including training classes (which we have attended). They’re always hosting or involved in events to raise money and awareness for orphaned pets. I think my favorite is the Macy’s Holiday Windows where you can watch them online (via one of four live cams) or visit them in person. You can speak with a volunteer about adoption and adopt right from the store. In fact, they have been posting pictures of the windows as well as the adoptions to their Facebook page. It’s pretty incredible.

Something else that I like about the SF SPCA is their adoption center. It’s clean, well-lit, and the animals look happy and healthy. They also have health and personality information about each animal posted on the door of their living quarters. The most impressive, in my opinion, is the cat section. Each kitty is placed in a clean, furnished room; some with a TV, artwork, cat toys. The SF SPCA makes it easy to find your perfect feline companion through the Meet Your Match program. (It’s almost unbelievable how well the kitties live — I’m thinking that some of their apartments are bigger than the micro-apartments that the Board of Supervisors approved last month!)

You definitely can’t say no to these furry faces!

What I think is so impressive about the SF SPCA is the love and care they show for the animals not only on a day-to-day basis, but in their efforts to find forever homes for all creatures that are brought through their doors. And that is one of the reasons I believe it’s important to support such an organization.

There are many ways to give to the SF SPCA if you are unable to adopt: donations (you can give a memorial or honor gift online), volunteer your time, take part in community events, or attend SF SPCA events.

Even if you don’t live in San Francisco, I recommend checking out their website — or at least the kitty cam. Consider donating to your local SPCA or animal shelter and help to give an orphaned animal the love and care it needs.

I mean, really — how could you not support an organization that makes awesome videos like this?

<Thank you to cskk and eleda for making the dog and kitten pictures available for reuse.>